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Thursday, 14 November 2013

Team Projects and Individual Projects

The last two weeks at the ISU have been really interesting, and decisions made during this fortnight will shape the rest of the year. The first decision revolved around the choice of team project, of which there were two. One team project involved investigating how to use space for migration, as in how to use the space industry to help better understand, monitor, and control human migration on planet Earth. The other project involved the benefits, challenges, and reasons for/against a one way trip to Mars, wherein the travelers would settle and establish a colony.

Both projects have their merits. The Space for Migration project is worthwhile because humanity is in need of better global management. We use, and arguably abuse, Earth's resources and we're only just now beginning to understand the impact we are having. If there could only be one solid argument for the benefits of the space industry it would be that space allows humanity to gain a better understanding of ourselves and our activities. Using satellite communication, navigation, and remote sensing systems, we have been able to witness how the Earth has changed through resource utilization (deforestation, agriculture, etc.), urban development (the development of cities and the like), and pollution (landfills, etc.). The Space for Migration project seeks to help students understand the challenges and potential for space systems which help coordinate human effort with more efficiency and care where Earth and its resources are concerned.

The One Way to Mars study may have a more indirect impact on humanity. The concept involves sending humans to Mars and having them settle there, living out their lives. While those with concerns a little closer to home might wonder about the benefits of such a study, it's important to remember how human beings generally operate. We like comparisons, and we often learn much about our own situation when viewing another. By understanding how human beings might best survive on a trip to Mars, and living there, we learn more about what general requirements humans have to not only survive, but to thrive, here on Earth. In order to facilitate such a trip, great leaps in engineering and medical/life studies must be made. Such leaps would also benefit those who stayed behind here on Earth. Additionally, such a venture would be too costly, risky, and prone to failure without international cooperation. Going to Mars would require large groups of people from different nations, backgrounds, and cultural experiences to cooperate toward a common goal in a way never before seen. Even if our case study reveals that a trip to Mars would be an unwise decision, understanding the reasons behind this could help us better comprehend the political, social, and economic obstacles currently in place.

As I mentioned, both projects have merit. After requesting our preferences, the ISU did its best to form two teams with an even disciplinary and cultural diversity. The popular joke was that we didn't want one team of engineers and one team of economists. My preference was for the One Way to Mars and I am happy to say that I was chosen for that team. Still, I am interested in the results of the Space for Migration project and I look forward to their final report.

The second important decision made at ISU this week concerns the Individual Projects. Along with the Team Project, students are expected to devote their time to a more specific and in-depth study of an aspect of the space industry. The professors had many ideas in mind and distributed a list of 100 suggested projects. I was personally impressed with the diversity. There were many engineering- projects economic case studies, marketing, archaeology, photography, music, art, journalism, you name it. Additionally, the professors were open to suggestion. One professor said he was waiting for someone to suggest a project involving dance, saying that such a project could be different and interesting.

While the suggested projects looked interesting, I proposed something different. For years now, I have been interested in learning about the dangers of the space environment and what needs to be done to make human spaceflight easier and safer. To that end, I proposed a project to research the sources, properties, and risks of galactic cosmic radiation, with a desire to also investigate the implemented and proposed methods for protecting astronauts from this radiation. We find out tomorrow if our preferences or proposals will be accepted and if so, I will post here more about my reasons, motivations, and methods involved in researching such a topic.

Today, the ISU students had an entire day dedicated to team projects. This was an important first step for us all and everyone seemed very excited. I volunteered to chair (lead) the meeting, and things went smoothly and diplomatically. While it was my first official experience as the chair of a meeting, I have been in many meetings before and likely performed the same tasks before, if not officially.

We have a team of 18 people, with different backgrounds, both culturally and disciplinary, and so I've been thinking for days how best to organize the team. What are we setting out to accomplish? How would be do that? How could be organize ourselves? Planning a one way to Mars is difficult enough, but we're not just expected to plan the trip, we're supposed to understand what has been planned before, what challenges they faced, what challenges we would have now, and how to overcome them.

Our meeting went well. We worked out a rough timeline for the next month or so, assigned tasks, divided ourselves into relevant subgroups and made some plans for the future. The process was very enjoyable, with everyone sharing ideas, no one arguing or talking over each other, and while not a lot of progress was made today, we took a positive step forward and I look forward to future work.

I am very excited for the work ahead. It is wonderful to be in a place which is so connected and involved in the space industry. I spend my entire day thinking and learning about the space industry and it is very rewarding to be part of this community. My fellow classmates are enthusiastic, dedicated, and have a variety of experience which really helps inspire me to work harder than ever before. The faculty, and visiting lecturers are not only accomplished in their respective fields, but they are still connected with the industry bringing in fresh experience, perspectives, and opportunities every day.

I look forward to sharing my experiences here but I also plan to organize my time, work, and this blog a little more, bringing you along on my journey. My goal is not only to share my perspective, and not only to talk about some of the exciting things here at the ISU, but to show you the results of my work, starting from bright-eyed Masters student leading to successful intern and to excited space professional.

As always, thank you for reading!

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