International Space University’s Space Studies Program: a path to a career in space

Congratulations to Maliyat and TJ for determining that I was in Cork, Ireland earlier this month to participate in International Space University (ISU)’s Space Studies Program (SSP). I’ll put signed photos in the mail for both of you.

My visit to Cork was brief but I did have the opportunity to deliver a lecture, adjudicate a fun Rube-Goldberg-like competition and participate in an international astronaut panel. And outside the formal teaching events, I enjoyed meeting the participants and interacting with the other lecturers – an important part of the ISU academic experience.

Young Canadians often ask me to recommend a post-secondary educational path that could lead to a career in space. In addition to joining organizations such as the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS) and the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute (CASI), I also recommend that they consider applying to International Space University to participate in an SSP summer session.

ISU’s Space Studies Program is an intensive nine-week educational program for postgraduate students and young professionals of all disciplines. It is held in the summer months and hosted by an academic institute with a background in space. For instance, this summer’s SSP, the 30th annual session, is being hosted by the Cork Institute of Technology in Ireland. Next year’s SSP will be hosted by three Dutch space organizations: the Delft University of Technology, Leiden University and the European Space Research and Technology Centre in Noordwijk.

The SSP curriculum includes both technical and non-technical topics. It provides a wonderful overview of space affairs: engineering, space sciences, space applications, life sciences, human performance, law, policy, management, business, economics and the humanities. Since the curriculum is so interdisciplinary, students with backgrounds in fine arts and social sciences are just as welcome to the program as those with backgrounds in engineering and science.

The 2017 class of the ISU Space Studies Program includes 110 participants from 26 countries, including several Canadians. They range in age from 21 to 56; the gender mix is 31% female and 69% male. This diverse group of talent and passion is united by a common interest in space exploration and development, and by a willingness to work, study and play hard. I have long been an advocate for International Space University. It emphasizes international cooperation and promotes respect for different cultures and perspectives. It correctly recognizes that today’s space community is global, interdisciplinary and collaborative.

Best wishes to the 2017 SSP participants. They have now completed their core curriculum and are presently working on their three Team Projects – opportunities to work together cross-culturally and collaboratively on significant endeavours. I note that one of this year’s Team Projects is a comprehensive analysis and recommendation for the future of the International Space Station. As a former ISS crew member, I’ll be particularly interested in those findings. The current plan to abandon the program in 2024 when the Station partnership expires is troublesome to me since the Station is a large investment and resource and continues to serve a meaningful purpose. There must be enterprising organizations who could continue to make productive use of the Station in the coming decades.

Delivering SSP’17 lecture on ‘Expeditionary Behaviour’

Delivering SSP’17 lecture on ‘Expeditionary Behaviour’.

Some of the Canadian participants, faculty and staff at SSP’17.

Some of the Canadian participants, faculty and staff at SSP’17.

2 thoughts on “International Space University’s Space Studies Program: a path to a career in space

  1. I saw Dr. Thirsk interview on CPAC and was so impressed that I told one Korean
    community college student majoring in IT, that she should look up the bio of Dr.Thirsk and find out what program she could enter at U. of Calgary which would take her to the next level using her knowledge of IT and discovering the phenomenal field of space science which Dr. Thirst has helped develop, if I am not mistaken.

    Could you recommend a program for an IT grad. in the innovative environment of U of Calgary so that I can pass this information along to her as I promised?

    • Hello Susan. It is good to hear from you. Yes, the University of Calgary is a good place to pursue a program in IT.

      The best advice I can give to your college student is for her to follow her passion. Do not follow an educational path simply because she thinks that it might lead to a career in space. There are many trajectories to space! She should follow the path that makes the most sense for someone with her abilities and interests. Get as much exposure to team work settings with opportunities in leadership and followership roles. An international perspective and second language capability would also be beneficial.

      She may wish to contact the Canadian Space Agency in St-Hubert, Quebec and inquire about elective or internship opportunities in IT, AI or robotics. For a well-rounded introduction to space issues, consider attending the Masters (one year) or SSP program (9 weeks) of International Space University. I recommend that she join the local chapter of Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS Canada) in order to meet like-minded people. She might also consider joining the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute (CASI). Participation in SEDS and CASI activities will inform her about graduate-level and career opportunities and put her in contact with relevant workers in the space program.

      Hope this helps, Susan. Thanks for being a mentor to this young woman.

      Robert Thirsk

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