Quick Note on Space Commissions. . . [CMS 28]
Space Commissions are fun and challenging. They bring to life the Space Voyage Axiom: Nobody said it was easy, but they did say it was fun.
Space Commisssions only occur near the completion of Cadet Level 3 and Cadet Level 4. Based on the Oxford-Tutorial Oral Exam, it invites anyone in the pavilion to ask the person being tested questions. Questions are limited to the "content universe" being studied -- American manned space flight, and living and working on a space station in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). L3 must exceed a 95/100 or proficiency level. L4 must score 99/100 or expert level. Upon completion of L4 cadets are invited to become Student Instructor Apprentices (SIA) and then Certified Instructors of Space Voyage.
What are Space Commissions?
Space Commissions are the last steps (or very close to the last steps) of a senior cadet’s achievement of level 3 or level 4. These communal examinations are Oxford-style oral exams, meaning that the evaluators are given leeway to ask anything in the realm of knowledge that a level 3 or level 4 cadet should know, which is 95% and 99% of the total Space Voyage knowledge base respectively. As well, these examinations are always oral, meaning the aspiring cadets are asked questions verbally and must answer on the spot by speaking. Senior Instructors know how to ask questions in such a way as to allow multiple correct answers assuming the aspiring cadets can adequately defend their position. While the Senior Instructors take a very active approach to running these examinations and ensuring that all relevant and necessary questions are asked and correctly answered, every cadet in the room is invited to participate and, unless given a pass by the Flight Director, every senior cadet in the room must attend and participate in these examinations when they happen.
What happens if a cadet cannot pass an oral Space Commission?
As covered in the Programs section, the amount of weeks needed to achieve levels 3 and 4 is regularly (as in almost 100% of the time) more than one. In many cases, the reason the level takes more than one week is the Space Commission itself; while Senior Cadets are not limited in the amount of attempts per week for a Space Commission, they must get approval from the Flight Director to commence the Space Commission; while vital, the Space Commission is necessarily disruptive to the rest of the Senior Cadets. As a result, the Flight Director will usually be very generous with granting the first Space Commission, then will expect the aspiring cadet to study the missed material for the next one.
If the aspiring cadet cannot quickly demonstrate to the Flight Director that they have identified the knowledge gap and have taken steps to address it, it is likely their Space Commission will be lowered in priority, and the cadet will have to ‘wait for the room’.
All of this being said, it is uncommon for cadets to have the knowledge mastery, stress-tolerance, and public speaking skills necessary to ace their Space Commission on their first pass; however, if the Senior Instructors realize that knowledge mastery has been achieved but that the aspiring cadet lacks the stress-tolerance or public speaking comfort to get through a Space Commission successfully, the Flight Director may assign uniquely tailored projects to allow the aspiring cadet to demonstrate to the Senior Instructors and Senior Cadets that they have the requisite knowledge without the successful completion of a Space Commission per se. However, all aspiring cadets are expected to attempt the Space Commission multiple times with iterative improvement towards knowledge mastery if any special accommodations are to be considered.
When do Space Commissions happen?
Due to levels 3 and 4 taking more than one week and the need to allow cadets to achieve at their natural pace, a Space Commission can happen any time during regular programming (8am-3pm, excluding lunch); because the aspiring cadet needs to get permission from the Flight Director, Space Commissions tend to happen when other Senior Cadets and Senior Instructors are available to ensure the highest quality examination possible.
What do Space Commissions look like?
The aspiring cadet will procure a number of chairs, will get permission from the Flight Director to use the mobile PA, and will arrange the chairs and the PA in a circle. All participating cadets and instructors will sit in these chairs, and the moderating instructor will use either direction in the circle as a way to process questions from the evaluators. When the Space Commission is complete, the aspiring cadet will be responsible for ensuring everything is put away, though the participants always help. When a cadet passes, the room knows immediately. Passing a Space Commission is a big deal, and there is usually an emotional celebration when the crucible is passed.
Are all Space Commissions the same?
No. Because the Senior Instructor group changes over time, the knowledge base grows over time, and the unique topics covered in a summer, no two Space Commissions will be the same. However, because these examinations are meant to be both intellectually and emotionally trying, the standards adhered to by instructors and senior cadets do not change over time; those that have gone through and succeeded will ensure that the process will be genuinely challenging and rewarding for those that follow.
What is covered on a Space Commission?
Literally everything, or for level 3 almost everything. Aspiring cadets are expected to commit to memory critical facts around the STS and other launch systems, the breadth of all research areas and fields in the space station simulator, a deep and applicable understanding of space station operations, and other critical knowledge areas deemed necessary by the Senior Cadets, the Senior Instructors, or Doc himself.
Can cadets prepare for their Space Commission at home?
Yes, in fact it is highly likely that extracurricular study is necessary to clinch the successful Space Commission; the variety of information and the depth of understanding needed for every area makes extra study a near necessity.