Astrophiz Podcast #36

There’s a first time for everything, and yesterday was the first time I was interviewed on a podcast!

Astrophiz usually covers astronomy and astrophysics, but they made an exception to interview a rocket scientist. For astronomy fans – don’t worry, there’s plenty more besides the interview. Check it out!

Starting New Space Events in Tokyo

I write this, about two years into a journey that started bearing fruit two months ago. The best-organized events look effortless and operate like clockwork, but rarely is the scene behind the curtain so perfect. Back in late 2014, I had approached the existing ISU Space Cafe – DC lead, Angela Peura, about two things: (1) the event was begging for a website (and a Facebook page) and (2) I was moving to Tokyo and wanted to take the Space Cafe idea with me. She agreed to both and as I started preparing for the move to Tokyo, I assumed the Tokyo version of Space Cafe would be up and running within three months of my August 2015 arrival. Haha.

When I got to Tokyo, several elements of the landscape became clear.
(1) I had no concept of what events looked like in Tokyo
(2) I didn’t know which bars or venues would be friendly to our idea
(3) I didn’t know anyone in the space community who lived in Tokyo


The first year in Tokyo was filled with all the newness and confusion that comes with moving to the literal other side of the planet and attempting to decipher kanji. I started attending comedy and storytelling events put on by the expat community. Not a whole lot happened with Space Cafe, but I did manage to start SEDS UTokyo (another story…) and meet some cool people. Around my one year mark, two events started and popped on my radar: Nerd Nite and Perfect Liars Club. Things picked up steam as I approached the owner of a delightful British pub in Shimokitazawa about having our event there.

Venue done, now to find speakers…

As it turns out, the founders of Perfect Liars Club had been transplants from DC themselves, and (sympathetically) they introduced me to our first speaker, Elizabeth. The rest, as they say, is history and we picked up momentum once people started hearing about us.

From our first night, we had a good size crowd of a healthy mix of space enthusiasts and professionals. It turns out that there was a real desire in the Tokyo space community for an event like this, which is amazing and gratifying. We (now there’s a team!) even started a group to help consolidate space-related events in Tokyo and are planning to expand from (slightly structured) Space Cafes to (even more informal) discussion happy hours in the coming months.

So to anyone who is interested in starting their own STEAM/outreach events – do it!

…but be patient. These things take way more time than you might think.

Uncommon Space Paths

As senior year of college draws to a close, many US students are considering one of two main paths: industry or academia. Usually the search is conducted exclusively within the US and few students look into the variety of international masters programs, and internships that exist in the rest of the world.

Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list. What other programs do you know about or recommend?



Things Students Ask

Sometimes in outreach, engineers can feel like there’s a barrier to entry. They might be nervous about what kids might ask or whether they’ll look silly. So, for your information and enjoyment, here are some of my favorite questions I’ve ever been asked and answers that I may or may not have pieced together, but in retrospect would have been the best.

I’ve given a few tours for my group at NASA, and kids have asked some great questions. (Shout out to the students in Ecuador for what was definitely the best collection of questions I’ve ever heard!)

Do you believe in aliens? This is highly personal, but you can go in a few directions, and there’s always this song by Hank Green.

How do astronauts go to the bathroom in space?

Do you know what Area 51 is?

Why is the robot moving so slowly? To keep engineers safe

How many satellites are in space? About 1000 active satellites


And some other common questions that would be personal:

What’s it like to be a female in engineering?/Did anyone ever tell you you couldn’t be an engineer because you’re a girl?

What’s your favorite project you’ve ever done?

Where did you go to school?

What do you do?

Space for People

There has been much said about the need for more students to go into STEM fields and the difficulty of exciting the public about space.

I’ve had opportunities to talk with kids about what got me excited about space and with space professionals and educators at conferences about how engineers can participate in inspiring the next generation. A common idea is we don’t want to reinvent the wheel.

In order for engineers to effectively support educators in showing what is so cool about space (because who better than the people who love space!), it helps to have a starting idea to build upon and tailor to the audience. To that end, here is a collection of links to ideas and supporting material for existing ideas.