The Year 2040! Space University week 7-8

Hi all,

And greetings for the last time from sunny Athens, Ohio. This is my last blogpost from here as we have arrived at our final week on the Space Studies Programme.  This time next week I shall be in Edinburgh at Summerhall Theatre performing my show about all things Space, called “To Space”.  The past nine weeks have whizzed by.  I came here in early June, suddenly it’s August and it’s already time to come home.  Ireland and my life before SSP are slowly coming back in to focus. Looking forward to jumping back in to it all, and getting nostaligic already about everything that happened over the past 9 weeks here on Ohio University Campus, my home since June 8th.

Now that all the other activities are out of the way, we have devoted our last 3 weeks exclusively on one last task: the Team Project.  Way back in our first week, we had to choose from one of three topics and I selected ‘Vision 2040’, a project to imagine the next 25 years and the steps we need to take to plan for a better future.  I chose this project because it seemed to suit me best, there seemed to be most scope for creative thought.  35 other people picked the same topic. It began in week 3 with a Skype call from Gary Martin from NASA Ames & Chair (the external manager) of this project. Then we had visiting lecturers from qualified visionaries and specialists in predicting the next big thing, NewSpace. Teaching us skills in predicting disruptive technology, that is to say, ‘new ways of doing things that overturn traditional business methods and practices’. Like the internet for example. Or the mobile phone. They’re examples of disruptive technology. Sounds exciting right? Lots of scope to imagine hoverboards, teleportation, living in Space. Hmm, yeah that’s what I thought too.

However, it didn’t quite work out like that. Instead, we spent weeks going round and round in circles, trying new approaches, group tasks, to find it, to find it, to find it. But alas, it seemed that no matter who came to talk to us or what we tried to do, we could not collectively unlock the mystery of predicting the future in any tangible way. How do you imagine the Future? Where do you even begin to consider what the world will be like in 2040; whether we have colonised Mars, or mined the Moon and the Asteroids, or whether we will be living on a massive Space station, orbiting our planet? How can 36 people agree together on one common future? And then time started running out. And the more pragmatic thinkers came to the fore and finally after much reluctance, we found our ‘roadmap’ to the future. And not a hoverboard in sight. A quite practical and tangible vision of the future.  But very good nonetheless.

So now, looking back with the wisdom of week 9, I realise that the project was never about envisioning the next 25 years (well, yes to a degree), but more importantly to find new ways of working in a diverse cultural mixture of language, work practices and disciplines.  And different mindsets – putting big thinkers, objective engineers, scientists and artists in a room, who all have very different ways of seeing the same thing from entirely different viewpoints. Figuring out a common language. And determining who should lead? Who can possibly be an expert about what has not yet happened? There is no obvious leader of the ‘what has not yet come to pass’. And so we had to decide for ourselves, collectively, what we wanted to cover and how we structured our process. Keeping the non-native speakers up to date on everything, keeping everyone together, moving forward together. No rules, no guidance. And therein lies the true experience of SSP15.

And that challenge is the core of what the whole SSP experience is about, the programme is structured in such a way that everything leads us to completing the Team Project. And you feel the pressure.  Lots of late nights, pushing us to find new ways of working together, compromising, collaborating, chaos and challenging ourselves beyond our limits to complete a project, an executive summary and a big presentation that will be broadcast live to the world from the ISU channel. 

I ended up getting particularly involved in preparing the presentation team, and needless to say, I brought my bag of performing and improvisation tools with me. Definitely outside the comfort zone of a lot of my teammates, but they went with me. More skills to add to the cauldron of interdisciplinary, intercultural and international ISU.

Man being lifted into air by group of people in quad
Photo: Roy Naor being lifted by our fellow ‘Vision 2040’ SSP15 teammates (Credit: Petter Eyve Skanke)

And this is no ordinary group of 36 people. These are people with a common passion for Space, who have all parked their lives to come here for 9 weeks. All high achievers, exceptionally gifted people, some of the hardest workers I have ever seen. Initially you overlook this, but as we approach crunch time (which is Thursday), the commitment and quality of work from everyone is extraordinary. And that is how you make it to the end. You’re surrounded by people at the top of their game, motivated by our common love of Space.  That’s how we get it done.  And we’re almost there, the last leg of a very long journey. We present it all on Thursday and then the closing ceremony and SSP15 comes to a close. We haven’t had one disagreement. Not one.  There were times that I wanted to run for the hills I was so frustrated, times I cried with exhaustion, but then there also moments of ingenuity and teamwork like I’ve never seen before. And such great work. I’m incredibly proud of what we created together. And it came from all of us, each of us added in our own unique way to our final report ‘Vision 2040’.

Photo: Team ‘Vision 2040’, SSP15 participants with Project Chair Gary Martin (NASA Ames) and Teaching Asst. Aleksander Jacimovic (Credit: Shripathi Hadigal)
Photo: Team ‘Vision 2040’, SSP15 participants with Project Chair Gary Martin (NASA Ames) and Teaching Asst. Aleksander Jacimovic (Credit: Shripathi Hadigal)

I’m not sure how to summarise what the last 9 weeks have been like. It’s been a very long journey. I’ve learned so much about the Space industry, met countless astronauts, heard from the most learned people all over the world about what to expect in the Space industry in the years ahead. No-one told me how I’m personally going to get to Space. My life quest continues, but I feel after this experience and all the incredible people that I have met, that I’m definitely one step closer.

Oh, I also managed to get a bit of improv comedy going on while I was here too! ‘Improv the Awesome’ with Reinhard, Petter, Oriol & Idriss who took two workshops and performed at ‘Talent Night’ and came third. Couldn’t be prouder!

Photo: Petter Evyu Skanke, Reinhard Tlustos, me, Idriss Sisaid & Oriol Gasquez – “Improv The Awesome” troupe take third place at SSP15 Talent Night (Credit: Petter Evyu Skanke)
Photo: Petter Evyu Skanke, Reinhard Tlustos, me, Idriss Sisaid & Oriol Gasquez – “Improv The Awesome” troupe take third place at SSP15 Talent Night (Credit: Petter Evyu Skanke)

So Wish us luck this Thursday, will you? You can watch our presentation live if you would like to see our vision of 2040. I remember that first night of SSP15, when we first arrived to Athens and John Connolly, Director of SSP (and NASA), told us that ‘SSP will change your life’. Fair play to you John, you’re a man of your word.

See you next week for my last update post-SSP15 and all things Edinburgh Fringe!