SPACE: A Personal Vision

by Paul Gilster on October 1, 2012

by Shen Ge

Coming up this January is a two-week long “minds-on ties-off” research workshop at Callao Salvaje on Tenerife on the Canary Islands. I learned about the organization behind the workshop — the Scientific Preparatory Academy for Cosmic Explorers — in Houston when I had the good fortune to have dinner with its young co-founder Shen Ge. Shen’s organization is a nonprofit academic and research corporation created by young people from many countries. It began this year with a July conference on the Isle of Man, and will soon enter what it considers Phase 1: Building educational modules for brief space courses that can be taught at the university level. The ultimate goal is an actual university with full-time faculty and students. I asked the energetic Shen if he could supply us with a brief article outlining his vision and the steps ahead.

In some respects, Shen’s ideas parallel those of the International Space University, as he notes below, although he hopes to extend their reach. The ISU is a non-profit institution offering graduate-level training from a central campus in Strasbourg, France, with a two-month Space Studies Program and a one-year Masters program covering space programs and enterprises, space science, space engineering, systems engineering, space policy and law, business and management, and space and society. More than 3300 students from 100 countries have had ISU training, developing a network of space professionals that Shen hopes to enrich and extend.

I’ve recently been asked to comment on my vision for our Scientific Preparatory Academy for Cosmic Explorers, or SPACE, an organization of which I am a co-founder. There currently exists no such entity as SPACE in the world and there needs to be if humanity is ever to become a spacefaring civilization. My vision is of an international, interdisciplinary, and hands-on research and educational university where anyone with a passion for space and a decent academic record will be welcomed to join our institution to learn and research space topics.

From recent surges in space development, whether they are publicly funded by governments in rapidly developing nations such as China or India aiming for prowess or whether they are started by young upstarts backed by wealthy entrepreneurs such as Planetary Resources or Space X aiming for profits, there is no denying that space will play a vitally important role for all of us on Earth. Just as we cannot imagine today a world without airplanes flying people everywhere for business or leisure, in the next few decades we will live in a world where we could not imagine people not taking space trips to space colonies, the asteroids or the Moon.

Yet for us to reach that point, we need more people with both the knowledge and interest in a discipline that can propel humanity into a spacefaring civilization. When I look back at my own experience, I’m a little disappointed. I obtained a good education in aerospace engineering but I found three important areas missing in my programs:

    1) No core focus on space. This is completely understandable since aerospace engineering also delves deeply into aircraft. There currently exists no multidisciplinary space educational university for the undergraduate. There are aerospace engineering programs around the world but many of them are not related to space or are heavily specialized in one area.

    2) Lack of other classes related to space that were not engineering-oriented. Many new discoveries are made from cross-disciplinary studies. Yet at engineering schools, we are required to take so many engineering classes that we inevitably cannot learn much of other interesting fields. We are advocating a multidisciplinary space education that includes topics such as astronomy, astrophysics, computer science, astrophysics, space law, space commerce etc. in a 4-year educational curriculum.

    3) Lack of research opportunities directly related to space. Unless the student lands an internship or enters a co-op working for a space company, actual space research is limited to a handful of professors. And as mentioned above, much of the research actually being performed in the aerospace engineering department is still geared towards aircraft. We seek research that emphasizes the skills and knowledge needed by those who will explore the cosmos.

The International Space University (ISU) is a needed step towards creating an educational entity that revolves around space and offers more than a single discipline such as aerospace engineering can provide. Conversations among ISU professors and alumni such as Christopher Stott, Chris Welch, Adil Jafry, and Virgiliu Pop helped all of us realize that even ISU is missing something. It is missing the educational pipeline that lies before it. The people who seek to go into ISU have already obtained at least a 4-year education elsewhere, often in a field not related to space.

We decided with the understanding support from ISU personnel that the establishment of SPACE will substantially complement the established ISU. Our goal: To build an international space academy that will complement the existing International Space University (ISU) by providing a four-year university of space studies. This will endow the people with the skills and mentality to go to the stars and go there to stay.

In my vision, I see the next five years for SPACE as an arduous path of overcoming initial skepticism and establishing our dream in physical reality. Chris Welch affectionately called us “Dreamers 3.0” (ISU was co-founded by Dreamers 2.0) at his presentation at our inaugural conference earlier this July [2012] but I would like to say that we’re more than “Dreamers.” We are “Do-ers” as well.

We lack tens of million dollars to build our institution (although we would certainly be glad for the help of any rich benefactors to our cause). Hence, we are building up our reputation via events such as the upcoming January SPACE Retreat on Tenerife, our annual conference in July, and our upcoming educational modules to teach our space design and sociology courses at universities around the world. We are concurrently conducting research on asteroid mitigation, space imaging, and space trajectories for which we will publish papers and present at conferences.

Through our activities as “Do-ers 3.0,” I see enough attention drawn to our cause in the next five years from both the wealthy and the population at large that we will be able to secure the funds needed to build our campus and research buildings here on Earth. Hopefully, in my lifetime, we will have satellite campuses on space stations in orbit, on asteroids, and on the Moon as well. Our fundamental thesis is that exploration is education, and that scholarly instruction and research are merely two aspects of discovery. The ultimate goal of SPACE is to help build a space-faring society.

Shen Ge received his Masters in aerospace engineering from Texas A&M University in 2011 August and received his undergraduate with a dual major in aerospace engineering and physics with Magna Cum Laude in 2008 December from Georgia Institute of Technology. His background is in space design, space simulations, and experimental design. He has great interest in manned space exploration, near earth asteroids, and space debris. His work on his Masters was on designing an innovative payload for a near earth asteroid mitigation mission. He also has interest in space entrepreneurship and public engagement of space-related endeavors. He is currently actively spearheading SPACE as a nonprofit international undergraduate and graduate space university and research institution.

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{ 11 comments }

lurscher October 1, 2012 at 10:54

fantastic. A space research academy training future generations will be a stronger foothold in space than a hundred manned missions to Mars

Abelard Lindsey October 1, 2012 at 13:32

in the next few decades we will live in a world where we could not imagine people not taking space trips to space colonies

Unless we get some kind of space drive, space travel will always be inherently expensive (although much cheaper than today!), probably in the $100K-300K for an individual of average weight. Space travel to the O’neill’s (presumably in the asteroid belt) will be strictly one-way emigration for the vast majority.

railmeat October 1, 2012 at 14:22

Paul, thanks for giving Shen a place to discuss SPACE.

I think SPACE is an important step on the way to making humans a space faring spices.

Good luck Shen!

Daniel Suggs October 1, 2012 at 15:49

Paul, if I could make a suggestion for any university, it would be to require all professors, teachers, and researchers to regularly spend time in the ‘real world’ so they don’t lose touch with reality. Not my original idea though, I borrowed it from a recent article on Judith Curry’s blog, but it sure makes sense.
http://judithcurry.com/2012/09/30/academic-versus-professional-perspectives/#more-9709
Any university could benefit from better profs with real world experience, but for a new start up, I think it would be a big leg up.

Rob Henry October 1, 2012 at 16:39

Will space travel ever be cheap? Let me put it this way, will air travel ever be cheap?

Humans have such an aversion to death by air travel that we insist on safety standards almost two orders of magnitude (per mile) higher than by car, and at least three orders of magnitude safer than motorbike. If we ever relaxed costs could plummet, but, to put it bluntly, we won’t.

I doubt that space travel will ever get down to 100 – 300K without a fundamental change in our attitude.

railmeat October 1, 2012 at 19:36

@Rob, I think air travel is cheap and safe now. I can fly across the atlantic for US$1000 in a few hours. That seems pretty good to me.

If space travel got to be like air travel is today it would be a huge success.

Astronist October 2, 2012 at 13:07

Interesting you’re talking about teaching space sociology courses. My own experience with professional sociologists in the UK suggests a major cultural clash here. See http://www.astronist.demon.co.uk/space-age/essays/Sociology0.html for the debate following on from a lecture by two sociologists at the British Interplanetary Society two years ago.

Stephen
Oxford, UK

Shen Ge October 2, 2012 at 15:33

Hello,

Thank you for all the comments so far. I’ll be happy to answer any inquiries. Understandably making space travel as common place as air travel will not be an easy journey but it’s entirely do-able. If you believe you possess the qualifications and enthusiasm* to help us with pushing our dream forward in research and/or education through your line of expertise, feel free to send me a brief description of yourself and a few examples of your work. Email: sge AT spaceacad DOT org

Regards,

Shen Ge

*Most definitely required but probably not an issue or you wouldn’t be reading Centauri Dreams!

Eniac October 2, 2012 at 22:04

@Rob

Humans have such an aversion to death by air travel that we insist on safety standards almost two orders of magnitude (per mile) higher than by car, and at least three orders of magnitude safer than motorbike.

In my opinion a healthy amount of aversion to death of any sort is quite a good thing. I think it is also quite arguable that cars are a little too dangerous for comfort, and that a mere order of magnitude (per trip or per hour) in air travel should not be considered excessive. This remaining order of magnitude is probably well explained by the fact that there is not much in the air to collide with, making safety more affordable.

I also recall reading somewhere that a substantial part of cost of air travel goes towards the purchase of fuel, which would tend to negate the notion that it is too expensive because of safety concerns.

jkittle October 2, 2012 at 23:39

what a great idea..
I teach about 150 freshmen and about 60 seniors and grad students a week in two separate courses. I can tell you thata space focused major may actually garner a LOT of attention. let me offer a few suggestions
1) this program will be interstate, international and maybe even be taught beyond planet earth ( with goals of being interstellar?) how “on earth” are you going to confine it to a bricks a mortar institution? Much of the learning that takes place in my chemistry and biochem courses is now supplemented online. -How about an online delivery system for your ” university” – spend the money on development of the program not on the development of buildings. partner with existing universities to provide lab space etc. and coop them instead of competing.
2) Organize both undergrad and graduate programs . enlist distinguished facility from existing universities
3) get support by selling course and electronic texts online to traditional universities and local colleges.
4) DO NOT ignore the bio sciences and the need for life support , space medicine and synthetic biology/ bioengineering in space studies.. we will not establish effective bases elsewhere in the solar system and beyond if we cannot design life support systems or engineer bacteria to create biobased materials like plastics and detergents, medicines and food…
5) The people who complete you program have to be trained in some business so they can get JOBS…
6) Do not forget to inspire, communicate and motivate. Publicity makes this all acceptable. Market your ideas.

Shen Ge October 17, 2012 at 17:06

Re: jkittle

Apologies for taking a little while to reply and definitely thanks for the encouraging remarks and advice. Here’s some basic thoughts that I have on your list:

1) this program will be interstate, international and maybe even be taught beyond planet earth ( with goals of being interstellar?) how “on earth” are you going to confine it to a bricks a mortar institution? Much of the learning that takes place in my chemistry and biochem courses is now supplemented online. -How about an online delivery system for your ” university” – spend the money on development of the program not on the development of buildings. partner with existing universities to provide lab space etc. and coop them instead of competing.

Some material may indeed be taught online. However, we feel that having actual projects with human interaction is still irreplaceable. For instance, conducting research in a lab will benefit greatly from actual human presence in a lab, which cannot be replaced by the Internet or an online environment.

2) Organize both undergrad and graduate programs . enlist distinguished facility from existing universities

This will happen.

3) get support by selling course and electronic texts online to traditional universities and local colleges.

This is our next step. To create marketable educational modules where we can teach and train others to teach at universities and colleges that usually do not have the opportunity.

4) DO NOT ignore the bio sciences and the need for life support , space medicine and synthetic biology/ bioengineering in space studies.. we will not establish effective bases elsewhere in the solar system and beyond if we cannot design life support systems or engineer bacteria to create biobased materials like plastics and detergents, medicines and food…

Hence, the multidisciplinary aspect of the academy. This is not forgotten.

5) The people who complete you program have to be trained in some business so they can get JOBS…

Indeed, the hands-on part is essential to our program. All students are required to do research.

6) Do not forget to inspire, communicate and motivate. Publicity makes this all acceptable. Market your ideas.

Indeed, we are working on making videos and brochures. We are also hosting events such as the upcoming SPACE Retreat (www.spaceretreat.org) to garner more support for us. If you have any suggestions, I’ll be happy to hear them!

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