NASA Ames, Day 4

August 19, 2006

Well the conference has now come to an end. As I mentioned in the last post, the final day consisted of presentations given by representatives of each of the main working groups. Very encouraging, and eye opening, to me was that of the 6 presenters 4 were from Canada (and at a NASA event, eh).

I will give just a few points from each of the group’s reports to give you a flavour of what was discussed. There will be two documents drafted from these reports to be forwarded to the NASA exploration directive, one for Lunar and one for Mars exploration. I am working with the group that is drafting the moon paper. Stay tuned for updates on the state of theses documents.

The Asteroid group pointed out two areas of concern with regards to asteroids, the threat of asteroid collision with earth and the possibility of using asteroids for human settlement. They made the recommendation that there should be a narrowing of the detection radius to focus on real catastrophic threats. They also called for student led projects to explore the possibilities of using asteroids as settlements and vehicles, perhaps using the existing Centennial Challenge framework.

The Cis- Lunar group dealt with issues related to the exploration and utilisation of everything within the Earth-Moon system. They highlighted environmental, policy, settlement, and economic issues. They recommended that there must be funding for cross-disciplinary funding for a common planetary exploration program. Paramount in the advancement of space technologies is that more private industry be used to provide services to the space agencies and that once government facilities are established on outer-space bodies that these facilities are transferred to private interests. Also raised was the issue of the lessening of restrictions on the transfer of intellectual property across international borders and the assurance of the ownership of intellectual property for researchers on government lunar facilities. They emphasized that acceptance by the general public of the costs and risks of space exploration and settlement would not be possible without the message that settlement is a primary objective and indeed required for the long term survival of the human species. They suggested that outreach should be comprised of identifying the space industry technologies that are transferred to daily life and that this would best be served by educating current media sources as well as utilising new media outlets to showcase space travel.

The Earth 3.0 group concerned themselves with the possible next steps in the evolution of humanity. They called for the establishment of a standing advisory board that would report to the space agencies. They envisioned that human-nature interaction would be a fundamental principle of space exploration and that to explore is an inately human characteristic. They see the need for new/improved means of communication so that ideas, words, and emotions could be better understood across languages and cultures. They recommended outreach efforts that emphasized a space vision statements with Earth focus and that these efforts should involve non-science/engineering disciplines.

The Mars Science and Exploration group addressed the questions: Why Mars? And if Mars then how to prepare? They outlined that Mars is the perfect location to search for life (a possible second genesis), to characterize a planetary system other than ours (thus giving us that all important second data point on the planetary scale), to study the evolution of the solar system, and to test human biological limits. Mars also has the unique opportunity to unite international communities and help to define humanity’s place int he universe. They also contend that Mars provides many economic benefits such as the provision of new energy resources and the potential for tourism. The group layed out a plan for pre-Mars strategies such as the development of a system of milestones that should be met before a mission to Mars, the facilitation of international cooperation, the involvement of all facets of society. They also point out that the public should be informed of the risks of such an endeavor but that it is of fundamental importance that the risks be taken. This last statement reminds me of an example given to our group by Chris McKay last Tuesday (paraphrasing) “if you stand in the middle of a freeway you are taking a large risk, but that is stupid, if you survive you get nothing out of it, however if you climb a mountain there is also a risk, but if you survive the risks you get a marvelous view of new vistas”.

The Virtual Exploration group identified a technology that is already present yet is not being utilized to the potential that it can be in the space exploration realm. There are many examples of virtual worlds in existence over the internet that could be tapped into to promote space exploration. They highlighted that these virtual worlds could be used for public outreach, environmental simulations and presentation, communication, and increasing productivity. In the area of mission planning, the group identified that virtual simulations could be used before, during, and after missions. Their immediate action plans involve the identifying of useful existing technologies and performing trial runs on their usefulness in the promotion of space exploration.

The Mars Settlement and Society group (of which I was a member) identified five themes that must be addressed for the successful execution of Mars settlement. These are: the development of human subsystems, the design of habitats, the building of communities, the creation of stakeholders, and a philosophical framework for exploration. We came to the conclusion that humans living on Mars will be intrinsically different from humans living on Earth, from physiology to philosophy. Medicines, surgery and exercise activities will have to be adapted due to the radiation and reduced gravity conditions. These adaptations will have to be examined first with near Earth analogues and then eventually by sortie missions to Mars. The far side of the Moon could also be used as a psychological analogue for the isolation of living on a planet where the Earth will not be seen (a well documented comfort to inhabitants of the International Space Station). Habitats on Mars will have to be able to withstand radiation and micro-meteorite impacts. The first habitats, erected during the initial sortie missions, should be modular, thus enabling for the growth of interconnected habitats that would then be used for the permanent inhabitants. Communities on Mars will have to become autonomous from Earth due to the shear distance involved. A major theme for all the groups in the conference was outreach and this was not lost on our group. We were very much convinced that stakeholders in space exploration must be identified and that each of these groups should be made aware that they do hold a stake in space exploration and habitation of the solar system and beyond.

After the presentations and open discussions we were all delighted to hear that we were all invited to tour the winery established by George Cooper (who just happens to be the second human to break the sound barrier). Turns out that two of the Girl Scouts who were invited to participate in the group workshops happen to be his granddaughters. We were treated to an explanation of wine-making techniques by Colonel Cooper himself, who confessed that test piloting came much easier to him than wine-making, however he doen’t have to worry about his engine cutting out at 30,000 ft.

winery.jpg
cooper-and-grandaughter.jpg

So all in all I had a great time out here in the Silicon Valley. Perhaps I am being nieve, but I really think that a good portion of the work done over the past three days will be taken seriously by NASA and the other world agencies to help shape the strategy for exploration. Indeed it was my impression that NASA really has no real clue as to how to sell a space program. The Apollo program is always sited as the climax of the space program. At that time there was a cold war going on and the rational for getting to the Moon was clear: beat the Soviets to it. It seems that the American people bought into that (to the tune of 30% of the federal budget), they do not seem to be buying into finding water ice on the Moon though (they are upset at a request to increase the 1% current allotment to NASA). Many of the above suggestions speak to this disconnect. It is my belief, and that of most of the delegates this past week, that it is imperative for the prosperity of all life on this planet that we explore and inhabit the solar system and beyond. I sincerely hope that I can maintain the momentum that I was infused with these past few days and continue to push for a Canadian exploration agenda back home, and that the officials who will read the conference documents get back to us so that a feedback loop is created that will push forward the exploration agenda.

Thank you for reading, next stop Valencia.

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