Christina Aas, from Norway, is currently an MSc student at the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering, where she is creating a conceptual design tool for lightweight nano and micro satellites.
Having studied at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology at Trondheim before coming to TU Delft, she has now set her sights on a future career as a systems engineer at the European Space Agency.
Christina Aas (24) is one of the fortunate few who figured out very early what she wanted to do with her life. In fact, her fascination with space began with a book report on the Apollo 13 mission while she was still in elementary school. “I don’t know why I chose to write about the Apollo space program,” she recalls. “But the more I learnt, the more I wanted to know. It started with astronauts and then manifested itself as an interest in space organizations and activities.” Aas credits her mother was actively encouraging her early interest in space, and as a middle school student she attended an International Space Camp co-hosted by NASA, in Huntsville, Alabama, where she was introduced to the wonders of aerospace. By the time Aas was in high school, her future plans were set: “I’d been dreaming about doing a double Master’s program at France’s ‘Institut Supérieur de l’Aéronautique et de l’espace’ (Supaero) since I was 16 years old.”
That’s a lot of clarity for a teenager. Did you go to Supaero directly from high school?“The idea of going abroad immediately after high school was scary, so I decided to do my BSc in Norway. My initial idea was to take up a five-year integrated MSc program between a Norwegian and a French university. But I left after three years and came to TU Delft.”
Why did you change your plan?“A year before my MSc began, I attended the International Astronautical Congress, which was being held in Fukuoka, Japan. I was one of 80 students that ESA - the European Space Agency – had sponsored to present their papers at the conference. At the conference I met two TU Delft students, and after talking with them, I felt what TU Delft offered was more in the direction of my interests. Supaero is a very good university, but it focused on math and physics, and I liked TU Delft’s systems design oriented approach. I wanted to do some real engineering, do more with satellites, rockets and systems. So after the conference I took some bridging courses and came to Delft.”
What’s the subject of your current MSc thesis?“It’s a system level conceptual design tool for nano and micro satellites - below 50 kg. We’re looking to study if we can use the same rules for these as for bigger satellites, in terms of architecture, components and so on.”
And you’re also working on a project TU Delft’s EEMCS faculty? “Yes, it’s called the Stratos project, sponsored by Dutch Space. I’m a part of a team developing a 2-stage rocket. We’re aiming to break the European amateur height record - 15 km or more with a 2-stage rocket. I’m working on the electronics. The whole project is basically a team of about 15 people. For the launch, we’re hijacking ESA’s launch window, and we expect to launch from Sweden between March 3-13.”
How do you compare ESA and NASA?“When I was growing up, all I heard about was NASA and astronauts. At Norwegian university, when ESA sponsored us, we first had to go to ESA to learn about their activities. This opened me up to what ESA does, and I then interned there briefly. ESA focuses on satellite research, earth observation and navigation techniques; it’s a very focused institution. They monitor Earth or other planets. ESA also produces rockets of high functionality - just like NASA. But ESA’s focus is on processes, like weather monitoring, remote Earth sensing, traffic monitoring and global warming information.”
What do you want to do professionally?“I’d like to continue working as a system engineer – that’s my dream job and literally means no boring days at work, because you’re always challenged and expected to be dynamic. I’d like to work on smaller satellites, as those teams are more integrated: one company designing all sub-systems to its closure takes less time, and we have complete control and understanding of all the systems, so bugs can be fixed quicker. Immense knowledge and in-house experience exists and we get new projects every two to five years.”
Where are you headed next?“My main goal is to work for ESA, but if not ESA, NASA is a viable option, because although I’m Norwegian, I also have American citizenship and French citizenship.”
You’ve traveled to many different countries around the world. What have you learned from your travels?“I’ve learnt how much I take my country for granted. When I leave Norway, I realize how beautiful it is and how rare. Also, a major benefit of being an international student is that it opens up your eyes to new social mores and norms.”
What do you miss about the Norwegian university life?“I find that security limits my working hours. Here, students must leave the building at a fixed time, even if they have stressful deadlines. That’s a little difficult to work around. I’d love to be able to stay late and work.Another thing I’d really like is a study hall in our faculty. It’s difficult to go all the way to library between classes to study.”
Having traveled so much, how would you rank TU Delft on an international scale? “I’m very positive about TU Delft. The level of knowledge of both staff and students is very high. The methods and skills we learn here are more relevant to current industry standards. Also, we’re encouraged to do lots of project work, internships and presentations. This gives students a very hands-on experience towards study. And we have so many student projects, like the environment-friendly car, gas saving car, Nuna, submarines, rockets…. It’s a very encouraging, proactive environment. The university opens up and allows students to work on what they love doing.”
What’s your favorite feature of Dutch society?“I love the openness of the culture. It’s very impressive. It promotes openness even among people from other cultures. Besides, they’re allowed to continue much of the same lifestyle they’re used to at home, and what’s more they’re accepted. I loved the football championships! There were people from all over the world, waving orange flags and Dutch flags, cheering together for the same thing. It creates this united feeling, conducive to cooperative living.”
If not a rocket scientist, what then?“A film director, because I love movies. I like movies with a message, or inspiring movies, where people have risen up to extraordinary circumstances. Apollo 13 of course is my favorite movie: semi-mainstream, semi-artsy, not completely either one.”
Do you have a science idol?“No, I don’t really think I’ve venerated anybody. I fell in love with the idea of explorative science and the dream, but not the desire to follow some particular person.”
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