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Highlights from the 2021 Space Education and Strategic Applications Conference

Featured Image by Mathew Schwartz and Wes O’Donnell

By Wes O’Donnell
Managing Editor, Edge

Last year,  American Public University System and the Policy Studies Organization deftly launched the inaugural Space Education and Strategic Applications (SESA) conference.

This free online conference brought together astronauts, astrobiologists, engineers, scientists, entrepreneurs, students, and educators and encouraged them to have open conversations about pressing space issues that affect us all.

This year, the conference was back and bigger than ever.

The second annual SESA conference kicked off on Thursday, September 23, and featured an incredible roster of space thought leaders.

As an attendee, I was treated to two full days of immersive space topics that included everything from cybersecurity to space law. That’s right…get ready for space lawyers.

Below are some of my favorite sessions.

Plenary Keynote: Through the Glass Ceiling to the Stars

Colonel Eileen Collins

NASA astronaut Eileen Collins, NASA’s first female shuttle commander, discussed leadership in dynamic environments, women’s role in the future of space travel and her unique perspective of succeeding in STEM.

Part motivational speech, part science lesson, Collins was absolutely inspiring to listen to. No doubt the hundreds of attendees left her keynote enriched by her presentation. I know I did.

Drone and Space Technologies: The Intersection of Engineering, Science, and Education

In this incredibly fun talk, the charismatic CEO of STEAMedDrones Stevenson Demorcy got the audience involved by asking us to make paper airplanes at home and use the scientific method to observe, calculate, and record how well (or in my case, not so well) they flew.

Perhaps most important, Demorcy stressed the need to incorporate women and minorities into the growing drone technology field and finished by fielding questions about STEM education.

PANEL: Space Law and Education: Future-Proofing Our Curriculum

In this excellent discussion, panelists talked about various aspects of national and international law that need to be considered as countries and businesses increase their presence and activities in space. My favorite panelist, however, was our own Dr. Gary Deel. Deel’s talk, “Private Sector Visionaries Are the Way Forward,” was intelligent and thoughtful.

Key takeaway: No matter what we may think about the billionaire space race, they are paving the way for the democratization of space.

Live Broadcast from the Observatory at American Public University System

Dr. Ed Albin

Taking place at 8 p.m., this was my favorite “talk” of the conference, although it was less a lecture and more of a show-and-tell as Dr. Ed Albin conducted a live Zoom broadcast from the APUS observatory. After showing the audience real-time celestial targets like the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) and the Perseus Double Cluster, he then took requests!

Dr. Ed Albin

My request, the Orion nebula, was below the horizon at the time. However, Albin indulged several other audience members with some incredible views.

What About Next Year?

I’m told that planning has already started on SESA 2022 and, depending on COVID, may be held in-person.

I don’t know what to think about that. The convenience of the online format for SESA meant that many more people were able to virtually attend from all over the world. For a live conference, those same people would have to physically travel to the event.

Still, there is something about attending conferences live and in-person – a certain feeling of inclusion and personal learning. When you’re watching a session via Zoom, you may be tempted to multitask or get distracted. On the other hand, attending an in-person conference means giving the speaker your undivided attention.

Regardless of whether next year’s SESA conference is live or not, it is an incredible opportunity to enrich yourself and learn from tomorrow’s brightest minds in the STEM field.

You can view the full program from this year’s SESA conference, and be sure to check back with the Policy Studies Organization for future details of next year’s conference.

Or just keep the AMU Edge Space page bookmarked for all things space science!

Until next year, beam me up.

Wes O'Donnell

Wes O’Donnell is an Army and Air Force veteran and writer covering military and tech topics. As a sought-after professional speaker, Wes has presented at U.S. Air Force Academy, Fortune 500 companies, and TEDx, covering trending topics from data visualization to leadership and veterans’ advocacy. As a filmmaker, he directed the award-winning short film, “Memorial Day.”

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