Krystal Wilson Azelton: “People do not realize how integrated space is into their lives”

  • Krystal Wilson AzeltonKrystal Wilson Azelton

Krystal Wilson Azelton is a Director of Space Applications Programs at Secure World Foundation, an organization working internationally towards secure, sustainable, and peaceful uses of outer space. A self-professed policy geek, Azelton was drawn to Sciences Po’s focus on international politics while offering “the chance to live in Europe in such a vibrant place.”

During her time as an undergraduate at Georgetown, Azelton majored in International Politics and found it “very exciting to be able to complete work on [her] degree in a new environment at such a prestigious school” on an exchange at Sciences Po. She arrived at Sciences Po and was happy to find that all of the students were studying the same kinds of things she was so passionate about. Azelton describes how she focused her studies at the time on the European Union, “how different government models are and what they look like.” Outside of her studies in international politics, Azelton appreciated Sciences Po’s diverse course offerings, remembering a particularly interesting introductory course on Rome and P.E. classes with her friends. “It was a really well-rounded program,” she adds. “Even though it was very focused, we still had a lot of other choices.” 

Outside of the classroom, Azelton tried to take advantage of opportunities to meet a variety of students. She describes how she got to see a lot of Paris, something very important to her during her time abroad. One of her favorite memories is of sitting on the rooftops outside of her apartment in the Marais, taking in the views of the city. 

After finishing her undergraduate studies, Azelton was very interested in Africa and international development and spent a number of years working in development in DC, Africa, and Afghanistan. “I really enjoyed that I spent some time on the ground in Afghanistan doing stability building,” she says. Upon returning to the U.S., Azelton also returned to one of her longtime passions and interests – outer space. “I was smart enough at eighteen to realize I probably wasn't going to get to be an astronaut,” she says. “Then I realized that I can do policy and space. So, I took all my program management skills and transferred to a job at NASA.” In her current role, Azelton focuses on space policy to ensure “a safe and secure and peaceful outer space environment for all these exciting advancements.” She calls her work a dream job within the industry, because Secure World Foundation is a “unique organization with this mission of space sustainability.”

Azelton enjoys that she can bring her international experience back into her career. Her current role combines space policy with an international component for work that is very global and not just U.S.-focused. She also enjoys the breadth of her particular role. “Most of my colleagues work on specific areas like security or debris,” she describes, “but I actually work on the question of why we care about space sustainability.” A major part of her work involves “promoting space as a way of solving problems on earth” and advocating for the people who are benefitting from space. “Are they able to advocate that we do the right thing with space so that we keep it safe and usable.” 

For the general public, Azelton says, “people do not realize how integrated space is into their lives,” citing examples such as GPS and cell phone service. She describes how, in the last ten to fifteen years, the space industry has shifted from a few, very large and powerful nations to greater involvement by developing countries and commercial companies. And in the last few years, there has been a renewed interest in going to the moon. “Sciences has had some great accomplishments,” she says, “but now we get to add on this other aspect of human exploration and commercial activity.”

As for Sciences Po’s continuing impact on her current career, Azelton still uses her detailed knowledge of the European Union. “To be able to understand European government and politics is super important in a lot of our initiatives,” she says. “To be able to have had that personal time on the ground, seeing places and meeting people, is incredibly useful in terms of the kinds of international connections that I need to have now. Sciences Po was definitely the first exposure I had to really getting to know people from all over the world.” 

Azelton shares two pieces of advice for current Sciences Po students and young graduates. The first is to “focus on what interests you and what you are passionate about but make sure that you are gaining hard skills as you do.” Her hard skills, she believes, are what enabled her to make the transition in her career to follow her passion for space. Secondly, she describes the unique opportunity of Sciences Po students to meet people from around the world and have access to the upper echelon of government. “You have access to future leaders, because they are the students around you.”

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