Planetary Radio • Jun 10, 2020
Staying Alive in Space
On This Episode
President and CEO for Paragon Space Development Corporation
Chief Scientist / LightSail Program Manager for The Planetary Society
Senior Communications Adviser and former Host of Planetary Radio for The Planetary Society
Keeping humans alive and well in space is hard enough. How will this be accomplished on a 3-year journey to Mars and back? Paragon President and CEO Grant Anderson shares the great progress we’ve made and the remaining challenges. Astronauts headed for the Red Planet may not need ice cream to stay alive, but will life be worth living without it? You may win a pint of Ben & Jerry’s moooony new flavor and a Netflix Space Force spoon to eat it with in this week’s space trivia contest.
- Grant Anderson
- Life Support at Paragon Space Development Corporation
- Paragon Announces Artemis Human Landing System Award on Dynetics, Inc. Team
- NASA Life Support Systems
- The Planetary Society Celebrates Successful Crew Dragon Launch
- Your Guide to Crew Dragon’s First Astronaut Flight
- The Downlink
This week's prizes:
A coupon for a pint of Ben & Jerry’s new flavor Boots on the Moooo’n, inspired by the Netflix original series Space Force. (Or any other flavor!) Also, a Space Force spoon.
This week's question:
What was the last flight or mission of an astronaut who had been in the Apollo program, and who was that astronaut?
To submit your answer:
Complete the contest entry form at https://www.planetary.org/radiocontest or write to us at [email protected] no later than Wednesday, June 17th at 8am Pacific Time. Be sure to include your name and mailing address.
Last week's question:
What was the last two-person, orbital spaceflight launched from the United States?
The winner will be revealed next week.
Question from the May 27 space trivia contest:
Who is scheduled to be the first non-American astronaut to launch on a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft?
Soichi Noguchi of the Japanese Space Agency is scheduled to be the first non-American astronaut to launch on a Spacex Crew Dragon spacecraft.
Mat Kaplan: Staying alive as you cross the expanse 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. We're back with another fascinating expert for you to meet. This time it's the leader of a company that is working toward keeping men and women alive and well as they make the long journey to Mars and back also to the moon.
Mat Kaplan: It's a big challenge possibly as big as any other we face if humans are going to reach the red planet. President and CEO Grant Anderson of Paragon Space Development Corporation will join us shortly. Ice cream may not be essential for life support on that mission but it would be nice and it's what you might win in the new what's up space trivia contest. I don't know if Bruce Betts will ever forgive me for the torture I'm about to inflict on him.
Mat Kaplan: We're back to headlines from the down lake this week where there is great news about the InSight mission. We don't want to become overconfident but it appears that the long-suffering mole heat-flow probe is finally under the surface of Mars. NASA and German Aerospace Center engineers have used the lander scoop to help the self-hammering instrument bury itself, maybe now it can get a grip and head down to several meters scientists have hoped for. Godspeed InSight.
Mat Kaplan: With its big Long March 5B rocket back on track, China has laid out a very ambitious schedule of launches to assemble its big modular space station. The work gets underway next year. Crew Dragon astronauts, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley have settled into life aboard the International Space Station which may be their home for as long as four months. The Planetary Society has a terrific guide to their mission at planetary.org where you can also read about the Commercial Crew Program and the ways the ISS is helping us learn how humans will survive in deeper space.
Mat Kaplan: As always, you'll find the downlink at planetary.org/downlake. It offers much more than space headlines. For example, did you know that past Planetary Radio guest, Mae Jemison, filed a police complaint when her arm was twisted and she was thrown on the pavement during a traffic stop? This was four years after she became the first black woman in space.
Mat Kaplan: Let's face it, humans are ever so much more fragile than robots. It takes a lot to keep us alive in the not very friendly and nurturing environs of space and other worlds but we're learning, we're adapting. As you're about to hear, some of the advances are stunning. But Grant Anderson knows we have a long ways to go before we can travel the solar system or live on the moon as comfortably as we must. Grant is co-founder, president and CEO of Paragon Space Development Corporation. He used to be the company's VP of Engineering and chief engineer.
Mat Kaplan: You can tell his heart and soul are still in engineering. He holds several patents and he was the chief design engineer for development of the ISS solar arrays back when he worked at Lockheed Martin. We covered a wide range of challenges when we talked a few days ago and he left me feeling hopeful. Grant, it is great to get you back on Planetary Radio. It has been almost exactly three years since we talked. Long overdue for a conversation and my understanding is that there's some new stuff, some developments to talk about. But first, welcome back.
Grant Anderson: Well, thank you very much. It's really great to be back.
Mat Kaplan: Let me start with the question that may be uppermost in our space geek audiences mind. How confident are you now that we will before too long be able to keep some number of astronauts alive and well on a Mars mission lasting at least a year and a half, could be as long as three years?
Grant Anderson: Well, there's two parts to that. One, I'm confident it will happen, that it can be done, and the other part is that I know we're not there yet.
Mat Kaplan: Okay. In spite of these advances that I think we're going to talk about in a minute or two, I mean where are we lacking? What's left to be done to make this happen? I mean we know we can get rockets there and back but keeping people alive, that's the bigger challenge?
Grant Anderson: That's the part that we have no existence proof to show that we can do. We know we can navigate to Mars. We know we can land on Mars although probably lower amounts of mass than we need to for a human mission but we really don't know if the life-support system will function and function correctly for all that time. The space station has been a wonderful testbed and, of course, it's been supporting people but there's been a fair amount of failures and glitches and stuff like that that are that dangerous because we're 30 minutes from an escape to the ground from Earth and from orbit, but when you light the candle and you're on the way to Mars, that's a whole another ball of wax.
Mat Kaplan: Let me back up some and go back to the beginnings of this topic, life support systems, because they go back a lot further than when humans started going into space and Paragon is involved with some of this. I mean you make systems to support divers and do you have stuff on submarines?
Grant Anderson: We do not right at this moment. We actually have an active program on a submarine rescue system. I can't get too much into it but it's how to rescue people from a submarine that has been stranded below surface and, yes, people have been diving in valves and within suits for years now. It's interesting, it's related and it is in our field, which is life support in extreme environments and being 200 feet underwater is an extreme environment but things happen a lot faster with the altitude.
Grant Anderson: You change altitude in the sea and you get a multiple change of psi, its 14.7 pounds per square inch for every 33 feet of water. Of course, you don't have that happening in space but then you got to protect yourself from everything else. Generally, the ocean doesn't try to boil you or otherwise but it's still a matter of providing the right supplies that are required by a human at the right time and continuously until the mission is over.
Mat Kaplan: They make this look so easy on Star Trek even though periodically on the Starship Enterprise they would say life support is disabled and people would start to choke almost immediately it seemed. There's so much to this. I mean maybe we can break it down into some of the categories that you and Paragon actually work with beginning with the air that we breathe. I saw one of the sections on the website is air revitalization systems that you're doing some of this work for a spacecraft that Boeing hopes to put some humans in pretty soon.
Grant Anderson: Yeah. We supply the humidity control system and when humans breathe, really you can think of humans as one big chemical factory. We breathe in oxygen to use nitrogen as a buffer gas and we drink water, and then we expel all these things. We expel out the oxygen we don't use. In general, you breathe in nominal layer that has almost no carbon dioxide in it, about 21% oxygen. You breathe out about 16% oxygen and 5% CO2, and then the rest is still the nitrogen gas.
Grant Anderson: It's funny you mentioned about the Star Trek thing because, yeah, what always fascinates or frustrating to us in life support is nothing happens that fast. It's just as deadly but the life support is broken down and within a few minutes, a few seconds suddenly people are choking on their own CO2, that's not really true. It takes a little while to build up gases to noxious level or, at least, or even a toxic level. But I will say at the same time, the fans on a spacecraft in zero gravity or microgravity are life-critical because if you're not moving the air past your face, you're building up yourself in a bubble of CO2 just like a candle would build up a bubble of combustion products and it will eventually snuff out the candle and you have the same problem with humans.
Mat Kaplan: I read this once in a science fiction story and I wondered if that was seriously a problem because somebody actually does pass out in this story because the air is not circulating. I mean how in a space as complex and large as the International Space Station, how do we make sure that the air is constantly being refreshed in in every place that an astronaut might stick their head?
Grant Anderson: That is an issue and we've done that. We executed contracts way back in the early 2000s for what was then called Space [inaudible 00:09:04] because they had a module that went back in the shuttle and it went up to the space station and it was packed full of supplies and they would over a few days unpack the system. We had to analyze what would the airflow be like with it halfway unpacked or a third unpacked or three-quarters unpacked because very often the astronauts to try to, especially the ones that have been on the Space Station for a long time would escape to the module as sort of a place to be away from everybody else that's isolation while you're isolated from everybody on Earth, getting a few days away from the people you're stuck in a small can with is considered premium time.
Grant Anderson: We had to analyze, actually, how the airflow happened in different levels of unpacking. The other thing we've seen on Space Station is that there are times when they have to go behind the panels and either rotate down a rack or take off something and get into rack and they have had problems with astronauts getting headaches because the circulation isn't very good there, and so they try to limit that and they also have monitors and buddies to make sure that they're watching each other while it happens.
Grant Anderson: It is a concern for the Orion vehicle. We did the analysis on airflow. We generally have a requirement that when anywhere within the cabin, you have to have about a foot per second worth of air flow past a person's face in order to wash away the CO2 and bring fresh air in, and we do the analysis to show that, yes, that is the case that no matter where the person is in the vehicle and we model all of the different fans or all the different registers that are pushing out air and all the intakes, and then we move a human model around in a CFD analysis computational fluid dynamics model and we check to see whether the face velocities are correct. It's a very real concern and it's something we're doing with say the Moon lander.
Mat Kaplan: Absolutely fascinating. We're going to get back to that work that you're contributing to toward putting humans back on the moon as well. But we'll stick with CO2 for a moment. What do you do with it? I mean once you pull it back into a system, how do you control the level of CO2 to say nothing of making sure we're getting enough oxygen?
Grant Anderson: Well, there's a few ways to remove the CO2 from the air for short missions and we define missions in person day. So, in other words, if you have four people for two days, that's eight person's days or if you have 2 people for 10 days, that's 20-person days. In general, when you're below about 70 or 80-person days, we use what's called lithium hydroxide, which is a chemical that will combine with the CO2 and make a calcium product, calcium carbonate I think it is. I'm not a chemist so don't quote me on that. If you just lock it into that and then you throw away the canister when it's done.
Grant Anderson: However, when you get to something like Space Station or for these longer missions. You use either a molecular sieve. What they do is they preferentially pass oxygen faster than CO2 so you keep switching from one bed to the other and you let the oxygen wave go through and you end up with almost pure oxygen coming out the other side. Until such time as the CO2 starts to break through, then you switch over to the other bed which has now been cleaned, and while that one is doing the same process, the one you just switched from.
Grant Anderson: You vent the CO2 to space or in the case of some systems, we collect that CO2, bottle it up, and then we use it in another reaction called a Sabatier reaction where we react it with hydrogen and you end up getting out water as well as methane, and then figure out what to do with the methane and one of the things that many people have talked about including Robert Zubrin is then using the methane for fuel for returning say a rocket from Mars.
Mat Kaplan: The thing that sticks in my mind is when you're talking about these person days. I mean it could be 10,000 person days for a trip to Mars. That's a lot without being able to stop off to pick up more oxygen or fix your CO2 absorber.
Grant Anderson: Yeah. That depends on how many people. If it's a 5-year round-trip mission to Mars, you'll end up spending for each person about 1825 days. So, if you have 5 people, you're up to 9000 hours. When you get to that, you have to recycle it. Either you recycle it or you somehow pay the penalty of having to launch extra mass in order to replace the oxygen that goes out with the CO2. One problem with blowing the CO2 overboard is well that oxygen has been used by your body for energy and the CO2 is a byproduct you breathe out. Well, that means every time you vent that CO2 to space, you're losing that oxygen too. You have to bring it along to replace it.
Grant Anderson: Definitely for a longer mission on say to Mars, you want to recycle that. You want to break down the CO2 and there's one way, one technology we work on for that, it's called SOE, which stands for solid oxide electrolysis. If you think about your high school or even middle school experience, you put through wires in water and you get hydrogen coming off one wire and oxygen coming off the other. You can do pretty much an analogous thing with CO2 so that you end up back with, actually, with oxygen coming up one side and carbon monoxide coming off the other.
Grant Anderson: Then, you can crack the carbon monoxide to get the rest of the oxygen out and you end up with nothing but carbon and carbon dust. So, you have to be able to then recycle that oxygen back into the system. You'll still always have to replace them, you also, of course, metabolize oxygen, not only the CO2, but in the sugars that are used by your body and those go into building molecular systems for your body, and so you will end up using oxygen that is non-recoverable. So, there's always going to be a little bit of replenishment on a long trip.
Mat Kaplan: Is that fairly energy intensive cracking the CO2 to get the oxygen back?
Grant Anderson: Yes. It's not only energy intensive but it takes a pretty high temperature. Yes. So he has run at about 500 degrees centigrade or Celsius. Sorry. Yes. It takes a fair amount of energy. So, it takes electrical energy to rip the bonds apart because of carbon dioxide bond is pretty darn strong.
Mat Kaplan: We could spend the rest of our time just talking about the air we breathe but maybe I'll just leave it with one sidelight. You've already mentioned humidity, why is it so important to have a system to control the levels of humidity? What would happen on a closed system like the International Space Station or a spacecraft on its way to the Moon or Mars if you didn't have something to control humidity?
Grant Anderson: When you breathe out, you're not only breathing out carbon dioxide but you're breathing out moisture. In fact, most of the water you lose in your body say, I live here in the desert in Tucson, Arizona, if I'm out hiking, I may not be sweating that much but every time I breathe, I'm putting out moisture in my breath. If you're in a closed capsule and you're breathing, the humidity will quickly drum to 100%. So, if you've got four people in a small capsule it's a matter of minutes. It's not hours.
Grant Anderson: Well, when you get up to a certain level, anybody who's lived in Florida and had a glass of cold beer you know that there's a lot of water in the air that will condense on your glass and it's the same thing. Your spacecraft walls will be cool, most likely at least one wall, the wall that's not facing the Sun, depending on how you rotate and everything else but still it's going to be cooler. So, if you get the relative humidity up above what's the dew point as we call it, so what the dew point is say the air is at 75 degrees Fahrenheit, if your dew point though is 55, that means that if it touches a surface that's 55 degrees or less, the water will condense out of the air onto your surface.
Grant Anderson: Well, if people have seen the movie Apollo 13 and I think Swigert comments, well, it's like flying a toaster through a carwash is when you get all this condensation on the inside of the vehicle. That's really bad for electronics. You don't want to have a whole bunch of condensation. Also, condensation promotes mold growth and that's a big problem on long durations. Missions, the Space Station they go through a whole protocol of wiping down surfaces to keep mildew and mold from growing on surfaces, even though they have a good humidity control system but you have to be able to remove that water.
Grant Anderson: There's really two ways to do it. One is a condensing heat exchanger where you have a heat exchanger, you know it's colder than the dew point and you force water to be condensed out, and then sucked up and separated, and then you use the water for recycling, and then there's other ones like what Paragon supplied to Boeing which is a membrane based system that selectively passes water through and then just ejects water to the vacuum of space and that's good for short missions. Again, like the commercial crew programs like the one that's flying Space Station right now.
Mat Kaplan: Let's turn to the other end of what makes water so important particularly on, well, on any mission but particularly a long one and that's recovering enough, recycling enough that your astronauts have something to drink and maybe even grow food. When we talk three years ago, you told me that the system then on the International Space Station was maybe 65%, 70% efficient at recovering the water in that closed loop system. Are we doing much better now because I assume we're going to have to do a lot better to get to Mars?
Grant Anderson: Yes. We are. Yeah. That's true that 65%, 70% is when it's operating. If you take out over the whole lifespan of the system when it's not operating, of course, it's not producing anything. So, the efficiency of course those down, the calculations on efficiency. Yeah. Paragon actually develop a technology, again, using a sort of selective membrane that will recover 98% of the water especially that you urinate. So, yes, you are drinking your pee in the end but that will close the environment to 98%.
Grant Anderson: So, then really with our system, you end up with a bag of salt, which is the salts that are in your urine when you pee and that one is supposed to fly to space station early next year and start working and that will substantially reduce the amount of water they have to ship at the station by hundreds of kilograms a year. That's an experiment but it is necessary for sustainability on the Moon. So, we're very hopeful that once that experiment runs its course that will be baseline for the Moon missions also.
Mat Kaplan: Is 98% recovery? Is that good enough to get to Mars and back?
Grant Anderson: Yes. That is. We have worked and are working on a program right now for doing the same thing for feces or for poop, maybe some of your listeners will understand better. In fact, in the normal weird humor of the aerospace world, we actually call that program STOOLE, S-T-O-O-L-E. That's doing the same thing. It's desiccating the feces and taking the water out because that's the other part where water is lost over time.
Grant Anderson: But, yeah, at the 98% level, people will consume about 2 kilograms of water a day so you're only needing to provide a few ccs, cubic centimeters of water per day and that's something that you can carry with you. By the way, you want to carry with you because water is also a great radiation shield.
Mat Kaplan: Yeah. So, I've read. I think you should call it SCAP by the way and I guess that's important because you needed to fertilize your potatoes you're going to grow on Mars, right? Kidding. Just kidding. Much more of my conversation with Paragon's Grant Anderson is seconds away.
Bill Nye: Greetings. Bill Nye here, CEO of the Planetary Society. Even with everything going on in our world right now, I know that a positive future is ahead of us. Space exploration is an inherently optimistic enterprise, an active space program raises expectations and fosters collective hope. As part of the Planetary Society team, you can help kick-start the most exciting time for US space exploration since the Moon landings with the upcoming election only months away, our time to act is now.
Bill Nye: You can make a gift to support our work. Visit planetary.org/advocacy. Your financial contribution will help us tell the next administration and every member of Congress how the US space program benefits their constituents and the world. Then, you can sign the petitions to President Trump and presumptive nominee Biden and let them know that you vote for space exploration. Go to planetary.org/advocacy today. Thank you. Let's change the world.
Mat Kaplan: Thermal control. It's puzzling to some people why that is difficult to maintain on a spacecraft after all it's flying through something that's a medium that is not much above absolute zero and yet it is a challenge, isn't it?
Grant Anderson: Oh, it's a really big challenge. There's, again, a few things. You are a chemical factory, a human is. A human at rest just sitting there, not doing anything, not doing any vigorous exercise but thinking runs about 100, 120 watts. So, everybody in the world is bright because we're about the same power as a bright light bulb. So, if you have five people in a spacecraft that's built like a thermos bottle, by the way, because it's protecting from the outside. I'll talk about that in a second.
Grant Anderson: You'll build up heat just because five people will put out 500 watts. So, think of it as essentially starting an oven inside of your vehicle and you've got to get rid of that heat. Now, it is true that on average space, especially if you're in low Earth orbit, you've got this beautiful planet that's running at about 300 Kelvin or generally a little cooler than what we're used to. But the rest of the space is pretty bad. If you're looking away from the Sun, you're looking at a four Kelvin environment. It's sucking heat out of you, and then if you have the Sun on you, even with the good reflective clothing, you've got 1500 watts per meter squared hitting you.
Grant Anderson: So, you got to reflect that and not absorb that heat. Maintaining that thermal balance and you and, of course, there's no air to take the air way. It's not like your car, take the heat away. It's not like your car like you have a radiator that airs running through all the time and you're rejecting heat to the atmosphere. The only real way to get rid of heat external of the spacecraft is radiation and that's pretty inefficient. I won't go into the equations but you have to get the radiator, the hotter it is the faster it radiates heat but the hot, you also need to get it down to a temperature where that it's useful enough to then cool the equipment inside. It takes a real thermal balance and a lot of analysis to make sure that you're rejecting enough heat.
Mat Kaplan: This thermal control and these radiators, that's another area of expertise for Paragon, isn't it?
Grant Anderson: Yes. There's really two different areas for radiators. One is making sure you have what's called a turndown ratio. So, sometimes you want to reject a lot of heat when you're say approaching Space Station and you've got all of you computers running because you want to have your avionics both your primary and your backup and even your second backup running and they're all doing a lot of work to make sure that your rendezvous and you're docking correctly, you're putting out a lot of heat there and you're near the Earth and a few other things.
Grant Anderson: So you have a lot of trouble rejecting heat and you're producing a lot. Then, you'll say on the way from Earth to the Moon and you're out in the middle of nowhere. So, all you can really see is a four Kelvin environment. For those who are privy to Apollo, they actually had something called the BBQ roll they did where they rotated the spacecraft very slowly in order to make sure that all the sides were sort of heated up and cooled down and maintained a good overall temperature.
Grant Anderson: At that time, they also shut down a lot of systems because they weren't in launch mode or docking mode or anything else. So, you have low heat production and a really big good environment for rejecting heat. You can actually get too cold. One of the key technologies there is, again, what we call turn down ratio, which is how much can you turn down the radiator so that they don't reject too much heat and get you too cold when you're in that type of environment.
Grant Anderson: Paragon works a lot on different turndown technologies, shape-memory alloy radiators and what we call stagnating radiators, which is what Apollo used. Where generally you let certain lines freeze and not flow your coolant and other ones flow it, and then when you get back into a high heat environment or when you're trying to fire up your computer to getting the moon, it then melts those lines and you end up using your radiator again.
Grant Anderson: The other side is how you construct radiators. Traditionally, radiators, again, not Apollo but other ones like on space shuttle were a honeycomb face sheet material. So, there's an aluminum honeycomb with aluminum face sheets, and then a tube running through it. That has a lot of problems both because you're only using one side of your radiators very often. There you also have a bond line, the blue line between your tubes and your radiator and your radiating surface which then cuts down on the amount of heat you can transfer.
Grant Anderson: Paragon developed something about 10 years ago called ExRad technology and that's actually trademarked. What we do is we extrude the radiator and so it's all one piece and build the radiator out of these extrusions and there's two good things about that. One is that it's a very efficient radiator because there's no losses in bond lines but the other one is that we can change the design very quickly and not have to totally redo the tooling like you would have to do on a honeycomb radiator.
Mat Kaplan: That's a great segue into the next question I was going to ask you anyway. When you're describing a lot of systems, machines some of them fairly complex, what are the things that worry you the most about these systems when they have to keep running, it's truly a matter of life and death? I mean the seals, bearings, contamination. I mean what are things that keep you up at night when you think about keeping this running?
Grant Anderson: That's the big problem going to Mars right now. In the past, we've designed things for like the space station that it assumes you could have another one sent up from Earth in a few months. So, if a pump fails you could have a new pump. Well, when you're on your way to Mars, you can't have a new pump sent to you. So, what you need is two things. One is access to what you need to fix. So, you need to make sure that unlike modern cars today where you can hardly find the spark plugs anymore, you need to be able to make it so that the astronauts can get into the system and fix something. You have to have planned in advance for what you might have to fix.
Grant Anderson: One of the things we consistently do is the risk analysis of what is likely to break? So, like a resistor sitting there on a board is probably not going to go bad but now a microcontroller that said the radiation might. So, can you make it so you can replace the microcontroller? Are the pumps sealed? Very often I hear about taking a 3D printer to Mars and one of the problems with that is 3D printers only print certain materials. So, then you have to have the discipline all the way back in the design phase to say, "We will only make say O-rings out of this material because we know this 3D printer can build them," or if you don't trust the 3D printer because that, of course, it's something that can break down too. Then, what, you need two of them or three of them? How do you the spares into the 3D printer that might break?
Grant Anderson: The other option is to carry them with you, and then you've got to have a good analysis to say, "Okay. We're going to have, need at least 3 more O-rings but we won't need 10 more 0-rings. So, we're going to take seven." You've got to do that down to the last little iota of things that might go wrong and plan for it. There's got to be a paradigm shift in how we build stuff because, of course, engineers like to optimize. If this O-ring for this pump pumping this fluid at this pressure, the best O-ring is made out of say nitrile rubber. But then this O-ring over here for this pump the best O-ring because it's pumping a different fluid at a different pressure in a different way should be some other type of soft material.
Grant Anderson: Well, if you do that and every engineer optimizes there for one thing, you end up with 18 different types of material that you need to take with you or spares. So, you have to have a little discipline in saying, "Okay, engineers, you're only going to build seals out of nitrile rubber." Some engineer will say, "But that won't last that long." "Great. We're going to take spares but…" Then, an engineer says, "But if you make it out of this rubber it will never break maybe."
Grant Anderson: Then, you have to have that push me pull you for a little bit until you have discipline on what you are building things out of and it's very hard for an engineer to be told you're going to have to sub-optimize in order to satisfy the maintainability and replacement requirements.
Mat Kaplan: I got to say, again, this is so fascinating. We talk a lot on this show about why it's so difficult to get humans to Mars and back and you are providing a terrific additional demonstration of that. Let's go to the Moon. NASA recently announced the three companies, Blue Origin, SpaceX, and Dynetics have been selected for further development of the Artemis Human Landing System. Basically, the 21st Century version of the lunar module.
Mat Kaplan: NASA still hopes it's going to get men and women up there in less than four years. What's Paragons role on one of these teams? You're working with Dynetics, right?
Grant Anderson: That's correct. We're on Dynetics team that was announced. Our role is the life support system of course.
Mat Kaplan: How important for your work is going to the Moon before we go to Mars? I mean we've had the International Space Station as a testbed. Is the moon an essential step to teach us how to get to the red planet?
Grant Anderson: Yeah. I do believe so and I know that some people in the space community disagree with it but like I said there's no existence proof that says that we can build a life-support system and go to Mars. The Moon is a good midway place where you can test out systems, do a little bit of what I was talking about with the discipline of how you design and see what works and what doesn't work where you can at least get home in a few days, which is doable and you stick the extra things on you need, whether it's lithium hydroxide like I talked about four CO2 in case something breaks down.
Grant Anderson: But there's operationally an issue also. One thing that a lot of people I don't think realize is, but they do maybe now because of coronavirus. If you've been on a Zoom call and you're not running video or you can't see people and somebody pauses for one second too long to say something, people start jumping on top of each other. Well, we have this problem and it takes training going the Moon, you've got one and a half seconds for the light to go in either direction so you have to have this three second pregnant pause every time you say something and that's not accounting for when people have to think about something before they talk.
Grant Anderson: Really when you get like three or four or five light seconds away from Earth, which is only a few days into the mission going to Mars, you're no longer really able to discuss things with the ground. You can do video clips back and forth or vlogs in a way or podcasts but you really can't carry on a conversation. It may seem like I've gone far away from what we do is life support but say you're trying to repair something, if you don't have the materials and the instructions and the training and you need to call home to figure out how to do something, it's not like Joe mechanic in Nevada that built the system down here on Earth can walk you through it.
Grant Anderson: It's going to have to be something where they send you up with a manual or whatever else. But going back to the technology itself, there are certain absolutes. When you're maybe not so much with HLS, which is the human landing system but with the HALO, the human orbiter system around moon. I see that is absolutely the testbed for Mars missions. Because you're far away enough from Earth that you need to pay attention to P's and Q's. You don't have an immediate escape. It also has to operate for long, long periods of time and sometimes have quiescent periods, which we may also need where you launch it and it doesn't operate for a bunch of years until you get the crew on and go.
Grant Anderson: You've got to make sure that the system will survive and started up afterwards. All that will be tested on the HALO and what they call Gateway. I would be really reluctant to look the spouse and children of an astronaut in the eye and say, "I'm confident that we've done everything to keep your spouse alive all the way to Mars and back until we've tested it to that degree in an environment like around the Moon."
Mat Kaplan: I have become a convert to your way of thinking largely because of talking to people like you about this topic. I got just one more question that's sort of about the physical challenges. We know pretty well that the dirt on the surface of Mars wants to kill us. Moon dust maybe even more so. Is this something that you're already taken into account and have to take into account as you design the system that may be keeping people alive when they land this Dynetics lander on our satellite, the Moon?
Grant Anderson: Oh you bet. Yes. It keeps me up at night. There's a joke in the industry that there's two types of people. Those who thinks the Moon dust is a problem but we can fix it. The other one think that Moon dust means the sky is falling. Don't mind me coining the phrase for what we're talking about. I'm more on the sky is falling side of it. At least, with the Moon, the morphology of the Moon dust, the regolith is unlike anything, not only on Earth but that we can even simulate on Earth because when you've had something bombarded for four billion years by my micro meteorites in a 10 to the negative 12 or very, very low pressure environment, it just does not have any of the characteristics that were used to of dealing with say Moon simulants on the ground, which have interstitial air which is a great lubricant by the way.
Grant Anderson: So, Moon dust, it will harm seals. The astronauts that went to the Moon in Apollo said that zippers were falling apart. Their gloves were falling apart. The dust got under, in their fingernails, went straight in their fingernails and didn't come out for weeks after they got home and they pretty much have to wait for their fingernails to grow out. It's pretty nasty stuff. Seals and seals that will work with that are a concern.
Grant Anderson: I will say that Paragon recognizes two decades ago but we think we have the right materials that will survive exposure to this dust but it's really not a known. One of the things we'd love to do is as part of the Klipsch program, which is a commercial lunar payload program that NASA is running to plunk down a few testers on the Moon that will test rotating seals and static seals and see how they will survive the lunar dust, and then one other very important part is that as one element of going to the Moon that is not translatable to Mars.
Grant Anderson: The dust on Mars is a very different thing than the dust on the Moon. We may find all the ways to mitigate dust and prevent it from harming our equipment and everything on the Moon, and then we get to Mars and none of that is applicable anymore and we have to rediscover over again. So, what I'd love to do again is those same experiments we punk down on the Moon and test before we do the final build of the Moon lander, I'd love to be able to stick that same device on a Martian Lander and test it in Martian dust and see if the types of seals we think will work will actually work.
Grant Anderson: Lunar dust is a real issue. There's requirements within our spec that are no surprise. A lot of filtering systems, HEPA filters as we call them. The high efficiency filters but knowing that those will actually work is a problem. The Apollo program spent millions of dollars on dust mitigation and as far as I know, none of them worked. John Young used to say that to me and some of the others. I haven't talked to Harrison Smith a little while but I know that dust is an issue in their minds.
Mat Kaplan: Well, I hope that within a year or two, you may be able to start sending some of those seals and devices up there on some of those [CLPS 00:38:02] landers. Wish them luck. On a slightly different direction here, before we wrap up, Paragon is a great example of the thousands of subcontractors who you may not build rockets or spacecraft but you make it possible for other companies, the Boeings, SpaceXes of the world [inaudible 00:38:20]. Can you talk about that the role, the role that is played by these literally thousands of companies that makes it possible for us to do things in space?
Grant Anderson: Sure. They're a necessary part of the ecosystem, of course. I run a company so I have to say I'm a necessary part of the ecosystem but it's true. If you look today in an industry as mature as the airline industry. Well, they have been consolidating. The good thing about having multiple tier one, tier two, tier three suppliers is that you spread the risk.
Grant Anderson: One of the issues that I think SpaceX is going to run into and maybe Blue Origin to a lesser degree, if they want to do it all themselves. They want to have in-house environmental control, in-house propulsion, in-house structures everything like that. The problem is is that works for the first generation of vehicle and you can actually push the envelope in a lot of different areas but when you're working on the second or third or fourth generation of vehicle, the expense starts going up.
Grant Anderson: Boeing right now or Airbus does not foot the whole bill for developing a new aircraft. They spread the risk among these other big suppliers and other tier, what we call tier one, tier two or tier three suppliers. Those suppliers know their part of the business really well, whether it's avionics or the air pressure control system or the landing gear or the elevons or whatever on the aircraft. It's equivalent in space too.
Grant Anderson: What I see is this ecosystem of the suppliers. What we're doing is we're advancing our state of the art and our technology, we're putting the money into it. We have the best visibility into what might be needed, what might work. Sure, the big primes can come down and say, "Hey, we have this challenge but we're probably in a better place to discover the solution or we may already have a solution, we just haven't told you about it yet.
Grant Anderson: So, if you really want the whole commercial space industry to thrive, making sure that these sub-suppliers that specialize is really important to make sure that you end up with the best of the best really.
Mat Kaplan: You got to forgive me. I stupidly forgot that SpaceX does try to do as much as they can on their own. It seems to me and confirm this for me if you can, that another advantage of having all these subcontractors like Paragon is that you're in competition with other companies that are roughly the size of yours and are trying to get contracts to create the same kinds of devices, and that competitive pressure just as there is among the prime contractors, that might just be… I'm sorry if you might prefer to do without it but it probably drives innovation and keeps costs down, doesn't it?
Grant Anderson: Oh, yeah. No. I will say that we do a little special dance when we win a job in direct competition with our competitors. That's the free market way. It's a good way of coming up with the best that way and it does keep us on our toes. Our job is to stay ahead of the curve in innovation and if you really want to distill Paragon down into one thing is we are a company of innovation that does life support, and part of our business model is actually that innovation is very applicable to say the outside world and non-space stuff.
Grant Anderson: So, we work actively with our patents and with our licensing and even in joint ventures or spin-offs to take that technology out to benefit a lot broader community than just the commercial space sector or the government space sector. It's definitely a sporty game, which is the name of a book that came out in the '80s about the airline industry but it applies still today. It keeps us all on our toes. That's for sure.
Mat Kaplan: I got just one more for you, Grant. Do you still spend a lot of time on your bike?
Grant Anderson: Yes, I do. I do. I tend to bike every weekend. Every two years I do an epic trip. Last year I did London to Glasgow which is about 540 miles, which didn't go all according to plan. I crashed one day and broke a rib but I did complete the last 280 miles with a broken rib, and then I came home and got fixed. One of the things that I think really makes Paragon unique is we really do pay attention to work/life balance.
Grant Anderson: The old saying is nobody on their deathbed said, "Gee, I wish I spent more time at the office." We want to make sure that people go out and live their lives while we are mission driven and we have a mission that is critical for the future of humanity we feel. You've got to also remember that we are human beings with 80 plus or minus 10 or 20 years on this planet. Life's too short to give up everything.
Grant Anderson: What I do is get out and bike. It satisfies two things. One is it keeps me in shape because if even if I'm not on the bike ride, I'm preparing for a bike ride. So, when I want to have that second doughnut, I refrain. But it also allows me to meet new people and go to new places and I'm a people person, I'll admit. I like to meet new people.
Mat Kaplan: That's apparent. Ever been out there pedaling along and come up with a solution that you weren't able to come up with sitting at your desk?
Grant Anderson: If you were to ask me, I don't know if I could point to one, but I can tell you that most of my best ideas are in the shower in the morning.
Mat Kaplan: Grant, this has been delightful. Thank you very much. I'm sure that the audience is going to find this as fascinating as I did. I wish you and Paragon the greatest of success as we head out there. Hopefully, to the Moon very soon and not too long after, to Mars.
Grant Anderson: Well, thank you very much. Great to talk to you again and I hope we get to see each other face-to-face and just stay safe and make sure you follow protocols to keep yourself from not being a statistic.
Mat Kaplan: I'll try and pay attention to my personal life support. You stay well as well all of you in yours. Life support expert Grant Anderson of Paragon Space Development Corporation. Here comes what's up.
Mat Kaplan: Time for what's up on Planetary Radio. We are joined again by the chief scientist of the Planetary Society. That'd be Bruce Betts who's also the program manager for the LightSail Program and before you go into what's up in the night sky this week, here's a relevant comment for you from [Marcel Yan 00:44:41] in the Netherlands. I never knew that Bruce had such powerful friends that he is able to make such special arrangements with gas giants. Can he make sure they appear a little higher above my horizon?
Bruce Betts: I'll skip all the gas giant jokes that are going through my head. Yes. Yes, I can. I will try. Let's see, Netherlands, yeah. I'll work on it.
Mat Kaplan: Marcel Yan, we'll be in touch, okay, or he will be in touch, hence, all the gas giants.
Bruce Betts: There it is.
Mat Kaplan: What's actually going on up there?
Bruce Betts: Gas giants, well-phrased rising around 2300 or 11:00 PM in the east, and then getting up as high as I can get them. Later in the night, we've got Jupiter looking really bright and Saturn looking less bright but still bright yellowish. They're hanging out near each other still and you can see them in the east in the early evening and the south later in the evening and if you follow a line from Saturn to Jupiter, it will lead to the teapot asterism. So, stars that look kind of like a teapot of Sagittarius, the constellation.
Bruce Betts: A couple hours later, Mars comes up and it's getting brighter and brighter as it moves towards opposition in October. It'll be hanging out near the Moon on June 12th and 13th, and then if you want your challenge, you got Venus. Hang out with us for months in the evening sky. Now, it snuck past the Sun and is getting a little bit higher in the pre-dawn east and will continue to get higher in the pre-dawn east and if you want a real observing challenge in the pre-dawn on the 19th, you got Venus which is super bright and a very crescenty Moon low in the eastern horizon on the 19th together.
Bruce Betts: But wait, don't order yet, on the 21st of June, there will be an annular solar eclipse. So, the Moon directly in front of the Sun but not blocking it out completely and that'll be visible from Central Africa, Saudi Arabia, Northern India and Southern China and a lot more people will be able to see a partial eclipse during that time on the 21st throughout most of Eastern Africa, Middle East, and Southern Asia.
Mat Kaplan: That should make a substantial number of our listeners because we have lots in those regions of our planet pretty happy. Maybe we can get a report from one or two of you.
Bruce Betts: Oh, that would be cool. All right. We move on to this week in space history. It was 1963 that Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space and 10 years ago, Hayabusa, the Japanese mission returned a little bit of sample but the first samples ever from an asteroid to Earth.
Mat Kaplan: More to come. Isn't it later this year is it returning or is it-
Bruce Betts: Yeah. That would be Hayabusa 2 coming back late in 2020.
Mat Kaplan: Yeah and-
Bruce Betts: With samples of Ryugu.
Mat Kaplan: And OSIRIS-REx still ahead of us as well.
Bruce Betts: Yeah. It's doing sampling and then returning samples from [inaudible 00:47:56] in 2023.
Mat Kaplan: Excellent.
Bruce Betts: All right. So, we move onto land of the free [inaudible 00:48:02].
Mat Kaplan: This is going even further back with our obscure cultural references than usual but that sounds like a voice that Fanny Brice would have done.
Bruce Betts: Oh my. Going back in time, launched in 1958, as we've discussed before the Vanguard 1 satellite is the oldest human-made object in space but I wanted to note how very small with such low mass it is. It's a 16 centimeter diameter in sphere. A little over six inches with six short antennas sticking out of it with a mass of only 1.47 kilogram. So, you can hold it in your hand if you can catch it.
Mat Kaplan: You know what I always thought was really cool about Vanguard? This was even when I was a little kid and it had already been up there for years. It had solar cells which just fascinated me as a little kid. They still do if truth be told but it had a few solar cells on the exosphere.
Bruce Betts: Indeed. That's another space fact about it. It's the first spacecraft, it was the fourth successful satellite and was the first to have solar cells.
Mat Kaplan: Beginning a nice cell legacy there I guess. Okay. We have a contest to take care of.
Bruce Betts: All right. I asked you, who is scheduled to be the first non-American astronaut to launch on a SpaceX Crew Dragon launch? How do we do-
Mat Kaplan: I'm going to let the poet laureate in Kansas, Dave Fairchild answer for us. Coming up in August will be SpaceX once again flying to the ISS with astronauts within. On the mission called Crew One, Noguchi-san will shine. He's ridden on the shuttle and the Russian Soyuz line. He's got that right?
Bruce Betts: Yeah. He will be flying on three different vehicles when by the time he goes up with the Crew Dragon.
Mat Kaplan: This is. Soichi Noguchi or some people pointed out Noguchi Soichi if you want to do it the way they say it in Japan. One person who submitted it one of those ways is our winner this week Ian Gilroy in Australia, New South Wales, Australia. One of our many down under listeners. We'd love to hear from you. He is going to win himself… Well, he's just won himself the book What Stars Are Made Of, The Life of Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin by Donovan Moore and Jocelyn Bell Burnell. Oh and a Planetary Society, rubber asteroid.
Mat Kaplan: Just a couple of other nice responses here from set upon in New York. Apparently, Thomas Pesquet from France will be the backup. So, it's going to be an international astronaut no matter what. You knew about this?
Bruce Betts: Well, yeah. I know everything. That is so not true as everyone knows.
Mat Kaplan: He can move gas giants. Of course, he knows.
Bruce Betts: Oh, yeah. I can do that.
Mat Kaplan: Gene Luen in Washington a high coup for us this week. Noguchi prepares within a dragon he'll ride. The expanse awaits and so does the ISS finally from Stephanie [Retrum 00:51:10] in Arizona. Such exciting times and no one better to share it with than the Planetary Society.
Bruce Betts: Yey.
Mat Kaplan: All right. I think we are ready for a new one and a terrific prize.
Bruce Betts: All right. Here's the question. What was the last space flight of an astronaut who had been an astronaut in the Apollo program and who was that astronaut? Go to planetary.org/radiocontest.
Mat Kaplan: Give me that once again.
Bruce Betts: Yeah. It's a little complicated. So, I'm looking for the name of the mission and the astronaut and this is the last Apollo astronaut who flew in space, not as part of the Apollo program but the last Apollo astronaut who was part of the Apollo program to fly in space on, it turns out not an Apollo mission but many, many years later.
Mat Kaplan: You have until the 17th. June 17 at 8:00 AM Pacific time as usual to get us this answer and get this. Have you seen any of Space Force, the Netflix series?
Bruce Betts: No. I have not.
Mat Kaplan: I've watched two and a half episode so far. I just didn't have time yet to finish the third one. I think it's very entertaining. The first one was I found especially good. Steve Carell and John Malkovich, a whole bunch of other people has a fantastic cast. Well, we heard from Ben & Jerry's, the ice cream people, you've probably heard of them?
Bruce Betts: Yes. Yes, I have.
Mat Kaplan: Ben & Jerry's in collaboration with Netflix decided to come out with a new ice cream flavor to celebrate Space Force the TV show, in this case, it's called boots on the moon. They sent me a pint, which I will get back to in a moment but they also sent us a coupon to send to one of you, whoever wins the contest. This coupon is good for anyone Ben & Jerry's pint, three count of pint slices are eight ounces of cookie dough chunks, boots on the moon will not be available until we're a little bit further into the summer. You may want to wait because I can tell you, this pint came with other goodies and it was packed in your favorite material in the world, Bruce Betts, dry ice.
Bruce Betts: It's actually my second favorite material in the world.
Mat Kaplan: Is the first ice cream?
Bruce Betts: Maybe.
Mat Kaplan: Anyway, here's the description from the pint itself. A universe of milk chocolate ice cream with fudge cows and toffee meteor clusters orbiting a sugar cookie dough core. Now, this pint which we still have about a third left of it at my house. This is the longest pint of Ben & Jerry's has ever lasted in my house, maybe in the history of the world. I'm going to do the cruelest thing I've ever done to you, Bruce. I'm going to eat this in front of you right now, okay?
Bruce Betts: No.
Mat Kaplan: I'm going to eat it-
Bruce Betts: Did you say chocolate with other chocolate?
Mat Kaplan: Yes. Chocolate with chocolate and toffee. I'm going to eat it with the special astronaut space force spoon that has a dog tag which came with the package. Here we go.
Bruce Betts: Ah. Does it tastes terrible? Tell me it tastes terrible.
Mat Kaplan: Oh, it's the worst thing I've ever tasted.
Bruce Betts: Ah, geez. You're not telling truth.
Mat Kaplan: I'm lying to Bruce to make him feel better. It is utterly delicious. It is one of the best ice cream flavors I have ever tasted. Now, back to Bruce.
Bruce Betts: I'm so relieved. I mean I'm sorry you're having to eat such a terrible, terrible product, man.
Mat Kaplan: Yeah. Really I think I should give it a second chance. Wait. I'll have one more bite. Yeah.
Bruce Betts: Are those sounds of pain?
Mat Kaplan: Oh. I'm in agony.
Bruce Betts: Oh, I'm so sorry. Taking one for the team. Good job.
Mat Kaplan: Things that I do for the Planetary Society and our members. All right. Well, anyway, that coupon and will throw in an astronaut spoon, a Space Force spoon. Those will be yours if you're the winner.
Bruce Betts: All right, everybody. Go out there. Look up the night sky and think about Matt eating ice cream. Thank you. Good night.
Mat Kaplan: I think he could tell I was lying. That's Bruce Betts. The chief scientist of the Planetary Society who joins us every week here for what's up. So good. Have you caught the June space policy edition of Planetary Radio? It's at planetary.org/radio as well as all the other usual sources. Casey Dreyer and I take up the great challenges facing all of space exploration in the coming months and we consider the considerable challenges so many are facing on the streets of the United States right now.
Mat Kaplan: We also welcome Chief of Washington Operations Brendan Curry for a Beltway update. I've heard from a couple of listeners who were left with a misleading impression due to some slips in the editing process, that's on me, please keep us on our toes. I read all your mail and messages and respond to as many as I can. The address is [email protected] or just add a message to your space trivia contest entry at planetary.org/radiocontest. Thank you.
Mat Kaplan: Planetary Radio is produced by the Planetary Society in Pasadena, California and is made possible by its members who are empowering the world citizens to advance space science and exploration. Mark Hilverda is our associate producer, Josh Doyle composed our theme, which is arranged and performed by Peter Schlosser. Per aspera ad astra.