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.