On This Episode
Former astronaut, special adviser to SpaceX, and professor at the University of Southern California’s Viterbi School of Engineering
Co-Founder and Executive Director Emeritus for The Planetary Society
Chief Scientist / LightSail Program Manager for The Planetary Society
Planetary Radio Host and Producer for The Planetary Society
Astronaut and former SpaceX director of space operations Garrett Reisman returns to help us celebrate and appreciate the just-completed first crewed mission by a Crew Dragon capsule. Then we settle in with Planetary Society Executive Director Emeritus Lou Friedman for great stories from his new memoir, Planetary Adventures: From Moscow to Mars. Chase Chief Scientist Bruce Betts down the rotating black hole and get ready for the Perseid meteor shower in this week’s What’s Up.
- Your Guide to Crew Dragon's First Astronaut Flight
- 20 May 2020 Planetary Radio: Crew Dragon Deep Dive with Astronaut Garrett Reisman
- SpaceX Dragon
- NASA Commercial Crew Program
- Planetary Adventures: From Moscow to Mars
- Slava Linkin, 1937-2019
- The Downlink
This week's prizes:
This week's question:
What was the only completely unintended splashdown of a spacecraft carrying humans?
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, August 12th at 8am Pacific Time. Be sure to include your name and mailing address.
Last week's question:
The stereo camera atop the mast on the Perseverance Mars rover is called Mastcam-Z because it is a mast-mounted camera with zoom capability. Your challenge is to create an acronym that contains all letters in that name!
The winner will be revealed next week.
Question from the 22 July space trivia contest:
Karl Schwarzschild solved the Einstein field equations for the geometry of empty space-time around a non-rotating, uncharged, axially-symmetric black hole with a quasi-spherical event horizon. Who first solved those equations with all those conditions except for a rotating black hole? (Phew.)
New Zealander Roy Kerr solved the Einstein field equations for the geometry of empty space-time around a rotating, uncharged, axially-symmetric black hold with a quasi-spherical event horizon, naturally.
Mat Kaplan: As Crew Dragon triumphs, we enjoy Planetary Adventures with Lou Friedman, this week on Planetary Radio.
Speaker 2: There it is, the first view from the WB-57 airplane. We have that come back with Bob and Doug. Visual, two drogues out. Splashdown.
Speaker 3: As you can see on your screen, we have visual confirmation for splash down.
Speaker 2: Space X [inaudible 00:00:37]. We see splashdown and the mains cut.
Speaker 3: Dragon Endeavour has returned home. NASA astronauts, Bob and Doug-
Speaker 2: And on behalf of the SpaceX and NASA teams, welcome back to planet Earth and thanks for flying Space X.
Mat Kaplan: The splashdown of Crew Dragon Endeavor marking the end of Demo Mission 2, and the return of astronauts, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley from the International Space Station.
Mat Kaplan: Welcome, I'm Mat Kaplan of the Planetary Society with more of a human adventure across our solar system and beyond. I was one of the millions who watched, worried and celebrated on Sunday, August 2nd, so was Garrett Reisman. The astronaut and former Space X Director of Space Operations is back with an inside view of this success. Then I've got another treat for you, the Founding Executive Director of the Planetary Society, Louis Friedman has collected some of his best stories in a new book, Planetary Adventures and he'll share several with us. All that and Bruce Betts?
Mat Kaplan: But wait, there's more, specifically a look at the most recent edition of the Downlink, the great weekly newsletter from the Planetary Society headlines in a moment, but the Downlink also offers facts worth sharing like this one, the total cost of NASA's Perseverance Mars rover mission now on its way to the red planet is what Americans spend on their pets every 10 days. And Perseverance is doing just fine after a couple of minor hiccups as it races along, accompanied by the UAE's Hope, and China's Tianwen-1. Japan's Hayabusa2 won't be done when it drops off samples from asteroid Ryugu in December. The JAXA space agency will redirect the probe to one of two asteroids. And here's some kind of record, the latest of Russia's Progress cargo delivery ships reached the ISS just over three hours after its launch. Top that, Amazon. All this and more comes your way every Friday at planetary.org/downlink.
Mat Kaplan: Did you catch Garrett Reisman when we talked with him in May a few days before the launch of Demo Mission 2? Garrett lived on the International Space Station for four months in 2008, and then returned to space on Space Shuttle Atlantis in 2010, making two space walks. He's now a professor of astronautical engineering at the University of Southern California. But during nine years at Space X, he rose quickly to director of space operations with responsibility for all Dragon spacecraft, whether they were carrying cargo or preparing to carry men and women. The job included development of mission control center operations, staffing, training, human control interfaces in the capsule and life support. So do you think he would have missed Sunday's splashdown? Less than 24 hours later Garrett rejoined me for this brief celebratory and very illuminating conversation. You'll hear him mention Super Dracos. Those are the small but powerful rocket engines that are integrated with the Dragon capsule and were used to decelerate it from orbit.
Mat Kaplan: Garrett, welcome back and congratulations.
Garrett Reisman: Thanks Man. I'm still smiling from yesterday.
Mat Kaplan: I bet.
Garrett Reisman: Yeah.
Mat Kaplan: And you have every right. Where were you when this new Endeavour returned to Earth on Sunday?
Garrett Reisman: I was up at our place up in the Pacific Northwest, and we had the family up here for summer vacation and I was doing the broadcast for Discovery Channel and Science Channel. And so I was watching it live on a big monitor that they sent me and providing commentary along with Leland Melvin, Mike Massimino, and a couple other experts. So it was great to watch, but it was also I had a job to do, and in a way I kind of welcomed that because it was a welcome distraction. Otherwise, I think I would have been a total nervous wreck and not just mostly a nervous wreck.
Mat Kaplan: Three of our favorite astronauts, but you're the one of those three who had the closest ties to this. I hate asking this question, but I don't see any way around it this time. How did it feel, first of all, to see the mission completed so successfully, and was it white-knuckle time as you saw that capsule returning to Earth?
Garrett Reisman: One by one, there is a sequence of events and each one of them were things that cause for concern or trepidation on my behalf. So the first was separation of the trunk. That's a very critical thing. When I was up on the space station my commander, Peggy Whitson and Yuri Malenchenko and So-yeon Yi came back and they had a failed separation event. The Soyuz does something very similar, and theirs failed, and that was a very hazardous thing. They were lucky that it had a happy ending. So I was nervous about that. And then of course you have the deorbit burn and then you have to close the nose cone, and then you have to go through entry and the aerothermal regime, the heating and also they aero dynamic forces and a craft.
Garrett Reisman: This is the first time we brought humans back in a capsule that wasn't actually symmetric. And what I mean by that is, if you spin it about one axis like a top, all other capsules, think about an Apollo capsule, Mercury, Gemini, if you spun it, as it goes round and round, it would look exactly the same, but Dragon doesn't do that. It's not actually symmetric. It has those bumpouts for the pods for the Super Dracos.
Garrett Reisman: That complicates things. It complicates the flow field around it. And it makes it harder to predict exactly what's going to happen. So we did tons of homework and we tried it on Demo-1, but still that was a cause for some white-knuckle moments. And once that all went well, then you got to get the parachutes out. You got to go through the six minutes where you're in the dark and then the parachutes got to come out. You got to get the drogues and the mains, and then you still have to splash down and make sure that the thing doesn't get damaged when it hits the water at 15 miles an hour. And then you got to get it on the boat.
Garrett Reisman: So one by one, everything went as good as it possibly could have gone. And so I started feeling better and better and better. And then by the time they got Bob and Doug out of the hatch, then I was pretty elated. But yeah, it was a roller coaster ride for me too.
Mat Kaplan: It's the level of elation that I felt as well. And I'm not nearly as closely allied to what just took place as you are. But I think there are probably millions of us across the country who were feeling that tension and that relief and that thrill when it did splash down and suddenly was surrounded by boats or very soon afterwards surrounded unexpectedly by, well, we can hope that they were well-wishers.
Mat Kaplan: I'll tell you the most nervous moments for me, I mean, they always have been, that period during the blackout when all that plasma is just preventing communication, but then also when the drogues shoots came out. It was so thrilling to be able to watch those pop up out of this capsule as it descended, it was just spectacular video.
Garrett Reisman: Yeah. I mean, I think a lot of us were kind of thinking about the scene in Apollo 13 when they were all anxiously waiting for the blackout period to end. And then you see the parachutes, they cut to the parachutes coming out. And it was just like this. So the music was missing. We needed to score it better. If we had some really dramatic music when those parachutes ... it would have been even better, but I'll take it. And you mentioned the boats and I got to say I was really disappointed to see that. That was very irresponsible. Not only because they could have been hurt because there's lots of toxic ... There's hydrazine on that Dragon.
Mat Kaplan: Yeah.
Garrett Reisman: And if there was a major leak or something, they could potentially be severely hurt, but more than that, that's putting themselves in danger. If there was an emergency and we needed to get Bob and Doug out in the water and couldn't wait to get them onto the boat, if there's a medical emergency or something was going wrong with the capsule, if it was damaged on entry, if it was sinking or something, we had to get them. All those things that fortunately we did not have to contend with yesterday and hopefully we never have to contend with, but if we did and they interfered with the professionals that are trying to help the crew, I would be irate at those people.
Garrett Reisman: Look, Space X and NASA and the Coast Guard have all addressed this issue in the past 24 hours. I think we'll see much better security provisions next time. And hopefully this won't happen again.
Mat Kaplan: I'm sure of it. All right. So there's one lesson that has already been learned, but would you say that there are other lessons from the entire Crew Dragon experience and how Space X approached this for developers of future crewed spacecraft?
Garrett Reisman: Oh yes. I'm looking forward to seeing the debriefs once there's a chance to really fully analyze the mission and Bob and Doug have a chance to give their debrief and see what their top recommendations are. So we will definitely learn a lot from this test flight. Not only from the comments of the crew, but also just from all the wealth of data that we got back from the vehicle itself. And the great thing about Space X is they're super good at looking at all that. And not only trying to see where there might be signs of something precursors or signs that, hey, this is something that's not going as it should, but also just looking for ways that we can make it better.
Garrett Reisman: Space X is really good at believing in continuously improving things, making things better, making things safer, learning and improving. And so all that will happen. But if you take a bigger picture and just say, "Hey, what's the biggest lesson that we take out of this whole experience?" The biggest lesson is that this public, private partnership model works. I think that any doubt, once Bob and Doug stepped out onto the deck of that ship, any doubt remaining as to whether or not this model is appropriate I think is finally gone. And that's a big thing because like 10 years ago, that was far from a foregone conclusion. And there were many, many, many people who thought that frankly this was a mistake.
Mat Kaplan: When I tweeted out my congratulations yesterday, I included in that Lori Garver, former Deputy Administrator of NASA and all the other folks at NASA who took a lot of flack beginning 10 years ago, because they believed in this program and have a right to be as proud of it. Maybe almost as proud as you and the folks at Space X, I would think.
Garrett Reisman: Oh no, absolutely. I mean those early proponents, I would say people like Lori, absolutely, Phil McAlister who's been at this tenaciously from the beginning. Alan Lindenmoyer who really ... because if it weren't for the success of the cargo program that he ran, none of this would've happened. The cargo program was the demo flight, if you will, for the crew program. And if we didn't have good success during the cargo program, then it would have been way too easy for the naysayers to shut down this whole approach. So Alan and Bill Gerstenmaier who when he was in charge stuck with it when there were plenty of people saying that we shouldn't. So there are a bunch of heroes at NASA many of whom kind of fly under the radar and don't get the ... Like you said, they should get just as much recognition for the successes as Elon and Gwynne and all the people at Space X who rightfully deserve a lot of credit too, but let's not forget that people who swam against the streaming and made this happen.
Mat Kaplan: I am so glad that you've mentioned all of that and those individuals and the rest of the folks that we haven't actually named.
Garrett Reisman: Exactly. And by the way I got a point, whenever I start naming names, I'm going to forget somebody deserving.
Mat Kaplan: It's like when you accept your Academy Award.
Garrett Reisman: Right. And I'm just talking off the top of my head, so if I forgot somebody really important, I apologize.
Mat Kaplan: So it's gone from that early challenging period to now, when I heard so many people over the weekend including NASA Administrator, Bridenstine, who of course has been very supportive of this as well, who have called this the dawn of a new era in human space flight. Do you agree?
Garrett Reisman: Absolutely. For a number of reasons. So I've already talked about the importance of this model and what it can mean for NASA going forward to continue to use this model as we looked for Artemis going to the moon, and with the human landing system, that big part of Artemis is being done as a public private partnership. So that's already underway. I think potentially this model would work really well for the Department of Defense, it could be a huge beneficiary of taking the same kind of approach as opposed to traditional cost plus contracts where you get your billion dollar toilet seats that we all remember from the past. But it's more than that. It's much more than that, because part of this new model means that that spacecraft, the Dragon, the Falcon 9 rocket that launched it, the boat that went out, the whole recovery team, the boat and all the people in the fast boats and the helicopters, none of those assets are owned by NASA. And that's remarkable, and they're not operated by NASA.
Garrett Reisman: The control room was in Hawthorne, those were all Space X employees. The people on the boat that did all the work were Space X employees. There were NASA people observing and assisting, but that capability now end to end exists. So what that means is Space X can now go make another Dragon, another Falcon 9, or even reuse this one and go fly people into space who are not NASA astronauts. And that's why this is really potentially the beginning of a whole new age, because now we're talking about real extension of space travel to the general population.
Garrett Reisman: Now, when I say general population, what I really mean are rich people. Okay. Let me be clear about that. Your average Joe is not going to be able to pay for a ticket on Dragon. We're talking about tens of millions of dollars to buy a ticket. But there are suborbital opportunities coming right down the pipe from Blue Origin and from Virgin Galactic even sooner I think. Now we're talking a couple of hundred thousands. So now it's getting a little bit more reasonable.
Garrett Reisman: In my mind is kind of like what happened in the aviation industry, in the airline industry. In the very beginning those first airlines are like Ford Trimotors. So they were like corrugated tin sided held together with baling wire and chewing gum. But the only people who were able to afford to fly on the airlines were millionaires and movie stars. They would dress up in black tie to get on those things to fly from Burbank to Las Vegas or something. Right?
Mat Kaplan: Uh-huh (affirmative)
Garrett Reisman: And now today we have Southwest and Jet Blue and now everybody, at least when there's not a pandemic going on, could just buy a ticket and go. So I think we're on that same trajectory in space, and it's just this question of time. So, yes, when I say tourism is starting for the general public, it's not really the general public, it's rich people, but the price will come down and we'll get better at this. And it'll become more economical. And I do believe that this is the beginnings of opportunities for everybody, one day who wants to go to space to just buy a ticket and go, and I think that'd be great.
Mat Kaplan: I'm saving my pennies. In the meantime, Garrett, it's great to get inspiration from successful missions like the one we just witnessed. Thank you for returning. Thank you for all your contributions to making this possible. And again, congratulations.
Garrett Reisman: Thank you very much. Seeing, I think it was Theo that came in and ran up to Bob on the stairs of the jet as he was landing in Houston and give him a ... unscripted and uncontrolled running with joy and just hugging his father's legs as he was wobbly coming down the stairs after being up in space for two months. Seeing that is congratulations enough. I don't need anything more. That was priceless.
Mat Kaplan: Astronaut, Professor of Astronautical Engineering and former Space X Director of Space Operations, Garrett Reisman. I'll be right back for some great storytelling by my old boss, Lou Friedman stay with us
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 kickstart 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. 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: Dr. Louis Friedman is one of the co-founders of the Planetary Society and is our Ameritas executive director, a job he had for about three decades before handing it over to Bill Nye. He had a long career at the Jet Propulsion Lab before that, where his work included heading the lab's Mars program. Now he's written a book about some of his most fascinating and even entertaining experiences in the early years of the society. Planetary Adventures from Moscow to Mars is available from page publishing and elsewhere. We've got a link on this week's show page at planetary.org/radio. The mention of Moscow in that title is key as you'll hear in this conversation with Lou we recorded a few days ago.
Mat Kaplan: Lou, I am always glad to welcome you back to Planetary Radio. You were the first guest on this program, what? 17 and a half years ago, I think it is now, more than that and-
Lou Friedman: I thought it was like 55 years ago.
Mat Kaplan: I think so. I think you're closer to the truth. It feels that way anyway. Anyway, it's great to have you back and welcome.
Lou Friedman: Thank you. I'm glad to be here as always.
Mat Kaplan: As I've said, we're here to talk primarily about this new book of yours, Planetary Adventures. Before we get into other details and some of the background of the book, I'd love to start with just one of the wonderful stories that you tell, and then we'll get to some more later. But first, how did you end up in a balloon floating over Lithuania 32 years ago?
Lou Friedman: Yeah, that was a grand adventure. In fact, maybe in some sense, it's the one that tip me off that it was going to be many adventures and they are worth writing about. I think you may remember at least, and certainly longtime Planetary Society members will know that we had a Mars balloon project. It started actually at Caltech with a group of students. Bruce Murray was the prime mover on it. He organized a summer study of it. Jim Burke, who was also involved with the society as our former JPL engineer led the project. We really got interested in the whole concept of ballooning on Mars, which at first we thought was impossible because of the very light atmosphere.
Lou Friedman: So we started studying it with students. It turns out that one of our advisors, Jacques Blamont, who was the chief scientist at the French Space Agency had been studying the ballooning concept. He had actually prepared a Venus balloon to fly. That was part of a Russian mission. The French and the Russians worked on the Venus balloon together. And now they were working on a Mars balloon. And so quickly our work became relevant to both the French Space Agency and the Russians. And we began interacting with them on studies of how a balloon would work and the part that we could do uniquely here it was actually something good for the Planetary Society organized was the test of the idea. To actually test the concept of inflating a balloon in the atmosphere and making some kinds of measurements.
Lou Friedman: So we began conducting some balloon flights as part of this work, and the Russian said, "Well, maybe we could work out a way to test it with our systems here, since we're going to be flying the mission." In a few years they were planning to include a Mars balloon on their Mars mission in the late 1980s. So that's when another colleague of ours, Tom Heinsheimer who's mentioned quite a bit in the book. Tom Heinsheimer is an aerospace engineer of some note here in Southern California, also is a balloonist.
Lou Friedman: And we went over on one of our trips to Russia to talk about cooperation with the Mars balloon with the Russian scientists at the Space Research Institute and with the French scientists coming from the French Space Agency. They said, "Well, could we test it here, and maybe we can work out a test procedure?" And we said, "Well, that's kind of a remarkable idea. Send us what you're thinking of and we'll look into it." And that's where the idea of flying the balloon in a airfield in Lithuania, which was then of course part of the Soviet Union. Several of us went over and were part of this Lithuanian balloon test. The scientific purpose was we were going to use a radar instrument on the balloon to make measurements over the ground. But to be honest with you, that was a bit of a cover to justify the whole reason for doing this adventure, which we knew would get a lot of publicity. It certainly raised a lot of interest among Planetary Society members. I can tell you that in the early '80s, this was our largest fundraiser. We had great members support.
Mat Kaplan: You actually went up in this balloon and it kind of got away from your ground crew and came down on a field. You got to tell this story because I suggested you tell it to our staff, my colleagues at the society the other day, and they were as entertained as I was.
Lou Friedman: Well, the real balloonist, as I mentioned, was Tom Heinsheimer. And so he was directing a lot of this. There was like seven of us from the United States over there. I think there were a couple of French participants and then of course, a large group from Russia. And then of course, the local group in Lithuania who had made all the arrangements. And the place we were using was an airfield. Actually part of the Soviet military. It wasn't a defense establishment so much, but it was an airfield that belonged to the Soviet Defense Department. And we were given instructions, don't leave the perimeter of the base in any way. We got to confine all of our flights to be over the area of the runway.
Lou Friedman: And so after a number of test flights, in which people who were pretty experienced at ballooning went up and we checked out all the equipment and everything, finally Tom said, "We got one flight left to do for the day. It'll be you and me and then Slava Linkin," who was the principal contact on the Russian side, the scientists at the Space Research Institute who was in charge of the whole program there on Mars landers. And Viktor Kerzhanovich who also working in his department and was the actual man who made most of the arrangements for the logistics of the trip.
Lou Friedman: So the four of us got into the gondola and my job was basically, in addition to doing videotaping, was I was also helping to hold this large antenna over the side to allow them to make measurements as we were going over the base. But as soon as we got airborne, Tom started yelling, "Pull the antenna in, pull the antenna in." And I said, "Well, what's the rush?" He said, "Pull it in quickly." So I immediately pulled it in and I realized the rush was that we were headed over the fence at the end of the perimeter of the airfield and the trucks on the ground that were following us, they were honking their horns wildly because they saw where we were headed. And we were going to go over the boundary.
Lou Friedman: Tom and Viktor were laughing because they had already planned it, Slava and I knew nothing about this plan otherwise we would have never allowed such a thing to happen. And sure enough, we went over the boundaries of the airfield across a river, and then we immediately found a flat spot and descend. Well the virtue of being across the river was that there was no way for the trucks to get to us. They had to drive a half an hour down a long windy road to a bridge and then drive over the bridge and then drive a half an hour back. So we knew we had a good hour, hour and a half before anybody who was going to come "rescue us".
Lou Friedman: So turns out there was nothing in the field except a cow tethered on a post. And as soon as we landed, a old woman walking down land. I say old, she was probably younger than I am now, but she was walking down this dark path nearby and looking at us. And she had a young boy about nine years old was excited and came running over and I ... So I told Viktor and Tom, I said, "I'm going to go over and talk to her, explain who we are." I spoke a little Russian. I thought I could do this. "You guys pack up the balloon because they have to get the balloon packed and get all the envelope into the gondola and get everything stowed properly." And I explained in my wonderful Russian capability, because I really speak Russian well that we were a group of scientists working jointly with the Russian Space Agency. We were from America and we were working on going to Mars missions, and we want to use this balloon idea to fly on Mars.
Lou Friedman: So she just nodded and then she took the boy by the hand and they walked away and I said, "Yeah, I told them what's going on." Then the boy came running back and motioned us to follow him. His grandmother, as it turned out, lived in a little one room cabin or was a house, it was her house actually. She was going to feed us and give us something to drink while we were waiting. And we could go in. So we went into this small room and she was really nice. She gave us milk. She had just got it from the cow and she quickly boiled some potatoes. And we were sitting there eating and drinking and now we were talking a little bit in Russian and finally Viktor comes over to me and he says, "What did you tell her?" Well, I explained who we were and why we were working together. Oh, because she thought you said that we had just come from Mars and landed and we're visiting Earth. So I guess my Russian really wasn't so good.
Mat Kaplan: Yeah, I suppose that.
Lou Friedman: Then of course, when they chase team caught up to us, they had to retell the story and we all had a lot of laughs about that.
Mat Kaplan: Listen, that funny story may have kept you out of a Soviet prison for violating the rules that day.
Lou Friedman: Well, it turned out that as everything else in the Soviet Union at the time that we were learning is that there are rules, and then there are people who don't really observe them. And no one was really very concerned about it. It was fine.
Mat Kaplan: Just one of the great stories. And you mentioned some of the great characters that are also sprinkled throughout this book, Jim Burke, who I've had the pleasure of knowing and working with. You dedicate the book to your longtime friend and colleague Slava Linkin. And he does come up throughout the book as well. Why did you dedicate it to him?
Lou Friedman: Slava was very special. When I first met him ... By the way I should mention, the whole idea of working with the Russians was very controversial at the time. It was in the 1980s. The Cold War was raging. Reagan was our president, Andropov was their president. The Soviets had just shot down a Korean airline with American citizens. And in fact an American Congressman onboard. Reagan gave a speech calling the evil empire, boycotting Russian airspace with our aviation. Andropov gave an equally cantankerous speech. It was a very tense time, But the whole notion of international cooperation on space missions was driven by two major factors for the Planetary Society. The first was we were doing nothing in the United States on space. Our administration, the incoming Reagan administration had said they were canceling planetary exploration. They were going to do no missions.
Lou Friedman: In addition, we had no plans for developing any kinds of Mars follow-ons to Viking and all the action was going on in the Soviet Union. They were doing Venus missions. They were doing Mars missions. They were doing a mission to Halley's Comet, which we had tried to get at JPL but again, the US program rejected. And the Russians were even building a space station, which the United States was not doing. So all the action was over there, quite a difference from today. And so it was in part to keep our planetary science community doing interesting things that we wanted to cooperate. And in part, because the whole notion of international cooperation was a segue toward more American participation in planetary missions. And so we had both a planetary goal and an international cooperation goal working together.
Lou Friedman: Roald Sagdeev who was the director of the Space Research Institute. He was a friend of Carl Sagan's and through Carl and a meeting that we had he invited me to come over to Russia and meet people at his institute. And one of the first persons I met was Slava Linkin. Roald said, "Meet this guy. He's working on Mars balloons. He's working on Mars missions. You'll be very interested." Well, I wrote down in my journal, I kept a little journal at the time. I said, "That's strange. He wants me to meet this guy. He must be KGB." And then I find out two years later that Slava after he met me went up to his office and met with his colleague Viktor and said, "This guy Friedman, he's not with NASA. He must be some kind of CIA person."
Mat Kaplan: Of course, yeah.
Lou Friedman: So we each had this kind of initial suspicion about why are we be set up to meet each other. But it turned out that he's a really wonderful guy. And he invited me to his home for dinner. I met his wife and we had several dinners over the course of the early visits at his home. We became close friends and over the years, close to the point where I took my wife on a trip, which is also described in the book a later trip that had to do with another ballooning expedition actually. But we did a camping trip with our friends now, Slava and Nina Linkin drove around Belarus, Russia and Ukraine, camping and staying at their summer dacha. We did that camping trip. They came over to our house and stayed with us here in California and did a camping trip with us in California.
Lou Friedman: So we became the closest of friends and worked many times. And over the years, Planetary Society members got to know him very well, worked on the Mars balloon of course. We worked on the Rover testing. Worked on other missions of cooperation. And it was Slava who actually first proposed that the Planetary Society get involved with the solar sail flight which led of course the solar sail work, which continues today as well. So Slava played a very important part in the development of the Planetary Society and our projects.
Mat Kaplan: And we're going to come back to some of these things you've talked about, including those early solar sail attempts, the flight or attempted flight of Cosmos 1. And I'm going to look up the show. I didn't think to do it before this, but there is at least one episode in which Slava Linkin was my guest on Planetary Radio, and we'll put a link to that show and other relevant stuff on this week's show page at planetary.org/radio.
Lou Friedman: Sadly Slava passed away a little more than a year ago. It was a great loss to us. So we remained friends of course, with Nina and try to talk to her from time to time to keep up. But it was very appropriate to dedicate the book to him.
Mat Kaplan: Two other people that we lost, your co-founders, your partners in beginning the Planetary Society, Bruce Murray, and Carl Sagan. You talked about that this was one of the reasons the three of you started this society to build this bridge across what was still a raging Cold War. I know you were committed to this. Was this also something that they felt strongly about?
Lou Friedman: Well, in a way, it's the reverse. I can remember when we started the Planetary Society, of course our goal was to create an advanced public interest and support for planetary exploration here in the United States. And that was our immediate focus, our first activities were SETI, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, which was then a NASA program and Mars ballooning and search for extrasolar planets at Allegheny observatory way back in the early 1980s. So it was focused very much in the United States, but it was in those early years Carl and Bruce in particular began talking about international cooperation. And I must say, can't express my admiration and my good fortune of having worked with them because they always had an idea that I didn't initially get. And then as soon as we talked for five minutes, I got it and they were right. And the importance of international cooperation and the development of this was something they helped spearhead.
Lou Friedman: It was Carl's initial contact with Roald Sagdeev and Bruce's with Jacques Blamont and the French Space Agency that brought about the first project we talked about, but many others as well. And so, yeah, they were great supporters of this. And that became a dominant theme so much so that in the late 1980s we began playing a role at the ... turned out to reach even the level of attention of the president and Congress in both countries advocating a joint US, Soviet human exploration of Mars as a way of bringing the countries together. There was, I would say, the international aspects and the geopolitical aspects of space science and planetary exploration were very important to the society. And frankly, in my opinion, it's a justification for planetary missions beyond the science. Science alone is not enough to spend hundreds of millions and even billions of dollars on space. It really is, it's geopolitical significance.
Mat Kaplan: And this is something you address also fairly late in the book. Was that effort what came to be called Together to Mars working collaboratively to get to the red planet?
Lou Friedman: Yes, that was a very big part of it. I give a lot of credit in the early 1990s, we had a change of administration. Of course, Dan Goldin came to NASA and he was both a Mars advocate, which was very different than the people who had been before him. He was trying to restore the Mars program. And in fact, he boosted it. Another terrific shout out to a very important person was Wes Huntress who was the head of space science at NASA, and actually conceived the Together to Mars program with Dan to bring Russians and Americans together working on these missions. And Wes, when he retired from NASA a few years later became president of the Planetary Society, I'm glad to say. So I think again, it was a great connection and a great common theme of our '80s and '90s. And into the early 2000 was these international cooperation projects that advanced many goals and certainly had the goal of Mars exploration behind it.
Lou Friedman: The Russian space program collapsed after the end of the Soviet Union. They had very little money for their own missions. They lost a mission to Mars '96 mission that was planned, but they had good science working on good missions. And they were invited to participate in NASA's 1998 missions. And then of course we lost that mission. That mission crashed, the Mars polar lander with two Russian instruments on board, and with the Planetary Society Mars microphone onboard. So we've had our ups and downs in all of these international activities, but they have a common thread that they're moving forward in time, greater and greater ambitions. And of course the joys of exploration always bring a good result.
Mat Kaplan: You bet. Let me take you back to another experience that you talk about in the book. Another project of the Planetary Society, one of these collaborative ones. By the time listeners hear this, a fifth rover should be on its way to Mars, but a lot of people may not know that some of the earliest research that got us to this point was conducted by the Planetary Society and its partners. You mentioned briefly a little bit about this early, early rover work, and I hope you can expand on that. I know it was work that took you to, if not the ends of the Earth then not far from those ends. I'm thinking of, was it Siberia? And I know Death Valley because it was a little before my time, but I know people who were on that trip in addition to you.
Lou Friedman: Yeah, I did. It's hard to believe this, but in fact I was reminiscing with a colleague of mine from JPL just last night. We were laughing about this because in the early 1990s, the planetary science community hated the idea of putting rovers on Mars. They said it is a stupid ... I was at a meeting of all the leading scientists. And this was the unanimous conclusion, if you can believe this. It's just stupid to put a rover on Mars. That's a stunt. All it's going to do is move around aimlessly. And it takes up valuable payload space that we could be using for science instruments.
Mat Kaplan: That's just dumb as putting cameras on Mars.
Lou Friedman: Yeah. So they were really opposed. And there was a few people, mostly engineers who said you're missing the point. This isn't about your science instrument, Mr. Scientist. This is about exploration. This is about discovering new things. And Bruce Murray was of course a leader in that thinking as was Carl and Wes Huntress was a leader in that thinking. A woman at JPL who was head of the Mars program at the time Donna Shirley became Donna [Perato 00:40:51]. She understood it right away and she ended up being the one who got Pathfinder to be included in the American NASA first mission, on the Sojourner Rover on the Pathfinder mission. And what we were doing to promote this was testing Russian rovers first in Russia working with our colleagues over there. We went not to Siberia, as you said, but to Kamchatka where they have volcanic region to test rovers.
Lou Friedman: While we were there we said, "Wow, this was a huge success. Why don't you come to America and we'll test it in Death Valley." And they said, "Oh, okay. We'll plan to spend the whole summer." And I said, "No, no, we're not going to spend the whole summer in Death Valley. We're going to do this in two weeks." And I'll never forget this question. They said, "No, no, no. When we play on a rover expedition, we have to allow for a lot of contingencies, weather and logistics and everything. What if it rains?" Don't worry, not going to rain. Rain is not an issue. And logistics is not an issue. It's only a six hour drive from LA. It's not like we have to take all this stuff across the country like you do here. So we arranged a two week trip to Death Valley for Mars rover testing. And the result of that trip was we got, of course, enormous publicity and enormous attention, not just with our membership, but news media.
Lou Friedman: It got the attention of Dan Goldin, the new administrator at NASA. He on a trip out to JPL asked us if we could show him this Marskod, which we still had in Pasadena. Well, JPL wasn't interested. They weren't going to invite us up there, but we went and rented an area near the Rose Bowl and did a rover test down there. And then of course when NASA got interested, JPL got interested and the rest is history. We did finally succeed in convincing the science community that rovers should be on Mars missions and they were, and Pathfinder and Sojourner and then in Spirit and Opportunity, Curiosity, and now Perseverance, not just the United States.
Lou Friedman: Sadly in a way the Russian Marskod never got there. Of course, the end of the Soviet Union ended their effort but it lives on actually. The Chinese rover that's going to be launched tomorrow, by the way, as we speak-
Mat Kaplan: Yeah, as we speak.
Lou Friedman: ... is a derivative of the Russian Rover. And the ESA Mars mission that was postponed from this year to 2022 also includes Russian landing system. So Russians are still involved, but they're doing it cooperatively with Europe and China.
Mat Kaplan: It's a great story, one of many in this book. It wasn't all camping out in difficult conditions. How did you end up helping to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Sputnik 1 launch?
Lou Friedman: Well, as I mentioned, the principal organizer of all of this and a man who anticipated Paris Troika and the changes ending the Soviet Union before they happened was Roald Sagdeev who also by the way became years and years later in the late '90s a member of the board of the Planetary Society. Sagdeev was always thinking ahead. And we had developed a very strong working relationship at the Planetary Society with a senator from Hawaii by the name of Spark Matsunaga, who was an advocate of something called the International Space Year. This was going to be in 1992, 1993. And it was promoting both a pan Pacific cooperation, but also broad international cooperation. And he organized an International Space Year Conference in Hawaii. Sagan went and I think Bruce Murray went, I went, several Russian participants including Sagdeev and of course, many American scientists were there all talking about the possibilities for exploring Mars together.
Lou Friedman: While we were there, Sagdeev comes over to me and says, "Lou, take a walk with me out into the ocean. I want to do a little swimming and could you accompany me?" And I said, sure. And so we walked out together and then when we were away from earshot from anybody, he says, "I've done you a lot of favors over the years, I want you to do one for me." He said, "I just got approval for a 30th anniversary celebration in Moscow. We have an unlimited budget basically to pay the travel expenses, but it's only four months from now, and we want to invite lots of American participation. We want to invite all the Apollo astronauts. We don't know how to do this. We've never done anything like this in international cooperation. It's a new day for open Soviet participation."
Lou Friedman: So I said, "Well, sure we can help." And we had email in those days. Primitive email, I should say. It was a Western Union style email, but it worked. We began sending emails to all of our colleagues and to the Apollo astronauts and many friends we had developed over the years, inviting them to go to Russia for this 30th anniversary celebration. And one story I tell in the book is that Soviets charted a flight, Aeroflot big jumbo jets. And they told us all to meet at the airport in Washington, DC and they would fly to Moscow. And then when we got the Moscow, they tell us what hotel we were in, and they had made all arrangements and return tickets and everything like that. But one of the Apollo astronauts, actually Richard Gordon who flew on Apollo 12, he comes up to me during the flight and he says, "Friedman, if anybody had ever told me that I would be on a Soviet airliner flying a one way trip into Russia with no idea of where I'm going or how I'm getting back, I would have punched him out."
Lou Friedman: And I stood up I said, "You want to hit me?" He said, "No, I'll trust you for a little while longer." But we did. And we ended up that celebration was a milestone. It was remarkable by the people who did attend, both American and Russian space officials. We had visits to the Soviet training site at Star City where the astronauts trained. It was all a first-class celebration, very international cooperation. And I think it was an important milestone in advancing those space projects. Of course, what none of us knew at the time was that it was sort of the downslide of the Soviet Union communism was ending, and their active participation in space ambitions was also going to end.
Mat Kaplan: Just very briefly, because you mentioned early email, weren't you responsible for sort of bringing email to the Soviet Union or at least to Roald Sagdeev and his team, because you sent over an Apple computer?
Lou Friedman: Yeah, in the early '80s we began thinking of how we can help in some of these cooperative projects. American scientists and Soviet scientists when they communicated with each other had to do through a very cumbersome telex procedure, or international operators, or just regular mail. There was no good communication. But the internet was working at the time and we had suggested email. There was a couple of groups that were working on international emails. We partnered with one of them and we thought we could bring computers over to put in the Space Research Institute in Moscow.
Lou Friedman: Now, I should emphasize especially important for your listeners to know this and all the Planetary Society members that everything we did was legal. We did not hack computers or steal them or sneak them in. [inaudible 00:49:03]. When we got a computer to take to the Soviet Union, we got an export control license, duly signed by the state department and the commerce department. We went through all the procedures governing export control. When set up our office in Moscow, we had a little office with computers, we observed all the procedures. And in fact, we ended up over the years even talking to American officials over those communication lines, because in some ways we were ahead of many of the official channels. And in fact, I can tell just one story, if I can divert for a minute.
Mat Kaplan: Sure.
Lou Friedman: When the Russian Mars '96 mission failed, it was launched from Baikonur and the launch was not successful. Americans and international people who were tracking it thought that they noticed that the debris was headed for Australia. And they were a lot of concern because among the pieces of debris would be the plutonium in the nuclear power source for the Lander. That was a tiny amount of plutonium. It would have fit in my pocket, but it was still radioactive material. And the chief scientist on the Russian Mars Lander was my friend Slava Linkin. After the failed launch, I called back to NASA and was giving them information that we had on the flight. And Dan Goldin asked me if I had any information about this plutonium nuclear power source because American officials were very concerned about it. They knew it was going to be landing, and by that time they knew in the Pacific Ocean and they wanted information about it.
Lou Friedman: And I said, "Well, no, I don't know much about it, Dan, but the man who is in charge of it is standing right next to me because I'm at his home in Moscow." And I put Slava Linkin on the phone then, and he then patched in some people actually in the Pentagon and we ended up having a three way conversation from Moscow giving them firsthand information that they found useful in understanding what was going on.
Mat Kaplan: Just another service of the Planetary Society.
Lou Friedman: Right. We were involved, and I think it's important to know that. It was one of my joys as I look back on the Planetary Society and of course, very proud of what we achieved in creating the society. But it wasn't just creating the society and it wasn't just creating nice science missions, everybody's doing that now. It was creating these forces that really, I think had significance in personal relationships and international relationships and cooperative ventures. How much more you can achieve when you cooperate like that.
Mat Kaplan: Yeah. That brings up something I'll take a little bit out of order here because you mentioned this in the book. Why do you think the International Space Station deserves a Nobel Prize?
Lou Friedman: Well, it's interesting because Carl Sagan and I testified to Congress, we have a joint statement at the Planetary Society board wrote. And we didn't testify against the space station, we testified that we were for a space station worth the cost. And the one that was being built we didn't think was it because it didn't really advance exploration of the solar system. It didn't advance exploration beyond the boundaries of Earth. And part, it was a disappointment to see that the space station really didn't advance even the capabilities for human space flight out of Earth orbit to anywhere. But what has turned out to be enormously important beyond anything we could have imagined was that the International Space Station became a bridge between the first United States and the Soviet Union, but then the whole world, Europe, Russia, post Soviet Russia. It's remarkable with 14 countries, I think, or maybe more even that are participating in it.
Lou Friedman: It's worked through the end of communism. It's worked through change of it's administration. It's worked in the glory days of optimism and the first years of post Soviet Russia, and in the gloomy days with the Putin relationship that we now have it continues to work. It's been enormously important to the American program. Without the Russian human space flight program and the International Space Station, we would have not been able to continue our servicing of the space station when we ran into our shuttle problems here. And remarkable what the space station has achieved in bringing not science to the world, that can be argued, but international and geopolitical relationships that it has forged. And for that reason, I think it does deserve a Nobel Peace Prize.
Mat Kaplan: You already mentioned plutonium. Speaking of nuclear stuff, how'd you end up spending time with Dr. Strangelove himself, Edward Teller.
Lou Friedman: We did do a ... this was a trip that I talk about to Chelyabinsk-70, which was then a secret Soviet facility somewhat equivalent to our Los Alamos, the place where they manufacture hydrogen bombs. It's east of the Urals. And as the Soviet Union ended, it was interesting, the nuclear scientists there realized that their mission had ended and they considered their mission a great success. They had built this mutually assured destruction capability and prevented a third world war. And so they were very proud from a nationalistic point of view that they had basically kept peace in the world, and they felt optimistic about the things they could achieve, but they knew the things they were working on, namely nuclear bombs, that program was ending. At the same time, there was an enormous amount of interest in these asteroids whose orbits come close to the Earth, potentially hazardous asteroids.
Lou Friedman: And so some of them and some of our nuclear scientists began proposing that the way to deflect a near Earth asteroid that might destroy the Earth would be to nuke them. Basically to take up a nuclear bomb and divert them. And now that does sound a little bit like Dr. Strangelove in some ways. And it is a dangerous idea because you basically have to have nuclear weapons at the ready, and then nuclear fallout would be dangerous even in space. But the fact is, and even today with all the knowledge we have and the advancement of this subject, there's really no quicker way to divert incoming nearer earth object, a potentially hazardous one that would hit the Earth. If we discovered one that was going to hit the Earth in a year or two or three, that's probably the only way we could do it.
Lou Friedman: And of course, if you want to study something like that, you want to do it internationally. And so an international conference was proposed. Now, ironically, it was in Chelyabinsk-70, which I say ironically because 20 years later an asteroid did hit the Earth. In fact, caused the only injury we know of to anybody on Earth was by an asteroid that came in and hit in Chelyabinsk, that city and it's explosion in the atmosphere broke windows which ended up cutting people on the street. And those are the injuries that we know of that were caused by an incoming near Earth object.
Lou Friedman: This time that trip was secret. And so seven American planetary scientists went, along with a couple of scientists from Livermore Laboratory, including the famous Edward Teller, the inventor of the American hydrogen bomb. And he was extraordinarily interested of course, to have this rare opportunity, in fact unique opportunity to see the Soviet nuclear facility which all of his life he had worked against. So I went on a trip with Edward Teller to Chelyabinsk-70 to see the Soviet nuclear facilities in Chelyabinsk-70. And it was remarkable. The common goal was working on planetary defense. It was the beginnings of the Planetary Society involvement in the subject of planetary defense.
Mat Kaplan: Which continues of course today. I got to take you back before we finish to a day in July of 2001. I was with a very excited group in the old carriage house behind what was then the society's Pasadena headquarters. Where were you?
Lou Friedman: 2001 we had mentioned that the Russians came to us with the idea piggybacking on their development of an inflatable reentry shield. They could build inflatable booms for a solar sail. And they would launch it on what was a converted submarine launched ICBM. And so it was a free launch. So this made the whole idea practical, and that's what led to the Cosmos 1 project. I need to shout out to the supporters that enabled us to do that project, not only the many members of the society, many donors and including especially the widow of Carl Sagan, Ann Druyan. Her backing and the backing of her venture at Cosmos Studios enabled us to do Cosmos 1. So Ann came up to me and said, "Could we witness that launch?" This was a test flight that wasn't a launch of the Cosmos 1 sail.
Lou Friedman: What the Russians had come up with was an idea to test the deployment of the sails in a suborbital flight that would take off from a submarine, launched ballistic missile, fly over the Arctic into Kamchatka and land there. And they would recover the payload. And if we could supply a television camera and the sail material, we would recover the film of the sail deployment. So I and my colleagues who I was working with, Planetary Society. We went down to Best Buy here in Pasadena and bought six video cameras for the mission. We took those over and we got sail material that was just donated by a company in Northern California, Orcon, and we supplied the sail material.
Lou Friedman: And I said, "Ann Druyan wants to know if we can actually observe this launch." And they said, "Well, no, that's impossible. It's on a Navy ship. It's going to go out into the Bering Sea. The only way to observe it would be on a Russian military vehicle." I said, "Well, can't you arrange that?" Well, it turns out they did. For that launch while you were in Pasadena, I was on a ship that was steaming into the Bering Sea to observe a submarine launch ballistic missile firing by the Russians. I bought a satellite telephone so I could communicate with you all back here in Pasadena and witnessed the launch and narrate it. It was quite an exciting activity.
Lou Friedman: There was a problem with that flight and the payload was never recovered. And in fact, there was a problem with the Volna launch vehicle. And I tell that story in the book too and it's not a pretty story. Basically, that ballistic missile had defects in it that were not revealed until after it failed, not just, I mean, on the test flight, but on the actual flight of Cosmos 1 itself. And we actually lost that vehicle which was the first solar sail spacecraft ever built. We lost that vehicle in the Arctic as well.
Mat Kaplan: And yet it set us on course for LightSail, a project that you also began and ran, managed. It is a great story, one of so many wonderful stories and terrific players in this book. By the way, I should mention that I think the name of the chapter that this story is told in is, There's No Such Thing as a Free Launch.
Lou Friedman: Yeah. Right. And that's the truth. By the way, and even in the decision, my reaction to the Cosmos 1 launch was, that's it, let's give up. We're not going to be first anymore. By that point, we knew the Japanese were building the IKAROS solar sail, and we certainly weren't going to work with that same Russian launch vehicle group. But then NASA called up, they had built something called a nano sail. They had also had a failure. So NASA has failure too, it's not just Russians. And the NASA failure. In fact, that was not just a NASA failure it was a Space X failure. The first Falcon launch carrying the nano sail failed. And they said, "We have a spare spacecraft but we have no money to develop it for another mission. Would the Planetary Society like this nano sail's spare spacecraft?" And I said, yes. And then the bureaucracy took over and spent about eight months trying to figure out how to do that. And they said, "We can't take yes for an answer."
Lou Friedman: But by that point Jim Cantrell, who was working with us and Tom Svitek, who head the company Stellar Exploration. So we don't need to have that spare space craft. We can build our own, we can build it better. And that's what led us to build LightSail Svitek's company, Stellar Exploration built it. As you know, the result was wonderful. Ann Druyan was a terrific supporter. Helped us raise money for the initial funding of the development of LightSail. Ultimately, the final product was given by other donations as well, and our members came in with great supporters. We had some wonderful supporters, including donors who are still active with the society making LightSail the success that it's been.
Mat Kaplan: And the rest is history, as they say. I don't know that you've slowed down very much in your years as our Ameritas executive director. And so before I let you go, I hope that you can say something about at least one of your current projects, the one that you're working on with another long time colleague, another Slava, Slava Turyshev of JPL and Caltech.
Lou Friedman: Yes. People don't believe this. They think that I'm a solar sail advocate. I'm actually not.
Mat Kaplan: Could've fooled me.
Lou Friedman: I'm not a technology person, I'm a missions person. I want to make missions happen that are special. I got into solar sailing because the JPL idea was to rendezvous with Halley's Comet which would not have been possible any other way.
Mat Kaplan: A project that you led.
Lou Friedman: Yeah. And then I got into it with the Cosmos 1, because it was a chance to be the first solar sail. And now I'm into another one, the idea that we can actually go out to 550 AU and beyond, and image an exoplanet and I mean, high resolution image, something we have no way of doing now using the solar gravity lens. That is the magnification of starlight as it goes around the sun by the bending of light, an Einstein prediction and an Einstein discovery that starlight bends when it goes around or light bends when it goes around a massive object and forms a lens, and that solar gravity lens out there at 600+ AU could be used to actually image the surface of an exoplanet.
Lou Friedman: So Slava Turyshev and I have been working on this for a number of years. He's received some NASA advanced concepts funding on it, and we now have a way of even coming up with a smaller version of it that will rendezvous with an interstellar object that is also an object that flies through the system when it's discovered, and I'm working on a paper right now that we plan to submit this year to explain that mission and hopefully develop some scientific interest in it.
Mat Kaplan: You mentioned NIAC.
Lou Friedman: NASA Innovation and Advanced Concepts. Right.
Mat Kaplan: Yeah. Which we've reported on several times on the show. In fact, you've been heard on some of those shows. This project, they obviously had some faith in it because they awarded you a very rare NIAC Phase III grant or awarded Slava, I should say, but you're a part of the project.
Lou Friedman: Yes. They got the first, not the first, but they got the Phase III grant, which is a $2 million, brings it up to a much higher level of attention and also allows us to develop something that maybe we can fly in a few years, a technology demonstration mission to fly in the inner solar system and approve the concept of small sats in solar sails for deep space voyages.
Mat Kaplan: So the adventure continues, Lou.
Lou Friedman: Doesn't take me to exotic lands anymore. That's part because you may not know this, I'm sure none of our listeners would even suspect it, but I'm getting older. And also we've had this other thing that it's gotten a little bit of attention, the pandemic which ... So I'm doing all my work sitting at a desk, but then again, maybe it's a good time to be retired. I'm not affected by the cold, but I just sit at home doing what I do anyway.
Mat Kaplan: Well, that still leaves regretting that we hadn't had this terrific conversation sitting across from each other at Planetary Society headquarters in Pasadena. I look forward to when we're all vaccinated and we can do that again, Lou, and maybe we can talk more about this NIAC project that might just ... sounds like it could with some necessary advances give us a first closeup look at the surface of a promising exoplanet.
Lou Friedman: Be glad to do that, Mat.
Mat Kaplan: We've been talking with Lou Friedman, one of the co-founders of the Planetary Society out of JPL. He ran the Mars program there, as you heard. He also headed an ambitious project to fly a giant solar sail to Halley's Comet. He is our Ameritas executive director. That was a job that he had for about three decades before handing it over to Bill Nye. While he was in that job, he hired me and he allowed me to start this little show called Planetary Radio. Thank you, Lou.
Lou Friedman: Well, I will say it is one of the best decisions I ever made.
Mat Kaplan: Well, I appreciate that and I'll be sure to tell Bill you said so. See you soon.
Lou Friedman: Okay. Thank you, Mat. Good to talk to you.
Mat Kaplan: By the way about Lou's advocacy of a Nobel Peace Prize for the International Space Station. Did you know there's a real effort underway #NobelforISS.
Mat Kaplan: Bruce and What's Up are next. Time for What's Up on Planetary Radio. Bruce Betts is the chief scientist of the Planetary Society and he is here to make some waves, some gravity waves. Black hole gravity waves. We'll get to that in a few minutes when we talk about the contest that we put in front of you a couple of weeks ago. But right now what I want to say is welcome back.
Bruce Betts: Thank you. Good to be back.
Mat Kaplan: What's up there? I'm not even trying for the comment anymore.
Bruce Betts: Well, try for some meteors. We got the Perseid meteor shower peaking on August 11th and 12th with increased activity several days before and after. You'll get the most meteors after midnight, but it's a trade off because that's also when a quarter moon will be up interfering with some of the meteor visibility. So just pick a good time, go up and stare at the sky and keep those clouds away.
Bruce Betts: And we still have great planets to check out, whether you see meteor or not. We've gotten the evening sky, in the evening Southwest Jupiter, super bright. Saturn to its left looking yellowish. And then in the pre-dawn, we've got Venus super bright over in the East. If you look to its right, you'll see Orion. And in the middle of the night, we've got Mars coming up in the East and the moon will be joining Mars, very close to Mars on the 9th and Venus on the 15th.
Bruce Betts: Onto this week in space history. 1990, the Magellan spacecraft went into orbit above Venus and started its radar mapping that would give us all sorts of new insights into Venus. Did you know it was a Planetary Society contest that led to the name Magellan?
Mat Kaplan: You know what? I did not know that. It's before my time with the society anyway, nothing else is before my time.
Bruce Betts: And then something you do remember, hopefully, 2012. I can't believe it. You can't believe it was eight years ago Curiosity landed on Mars.
Mat Kaplan: You're right, I don't believe that.
Bruce Betts: We had a big event. It couldn't have possibly been that long ago.
Mat Kaplan: I was jumping up and down. Yeah. I was in the back making sure your microphone stayed on.
Bruce Betts: Thank you by the way. I meant to thank you about that for the last eight years. Speaking of microphones, this microphone will hear me say, random space effect. Yeah.
Mat Kaplan: And I'm still keeping your mic on.
Bruce Betts: I know, I appreciate that. Talking about splash downs, the first to successfully splashdown after space flight, monkeys Able and Baker in 1959 aboard Jupiter AM-18.
Mat Kaplan: And they were monkeys. This is before the chimps like Ham started going in the Mercury capsule.
Bruce Betts: Yeah.
Mat Kaplan: They were what? I think they were spider monkeys.
Bruce Betts: Now you're testing me. I know they were two different kinds of monkeys. I believe one was a squirrel monkey, and I don't remember what the other one was. I apologize.
Mat Kaplan: Okay.
Bruce Betts: I'm so ashamed.
Mat Kaplan: We'll go with squirrel and spider. What the heck? I'm sure we're going to hear it from somebody who corrects us.
Bruce Betts: Yeah. There's no way we could figure it out. So we move on instead to the trivia contest. I went deep into relativity in black holes. Good old Karl Schwarzschild solved the Einstein field equations for the geometry of empty space time around a non rotating uncharged axially symmetric black hole with a quasi-physical event horizon. I asked you who first solved those equations for the same conditions, except for a rotating black hole and note, same conditions would have implied uncharged. With all of that insanity, how did we do, Mat?
Mat Kaplan: I'm just so shocked to say that the number of entrance was somewhat depressed this time.
Bruce Betts: Like fewer entries or just thinking about this stuff made people depressed?
Mat Kaplan: I think some of them. Most of them were depressed, which black holes tend to do that to me as well. But yes, the numbers as well. Not a bit surprising. So kudos to those of you who made it through. There are actually, I think it's safe to say, more than I might've expected for a question like this. I'll get to our winner in a moment, but we have two poems one from Jean Lewin up in the state of Washington. We'll open with that.
Mat Kaplan: A Kiwi mathematician back in '63 exacted a solution for relativity proving black holes rotate before [NERIO 01:13:06] one was found. Nonlinear equations proved his calculation sound describing the geometry of this empty space time expounding on the formula of the eminent Einstein. Professor Ameritas Roy Kerr of Canterbury U also quite adapted at bridge of metrics he bids two. I'm not a bridge player, but I kind of get it.
Bruce Betts: That was impressive. And I had read that he was quite the competitive bridge player.
Mat Kaplan: We're talking about this guy from New Zealand, Roy Kerr.
Bruce Betts: Roy Kerr of the Kerr metric, the Kerr geometry, the Kerr bridge player. Tell me more, Mat.
Mat Kaplan: Well, I can tell you that we also heard from a whole bunch of people, including Dustin Flaum of Virginia, about the Reissner–Nordström metric, which involved four other researchers. But that's not what we were looking for because apparently that was for a charged black hole.
Bruce Betts: Indeed. You got to solve your different equations if you're going to charge up your black hole.
Mat Kaplan: Really, come on people.
Bruce Betts: Yeah. What are you thinking.
Mat Kaplan: Darren Richie also from the State of Washington, Kerr, as we said, hailed from New Zealand so perhaps the event horizons of these objects could be described as their Kiwitical radius. "I'm here all week," he says, "Try the LEM." One more poem from our Poet Laureate Dave Fairchild, gravity waves are what LIGO detects. And in 2016, they declared, we noted a merger of black holes at last, and both of them must have been Kerrs. But what is a Kerr? I can hear you exclaim. They are named for the man who uncovered the solving of how a rotating black hole's geometry must be discovered.
Bruce Betts: Wow, those poems are impressive.
Mat Kaplan: I know. Really. I mean, when you consider the topic.
Bruce Betts: That's what I really meant. That's wow.
Mat Kaplan: Yeah. I never did mention the winner.
Bruce Betts: You should probably do that. We have a long standing tradition of having a winner.
Mat Kaplan: Congratulations to Curtis Franks in the state of Ohio. Curtis, first time winner, as far as I can tell. You, Curtis are going to get your choice. Either the Planetary Society, 40th anniversary t-shirt that shows all those different objects around our solar neighborhood, where they were at the time the society was created or the equally cool vintage Planetary Society t-shirt with our original clipper ship logo, brought back by a Chop Shop store on our behalf. That's where the Planetary Society store is. You can also get there from planetary.org/store. Whole bunch of other cool stuff too. So congrats again, Curtis.
Bruce Betts: How about a different question that does not involve general relativity? What was the only unintended splashdown of a spacecraft caring humans? And I don't just mean it landed a few kilometers away from where they intended. I mean, unintended splashdown of a spacecraft carrying humans. Go to planetary.org/radio contest.
Mat Kaplan: Wow. Good one. All right. You have until the 12th to answer this good one. That would be Wednesday, August 12th at 8:00 AM Pacific Time and we'll keep it up. We'll go with the same prize choice once again, either the 40th anniversary t-shirt or the t-shirt featuring our original clipper ship logo, which was co-created by Carl Sagan, one of our three founders. And that's it. I think we're done.
Bruce Betts: All right everybody, go out there look up the night sky and ponder whether miniature golf courses use miniature black holes at the last hole to take your ball away from you. Thank you, and good night.
Mat Kaplan: Did I ever tell you about my idea I tried to sell to one of those companies that advertises late night television?
Bruce Betts: No.
Mat Kaplan: It's the singularity toilet. It needs no sewage connection and you don't want to use a plunger. That'd be very dangerous.
Bruce Betts: Yeah, it's genius.
Mat Kaplan: He's Bruce Betts. Obviously takes one to know one, and he is our chief scientist at the Planetary Society who joins us every week here for What's Up? The singularity toilet, patent pending. Did I mention that the energy it generates also gets you off the grid? Actually gets your entire continent off the grid. Planetary Radio is produced by the Planetary Society in Pasadena, California, and it's made possible by its proud members, some of whom have been with us from the start. It's never too late to join them. The planetary.org/membership. Mark Hilverda is our associate producer, Josh Doyle composed our theme, which is arranged and performed by Peter Schlosser. Ad astra.