Scottish Space School at University of Strathclyde

In June 2018 I was selected to attend the Scottish Space School. Every summer 100 S5 Scottish school pupils are selected to attend a week-long residential summer school with the University of Strathclyde. The week consisted of a mixture of lectures, labs, and workshops on a space theme and was delivered by academics and researchers from the Faculty of Engineering, as well as visiting NASA representatives. This experience really opened my eyes to the world of engineering and the vast extent of its global potential and contribution.


The first day of the week we all arrived at the University and were split into 10 teams of 10.  Each team was named after an ISS module - my team was called Destiny. That evening we were introduced to all our mentors and lectures as well as doing many ice breaker games so we all got to know each other. The second day we had an introduction to Design, Manufacture & Engineering Management and were set a project to work on throughout the week. We were introduced to NASA astronaut Sunita Williams, a veteran of two space missions Expeditions 14/15 and 32/33 to the International Space Station (ISS). She is currently training for the first post-certification mission of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft – the second crewed flight for that vehicle – and her third long duration mission aboard the ISS.


We were then set the challenge to construct rockets that would later in the day be launched from Kelvingrove Park, it was incredibly fun and our rockets were then judged by Suni and Joel Montalbano - NASA Deputy International Space Station (ISS) Program Manager. That evening Suni gave a presentation on her journey to becoming an astronaut and her experiences in space. Finally at the end of the day the mentors gave us a presentation on what it is like to study engineering.


The third day we had an introduction to Biomedical, Prosthetics and Orthotics Engineering, after that we had a workshop on Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering where we built a virtual reality headset. In the afternoon we had a Chemical Engineering workshop where we made bouncy balls from different formulas and measured how effective each formula was. In the evening we were introduced to NASA flight surgeon Dr Richard Scheuring who gave a presentation on his role at NASA and what it actually involves. Afterwards we were given a talk from Clyde Space a Scottish company that designs and manufactures their own micro-satellites.


The fourth day we did an Electronic and Electrical Engineering workshop in the morning where we built a heart monitor using various electrical components, later on we worked on a project to create a product that would improve an aspect of life for astronauts on the ISS. In the afternoon Nikki Lloyd, a previous intern from NASA and daughter of the founder of the Space School gave us a presentation where she talked about her experience of studying different types of diseases at the research centre in Houston, Texas. That evening we had an open mic night where each team did a performance that everyone involved got to watch and were judged by the NASA guests.


On the final day we had an introduction to Naval Architecture, Ocean & Marine Engineering as well as a fun group task where we got to use remote control ‘Mars Rovers’ to pick up magnets underground and earn points. In the afternoon we did a Civil and Environmental Engineering workshop where we built a bridge out of dry spaghetti and hot glue to see which shapes would hold up the most weight. That afternoon Joel gave us a presentation about his journey towards working in NASA and what his job involves. To conclude we had a ceilidh to celebrate our last night at Space School, it was incredible!


It’s difficult to settle on one thing that I enjoyed the most about the Scottish Space School week. Meeting astronauts and engineers working on live space projects for the first time was incredibly inspiring, and speaking to the astronauts about their time in space and their journey to become an astronaut was hugely motivating. Definitely one of my favourite parts about the Space School was that it was a brilliant opportunity to meet 100 like-minded people from across Scotland, many of whom I am great friends with now.


The various engineering areas that I was exposed to were useful in my university decision making process, but on reflection the self-confidence that I gained from leading a team, meeting and relating to lots of new people, presenting to an audience, coming up with ideas and meeting the NASA guests was invaluable. By the end of the week I was sure that I wanted to do engineering, although I wasn’t entirely sure which type as they all seemed appealing (the downside of being exposed to so many different opportunities in engineering!). Also, having been on Strathclyde’s campus for a week made me feel very comfortable there and that has made me keen to apply to study engineering at Strathclyde.

Niamh King S6