Small pieces of a huge puzzle

Last week I attended a conference in Charleston, South Carolina, together with some of my co-workers from Kennedy Space Center. The name of the conference is ”47th International Conference on Environmental Systems” (ICES 2017), and it included topics related to humans living and working in extreme environments with applications inside or outside of terrestrial or outer space habitats or vehicles, human factors, environmental control and life-support systems. Naturally, most presentations were either focusing on current and future technologies to be used on the International Space Station (ISS) or technologies needed for the journey to Mars. And what really struck me was the enormous amount of work needed for such an endeavor, such an amazing number of different innovations needed, challenges that has to be addressed, and problems to be solved.

It´s a coordinated team effort of course, it would have to be. But for an outsider like me it hasn´t been very clear how the different parts will finally fit together and form a unity in which materials and technical equipment can be used in a maximized way, and who actually has the responsibility of coordinating the different efforts. However, at the ICES conference, presentations from people in management positions allowed a better overview and insight in how the preparations and technical development work is conducted. Important, particularly since everyone is working intensively on their own small piece of this huge puzzle. Giving all that are involved a clear view of how everything is connected and how other parts develop and progress is crucial and something that I believe is often neglected. Not only in a project of this size, spanning over decades of research and technical development work to travel to and colonizing another planet, but also in smaller projects that spans over a shorter time. Many university researchers, myself included, should probably put more effort into putting projects in context in a better way and thereby allow our PhD students, postdocs, master students, engineers, etc to get a better idea of how their work fits into a larger scope. Another thing to put on my list of things-to-do-when-I-get-back!

(Image credit: NASA)

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