China’s space lab rising

5 11 2010

Chinese National Space Administration. (Credit: CNSA)

As arguably the third most powerful space agency in the world, the China National Space Administration, which already has successful manned launches and a confirmed spacewalk under its belt, continues its determined drive starward.  In early October, the CNSA signed a cooperative space plan with Russia for the 2010-2012 timeframe, the contents of which are being held close to the vest but no doubt include the joint Russian-Chinese exploration and sample-return mission (Fobos-Grunt) to the Martian moon Phobos next year.

Now, as reported last week, China recently announced (confirmed) plans for a series of orbital space stations, beginning with the launch of an unmanned test module within the next five years and a fully-crewed, Mir-style station by the year 2020.

This places proposed CNSA activities right in the thick of NewSpace (e.g., U.S., U.K., Russian,) commercial space station and launch vehicle flight tests.  Now, it’s no secret that advanced space technology has dual military applications, and China’s military made everyone nervous with their anti-satellite (ASAT) test in 2007.  So, what are their intentions?  I’d like to believe the olive branches on CNSA’s logo are sincere.

-And, I should mention, if U.S.-Soviet space relations during the height of the Cold War are any precedent (Apollo-Soyuz), China’s space laboratory ambitions are sincerely peaceful.  Some of the most meaningful international olive branches have been traded in space.  Take the International Space Station, for example, which is the largest international cooperative effort in human history.  So, in that light, Godspeed CNSA.  The more permanent presences we have in orbit, the better it is for our space infrastructure in general.

And perhaps, working shoulder-to-shoulder off-world, the most effective Far-East/West bridges yet may be built in orbit.

Plaque commemmorating international coorperation assembled in orbit by astronauts and cosmonauts in 1975 as part of the U.S.-U.S.S.R. Apollo Soyuz Test Project. (Credit: NASA)

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A love of teaching

24 10 2010

Entry sign outside of CSN's Cheyenne Campus.

-Just a post on a personal note this morning.  I’ve been filling in as a part-time geology lab instructor at the College of Southern Nevada for the past two years.  Now, with a few semesters behind me, I find myself pleasantly surprised by what I (admittedly) was interested in as more of a resume-booster than as a potential career.

While I love the stimulation of technical work and the satisfaction of fieldwork, (hence my day job,) I have to admit that I’m finding that teaching provides something unique: a sense of deep fulfillment.

You never get to see an expression of understanding wash over an inoperative computer program’s face when you explain something to it in a new way.  You don’t receive a sense of genuine appreciation from data when you fully invest yourself in taking scientific measurements.  In contrast, the interaction between students and an instructor (at least in my experience so far) is very, very rewarding.

Lab practical midterm setup before the students arrived.

Quite frankly, despite the fact that I currently work 10-hour days out of town, and it’s an hour drive (dash) before the three-hour lab after work, I always feel better after teaching a class than I did before I arrived.  Sure, it’s made for a 16-hour workday, but I actually feel more energized and calmer.  More at peace.

That has to mean something.

Teaching, at least at the college level, is much different than anything else I do.  I genuinely love the material, and with very few exceptions (maybe I’ve just been lucky so far) all of my students respond to that enthusiasm and engage in the class.  And there’s the lingering sense that you’re making a difference in a very visceral way.

Sure, things you do at work change the way things work, affect the course of companies and employees, and maybe it even reaches farther than that.  But with teaching, the effect is immediate.  You know you’re affecting lives.  You can see it.  In class, something you say has at least the possibility of sparking a lifelong interest or changing (via degree/major/etc.,)  the course of a person’s life.  -Inspiring the next generation.

Plus, me being me, I always try and weave in a little planetary/space science to keep the students interested.  (Perhaps in the future I’ll be able to bring some practical space exploration experience back to the classroom…)

Well, I think that’s it.  While I’m not ready to leave my fieldwork and industry work behind just yet, I love teaching.

-I think it’s a feeling that will only grow with time.








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