2013 – A Year In Review

personal, rantings, travel

The weeks and months flutter by so quickly these days. I can hardly believe how fast 2013 has passed by. Now I have settled down a bit here in Munich, I can take a bit of time to reflect on the past year.

For me, 2013 was a great year. One with a great amount of travelling and a range of experiences, meeting new people and learning new things. I am still quite amazed at the sheer number of things I did and I am feeling much better for it.

I suppose 2013 was a strange new start for me. I moved on from some difficult personal circumstances and decided it was time for a change. I was offered a great opportunity to work in Vienna, supporting activities at Space Generation Advisory Council (SGAC) at their HQ in Vienna.

Looking back, I suppose it was a great get-away at the perfect time, and an opportunity I have much sought, to work for an international organisation relating to space. Of course, prior to this I had been quite active for the International Year of Astronomy 2009 (IYA 2009) but this was really the first time I had moved to live in a different country for some months and support an organisation on the global level. I am thankful to SGAC for the opportunity and to be able to speak at the United Nations Committee for the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UN COPUOS) Scientific and Technical subcommittee.


Me speaking at the UN COPUOS on behalf of SGAC

I am pleased I was able to return later to the UN COPUOS Legal subcommittee before my departure from Vienna. It was a great four months or so there and I will hope to return from Munich shortly.

While in Vienna, I was also busy co-organising the UKSEDS National Student Space Conference 2013, in its 25th year. I was pleased to return to the UK for the celebrations.

From Vienna I travelled on to Berlin, where my good friend Charitarth was studying in an internship in Potsdam. Although I had been in Germany before, this was my first time to the capital. I was rather touched in seeing first-hand some of the history of the city in what remains of the Wall.

While visiting Charitarth, I was pleased to be called for interview for the International Space University (ISU) Space Studies Programme (SSP) which I applied for. Shortly after my return to the UK, I found out I was accepted onto the programme in Strasbourg, France at the central campus of ISU. I was amazed I received the full scholarship from the European Space  Agency (ESA) and UK Space Agency – the equivalent of 16,500 Euros!

ISU Campus. Credit: Ryan J.M. Laird

ISU Campus. Credit: Ryan J.M. Laird

In June I set out to Strasbourg and learnt more about the European space sector and its role in industry. I was able to visit many sites, including ESA’s mission control centre at ESA Operations Centre (ESOC), EUMETSAT and SES Satellites (Luxembourg). Earlier I had been to Inmarsat and Surrey Satellites Technology Ltd., so it was great to be able to absorb the industry side of space, as I was more familiar with the purely academic side.

It was a great summer. I learnt more about space applications, an up and coming sector, especially in the UK as we have launched Satellite Applications Catapult and our own ESA centre,  the European Centre for Space Applications and Telecommunications (ECSAT). It was also a lot of fun to travel more, meet new people from around the world and become part of a very active network for space. I was pleased I was able to fit in a visit to the Buran Space Shuttle at the Technik Museum Speyer.

Buran Space Shuttle at Technik Museum Speyer. Credit: Ryan J.M. Laird

Buran Space Shuttle at Technik Museum Speyer. Credit: Ryan J.M. Laird

We were warned by our professor, Scott Madry about the “de-orbit” from ISU. Throughout the summer, we worked in overdrive, deadlines were tight, there was one amazing opportunity from the next, a lot of travel but soon the nine weeks came to an end. We returned to our homes and time would appear to slow down. Indeed, when I returned home to Skegness it seemed like much of the summer was a dream. We did so many great things and met so many great people.

When I returned home, I was on the search for work. The current prospects in Europe are rather tough but I felt rather inspired by ISU and the new experiences I had learnt. Some days though, it was somewhat depressing to realise ISU was over and the reality set in. I applied to a number of positions and was pleased to be offered amazing opportunities at both UNAWE, based in the Netherlands and at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Germany. Thankfully it worked out that I was able to do both.

In October, I moved to Leiden in the Netherlands to work at UNAWE, based at Leiden University. My role was to disseminate Space Scoop, astronomy news for kids and aim to bring this to a much wider audience. It was a great experience to share Space Scoop with my existing network and learn of some new ones. In less week of me working at UNAWE, I travelled to Heidelberg, Germany and the Haus der Astronomie (House of Astronomy) where we held the UNAWE international workshop which brought together all the international partners.

It was amazing how many people I already knew in the Netherlands at ESTEC, nearby at TU Delft, as well as a couple of people at Leiden University itself. I was able to connect with the “ISU family” in a dinner there. I left with fond memories of Leiden and it is a shame it was so short-lived. I was pleased that I was able fit in a visit to Brussels, Belgium for the SGAC Christmas Dinner at the start of December, only a couple of hours drive away.

I returned home for Christmas for a week and then prepared for my next travels, onto Munich where I am currently based. I saw New Years through with a good friend and met some cool people in the hostel I stayed in.

2013 was a year with a lot of travel and different experiences. I was pleased at the opportunity to be able to work and study in a few different places. Whereas I really enjoyed this all, I feel I do need to focus more on permanent position in science communication, my main aim for 2014. I hope to bring all my experience to a new level.

I am now working at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Garching, near Munich, the capital of the state of Bavaria in Germany. I will be working as a journalist, science communication intern for the next months. I will work with a team of professional science communicators for the preparation of ESO and ESA/Hubble news and photo releases, publications, web pages, video scripts, exhibition panels and other public communication products.