Space University takes off with the first international summer institute

SPACE, says Constantine Simonides, vice-president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is humanity's ``obvious frontier.'' This metaphor may have become a clich'e, but it is true nonetheless. And the occasion that gives it fresh emphasis is the first summer session of a new university, designed to educate those who will lead humanity into space. The International Space University (ISU) is itself one of the wonders of the new era. Through the leadership and organizing efforts of a group of young men and women, many of whom are still graduate students, it has emerged as a viable international institution in less than two years.

It has an ambitious agenda. Five summer sessions of eight weeks at different sites around the world are to be followed in 1992 by a permanent degree-granting program. ISU organizers expect to have a permanent campus within a decade and even to have a facility on board a space station early in the next century.

Co-founders Peter H. Diamandis, Todd B. Hawley, Robert D. Richards, and Christopher D. Mau, who administer the ISU, agree they have much work to do to carry through this agenda. But the fact that they and their colleagues have developed their dream as far as they have, in so short a time, is encouraging. MIT, Simonides says, is proud to host this inaugural session.

ISU does seem to be an institution whose time has come. The concept of future space leaders learning together in an international context, forming bonds that will help them work together in the future, has a common-sense practicality that appeals to present-day space leaders.

As Brenda Forman, a senior policy advisor at Lockheed Corporation and a member of the ISU summer faculty, told students in the opening session, their most important achievement will be the friendships they make and the network they are establishing. These are people who will be signing treaties and carrying out cooperative ventures in the next decade and next century, she explained.

The ISU curriculum also intends to give students the cross-cultural, interdisciplinary experience that traditional career education seldom offers. Students will include artists, journalists, lawyers, and policy planners as well as engineers and scientists. They will work together on all aspects of space development. In this first summer session, for example, they are designing a lunar base in addition to taking special courses and seminars.

ISU is getting support from private industry and official agencies in many countries, including all the major space powers. Some 21 nations have sent a total of 102 students to this first session. ISU has attracted leading space authorities to staff its summer faculty. Its advisors and directors include senior professionals from industry, universities, and government agencies. It is this solid support that makes the new institution's ambitious goals seem attainable.

A Tuesday column. Robert C. Cowen is the Monitor's natural science editor.

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