Kitchener/Waterloo Record

August 17, 2006

His dreams are sky-high

One day we’ll have to colonize another planet, PhD student says

BARBARA AGGERHOLM

 
MATHEW MCCARTHY, RECORD STAFF
Ken Dyson, a University of Waterloo PhD candidate, sits on a bed in a lab where he runs experiments based on physiology in space. He is now taking part in a NASA conference in California.

WATERLOO (Aug 15, 2006)

With war and disease on our consciences daily, it’s not easy to keep our eyes on the sky.

Ken Dyson, a local PhD student at a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) conference in California, doesn’t minimize the challenges facing humans today.

But he wants us to remember this: One day, there will be a compelling reason to travel in space. One day, there will be a need to colonize another planet.

Not today, not tomorrow, probably not even in our lifetimes. But we must keep space exploration on the radar screen, Dyson says. We must not allow ourselves to become buried in the present so that we forget the future and how to dream about getting there.

The idea of space exploration “seems to be stagnant among the public,” said Dyson, 33, in an interview yesterday before he left for this week’s Next Generation Exploration Conference in Mountain View, Calif.

“People are getting kind of bored, and caught up with other things. There are a lot of problems going on in the world.”

Many people believe we should fix problems on Earth first, before spending more time and money on space. “I see it differently,” he said.

Space exploration requires international collaboration, which can’t help but benefit our relationships now, said Dyson, a University of Waterloo PhD candidate in kinesiology. It reminds us that Earth “is a little jewel” in a vast space.

But mostly, “I’m more concerned that we’re fragile,” he said.

Eventually — albeit in billions of years — the sun will burn out. A meteor could threaten massive global warming.

Eventually, “if we as a civilization . . . are going to survive, we have to get off the planet.”

Dyson, who lives in Guelph with his wife and children, is one of dozens of young scientists, engineers, professionals and students hand-picked and sponsored by NASA to attend the conference at the Ames Research Center.

“It is this group that will be developing the exploration technologies and living on the Moon,” the NASA conference website says. “These are the people that have the biggest stake in lunar exploration and beyond.”

Dyson’s passion for Mars and space exploration has never waned.

A member of the Mars Society of Canada, he and several other scientists took part in an expedition in 2004 to the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah where they simulated the experience of living on Mars. He studied the physiological costs of wearing space suit prototypes.

“I was trying to find out how fit an astronaut would have to be to go to Mars,” Dyson said. “While you’re in transit to Mars, you’re going to lose bone mass and muscle mass and you’re going to lose your cardiovascular conditioning unless you do some sort of countermeasure to keep you in proper fitness.”

He’s the Canadian contact for the Space Generation Advisory Council, a non-governmental organization that brings the views of young space professionals to the United Nations and space agencies.

These days, in a UW lab, Dyson is looking at the effects of space flight —microgravity and inactivity — on the body, and its parallels with normal aging on the cardiovascular system.

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