International Space University: Week 3 ‘Apollo 11’

Monday, June 29, 15

Week 3

Hi all,

I can’t believe that a week has passed since my last blogpost. Time is starting to warp here, with more and more activities being squeezed in to an already jam-packed schedule. Voluntarily being squeezed in, might I add, as you begin exciting new collaborations with any number of the multi-talented participants attending the Space Studies Programme.  There are literally not enough hours in the day to do it all, but it doesn’t stop us trying. Even getting this blogpost to you, takes a stringent re-scheduling of my weeks activities and other projects on the go. Getting on average 4-5 hours sleep a night, if I’m lucky. John Connolly, the programme director, keeps warning us that by week 8, we’ll all be walking around like zombies to meet the submission deadlines for our final Team Project task. I cannot imagine right now, how I could possibly squeeze more time in to my day!

But I’m loving it all and am happy to miss sleep in order to keep all my plates spinning, terrified that I’m going to miss anything. This programme really is unique in that way. I can’t remember being so motivated around a bunch of people that I’ve only just met. So many capable people showing you better ways of doing things, inspiring you to think in new ways, so I guess its only logical that new ideas are going to merge from surrounding yourself with such a diverse international mix of cultures and disciplines who all share the same passion for Space.

HEbrew Arabic -
My name written in Hebrew & Arabic

The International Space University prides itself on the 3 I’s- International, Interdisciplinary, Intercultural and I’m beginning to understand why. At breakfast Sunday morning, I was shown how my name is spelt in both Hebrew & Arabic. A wonderful start to any day.

There are 30 different nations represented here on the programme and to ensure that we all get a taste of each of those diverse cultures, SSP15 holds weekly Culture Nights, which are becoming a big part of the experience here for all of us.

Team Ireland were part of the first Culture night, which seems like months ago now, but was actually only 10 days ago. So, Orla, Hugh, James, Jonathan & myself locked ourselves in a room, where we cogitated, deliberated and finally put together our presentation of Ireland, which included a smorgasboard of Irish culture, such as a general overview of the colloquialisms  (‘What’s the craic?’, ‘James was langers last night’, ‘That’s fierce gas’ and other rural Ireland cliches), some top Irish words & phrases (e.g. ‘An bhfuil cead agam dul go dtí an leithreas?), making Colcannon, all finishing with a creamy pint of Guinness and a swift Powers for everyone in the audience. I think we did a good job. Let’s just say, we were a very popular stall-well, that is until all the booze ran dry! But in fairness, we had stiff competition coming from the French, who were serving Crepes with Nutella (everyone knows, you can’t beat Crepes!)

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Culture Night- Team Ireland- Orla, Hugh, James, Jonathan & I

This week, Mauritius, Nigeria, UK & Japan took us through their cultures & customs- the whole affair is ‘tongue in cheek’ and lots of fun, but it’s a subtle reminder of the diversity of the group at SSP and how we all must learn to communicate from a new, more global perspective. These differences are especially evident in our group team project; you notice that each nation has their preferred code of conduct during discussions; some are very vocal, some are mild-mannered, and some are not heard at all. It’s a key part of our activities to include everyone in all decisions, so each of us has had to learn new ways of expressing our opinions & making better use of our cultural diversity to find new, smarter ways of progressing forward.

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Yashiko & Saho, from Team Japan

Lectures continue in earnest, we especially focussed last week on ‘Human Performance in Space’, where Dr. Erin Tranfield, a Space medicine specialist, spoke about the physical effects of microgravity on the human body. She basically told us that being in Space takes its toll on your body and your sense of balance has to completely re-orient itself back to Earth’s gravity when you return, as you wait for your inner-ear to re-calibrate itself to remember which way is up. This can often take 2-3 days to return (and for some, longer) as the slightest turn of the head, can bring on excessive dizziness and motion sickness.  Brent Sherwood, Space Architect, working at JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a US centre for robotic exploration for NASA) took us through the design principles for Space habitats and the various factors to consider when building homes on extra-terrestrial planets and moons. And leading expert on the Space race of the 1960’s, John Logsdon, gave a fascinating lecture on the history of the Apollo missions and the huge political canvas behind the international co-operation of nations involved in making the International Space Station happen.

Today, Ginger Kerrick, Missions Operation Directorate for the International Space Station at Johnson Space Centre Houston and SSP alumni, told us about the detailed planning and execution of every element of the missions to and from the ISS. She was tied up in meetings all weekend in the aftermath of SpaceX’s Falcon launch failure last Sunday, and troubleshooting new strategies in the wake of a 2nd failed payload mission to the ISS, which was loaded with supplies for the crew. At the end of the lecture, Ginger picked up her phone and made a call and then put the caller on loud speaker- it was NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly, currently on a 1 year long mission Expedition 43- that’s right- aboard the International Space Station- LIVE!! Here it is:

Soundcloud link here of the live chat to ISS 

While that really was a pretty exciting moment, best moment of the week for me by far, was meeting the humble sons of NASA’s legendary Apollo 11 mission, Rick Armstrong & Andy Aldrin. They came in to talk to us about their fathers and life growing up in the shadow of such influential figures of the 20th Century. In case you don’t know, on July 20th 1969, NASA astronaut Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the Moon, heralding a massive first for mankind. He was closely followed by Buzz Aldrin. This moment has had a lasting effect on the world and our social history, which continues to this day. And after being part of such a massive world moment, Armstrong and Aldrin’s lives and the lives of their families were never the same again. Rick told us that his father Neil, was intensely shy and really struggled with the attention in the aftermath of the Moon landing, whereas Andy’s Dad, Buzz, relished in the fame. They both grew up in the same estate in Houston, surrounded by other families of Astronauts; to them, their fathers going to the Moon was normal, everyday. It was only when they moved away from the safe sheltered cocooned community at NASA Houston, they realised the impact their fathers had on modern society, their contribution to world history and how many they inspired in that legendary Apollo 11 mission.  But I wanted to know what Neil & Buzz were like as fathers and so, I asked them both, what was the best advice their fathers gave them growing up. Both of them said, ‘To do your very best, to work hard, and to respect your neighbours’. It was very moving hearing them say something so simple and honest and humble.

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Rick Armstrong & Andy Aldrin at SSP event ‘Armstrong- Aldrin Panel’

Because I realized, that no matter whether you land on the Moon or drive a truck, or work as a salesman, every parent’s advice is always the same. And I thought in that moment of Dad & Mam back in Dundalk, who devoted their lives to giving me a safe home and sacrificing everything to make me and my siblings the people we are today.  And how similar their life lessons were to me. Those lessons that got me to this moment where I was sitting in front of the sons of Neil Armstrong & Buzz Aldrin. Surrounded by 120 of the most diverse, talented & inspiring people I have ever been around. And it was the first time since I got here that I missed home. It seems no matter where you come from, whatever your culture, we are all essentially the same. Just doing our best.

Níl aon tinteáin mar do thinteáin féin, eh?



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