Lee Giat is a man with many talents and an extraordinary resume. He’s literally destined to spend his future among the stars. Stars, that is, like those littered across the vast and unexplored cosmos, and the celebrity “stars” like the late Carl Sagan. A man who Giat looks up to. And a man who just so happened to be one of the greatest astrophysicists and science communicators of our time.
The 20-year old University of North Florida Student sets off to Russia in late September to train as a cosmonaut at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City just outside of Moscow. Giat is double majoring in astrophysics and multimedia production, and works at the MOSH planetarium as a live presenter. He is an active member of the Society of Physics Students, a certified pilot, and was previously the officer of the Astronomy Club. If that’s not yet a full saucer, Giat is also the mastermind behind a Youtube based science show called “theSTEM,” which is entering its third season.
We recently caught up with Giat to talk about his forthcoming star turn.
So walk me through what exactly you’ll be doing in Russia?
I’m going to Russia with the show “Xploration Outer Space,” a show on Fox hosted by Emily Calandrelli. She hosts this contest called the Student Astronaut Contest every year to give a student who’s passionate about space exploration and science an opportunity to do something amazing. In past years it was flying in zero gravity, living in isolated martian habitat in the middle of Hawaii, and this year it’s going to Russia to train as a cosmonaut. While there I will put on a space suit, try astronaut food, and ride in the worlds largest centrifuge to simulate a rocket launch. I’m really excited for that. I will also learn how to fly a Russian rocket, the Soyuz rocket. I get to learn about the Russian space program and get a taste of Russia, even though I’ve been there before.
You’ve been to Russia before? Tell me about that.
Yeah, In high school I was at this Student Television Network (STN) conference competing against students from all over the country, and I happened to see an add while I was there in a magazine for a video competition in Russia. I was competing at the conference while simultaneously doing the video to go to Russia, and I ended up getting really sick for the entire conference while doing the Russia submission video. It ended up being okay because I was the only
winner at my school at the conference and me and my partners ended up winning the Russia video submission competition. The Russia video competition was through an organization called the Eurasia Foundation, which was partnered with STN for the contest. Me and my two partners were the first students, and now the Eurasia Foundation is on their third round of students going to Russia for them.
How did you end up double majoring and which one was the first choice?
Production was definitely my first passion of the two. I started making movies when I was 7 with my moms tourist camera, and I never stopped. I joined my high schools TV production when I was 14, and I was assigned a story on the Fox Observatory in the Everglades. Once I was there I just didn’t want to leave. I loved it. It was there where I learned about everything astronomy has to offer. Shortly after is when I got into physics and decided to push through it into college. Even though math was always pretty hard for me I knew that I wanted to follow a career in astrophysics, so I really made myself become a much better math student. Physics of any sort involves a ton of math, not to mention how much astrophysics entails. I’ve always loved communicating tough Ideas to people who may not understand them, so I decided to double major, and try to make the two majors go hand in hand with one another. For me production lead to astronomy, and astronomy led into astrophysics, and that’s what I wanted to do as a career, so that’s how the decision to double major came to be.
How did “theSTEM” start?
About a year ago. It was in the back of my friends car on the way to go see the solar eclipse. I was thinking to myself how I could combine my two majors, and it just hit me, how about a science show? So I decided to do my first episode on the solar eclipse, thinking, “wow that would be a great first episode.” So in the back of the car on the 7 hour drive, I wrote the first script on a piece of paper. The piece of paper is actually still lying around my room somewhere.
Can you give us a sneak-peak into season 3 and what you’re going to be covering?
Man there are so many, but one is the History of Air force One. In that episode we will be flying on Harry Truman’s old Air Force One plane, and we’ll discuss a broader history of aviation, and how the president needed a specially modified plane. We will also be discussing topics like, where the internet is. For instance, where is facebook, and where are all your online files actually physically located. I’m going to be doing some on-the-fly episodes while I’m in Russia too, topics to be determined, while I’m there. But I think the edgiest episode will be an episode that we’ve been working on since season one, and that is an episode covering the relation between science and religion, which is a touchy topic for a lot of people. There’s a lot more I’ve though of. I actually have a whole list I call the handy dandy that has 100’s of ideas, so I want to cover a lot of things moving forward. The new season will also be longer, which helps a lot from a creator’s standpoint. Each individual episode used to only be about 5 or so minutes long in previous seasons, but now we will be doing 15 to 20 minutes for each episode. Kind of like mini documentaries.
When did you get your pilot license, and what made you want to become a pilot? Besides the fact that flying is an incredible thing of course.
My dad is a flight instructor, so I’ve been flying with my dad since I was a baby. There’s pictures of me basically right out of the womb in a cockpit. It’s funny you bring that up, I actually flew this morning around 7. Having my pilots license is more than just fun because it definitely helps with all the things I want for “theSTEM.” Like, in one of “theSTEM” episodes I flew up to document Hurricane IRMA from the sky, which I really want to do more. I will be able to a lot more because in December I’m getting my twin-engine license and I will be able to fly into hurricanes legally. That’s really exciting for me, and I can’t wait. Having my pilots license is allows me to travel and experience a lot of new and different things. An added bonus to everything else.
To check out Giat’s “theSTEM” and a few of his other great projects, head to his Youtube page, here.