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Friday, 3 January 2014

All work and no play: Finishing 2013 at the ISU

Christmas has come and gone, and I've been so busy that it has taken me this long to catch you up on my adventures.

With Christmas coming, boy did I ever need a break! The workload at the ISU has been as exceptionally demanding as advertised, but the worst thing is that I haven't had the time to focus on anything other than my desk and the classroom. While I'll get into the details of my activities in other posts, this one is simply an update of everything I've been working on since last I posted here.

This last month at the ISU has been very busy, and it was starting to take its toll. I was constantly in meetings, answering emails, writing, researching, working, and thanks to everything closing early in France, it took me a week to get my groceries at one point. When I did, I realized that it was the first time I had heard French in a month.

The majority of December had been spent managing and working on the One Way Missions to Mars team project. As mentioned in a previous post, the project involves researching the possibilities and challenges involved with sending humans to Mars, there to settle.

When last I wrote about this project, my team and I were just getting started, just beginning to understand the topic. Much has happened in the last month.

The first thing we did was to elect management since, after two weeks of having the assignment, we hadn't done anything too constructive yet in meetings. I was elected as one of the project managers and worked hard to get our team moving forward.

Our first main task was to conduct a literature review on everything concerning a one way human mission to Mars. The team's job was to research everything they could which relates to this mission, and understand both the challenges and opportunities which currently exist in planning and executing a one way mission to Mars. Seeing as though we only had one month to deliver the review and a presentation, we had to be very tight with deadlines.

I'll go into more details later concerning the outcome of the literature review, but for now I will say that it took a lot of time, involved a lot of effort, and covered the topic from as many perspectives and disciplines as we could manage. The review was broken into five major themes: technology, science, human factors, economics, and law/ethics/management, and these topics were written and researched by the eighteen people on our team.

It was quite incredible how our team was able to come together, devote such time and care to the quality of the work, and deliver everything on time. I am very happy with the end result and I'm hoping our feedback and grades from the faculty reflect our efforts. As mentioned, I'll discuss the details of the review in another post.

While this was the major task at hand, it was not the only thing occupying my time. Sure, planning, organizing, and running meetings took a considerable amount of time, and I probably had more emails in the last month than ever before in my entire life, but the ISU work train has no brakes. That is to say, I had a lot of other activities and projects as well.

Every day was fully scheduled with classes, and often there were workshops afterward. Some of the classes involved guest speakers and it was very exciting to be able to meet with people from many different areas of the space industry. I met a few engineers from ESTEC, the European Space Research and Technology Centre, a part of the European Space Agency, ESA. I also met ambassadors of policy from ESA, NASA, JAXA (the Japanese space agency), Roscosmos (the Russian space agency), and a representative from the Indian space agency.

It was an exciting couple of weeks, learning more about the policies and politics which govern the activities from those various agencies. I had the chance to have lunch with many of these ambassadors and it was a rewarding experience, being able to learn more from them.

Related to these visits, I have continued searching for an internship opportunity. Building my network, I am doing my very best to secure an opportunity as early as possible. The internship session is between June and the end of August and I want to have everything settled well before then. To that effect, I have been trying to understand who else is interested in active radiation shielding (my area of interest), and where I might be able to work in this field. It has been difficult devoting time to this research, with everything else which has been happening, but I have made some progress.

The two space agencies which seem most suited to offering opportunities in this area are ESA and NASA. The Canadian Space Agency has three areas of focus: robotics, remote sensing (like surveying), and telecommunications, so finding something which combines radiation shielding and the space industry might be a bit difficult. Canada is a cooperating member state of ESA and so I am lucky in that I am eligible to work there. I have applied for a Young Graduate Training opportunity which is a one year long paid opportunity. The applications were only due just last week so I do not expect to hear back from them for some time.

Much of my research in radiation shielding has revealed NASA's shared interest in this field. Not surprisingly, many NASA institutions have conducted research in this area, especially as it pertains to human spaceflight. Thanks to some of the guest speakers, and my own research, I have been in contact with a few people who might have knowledge of related opportunities. I will keep you informed if anything further develops in this area.

In order to make the most of my time, I strategically chose to research the properties and effects of radiation in space and on Mars. This allowed me to simultaneously research for my team and individual project. I will go into the results in another post, and I still have some reading to complete to feel satisfied for my individual project, but I did learn quite a bit about the radiation in space and on Mars.

Work work work, and no play. While I have been enjoying my work and research at the ISU, I still struggle to find time for leisurely activities. Funny enough, this becomes more of an issue when I'm working on things I enjoy, as the line between work and play itself is blurred. I am not one for "New Year's resolutions", but one thing I must continue to work on is scheduling time for non-academic activities. Thankfully, I had plenty of time for that over the holiday break, so read on in a later post and enjoy!

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