Astrowright Academy and the Classroom of Tomorrow

23 08 2010

Well, just a quick note this morning.  Today is my first day of class as a graduate student in the University of North Dakota’s School of Aerospace Sciences Department of Space Studies program.

So, you could say that my advanced academic push toward becoming an astrowright has begun.  -And in true 21st Century form, as I commute to work, I’ll actually be “attending” a lecture.

University of North Dakota SpSt 541 class lecture #2. Credit: Me.

Here goes nothing.

Astrowright Academy, t-minus 30 days

17 07 2010

The UND Constellation spaceflight simulator. Credit:

Well, it’s official.  I’m accepted, registered, and signed up to begin the University of North Dakota’s Master’s of Science in Space Studies program this fall.  The program is the first of its kind in the country, starting in the 1980s with state-of-the-art facilities, simulators, and a breadth of interdisciplinary course offerings, from orbital dynamics to the management of space organizations.

An overview of the history of the program can be found here.

I’m hoping to find a way to unify my geology and planetary science background with my current professional experience in radiation physics to make a mean astronaut cocktail – which sounds frankly like an untapped synergy in the current astronaut-hopeful pool.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

I’ve been waiting to be a part of a program like this my entire life.  =)

Destination: Space (w/ layover in North Dakota?)

21 04 2010

I (finally) submitted my application to the University of North Dakota’s Space Studies program yesterday after nearly a semester of delays in doing so, for largely personal reasons.  (It’s amazing how life can rear its head and sap precious time…)

In any event, I imagine that one of the most obvious questions at this point is, “Why North Dakota?”  Well, this is an all-too-familiar question and situation to me, so let me back up a step.  I earned my bachelor’s degree at the University of Wyoming.  I often get, “Why Wyoming?” …

Wyoming Infrared Observatory, where I recorded volcanic eruptions on Jupiter's Moon Io w/ Dr. Robert Howell in 2000.

The year is 1999.  I’ve just graduated high school and am Cambridge-bound.  Then came the crushing rejection letter from MIT, (which I was assured by my counselors, etc., was all but an impossibility.)  After some frantic soul-searching, I found the University of Wyoming, which was one of the few universities in the country to offer an undergraduate astrophysics option with a wicked infrared observatory.  Added to it was the promise of cold winters (I was sick of the desert,) cross-country skiing, (which would become a hobby of mine,) fresh air, trees – everything a nature-inclined desert rat could want out of a place.  It also happened to be in a western college network that would essentially trim admission down to what my scholarships would already cover.  A substantial savings over MIT.  –And, as fate would have it, UW has one of the nation’s premier geology programs as well, which would turn out to be a coup when I would switch to planetary geology.  Because UW was a smaller institution, the opportunities for involvement in research (e.g., BGP, AI Study) were unparalleled.  And, had I gone to MIT, I would have been tens if not over a hundred thousand dollars in the hole before I figured I wanted to switch majors.  Even though I didn’t realize it at first, Wyoming was exactly the right place for me at the right time.

Well, that brings us to now.  I’ve had my eye on the University of Arizona’s School of Earth and Space Exploration ever since I attended/presented at the “Dust Devils on Earth and Mars” astrogeology workshop there in 2005, but the simple reality is I can’t leave my job/bills/house/life to attend school in Arizona.  -At least for the immediate future, I’m a Vegas resident – so I’ve been biding my time with side research and professional experience.  Suddenly, I discovered just months ago that the University of North Dakota (and I can’t believe I didn’t discover them sooner – I suppose I was hyperfocused on Arizona…) has an amazing distance masters of science program in Space Studies that I could actually complete from here.  The program is also affordable, to boot.  So, UND is in part a choice driven by convenience and necessity, but it also may actually be more ideal for me in the long run.  While I always imagined that strict Planetary Geology would be my ideal major, I’m beginning to think that the interdisciplinary approach is more beneficial and useful – I’ve had my eye on the private space industry for a while, and exposure to space law, policy, and corporate management issues can only be an advantage compared to a “strict scientist,” so-to-speak. 

Deja vu?  Even though I haven’t suspected it until now, have I found myself in exactly the right place at the right time once again?

Here’s hoping.

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