What could a Space Colonisation-101 course look like?

What could a Space Colonisation-101 course look like?

Srikanth Sugavanam, Nasir Garba Bello, Anastasiia Vasylchenkova

*All authors contributed to this work equally.

The prospect of colonising space is no longer a pipe dream. The technology and know-how for sustaining extra-terrestrial life already exists. And we are not really talking about extended timelines – SpaceX is looking to have humans in Mars by 2024. This essentially means that we may very well experience interplanetary travel in our lifetimes!

But the question is, are we prepared for it?

Of course, we would need people with core skills. But in our first endeavours of space colonisation, we are entering into the region of unknown-unknowns, and the key to sustaining a prosperous extra-terrestrial colony will be how well we can live together.

So when during an active learning set of our PG-Certificate course in Learning in Teaching in Higher Education, one of us (Nasir) suggested designing a course in Space colonisation for next-wave engineers, it didn’t really seem outlandish (of course, pun intended).

We felt it would be appropriate to set the entry level of the course for final year undergraduate students, and arrived on the following course philosophy –

The philosophy is to make the learners aware of the larger context of their own disciplines, and provide them with the necessary tools to facilitate interdisciplinary conversation, towards realisation of new-world technologies. The nature of the task at hand, i.e. space colonisation, calls for a learning structure that is socially constructive in nature, and thus teaching will be facilitated by interpersonal, co-operative teaching modalities. Inclusivity will be an essential aspect of the course, to encourage social cohesion between diverse cultural backgrounds that will be an integral aspect of the terra-nova colonisers.

The next question was, what could the course content look like?

Clearly, one module had to be along the lines of ‘Extra-terrestrial survival science’. We have lived too long on earth to take things like atmospheric pressure for granted. For instance, I don’t know how long I can survive in sub-zero temperatures before getting frost-bite. Or, how long I can hold my breath before it becomes life-critical. This will become essential life-saving knowledge in outer space.

There could be discipline-specific courses also – for instance, essential chemical engineering towards sustainable living, covering aspects related to air and water purification, recycling and waste management, or low-G engineering for locomotion and transport. A module on the history of human exploration would be apt too, as this would help us reflect on our past successes and failures.

But we also felt that beyond such historical and discipline-based courses, the colonising engineers of tomorrow will need to have soft skills. For instance, they will need to be able to speak with common lingo when managing projects at large scales, especially interdisciplinary ones. They would need to understand the nuances of resource and project management. For similar reasons, a compulsory course module on urban planning does not seem unrealistic. Above all, they would need to have good conflict management skills, as time will be of essence in an extra-terrestrial environment, and they should be able to get to the core matter of misunderstandings (which we have to admit, will be unavoidable) rapidly.

Such a course would also lend itself to placement opportunities, both with governmental and private organisations alike. Involving young engineers in ongoing space exploration projects from the onset will be motivational and fruitful in the long run. Again, these opportunities are not limited to engineering projects– space colonisation is a social endeavour, so we also need to answer questions related to policy and law.

It is imminent that we would need to imbibe and inculcate structured knowledge to facilitate our space-faring ways. Designing a Space Colonisation-101 course will be a good place to start. Let’s get cracking!

What course content would you like to see in a Space Colonisation-101 course? We would love to hear from you in the comments below!

Featured image – Artist impression of a Mars settlement with cutaway view, from wikimedia commons.

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What could a Space Colonisation-101 course look like? by Srikanth Sugavanam, Nasir Garba Bello, Anastasiia Vasylchenkova is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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