What does a PoSSUM have to do with Spaceflight Training?

I am excited to announce that I have been accepted into the Advanced PoSSUM Academy program offered at Embry-Riddle in April 2018.

Project PoSSUM Patch - Project Polar Suborbital Science in the Upper Mesosphere (PoSSUM)

What is Project PoSSUM?

Project Polar Suborbital Science in the Upper Mesosphere (PoSSUM) is a non-profit organization focused on research and educational programs to study the upper atmosphere. PoSSUM Academy offers several different courses addressing global climate challenges and research areas to prepare undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate participants for high altitude research.

The 4-day Advanced PoSSUM Academy program touches on atmospheric sciences, mission simulation and crew resource management training, high-G and microgravity, space physiology, high altitude mission training, spacesuit training (don, doff, regulating pressure, basic mobility), and scientist-astronaut mission simulation training. The academic aspects of the program introduce students to atmospheric science, the mesosphere, global climate, noctilucent cloud (NLC) science, atmospheric scattering, NLC observation from spacecraft, instrumentation, simulation, spaceflight physiology, effects of hypoxia, life support systems, and spacesuit design.

With the commercial space training industry in its infancy, few training opportunities are publicly available. After much research and friendly recommendations, I decided that the Advanced PoSSUM Academy program was the right fit for me. The program offered a comprehensive science curriculum, space training activities, and the opportunity to network with experts in the industry. It also provides a unique opportunity to learn more about atmospheric sciences and open up potential for future opportunities.

Why am I interested in atmospheric sciences?

Why not? Ever since I was a teenager, I have taken a huge interest in extreme weather and natural disasters. I will also mention that this was around the time the movie Twister was released which further propelled my passion for storm chasing and learning about extreme weather events. Later in college I took a geology course on natural disasters—which included a segment on hurricanes—and I was further fascinated by why these events occur. Although I seriously considered going into meteorology, I ended up pursuing a degree in graphic design. My storm chasing dreams took a back seat as I built my career in design and communications. Little did I know my design career would lead me to working with NASA and would push me back toward science communication. A pleasant and welcome twist.

While supporting NASA, I continued to learn about agency-specific climate research. Although this was not a major part of my career, I often found myself sharing and teaching others on all things NASA, with climate research being one of those topics. As a designer and communicator, I often find myself helping engineers and scientists to communicate complex research with different audiences. I take great pride in making sure that even the most difficult scientific information can be accessible to everyone.

Everyone can learn science!

I believe it is critical that science educators practice patience and continually develop their personal communication skills. By being more compassionate, adaptive, and open to discussion, we can educate more people in the sciences. It is our responsibility to show people what they are capable of and to leave nobody behind. I cannot tell you how many times people have said to me, “I’m not smart enough” or “I’m not cut out for science.” The biggest challenge is showing people they are smart enough. Once they know that, their confidence will build and they will want to share their newfound knowledge with others. This is exactly how I became interested in NASA. I was inspired by a few people and then found myself wanting to learn more. This eventually led to a career in aerospace and my continued drive to teach others as much as possible.

National Geographic did a feature on the program as seen in the following YouTube video.

The featured image was captured by Expedition 47’s Flight Engineer Jeff Williams on April 25, 2016, a composite image of the setting sun reflected by the ocean.
Image Credit: NASA

About the author

Erin Bonilla

I am a curriculum developer, technical trainer, communicator, and adventurer with a passion for human space exploration and training. I am actively involved in science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics (STEAM) educational outreach efforts and advocate for the deep connection between the arts and science education.

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By Erin Bonilla

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