Space, the final frontier

March 3, 1995

A masters degree in space studies begins this summer for high-flying students from a range of disciplines.

The course not only teaches students from all over the world how to design space projects, but also considers the legal, economic and human problems alongside the scientific ones.

The International Space University (ISU) was founded in 1987 and has been holding ten-week summer sessions at universities and research centres around the world. This year it has established a permanent central campus in Strasbourg in France.

George Haskell, vice president for academic and research affairs, says: "The degree is aimed at future senior managers and decision-makers. We need to offer them a broad curriculum. After the Cold War, some parts of the space sector are floundering as countries ask 'why are we doing this?'. Managers need to understand the problems as seen by lawyers and politicians as well as scientists."

Nick Flowers did the summer session while in the second year of his computer science PhD at University College London.

"There are four weeks of core lectures from ten or so different departments," he says. "I was a bit suspicious of one department: humanities. We had to read a science fiction novel on colonising Mars and I though this was real space cadet stuff. But it was excellent, there were lectures on 'why humanity explores' which took us from the Polynesians' exploration across the Pacific through the pioneering theorists who first argued that you could escape gravity to the pioneering rocket engineeers.

"Another thing I thought would be a bit silly was 'Searching for Extra-Terrestrials' - but they approached it quite rationally.

The courses emphasise co-operation. "You get to meet a lot of people with different points of view and ways of working," says Mr Flowers. "Now I've got friends I talk with by email all over the world. If I've got a problem on any project, there are people out there I can contact.

"I learned a lot about law, economics, the reasons why different nations and businesses are going into space."

Adam Baker did the summer session after graduating from Oxford University in materials science. He works for the European Space Agency and will soon return to Oxford to do a PhD. He was lectured by astronaut Buzz Aldrin and Jeff Hoffman, who repaired the Hubble telescope. He learned about the use of space research to the wider community.

"Probes to the sun and moon are all very good from the science point of view, but a good example of why space research should be funded is the earth observation, prediction of natural disasters and so on."

One intriguing subject is "space sport". Dr Haskell says: "If humans are to do things in space, particularly if they are to be there for a long time, they need to keep fit physically and psychologically."

The masters degree includes work on individual projects and team-work on a design project. There is also a placement in a continent other than the student's, at one of the ISU affiliate campuses or companies.

Dr Haskell believes that international co-operation will ensure that space research is done in an enlightened manner. "Coming out of the Judaeo-Christian tradition you think it is man's destiny to conquer other planets, whereas Buddhists are not so arrogant," he says.

Details from the Space Education Trust, c/o The Royal Aeronautical Society, 4 Hamilton Place, London, W1V OBQ.

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