Space isn’t just big – it’s big business. In the UK alone the space sector is worth £7.5 billion, employs 70,000 people and has been growing at an average annual rate of 10 percent. With numbers like these it is clear why the Government wants to invest – with the aim of growing it into a £40 billion industry in the coming years.
But achieving this ambitious goal will take more than just money – the UK will also need to inspire the next generation of scientists to work in the field. With this aim, last month the Institute of Physics (IOP) sponsored three students at the International Space School Education Trust’s (ISSET) Mission Discovery Space Camp at Imperial College
To ensure that the attendees received the best possible experience, the ISSET works with people who have been at the forefront of space exploration. This year saw past Director of NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre Jay Honeycutt, former NASA astronaut Mike McCulley and Senior Astronaut Trainer Michelle Ham coming all the way from the USA to help run the camp.
The week began with the students finding out their mission: to design an experiment to be taken into space. Their efforts would be judged with eight entries going through to a final round, where they would have to explain their idea to the whole camp. To help with the task, presentations were given throughout the week from specialists like Ian Jones, a leading satellite communications expert. Divided up into groups of about five, the students set about the mission with the added assistance of Imperial College mentors.
The IOP students decided to investigate the effect of micro gravity and the sun’s radiation on cockroaches. They believed that the creatures’ immunity to radiation poisoning might offer new insights into diseases like cancer. Although the IOP students did not make it through to the final round, they thoroughly enjoyed their time at space camp. With an excellent presentation, first prize was awarded to an ingenious experiment aimed at helping protect astronauts from the sun’s harmful radiation.
After the event, IOP student Praveen Dcruz said, “It’s been great fun, I’ve learnt loads and it’s motivated me to get on with my studies as in the future I’d love to work in the space sector”. Fellow IOP student, Hadi Ali, added, “What’s been amazing about the week is not only that we got to meet a NASA astronaut, but we’ve learnt about how to achieve a goal by working as a team”.
For the UK to grow its space sector it is vital that organisations like the IOP get involved in grass-roots projects like this one, helping to ensure that the UK continues to produce world-class scientists. If there was any doubt about the merits of the Institute’s involvement then it was dispelled when IOP student Joshua Scott said, “this has been a great opportunity, and is the sort of thing that helps to inspire more people to get involved in science”.
Text: Lee Crouch, Regional Officer, South East, Institute of Physics