Space Studies Program NASA Ames – Part II

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The first month of the Space Studies Program was a brilliantly exhausting sequence of 63 lectures covering an extensive range of space-specific topics. We all appreciated the opportunity to learn about unfamiliar topics that we had little exposure to. Early evening (and into the early morning) celebrations hosted beautifully by the Northern European countries were a just reward after four long hours writing the examination.

Where do we come from? Where are we going? These questions were underlying themes during the series of lectures for week 4, which focused on satellite applications, space mission design, and space culture. However, neither question is resolved with an easy answer and while we cannot control the past and earth`s history, we can definitely influence the future with smart decisions about technology. The concept of technology as a double-edged sword became most obvious during a remote sensing lecture by Scott Madry. Remote sensing provides inherently beneficial capabilities including weather observations, forestry monitoring, and disaster management. However, with this technology, individuals and organizations often take advantage of earth`s resources, which are already in scarce supply. It is essential for users of this technology to make intelligent decisions with the extracted data. As it was eloquently phrased during the lecture, we must make the photons move from the electrons to the neurons and use the collected information to shape the world.

As part of the curriculum, each SSP participant must choose to participate in one of seven specific departments, which all began during the fourth week. Departmental activities included GPS work for Satellite Applications, attendance of the Lunar Conference and poster design for the Physical Sciences group, while Life Sciences had a tour of the NASA Ames facilities and a speak-easy session with a few active astronauts including NASA flight veteran Don Pettit. Many students were in awe of Don Pettit’s enigmatic and engaging story-telling abilities. The stories of his work and experiments are reminiscent of the legendary physicist Richard Feynman, who had a revolutionary view of learning and curiosity. Don Pettit embodies Feynman’s learning philosophies and has an aggressive curiosity that never ceases. He is constantly testing new ideas and experiments, both on earth and in space. His accounts were a much-needed reminder that when it comes to learning, nothing is off-limits; there is always more to discover.

Then there was a much-anticipated International Astronaut Panel featuring Don Pettit, Dan Berry, Paolo Nespoli, Chiaki Mukai, and Canadian Chris Hadfield. The Panel featured discussions about robotic versus human exploration and human missions to Mars. Chris Hadfield recounted his childhood during the moon landing – he knew right then that he wanted to go to space. Decades later after having successfully completed astronaut training, Chris was assigned to a mission with another astronaut and immediately connected over the exact same story of their youth – two young boys from the middle of nowhere, dreaming of space travel after witnessing such an iconic part of our history. This commonality exists over generations, and especially at ISU, many of us have the same revelation and bond over common dreams of riding rockets. Furthermore, when discussions moved beyond lunar exploration towards Mars, all of the astronauts were extremely levelheaded and had family values in their hearts. Although they are all explorers and dreamed of venturing to Mars, for many, the feasibility of such an adventure at this stage of their lives had passed.

Business ensued with two separate panels and team project meetings in between. The first panel was an extension of the NASA Lunar Science Conference, featuring speakers prominent during the Apollo era. After attending sessions like the Apollo panel, you can`t help but realize the legacy of each of these individuals. The knowledge and experience they possess is invaluable. For our sake and for future generations, it is crucial that their stories and knowledge are preserved. Pete Worden, NASA Ames Research Center Director, presented the second panel featuring insights into global warming trends in light of various extinction models and significant impacts on oceanic processes.

Another cultural night at the end of the week was an opportunity to unwind and relax before diving into the deluge of lecture topics awaiting our attention. As usual, food and beverage selection was a highlight of the evening`s events…not to mention a beer fridge full of Heineken provided by the Norwegians and a beautiful presentation by China.

It was appropriate that the last few core lectures focused on space tourism, the fate of the universe, and space futures. Over the first few weeks of the program, whether we learned about spacecraft and launch systems, business, policy and law, or the space environment, one commonality is the foresight that is necessary to keep the space industry progressing and growing. As the next generation of participants in this global industry, we constantly need to be looking towards what is next – what are our long-term goals for space exploration? Conversely, how can we meet those long-term goals while living sustainably on our own planet? We need to recognize the factors of change in order to influence our future while recognizing the discipline necessary to prevent the uncontrollable growth and collapse of our planet – spaceship earth.

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