I thought after seeing an amazing aurora borealis and a lecture by Stephen Hawking in the same month, it could not get any better. But I was wrong. Stockholm and KTH have not yet led all of their cards for me.
This week, as part of the 28th Planetary Congress, more than a hundred cosmonauts and astronauts gathered in Sweden’s capital city for their annual meeting. Under the slogan “Inspired by Space”, they visited their peer Christer Fuglesang, who is a professor at KTH, in order to have a conference with presentations, discussions and get-togethers. Among the astronauts there were most of the recent ESA astronauts like Andreas Morgensen (who just returned from the ISS), Samantha Cristoforetti or Alexander Gerst, but also earlier representatives like Ernst Messerschmidt, Gerhard Thiele, Bill Anders or Alexey Leonov.
What was great about the congress is, that all presentations and discussions were public. As long as there were seats left, anyone could attend and get inspired by space. And guess, what I did.
The first talks were given inside Stockholms Konserthus, offering place for 100 astronauts and the same amount of students and other listeners. Chris Hadfield talked about how he got inspired by space, showing amazing photographs from the ISS. Elena Serova presented latest results from her research at the station in a presentation translated from Russian. Samantha Cristoforetti shared insights on the everyday life at ISS like for example getting a haircut. It was amazing.*
In addition to the astronaut talks, Anders Ynnerman, professor at Linköpings Universitet, took the audience on an interactive flight from the ISS to the borders of the universe and a student presented her story about how she got inspired by space.
Later talks were given by Jean-Jacques Dordain, the former ESA Director General, directly addressing the astronauts for their ability and responsibility to inspire and include people not only in Europe, but especially in Africa and South-America. Gerhard Thiele (picture above) was presenting the progress of European space-flight and insisted as well on the necessity to include more countries and people. Finally ESA spacecraft operations manager Andrea Accomazzo, who is working at the ESOC in Darmstadt, told the ongoing story of the Rosetta mission pointing out the difficulties arising when approaching a comet with unknown shape and mass.
* not only the haircut.
Most inspiring for me was probably the Astronaut Lunch, that took place in the building of the student union THS. 300 students were given the possibility to get together with the 100 astronauts for informal talks (that are very important here in Sweden).
After having waited an hour in the queue, I was lucky to get a spot on one of the tables. But my luck lasted, as some minutes later, Alexander Gerst and Alexey Leonov took place next to me. Alexey Leonov was the first person undertaking a spacewalk and Alexander Gerst the German astronaut who went to the ISS for 166 days last year.
Alexander Gerst talked a lot about how he studied geophysics, went to volcanoes and Antarctica, and finally found himself in the German Aerospace Center in Köln where he was chosen among 8.400 applicants to become the next European astronaut on ISS. His activities on ISS included a 6 hour spacewalk where he replaced a cooling pump. Gerst pointed out how difficult it is to follow the 500 step procedure when outside the station and totally dependent on communication with astronauts on the ISS and commanders on Earth. He, the robotic arm, the ISS and the ground station all had different coordinate systems, that needed to be translated.
Among the 160 experiments he operated in space, one of the most interesting ones for him was to install and operate a so-called electromagnetic levitator. This is a device that heats up a floating probe. On Earth the levitation has to be realized using strong magnetic fields, but on the ISS this is a lot easier. By observing the probe while melting or solidifying, information about the material and the process of phase transitions can be gathered.
Another experiment was to investigate how plants grow without gravity. While the upper part follows the direction of light, the roots get confused and do not know in which direction to grow. Understanding how to show the plant a direction might allow growing plants for longer missions like to Mars.
Within the two days of the conference, I got definitely inspired by space. It took me some time to realize the size and importance of the conference. When I took the picture on the right, I thought for the first time, that among the 600 persons that entered space, more than a hundred were at KTH, all of them in the two busses on the picture on the right.
I hope that I could inspire you a bit as well and that you clicked on some of the links for further reading. In any case, listen to the video below. It is David Bowie’s song Space Oddity recorded by Chris Hadfield – solely on the International Space Station. Additionally there is an astronaut Q&A recorded at the KTH library, that I found at Johanna’s blog post.
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