Credit: Minkang Chen

Space University week 6: Dream Big!

Hi all,

The SSP experience continues here at Ohio, as indeed do the storms, and flood warnings and thunder & lightning.  In the last few weeks, since we finished up lectures, we’ve been focussing on the tasks required as part of our Department activities.  It has been a particularly busy time for me. But whats new, eh? Well, this time, it’s because I’ve also been working on a number of projects for Ireland while I’m here, including a special commission for this year’s Festival of Curiosity entitled ‘Memory of Place’. Its a downloadable app which investigates the neuroscience and intimacy of memory. The Festival of Curiosity happens this week, and I cannot recommend it enough that you attend. Special thanks to a fellow SSP15 participant, Elburz who wrote the soundscape for it, which thanks to his involvement, allowed me to finish this project on time- phew! Here’s how I managed to squeeze in the time to make it.

Up at 6.30am

Department activities


Workshop, but kept working on ‘Memory of Place’ throughout.


Culture Night!

Back to room to work on ‘Memory of Place’.

Lights out 3am.

Saturday- Up at 9am

Cycled to Walmart for my usual supplies run.


Grumpy- As all my SSP pals hung out by the side of the pool for the afternoon I stayed indoors working on ‘Memory of Place’.


Back to work.

Finish at 1am.

Lights out 3am.


Up at 9am

Meetings to plan our Department and Team activities.

And on it goes.

The machine that is SSP.

We just finished our department activities at the weekend, and it was really great fun. I think the best activities we have had so far. There are seven departments at SSP and depending on the one you select, you get to complete any number of pretty cool space-related activities. I chose Humanities and our main task was to create a 3-5 minute movie. I was part of a small team including Oriol (from Spain), Hansley (from Mauritius) & Saho (from Japan).  We hit it off immediately, calling ourselves ‘Hanivor Pictures’, a really great bunch. The other departments included Space Applications, Space Science, Engineering, Human Performance in Space, Business & Management and lastly Space Policy & Law.  While you may want to do them all, you only get to choose one department. 

group photograph of Hanivor Pictures
‘Hanivor Pictures’, the makers of ‘Dream Big’. L to Right Me, Hansley Noruthun, Oriol Gasquez, Saho Yajima

Personally, I think I hit the jackpot with Humanities; run by 2 great people, Norah Patten (Ireland) and Geoff Steeves (Canada) both alumni of SSP (2010) and passionate about communicating all things Space. We got to meet a broad spectrum of film-makers and directors or other Space communications staff, on all things STEAM (putting the Arts in to Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths). It was very encouraging for me to hear the opinions of these guest speakers, because at home in Ireland, I often feel quite isolated in what I do. But in the Space Humanities department, I’m surrounded by like-minded individuals in much more senior positions than myself, saying the same things to me that I’ve been reinforcing in myself, silently blazing my own trail in what I believe to be the future of science engagement. I found myself at one stage overwhelmed, unable to speak & whimpering away to myself in the middle of a nature trail field trip (Hocking Hills) after Loretta Whitesides (from Virgin Galactic) told us about the importance of the Overview effect and her life mission to tell the human side of Space exploration. I’ve never felt so sure of what I’m doing than I did in that moment.  It was the boost I had been looking for, for a very long time, and it has invigorated me to continue in what I do, to believe more in it and to challenge myself further with bigger, more ambitious projects about the deeper message in exploring the Humanity of Space.

Back to our department activities: Oriol, Hansley, Saho & I (i.e., ‘Hanivor Pictures’) decided pretty early on that we wanted to involve the local Athens community, to make a mini-documentary  ‘Dream Big’, about role models in the Space industry to encourage people to pursue their passions. Firstly, we invited some of the local children to come in & talk to us and tell us about what they wanted to be when they grow up. We met Liam (8), Adam (6) , Vlada (8), Isaac (6) , AJ (9) , Walker (6), Rayhan (5 ½) and Tatum (9) and asked them what they wanted to be when they grow up & how to pursue your dreams.  And then we spoke to some SSP staff & participants who have already done some pretty incredible things in their life, to see how they managed to fulfil their life ambitions.

Time was tight on the project: we wrapped on a Sunday, edited it on a Monday & Tuesday and by Wednesday, it was whisked off to the local cinema where it was screened as part of our department activity. This was the first time I’ve seen any of my film work displayed on the big screen. It was a proud moment for us all, and we were especially proud because the children did such a good job. Children are very wise.  You can see for yourself here:

I was fortunate to find 3 people who like to make the kind of work I like to too (plus they’re all pretty great people too), so Hanivor Pictures, which emerged from a small Department activity has grown legs and intends to continue making global outreach projects long after SSP15 ends. Watch this Space, folks…. (literally!)

SSP 2015 group
Space Humanities department participants outside Athena Theatre, where our movies were screened. L to R: Hansley Noruthun, me, Oriol Gasquez, Orla Punch, Martinus Sleegers, Minkang Chen (Reinhard Tlustos & Ryan Clement are missing, but they were also in the department) Credit: Minkang Chen

Other department activities included field trips away to radio telescopes, or conducting autopsies, or flying planes. Or building rockets. That one was for Space Engineering. 5 teams each built a rocket and the launch went down at the local airfield last Saturday. It was a big day for them & we were all delighted to come along to support the virgin voyage of their new launch designs.

The criteria of their design had to include the launch a payload of 1 raw egg to a height of 300m, and to return it back unharmed, recording audio & video throughout.  As I said, 5 teams launched their rockets, but only one rocket returned the egg intact. So they were the winners. The others had their own adventures to recount though- one rocket misfired and flew straight into the crowd of the local Athens families that were there to support the SSP activity. But another decided to target the SSP participants themselves. Like me. All I can remember is seeing the rocket launching, disappearing into the sky, then losing sight of it. And then about 10 seconds later, hearing a loud thud about 5 feet away from me. Yep, nearly lost my life to a renegade rocket!! My reaction says it all.

Rocket failure startles woman
SSP15 Rocket Launch day- the moment of near-impact – my face says it all (Credit: Petter Evju Skanke, SSP15 Participant)

We all miss the department activities terribly- they were fun, easy, and completely different to anything we had done before. Now the serious work begins. We’ve been warned for weeks about this final phase of the programme. The Team Project. This is when the real sleep deprivation kicks in, the long hours, the mountains of work. As I said a few weeks back, I’m not sure how much busier things could possibly get around here, but it seems it can. And will. Well, we’ll know in a week, won’t we? Until then, keep watching the skies folks, you never can tell what could drop out of the sky and land right beside you.

Thanks again to everyone who helped us put ‘Dream Big’ together, we had a lot of support from SSP participants and staff, the CreateSpace at Ohio University and Steve & Colleen from Russ College, as well as all the families who participated in the movie.