2020 United Space School Summary

Written by Western Canada's 2020 delegate, Skyler Chan:

This year’s session of the United Space School went virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic, instead of being hosted at Houston, Texas. As a result, this year’s space school was renamed Global Space School-1 (GSS-1). The original mission shifted to a competition where teams were tasked to propose a business model for planning a human mission to an asteroid. My team, STAR International Industries, won a multi-year 1.5 billion USD contract for our proposed series of human missions to manufacture steel wire to metal 3D print on asteroid 16 Psyche.

Although we were not able to experience Space City Houston and be present at Johnson Space Centre (JSC), in retrospect, GSS-1 truly encapsulated and simulated the implementation of an asteroid mission. Delegates worked together across 6 continents and attended group calls, team calls and optional Q and A sessions with guest speakers ranging from astronauts to engineers to entrepreneurs. I found these sessions most valuable and impactful, as I not only was able to ask my burning questions , but to listen, giving me a new worldview. We were also invited to attend lectures for NASA interns. The exposure to NASA operations at a systematic level opened my eyes to see how one day I may also be able to work for a space agency. Lecture topics ranged from risk mitigation and management to NASA’s plans with the upcoming Orion and Artemis series. (This part was super exciting!!)

Quite frankly, I got a taste of what being an astronaut is like. Although the 5 AM group calls were early, I felt like I was experiencing the overview effect that many astronauts experience on the ISS. Furthermore, by executing and working as a team in isolation, while communicating with other team members virtually - I felt as if I was an astronaut communicating between the ISS and Earth/Mission Control. Speaking of communication, one of the most intriguing takeaways I learned at an intern lecture was this: it’s not our technology that’s holding us back from Mars—it’s us. A lack of international collaboration was cited as one of the threats that could have killed the early stages of the ISS. Trust and international collaboration between nations is the key to success.

Finally, here are some key takeaways that I learned from GSS 1 on how to become an astronaut:

1. Pursue a STEM career and degree, and aim for the highest level of education possible! Don’t worry about which STEM field you may choose, as space
exploration draws from a diverse array of STEM fields.
2. Speaking of education, if you’re a student, focus on learning—not grades.
3. Stay active, and understand how your body works (and don’t forget to take care of it!) swimming tests, scuba diving, first aid.
4. Be well-rounded, and play an instrument! (We’ve been told NASA asks astronaut applicants this).
5. Be mindful.
6. As cliche as it may sound, follow your passion! (And don’t be afraid if you don’t know what your passion is yet!) NASA astronaut interviewers look to see if you truly enjoy your current job when you apply, so ensure you pursue a (backup) career that energizes you with purpose!