The International Space University, headquartered in Strasbourg, is the world’s only higher education institution dedicated to space activities. Since it was founded by Peter Diamandis, Robert Richards and Todd Howley in 1987, some 5,200 students from over 110 countries have graduated from its programmes. Outgoing VP for North American Operations Gary Martin explains.
ISU is clearly not your typical university. How does it work?
At the International Space University we have a number of different programmes. We’ve a master’s programme where you go to the central campus in Strasbourg and stay for a year. It’s a traditional academic programme. But, the programme that started it 32 years ago is a 9-week, professional development programme we do all over the world at a different location each year.
Where are these summer programmes hosted?
Places that want to bring space activities to their location can compete to host. In the summer 2022 it’s going to be in Portugal. Last year we had to split it between Grenada and Strasbourg because of covid we couldn’t get people in one place. Usually we’ve around 120 students. A lot of our work is hands on and within teams. We hope for people to build bonds that will help them later in their careers.
Tell me about the students who participate in these programmes?
Most participants have doctorate or masters already. They come to our courses because we help explain holistically everything happening in space. Usually in our course we’ll have around 30 different countries represented. Often they will come from different (space) agencies, Chinese or Indian space agencies. They’re trying to meet and learn what’s going on from people doing the work. We advertise that if a banker wants to do something in space, we show where the bankers are needed, where engineers learn about international space treaties. And vice versa. People in policy want to learn about space, space is for everyone. We’ve performance artists who came to our classes now they do performances based on space themes.
Who teaches the programmes?
We’ve 160 faculty worldwide, these are people who are CEOs, senior executives, government leaders, scientists etc. Our faculty are the people making the new laws, running the companies you read about.
“Most participants go to existing companies or start new space companies.”
What do ISU’s graduates go on to do afterwards?
Most participants go to existing companies or start new space companies. Redwire, Spire, Maana Electric, Hydrosat, they’re all kind of ISU linked. We’ve recorded 110 companies started by our alumni in 27 countries. Many of them started during the programme because they have dinner or a beer together, and say “that’s a great idea, let’s work it out”.
How did ISU come about?
It was a unique vision that these three young people had. The founders were still in their 20s when they met Arthur C Clarke (editor’s note: a UK science-fiction writer, futurist and inventor who co-wrote the screenplay of “2001: A Space Odyssey”) and talked to him about the vision. He brought in all kinds of major league space people from all over the world to get it started in 1987. The vision was they would create this kind of beacon, the international space university that would attract people who were very passionate about space and that these kinds of people when you bring them together from different countries, even ones who don’t have space programmes.
How are ISU’s activities funded?
Because of what we are, we’re an international NGO, we’re not a big for profit activity connected to any particular country, we’re a neutral ground for people to talk. I was a NASA person and I put on a programme in Beijing, believe it or not. You couldn’t that if you weren’t a special organisation. We’re not political at all (laughs).