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Astronaut Alum Talks To Seminar

By Orli G. Bahcall
Associate News Editor

Kenneth D. Cameron '78 spoke Wednesday at a talk entitled "International Cooperation in Space" as part of an undergraduate seminar course on space science and engineering sponsored by the Massachusetts Space Grant Consortium.

Cameron served as commander of the space shuttle mission that docked with the Russian space station Mir last year and also as a Marine Corps Colonel. He presented President Charles M. Vest at the talk with a paperweight-size version of the Brass Rat, the MIT class ring, that he took into space and into the Mir.

The shuttle "crew gets the opportunity to fly items for momenta, and Iflew Vest's Brass Rat for him and for MIT," Cameron explained. He presented Vest with a plaque and certificate to attest its authenticity.

Cameron also presented a Unified Engineering (16.001, 16.002, 16.003, 16.004) T-shirt, with a Space Transportation System mission patch on the back, that he flew for the students of MIT aeronautics. The shirt was presented to the teaching assistants of Unified and will be kept in the Unified teaching assistants' room in Building 33.

Cameron received his Bachelor's degree in 1978 from MIT in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics. He began his carrier with NASAin 1985 and has served as the first NASA director of operations in Star City, Moscow. There he worked with the Cosmonaut Training Center staff to set up a support system for astronaut operating and training in Star City.

Cameron is one of the more than 20 astronauts who have graduated from MIT.

Missions to better relationship

NASA and the Russian Space Agency agreed to conduct a series of joint missions between the space shuttle and the Mir to encourage U.S. and Russian cooperation in the development of the International Space Station, which is scheduled to begin assembly in late 1997.

One of the most important aspects of the mission - aside from studying the newly developed hardware and performing scientific experiments - was communicating with the Russian astronauts, Cameron said.

"Ten years ago, most of the people involved [with this mission] were busy with a much different purpose flying fighter planes aimed at each other," Cameron said.

During this mission, Cameron appreciated the personal interactions between the astronauts. "Through my many travels [in the Marine Corps and elsewhere] I've seen that one of the most important things for any traveler is contact with other people" and the outside world, he said.

Not only did the Russian and American hardware and scientific experiments work together, but more significantly, the people also worked together, Cameron said.

The rendezvous with Mir is a big step towards an international space station. International collaboration in space is important in furthering our own technologies, Cameron said.

To do this, the United States and Russia needed to communicate and break a language breaker, Cameron said. But "it is very hard to take a cram course in Russian or Japanese" to communicate effectively with colleagues in space, he said.

Recognizing the significance of a language barrier, NASA is increasingly looking for astronaut candidates with knowledge and interest in another language.

Advice given to undergraduates

Cameron shared his early experiences with applying to NASA and encouraged all interested students to apply even before they feel they have sufficient credentials.

Although Cameron was accepted the first time he applied to the space program, most applicants apply early in their careers and leave their applications on file to be reconsidered at a later date.

"There is just no chance of being part of a mission if you don't send in an application. And you never know what will happen if you do," he said. While waiting to be accepted to the space program, "you should keep working predominantly in whatever field you find most satisfying," Cameron said.

Crew of recent missions "include specialists as varied as military pilots, engineers, astronomers, and astrophysicists," Cameron added.

Seminar provides insight

The undergraduate seminar, Modern Space Science and Engineering (16.S26), is co-taught by Professor of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences Thomas A. Herring and Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics Laurence R, Young, who is also the director of the Massachusetts Space Grant Consortium.

The 10 students participating in the seminar, mostly freshmen, meet weekly to discuss different aspects in space science with a guest speaker.

Other guest speakers will include representatives from Hughes Space and Communication, Draper Laboratories, Lincoln Laboratories, Wellesley astronomy, Boston University, and a unified professor.

Student presentations on the topic of modern space science and space engineering have been scheduled for the last meeting of the course .

"We discuss different aspects in space science, things like technology, failure investigation methods, the Mir rendezvous, or the mission to Saturn. Each speaker gives a talk on their specialty" said seminar participant Stephanie Sharo '99.

The seminar "shows you what people who have studied aero/astro have done, some have gone on to be astronauts, others have studied radar technologies, stellar navigation, or asteroids. We are exposed to the many opportunities out there," Sharo said.