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In July of 2004, a much younger me watched from a distance as Cassini entered Saturn’s orbit. At about that time, I had begun to develop a fascination with space and as Cassini charted a course around Saturn, I began working towards becoming a spacecraft engineer. About two weeks ago, Cassini’s journey came to a spectacular close it plunged into the atmosphere of Saturn. Now I am here, standing proud among giants of the space industry and the first leg of my journey has reached its end

Cassini Grand Finale
♪♪Goodbyyyyyyyyyyyyye Moon Men♪♪ (image courtesy of NASA)

With all of the excitement we have had over the last 3 days, (read all about yesterday’s adventures here), today started slowly for me. I decided to take it easy, getting ready for the big event and didn’t arrive until two hours before our session. Still, I managed to get my long awaited selfie with the curiosity rover and launched into many conversations with the people we had met over the course of the week. It was great to see that we had become part of the group, integrating ourselves within the assembly of students, startups and established names.

Curiosity Selfie at IAC2017
He was very rude about it. He seemed nicer on TV

I arrived early to guarantee I was there on time. Slowly the crowd shuffled in behind me, including members of my team and the friends we had made. Show time!

First up was the NASA Glenn Research Center with their talk about NASA’s progress in producing In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU). From there the presentations became more and more incredible. We saw swarms of jumping robots for asteroid study, Martian zeppelins and computer chips built for Venus. There where four legged robots to explore the moon, a lunar rover becoming a superstar in Japan in order to raise money for launch and integrated navigation systems using star trackers and proximity sensors. We were the last presentation of the day, so I had plenty of time to talk myself into a nervous sweat. Of course I did

GreenSat at IAC2017
Dont screw it up dont screw it up dont screw it up

By the time I got up on stage, many people had seen what they had came for and left. However, even more had shuffled in to watch us. Our presentation was a smashing success: we explained the importance in agriculture throughout history and its role in making human kind a space faring race. We showed off our first prototype and our plan to breed bacteria better suited to the space environment. Question time gave us the exact questions we where looking for: talking about things we couldn’t fit into the presentation such as our plan to simulate gravity and the steps we plan to take to achieve that. We were followed out into the corridor by a mob of people curious about our work and where asked many more questions about the specifics of our project

This trip has been an amazing experience, made possible by the tremendous work done by our incredible team. Thank you to everyone who made this possible, the Greensat team itself, those within BLUEsat who helped organise this trip and our amazing faculty who helped guide us to where we are now. With one more day left, this trip is not over yet and I look forward to another day of amazing presentations and incredible new ideas

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Whilst one would think an ecology and molecular biology student would feel daunted and lost at an Astronautical Conference it has actually been both an enjoyable and educational experience so far (see our previous blogs). Admittedly, at the start it was a little bewildering trying to navigate around the labyrinth of exhibits plastered with unrecognisable words associated with space technology. In one incident we, Jess, Yasmin A and I (the only non-engineers in the GreenSat party attending the IAC), managed to find ourselves in a position where we could only slowly nod our heads in agreement as we had an exhibitor persistently tell us about his new advancements in thermal control systems for satellites. I shan’t even attempt to expand on what he explained to us.

NextAero Aerospike Engine
What on Earth is this?

However, it has been a very pleasantly surprising experience to have professionals within these industries and other students from other institutions being enthusiastically curious and willing to hear about the biological aspects of the GreenSat project. Whilst most talk sessions and presentations so far have been somewhat inaccessible to me due to their technical terminology and content, on Wednesday morning (at the begrudgingly early start time of 7am) I dragged myself to attend the ‘First Woman on the Moon-Diversity Breakfast’ talk session along with two other GreenSat members (who also happened to be other female members on the GreenSat team). Despite the excessive complaining I know I carried out about my lack of sleep and need for caffeine, the talk was undoubtedly an incredibly worthwhile endeavour. There is no sugar coating the reality of the situation either, this talk had the best gender balance ratio I have seen so far on the trip; with nearly-nearly, almost half the room being women!

First Women on the Moon Breakfast
Jaxa bringing biology to the stars

Before launching into the session, the welcome started with the President of the IAF, Dr Jean-Yves Le Gall, talking about the potential historical significance of the first woman on the moon, but the questioning of what the first woman would represent really took off with Steve Durst, Founding Director of the International Lunar Observatory Association. He brought to everyone’s attention that there has been a total of 60 woman in space, but of those none have walked on the moon compared to the 12 men who have. He began to question what a female on the moon would represent, whether she would represent a nationality, a professional background or an age too, would it be another giant leap for mankind? Whilst he did not emphasise on a definitive conclusion, it was easily interpretable the unfortunate reality is the ‘great leap’ may be more of a ‘little pounce’ for the first woman on the moon. Professor Jan Woerner, Director General of the European Space Agency, dazzling everyone with vibrant and humorous slides even referenced that moon itself is considered to have a feminine identity (including ‘la lune’ in French being a feminine noun and he even referred to the Maya moon goddess).

The truly impacting ideas from the breakfast however came from the two final speakers; Danielle Richey from Lockheed Martin and Dr. Sandy Magnus, Executive Director of AIAA and astronaut. Together, these two prominent, inspirational and determined women simultaneously balanced the same conceptual thinking and complimented one other in a powerful way, conveying the very significant message of the necessity of diversity within not just the space industry but in all industries. They both, carefully selecting their words, created their own concept of equality and diversity to ensure as much inclusivity and cementing the idea that diversity does not just come from the fact that there is representation but from having a collectively rich source of experiences and knowledge. Their talks were greatly crafted as they both brought up how diversity within a team also includes more energy requirement, more stepping out of the comfort zone and more open-mindedness.  A memorable part of the talk by Dr. Sandy Magnus was she said that a diverse team means: “a richer source of solutions…. because each person’s tackling of a problem is different…. creating a more creative and stronger community”. The key challenges that building a diverse team, community or industry faces is the “breaking down of stereotypes and most importantly being able to listen”.

First Women on the Moon Breakfast
Man on the moon is so 1969

It is safe to say that, even though I very much look forward to the days yet to come (especially since there will be many talks coming soon on astrobiology and biology), this talk was a highlight because whether it is the field of engineering, science, business or arts, these principles of equality and diversity are translatable to any area of life. It may not have been the most popular or technical talk at the IAC but I personally found it an incredible session as society and teams are what hold projects and progression together.

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The first day of the IAC was action-packed to say the least, with thousands of people ranging from bright-eyed students such as us, to earnest young professionals and finally the fatigued yet robust juggernauts of the space industry.

Thanks to the catering provided by the Adelaide Convention Centre, we were able to network with the very same people mentioned above during the IAC’s welcome reception, filled with delicious finger foods and rich wine from South Australia vineyards. Albeit shy at the start, Anuraj and I managed to start a conversation with Ralph Mcnort, who runs an aerospace laboratory at the renowned John Hopkins University in the states. He discussed everything from his profile of work (which was impressive to say the least) as well as his deep passion for space, which runs in family (his youngest grandchild is studying to be an aerospace pilot). Overall it was a once in a lifetime chance to converse with someone so well-versed in the topic of space.

Boeing Starliner at the IAC2017
Making new friends past Jupiter 2

While IAC day one had the liberty of packing us all into the same room to force us to talk to each other, the second day was much more relaxed, with a multitude of talks (about space obviously) which we could attend. Ben and Nathan woke up bright and early to attend their talk session concerning the exploration of the Moon and space system architectures while I attended a midday session on human physiology in space. This session discussed the effects of short and long term spaceflight on the human body, as well as the countermeasures being developed to mitigate these effects (astronauts not being able to walk after they return to earth is a fairly big problem). There was a lot to cover during this lecture but the finer points included a state of the art MDS system developed by the Russians (essentially a compact, full body gym in space), insights into fascial tissue studies and its relation to reactive jumping and finally a return of ballistocardiography. Don’t worry if you didn’t understand most of the things I listed above, I had a hard time deciphering the PowerPoint presentations myself!

Nathan Kristain in Space Suit
Captain Nathan Kristian Ready for Duty

All in all, the IAC so far has been a riveting experience, due to the conversations with reputable people on day one as well as some intense yet deeply interesting talk sessions about space on day two. I have high hopes for the rest of the week as I attend more events, in particular Elon Musk this coming Friday!

Bill Nye Light Sail
Bill Nye giving us the Birds and the Bees

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The first day of the International Astronautical Congress has passed, and what initially shocked me the most about the conference has now turned into a different feeling. There are about 3500 delegates at this conference, which was most clear during the opening ceremony. The auditorium for the opening ceremony was absolutely enormous – so large that a person presenting at the front appeared no larger than my thumb held at arm’s length from where I sat near the back. Expansive monitors were required to get a good look at the performances and the speakers.

ISS Model
Someday I’m gonna buy my mama a place like this

I entered the auditorium somewhat early, when about one third of the seats were taken. While I knew the number of delegates attending the conference beforehand, seeing them filter in ahead of the opening ceremony and rapidly fill up all available seats was what truly allowed me to understand the size of the number. Indeed, there were so many that many delegates sat in the aisles – not something OH&S would be too thrilled about!

The opening ceremony was marked by spectacular performances and inspiring speeches. However, each of these paled in comparison to the announcement of a national space agency for Australia by the Honorable Simon Birmingham. A cheer rose at this, its volume and length surpassing those one might hear at the cricket. The sheer joy in the delegates’ surrounded us and, for a moment, bound us together as one.

IAC pannel
The judges are set

Afterwards, a break session began, which I spent well collecting colourful brochures from various organisations, such as ArianeSpace and Surrey Satellite Technologies Limited. This was followed by the Heads of Agencies plenary talk, the topic of which was “Business before Science or Science before Business”. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the undoubtedly interesting plenary talk as I had to make time to practice my own presentation, which I gave at the Space Exploration Overview session. My presentation’s topic was on how it was becoming easier for small organisations to send up small spacecraft, such as CubeSats, to explore the solar system. Despite some nerves, I’m happy to say that I absolutely nailed it.

Taofiq Huq at the IAC2017
Taofiq presenting his work on CubeSat Exploration of the Solar System

As the day progressed in this manner, my awe at the number of attendees progressed into, as I mentioned earlier, a different feeling. This new feeling was awe at myself and my fellow members of GreenSat. The 3500 delegates of the International Astronautical Congress can be considered 3500 of the most prominent members of the global space industry, and here we were, a small subset of a student projects society among them!

By the end of the day, rather than thinking of 3500 as a large number, I began to think on how tightly this number constrained the size of the global space industry. There are obviously tens, if not hundreds of thousands who are directly involved with the space industry globally, but only 3500 of these came to the IAC. And to think our group makes up 10 of this distinguished 3500! It’s truly incredible that we’re able to be here today.

Christopher Miller with Curiosity Rover
Have you seen my Cat?