Planetary Radio • Jul 10, 2024

Meet Roo-ver and The Planetary Society’s new board member

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On This Episode

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Newton Campbell Jr.

Board of Directors of The Planetary Society; Director of Space Programs, Australian Remote Operations for Space and Earth (AROSE) Consortium

Jack kiraly portrait 2023

Jack Kiraly

Director of Government Relations for The Planetary Society

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Bruce Betts

Chief Scientist / LightSail Program Manager for The Planetary Society

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Sarah Al-Ahmed

Planetary Radio Host and Producer for The Planetary Society

The Planetary Society introduces the newest member of its board of directors this week on Planetary Radio. Newton Campbell Jr., the director of the Australian Remote Operations for Space and Earth (AROSE) Consortium, discusses his career journey, AI in space, and Australia's first lunar rover, the Roo-ver. But first, we go to Washington D.C., U.S.A., where our director of government relations, Jack Kiraly, recently held a briefing for Congressional staffers. Jack discusses the event and the efforts to boost funding for NASA in the coming fiscal year. Then, Bruce Betts, the chief scientist of The Planetary Society, shares a new galactic space fact in What's Up.

Australia’s Roo-ver
Australia’s Roo-ver This artist’s illustration shows Australia’s Trailblazer Lunar Rover, or Roo-ver as it explores the southern polar region of the Moon.Image: Australian Space Agency
2024 Congressional science briefing
2024 Congressional science briefing Jim Bell, President of The Planetary Society from 2008-2020, giving his opening remarks in front of the logo for the Planetary Science Caucus.Image: The Planetary Society


Sarah Al-Ahmed: Meet Australia's Roo-ver and our new board member, this week on Planetary Radio. I'm Sarah Al-Ahmed of The Planetary Society with more of the human adventure across our Solar System and beyond. It's a big moment for us here at The Planetary Society as we welcome our newest member of our board of directors, Newton Campbell Jr. He's an expert in artificial intelligence and the director of the Australian Remote Operations for Space and Earth or AROSE Consortium. He'll tell us about his career journey, AI and space, and Australia's first lunar rover, the Roo-ver. But first, we go to Washington, DC, USA, where our director of government relations, Jack Kiraly, held a briefing for Congress people and staffers. Discussions over the next fiscal year's budget for NASA continue and they'll have deep impacts on the agency's programs and international partnerships. Then we'll hear from Bruce Betts, the chief scientist of The Planetary Society for What's Up? and a new random space fact. If you love Planetary Radio and want to stay informed about the latest space discoveries, make sure you hit that subscribe button on your favorite podcasting platform. By subscribing, you'll never miss an episode filled with new and all inspiring ways to know the cosmos and our place within it. On June 28th, 2024, The Planetary Society held a policy briefing in Washington, DC for US Congressional staffers. The event was a collaboration between us, the American Astronomical Society, the American Geophysical Union, and the Congressional Planetary Science Caucus. Space Exploration is an international effort, but as the most prominent space agency in the world, funding for NASA's science programs has a profound impact on scientists and space fans all around our planet. Jack Kiraly, our director of government relations, has an update on the event and the ongoing saga to procure the necessary funding for NASA's programs and its international partnerships. Well, hey Jack.

Jack Kiraly: Hey, Sarah. How's it going?

Sarah Al-Ahmed: Doing pretty well. You had a really exciting week. The Planetary Society hosted a policy briefing on Capitol Hill. What was the briefing about?

Jack Kiraly: So our briefing on June 28th was about really big picture, talking about space science, talking about space exploration and the opportunities that we have to expand our understanding of the universe in the coming years and the challenges that the scientific community, the space workforce, are facing right now due to the physical constraints that have been put on NASA's budget and the whole of discretionary spending in the US.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: Who are some of the guest speakers that you invited to the event?

Jack Kiraly: We've been working with our partners, the American Geophysical Union, American Astronomical Society, AGU and AAS as I'll probably refer to them later on as. We've been working with them on this science forward advocacy strategy and really looking at not just these individual silos of missions and scientific disciplines, but looking at the big picture. We had three guest speakers in addition to Dr. Jim Bell, who was the president of The Planetary Society from 2008 to 2020 and still sits on our board of directors and is a prominent planetary scientist in his own right. We had Dr. Ralph McNutt who is at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab. Dr. McNutt is just somebody that knows a great deal about the history and implementation of scientific missions across a range of scientific disciplines having been involved in the Parker Solar Probe mission, Voyager, Viking. Dr. McNutt has a long and very interesting history working directly on these missions and understanding the broader context that they exist in. We also had Dr. Paul Cassak from the West Virginia University who he himself is a heliophysicist and he focuses on coronal mass ejections and the dynamics that happen between the sun and the Earth. Dr. Cassak was really there to represent as an active researcher, someone who benefits from these investments and sees the students and faculty that are involved in these investments in space science because it's not just the building of the spacecraft, but it's utilizing the data in training the next generation of scientists, engineers, and explorers to use that data to better understand our cosmos and her place within it. And then we had Dr. Alycia Weinberger who was great to have her there because in addition to her role in the Carnegie Institution for Science, she also serves as a co-chair of the committee on astrophysics and astronomy for the National Academies of Science, and actually just an hour after our briefing was convening a meeting with Dr. Mark Clampin, the astrophysics division director just down the road at the National Academy's headquarters building here in DC. And so Dr. Weinberger really represented the professional astronomy community, astrophysics community, but also the policy and strategy making side of things representing the Decadal Survey process, really which forms the bedrock of how the US moves forward and determines what are major scientific objectives and questions that we are asking when we send these missions to other places in the Solar System and when we observe phenomena and places elsewhere in the universe.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: And as you pointed out earlier, it's a really important time for us to be discussing this topic because we're trying to figure out how much money is going to be in this budget for next year for NASA, and we're staring down a budget decrease that is going to impact a lot of programs across the board, both in the United States, but also for our international partners. This was a really opportune moment, not just because of that context, but because this briefing happened literally two days after the House Committee on Appropriations began their counter proposal to the president's budget request. Is there any hope that we see so far that we might get an increase in this budget for 2025?

Jack Kiraly: So the White House request for fiscal year 2025, the one we are currently debating, for science alone was $7.56 billion, which is a slight increase over what was appropriated for fiscal year 2024, and that's 7.33 billion. Everything that we do in science exists within that top line number. This is a significant decrease though from what I've been referring to as sort of the baseline funding profile for NASA last year. Fiscal Responsibility Act was passed that capped discretionary spending, the pot of money that NASA pulls from. It capped that spending this current fiscal year '24 and next fiscal year '25 at a level of very small increase between each fiscal year. Last year's PBR obviously came out in a time before these capped were in place. And so our baseline expectation for where the science program needs to be going based on not on the politics or the fiscal policy of the United States, but on what the scientific community actually needs assessed in 2024 or in four fiscal year 2024, $8.4 billion. So almost a full billion dollars less this year's PBR is than what the baseline is for what we should be spending. That means less money for currently operating missions, less money for some of these aging missions. Right? We hear a lot of talk about Hubble, Chandra talking about Perseverance, Curiosity, Juno. All these missions that are in the suite of the hundreds of flight programs that NASA operates as part of the science program. There's just less money to go around, right? And we see in the astrophysics community, I know this is one of the big hot topics right now, is the plan to decrease funding for Hubble and Chandra over the coming years with a plan for specifically the Chandra mission to end, the only X-Ray observatory operated by the United States to end in a few fiscal years from now. So that sort of sets the stage for everything. The House came out, just like you said, two days before our briefing, and said, "Hey world, we have our proposal. House of Representatives controlled narrow majority, controlled by the Republican Conference was planning to make more cuts overall to discretionary spending, more cuts than just the caps that were already put in place on discretionary spending. NASA fared pretty well in that environment and actually saw overall about a 1.2% increase over its FY 2024 funding level. But science did not see a single cent increase. It is completely flat. Now, the one thing I'll note here is we do not know the specifics of where that $7.33 billion goes within the House proposal. That's going to come out later. This really is just that opening salvo saying, "Hey world, here is our proposal," or really, "Hey Senate. Hey President, here's our proposal for funding the government and FY 2025." And so there is a lot of work that has to happen between where we are now, where we have two rival proposals, the White House proposal and the House proposal, we're expecting a Senate proposal to also come out, and the number that we get is going to be somewhere between those possibly, maybe below, maybe above. As we saw last year, the actual number that we got for FY 2024, it's actually lower than any of the proposals that we had gotten as part of this process. But the big difference is we have the Congressional Planetary Science Caucus and we have advocates on Capitol Hill that are pushing for more funding, for maintaining funding levels where it's absolutely necessary, and supporting these missions that are revolutionizing our understanding of the university and supporting students and jobs all across the country. And that was the focus of our briefing, right, is saying we're facing this really challenging, difficult time. There are many worthwhile opportunities for government to make investments. Space is one of those, and we are making our case that science and space and exploration go hand in hand in hand.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: The reestablishing of the Planetary Science Caucus is such a triumph and I'm really glad that we have people on our side within Congress to help us push this forward. I'm thinking about the article that you wrote about this event. And the quote from the event that's really been sticking with me was from Dr. McNutt and he said, "Vision without execution is hallucination." I don't want these things to be hallucinations that the science community has such beautiful aspirations and I want to make sure that all these things happen. So what is it that our listeners can do to help?

Jack Kiraly: So there's actually a really easy thing that listeners in the United States can do right now. They can go to It'll take you to our advocacy action center. There is an action available right now that you can write to your members of Congress, and I want to say something here. You do not have to be a citizen. You can just be a resident. You have representation. You might not be able to vote if you're not a citizen, but you have representation in Congress. If you live in the boundaries of the United States, there is somebody in Washington who represents you, and you can encourage them to join the Planetary Science Caucus. This is something that can be the start of a conversation for that member or it can be the capstone to what they are hoping to achieve in supporting space science and joining the Planetary Science Caucus. We hope that it's a lasting relationship and we hope that we can bring this caucus into the 119th Congress, which starts on January 3rd, 2025, which is a time that in my head isn't real quite yet, but we are fast approaching the beginning of the next Congress, and the priority now is to make sure that we have a strong group of members of Congress. We already have a couple dozen who have stood up and said, "I am a supporter of science. I'm a supporter of space exploration. I want to see the US maintain leadership and maintain our space workforce and our investments in discovery." And encouraging others to join the caucus is a huge way that you can go to building our ranks so that we can be even stronger in the next Congress so we can keep fighting back against these disastrous cuts that will cause cancellations. We're not just talking about delays anymore, right? And it's understandable, space is hard. Your first plan might not always be the best when you're building the spacecraft and things go through processes and it's a iterative process and we're learning along the way. The worst thing that can happen is for us to stop trying. This quote isn't in the article, but it was something that Dr. McNutt had said that you can't stay still in space. You either go backwards or you go forwards. And if we don't continue to make these investments and protect the money that is appropriated and expand on the successes that we've seen, we're going to start to slide backwards. And that's going to affect not just the jobs and opportunities for discovery that are happening here in the US, but it's going to, like you're mentioning, affect our international relationships. Space is an endeavor that requires multiple nations, many people, cultures and ideologies and visions for what that looks like to be successful. And so if you're a listener and you're not a member of Congress, encourage your member of Congress to do this. For international listeners, share this information on social media, share this information with your communities. We're growing our presence globally as The Planetary Society and want to have people involved and interested and engaged locally, nationally, and internationally in the exploration of the cosmos.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: Well, thanks so much, Jack.

Jack Kiraly: Thank you, Sarah.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: Now we turn our attention to an exciting new development here at The Planetary Society. We are thrilled to welcome Dr. Newton Campbell Jr. to our board of directors. Newton is an internationally recognized space industry leader specializing in artificial intelligence and computational physics. He dedicated a decade to research and development for the US Department of Defense and Intelligence Communities, including work for DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. He was an AI subject matter expert for NASA too, working at the Goddard Space Flight Center and Langley Research Center where he contributed to various programs including urban air mobility, geomagnetism and high performance computing for computational physics. He now leads the Australian Remote Operations for Space and Earth or AROSE Consortium spearheading the development of Australia's first lunar rover. Australia's Trailblazer Lunar rover, dubbed the Roo-ver in a public naming contest for the country's iconic kangaroos, is destined for the moon South pole. It'll be operated remotely from Australia and study the lunar regolith to unlock the secrets of oxygen extraction, a key element for a sustainable lunar base. With Newton's expertise and dedication to international collaboration, he aims to foster a truly inclusive space community where everyone from across our diverse planet feels welcome to explore and contribute. Hi, Newton.

Newton Campbell Jr.: Hi, Sarah. How's it going?

Sarah Al-Ahmed: It's wonderful to have you on the show. And I was just speaking with Jack Kiraly earlier on the show and he was so excited to hear that you were going to be on Planetary Radio because the two of you hosted the Ad Astra podcast in the past together.

Newton Campbell Jr.: Absolutely. Oh my God, Ad Astra was an absolute blast to host. It was just more of my introduction to STEM outreach, space outreach and the community. I loved co-hosting that show with Jack. We both got really busy and had had to walk away from it, but those were a good couple of years on that podcast.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: Small Space world. But you've been a member of The Planetary Society for about a decade now, and you've just made the big leap to become our new member of our board of directors. So right out the gate, congratulations.

Newton Campbell Jr.: Thank you. Thank you. The decade thing makes me feel old now that I think about it, but it really is a full circle journey to become a member of the board of directors for Planetary, especially given that Planetary was such a big part of my introduction to the overall space community. I was working in Defense doing work with DARPA and some of the intelligence folks, and I just had this casual interest in space. And the more that I did events with Planetary Society and some of the other groups around DC like Explore Mars, et cetera, et cetera, I just got more embedded in the space community and at a certain point I said, "Hey, I just need to take the leap over here professionally as well and actually start working with some of these other space groups, NASA and the like." So I have Planetary to thank for that.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: It's beautiful to hear that it had that kind of impact on your life because it didn't just take you from, "I like space" to, "Now I'm an astrophotographer. It took you straight into working at these high-end NASA facilities and specifically being this person who was a specialist in the subject of AI in terms of space exploration. How did you get into the field of AI in space?

Newton Campbell Jr.: Much like most other people in space, my journey had so many different twists and turns. AI is something that I researched back in my DOD days when it came to cybersecurity, when it came to internet privacy. It was how can AI be leveraged, how can AI do damage, et cetera, et cetera. When it came to security, between that and me working on my PhD at that same time, focusing a bit on machine learning, I just got really, really embedded in AI, And before I knew it, I had this portfolio of AI work in the Defense Department. And that was really between that and the computational physics work that I was doing with Defense, that's really where I realized, "Hey, I can actually take this work over to NASA." Obviously, NASA's big on physics. And they had a number of groups within NASA that we're focused on this notion of digital transformation. And so seeing that, I seized the opportunity to transfer those skills over to NASA, and I never regretted it. NASA was just an absolutely wonderful place to work. I worked between NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and NASA Langley Research Center. I sat at Goddard, but most of my teams were at Langley. And our focus was really how do we actually help scientists, engineers, and to some extent, enterprise folks, leverage artificial intelligence, in some cases, lead some projects on artificial intelligence throughout the agency and even help out with AI ethics.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: Which is a growing topic of conversation both in space exploration. But in all facets of life, we're just seeing these large language models and AI tools become available to the public and it is upending everything. But when it comes to space exploration, we're not in a space yet where we have to worry too much about the ethical considerations about AI when it comes to humans in space, but there's still a lot that we have to lay the groundwork for as we go into this new age of lunar exploration.

Newton Campbell Jr.: Yeah. Well, there's always responsible development of technology, right? So that really is why I was consulted with on a lot of these AI ethics issues even when I got to NASA, because that was a big topic for me that I broached in the DOD when it came to responsible use of technology. Obviously, especially working with groups like DARPA, whereas I was a PI for a number of projects with them, we always wanted to think about Not only how can this be used for the defense of the nation or the defense of infrastructure. I did a lot of power grid work and things like that, but we always wanted to think about, "Well, how can these algorithms that we're introducing be leveraged against us in a lot of ways? How can we make sure that the way that this thing is implemented is implemented in a responsible way?" I know the military doesn't always get characterized for doing that, but particularly within the pockets that we were working in as we're incubating technology sort of from the ground up, there was a lot of discussion of, "Well, we don't want to collect and synthesize that kind of data because it could be used for bad purposes or maybe one individual or one group shouldn't be controlling that level of information." Those conversations went on heavily within the groups that I worked with within DOD. And so when I went to NASA, the group that I worked with, we started having more and more of those conversations. And my boss at NASA, Ed McLarney, he's the digital transformation lead, he was actively already working on the NASA AI ethics framework. It was him, Martin Garcia from Johnson and a bunch of others. I then had a number of NASA projects that fell under the digital transformation umbrella that actually address, "Well, how do we actually implement the notions in this framework in real time?" When you're talking about a lot of these AI ethics frameworks, NASA has theirs, Defense has theirs, other groups around the globe, the European Union, they've all come up with these different kinds of frameworks, but those things often talk about how do you look for bias or how do you state that an AI is trustworthy or at least claiming that, "Hey, we need to make sure that these things are happening?" almost in a checkbox like manner. A lot of my work was, "Okay, if we're doing this, if we're claiming that we're looking out for bias, we're claiming that we're looking out for trustworthiness, what are the quantitative measures and processes that we can actually use, that we can actually use in a project in real time as a PI of a project or a project manager of a project? How do I actually ensure that I'm in alignment with that framework?" And it's about moving from those sort of abstract principles to actual concrete actions and ensuring that our AI systems, particularly the ones that we use in space, are ethical and reliable. AI may not be in space proper right now as in our rover that probably is not going to have a bunch of AI on it, or even satellites that are out there today don't have a ton of AI directly on the system, but it's being used all over this sort of space value chain. And we need to be careful that what we're implementing isn't introducing things that could cause ethical concerns across our society.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: Well, so many of these space missions are collaborations between different international agencies and organizations. So how do you come to an agreement on what kind of ethical framework you're going to be using within AI?

Newton Campbell Jr.: Largely, the entities that have the more robust ethics frameworks in those cases win, if we're being honest, in the most practical diplomatic terms. But it is always a negotiation, particularly because you are talking about... Let's just say if it's two entities, you're talking about two entities negotiating standards that are very early, that are very young, but at the very least making the claim that you have the standard, putting it out there says that, "Look, my agency, my organization will not cross these lines, or that we will account for certain measures when it comes to artificial intelligence." Now, with that said, all of this is very young. And again, when it comes to the actual space assets, there's not a lot of artificial intelligence that's on board in any of these spacecraft, so that's not something necessarily that we've had to broach in a significant way just yet when it comes to space. It's always the downstream stuff. So control of data, who gets access to certain kinds of downstream data. If we're talking about things like satellites, what are we allowed to monitor, what gets coverage, what doesn't get coverage? It's a lot more about data governance in those channels than it is about the AI itself.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: But are there any ways that we can actually use AI to enhance our space exploration not just on the ground, but when we're out there? Because there are so many issues that might be helped by this particularly in the gaps in our communication with these space missions across the Solar System. That time delay can cause some real issues for us.

Newton Campbell Jr.: Yeah, the time delay does cause some real issues. There's some interesting projects that have gone into, "Well, how do we do remote operations at that scale?" I'm down here in Australia in particular, and the main focus of what Australia's trying to contribute to the space sector, at least on the behalf of my organization, is that remote operations aspect. How do you control something from very far away, understanding that you may have significant, in their case, lapse in network connectivity? The space has a very clear analog to that. On the moon, you get about a three-second delay. Depending on the data from Mars, it could be anywhere from minutes to hours or over an hour usually. When it comes to that, we do have to start to better understand, "Well, how do we, on the ground, do forecasting about the situation that's occurring on the planet that the rover is on or the planet that the drone is on, the planet that the space asset is on or around? How do we develop what are often called digital twins?" That's a buzzword that's often getting used. A lot of the forecasting that goes into that is a combination of computational physics models and artificial intelligence to make those assumptions about what will happen going forward if I send these commands to the rover. How will the environment react and how will I react to the environment? And that helps with decision-making on the ground. That helps the rover or drone, in some case, execute different kinds of autonomy or autonomous actions that keep it safe, so on and so forth. So you get a little bit of modeling in that case. You also get some security as well. That's another big area that space benefits from when it comes to artificial intelligence, just like we all do. It's good for keeping our networks robust, safe against attacks, things like that. But largely, yeah, digital twins is such a big area that's being explored where artificial intelligence is being used heavily.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: It's such a fascinating topic. And it's part of why I'm so grateful to have someone like you on our board of directors because we're really going to have to be thinking about these subjects as AI usage becomes more and more prevalent both in our everyday lives but also in space exploration. But in the meantime, you've moved on from NASA and you're now director of Space Programs at the Australian Remote Operations for Space and Earth or AROSE Consortium.

Newton Campbell Jr.: Yeah, so AROSE is, it's a fantastic organization. What I love about it, it's a consortium. So when the space ecosystem saw some exponential growth here in Australia back in 2018 when the Australian Space Agency was developed, the agency itself had to look over the ecosystem and go, "We have so many groups, so many businesses, even so many universities here that are already doing space. How do we actually get organized?" Well, when Pamela Melroy was down here, the current deputy administrator of NASA, she was down here working with the Australians. She saw what I've been seeing about the remote operations community and the remote operations infrastructure down here in Australia, and she said, "Man, we need to actually take this into the space sector." So she helps to incubate this consortium of organizations called AROSE. So it's not just one organization. It's actually a not-for-profit made up of about 15 members that are aligned with a ton of STEM outreach organizations down here in Australia. And the focus is to take all of that capability from Australia's advantage in resources in telehealth, all of that ability for doing things remotely, for innovating, for remote communities that are down here in Australia and leverage that in the space community and to see a two-way transfer, especially within the resources community. When you look at the resources sector, there's all these issues of sustainability, issues with these groups affecting the climate. Well, actually getting them to work in space, it's not about things like... Just to clarify, it's not about things like mining or space mining or asteroid mining or anything like that. It's really getting them to take a look at some of the basic tools that we need for things like Artemis, where we'll need to do some excavation, some detection of the environment, prospecting for critical minerals and figuring out how to do that in space where you are forced to do those things in a sustainable way. You can't carry large dozers into space. You can't have these massive sort of diesel fueled vehicles. Everything has to be sustainable. That is a functional aspect of space. So getting them to perceive the problems. The analog problems that they perceive that they have to deal with here on Earth and deal with those problems in space, it allows for that knowledge transfer and tech transfer to come back here to Earth. And so really the consortium is a number of space organizations, a number of resources organizations, universities, some telehealth organizations, and STEM outreach organizations all working together to work on different space programs to facilitate that kind of knowledge transfer and that kind of technology transfer.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: We'll be right back with the rest of my interview with Newton Campbell after the short break.

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Newton Campbell Jr.: One of the big missions that we're working on right now is the country's flagship mission for the Artemis Accords, which is the Trailblazer Lunar rover, or Roo-ver as we call it.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: And before anyone gets confused, I want to point out that the Trailblazer Lunar rover is different from NASA's Lunar Trailblazer mission.

Newton Campbell Jr.: Yes.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: Separate missions, both going to do some really fundamental science on the moon. And this Roo-ver is in partnership with NASA. How did NASA choose Australia for the partnership for this project?

Newton Campbell Jr.: So once again, this was going through the Australian Space Agency. The Australian Space Agency was one of the first eight signatories of the Artemis Accords, and there was quite a bit of discussion deliberation about what their contributions to the Accords would be, what could they do within country. Again, it's a very nascent space sector. Even with the advanced remote operations capabilities, robotics, automation, all of that stuff that's going on down here, most of their work in space has really been focused on communications and developing payloads. They helped out even with the communications when it came to the Apollo missions back in the day. When it came to, "Well, what can we do for Artemis?" They took a look around and said, well, we do have a significant amount of robotics technology that we've deployed. We definitely know how to excavate as they often say, they know how to dig stuff up. How can we leverage this as a technology demonstration to actually support what's going on in the overall Artemis Accords, and that's where the Trailblazer Lunar rover came in. They coordinated with NASA to say, All right. What is it that you're doing that we can help support as this first foray into Artemis?" Something that's frankly Artemis is going to be 10, 20 years in my estimation. It's going to be a very long journey. "How do we actually support what you're doing as our first step into this?" And NASA came back and said, "Hey, we're setting up these lunar landers through the Eclipse missions, the commercial lunar payload services missions. Can you support one of the missions that we're working on where we're actually trying to analyze the regolith?" It actually converts some of the regolith to oxygen. While that mission has changed over time, the mission was set for Australia to do this. And so the space agency put out a tender looking for a consortia that could actually build a lunar rover from the Australian supply chain. I believe the mandate from them was about 80% Australian or something to that effect. And so two consortia won out and they actually chose two consortia to go through and execute that to the preliminary design review point, which ends at the end of this month. But the idea-

Sarah Al-Ahmed: No pressure.

Newton Campbell Jr.: Yeah, no pressure. I know. I'm not busy at all. But yeah, again, the idea is for us to create this lunar rover using the Australian supply chain from manufacturing of parts to the robotics and automation that needs to go into it, how do we make a truly Australian rover that's dependent on the supply chain here, because while it's nice to say, "Hey, we're going to create a space program, we're going to start doing more work in space, you really do need a supply chain in country to help you out. NASA formed its supply chain between basically everything post 1957 when it came to Mercury, Gemini and Apollo, and it only just continued to grow since then. The Australians need to sort theirs out, and this is one of the ways that they're doing that.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: My understanding is this rover is supposed to be about the size of a piece of carry on luggage. Pretty small. How does something like that grapple with a task like this, especially with that stickiness of the lunar regolith?

Newton Campbell Jr.: Yeah, the lunar regolith is no joke, right? It's tough stuff. It's not just that it clings to everything. It's, how do the electronics onboard act? Does it cause distortions to any of the electronics such that as we're getting back any of the data and we're trying to control the rover, we get false conceptions about what's actually happening in the environment? The tires are a big focus, much like they are at NASA. Last time I was in America, I was over at Glenn Research Center chatting with folks about their tire yard. That's over there for much, much bigger rovers. But the tires are certainly a big focus. You have to be able to not just create tires that can deal with the kind of traction that you expect, but to be able to analyze that kind of traction over time and understand, "Hey, this is how we're performing. This is how we're doing." Fortunately, I've been on previous autonomy projects over at NASA where we have common problems in aviation and space flight as well, where it's not just about, "Hey, what do I anticipate is going to happen in the mission?" but, "How am I performing thus far? And we have to think about the same thing when it comes to the rover. It's maintaining a notion of past, present, and future. When it comes to any form of autonomy or semi-autonomy, which it'll be in the case of this rover, this rover will be taking largely commands from everything that we've seen. It won't be just completely roving around on its own, but it will have to account for the fact that we are not there live, driving it at all times. And because of that fact, it will have to make some of its own safety decisions, right? So if it starts to get to the point where it's stuck, I don't know if I would want that thing necessarily roving or continuing to try to drive out of it on its own. It's something where you get the folks on the ground to analyze that kind of work, think about what needs to happen in that time and then make decisions about, "Well, how do we actually deal with it?" This is a very good exercise in characterization of the South Pole terrain as much as it is about carrying a payload around that's going to do scientific detection.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: And why is the South Pole such a perfect target for this kind of research in searching for oxygen?

Newton Campbell Jr.: Well, it really has become the focus of Artemis. This kind of goes back up to sort of the NASA level umbrella or the intergovernmental umbrella. The South Pole has really become a target area because of the potential for water and resources in that space. I do foresee some of that changing a little bit over time, but I think the South Pole is still largely, largely a good target. It seems that there obviously are some craters there where we might find water, ice. You have solar implantation that's fairly consistent. Solar implantation, I shouldn't just throw out words like that, is the sun bombarding the moon with hydrogen particles. And those particles almost, you can think of it as fusing with some of the oxygen that's in the regolith and forming water. We can thank some of the previous Chinese missions for giving us that data and proving that out. It really is just a fascinating area that's a little different to where we were before. We operated a lot on or around the equator, especially during the Apollo era. But yeah, as far as where we think we can find interesting resources, interesting science when it comes to the history of the lunar surface, the history of the moon, the South Pole seems to be a very popular area. The Indians have set focus there. The Japanese have a bit of a focus there. Our eclipse missions have a bit of a focus there, including intuitive machines, which just executed the first lunar landing in 52 years. America's back on the moon. Basically, the entire Artemis consortia, if you want to think about Artemis as a giant coalition, seems to have a big focus on the South Pole. And so characterizing the environment, understanding the terrain, understanding how we can operate on it, especially once we get humans there hopefully in the next few years, is going to be really important.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: I'm really hoping that there's enough oxygen and enough frozen water down there at the poles that we can find a sustainable way to create human settlements without having to ferry a bunch of water from Earth back and forth from the moon. That could change a lot.

Newton Campbell Jr.: Yeah, we're going to have to get creative. We certainly are going to have to get creative over time when it comes to any form of processing or in situ resource utilization. When it comes to the South Pole of the moon, my guess is that in these first few years, there will be a lot of ferrying. We'll establish needed networks for doing that kind of ferrying to and from the lunar surface. I won't mention the notion of circulators, which is often thrown around. It's not a bad idea. But there will need to be new innovation both in in situ resource utilization as well as varying to the lunar surface. It was a different kind of problem when it came to International Space Station and us establishing a sustainable environment there. We just knew we had to get to low Earth orbit. We set up great docking facilities, which led to fantastic technology later on down the line, including things like LASIK and all of those things when it came to the International Space Station. For the lunar surface or lunar orbit, because we can't forget about the gateway, we will need some kind of innovation in varying systems. We do have Starship that I think will be helpful once that comes online. I'm looking forward to the kind of capability that's going to open up in the space community, but there will need to be some sort of consistent innovation when it comes to both ISRU, In-Situ Resource Utilization, and ferrying resources to and from a lunar surface just so that we can actually make this feasible and also make it worth it. We want to carry things back so that we can look at the science so that we can better understand the environment so that we can run tests that really focus on the longer term journey as well, which is Mars.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: Yeah, we're going to really have to have an eye for sustainability. And as you said, Australia is a great partner for considering this. But man, what a journey trying to create a sustainable human habitat on the moon or on Mars.

Newton Campbell Jr.: And the word of the day is sustainability there, right?

Sarah Al-Ahmed: Yeah.

Newton Campbell Jr.: So that's really the beauty of all of this when it comes to the space journey. One, it is exploration. And I never want to take away from that, right? When we even talk about Planetary Society and a lot of the messaging that goes around space and the things that we emphasize, I never want to take away from the exploration aspect of this, right? That to me is so much at the core of this. We want to get out of the caves. We want to get out of the safari and actually go explore, understand more about the natural world that we live in. But also it's important that we recognize that this is of benefit to us in the long run, right? It's of benefit to our home. The sustainability aspect is such a massive aspect of just doing space in general and doing big missions like this. We're going to have all sorts of new innovations when it comes to low power technologies, when it comes to compute technologies, when it comes to remote connectivity technologies. And that's just the stuff that we can foresee. There's going to be untold innovation that comes from Artemis and taking part of programs like this. With that said, that's what actually why our consortium has really focused on creating more discussions about sustainability, even within and across the consortium. We've established here in Australia this sort of national climate resilience working group with that exact same focus. "Hey, we have all of this technology. We're working on space missions. We're working on terrestrial missions with a combination of technology from all over the country. How do we actually leverage that knowledge and the fact that we do have all of those people together to solve the hardest challenge of our time, which is climate?" Right? How do we work on climate mitigation technologies? We talk about applying both space and Earth technologies to things like bush fires, what we call wildfires in the US, but they call bush fires down here in Australia, to floods and flood mapping to storm watches? So how do you even monitor or predict very unpredictable storms? Conservation? But we talk about all of that within the consortium, and that's a major vertical for us because we very much acknowledge the correlation between working in space, getting all these people together to do all of these things in space and what we can do and what we can transfer here to Earth from that technology and from that collaboration.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: Well, so many people, when they're trying to justify exploring space, point to those spinoff technologies and things like that as a good indicator for why we should do this. Learning more about how we can be sustainable in space could have a deep impact on the way we relate with our own planet. So I'm really glad that people are having these conversations because this is going to become increasingly important.

Newton Campbell Jr.: I mean, it already has. You have folks like Rolls-Royce working on micro nuclear. We've definitely helped with solar panel technology through space. There are so many capabilities that have been developed that either rely directly on space like our entire power grid relies on GPS for timing mechanisms and communications mechanisms, or relies on technology that was developed in space whether that's computing, solar panels, or any of those kinds of capabilities. So much of that comes from humans getting together, looking at problems from different perspectives and then reapplying them here on Earth. That has to happen. We can't always simply just invest directly in the one thing and expect to solve the problem in that domain.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: We want to explore worlds and do all those things, but at The Planetary Society, it's important that we think about these things ethically. I know you're passionate about exploring worlds, but of the things that we do here at The Planetary Society, finding life and defending Earth, which one do you think you're going to impact most as a board member?

Newton Campbell Jr.: I am a big fan of the Search for Life. That's another project that we are actually incubating here within Australia. It's less about the search for life and it's more about the understanding of life. So for instance, we have a project down here called Lifesprings Mars, where we are looking at the geological history of Mars to really look at, well, how do we actually identify any previous signs of life? We've had a number of folks from the Mars Exploration Directorate come down here to Australia to go up to the Pilbara to go up north within Australia to look for those kinds of signs, which again, that kind of work just fascinates me. Human exploration, though, for me is also a really big one. Not just ascending rovers, but other aspects of us sending people up, right? There's aspects I think of culture and how to operate when actually doing space exploration that I think are really fascinating to me. But as far as The Planetary Society overall goes, I would certainly say that international outreach is certainly going to be one of my big verticals. I think it's not that the United States has hit its limit when it's come to space exploration. There's still so much for us to do, but the problems have just gotten so difficult that we need to make sure that we expand our exploration adventure, this grand adventure, the adventure that we're on with the rest of the globe, just because, again, Artemis is going to be one of the hardest things we've ever done in space. Not just the establishment of the sustainable environment around the moon, but eventually getting to Mars. Those are exponentially harder than Apollo was. Not to say Apollo wasn't hard. Not to say that Apollo didn't take 4.5% of our GDP to actually achieve on a mission that was very much could be categorized as a cowboy mission. In the current environment that we're in, we absolutely need the help of the entire international community to help us achieve these goals of these other missions that we want to achieve, and that takes getting people interested. And so my focus is, or at least the thing that interests me the most, is how do we do that international outreach? What messages do work for other countries? I think within The Planetary Society, we have a longstanding history of messages that work for Americans. But even when I've realized just working in one international country so far has been that not all of the messages that relate to Americans or that the job of Americans relate to Australians, right? And I think the question for us is going to be, what is that universal messaging that relates to everyone, that gets to the heart of everyone? If you come down here to Australia, a lot of the messaging isn't always just about the exploration and wonder of space. They're wondering how does it sustain them as a society? How does it relate to their everyday life? Not that that's not a message in the United, but it's not the biggest message, I would say, The Planetary Society has carried there. And so the question is what are the consistent messages that we can have across the world? How do we understand how to tailor that messaging and inspire people in each and every culture? How do we engage that international community is really something I'd like to focus on here.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: And we're just about to plan the next phase of our work here at The Planetary Society, and this is actually a topic that I'm really passionate about too. I think we've done a really great job at cultivating this space community, but there are so many people who we need to reach out to make them feel empowered to chase their space dreams and make it accessible to everyone, because classically space has been something that the United States has dominated a lot because of our funding for NASA, but it's taken a long journey even within the United States to open up that space adventure to a broader audience, and-

Newton Campbell Jr.: 100%. 100%. Not to step on that, but our organization was recently selected for the NASA Goddard Space Tech Catalyst Grant for this reason. When I say our organization, I don't mean AROSE. I've started a new nonprofit in the United States, because obviously I have tons of spare time, that's specifically focused on that. How do we get underrepresented communities involved in space? For us, I partnered with a good friend who's a celebrity chef, Dalia David, and another colleague Stephanie Wan, and we're proposing doing that through food. So how do we actually get other cultures interested through having their food culture better represented in space exploration? And there's a number of different verticals like that that are popping up from, yes, obviously STEM is going to be a big one. But STEM isn't the only job in space and it's not the only way to get involved in space. And it could be something that people come over to after seeing something that they're interested in actually being a part of the space ecosystem. And so again, we're doing that through food, but there's a number of other verticals in which we could be taking things that are happening in space, things that we'll need in space that are cultural, from art to food, to... I was chatting with a good friend of mine who half of her focus is painting, painting space landscapes and preparing those for the STEM outreach community. How do we bring those aspects of culture with us on the space journey and leverage that to get other communities interested? So I'm doing it domestically within the United States. But again, I do have a keen interest on how to do that globally, as well internationally. And in fact, for the space foods one, which is called Heritage Space Food, by the way, again, we're getting incubated, we're actually talking with some of the indigenous tribes here in Australia about ways that we can help bring some of their food into the space community as well.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: I love that so much. I love the idea of people sitting in the cupola on the ISS with whatever nation's food they came from, feeling that little bit of home representation while they're there. And even sharing with each other, just cross-culturally in space.

Newton Campbell Jr.: That's absolutely the idea here. I wasn't going to dive too much into this, but this one is... I have such fresh passion about this one because whether it's the ISS, whether it's on the sustainable environment on the moon, whether it's on Mars, you do want to get that little taste of home. This is actually where that conversation around this even started. I was having this conversation with my friend Dalia, who's again, she's a celebrity chef over in New York. We were just talking about some of the issues that we're facing here on Earth, and then she asked me to talk to her about some of the problems that we face on Mars or with the journey to Mars and what are some of the difficulties there. What I told her is that one of the hardest problems that we're going to have to deal with is psychology. That's a long journey. You're going to be there with the same eight, maybe 12 people in a relatively small space. How do you not go crazy at a certain point, right? There's a million psychological issues that are wrapped up in this. We started having these conversations about food wellness and how much food can not only remind you of home, but remind you of Earth in general. My background's Jamaican American. It's not that I'm going to want Jamaican food every day if I'm on the trip to Mars, but I would hope that I'd be able to get access to, I don't know, some Ethiopian food or some nice Italian or some nice Polish food, access to all of the things that I have in the cities that I've lived in on the way to Mars to make that journey a little bit more palatable, no pun intended, to deal with. And so getting that taste of home, getting that taste of we are still humans on this journey, a reminder of why we're on the journey and the cultures that are back home. And a way for those cultures to be a part of the mission is really what we're going after with this whole heritage space food thing. But circling all the way back to the earlier point, really, again, if we can start to get more and more communities, more and more countries involved in the overall endeavor, and from a cultural standpoint, make them interested in the overall endeavor, I think it will actually make these missions feasible for us to execute, because again, we can't do this alone. We cannot do this as just the United States or Europe. We need the whole world to help out on future missions for space, and this is just one of a million different programs that hopefully will get us there.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: Well, I'm a member of the Planetary Society's DEIA working group, and we'd love to have you join our group for a little while and discuss these issues with us because we need to be reaching out to more people around the world and welcome them into this space adventure.

Newton Campbell Jr.: Absolutely. Until it really is shown to you that you can be a part of this community, so many people don't even think about it, right? They don't even consider it as a community that they can be become a part of. I mean, for me, it was probably that way as well. Sure, had I heard about space? Yeah, absolutely. Had I loved stories about space or going to the science museum as a kid? Sure. But I wouldn't say that at any point I was really thinking, "Yeah, I'm going to go work for NASA, especially coming from the neighborhoods I came from back in the United States and things like that." It really took a long journey that we discussed earlier, with me going through DOD and then getting in touch with The Planetary Society, and kind of working up not courage, but comfort to actually be a part of this community. And the community, again, is just so welcoming. That's the thing that you realize when you go international with it as well, is that the space community in the United States, it has a very welcoming feel. Always there's going to be pockets of negativity, but there's such a welcoming feel in the space community that I've experienced within the United States. And you definitely get that from folks in Australia. I've experienced that in Europe. There is a common thread of people who want to be on this exploration journey, that if folks get introduced to it, they can fall in love with it. The question is, how do we actually make those introductions? How do we make people comfortable being in this space? Not just comfortable, but comfortable to be themselves in this space? I'm hoping that we can come up with and think about messaging, given the long history and maturity of The Planetary Society, and being able to create that kind of messaging. I'm hoping we can do that as we not shift our focus, but pull our focus towards making sure that this is an inclusive space, that we are operating in a way that is making everyone comfortable and inviting to this community.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: All the more reason I'm so glad to have you on our board of directors. It's going to be so wonderful to have more of these conversations with you. And everyone I know who's spoken with you so far is just overjoyed to have you as a member of our team.

Newton Campbell Jr.: To welcome others into the community, that's something that is just really a passion for me and something I'm looking forward to amplifying through The Planetary Society.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: Space for everyone.

Newton Campbell Jr.: Space for everyone.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: Well, thanks so much for joining me, Newton.

Newton Campbell Jr.: Thank you very much, Sarah. This has been absolutely fantastic.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: It's always so wonderful to have a new person on the team. I'm so looking forward to getting to know Newton better. I know his expertise is going to be invaluable as we go into this next phase of lunar exploration. But more than that, every single person that joins The Planetary Society team immediately becomes one of my favorite new people as I get to know them. Now, let's check in with one of my other favorite people, Dr. Bruce Betts, the chief scientist of The Planetary Society for What's Up. Hey, Bruce.

Bruce Betts: Hey, Sarah.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: I finally got to meet our new board member, Newton Campbell. He's a cool guy.

Bruce Betts: He does seem like a very cool guy.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: It's interesting to have someone on the team that's got an expertise in AI in space. What an interesting field. There are so many discussions we could get into on that, but I don't want to open the Pandora's box of conversations on AI, but it's really cool hearing that because Australia joined the Artemis Accords, it gave them this in to try to create this first lunar rover for Australia. Do you know how many countries are part of the Artemis Accords at this point? Because I know the number's changing every single day.

Bruce Betts: It is. They keep announcing a new country, but right at this moment as we record, it's 43. Oh... No, no, it's still 43.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: That's amazing. And it feels... I mean, I'm just speaking from what I assume is true because I didn't live through the '60s and '70s. I wasn't a part of the space race, but it seems like this international approach to going back to the moon and this new phase of lunar exploration feels very different from the way we were all fighting to get to the moon back in the day. Does that hold true for you?

Bruce Betts: I think there's a mixture going on right now, and this is well outside my expertise, but there's a mixture. You've got the Artemis Accords and so many countries collaborating in meaningful ways as well as more symbolic ways, and so that's different and that's exciting. But there is some competition from players who will not be named. I mean, there is heating up competition. Where it goes and how much collaboration we can work, we'll see. But it's certainly not the one-on-one racy to the moon type thing, or at least not yet.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: Cool too, that they're trying to explore the lunar regolith potentially to see if they can farm oxygen from stuff at the South Pole. I mean, having that oxygen on hand I think could really change the way that we go to the moon and then onto Mars. But it's going to be really difficult to see how we can manage our resources in that situation. How do you make a lunar base sustainable if we can't find enough oxygen at the pole? There's so many huge problems we're going to have to tackle in order to make this work.

Bruce Betts: Yeah, I think we have ways to get to before we get to that, but I don't know, maybe a FedEx? UPS? Oxygen tanks?

Sarah Al-Ahmed: Can you imagine that though? One of these days we might actually have some kind of transfer orbit spacecraft just going between here and the moon, here in Mars over and over again just constantly faring things, kind of like space trains. That would be awesome.

Bruce Betts: That would be awesome.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: "I missed my space train. Now I'm going to be a month late to Mars." All right, so what's our random space fact this week?

Bruce Betts: Random Space Fact.

Bruce Betts: Ready to have your mind blown?

Sarah Al-Ahmed: All right. Holding my brains together.

Bruce Betts: All right. Hold them together because this is going to blow your mind. So in honor of where we live and sort of where Newton lives, if we think of a flight from LA to Sydney, which is long by my experience-

Sarah Al-Ahmed: Same.

Bruce Betts: If we can say, "Hey, LA to Sydney is going to represent the distance from here to the center of the galaxy." You with me?

Sarah Al-Ahmed: Yeah.

Bruce Betts: All right. So the pondering then is on that scale, how far is the Earth from the sun?

Sarah Al-Ahmed: Huh.

Bruce Betts: Let's just say you won't even have started rolling down the tarmac before you get there. 7 millimeters.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: 7 millimeters?

Bruce Betts: Yeah. Roughly. I mean, approximately. So yeah, it's really, really, really long ways. I mean, the Solar System is big, but the galaxy is, well, very big.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: Well, for context, how big do we think it is across? And I know that's a hard thing to estimate because we're inside of it, but...

Bruce Betts: No, we're awesome. We can do it. We're humans. 100,000 light years across 27,000 light years to the center of the galaxy from where we hang out. And so 27,000 light years is a very large number and much larger than roughly 150 million kilometers to the sun.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: Yeah.

Bruce Betts: That's kilometers we shifted from light years to kilometers.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: What? 93 million miles for people who use miles?

Bruce Betts: Yes, indeed. That is correctamundo.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: Yeah, it's just a trip, man, like...

Bruce Betts: Yeah,

Sarah Al-Ahmed: The galaxy is so huge.

Bruce Betts: So LA to Sydney, to the center of the Galaxy, 7 millimeters, which is like a quarter of an inch-ish, very-ish. And there you go. There it is.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: Well, I'm off to listen to Monty Python's Galaxy song now.

Bruce Betts: Well, I'm off to see the Wizard. And everybody go out there, look up the night sky, and think of what strange place you're off to right now. And thank you. Goodnight.

Sarah Al-Ahmed: We've reached the end of this week's episode of Planetary Radio, but we'll be back next week with more space science and exploration. Love the show? You can get a Planetary Radio t-shirt and all kinds of other cool spacey merchandise at Help others discover the passion, beauty, and joy of space science and exploration by leaving a review or a rating on platforms like Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Your feedback not only brightens our day, but helps other curious minds find their place in space through Planetary Radio. You can also send us your space thoughts, questions, and poetry at our email at [email protected]. Or if you're a Planetary Society member, leave a comment in the Planetary Radio space in our member community app. Planetary Radio is produced by The Planetary Society in Pasadena, California, and is made possible by our dedicated members from both the Northern and Southern Hemisphere of our planet. You can join us and help shape the future of international space collaboration at Mark Hilverda and Rae Paoletta are our associate producers. Andrew Lucas is our audio editor. Josh Doyle composed our theme, which is arranged and performed by Pieter Schlosser. And until next week, ad astra.