The New International Space University Campus in Strasbourg

isu international space university logo

A Milestone in Space Education

By Pat Dasch

Together, we shall aspire to the stars with wisdom, vision and effort.
From ISU Credo, 12 April 1995

17 September 2002 saw the culmination of three visionary space enthusiast’s dreams and fulfillment of more than a decade of planning and fundraising. This was the day of the formal inauguration of the new permanent campus of the International Space University (ISU) in Strasbourg, France.

Two years ago the National Space Society signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the International Space University to facilitate mutual support and cooperation. With the benefit of a generous anonymous donation, the Society initiated a NSS scholarship to ISU that sponsored students at the 2001 and 2002 Summer Session Program (SSP). The SSP is an intensive two-month introduction to space and space-related subjects aimed at professionals embarking on a career in the space industry and others changing the emphasis in their space careers. With the signing of the MOU between ISU and NSS, Karl Doetsch, President of the International Space University (ISU), joined the NSS Board of Governors, and NSS President, Dan Brandenstein, joined the Board of Advisers of ISU. The mission of the International Space University is to develop the future leaders of the world space community by providing interdisciplinary educational programs to students and space professionals in an international, intercultural environment. ISU strives to be the preeminent institution for interdisciplinary, international and intercultural space education and research.

On 17 September, Dan Brandenstein was in Strasbourg, France, along with 400 other ISU friends, supporters and alumni, including several NSS members and former Directors, for the inauguration of ISU’s new building on the Strasbourg University campus. The impressive new building, which has a facade of limestone, tinged with pink, interspersed with large areas of glass, has some similarities to the National Air and Space Museum building on the Mall in Washington, DC. ISU’s new building stands beside a small lake located in a Science Park south of central Strasbourg. Nearby are a world-renowned physics laboratory, high tech corporations and offices of aerospace corporations. And, to add to the intercultural experience, that global student necessity, the local McDonald’s, is at the end of the street!


Providing a permanent home for ISU was one of the dreams of the school’s founders — a dream that has taken 15 years from conception to execution. ISU was the brainchild of three young men in their twenties: Todd Hawley, Peter Diamandis (known to NSS members as the founder of the X-Prize, a former member of the Board of Directors, and founder of SEDS), and Robert Richards. In April 1995, they put the ISU Credo in writing describing the International Space University as “an institution dedicated to international affiliations, collaboration, and open, scholarly pursuits related to outer space exploration and development. It is a place where students and faculty from all backgrounds are welcomed; where diversity of culture, philosophy, lifestyle, training and opinion are honored and nurtured.” Sadly, Todd Hawley is no longer with us, but Peter Diamandis and Robert Richards were on hand for September’s celebrations and could be seen, shortly after the formal ribbon cutting ceremony, chatting gleefully by cell phone with mentor and ISU chancellor, Arthur C. Clarke.

The founding conference for ISU was held in April 1987 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where participants endorsed the concept of an international, interdisciplinary and inter-cultural space university. After the 1987 MIT meeting, things moved quickly. 104 students from 21 countries participated in ISU’s first Summer Session Program held at MIT in 1988. A large international teaching staff was assembled from academia, government and industry. This array of space experts taught a curriculum that encompassed space architecture, business and management, engineering, life sciences, policy and law, resources and manufacturing, and satellite applications. The SSP includes team design projects to build international collaboration and teamwork while also delivering insights into subjects of topical interest. For example, one recent SSP team reviewed the scope and potential for space tourism.

In the 14 years since 1988, the summer program has catered to hundreds of young space professionals with sessions hosted in Austria, Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Japan, Spain, Sweden, Thailand and the USA. The 2003 summer session will run from 5 July to 6 September and will be held at the new campus in Strasbourg and the 2004 session will be in Adelaide, Australia. Information and application forms for both of these programs are available at


In 1991, with the summer program well established, the process of establishing an ISU Central Campus began. What was needed was a location that could host a Master’s program and provide a neutral venue for the exchange of knowledge and ideas about challenging issues related to space and space applications, while also supporting innovative research. Strasbourg was selected in 1993 from a total of seven proposals received from Foligno, Kitakyushu, Montreal, Sophia-Antipolis, Strasbourg, Toronto and Toulouse. In 1994, ISU moved from its base in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to temporary quarters in Strasbourg.

The first Master of Space Studies (MSS) course was offered in September 1995. The intensive 11-month program is taught by a permanent faculty assisted by a large number of international guest lecturers. Many ISU graduates have found employment in national space agencies and aerospace corporations and their interdisciplinary and intercultural skills are clearly in demand. ISU graduates now make up 1% of the NASA workforce and many have gone on to join both established and start-up aerospace corporations, others have established new high technology and space companies. This year, applications for the MSS increased by 15% and applicants for the SSP are up a whopping 35%.

As faculty set about establishing and refining the MSS course in ISU’s temporary Strasbourg digs, the University’s leadership worked with Strasbourg’s departmental, regional and French national authorities on the financial plan for the new campus. An architectural competition was launched for ISU’s dedicated building. The winning design submitted by Archetype and Schouvey was selected in November 1998 and ground was broken in the spring of 2000. The new building, completed in July 2002 and inaugurated on 17 September, was designed to accommodate 100 students and 75 faculty, staff and researchers as well as 400 conference participants. The building includes a light and welcoming library with plenty of room for growth in the university’s collections.


Inauguration day was a knockout, the morning opening with a picture-perfect blue sky with sun reflecting blindingly off the gold insulation blankets on the full-size replica of the SOHO spacecraft exhibited on the plaza outside ISU’s main entrance. Media cameramen feasted their lenses on SOHO and got into the mood of the day before they even entered the new building. Dan Brandenstein joined a panel of distinguished speakers for a morning Round Table Conference on “Space Activity: a Quest for Knowledge and Business” during which a representative from Cisco stirred a lot of interest in discussing the leveraging potential he foresaw for the space industry in the next few years. With the stock market in its current turmoil anyone who can discuss trillion dollar business development potential with a straight face commands an attentive audience. Not only the current MSS students in the audience were awed!

The afternoon’s formal inauguration ceremony was headlined by Madame Claudie Haignere, the French Minister of Research and New Technologies. In the French tradition, proceedings included numerous speeches by dignitaries including Professor Hubert Curien, President of the French Academy of Sciences and the mayor of Strasbourg, congratulating all those involved in bringing the ISU campus to completion in Strasbourg. This milestone in the evolution of ISU was indeed cause for great celebration and the gala dinner held that night did not disappoint. The main hall of the Campus was filled to capacity with dining tables, the scene lit entirely by candelight, and, needless to say, the catering met everyone’s expectations of French hospitality. Addressing the 400 friends, supporters and alumni of ISU assembled for this auspicious occasion, founders Peter Diamandis and Robert Richards, while joyfully acknowledging achievement of a major milestone, were inspired to set a new goal — to see an ISU classroom in orbit!


As ISU settles into its new home, more immediately achievable goals are already in work. With state-of-the-art meeting facilities the university plans to foster the exchange of ideas and development of international collaboration by attracting international meetings to the campus. And the spring of 2003 will see the introduction of a new course. Responding to the needs of SSP and MSS students, ISU will introduce a one-week Introductory Space Course aimed at students from non space-related disciplines as well as managers and marketing staff from aerospace companies. The course will consist of core lectures, discussions, professional visits and workshops and end with a brief design project while introducing students to the interdisciplinary nature of ISU studies.

From the outset, all ISU courses have been conducted in English. With students coming from a broad array of cultural and linguistic backgrounds (the 2001 SSP was attended by 95 students from 29 countries), ISU has offered a crash course in English for several years. With permanent establishment of the Strasbourg campus, some overseas students experience difficulty settling into the local French culture, so now a crash course in French is also offered to help ensure that students can take full benefit of their surroundings.

The university will also be looking to further develop its successful Annual Symposium. The theme of the 2001 Symposium was “Smaller satellites: bigger business? Concepts, applications and markets for micro/nanosatellites in a new information world.” The symposium attracted more than 200 participants. Case studies and current programs revealed that small satellites (less than 100 kg) are capable of performing similar missions to those carried out by 1000 kg satellites two decades ago. This year’s symposium, held in June, addressed Future Directions in Human Spaceflight. This was a challenging topic for debate at a time when space station partners continued to wrestle with budget issues. Yet symposium attendees recognized that progress is not achieved by dwelling on the present and an overarching conclusion from the meeting was that a new human spaceflight initiative should be started soon. Participants observed that while there is broad public support for space exploration there needs to be commitment to an incremental plan by the leaders of many nations. Public/private partnerships and new ways of financing will also be needed.

And, as time passes, the ISU alumni organization is growing in size and stature. Providing a major networking opportunity for young space professionals, alumni are also active in scholarship fundraising for ISU and a mentoring system for new ISU students. The future will likely see introduction of a more formal structure for the alumni organization and refresher courses for alumni.

With the new campus up and running, ISU will focus on fulfilling its core mission to impart critical skills essential to future space initiatives in the public and private sectors. The university aims to achieve this by inspiring enthusiasm, promoting international understanding and cooperation, fostering an interactive global network of students, teachers and alumni, and by encouraging the innovative development of space for peaceful purposes so as to improve life on Earth and enable the advancement of humanity into space.