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Last week, the Austrian Space Forum (OeWF) followed an invitation by the Qatar University Astronomy Club (QUAC) to participate in the second edition of AstroCon, a conference dedicated to space science and astronomy. OeWF member Maximilian Betmann went to Doha to present our recent Mars simulation in Oman, AMADEE-18. In this blog, he describes the experiences during the trip.
After an extraordinarily hot summer in Germany, the last thing that would have crossed my mind was going to a country where temperatures stayed above 30 degrees at night and humidity peaked at 85% during the day. Yet here I was on Thursday last week, boarding my plane from Frankfurt to Doha. I had never been to Qatar before, but given the interesting conference that the QUAC had pitched to us a while ago, I was definitely excited about the upcoming trip. The QUAC, an organization run by extraordinarily passionate and dedicated students at Qatar University, was hosting the second version of AstroCon to get other students at their university excited about and engaged in space science and astronomy.
After my arrival at Hamad International Airport, I was picked up and taken to the conference venue. Despite it being late at night already, a large crowd of QUAC members worked tirelessly to prepare the venue for the next day. Whether for reasons of cost savings or creativity, much of the conference ornaments were handcrafted by QUAC members themselves and would give the main stage a nice, original touch throughout these next two days.
The conference started the following day, where I met all the other speakers. I was far from the only international participant, as QUAC had brought together guests from as far as the United States and as close as Iran or Oman. This diverse range of nationalities and cultural backgrounds turned out to be a major asset to the conference and provided for lots of interesting and enriching exchanges. AstroCon began with an opening ceremony that mixed cultural elements, such as the national anthem of Qatar, with introductory remarks, such as the warm welcome by the president of QUAC, Nada Abdallah Mohamed.
The conference then went underway. The program started with two keynotes in the auditorium, one of which was given by Dr. Danielle Nuding from the United States. Dr. Nuding is a systems engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where she has the amazing tasks of preparing the next Mars rover, Mars2020, to embark towards the red planet. Dr. Nuding talked about both the challenges and the joys of being a scientist and an engineer at the same time and gave a lot of career advice to an auditorium full of ambitious and dedicated young students.
After the keynotes in the auditorium, the conference participants then dispersed into adjacent rooms that allowed for smaller groups and more engagement with the speaker. My two presentations on our AMADEE-18 mission took place in this workshop format on the second day of the conference. During both sessions, the room was crowded with students from Qatar University who asked me many interesting questions about Mars, our analog missions and the future of human space exploration. Despite having prepared extensively on my six hours-long flight, some of these questions were so smart and tough that I had not even thought about them yet and had to look up the answers myself after everyone left.
On the final day in Qatar, the QUAC organized a tour through the city for all speakers, which allowed us to see a bit more of Doha than just the airport and the university’s campus. We visited the Museum of Islamic Art, which was a wonderful journey through several centuries of art and craftsmanship in the Islamic world, had lunch at a fancy restaurant near the National Museum of Qatar, and finally took a walk through Souq Waqif, the largest market in Doha. There, we were treated Kanafeh, a traditional Arab desert, which gave all of us a sugar shock after which we returned to campus.
All in all, the QUAC managed to organize a great conference that allowed many Qatari students from various disciplines to be exposed to space science and astronomy, topics for which there is growing interest in Qatar. For us, the international speakers, we got to talk about our favorite topics to people excited to listen, and we spent three days in an amazing city that has much to offer. I would like to thank everyone involved for making AstroCon such a great success!
- 03.10.2021 - 30.10.2021: AMADEE-20 Mars Simulation Israel
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