Classical Vienna

SGAC, travel, UNCOPUOS, Vienna

Over the weekend I re-visited a city I grew to love over my short time living there last year – Vienna.

In a short three or so months, it became my home; one I became rather fond of. It was my first experience living outside of my country (UK) but most difficult was not knowing the language, which I quickly had to familiarise myself with. I only ever learnt French and Spanish at school (which I became rather fluent in at the time), so this was a completely new experience. Looking back, I realise how much it changed me as a person and gave me the confidence to travel more and more, going forward with new experiences abroad.

One year ago, I attended the UN COPUOS (United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space) Scientific and Technical Subcommittee. It was a privilege and honour to present there on behalf of SGAC. This year unfortunately, I have been able to attend the subcommittee, but I have been following it closely on Twitter at #COPUOS. Instead I was able to return over the weekend while a number of people were visiting the city, along with the friends I made while I lived there. Vienna is only 4 hours away from Munich!

This season is typically ball season in Vienna, something I was unfortunate to miss while living in the city. It was a great excuse to return and see some old friends (see featured image). Many of us booked to attend the Johann Strauss Ball, as part of The Sound of Vienna season – a very classical Viennese ball.

I suppose I like to think I can dance. Maybe after a few drinks, I might try out some of my moves! My dancing skills may well be questionable by most. It was great therefore to have some Austrian natives (friends) teach us how to Waltz and Quadrille.

I knew of the former, quite well knowing some classical music, but I only very vaguely knew how to dance it.

Quadrille was completely new for me. It does seem rather complex and it is hard to get right.  There are several parts to learn in the sequence, making it quite tricky to bring together. In particular, I was taught the dance in English and knowing only a little German, it was difficult to understand the instructions given from the stage. The sequence was sped up more and more, which made it even more difficult but rather funny.

Of course, Vienna wouldn’t have been complete if I hadn’t revisited a Viennese cafe for Viennese coffee and torte (cake) (see featured image above).

Overall, a very classical Viennese weekend. I shall hope to return soon for SpaceUp:Vienna and Yuri’s Night.

The classic Viennese coffee and Sacher Torte combination. Image via TripAdvisor

Featured image (top) credit: Vojna Ngjeqari

Time for a Refresh – My New-Look Website

communication, travel, update

Every so often, I feel, it is time for a refresh.

I started out with a blog with Google Blogspot back in about 2009, when I was selected as the UK Student Representative for the International Year of Astronomy 2009 (IYA 2009). I attended the Opening Ceremony in Paris at the start of that year and later I went to Krakow, Poland, for the International Conference of Young Astronomers (ICYA) 2009.

In the aim to be more professional, I then updated to more of a website with Freewebs which contained some of my work, as I wrote less for my blog. I sought to incorporate more of my work and interests. I imported my old posts to this site and would write the occasional post here and there when on my travels.

I am more of a social media “microblogger” these days, using Twitter among other sites. Various sites such as LinkedIn allow you to update your professional work, Facebook is good to share updates with friends and Twitter is a nice medium, I find, for general interests. In recent months I have slowly been incorporating these onto my site, which you see today. Maintaining my blog alongside, I have tended to find quite tricky.

Why the recent change?

My aim is for my website to be more visual and for my blog posts to be less text heavy. These past number of years I have been travelling a lot, taking in new experiences and learning much along the way. I really enjoy photography and own a Canon EOS 1100D DSLR. I frequently take images and I think I can maintain blog posts more easily in this new format. This is an interest I really want to build on as well.

I am also seeking to incorporate more of my professional work and am taking on more of a professional look website, alongside my interests and travel. My main interest, astronomy, is also a very visual subject. I aim to communicate this more effectively using a visual theme.

My main area of work is in science communication, as I am working as a journalist, science communication intern at the European Southern Observatory. Before that I was at UNAWE and I currently support activities in UKSEDS and SGAC, among others. My aim is to turn my site into a more user-friendly, visual experience with better updated content. You can see featured content more clearly as you enter the site.

To the left sidebar you will see my main activities, according to category of my latest blog posts. The top menu still contains my usual activities, publications, CV etc. which I am currently updating and reorganising in line with my latest work.

You can see I have also added RSS feeds for ESOcast and HubbleCast, which I am currently working on at ESO. You will also find the latest couple of Space Scoops from the UNAWE site in an RSS feed, which you can find at the bottom left-hand side. I also maintain featured content on Portal to the Universe, which you will also find in an RSS feed, to the bottom of my new-look website.

A couple of years or so ago, I upgraded to WordPress, which has also undergone several changes throughout the years. The themes they offer now, in my view are some of the best free ones available on the internet. I am really happy with WordPress’ latest update. I hope to bring you more visual content while on my travels here, working in Munich at ESO and much more.

Deutsches Museum

astronomy, human spaceflight, science, space exploration, travel

At the weekend, I visited the Deutsches Museum (German Museum) in Munich – the world’s largest museum of science and technology. It was a good chance to meet some fellow space enthusiasts in an informal “spacetweetup” (or as it later turned out, meetup) with various friends and friends of friends who live, study or work in/around Munich.

It still amazes me how small the space community is sometimes. I’ve travelled to different cities and it is always great to meet fellow space enthusiasts, especially who are connected through the ISU or SGAC network. Nearby also is the Austrian Space Forum (OeWF) which is based in Innsbruck, who have an agreement with SGAC. It was good to connect with some more of their members too. We always seem to have people in common.

Working in the Education and Public Outreach Department (ePOD) at ESO, we produce a lot of materials for the public, including a lot of posters, flyers and booklets. I was pleased I was able to take some along to share with space enthusiasts.

Fellow space enthusiast and ISU alumna, Nikita, my work colleague at ESO. ON our way to the Deutsches Museum.


V2 rocket on display at the Deutsches Museum.

A large display of various rockets to scale at the Deutsches Museum.

A large display of various rockets to scale at the Deutsches Museum.

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.

Lorraine Mondial Air Ballons


On Saturday, following the ISU Rocket Launch, a few of us made our way to Region Lorraine for the Mondial Air Ballons (World Air Balloons).

It was very much an impromptu visit. Our colleague, Michael, only booked the hire car at 11:30pm on Friday night and sent the e-mail out soon after. I immediately jumped at the chance to go to this. Other than my department trips, I hadn’t managed a trip outside of Strasbourg, so it was a perfect opportunity to escape Strasbourg and explore some countryside.


Nearby countryside


Nearby sign posts

Chambley, in the region of Lorraine, just outside of Metz was about 2.5-3 hours from Strasbourg. We left the ISU rocket launches at 3:15pm and after half an hour trying to leave Strasbourg (on last day of the sales, we later realised) we arrived at the aerodrome.

A very pleasant drive through Lorraine, the region was a spectacular sight among the soaring heat.


Fields of sunflowers

Chambley aerodrome sign

Chambley aerodrome sign

After some delay, the balloons finally were inflated.

Hot air balloons just being inflated

Hot air balloons being inflated

The sky was suddenly full of a multitude of colour among the blue sky. Here’s a very British balloon I photographed.


It was quite surreal to have so many balloons flying around you. Powered by no engines, they just blew past silently, sometimes above your head. It was a great feeling to have those people fly past, waving back at them.



Established in 1989, Lorraine Mondial is the world’s largest hot air balloon gathering.

IMG_9926**Update** 1st August: Day in Pictures “More than 400 hot-air balloons in Chambley-Bussieres, eastern France, attempt to set a world record for collective taking-off.”