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In the second part of our anniversary interviews, we stay on “Earth” and talk to Sebastian Sams and Willibald Stumptner about their memories of the AustroMars mission. Both experienced these weeks in April 2006 at the mission control center (MCC) in Salzburg.
OeWF: Sebastian, what has prompted you, a student at the time, to offer your school to the OeWF as a mission control center?
Sebastian Sams: In October 2005, there was a space exhibition in Hangar-7 in Salzburg which was co-arranged by the OeWF. At that time, I did not know the organization yet but I had heard of the exhibition and I visited it with my parents. If I remember correctly, there was, in principle, the possibility to navigate the Dignity Rover. This was not possible during my visit because it had to charge its batteries at the time – which led to a conversation with Willibald Stumptner. He told me about the upcoming AustroMars mission, which somehow excited me immediately. And after Willi answered my comment of the type “Cool project, but what can I contribute” with the information that they were looking for a suitable location for the control center, the idea with the school popped into my head.
ÖWF: How do you convince your school to host a Mars analog mission?
From my perspective, it was not really that difficult, it just needed some negotiation. Actually, I just made an appointment with the school director and told him about the idea. Usually going to your school director is associated with negative experiences and rarely happens voluntarily, which is why this was a rather new und unusual experience. But the date of the mission fit well with into the Easter holidays and the idea was received positively immediately.
OeWF: Were you suddenly the super-cool classmate? Which effects did this mission have on your school time afterwards?
I did not realize any big changes within the class. It obviously attracted attention, but of course the interest in such a project varied amongst my classmates. But in general, it had very positive effects for me in school. It obviously led to a certain level of recognition amongst the teachers. For example, in the following years I was involved in supervising the school’s web servers. I think this happened partly because I had shown interest here during the mission. Also there was a better relationship with several teachers during other projects and activities because we had already worked together.
OeWF: How did the mission feel to you at the time?
I had fun, of course. Especially the collective evenings, etc. remained in my memories as having been very entertaining. Other than that, I would generally describe it as an interesting and exciting time during which I learned a lot.
OeWF: Willi, you monitored the mission as the lead flight director from Salzburg. How was it to set up the mission control center (MCC) in a school in Salzburg?
Willibald Stumptner: It was very exciting to do this at a school. Less because of the facilities, but more because of the background story. At a space exhibition in Hangar-7, we met a keen young student. He was so dedicated that he motivated himself (and his parents!) to establish all contacts with the school. We all know him today as Sebastian Sams and the Sams family. This shows what can be done, even as an (initial) amateur, when you are enthusiastic.
The central location of the school, the quiet of the holidays, the additional rooms and infrastructure we could use, the proximity to the train station and a cheap youth hostel – all of it without exorbitant costs – had been massively practical reasons to choose the school. At that time, the OeWF did not have their own facilities.
OeWF: What part do you like to think back to?
What surprised me and what I like to think back to is that, with a 10 minute delay, you almost develop a type of telepathy. You learn to predict what the other needs or is about to say. And then you prepare it in advance and send it before you are even asked about it.
Personally, I like to think back to the support I received from my own family. Right during AustroMars, I got a new apartment where a lot of things had to be relocated. My brother and my father put a lot of work into it – while I was in “space” instead of helping them with MY new apartment. Them allowing me to realize my own dreams – that has been a true gift!
Just now I recall something curious: At the time, I learned how to deal with only a few hours of sleep for several weeks. Even after a 20-hour “shift”, I sometimes played the video game “Jade Empire” for a while in order to “come down” because otherwise I had not been able to sleep. I never finished the game but I still have it today. Maybe I should catch up on it after 10 years. ;-)
OeWF: How do you keep up the concentration of the team for three weeks on a level necessary for an analog mission?
It is important that the participants are not sitting together and on top of each other the whole day for several weeks. It was important to take breaks and go somewhere else once in a while. Otherwise there will be tensions between different types of personalities. Due to the time difference, we obviously had to work a lot at night … so you have to make sure that the team members get to see and enjoy the sun once in a while. Teambuilding activities like collective movie nights with delicious food also help a lot. The voluntariness and the self-motivation of the participants provides a whole new dynamic which goes far beyond the “minimum of what is necessary”.
10 years later, I am fascinated by how many of the then-volunteers, mostly young people, turned their excitement into a career in the field of space, technology and/or science.
Thanks a lot for your time and your many wonderful memories.
The interviews were conducted by Marlen Raab, OeWF editorial team.
This article is available in: German
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