Max Fagin’s ’10 dreams have always been out of this world.
Fagin has wanted to be an astronaut since he was twelve, and last year he got close to making it a reality: Selected from a pool of 200,000 candidates, he became one of 1,058 members of the Phase Two Shortlist to travel to Mars.
And stay there.
The Mars One Program is hoping to establish a permanent colony on the red planet.
This past Friday afternoon, VC Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS) brought Fagin back to give a lecture on his graduate school experience at Purdue University, working at various space-related companies and being a Mars One candidate. Though Fagin wasn’t one of the 100 finalists in the last round, his interest in and drive to go to space are still thriving.
Researchers and engineers aren’t close tomaking the habitation of Mars safe for humans, Fagin admitted: “Nowhere near it.” Nonetheless, he said that when researchers do manage to perfect their plan for travel to Mars, he maintained, “It will be glorious.”
Fagin opened and closed his lecture with the overarching idea that space exploration is necessary for the survival of the human race. Since space travel, engineering and physics can be difficult to grasp for those of us who aren’t experts in these fields, he broke it down for audience members.
Zach Nasipak ’15, one of the co-founders of VC SEDS, explained, “At VC SEDS, we look to promote education about space exploration while also helping students gain connections with the space industry. By bringing in [Fagin], we were able to fulfill both of these goals.”
Alex Trunnell ‘17 (Full disclosure: Trunnell is a reporter for The Miscellany News), who is a member of SEDS, went on to say, “He is living, breathing proof that there is life after Vassar, and that is amazing.”
Because so many students have a hard time imagining what their lives and careers will be like in the real-world, it is beneficial to learn from someone like Fagin, who is, as Trunnell described, “Experienced, but still relatable.” Simon Patané ’15, the other co-founder of SEDS, added, “We want anyone from any major to be able to appreciate space exploration. Amongst other reasons, this is why we brought Max back: to grow an interdisciplinary love for space exploration at Vassar.”
With such a complicated and foreign topic such as space, Fagin was able to relate his interests to a more general and less experienced audience. Nasipak commented, “Not only is he incredibly knowledgeable on Entry, Descent, and Landing (EDL) in space exploration…but he also has a great grasp of the bigger picture, of the importance of space exploration to us as individuals and as a species.”
In his talk, Fagin began by giving the audience the hard truth and explained, “If we don’t get off this planet eventually, something is going to happen. Single-planet species are eventually due to extinction.”
When explaining why humans are not yet living on Mars, Fagin enumerated the complications of EDL, “We’ve sent thirteen rovers to the surface of Mars. Five of them have failed during this process—that’s how dangerous it is.”
Specifics like these piqued Trunnell’s interest: “Fagin captivated the audience with a brilliant blend of video, picture, and lecture presentation which blended together to create a visually stunning presentation.”
Nasipak added, “He really did a great job of explaining very technical, physics heavy problems in an understandable way,” Nasipak added, continuing, “He was clearly passionate about his work and it was great to hear his opinions of space exploration and to hear about what he sees as some of the biggest challenges facing the space industry, especially in terms of the exploration of Mars.”
For SEDS, Fagin serves as an exemplar of how to transiton out of Vassar, aim for high goals and continue to utilize skills learned in the classroom.
Nasipak said, “I think he represents possibilities for all of us, since he has shown that, while some students might feel a little lost transitioning from a liberal arts education to a tech and engineering heavy industry, that it is completely achievable.”
Patané agreed, adding, “I think often physics and astronomy students are encouraged to pursue academic research careers, so [Fagin] represents how a Vassar education can propel you onwards in a career in an applied science, aerospace engineering.”
As for students of all majors, Asrtonomy majors look to graduation with a mix of excitement and uncertainty. “Astronomy majors know that after Vassar, things seems scary,” Trunnell said.
She went on to say, “Fagin is the perfect example of how this dream can become a reality and how these incredible jobs can actually be achieved. Fagin knew his interests, and using his Vassar education, he is spending every day doing something he loves and working hard to change the world. Isn’t that every students’ dream?”