Canadian Consulting Engineer

Lift up your eyes into space, say students with YouTube Video

October 19, 2009
By Canadian Consulting Engineer

Students at the University of Calgary Schulich School of Engineering have a riveting video on You Tube showing...

Students at the University of Calgary Schulich School of Engineering have a riveting video on You Tube showing their efforts to send light messages into space. In late September 300 students from the university travelled out to a wide open field in the country and armed with powerful LED lamps signaled messages up to the International  Space Station.


The person the students wanted to reach on board the station was Dr. Robert Thirsk, an alumni of the school of engineering. He is just finishing his time on the station, where he has been working for six months. Knowing about the Calgary students’ intentions he apparently got up early and literally looked out of the station window to try and spy the message.

Unfortunately, just as he was pinpointing the area on Earth, cloud cover obscured it. However, earlier he had been able to talk to Kasmira Pawa, the engineering students society president on her cell phone.

The stunt was organized, choreographed and filmed by Pawa and another student, Liam Nelson, who directs the university’s eChannel. The university’s public relations department came up with the idea, and Dr. Dave Irvine-Halliday of the electrical engineering department worked out the technical aspects. Another alumni, Soren Christensen, who had been at university with Robert Thirsk and remains a good friend, provided the land for the light show, and he flew overhead in his plane recording the event. Osram sponsored the light panels.

All 300 lamps had to be on at the same time to create the necessary concentration of light to penetrate space to signal the Morse Code message.

However, the students with their lamps were also choreographed to turn their lights off and on at different times in order produce signs that were visible from the airplane at night and which the video powerfully presents. One of the words spelled out was “Dream,” and the other was “ERTW.”  Pawa says the latter, (“engineers rule the world”) was a lighthearted, unauthorized message she and Nelson added at the last moment. 

The students’ lights were also formed into a blinking eye, which tallied in with the video’s motto: “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 short video.


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