Head in the stars – SpaceUp Cologne at EAC

Sitting on the plane back to Manchester is a good time to get started on drafting this post, after a fantastic SpaceUp unconference over the weekend at the European Space Agency’s European Astronaut Centre in Cologne.

(I’ve previously written about SpaceUps and unconferences if you’re interested in what they are.)

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A view of SpaceUp Cologne, hosted at the European Astronaut Centre.

Once again SpaceUp was a great opportunity to meet like-minded people, reunite with friends, and learn from fellow participants about all sorts of topics related to space, from bringing 3D printed telescopes to Africa to designing LEGO models of the ISS and visiting Baikonur in the early 90s. Experts from the EAC were there throughout the weekend to take us on guided tours, answer our questions and tell us about their work monitoring’s astronauts’ health, training them in EVAs, doing team-building, etc.

Work-wise, it was a great opportunity to showcase the project I work for – the SKA – to a varied audience of space agency staff, experts, engineers, but also to many enthusiasts who are familiar with international projects and have an appetite for science, engineering and all things related to space, including astronomy and ground-based observatories!

The International Space Station and the SKA have a lot in common, being huge international collaborations at the edge of technology in their field – bringing together top experts from around the world to achieve the seemingly impossible. They’re great example of what humans can achieve when they set their minds and hearts to it.

My talks particularly focused on the potential of the SKA to support deep space missions, for example by enabling to transfer more & better data from space probes (resulting in better monitoring, higher quality images, & possibly live video feed, etc.) or by allowing to design low-cost lander missions without need for a relay satellite, greatly simplifying mission design. My hope is this would lead to a paradigm shift in the exploration of the solar system helping bring space even closer to people & showing how space exploration & astronomy can complement each other.

I received a lot of positive feedback following my talks and many people came to ask further questions or simply say they were really interested in the project and found it fascinating – including ESA staff, which is really heart-warming & encouraging. Those of us who do outreach know this – public engagement is a great way to be reminded how exciting what you do is and why you get up in the morning. SpaceUps are the same: intense, packed 2-day community events where you get little sleep but leave totally energised. And increasingly, they convince me of the close relationship between space and astronomy in the 21st century, and the potential to connect them.

As we approach Manchester and get ready to land back on Earth after a weekend in space, outside the plane window night is falling with a thin moon crescent smiling at Venus in the midnight blue sky, a red dusk setting the horizon on fire and yellow city lights aglow below – a perfect conclusion to a weekend spent head in the stars and a reminder of our beautiful spaceship Earth.

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