Our 2018 representative, Jarrett Murray, had this to say about his experience:
Hello! My name is Jarrett Murray and I was the 2018 FISE United Space School Western Canadian Delegate. The United Space School is a school that takes place in Houston, Texas for two weeks during the summer. This school brings together 47 students from 23 different countries. All of the students are divided into 5 different teams and are tasked with the job of planning a manned mission to Mars. This program has completely changed my life and was the best two weeks I have ever had! I am excited to share more about my experience.
I was on the red team which was in charge of designing the transit vehicle that would take the crew from Earth to Mars. More specifically, I was in charge of the orbital mechanics and propulsion. This meant that I had to figure out the different orbits we would be in, the type of transfer orbit, the engine we would use and the math behind all of that. It was a very big challenge but in the end very rewarding. Before the school I didn’t realize what I was capable of doing, and now I see that the stars are within reach. At the end of the program we gave our final presentations. It was an incredible experience being able to speak about and defend our ideas with aerospace engineers. After our presentations I was able to make a lot of connections that I will be able to develop as I pursue my career in aerospace.
In addition to this project we had amazing exposure to the aerospace industry. It was absolutely surreal having the opportunity to learn from NASA workers every day. We had lectures from Planetary Scientists, Mission Controllers, Engineers, and NASA astronauts Sunita Williams and Brian. Having the opportunity to learn from these industry experts was a transformational experience. Every day I think about these lectures and I realize just how much I learned. It’s interesting because half way through the program I asked myself what I had learned so far. I found it difficult to pinpoint anything. After this reflection I realized that it felt normal to have all this knowledge. My new normal was that I understand the Life Support Systems of the ISS. It was normal that I would wake up in the middle of the night with a new idea for the propulsion system that I worked on for hours. It all just felt like me. After our team’s final presentation I was talking to the panel about these thoughts that I was having in my head. All they told me was ‘welcome to the aerospace industry’.
Another amazing part of the experience were the cultural aspects. During my stay in Houston I was able to stay with two host families. My first host family had two young kids who were really funny. After school if we had time we would swim and eat barbeque. This may seem insignificant but it was so fun and really showed how warm my host family was. My second host family was very familiar with the United Space School. Criss ‘Mummy’ Butler has been around the school for many years. Every night we watched baseball and I grew to like this sport. Throughout the two weeks we participated in multiple local events to take a break from school and have fun. We went to the Kemah Boardwalk amusement park and Putt-Putt where we played games. We also had the opportunity to go to a Houston Astros baseball game and a Houston Dynamos game. Both of these games were so much fun! The atmosphere was incredible!
Finally, through this experience I formed friendships that I think will be lifelong. I stayed with a student from the Netherlands named Torben. It was really fun getting to know each other and learn about each other’s culture and perspectives. I learned that the Netherlands is really small. Every time we went out his first reaction was to say how big everything was. I even had the same reaction as ‘everything’s bigger in Texas!’ It was incredible to work with students from every continent around the world. The people I had the privilege of working with were the nicest and most intelligent people I have ever met in my life. It was amazing working with them because we never really had any conflict. Everybody had the mindset of doing what was best for the mission and that really brought us all together. This showed me that even though we are from completely different parts of the world we had a lot more that brought us together than separated us. It was incredible to be able to learn this and I look forward to sharing future adventures around the world.
Our 2017 representative, Elizabeth Drew, had this to say about her experience:
This program has cemented what I want to do with the rest of my life. Next year I’m planning to go to either the University of Toronto or Carleton to study Aerospace Engineering. After this education I would like to become a fighter pilot in the Royal Canadian Air Force. I would love to pursue a Master’s degree in something space related. Eventually, my dream is to become an astronaut. Throughout this entire experience I’ve had the opportunity to make so many connections around the world. I’ve been able to stay in contact with former Canadian Astronaut Dr. Robert Thirsk. There is no other way I’d ever have these opportunities. The learning, experiences and friendships made by this program are once in a lifetime. I am so grateful for FISE and the Hangar Flight Museum for making this experience possible. As I literally reach for the stars I will always cherish these two weeks and how they changed my life forever.
United Space School has been one of the most unique and exciting experiences of my life. Not only was the program an amazing scientific learning endeavour, but I also learned a great deal about cultures around the globe from my fellow students, and made lasting friendships with my host family. I will forever be grateful to The Hangar Flight Museum for making this happen for me.
The educational side of the program was filled with brilliant speakers working directly in the aerospace industry. I still feel the awe of meeting so many intelligent and experienced people that work in the field that I am so very passionate about. There were astronauts, rocket scientists, astrobiologists, and so many more! Working with what they taught us, my team was able to accomplish our goals effectively and efficiently.
Speaking of teams, you may already know that the FISE Space School curriculum also involves forming teams, each with a unique focus, to plan different aspects of he mission. When I first researched the United Space School, I thought I wanted to be on the Green Team, which was focused on developing a habitat on Mars. Don't get me wrong, I love biology, and the green team's potential for design and growth of crops attracted me. But after we had received our assignments, I realized I was thinking more and more about the Red Team, which focused on rocket design and transportation to Mars. I ended up changing my mind, and pushed to be placed on the red team during my interview process. Luckily, it worked out, and I got to work with engines and rockets to my heart's content. Red team was excellent: they were passionate, smart, supportive and a joy to spend time with! Every person was a gem, and I know I am so lucky that I got to work with them. When the going got tough and the deadlines were hours away, we could still support each other and have a blast singing our team song. Not only did this program teach me about the industry, it taught me about how to cooperate with others in bliss and also gave me a much clearer idea about what I want to pursue as a career path.
In addition to learning scientific things, I also learned about culture. With this task the utmost cooperation took place, and because of this I have developed freindships with so many awesome students around the globe. Meeting people from all over the world can be an interesting process. There are so many different cultures coming together to communicate and learn about each other. Honestly, I knew very little about a lot of the countries that were represented. Luckily we were all very understanding of one another and had a good laugh when talking about what we knew (or thought we knew) about one another's culture.
We did just plain talk about where we came from, but all of us also had to prepare a presentation for the culture fair. I did a speech about one of Canada's most loved and respected heroes: Terry Fox. Turns out, almost no one knew who he was! Also, as an impulse, I also sang the national anthem whils Purushoth, the eastern Canada representative, played the trombone. I really enjoyed watching all of the other presentations too, there are so many talented people in this world! Every student got along with one another so well, day one of school we were blasting music in the vans having a karaoke session. The extra activities after the work day had ended only brought us closer together! There was so much laughter. I know the friendships I made at space school will last a lifetime, and I have happily added "travel the world" to my bucket list, just so I can see them again.
A final element that made the trip special was my host family, who really did make me feel like family. My host family showed me what it is really like to live in Houston, and accepted me into their home with open arms. Without them, none of these amazing things could have happened. Ellen, Bevan, Bryana and Emily are some of the sweetest, funniest and most down to earth people I have ever met. My fellow "space cadet" Danielle, from South Africa, was just the same. I am so incredibly lucky to have received the family unit I did. My host family was so excited to show Danielle and I the real Texan experience too! We got to go to a major league baseball game, several local restaurants, Keemah the amusement park, and the beloved Buc-ee's deluxe gas station, the most gigantic gas station-slash-souvenier-shopping experience you can imagine! We also got to meet their family and friends and talk about our own cultures. Even better than all of these things though, was the bond built! We were not afraid to talk or joke about politics, cultures or each other. Danielle and I had so much fun with them, and I shall be visiting them as soon as I can.
This program, in every aspect, was spectacular for me. The educational aspect was something I had only dreamed of previously, the students were the kindest group of kids I have ever met, and my host family brought me into their lives and showed me the truest meaning of Texas. I feel incredibly honoured to have represented Canada, and I am proud to announce that I could bring home an award. The flag award, which is appropriately named because it comes with a United States flag that was actually flown over the US Capitol Building, was presented to me for my enthusiasm and passion for the program, it is the highest award a student could receive. I have som much love for this entire experience, and I hope to one day come back as a program mentor. It has helped me decide what I want to do with my life, it has helped me grow in more ways than one, and will forever be a highlight of my life. I would like to give The Hangar Flight Museum my deepend, most genuine thank you for giving me such an awesome experience. I truly did enjoy every single second!
Our 2015 representative, Alex Vu, had this to say about his experience:
I can say, with guaranteed confidence, that the United Space School program is one of the best and most promising programs to generate interest in talented youths about the space industry. This is a bold statement, but after my two weeks within the sauna that is Houston, Texas, I am left with memories that will last a lifetime and an invigorated sense of adventure and awe about space technology, industry and culture. The friends I made and the lessons I have learned have branded me with a fever to learn more, not just about space, but also the world around me.
I believe that the United Space School does not teach just for a niche group of individuals with a narrow interest in space. They present a more vast picture about our society and the needs of the space industry. The 51 students that were with me all brought something to the table, and the differences between the 24 participating countries evaporated as we were brought together in our interests and necessity to work together. Although the talks by astonauts, the countless field trips to NASA facilities and the gain in technical knowledge was amazing in its own right, I think that one of the key experiences is personal growth. I believe that I can now say that I have an expanded view of the world, with friends and colleages in many places and the ability to look outside of my own small world to think of the bigger picture.
I can confidently say that the United Space School was a life changing experience, in the big ways, such as what I want to do in the future and my aspirations, but also in more subtle ways, just in how I view the world. Overall this is a program that I believe is at the forefront of inspiring youths and is an opportunity that I hope anyone who has even a hint of interest in space or culture participates in.
Our 2014 representative, Mattias Mehta, had this to say about his experience:
As I stepped into the mosquito-infested sauna that is mid-summer Houston, I wondered what the coming weeks would entail. Was this the real deal? Was I actually going to learn anything? Would NASA live up to the hype? I mean, your heroes are never as great in person. What I didn’t realize at the time was that the gradually worsening chain of “what ifs” couldn’t have been more wrong. Instead of the disappointment and the “reality check” I was expecting, I was welcomed into the NASA culture and community, mentored by industry pioneers and formed relationships with the frontrunners of the millennial generation.
One of the greatest societal diseases of my generation is the rampant cynicism we have all seemed to develop. We would sooner mutilate an idea with the daggers of “reality” rather than nurture it. Maybe this is why I admire the space industry; it is virtually dagger proof. For it, the word interstellar isn’t just a movie title, it’s an objective, leaving home tests the farthest reach humanity’s technological abilities and idealistic goals are what keep it running. All waxing poetry aside, the space industry did seem incredibly distant and unattainable, making my career goal of being strapped to a bomb and launched into space, appear unrealistic. Instead, what I found through the United Space School was an industry much like the one driving Alberta’s economy, one filled with brilliant minds innovating on a daily basis, scientifically uncharted territory waiting to be explored and most of all, people willing to take gargantuan risks for even greater rewards. The engineers trying to optimize a plasma rocket engine for interplanetary use are speaking the same language as those applying advanced oil recovery methods to high-pressure systems, lawyers contesting spatial property rights use the same precedents as those contesting marine salvage rights and NASA flight surgeons are encountering the same problems as those faced by doctors working with deep sea divers. Our mentors didn’t just show us the doors into the most exclusive club in town, they made the bouncer roll out the red carpet.
Our mission, while participating in the program, was to simulate various aspects of a manned mission to mars (funding, getting there, landing, keeping everyone alive and what to do when we get there). It seemed like a bit of an imagination session at first, but it soon called for us to delve into doctoral research papers and apply the very science being used by engineers the world over who are tasked with the same issues. Moreover, the leaders in their respective fields were more than willing to give up their time to educate the group of fifty high school students before them. We received lectures on life support from the flight controller managing it aboard the ISS, learned about space suit design from the people who made every space suit since Alan Shepard made his first ventures into space and got into contact with the MIT researchers developing a more mobile form of exploratory suit. Every step we took towards designing our own mission to mars, we could draw upon the first hand experience of the people developing it in the real world.
Finally there were my colleagues. There were forty-eight of us from twenty-three different countries creating a cultural synthesis worthy of the United Nations. I have never encountered a more talented, co-operative and amazing group of people in my life. Everyone was more than ready to solve the newest design conundrum, work out the necessary orbital trajectory of a rocket on the way to mars or negotiate a landing site that wouldn’t kill the astronauts with radiation without compromising the mission’s scientific value. Ultimately we were able to coalesce via our shared interests, mindsets, humour and most of all love of space. My fellow students may very well be the next great wave of revolutionary minds and I am deeply honoured that I was given the opportunity to learn and grow alongside them.
We all dream big in our first decade on this earth, of becoming a billionaire, conquering the tallest mountains or exploring the cosmos. But for whatever reason we let doubt tell us that these dreams are definite impossibilities. That’s why I want to thank The United Space School, my surrogate host family in Houston, The For the Love of the Children Society and The Aero Space Museum of Calgary for prying my eyes open and showing me that even the loftiest of childhood dreams are indeed possible.