“More and More People Are Shaping Space Travel”

In Bremen, 2018 was the year of space travel. With the title of “Sternstunden 2018,” events were held for citizens of Bremen over a 12-month period. Numerous university employees were involved in the conceptualization of these events. The occasion for the event series was the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) at the beginning of October in Bremen. More than 19,000 people attended. Lead organizers of the IAC were Professor Marc Avila and his team from the Center for Applied Space Technology and Microgravity (ZARM) at the University of Bremen.

Marc Avila is standing on a meadow and in the background you can see the Fallturm.
Infinite frontier: Marc Avila makes space travel tangible for people.

“For me, knowledge transfer is an important task – and I would like to accomplish it primarily via people,” says Marc Avila. “We train engineers who will actively shape our future through their work, which is why I am thrilled that such a large proportion of the 6,500 attendees of the IAC were young people.” More than half of visitors were under 35, and nearly 20 percent were students. The dedicated team of organizers from ZARM made it possible for these students to attend the famous congress: for students, a ticket for the entire congress cost around 100 euros instead of 1,000.

Together with cooperating partner institutions in Bremen such as the German Aerospace Center (DLR), OHB, ArianeGroup, MT Aerospace, and Airbus, as well as the Senator for Economic Affairs, Labour and Ports and the Senator for Science, Health and Consumer Protection, Avila and his team managed to bring the world-renowned space travel congress to Bremen.

“Building More Bridges to Society”

The IAC is traditionally a place where industry and science come together,” says Avila, “which is why the congress has always been an important opportunity for technology transfer between research and application. Our objective was to increase efforts to build bridges to society. We wanted everyone here in Bremen to feel involved – from schoolchildren to retirees.” And Avila and his team achieved their objective. On October 3 alone – the IAC Public Day – more than 13,000 visitors came to the convention center in Bremen to look over the shoulders of space travel experts as well as to experience the live stream with Astronaut Alexander Gerst on the International Space Station (ISS). In addition, five times that number visited the 170 events that were held throughout Bremen as part of the year-long “Sternstunden 2018” series. The events put the people of Bremen in the mood for the congress and brought a city of space travel to their front doorstep.

“Dedication to Transfer Begins in University Teaching”

Marc Avila works at his desk in the office.
Professor Marc Avila studied mathematics in his hometown of Barcelona as well as in Glasgow. He then earned his doctorate in Barcelona. As a postdoc, Avila conducted research at the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization in Göttingen. In 2011, he followed his calling to Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg. Since March 2016, Avila has been part of the Faculty of Production Engineering at the University of Bremen and institutional head of the ZARM.

“The opportunity to put on the IAC in Bremen came at a truly exciting time,” says the head of ZARM. “Right now, the rules of the game are changing from what we know: in the past, space travel was something exclusively for national interests, and funding was provided by the major space agencies like NASA in the United States and the European Space Agency (ESA). Today, there is an increasing number of private initiatives,” says Avila. “We are on the threshold of an era where not only big fish in space travel are getting their chance: more and more people are taking the opportunity to shape space travel through private initiatives.” This is why the scientist puts so much stock in dedication to public engagement already at the level of university teaching: “In the future, we will have to increasingly impart knowledge in the engineering degree courses that will enable young people to implement their own ideas.” This will help them if they work in a large company like Airbus, but also if they want to start their own business.

Today, as part of study projects, Avila and his colleagues give students the opportunity to work innovatively. In the “STERN: Student Experimental Rockets” program, for example, students develop, build, and test their own rockets. “I am confident that we will be successful with our strategy of carrying out transfer with the help of the targeted promotion of young talent,” says Avila. “For example, at our most important cooperating partner institutions here in Bremen, we already know most of our colleagues there personally. They completed their degrees or earned their doctorates here. It’s great to see the value they add for the companies.”