December 1, 2009
By Canadian Consulting Engineer
In September, students from the University of Calgary Schulich School of Engineering gathered in a dark field miles outside of the city to send light messages to astronaut Robert Thirsk. Thirsk is an ...
In September, students from the University of Calgary Schulich School of Engineering gathered in a dark field miles outside of the city to send light messages to astronaut Robert Thirsk. Thirsk is an alumnus of the school and spent six months on the International Space Station.
The light stunt was choreographed by Kasmira Pawa, president of the engineering students’ society, and Liam Nelson, who directs the university’s eChannel.
Pawa actually spoke to Thirsk on her cell phone before the event, but unfortunately at the very moment the space station passed overhead, thin cloud cover obscured the astronaut’s view of their patch of Earth.
It was calculated that all 300 LED lamps had to be on at the same time to concentrate enough light to penetrate space and signal a Morse Code message to Thirsk.
However, the students and their lamps were also choreographed in different sections to produce signs that were filmed from an airplane for a video. The plane was flown by a former classmate of Thirsk, Soren Christiansen, who owns the range in Dewinton where the event took place. Professor Dave Irvine-Halliday did the light calculations and Osram provided the LED lamps.
One of the words spelled out in lights was “Dream,” and the other was “ERTW.” Pawa says the latter ( “engineers rule the world”) was a light-hearted, unauthorized message she and Nelson added at the last moment.
The lights were also formed into a blinking eye, which tallied with “Dream” and the video’s title: “Lift up Your Eyes.” The title is a play on the university’s motto, “I Will Lift up Mine Eyes,” which is spelled out in Gaelic at the end of the riveting short video.