Mission Discovery was out of this world

The space dust has now settled on Ayrshire’s first ever Mission Discovery programme and what an event it was.

200 Ayrshire secondary school pupils and college students came together for the week-long space school, where they worked in teams to create space experiments.

Under the guidance of the International Space School Educational Trust (ISSET) team that included former NASA astronaut Michael Foale CBE, they challenged themselves to think creatively and work as part of a cohesive team.

Using our social media content from across the week, here’s a round-up of exactly what happened at Mission Discovery Ayrshire 2016.


With our teams in place and mentors briefed, ISSET Director Chris Barber got the show on the road at our Ayr campus!

The Mission Discovery Ayrshire participants were split into 24 teams and their first mission was to come up with team names.

We then had the first sighting of our astronaut! Michael Foale CBE, a recently retired veteran of six Space Shuttle missions and extended missions on both Mir and the International Space Station, spoke to the teams about his journeys into space and the importance of communicating with every member of the team.

Monday 3

Suitably inspired, the teams then got to work on designing a ‘Mission Patch’ to go with their team name. A Mission Patch is a symbol that represents a space team and is an integral part of any space mission.

The Ayrshire College Foundation had tasked primary schools across Ayrshire to design the Mission Patch for Mission Discovery Ayrshire 2016, with Mauchline Primary School’s Kaitlyn Lodge designing the pick of the bunch.

Sarah Murray, NASA’s Assistant Chief of EVA, Robotics & Crew Systems, then gave her first presentation to the group on the importance of teamwork and making sure everyone in the team has their voice heard.

In the afternoon the teams were told they would take part in an experiment called ‘The Mars Lander’. This involved using different objects to safely transport an egg from the top of the Riverside Building of the Ayr campus to the ground. Safely of course meaning that the egg was not to smash.

The groups were given an egg, a balloon, one sheet of A4 paper, a pair of scissor and a ruler to make their Mars lander. They could buy further materials but the winners would be the team who spent the least amount of dollars to land their egg, so they couldn’t be reckless.

After creating their Mars landers, there was only one thing left to do. Throw them off the top of a building.

To finish off the day, the teams were shown actual footage of Michael’s time in space as he talked about what makes a great space experiment.


Day two began with a glimpse into how Michael became an astronaut, featuring tales of living in Russia, meeting President Bill Clinton and how to have fun in space.

After hearing about Michael’s time on board the Russian Mir Space Station when an unmanned supply vessel crashed into it – described this week as the ‘worst collision in the history of space flight’ by the BBC – the groups were tasked with writing a short story about the experience.

Tuesday 3

After a few selfies with their new hero Michael Foale, the teams then heard from Dr Julie Keeble, ISSET’s Chief Scientist, who explained the criteria for experiments at the Space Station.

The teams got to work on formulating their experiment ideas – with the assistance of Michael, Julie and Sarah – before hearing Professor Steve Harridge’s presentation on an astronaut’s muscles in space, via Skype.


Halfway through the week now and the teams were hearing all about the International Space Station, where the winning experiment from this week would be carried out by real astronauts. Michael provided the guided tour as he explained where everything was stored, where the astronauts worked out and even how they slept in space. This was followed by a Q&A, surprisingly featuring plenty of questions about going to the toilet in space…

Wednesday 1

At this stage, most of the teams had proposed two or three ideas each, and this was the day that the teams decided on which of their ideas they would be pitching at the end of the week.

After working on their experiments for a while, the teams took part in the Skittles Challenge.

Wednesday 2

This experiment proved the importance that the sense of smell has on taste. Most people were unable to guess which colour of skittle they had in their mouth when they had their eyes shut and their nose pinched. Within a split second of breathing in through their nose though, everyone knew which flavour they had.

A couple of team members who guessed correctly when at their tables were invited to do it again in front of everyone – unfortunately both participants were incorrect when the pressure was on!

Wednesday 3

To conclude the day, the teams broke up into classrooms for the first time to really get to work on their experiments, before joining back together for a showing of One Direction’s Drag Me Down video. Why? Because it was filmed at the Johnson Space Center!


The final day before the presentations. But before they all went off to their classrooms, Ayrshire College’s Developing the Young Workforce Project Lead, Kirsty Taylor, spoke to the groups about Foundation Apprenticeships.

A Foundation Apprenticeship is for S5 pupils and gives them the opportunity to learn both at college and in the workplace to achieve an industry recognised vocational qualification alongside their other school subjects.

Thursday 1

Michael then delivered his final presentation – Earth from Space!

Thursday 2

The main part of the day was taken up by working on their experiments. They weren’t completely left to their own devices though – they could ask Michael, Julie or Sarah a question if they were stuck.


Finally, we were at presentation day.

Teams were divided into rooms where two judges would hear their initial presentations. Once each team had delivered their idea within the 8 minute time limit, the judges deliberating over which six would make it to the final stage.

Team 2 (with their experiment ‘Nanoparticles’), Team 3 (‘Enzyme reaction experiment’), Team 10 (‘Foam to treat internal bleeding’), Team 14 (‘The speed of slime mould on different materials), Team 19 (‘Flatworm freefall’), and Team 23 (‘Investigating Krill in space’) were announced as the finalists.

The final stage involved delivering their presentations in front of the judges again, but also the 23 other teams at Mission Discovery Ayrshire.

Team 10 got us underway, while Team 14 finished.

And it turned out to be a case of saving the best until last as Team 14, made up of James Abbott, Pip Abramson, Laura Borthwick, Dylan Goldie, Robyn McMahon, Jas McNee, Lynne Mitchell, Ania Myskowska, triumphed!

Friday 3

Their idea will go to the International Space Station within the next year.

In a final treat before the Mission Discovery Ayrshire participants finished for the week, another Skype call was made – this time to Jay Honeycutt, the former Director of the Kennedy Space Centre! Jay had been involved in the Moon landing, so obviously the students were keen to ask him questions about that.

Friday 4

After final presentations were made to the mentors who had helped out across the week and to the primary school pupils who had won the design competitions – that was that! Mission Discovery Ayrshire 2016 was over, with ISSET’s Chris Barber declaring it one of the best programmes they have ever been involved in!

Friday 5


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Guest post – Julie McLachlan: Ambitious for Ayrshire

IMG_0763.JPGJulie McLachlan is Business Development Officer at the Scottish Council for Development and Industry and a former student of Ayrshire College. Here she describes her journey from school into further and higher education, and the career she has embarked on.

I first visited Ayrshire College in 2007 as a starry-eyed girl from Ochiltree. Back then it was to enrol as a student. Last month I revisited the College, now working for Scotland’s leading economic development organisation.

I became a student of Ayrshire College to study sociology on a part-time basis for three reasons. Firstly, after fifth year I was bored at school. Secondly, I wanted to enter the world of work and earn some money before going to university. And lastly, through Modern Studies at school, I had learned of the inequality and poverty faced by many in our society, and indeed across the world, and I wanted to change this.

Being a student at the college provided me with the flexibility to be able to work yet also build on my knowledge to be able to study politics at university. It was also a completely different environment from school. You are given more responsibility and treated as an adult but, at the same time, you are provided with the resources and guidance to immerse yourself in your subject and learn competing insights and ideas from classmates from across and beyond Ayrshire.

I embarked on my academic career studying Politics at the University of Strathclyde where I gained extensive knowledge of public policy and UK and foreign political systems. After I obtained my Honours degree I wasn’t quite ready to leave the glamour of university libraries and, wanting to delve into my subject matter more, I decided to undertake an MSc in Global Security at the University of Glasgow. This demanding and comprehensive course analysed the new contemporary security challenges currently faced at the local, national and global level including human security, environmental security and economic security.

Once I left university I didn’t manage to secure graduate level employment, despite relentless efforts in applying for jobs that I didn’t want to work at, most of them based in London or unpaid. However, my problems were solved by an organisation called Adopt an Intern, which provides graduates with hands on experience through paid internships.

Through Adopt an Intern, I joined the Scottish Government and worked in two high profile policy areas as part of an intensive graduate internship. I worked on Commonwealth Games Business Legacy with a range of partners including local authorities, Scottish Enterprise and the UK Government to deliver a programme of business legacy events. After the Commonwealth Games, I joined the Scottish Government Cities Team, where I supported the delivery of the cities strategy, working with Scotland’s cities to optimise growth for the benefit of the whole of Scotland.

Sadly, my time at the Scottish Government was not forever but I then had a fantastic opportunity to join the Scottish Council for Development and Industry (SCDI) as a Business Development Officer. This role was a great follow on from my time and experience at the Scottish Government to engage and empower economic growth.

SCDI is an independent economic development organisation which seeks to influence and inspire Government and stakeholders with an ambitious vision to create sustainable economic growth for Scotland. Our diverse and influential membership spans across the public, private and the social economy.

In a professional capacity, it is great to see the College move from just being a provider of education and training towards playing a leading role in local communities and the Ayrshire economy as a whole. In doing so, it aims to raise the aspirations and empower all those that come into contact with it. Raising aspirations for young people in Ayrshire is fundamental to growing the regional economy and this is particularly true for girls and women, traditionally left out of growing industries like engineering.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has broken the ultimate glass ceiling – now there should not be anything that girls and women from Ayrshire cannot achieve. But let’s set our sights beyond Scotland because Ayrshire College could have the girl who will be the next Periscope or Twitter founder, or indeed a lead engineer in one of Europe’s spaceports!

By raising our ambitions we will combat Scotland’s economic challenges of poor productivity, a lack of innovation and weak internationalisation. The answer to these economic puzzles lies not only in Scotland’s regions but in our people. Ayrshire should be a place with global ambitions. So, here’s the challenge.

When Nicola Sturgeon became First Minister, she said “This is a special and very proud moment for me – a working class girl from Ayrshire given the job of heading the government of Scotland”. Her achievement is special. But let’s not settle for stories like Nicola’s being an exception, let’s make these stories the norm. To do so, we need to make sure that every young woman walking into college for the first time does not face barriers that will ever hold her back from achieving her ambitions.


Enterprising former student returns to college to teach and inspire

In the latest in a series of posts about enterprising students, former Soft Furnishings student Linda McKay explains how Ayrshire College inspired her entrepreneurial side and encouraged her to start up her own business doing what she loves.

About to return to the College to embark on a lecturing career, Linda is taking her skills to the next level, sharing her knowledge on the Soft Furnishings course which starts at the end of January. Here’s what Linda said about her creative career, starting up her own business and returning to college as a lecturer.


I was always creative at school and enjoyed art, fashion and fabrics. In Higher Art I submitted a design in Appliqué using fabrics on canvas and that’s where my love of textiles began. I have used these techniques in my designs by knitting fabric and wire and experimenting with texture. Soon after I started making curtains and cushions for myself, family and friends were putting in their orders.

Working for myself I am lucky enough to choose my own hours and work them around my lifestyle and family. My day usually starts by settling down at my sewing machine to work on a client’s project, or to do some sample work or research. It may also include a trip to the fabric shop with a client or visiting clients in their own homes to measure a job and discuss designs or to fit a completed job.

The highlights for me are meeting new and interesting people and turning a piece of fabric into something that transforms a client’s room into a home – whether that be a pair of curtains, roman blind, chair cover, cushions or bedspreads.

My learning experience at Ayrshire College was a positive and exciting one. I was slightly nervous going back into education as a mature student, but I was put at ease from the very first day I started. It was a relaxed atmosphere and the support and enthusiasm, not to mention the knowledge and skills, of the lecturers was inspiring. The support from both lecturers and fellow students was invaluable and it was great to be in an environment where people were interested in the same subject as myself. I also learned life skills such as prioritising jobs and how to meet deadlines.

The biggest challenge was believing in myself and my skills and if I was good enough to compete in the marketplace. That’s why college was so important to me and gave me the confidence and support to take the next big step. It made me realise that there are plenty of people out there offering help in areas like marketing and business set up, and not to be afraid to ask for help.

Be prepared to work hard, sometimes with unsociable hours to suit your customer’s needs. If you are self-motivated, prepared to put the work in and believe in yourself and most of all passionate about what you do then I would absolutely urge you to give it a go.