Not every summer opportunity for college students involves skydiving, scuba dive certification and wilderness expeditions; but those who have those opportunities and more on their to-do list are submitting their applications now (click here) for the 2019 edition of the Department of Aerospace Engineering’s Spaceflight Operations WorkshopTM (SOW) August 7-18. The application period is now open through 11:59 p.m. February 17, 2019.
Coordinated by ISU Aerospace Engineering alumnus and retired NASA astronaut Clayton Anderson — also a senior lecturer in the department — the workshop immerses participants in a series of experiences and classroom activities that are a microcosm of the training NASA astronauts undergo to develop their ability to “think operationally,” a key skill, applicable to many professions, and critically necessary for space exploration. “Spaceflight Operations is a concept – it’s a thought process,” says Anderson. “When you live and work as an astronaut, you think in an operational sense. The idea with this workshop is to change the students’ way of thinking – to open their eyes to a way to think more operationally.”
There’s no shortage of eye-opening opportunities for participants. In a span of about two weeks scuba diving training (including certification), skydiving, aircraft flight simulation, wilderness preparedness training and more are on the agenda. “We put them in some extreme environments, which is exactly what space travel is all about,” says Anderson, who was part of two NASA space expeditions and served in many other roles for the space agency over a span of 30 years.
There’s also a healthy dose of classroom activities. Past workshops have covered topics such as operational procedure development (with Aerospace Engineering faculty member and former NASA flight director Tomas Gonzalez-Torres), leadership and teamwork, pilot performance, decision analysis, payload and science operations, astronaut training concepts, and more.
Typically, a total of 12 students (divided into two crews of six to simulate the six-person crews aboard the International Space Station) take part in the workshop. Undergraduate students from Iowa State and other institutions are all considered. With such a small number of students taking part, as one can imagine, the application process is competitive. After final selections are made from applications received, in-person interviews are held with prospective participants before final decisions are made.
The benefits of the program are many. Department of Aerospace Engineering graduate student Tor Finseth, a co-developer of the program with Anderson, says, “This workshop is a chance for students to experience something hands-on. More than theory, it’s a way to gain knowledge, understand and evaluate a situation and apply that knowledge in future situations. So when you are hired after graduating and go into industry, you have first-hand knowledge of how things work in practical situations.” “This program develops leadership skills and teaches students how to work with teammates and take that mindset to tasks in school and with their future employers,” adds Anderson.