College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

Spaceflight workshop gives glimpse into astronaut life

spaceflightTwelve college students will get a chance this week to catch a glimpse into the life of an astronaut, without actually having to go through the two-and-a-half years of training.

Iowa State University’s Department of Aerospace Engineering is holding its second Spaceflight Operations Workshop from Aug. 10 to 16. Ten students from Iowa State and two students from Tuskegee University in Alabama, all in aerospace engineering, will go skydiving and scuba diving and learn about flight simulation and wilderness training to better understand astronaut training.

But the idea isn’t to build the next team of astronauts.

Tor Finseth, who helped create workshop’s curriculum this year and last year, said it’s more of a way to get students thinking differently, get hands-on experience and help prepare them for future aerospace-related careers and learn about commercial spaceflight.

“When you get a degree, you get a lot of theoretical,” said Finseth, an Iowa State graduate research assistant in aerospace engineering. “Here’s the chance to apply it.”

Finseth built the course last year with Clayton Anderson, who earned a master’s degree from Iowa State in 1983. Anderson is a veteran of two trips to the International Space Station and is now an Iowa State distinguished faculty fellow in aerospace engineering.

“We wanted to look at the operational hands-on aspects of learning,” Finseth said. “Not to train astronauts, but to give students an idea of what astronauts go through.”

Students will learn valuable teamwork and critical thinking skills, learn how to run complicated checklists, and learn how to skydive and scuba dive in the process. Students will even learn how to land a plane, Finseth said. After the workshop is said and done, he said he himself would trust the students flying an aircraft.

Undergraduate students get a glimpse into how astronauts
Undergraduate students get a glimpse into how astronauts train at the Spaceflight Operations Workshop at Iowa State. (Photo: Tor Finseth/Special to the Register)
All of this, Finseth said, is a way to better understand how astronauts train.

“No one has ever really done research in a lot of the training aspects for astronauts,” said Finseth, who hopes to work for SpaceX in Los Angeles after graduation. “We really have to hone down their training aspects.”

The endgame for the workshop, Finseth said, is to turn it into a semester-long three-credit class. Companies have also asked to have their employees attend, he said, making the workshop beneficial for students and outside companies.

And having Anderson as another leader of the workshop is a quick way to inspire the students.

“He’s inspired a lot of people,” Finseth said. “You should see some of the fire in some of the kids’ eyes when they hear what he’s gone through and that NASA is still alive and kicking.”

For the original Des Moines Register article, click here.