SSP & MSS: A Comparison in Building Lifelong Friendships

By: Daphene de Jong, The Netherlands, Commercial Pilot and M.S. Aerospace Engineering, SSP14 &MSS15

Having the honor to be able to say that I have been part of both the SSP and MSS programs makes me feel very happy. Neither of the programs is easy or ‘just’ a program. They stand for gaining interdisciplinary knowledge of the space sector, networking, creating funding for future developments within the space industry, but most important, building lifelong friendships with space geeks from all over the world. In this article, I will describe my experience with both programs, and use my experiences to compare the two.

The SSP Experience

SSP14 was held in the animated city of Montreal, the vibe during the program was great, and the variety of bars provided perfect opportunities for building relationships and networking. Soon after arriving in our rooms at the Mc Gill residence called Solin Hall, I felt like a zero. Everyone around me was extremely impressive, motivated and talented. How did I get myself into this, I wondered? Fortunately, after speaking with others, I realized that they felt the same. And this was my first impression of SSP, the people, the stories and past experience. What a great bunch of smart and happy people!

SSP14 Official Group Picture
The official SSP group picture, what an amazing bunch of people!

The activities during the official program ranged from site visits of active companies, to interdisciplinary lectures given by highly regarded professionals, to workshops, to an involved group project which we got to present during the International Astronautical Congress. In addition, the extracurricular program – leading to many late nights (early mornings) – was the most impressive. The official program usually started around 8:00 or 9:00 and often lasted until 22:00 and consisted of a combination lectures, workshops, and social events. Topics ranged from a course on STK to how to start your own space business. Frequently the day ended a guest lecture and a generously sponsored drink afterwards, giving everybody the chance to network and talk even more about our ideas and idealisms. With so many activities the only way to keep up with the fast pace was to drink plenty of coffee.

A long, lecture packed day at SSP
A long, lecture packed day at SSP
Dutch cultural night at SSP14
Dutch cultural night at SSP14
Great time after hours at SSP14
Great time after hours at SSP14

After the work day is when the real bounding happened. The people I met during SSP will always have a special place in my heart. After the busy days, we got together, played Ping-Pong, went to the waterside to have a beer, or just talk. We talked and talked and talked and learned so much from each other! I learned that in China, it is very difficult go to a program such as SSP, and only the best of the best are given the opportunity. I learned that in Canada, It is difficult to find a job at the Canadian Space Agency, and that this is basically true of all space agencies. But we also talked about our personal lives and I learned how some of my colleagues had recently gotten married, or had a newborn at home, and others were planning to travel the world. There was such a big variety of stories, but we all shared the same passion and the same great ambitions. I can truly say that I hope all the dreams and plans will come true and that I believe in each and every one of them. The program ended with the graduation ceremony, where Bob Richards himself gave the diplomas, saying “welcome to the family”. I knew that this meant that from this moment on, I was proudly part of the Space Mafia.

Graduation from SSP14, great but sad moment
Graduation from SSP14, great but sad moment
Selfie with Bob Richard at SSP14, what an inspiring person
Selfie with Bob Richard at SSP14, what an inspiring person
Building lifelong friendships during SSP14
Building lifelong friendships during SSP14

The MSS Experience so far

After SSP, I had the great opportunity to start the MSS program in Strasbourg, which put big smile on my face for an entire week I heard the news. I knew it was not going to be the same at SSP and that it was not just about networking and getting to know each other. I expected to work just as hard or even harder and to be with people sharing the same passion, which is so inspiring.

Just arriving in Strasbourg was nice, having been in a small village in the United Kingdom for a while. Finding a room was surprisingly easy, since the third person I called happened to offer a studio in petit France. Everything seemed to go well and it made sense.

My first moments at ISU were during the Halloween celebrations, when one of the male students opened the door wearing a superwoman costume. I felt welcome from the start. People were friendly, dedicated and very interested in other cultures, which made me think of SSP again. Not only are they intelligent and driven, they are also creative and understanding.

Soon I found out that people were indeed as nice and inspiring as during SSP, but younger and some of them had a bit less life experience than SSP attendees. But overall, it is a good group of people who really welcomed me and were open for my stories as well.

Extracurricular activities during MSS15, building friendships
Extracurricular activities during MSS15, building friendships

Soon, I also found out that the days are shorter during the MSS program, which I did not count on when coming to Strasbourg. Personally I don’t mind working late hours, but as many lectures described, SSP is a sprint, and MSS is more like a marathon. I could see this and I believe this is a good approach, I just had to get used to it.

Where SSP days were mostly build up with lectures and workshops, the days at MSS include time for working on the module assignments, team project and individual project. The curriculum is designed to last for almost a year and there is a parallel structure meaning that you must work on several tasks at the same time. This makes time management a critical skill.

SSP versus MSS

In the first few days of the MSS program we got to choose our team project which wasn’t done in the SSP until the final stage. This was nice, being part of a big group while being new in the program because it was a great way to get to know people better, since they had already been together for several months. I chose to work on the TP Interstellar which has a lot of engineers similar to the AMOOS project I worked on at the SSP. I like being with other engineers, but also talking about topics that are not engineering with people who do not have a technical background as is the interdisciplinary approach of ISU. After a few meetings, I soon found out that there were differences in the group project during MSS and SSP. Since the MSS project is longer, people are less rushed and less stressed- it really is like running a marathon. Overall, I do like having a bit more time for the group project so that we can be more thorough. I cannot wait for the final result.

Our first TP Interstellar meeting at MSS15
Our first TP Interstellar meeting at MSS15

Just as during SSP, there are amazing guest speakers who take their time to come to Strasbourg and talk to the MSS15 class. However, the MSS program is more academic in nature and that is noticeable. Instead of multiple-choice quizzes, we take 4hr essay style exams which require thorough preparation. This is all done with great pleasure, since all the topics are of great interest but it does take time. The professional visits during the MSS are comparable to the visits during SSP. Often the visits provide excellent opportunities to make new contacts and evaluate potential employers. The MSS program also includes an internship and an individual project that allow students to focus their studies to certain topics that interest them.

And just as during SSP, in the end it is all about friendship. We are all motivated, ambitious, and in love with space. But instead of competing against each other, we help each other when possible and use all of our networks. I hope to build lifelong friendships with these amazing people, including the staff. Even though I notice that it is easier to build up those friendships during an intensive program such as SSP, I am convinced that at the end of the year, I can call every student my friend. I believe we will need to invest more time together in extracurricular activities and simply talking, talking and talking.  I am very happy to call Strasbourg my home and to get the chance to experience ISU the best way I can.

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