Planetary Radio Host and Producer, The Planetary Society
He led NASA for eight years, but not till he had flown on four Space Shuttle missions and enjoyed a long military career. Charlie Bolden talks with Mat about his time at the space agency and where we’re headed on the final frontier. Space station designer Al Globus says a city in space may be much easier to achieve than was thought. Planetary Society Senior Editor Emily Lakdawalla has news about five planetary science missions. Mat has a surprise for Bruce Betts and more great prizes for the space trivia contest.
Charles Bolden at the NSS Space Settlement Summit
Former NASA Administrator Charles “Charlie” Bolden asks a question at the NSS Space Settlement Summit.
George Whitesides at the NSS Space Settlement Summit
Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides with student attendees at the NSS Space Settlement Summit.
What spacecraft was intended to visit comet 46P/Wirtanen?
The answer will be revealed next week.
Question from the November 28 space trivia contest question:
What did the InSight lander and some warriors from the Middle Ages have in common?
Yes, the InSight Mars lander has a shield for its seismometers and a grapple, but the thing we were looking for that it shares in common with medieval knights and warriors is chainmaille (or chain mail).
[Mat Kaplan]: Former NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden at the Space Settlement Summit, this week on Planetary Radio. Welcome. I'm Mat Kaplan of the Planetary Society with more of the human adventure across our Solar System and beyond. Astronaut, explorer, Marine general, and pilot Charles Bolden came to his alma mater the University of Southern California to participate in the summit. You'll hear my conversation with him and others at this annual gathering, including Space Station designer and author Al Globus. I've got a surprise for Bruce Betts in this week's What's Up? segment and more great prizes for the winner of a new space trivia contest. It has been a busy week around the Solar System. Planetary Society senior editor Emily Lakdawalla gets us underway with what is nearly a grand tour of that system and beyond. Emily, a whole bunch of topics, five, to try and [00:01:00] get through in a short amount of time this week. Some of these most of these in fact are on the Planetary Society website, planetary.org. Let's start with a little news brief from Jason Davis, our colleague, the Digital Editor at the Society, that he published on December 10th. And it's about OSIRIS-REx not just having arrived now at Bennu but making terrific discoveries already.
[Emily Lakdawalla]: Yes, apparently with it spectrometers, the signal of hydrated minerals is being, just blasting out loud and clear from the surface of the asteroid. What that means is minerals with water in their crystal structures. It isn't exactly liquid water flowing across the surface of the asteroid, but it's good news if you want to do in situ resource utilization, go mining asteroids and getting water for fuel.
[Mat Kaplan]: There's more in Jason's blog post, including some facts and figures about this little rock, which really isn't so little. He lists that the OSIRIS-REx team has determined the mass is [00:02:00] 7.34 x 10^10 kilograms, which I find very entertaining and fascinating. Onto another explorer within the Solar System, you wrote on December 7th about Chang'e 4.
[Emily Lakdawalla]: Yes, Chang'e 4 launched successfully, it should already have done almost all of its orbital maneuvers and will be entering orbit very soon at the Moon. It will orbit the Moon a few times before setting down on the far side in the Von Kármán crater. It's going to have a pretty steep descent down to the surface because the far side is a little more rugged than the near side so that everybody cross your fingers for the success of the Chang'e 4 landing in early 2019.
[Mat Kaplan]: And you've got in addition to a cute cartoon some unofficial launch videos, which I found kind of surprising coming out of China, but a good thing. On to InSight which is moving right along on the surface of Mars. It's now flexing its arm, which is pretty,pretty [00:03:00] vital to its later operation, isn't it?
[Emily Lakdawalla]: It absolutely is vital. Not only because they'll use the arm to place the instruments over the next couple of months. But because the arm holds the one camera that they can use to survey the the landing site, both the area in front of them and the distant horizon. So flexing the arm really means putting it through all of its motions to get the beautiful color panorama that we're all waiting for to see what the full landing site around InSight looks like. It'll take them a while to build up those images, but you can certainly watch the blog for more pictures over time.
[Mat Kaplan]: They are starting to show up and they, they are very pretty. Voyager 2, you wrote about it on December 10th, and I'll bet that most of our audience has heard by now that it has joined its twin out there in, well, is it interstellar space?
[Emily Lakdawalla]: It depends on what you mean by interstellar space whether it's left the Solar System or not. So what it has done is it's left the heliosphere behind. It doesn't feel the solar wind from our Sub anymore, it traveled [00:04:00] beyond what's called the heliopause. So now the plasma and the fields that it's sensing are all in interstellar space, there the galactic radiation, and that's really great because Voyager 2 has a working plasma instrument. The similar one in Voyager 1 failed in 1980. So there's new science happening on Voyager 2 out there. Now of course, both Voyagers will still take another few hundred years to get beyond the gravitational influence of the Sun to get beyond the Oort cloud. But as far as fields and particles go they have left the Solar System and are experiencing the Galaxy directly.
[Mat Kaplan]: Travel on Voyagers. And I read that the the team is still hoping that at least one of them will remain active through 2027. Pretty amazing. Finally, something that only came up by this morning as we speak, Emily you posted on December 11th another one of your terrific updates on Curiosity, the Mars science laboratory rover. How's it doing?
[Emily Lakdawalla]: It's been about three months since my last update and the rover actually [00:05:00] spent about six weeks of that dealing with a major computer problem. It fortunately didn't threaten the health of the rover but they did have to swap computers, the fortunately the rover does have a backup computer. But now they're back in business and are looking around for a final drill site on top of Vera Rubin Ridge in some very hard red colored rocks. And if they manage to succeed without, or even if they don't, they're going to be driving beyond the ridge within the next couple months probably.
[Mat Kaplan]: Alright Emily. Thank you very much for this quick tour of the Solar System and beyond in this update, and we'll talk to you again soon.
[Emily Lakdawalla]: I just hope that all these missions just slow down a little bit for the next few weeks. I want to enjoy my holidays.
[Mat Kaplan]: Yes, happy holidays to you and everybody else. That's Emily, she is theSenior Editor for the Planetary Society, which now includes her leadership of the Planetary Report, our magazine that goes on paper to members but is now accessible to anybody out there. You can find it at planetary.org. And she's our Planetary Evangelist, your [00:06:00] Planetary Evangelist. This was the third year I was invited to attend the National Space Society's Space Settlement Summit. The NSS mission is creation of a spacefaring society including the creation of human communities in space. It traces its history back to the National Space Institute begun by Wernher von Braun and the L5 Society which was inspired by the pioneering space settlement work of Gerard K. O'Neill. You'll hear more about O'Neill when we talk with Al Globus. Another presenter at the summit was retired Air Force Colonel Karlton Johnson. Karlton is a member of the NSS Board of Governors and the Global Cyber and Data Risk Officer at Arconic. What is the purpose of the summit which has been going for several years, and what do you hope people will leave one of [00:07:00] these being better prepared to do or know?
[Karlton Johnson]: And that's an excellent question. Here's my though: the summit is our opportunity to bring people together to talk about these problems and I don't want to say problems, more opportunities. Today we had Charlie Bolden here, former NASA Administrator. During the lunch I was sitting next to a couple people from Australia. We were just talking about these issues and based off of this from the SSS perspective, Settlement perspective or Summit perspective, what I'm hoping that we're able to do is come up with the ideas and concepts that we need to push as an organization into government discussion, into scientific development, into all these other areas, and then really set the roadmap for us to go forth and actually get out there into space. And if we're not going to go, at least set the conditions for our generations to come to go. That's what we're doing here.
[Mat Kaplan]: Good goal.
[Karlton Johnson]: Yeah, I would love to go. If I can get done sooner, maybe I'll take you up with me. [00:08:00]
[Mat Kaplan]: You need a you need a good radio reporter. I've talked about a lot of people about that. They need a good radio podcast guy along with them to document it. Thank you. Great job.
[Karlton Johnson]: Thank you very much for your time.
[Mat Kaplan]: The Summit is fairly select, attracting many of the leading thinkers and actors in humanity's progress towards space. So it's not too surprising that the recently retired NASA Administrator gave a lunchtime keynote and stayed to hear several presentations. Charles Bolden, he'll ask you to call him Charlie, lead the space agency for the eight years of Barack Obama's administration. But his career with NASA started long before, and that followed his nearly 35 years as a Marine Corps pilot who rose to the rank of Major General. He flew on four Space Shuttle missions, two as Pilot and two as Commander. Nowadays he enjoys piloting his motorcycle, among other things. We sat down shortly before his presentation. General Bolden, it is truly an honor to be able to catch you. We [00:09:00] were sitting next to each other here for this presentation.
[Charlie Bolden]: We are as a matter of fact both of us trying to learn a little bit more about Settlements and I found the conversation so far this morning quite interesting.
[Mat Kaplan]: One of the messages that we heard is that I mean you got a ton of engineers here, a few scientists, but there was a presenter up front saying, how many biologists do we have? How many people who know how to run a hotel or get consumables to people who need them? Not many. We don't have them in part of this community. Is that something that that you see is something that we're going to have to deal with?
[Charlie Bolden]: It is indeed. And in fact, if you look back to the beginning of my time as the NASA Administrator with President Obama, we actually recognize that and we stood up an organization called the Space Technology Mission Directorate, and their focus was supposed to be finding new technologies both inside NASA that we could hand off to the private sector, but equally important go out and beat the [00:10:00] hinterlands for ideas that would be useful to us as we tried to go beyond low earth orbit. We always think we have a corner on the market on smarts, and and one of the things that I...one of my mantras was always we don't know everything and we don't have the corner of the market. I think the topics that were talked about this morning a very important. If you look at, for example, what we're trying to do right now is NASA—I say we, I'm not a we anymore except in spirit—but but what NASA is trying to do right now with their international partners is build a gateway in lunar orbit. I'm not sure how many people understand its purpose. Its purpose is to provide a platform from which anybody, international partners, entrepreneurs, commercial businesses, can go and begin their preparation for sending something to the lunar surface. I think we're going to have the same thing when we get to Mars. We're going to have an orbiting platform so that there is a, there's a station, if you will. If we can think about, you know, we're sitting here on the [00:11:00] campus of the University of Southern California, my alma mater, and we look right across the street at the metro stop. Imagine that's the gateway or it's a, you know, a martian gateway if you will. People come here, students, professors, everybody. They get off, some of them come to the university, some of them go over to the museum, some just go to the park to smell the roses.
[Mat Kaplan]: It's Union Station or Grand Central.
[Charlie Bolden]: It's Union Station or Grand Central, and it's the place where people can go to the surface of whatever body we happen to be operating in. The critical importance of it is it allows us to have a transportation vehicle that never goes back into a gravity well. Buzz Aldrin calls it a cycler. Back in the old days, the beginning of the shuttle era when we had a space transportation system, it was called an orbital maneuvering vehicle or an orbital transfer vehicle. That was the... not many people other than you and me remember the STS, the original STS days. But that was the third prong of the three prong space transportation system was an orbital transfer vehicle that would move [00:12:00] things from one orbit to another, one body to another, and that's where we're going. We're going back to the future. So I think what they're saying today is really important.
[Mat Kaplan]: You've already mentioned at least a couple, maybe more, of things that happen during your tenure as Administrator and a lot of these are continuing. COTS, Commercial Crew.
[Charlie Bolden]: I tell everybody don't, don't let that secret out. You know, one of the things, one of the phrases that we coined, and it wasn't mine it was it was Joe Dyer, Admiral Joe Dyer who chaired my Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel for the bulk of my time as the NASA Administrator. In his annual report to Congress and to the President would always start with the phrase that NASA needs constancy of purpose.
[Mat Kaplan]: Continuity.
[Charlie Bolden]: Exactly. And I was just beaming when I heard the Vice President at a recent Space Council meeting use the term constancy of purpose. Whether they know it or not, whether they intended to or not, the Trump Administration is [00:13:00] continuing essentially on the path that we had charted. Ten years in lunar orbit was the plan all along because we're not ready to go... I know some people think we're ready to go right now, but I think we need a, we need a short break in lunar orbit and maybe on the surface.
[Mat Kaplan]: Three days away instead of eight months away.
[Charlie Bolden]: You know, the Moon is not mandatory to get to Mars. It's not mandatory for Mars. We're not going to learn that much that's relative to Mars by going back to the lunar surface, but it's always good the more data you can get, the more information you can get, great. I'm personally ready to go on to Mars. But I'm easy, you know, as long as we keep moving the ball down the field and I think that's what we're doing right now.
[Mat Kaplan]: By the time our audience hears this, we'll be past a big event that's taking place here in the United States next week as we speak. And there may be some big changes in people who, you know, live and work in the Capitol. What would you hope will happen if we see a big change?
[Charlie Bolden]: My hope would be [00:14:00] that there will be no big change in terms of people's interest and attention to efforts of exploring beyond low earth orbit. That that will continue as it has done from Bush 41 through Clinton through Bush 43 through Obama and now into Trump. We've been on a, it's a bumpy road, but we've been on a road that continues to move forward trying to get humans deeper and deeper into our Solar System. One of the things I would hope people will do particularly because they're finding out that the incredible impact that the ordinary citizen has when they get in the street and when they get in the halls of Congress and when they get their voices heard, it's really important for people to start asking questions about space exploration, asking questions about what's the US's role? Are we going to continue to be the leader as everybody says we want to be, or we going to cede that leadership to somebody else like China or some other smaller nation? Industry is not [00:15:00] going to take over the role of leadership in space exploration. Somebody in the conference today said if there's no money there if there's no evidence that there's money there, they ain't going. So we've got to blaze the trail, people like you and me and Bill, the disciples who go out and beat the bushes and try to get people fired up about what we believe can really happen. You know, that's, that's our job and we need for more people to ask the critical questions whether they like it or not. If they're opposed to it, I love getting questions from young people about why do we spend all this money in space when there's so many things to be done down here? Because it gives me an opportunity to remind people we don't spend a dime in space. No money is spent in space. It's all spent here on Earth to try to give us the capability to get there and we're not looking for an alternative to Earth. We're looking to understand our own planet much better and the father we can go and look at things that happen there that may very well happen here on Earth where we're not doing very well right now anyway. I understand what they're talking about, but we can use what we discover on some of [00:16:00] these other planets and other solar bodies to help us keep this planet wholesome and healthy.
[Mat Kaplan]: A whole bunch of people in this room, there're thinking way beyond lunar gateways. They're even thinking beyond, you know, just getting people to Mars and back.
[Mat Kaplan]: Yeah. I mean, we just saw a guy making a presentation, diagrams of space station that would cost hundreds of billions of dollars. Artificial gravity, farms, things like that. Do you get excited about stuff like that?
[Charlie Bolden]: I do, I get excited about it. I know I'm... you know I will not see it in my lifetime and I try not to be frustrated because I'm... I know what we can do and I know what we should have done by now, but that's water under the bridge. So we've got to stay focused and try to just keep informing the American and international public because I tell you I travel around the world a lot still and people outside the US they're really hot and high on all that we're doing. Young people, I spent a night in a place called [00:17:00] Wadi Rum in the Jordanian desert about a week ago with four Jordanian college students. The way they got to go out was to give ideas about how we advance the cause of space exploration, you know, they had their own ideas and it was fascinating being out in the Jordanian desert with them and listening to them and their ideas about where humanity can go, you know, if we only have the desire and the persistence and the stick-to-itiveness to make it happen. Yeah, it's good.
[Mat Kaplan]: You mentioned my boss, Bill. He likes to say among other things, space brings out the best of us and brings us together.
[Charlie Bolden]: Yeah, always. That, you know, I always show a picture of the International Space Station and I find it somewhat hilarious because as we're in this Settlement conference, no one seems to understand that we have been in a settlement off this planet now for almost 20 years. We stayed on the Moon the first time for, what, '69 to '72? Three years? [00:18:00] That station dwarfs the amount of time that humanity has spent off this planet compared to what we did on the surface of the Moon. Now yes, we need to get back, but we've got almost 20 years of experience in a settlement that is not here on the planet and we need to continue that and to learn from it but keep moving on out so that we get back in a gravity environment for the, you know, for the next settlement.
[Mat Kaplan]: Yesterday at dinner right here, a guy used to work for you George Whitesides. Yeah. He got a lot of good questions afterwards. Somebody asked him, what should groups like the sponsor of this, National Space Society, Planetary Society for that matter, what should we do over the next year or two? And he looked around the room and he saw the makeup of this room and he said, well you need to diversify and youngify, he invented a word. NASA has made some strides, did that under you, is that—I think I know the answer to this—important goal? [00:19:00]
[Charlie Bolden]: It's a critical goal. If we want to be the best in the world, we have to bring the best in the world in to be with us. And anybody who thinks that you can eliminate, if we talk about gender diversity anybody who thinks you can eliminate more than 50% of the population and be the best is crazy, to be quite honest. Anybody who thinks you can eliminate people who don't look like us or think like us, that's a recipe for disaster. We've gotta diversify our workforce, we've gotta diversify our thought, and be open... I always talk about diversity and inclusion, and the inclusion is the critical part because that says a disparate voice that doesn't agree with anybody that has one of these wild and crazy ideas like some of the people in this room, if we don't listen to them, you know, I'd... this is the first time I've ever been anywhere where, as a young man said down there, how about, you know, somebody from Starbucks somebody from, I dunno, some hotel chain or...
[Mat Kaplan]: Hilton or yeah, right.
[Charlie Bolden]: I've never been in a conference where anybody's talked about that before [00:20:00] but that is something that, you know, are they going to be able to build a chain of hotels on the surface of the Moon or somewhere else? Probably not. Do we want to do that? I don't know, but at least we should hear that voice and understand what we need to do if that's going to be something that's viable and we're not even having that discussion. So I agree strongly with what they said, add diversity to the discussion that we're having, even the crazy, seemingly impossible stuff because we're doing stuff every single day today that 20 years ago people thought was crazy and impossible. So, bring it on.
[Mat Kaplan]: Which do you miss more: flying into space or running NASA?
[Charlie Bolden]: Neither? You know what I miss more... when you talk about what do you miss more, yeah, I'm blessed. I have my incredible family. My son, daughter, three granddaughters, and my wife all within, everybody's within, we're within 45 minutes of each other because we all live in the Washington DC area. So that's perfect. I can't ask for anything better [00:21:00] than that, but next to that, my next, first family is the Marine Corps and I really miss Marines. I cry when I started thinking about it. We're, you know, this is the week for the Marine Corps birthday coming up. It's a very emotional time because I spent 34 years of my life in the Marine Corps with people who really do believe you can change the world. They don't talk about going to space very much, but they talk about making bad people good people. Or trying to help bad people understand that life is not as bad as they think it is, and not as bad as they want everybody else to think it is, who go out into some bad places in the world and offer people the opportunity to look at them and what they bring and how they talk about their system of government. They don't agree with everything, and I think it's all timely because, you know, we've got that... it'll already have happened when this is aired, but we've got one of the most critical days in the, you know, in our country, election day coming. And people need to understand that's what makes us different. Almost every other country in the world people have to fight to get out there and do that kind of stuff and they vote at their own peril. [00:22:00] That's a right we have here now people try to take it away now and then but it's a very important day and we should, we should keep that in mind.
[Mat Kaplan]: On behalf of my brother who's a Marine vet and a Pilot: Sir, Semper Fi, Sir.
[Charlie Bolden]: Thank you very much. And I know this may be aired after the birthday, but all the Marines out there, wherever you all over the world, a lot of whom want to be a, you know, a part of this space generation, Semper Fi. I loved every second I was with you on active duty, and you know what I miss probably more than anything else. Yeah.
[Mat Kaplan]: Be careful on that motorcycle, sir.
[Charlie Bolden]: Alright, take care. Thank you very much.
[Mat Kaplan]: Thank you, Charlie. Former NASA Administrator, Shuttle astronaut, and Marine Corps pilot, Charlie Bolden. You're going to want to stick around for a conversation with yet another presenter at the recent Space Settlement Summit. Al Globus will tell us why a city in space may be much easier to achieve than was once thought. First though, time for What's Up? on Planetary Radio. So Bruce Betts, who is the Chief Scientist for [00:23:00] the Planetary Society has once again joined us online to tell us about the night sky and much more. A contest is ahead of us, both answering one and providing another. Welcome back.
[Bruce Betts]: Thank you. Good to be back. We're on Mars. I check it out nearly every night because it's still quite lovely, pretty high in the South looking reddish. Bright, not extremely bright like it used to be but still looking bright. And if you're picking this up soon after it came out you can also see the Moon next to it on December 14th. But the pre-dawn is where the party is, the planetary party. You have Venus just looking super, super bright as Venus has want to do, and to its lower left you can pick up Mercury. And now Jupiter starting to come up very low in the East, this is all in the East shortly before dawn. Jupiter coming up looking bright, much brighter than Mercury but [00:24:00] much less bright than Venus. And the whole gang's there. Mercury is going to hang around for a few days and then go away, being all Mercurian. But Jupiter will start creeping up and approaching Venus in the sky. It'll, it'll be lovely, Mat.
[Mat Kaplan]: I have no doubt, and thank you for sharing that with us.
[Bruce Betts]: All right, we move onto This Week in Space History. It was 1962, Mariner 2 did the first-ever planetary flyby, flying by Venus. And kind of amazing to me 10 years later this week we not only sent humans to the Moon but the last steps, the last people on the Moon, were stepping off the Moon and leaving the Moon in 1972 this week.
[Mat Kaplan]: Wow. Okay, so the end of Apollo 17, huh?
[Bruce Betts]: Indeedy-do.
[Mat Kaplan]: That is a lot of progress. We were moving fast in those days. Still getting good work done, though.
[Bruce Betts]: Oh, yeah all sorts of great work. So I hear you've got something special?
[Mat Kaplan]: [laughing] Okay, here it is. [00:25:00] And I don't think he knows at this point who it is folks.
[Bruce Betts]: No, I have no idea.
[Mat Kaplan]: All right, here it comes.
[Charlie Bolden]: Hey Bruce, this is Charlie Bolden the former NASA Administrator and erstwhile astronaut of used-to-be. You got a random space fact for me? Say, tell me something I don't know.d
[Bruce Betts]: Well, that's spectacular! Way to get Charlie Bolden. First, a little-known Charlie Bolden fact, after he was an astronaut but before he was NASA Administrator, he and I hung out on a drizzly day giving talks at LEGOLAND.
[Mat Kaplan]: [laughing] Really?
[Bruce Betts]: It stuck in my mind. I'm guessing it didn't, you know, I may not have made a big impression on him, but made a big impression on me. Well, that's really cool. I will tell him something that he may not know. As seen from Earth, and due to changes in the distance between their orbits, Uranus can sometimes [00:26:00] have a larger angular diameter than Mars.
[Mat Kaplan]: What?!
[Bruce Betts]: Mars varies so much that when Mars is at is farthest point, being significantly smaller than Uranus, it actually has a smaller angular diameter than Uranus when we're seeing it at its, at its largest.
[Mat Kaplan]: That just sounds insane or crazily elliptical, at least.
[Bruce Betts]: It's crazy, I tell you. Crazy. I was surprised, which is why I shared it.
[Mat Kaplan]: Yeah, that surprises me quite a bit. All right, good one. I'm sure Charlie will be pleased.
[Bruce Betts]: On to the trivia contest. I asked you, what do the InSight Lander and some warriors from the Middle Ages have in common? How do we do, Mat?
[Mat Kaplan]: So many interesting answers to this one, many of which were not what I think you were looking for, but were pretty good answers. A whole bunch of people came up with, you know, one or, one or the other of the ones that Christopher Midden provided. I'm reading his [00:27:00] because he came up with all in his entry. This is Christopher in Carbondale, Illinois, where Southern Illinois University is where I got to enjoy the eclipse with 16,000 or so other happy people. He said, this was a tough one. So he submitted three answers. First, the SEIS Instrument will have a shield, that's the seismometer interest, that most knights would also have had, and it also has a grapple which would have been handy when scaling castle walls. And InSight had Pages or Squires if you count the MarCOs CubeSats.
[Bruce Betts]: [laughing] All creative, and we could have awarded those.
[Mat Kaplan]: Nick Churry in Scotch Plains, New Jersey. He went even better on that Squire thing bringing up the example of Don Quixote and Sancho, Sancho Panza. John Rumph in Merritt Island, Florida, or on Merritt Island, Florida? [00:28:00] He said the solar panels on the InSight Lander deploy similar to a Japanese war fan. Look it up, they're real. They were used by Samurai Warriors partly to keep cool, but they were also useful as, as shields and weapons. Who knew?
[Bruce Betts]: Wow, I did not know.
[Mat Kaplan]: And here's when I love. We got this actually from a couple of people, but Kevin Nitka in Forked River, New Jersey, said that his first thought was that they both followed Vikings into hostile environments. But here's our winner, I think. Nicole Dawn in North Mankato, Minnesota. She says, she's a Maille Artisan that is not male as in male person, but a Chainmaille Artisan, so she was pretty excited that a vendor that she purchases supplies from has scales in space. It's chainmaille.
[Bruce Betts]: Wow, that is [00:29:00] correct and pretty exciting to have a, what's the right term? Mail...
[Mat Kaplan]: A Maille Artisan, M-A-I-L-L-E.
[Bruce Betts]: Cool. Yeah, chainmaille, oddly enough, they produce some basically chainmaille that they use on the base of the the wind cover that goes over the seismometer and cuts down on thermal issues, but also cuts down on wind having any chance of shaking the seismometer and because they weren't sure exactly how rough the surface would be they put a chainmaille, combined with mylar, on the base of the cover.
[Mat Kaplan]: Absolutely brilliant solution. Congratulations, Nicole. I took a look at her website and she's got some beautiful work out there, clothing made of metal, basically. It's really fun. She is going to get a Planetary Society t-shirt, I'm afraid it's only made of cotton, from The Chop Shop store. That's where the [00:30:00] Planetary Society store is at chopshopstore.com and a 200 point iTelescope.net astronomy account. She can try to find that chainmaille on the surface of the Red Planet. I don't hold out much hope.
[Bruce Betts]: A t-shirt, I should note, can be worn over or under chainmaille. I'm pretty sure.
[Mat Kaplan]: I will give it a shot. I although I don't know. It seems like the chainmaille would kind of catch on chest hair. So I think maybe I'll wear the chainmaille on the outside.
[Bruce Betts]: Gosh, that is an image I didn't want. All right, as seen from Earth—we're back to angular diameter here—as seen from Earth, what extrasolar star has the largest apparent size? In the sky as seen from Earth. In other words angular diameter, so not the Sun but what other star has the largest apparent size? Go to planetary.org/radiocontest.
[Mat Kaplan]: Isn't that fun? [00:31:00] I mean I've mentioned on the show before the when I was a kid, we were always told that stars other than our sun would only ever be seen as a point of light and now we can compare how much of the sky they take up. It's fascinating, we live in a great age. But what you want to hear is the deadline for this one and that would be the 19th. December 19th at 8 a.m. Pacific Time, that you can get those answers in. And you want to hear even more what the prizes are going to be. Guess what? We have a second set of the National Geographic Space Atlas, mapping the universe and beyond. It is a huge coffee table book done in the beautiful design fashion that National Geographic is so well known for. And, but wait there's more, the Almanac the National Geographic Almanac 2019. So you can put one of these on the table in the living room and the other one would be just perfect for the bathroom. So anyway, that's, that's what the [00:32:00] winner this time around is going to receive. And of course you can check these out at the National Geographic site. And that's it.
[Bruce Betts]: All right, everybody. I think you need a break after all these years. So everybody go out there, look up at the night sky, and think about nothing. Thank you. Good night. Good luck.
[Mat Kaplan]: Yeah, that's good. That's good. Just try not to think about dark matter. Okay? He's Bruce Betts. He's the Chief Scientist for the Planetary Society who joins us every week here for What's Up? Here's that fun bonus that I think a lot of you will enjoy. In 1978, Al Globus's is life was changed when a roommate brought home a copy of CoEvolution Quarterly's issue on space colonization. He was electrified and was soon working at NASA's Ames Research Center. Al co-founded the center's nanotechnology group and its space settlement design contest for young people. Along the way he received many awards, including NASA's Public Service Medal. Now, he is Editor in [00:33:00] Chief of the National Space Society's Space Settlement Journal and serves on that society's Board of Directors. He has designed not one but two space settlements. Earlier this year Al and co-author Tom Marotta published a book called <em>The High Frontier: An Easier Way</em>. Some of you will note that title is based on the classic work lead in the 1970s by Gerard K. O'Neill. O'Neill's visionary book has been one of my prized possessions for many years. Al Globus and I talked during a break in the 2018 Space Settlement Summit.
[Al Globus]: One of the things that I discovered mostly actually working on my own time was a way to build the first space settlements much, much cheaper. And much, much easier than we believed previously.
[Mat Kaplan]: And that's why I hoped to catch you today because I was intrigued, your book, <em>The High Frontier</em>, which I'm sorry to say I haven't finished but I think I figured out your thesis which is [00:34:00] what you just said. I mean you trace a lot of the history of thinking about humans living in space, but it's this thought that maybe if we meet certain conditions, it is going to be a lot easier than people like the great Gerard K. O'Neill thought it might be.
[Al Globus]: Exactly. Gerry did this this beautiful vision and this wonderful thing, but it was too hard to execute. Thirty, forty years on, we haven't done it. Okay? And we're not going to either, it's just too hard. It involves moving millions of tons of lunar regolith for radiation shielding. It involves operating 400,000 kilometers away, that's then basically lunar distances and then there's a whole bunch of other things that are very difficult. But those two it turns out we can do something about at the same time because it turns out that Mother Earth will protect you if you stay by her side. In this context staying by her side is five or six hundred kilometers up, directly over the [00:35:00] equator, no more than 5 degrees to each side. And the reason for that is you don't have a whole lot of radiation in that space. You have actually, apparently, acceptable levels of radiation in that space. And so you don't need those millions of tons of radiation shielding. The net effect is to reduce the mass of any given settlement that you want to live in by a factor of a hundred. That makes a big difference in utility, but we actually go a little further than that. When Gerry O'Neill and the guys were putting together their ideas for space settlement in the 70s, they believed that you couldn't rotate more than one or two RPM, and you rotate in order to give people a feeling of something similar to gravity. And so your kids will grow up with strong bones and strong muscles, which they will not if you're at lower gravity levels. It turns out that if you rotate at, say, four RPM, rotations per minute, you need a radius of only a hundred meters. Whereas at one RPM you need radius of about a mile, about [00:36:00] 1700 meters. So you get a much, much smaller system. Now the problem with that of course is if you rotate people, they get sick. But they don't stay sick. They get sick. A lot of people will be better in an hour or two at four RPM, almost everybody will be better in a day or two, and there may be a few people who are very susceptible who are going to go to your settlement rotating four RPM and they just can't get better and they have to go home, but they won't be very many of them. So you combine those two things together, and instead of looking at millions of tons of settlement and distances on the order of the Moon—400,000, almost 400,000 kilometers—instead we're talking maybe a system might be about 8.5 kilotons, which is only 20 times the mass the International Space Station, and it's almost three orders of magnitude less than if you were, you had to have full radiation shielding. And the whole thing is about an order of a hundred meters, which is the size of the International Space Station, that the settlement is a three-dimensional thing a hundred meters is a [00:37:00] lot bigger and a lot more massive than...
[Mat Kaplan]: Because you're thinking of the Space Stations as kind of two-dimensional, really.
[Al Globus]: Yeah, it's almost one-dimensional, you know? It's got the big long truss and there's a few things attached to it. So the net effect is you get radical reduction in the cost and the difficulty of building the system. You can take another step and start saying, okay, what is it actually going to cost? So we know we can reduce the mass by this huge factor. We can reduce the size by this by this large factor and to the point that the smallest size settlement is not driven by rotation, it's driven by what you want to live in. And a hundred meters might not be enough for you, I think it's just barely enough for me.
[Mat Kaplan]: [laughing] I'd put up with it for a while.
[Al Globus]: Yeah, well, I'm talking about living, so I mean the idea is you go there you may live there in the indefinitely. Not necessarily, you can go home. It's not like one of these one-way trips to Mars or something like that. So then you can ask the question, okay, the hardest problem in space settlement is transportation. What would take to transport [00:38:00] this eight and a half thousand ton facility and 500 people into equatorial low earth orbit, which is 5-600 kilometers up, so you don't get a whole lot of radiation. You don't need radiation shielding. And I've done the calculations to prove that but you can't really show those charts on the radio. And if you work out the numbers, it looks like it's something on the order of $50 million per person.
[Mat Kaplan]: Okay.
[Al Globus]: With the current vehicles, basically a Falcon 9 Dragon for people and the Falcon Heavy for stuff. I don't know anybody that's got $50 million laying around or even part of 50... a sizable chunk of 50 million. That's really too much. So I did some calculations. This was like a couple of years ago, trying to ask the question of what would be a level that you might live with? What I came up with... a lot of people can come up with a million dollars for a down payment. Not, not everybody by any stretch of the imagination, but a lot. You know, a really successful engineer, a very successful doctor, a very successful lawyer can put that kind of money together in a couple of decades of working. So if you could get the [00:39:00] transportation cost down to about a million per person. And then you think, well, that person is probably going to want to have a spouse with them, so that's $2 million, and they're probably going to... you also need to move all, buy the stuff, transportation isn't the only cost. So we're talking maybe $5 million. So the idea is you buy your condo, you put a million dollars down, and then you pay off your $4 million mortgage over over time, which is how you buy a house now, right? And there's plenty of places in Silicon Valley that that's, you know, oh $5 million? Yeah, it's pretty cheap, you know? Yeah, and this places in L.A. like that, too. And it turns out, as luck would have it, that the vehicle that, that SpaceX is working on, the BFR and the BFS, that vehicle has almost exactly, not quite but very close to the same performance characteristics that I calculated were needed. If you accept current industry rumors as the cost, which is the best one can do. So here we have a situation where we figured out how to do something that we would really like to do way [00:40:00] easier, and there's actually a vehicle being developed not by some company that's never built a rocket, but built by one of the premier rocket companies of our day, and they're building a vehicle that arguably will get us within a factor of two or three of something that could actually work. It's really exciting that adds one more thing in the mix, is you don't really want to jump from the ISS, which we got now, right to an eight and a half thousand ton vehicle. You want to build incrementally, and the way you can do that is with hotels. A lot of people are thinking these days, and some people are developing vehicles, to take tourists into space. For a pretty sizable chunk of change, but it will drop over time. If you think about what a hotel needs, the requirements for hotel are not that different from a settlement. I mean they are different but not that different. And in fact, for you know an advanced hotel that's maybe developed over years, assuming an industry that actually works, you can imagine building hotels about the size of a settlement. [00:41:00] About a hundred meters across, rotating, might even rotate them a little bit so that your spoon stays in one place when you set it down and you don't have to learn how to use a zero-g, toilet, which I have been informed by people who ought to know is difficult to operate and you will screw up and it will be disgusting. Okay, so just saying, we don't have to go there. Okay? So you get to the point where you've got a hotel which is about the size and shape of the settlement you want. And so the next time you're going to build a hotel instead of building a hotel you build a settlement. You make it a little stronger so it can rotate faster and there's a few other problems that have to be dealt with, but basically, you know, 90% of the problems are going to have to be solved before you get to the point of even, even doing it, and you can do it arguably at possibly a profit. Not a very big one, but maybe some.
[Mat Kaplan]: So you have with this, if you're right about this, provided a much more viable, much more affordable way of establishing a city in space, a settlement, space settlement.
[Al Globus]: Exactly.
[Mat Kaplan]: Why will we do this? [00:42:00] I mean, back to O'Neill who thought, other than tourism, people to take up the rooms in that hotel, space solar power, right? Do you think that's still the best reason or have you give this side given this other thought?
[Al Globus]: The reason to go it to build space elements is to survive and thrive. Survive because the Earth is a single point of failure and thrive because the resources of the Solar System are enormous. The the amount of solar energy available on this planet is two billion times less than the amount of energy that the Sun puts out. If you took just the asteroids, which nobody has ever seen with the naked eye, and you tore them apart and you put them back together as the settlement you want you get a surface area, a living area around on the order of a thousand times the surface area of the Earth. That is enough resources to really thrive. So that's the answer to why we're going to do this, and this is not an economic drive. I mean, there is a reason [00:43:00] that life expanded out of the oceans that onto land. And it is exactly the same reason that we are currently expanding from on land and into space.
[Mat Kaplan]: Really? You think it's almost an evolutionary imperative?
[Al Globus]: It's what life does. Every species that's capable of it will grow and expand into all the environments it possibly can. The only way for life to get into space is through some sort of civilization like our own. You can't do it with biology, you know, biomolecules do not do well in vacuum. At best, you might be able to get a spore that will survive but it will not thrive, will not reproduce and so forth and so on. From a non-economic perspective, you know, there's a sort of argument, are we alone are we not alone? If we're alone, this is the only living thing in the Universe and if we were not to take every opportunity to protect it and grow it and have it thrive and move on beyond situation and get out of the single point of failure would be a horrible dereliction of duty. [00:44:00] If we are not alone, then we must assume that the other people, the species that would run into have to be on the order about as nasty as we are which is pretty nasty. So we really want to find them before they find us. We really want to be a large and vigorous civilization before they find us and we really want to be very very nice to them because the chances are very good they can squash us like a bug, and the chances of them being nice to us are much greater if we're nicer to them. You did have the question about the economics. So the problem is how do you pay off that $4 million mortgage? You bought in and that's enough money to run the whole thing. Maybe some subsidies get kicked in, some little crony capitalism or something like that, but that's not the guts of it, say. So you need to come up with the $4 million, how're you gonna do it? Well, the first step is to keep the job that made you that first million dollars, and telecommute. People telecommute right now. This isn't going to happen for ten, twenty, thirty years. Earth's communication system is going to be awesome. [00:45:00] If you think back 20 or 30 years what our communication system was versus now, and you extrapolate forward to something similar, a lot of jobs you're going to just keep your job. The BFS can even take you up and down for $100,000. Which is a lot of money, but if you're that valuable to the company, you might even do a few face-to-face, actually. That's the first thing you can, that's the smart strategy. The second thing is you're very well positioned to assemble, test, check out, and launch large satellites, satellites that have... that are that are not delivered as a single thing that unfolds but rather as a whole bunch of components, which can be assembled. Now if you're going to build something like space solar power, which is a sort of classic example of this, the idea of space solar power is you gather energy in space and you'll be beam it to Earth. So you need a very large collecting area to get large amounts of energy. So you need very large satellites. So you could do this sort of thing for comm sats, big comm sats. But space solar power is really kind of the big market for it. You would not build a space settlement in order [00:46:00] to build space solar power, that silly just go straight to it. But what if there's already a space settlement in orbit with 500 people on board who are real experts in space and who are perfectly located to assemble your thing and check it out? You would be a fool not to hire them. So that's the second big one that you can, that you can do from Earth. There's some other things, like you'll do some research. Maybe you can come up with some materials that's really good, or some gadget or you can, you can, you know, grow artificial hearts or whatever, though none of that's panned out yet, but it could happen. To be fair, I don't think we're going to go into space. I did a survey once of attitudes toward space settlement and when people are talking about what they're interested in what they... nobody said money, not one single, my 1,075, not one person said, I'm going to space to make money. Which is smart because most of the time you go into space you lose money. Money is is a necessary but not sufficient condition. You'll probably always be able to make more money on Earth than space, you know [00:47:00] until you know, the very far future. People want to go into space because people want to go into space.
[Mat Kaplan]: I got a mention in closing, I don't know if you watch the show <em>The Expanse</em>. Or maybe read the books.
[Al Globus]: Yes, I do.
[Mat Kaplan]: There is one little absolutely wonderful scene, it's a throwaway, and they are on one of the, I don't know if it's a hollowed-out asteroid or a space station, but it's spinning to provide gravity, artificial gravity, and somebody picks up, I think a bottle of wine or a carafe of coffee and they pour that liquid into a cup, but they've lived there a long time so they know...
[Al Globus]: To offset...
[Mat Kaplan]: Exactly, you know the one I'm talking about. You actually see the liquid go off to the side a little bit. And what it says to me is, first of all, they got that right, and second, humans will adapt.
[Al Globus]: Yes and humans are incredibly adaptable. Actually my favorite thing in the sort of the rotation environment is that it's a short story, and the plot basically goes there's a [00:48:00] baseball team on a rotating colony, of amateurs, of course. But they're really, really, really good and they come up with the scheme, they say we're going to invite the New York Yankees to come play us and if they win, the trip is on us and if we win then they got to pay us double, right? The day you get here. We're going to play the game. So fortunately Yankees figured out what they were doing. So the Yankees says, no, you have to give us a day to train. He says, what are we going to do? And say, oh I got it. So when the Yankees come up they have two, they built a second field and there are 90 degrees to each other. And so they had the Yankees train on one and then made the play the game on the other. And of course it's a race between great athletes, who are definitely better athletes, learning to this new environment versus people who already knew the environment but aren't anywhere near, you know. The first inning there's like walk, walk, walk, walk, walk, the pitchers just couldn't get it over there, but eventually they get in. So, of course, needless to say it comes down to bottom of the ninth, two outs, [00:49:00] two strikes, three balls. There's, you know, a Yankee at the plate and the and the ball comes in and he swings and then that's the end of the story. Don't tell you what happened.
[Mat Kaplan]: We have a lot of Science Fiction writers who listen to this show and any of you who pick up on this, you know where to find Al Globus, I hope, because you're going to have to credit him for that concept. Thank you, Al. May it happen, Ad Astra.
[Al Globus]: Ad Astra. Ad Astra, baby, Ad Astra.
[Mat Kaplan]: My thanks to the National Space Society for allowing me to attend the Space Settlement Summit .Planetary Radios produced by the Planetary Society in Pasadena, California, and is made possible by its spacefaring members. MaryLiz Bender is our Associate Producer. Josh Doyle composed our theme which was arranged and performed by Pieter Schlosser. I'm Mat Kaplan. Please consider leaving us a rating or review in iTunes, or Apple Podcasts, or wherever you choose on the net. Ad Astra. [00:50:00]