>> HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PODCAST. WELCOME TO THE OFFICIAL PODCAST OF THE NASA JOHNSON SPACE CENTER, EPISODE 21: MICROGRAVITY UNIVERSITY. I’M GARY JORDAN AND I’LL BE YOUR HOST TODAY. SO THIS IS THE PODCAST WHERE WE BRING IN THE EXPERTS– NASA SCIENTISTS, ENGINEERS, ASTRONAUTS, SOMETIMES EDUCATORS– ALL TO LET YOU KNOW ALL THE COOLEST INFORMATION ABOUT WHAT’S GOING ON IN SPACE. SO TODAY WE’RE TALKING ABOUT THE WAY STUDENTS AND EDUCATORS ARE INVOLVED AT NASA WITH MIKE McGLONE. HE’S AN EDUCATION SPECIALIST HERE AT THE JOHNSON SPACE CENTER HERE IN HOUSTON, TEXAS. AND WE HAD A GREAT DISCUSSION ABOUT THE DIFFERENT PROGRAMS HERE AND HOW THEY INFLUENCE STUDENTS TO PURSUE CAREERS IN STEM AND STEAM FIELDS, INCLUDING CAREERS HERE AT AMERICA’S SPACE AGENCY. SO WITH NO FURTHER DELAY, LET’S GO LIGHTSPEED AND JUMP RIGHT AHEAD TO OUR TALK WITH MR. MIKE McGLONE. ENJOY. [ MUSIC ] >> T MINUS FIVE SECONDS AND COUNTING– MARK. [ INDISTINCT RADIO CHATTER ] >> HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PODCAST. [ MUSIC ] >> OKAY, WELL THERE’S SOME– IS MICROGRAVITY UNIVERSITY– SO I WAS DOING SOME RESEARCH, JUST TO UNDERSTAND KIND OF THE WHOLE THING. MICROGRAVITY UNIVERSITY IS LIKE A PARENT BRAND SORT OF? >> YES. >> THAT KIND OF OVERARCHES? AND MICRO-G NExT IS ONE OF THOSE THINGS, RIGHT? >> THAT’S RIGHT. MICROGRAVITY UNIVERSITY IS AN OVERARCHING– IT’S JUST AN UMBRELLA. IT’S NOT REALLY AN ORGANIZATION, BUT IT ACTUALLY STARTED SEVERAL YEARS AGO WITH– CALLED RGOs– REDUCED GRAVITY OPPORTUNITIES. >> AH. >> IT WAS WHERE TEACHERS AND EDUCATORS AND EVEN STUDENTS DESIGNED EXPERIMENTS TO THEN COME FLY ON THE C-9 AIRCRAFT, THE VOMIT COMET. >> YEAH! >> AND DO THOSE KINDS OF TESTS. BUT AS THAT PROGRAM PHASED OFF, THEY LOOKED AT OTHER OPPORTUNITIES, AND THAT’S WHY WE’VE LOOKED AT LIKE MICRO-G NExT WITH THE MBL, OR NOW MICROGRAVITY UNIVERSITY FOR EDUCATORS, WHICH OUR CURRENT ACTIVITY HAS BEEN FOCUSED OVER ON THE PRECISION AIR BEARING FLOOR, THE PABF OVER IN BUILDING 9, THE SPACE VEHICLE MOCKUP FACILITY. >> AH, OKAY. SO WHAT’S SPECIAL ABOUT THAT FACILITY, THEN, THAT LETS YOU DO THE CHALLENGES, I GUESS? >> WELL, THE PRECISION AIR BEARING FLOOR, IF YOU THINK ABOUT IT, IS– IF YOU’VE BEEN OVER THERE, IT’S A LARGE… STEEL PLATE, IT LOOKS LIKE. >> OKAY. >> POLISHED, HIGHLY FLATTENED TO WITHIN– I DON’T KNOW HOW MANY MICROMETERS FLAT IT IS FOR THE DISTANCE IT IS, BUT IT BASICALLY WORKS LIKE A REVERSE AIR HOCKEY TABLE, IF YOU EVER PLAYED ON ONE OF THOSE. >> YEAH! >> YEAH, AT AN ARCADE OR SOMETHING. BUT INSTEAD OF AIR BLOWING UP THROUGH THE FLOOR, WHATEVER ITEM YOU HAVE SITS ON PADS, THAT THE AIR IS THEN BLOWN DOWN TO LIFT IT UP AND GIVE IT A NEAR FRICTIONLESS KIND OF SURFACE. SO THAT ALLOWS US TO DO MICROGRAVITY IN TWO DIMENSIONS. >> OH, OKAY. VERY COOL. SO WHAT– I’M TRYING TO IMAGINE WHAT KIND OF MICROGRAVITY YOU CAN DO IN THAT TWO-DIMENSIONAL ENVIRONMENT. WHAT’S A CHALLENGE THAT YOU CAN DO? >> WELL, THE CHALLENGE THAT WE’VE COME UP WITH, WE USED LAST YEAR– WE’RE USING IT AGAIN THIS YEAR– IS WE’RE DOING A SIMULATION THAT’S VERY SIMILAR TO ONE THING THAT WE DO ON THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION, WHERE WE’RE LAUNCHING SMALL CUBESATS INTO ORBIT AROUND EARTH. WE’RE TAKING IT A LITTLE BIT DIFFERENTLY IN THAT WE’RE LOOKING AT A MOVING SATELLITE TRYING TO LAUNCH A SMALL SATELLITE INTO ORBIT AROUND MARS. IT’S AN ORBITAL INSERTION. SO IF YOU CAN IMAGINE A MOVING OBJECT THAT HELD YOUR SATELLITE MOVING AWAY FROM A TARGET THAT’S MOVING ALMOST LEFT TO RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU, AND FIRING AN OBJECT TO HIT A TARGET– VERY CHALLENGING. >> YEAH. SO IT’S KIND OF LIKE TARGET PRACTICE, I GUESS, BUT IN TWO DIMENSIONS AND IN MICROGRAVITY KIND OF THING? >> RIGHT. AND OTHER THAN STANDING STILL AND HITTING A TARGET, YOU’RE MOVING AS WELL. >> OH. >> SO YOU’VE GOT THREE DIFFERENT MOTIONS ACTUALLY GOING ON. >> WOW. AND IT’S REALLY TO SIMULATE REAL ORBITAL INSERTIONS, THAT KIND OF THING? >> YES, VERY SIMILAR. >> OKAY, VERY COOL. >> AND ADDING IN THE ROBOTICS TO IT, BECAUSE IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE AUTONOMOUS– ONCE THEY SAY, “GO, TURN ON THE AIR,” EVERYTHING BEGINS TO MOVE, THEN IT HAS TO RESPOND ON ITS OWN. SO THERE’S ROBOTICS INVOLVED WITH IT AS WELL. >> ALL RIGHT. ALL RIGHT, LET’S PULL BACK JUST A LITTLE BIT, BECAUSE MICROGRAVITY– WE’RE KIND OF GETTING INTO THE– LIKE ALREADY SOME OF THE CHALLENGES, BUT I WANT TO GET LIKE A FULL UNDERSTANDING OF MICROGRAVITY UNIVERSITY– JUST WHAT IT IS, AND WHO DOES IT, WHO PARTICIPATES, THAT KIND OF THING. SO WHAT’S LIKE THE OVERARCHING DESCRIPTION OF MICROGRAVITY UNIVERSITY? >> OKAY, WELL, MICROGRAVITY UNIVERSITY FOR EDUCATORS– MGUE– I’LL TRY TO REFER TO IT AS THAT– >> ALL RIGHT. >> –IS AN OPPORTUNITY– WELL, ACTUALLY– ANYWAY, IT’S IN THE SECOND YEAR. LAST YEAR WAS OUR INAUGURAL YEAR. WE’VE ONLY MADE A FEW CHANGES TO IT THIS YEAR, AND I’M TALKING ABOUT THOSE. BUT IT IS AN OPPORTUNITY FOR EDUCATORS AND NOW STUDENTS INVOLVED THIS YEAR TO BRING THIS DEVICE TO MEET THIS CHALLENGE I JUST TALKED ABOUT. >> MM-HMM. >> TO DESIGN AND BUILD THAT BACK HOME AND THEN SEND A VISITING TEAM HERE TO JOHNSON SPACE CENTER TO TEST IT THERE ON THE PABF. SO THAT DESIGN CHALLENGE REALLY BRINGS IN ALL ACROSS ALL THE COMPONENTS OF STEM– SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, ENGINEERING AND MATHEMATICS. WE’RE REALLY TRYING TO REACH OUT AND ENGAGE STUDENTS WITH. >> YEAH. >> AND GIVE THEM AN OPPORTUNITY TO BRING ALL THAT TO BEAR ON A VERY CHALLENGING, AUTHENTIC LEARNING EXPERIENCE, AND THEN BRING A TEAM HERE TO ACTUALLY TEST IT IN OUR UNIQUE FACILITY. SO IT’S A BIGGER TEAM BACK HOME THAN GETS TO COME, BUT IT’S– WE’RE INVITING ACTUALLY TWO EDUCATORS AND FOUR STUDENTS– HIGH SCHOOL AGED STUDENTS– TO ACTUALLY COME HERE AND DO THE TESTING. >> HMM. AND IT’S THE EDUCATORS FROM THAT SCHOOL ON THE CENTER? >> EDUCATORS FROM THAT SCHOOL. I USE THE TERM EDUCATOR AS OPPOSED TO TEACHER BECAUSE IT’S OPEN TO– IT COULD BE A SCHOOL, SCHOOL DISTRICT. IT COULD BE TIED IN WITH INFORMAL EDUCATION AS WELL, SO IT COULD BE WITH A SCIENCE MUSEUM OR LIKE A 4-H OR A SCOUTING UNIT, BECAUSE THOSE ARE EDUCATION PROGRAMS THAT HAVE STEM OUTREACH AS WELL. SO OPPORTUNITY FOR THEM TO TAKE THAT ON. >> ALL RIGHT, COOL. SO WHAT KINDS OF– WHAT WAS LAST YEAR LIKE? WHAT– HOW WAS THE SETUP? WHO CAME, AND THEN WHO PARTICIPATED? WHAT WAS THE CHALLENGE? >> THE CHALLENGE WAS VERY SIMILAR, AGAIN, SO WHAT WE’RE DOING AGAIN THIS YEAR. WHAT WAS DIFFERENT WAS THAT THE TEAMS THAT CAME WERE ONLY EDUCATORS– TEAMS OF FIVE EDUCATORS CAME. WE HAD THEM FROM ACROSS THE COUNTRY. I BELIEVE– IF I REMEMBER CORRECTLY, WE HAD 9 STATES REPRESENTED– NO, THAT’S NOT CORRECT– 12 STATES WERE REPRESENTED, INCLUDING PUERTO RICO. >> ALL RIGHT. >> AND THOSE WERE WORKING– WE HAD A VARIETY OF TEAMS. SOME OF THEM WERE WORKING WITH ONE SCHOOL OR ONE PROGRAM. WE HAD SOME THAT WERE WORKING ACROSS THE SCHOOL DISTRICT. AND WE WOULD HAVE ONE TEAM THAT WAS MADE UP OF FIVE TEACHERS, CAME FROM FIVE DIFFERENT SCHOOLS FROM ACROSS THE COUNTRY– FROM CALIFORNIA TO NEW YORK. >> HMM. >> YEAH, THAT WAS AN INTERESTING CHALLENGE FOR THEM– NOT ONLY WHAT THEY WERE DOING FOR US ON THE ENGINEERING, BUT JUST THEIR LEARNING HOW TO COLLABORATE TOGETHER WAS A BIG CHALLENGE FOR THEM. WE HAD A LOCAL TEAM HERE FROM CLEAR LAKE ISD AS WELL, SO IT WAS QUITE A DIVERSE GROUP. >> YEAH, DEFINITELY, ALL ACROSS THE BOARD. SO THEN, THE WHOLE THING WAS– ONCE YOU GOT– I GUESS YOU PUT FORWARD A PROPOSAL OR SOMETHING, RIGHT, TO PARTICIPATE? IS THAT KIND OF HOW IT STARTS? >> RIGHT, THAT’S HOW IT STARTS. WE SEND OUT INFORMATION ABOUT THE CHALLENGE AND THE TECHNICAL REQUIREMENTS. AND YOU KNOW, THERE’S A LOT OF SAFETY THAT THEY HAVE TO COVER TO BE ABLE TO COME WORK IN BUILDING 9, THE SPACE VEHICLE MOCKUP FACILITY, AND WORK ON THE PABF. SO WE SEND OUT ALL THAT INFORMATION AND INVITE TEAMS, AND I GUESS SCHOOLS, SCHOOL DISTRICTS, INFORMAL GROUPS, OR SOME COMBINATION THEREOF TO SEND IN A PROPOSAL. AND THEN WE REVIEW THOSE. WE REVIEW THEM FROM BOTH A TECHNICAL STANDPOINT, SOME OF OUR SUPPORT FOLKS IN BUILDING 9 WILL READ IT FROM A TECHNICAL STANDPOINT. AND THEN WE’LL ALSO READ THE EDUCATION SIDE, BECAUSE IT IS AN EDUCATION EVENT AND OUTREACH AND THOSE THINGS. SO WE READ IT FROM AN EDUCATOR POINT OF VIEW, AND OUR TOP TEN TEAMS WILL GET THE INVITATION TO COME DOWN AND PARTICIPATE. >> OH, OKAY. SO ANYONE WRITES THE PROPOSAL, ANYONE KIND OF PUTS THIS TOGETHER, AND THEN IT’S UP TO YOU TO DECIDE WHO’S GOING TO COME DOWN HERE FOR THE COMPETITION. >> THAT’S RIGHT. IT’S A NATIONWIDE COMPETITIVE PROPOSAL PROCESS. WE READ THEM, WE DO A NICE– WE GIVE THEM A RUBRIC SO THEY KNOW WHAT WE’RE EXPECTING AND WHAT WE’RE LOOKING FOR, ALL THOSE CRITERIA. AND THEN WE DO THE READING– WE ALWAYS MAKE SURE THERE’S TWO PEOPLE THAT READ IT IN EACH SECTION JUST TO MAKE IT FAIR. AND THEN THEY JUST GET SIMPLY RANKED, AND THE TOP TEN WILL GET THE INVITE. >> ALL RIGHT. SO THEN ONCE THEY COME HERE, WHAT’S THAT WHOLE SETUP? NOW YOU’VE GOT IT NARROWED DOWN TO LIKE THE BEST OF THE BEST TEAMS. SO ONCE THEY COME HERE, WHAT’S THAT WEEK LOOK LIKE? >> OH, THAT WEEK IS VERY, VERY FUN AND VERY, VERY BUSY, AS YOU CAN IMAGINE. THEY WILL COME IN, WE’LL GIVE THEM A CHANCE– WE’VE GOT TO GET THEM ORIENTED, OF COURSE, TO JOHNSON SPACE CENTER AND THE ENVIRONMENT HERE. SO THEY’LL GET A SAFETY BRIEFING THEY HAVE TO GO TO. AND EVEN THOUGH WE’VE READ ABOUT IT, NOW EVERYBODY CAN ACTUALLY GET HANDS-ON AND LOOK AT IT. SO THEY’LL GO THROUGH A QUICK SAFETY REVIEW. WE’LL MAKE SURE THEY CAN WORK ON THE PRECISION AIR BEARING FLOOR, AND THEN WE’LL GIVE THEM A CHANCE TO TEST THOSE. WE’LL GIVE THEM A CHANCE TO GO BACK AND MAYBE MAKE SOME ADJUSTMENTS, AND COME BACK AND TEST IT AGAIN OVER THE WEEK. THAT’S THE GIST OF WHY WE WANT THEM TO BE HERE, IS TO ACTUALLY GO THROUGH THAT PROCESS. >> TO TEST IT OUT FOR LIKE THE REAL THING, RIGHT? >> RIGHT, YEAH, GET A REAL TEST. NOT IN A COMPETITIVE NATURE FROM ONE TO ANOTHER, BUT FOR THEMSELVES, JUST TRYING TO BE SUCCESSFUL, GOING THROUGH THAT ENGINEERING PROCESS. BUT THE OTHER THINGS WE’LL DO THROUGHOUT THE WEEK– WE’LL GIVE THEM TOURS OF THE OVERALL JSC FACILITY. >> OH. >> WE’LL WANT TO GIVE THEM SOME UNIQUE EXPERIENCES– I’M NOT SURE WHAT WE’RE GOING TO DO THIS YEAR, BUT LAST YEAR WE GAVE THE TEACHERS AN OPPORTUNITY TO DO A SIMULATION IN BUILDING 16 ON ONE OF THE DOCKING SIMULATORS. THEY GOT TO RIDE ON THE MARS EXPLORATION VEHICLE. THEY ALSO GOT AN OPPORTUNITY TO GET ON THE PARTIAL GRAVITY SIMULATOR, OR POGO, OVER IN BUILDING 9, WHICH IS THE OLD PNEUMATIC– THEY PUT YOU IN A HARNESS AND TAKE THE LOAD OFF SO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’RE ON A SPACEWALK. >> WOW. >> SO THEY DID A LOT OF THINGS I’VE NEVER HAD A CHANCE TO DO MYSELF. IT WAS A WONDERFUL WEEK. I HAD FUN JUST WATCHING THEM. >> YEAH, SOUNDS LIKE THE MICROGRAVITY PART OF MICROGRAVITY UNIVERSITY YOU’RE TAKING TO THE FULLEST EXTENT, RIGHT, REALLY PUTTING THEM IN A SITUATION WHERE THEY’RE EXPERIENCING IT, WHERE WHATEVER THEY’RE DESIGNING IS EXPERIENCING THIS MICROGRAVITY, IT’S SIMULATING IT, RIGHT? >> EXACTLY. AND EVEN BEYOND THAT, USING IT BACK IN THEIR CLASSROOM, TEACHING ABOUT MICROGRAVITY IN THAT ENVIRONMENT. AND THAT BRINGS IN SO MANY THINGS FOR TEACHERS AS FAR AS NEWTON’S LAWS, AND FORCE, AND MOTION, AND ENERGY, AND ALL THOSE THINGS THEY HAVE TO TEACH, BUT THINKING ABOUT IT FROM A STANDPOINT THAT THEY OFTEN DON’T THINK ABOUT IN THE CLASSROOM, IS FROM THAT MICROGRAVITY ENVIRONMENT. >> YEAH, THAT’S TRUE, BECAUSE MAYBE THEY DON’T, YOU KNOW– EVEN WITHOUT STUDYING IT, IT’S KIND OF HARD TO GRASP, RIGHT? THE IDEA THAT, YOU KNOW, YOU JUST KNOW THAT EVERYTHING GOES DOWN. YOU JUST KNOW THAT YOU HAVE, YOU KNOW, APPLES FALL ON YOUR HEAD. AND WHEN I’M SITTING IN THIS CHAIR, THE CHAIR’S GOING TO STAY ON THE GROUND, RIGHT, IT’S NOT GOING TO FLOAT UPWARDS AND GO TOWARDS THE CEILING. BUT IT’S THIS WHOLE DIFFERENT MINDSET WHEN IT COMES TO MICROGRAVITY AND HOW THAT APPLIES TO THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION. >> IT REALLY IS, AND IT REALLY HAS TO PUT THEM IN THAT MINDSET. YOU KNOW, YOU– LIKE WHAT YOU SAID. IN OUR DAY TO DAY SITUATION, WE DON’T DEAL WITH THAT. HERE ON CENTER, WE MAY EVEN TALK TO ASTRONAUTS AND WATCH ALL THE VIDEOS THAT COME DOWN FROM THE ISS, OR– BUT UNTIL YOU ACTUALLY WORK AND HAVE TO WORK IN THAT ENVIRONMENT WHERE THE FRICTION– THE THINGS THAT WE DEAL WITH KIND OF UNMASK THAT REAL MICROGRAVITY ENVIRONMENT, IT’S HARD TO DO. YOU KNOW, YOU MAY KNOW WHAT HAPPENS, BUT UNTIL YOU ACTUALLY START TRYING TO MAKE SOMETHING WORK IN ONE OF THOSE SIMULATED ENVIRONMENTS WHERE– I’M SURE I’M ON BOARD AS WELL– IT’S A REAL CHALLENGE. >> OH, YEAH. AND KIND OF, YOU KNOW, AS PART OF THIS WHOLE EXPERIENCE WHEN THEY’RE HERE. ACTUALLY, IS PART OF THE EXPERIENCE KIND OF STUDYING WHAT THE ASTRONAUTS ARE DOING ON THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION AS PART OF MICROGRAVITY UNIVERSITY? ARE YOU CONNECTING WITH THEM, OR STUDYING VIDEOS, OR DOING ANYTHING THAT SORT OF EMULATES WHAT YOU CAN FIND ON STATION? >> WELL, NOT DIRECTLY WITH THIS PARTICULAR EXPERIMENT– OR EXPERIENCE, PARDON ME. IN A WAY, IT IS VERY SIMILAR TO WHAT THE ASTRONAUTS ARE EXPERIENCING, BECAUSE THEY ARE ONBOARD WORKING THROUGH– THEY’RE THE PERSON UP THERE THAT IS ACTUALLY OPERATING ALL THE EXPERIMENTS THAT ARE ONBOARD, OR DOING EXPERIMENTS– OFTENTIMES, THOUGH, THEY EXPERIMENT THEMSELVES WITH THE HUMAN PHYSIOLOGY THAT GOES ON. SO IN ESSENCE, THAT’S KIND OF WHAT OUR VISITING TEAM IS. AND WE DO TRY TO MAKE THIS PARALLEL IS THEY’RE REPRESENTING THIS WHOLE TEAM, WHETHER IT’S BACK AT THEIR SCHOOL, OR DISTRICT, OR THEIR ORGANIZATION. SO THEY HAVE THIS TEAM THAT IS COMING HERE TO DO THIS TEST AND MAKE WHAT ADJUSTMENTS– AND I PROBABLY SHOULD’VE MENTIONED THIS BEFOREHAND, BUT THEY’RE REALLY GOING TO CONTINUE THAT COMMUNICATION THROUGHOUT. SO IF THEY– WHEN THEY GO THROUGH THEIR FIRST ROUNDS OF TESTS, AND MAYBE THEY FIND THAT IT DOESN’T QUITE WORK THE WAY THEY THOUGHT IT WAS, WE WANT TO GIVE THEM A CHANCE TO FIX IT, BUT NOT JUST THE TEAM HERE. WE WANT THEM COMMUNICATING WITH THE TEAM BACK HOME TO ACTUALLY MAKE SOME OF THOSE ADJUSTMENTS. AND THAT WAS SOMETHING LAST YEAR THAT THE TEACHERS FOUND– IT’S GOING TO BE INTERESTING THIS YEAR WITH THE STUDENTS INVOLVED, HOW THIS IS GOING TO WORK OUT. BUT WITH THE TEACHERS LAST YEAR, IT WAS FUN TO WATCH THEM COMMUNICATING WITH THEIR CLASSES BACK HOME. BECAUSE SOMETIMES IT WAS THE STUDENT THAT WAS THE ONLY ONE THAT KNEW HOW TO REALLY PROGRAM IT OF HOW IT WAS GOING. IT WASN’T JUST THE TEACHERS. SO THEY WERE HAVING TO TELL THEM TO CHANGE THIS PARAMETER OR THIS SETTING AND THEN DOWNLOAD IT TO THEIR DEVICE AND THEN DO IT. IT WAS SOME INTERESTING FACETIME CONVERSATIONS THAT I OVERHEARD AND WATCHED THEM DOING, AND HOLDING UP THEIR CAMERAS, SHOWING THE DEVICES AND HEARING ALL THE STUDENTS– “YOU SHOULD DO THIS.” “NO, YOU SHOULD DO THIS.” “NO, LET’S TALK ABOUT IT.” BECAUSE THEY’RE TRYING TO DO IT VERY QUICKLY, SO SOMETIMES IT SEEMED LIKE CHAOS, BUT IT REALLY WORKED OUT WELL AND WAS VERY EXCITING TO WATCH HOW ENGAGED THOSE STUDENTS WERE. BECAUSE WE WERE ALSO LIVE STREAMING IT BACK TO THEM AS WELL SO THEY COULD WATCH THROUGH USTREAM AN OVERHEAD VIEW OF EACH ONE OF THOSE TESTS. >> WHOA, OKAY. THERE’S A LOT MORE GOING ON HERE. >> OH, THERE’S TONS OF STUFF. IT’S HARD TO EVEN THINK OF ALL THE LAYERS THAT ARE GOING ON WITH THIS AS WELL. >> YEAH, YEAH, I’M TRYING TO GET A FULL PICTURE. SO NOW YOU HAVE– WHAT’S THE SETUP OF THIS GIANT AIR HOCKEY TABLE? IS IT JUST LIKE A BIG SQUARE? IS THAT KIND OF HOW IT IS? >> IT’S A LARGE RECTANGLE. >> OKAY, ALL RIGHT. >> PROBABLY THE SIZE… I WISH I COULD REMEMBER THE DIMENSIONS OFF THE TOP OF MY HEAD. IT IS– OH, I’D SAY IT’S ROUGHLY 20 BY 40 FEET, ROUGHLY. >> OKAY, OKAY. SO DEFINITELY RECTANGULAR. AND THEN ALL OF THE TEAMS ARE AROUND IT? ARE THEY– >> WELL, THERE’S ONLY REALLY ROOM TO BRING ONE TEAM UP AT A TIME WITH THE OPERATORS, THE FOLKS IN BUILDING 9 THAT ACTUALLY OPERATE IT. >> OKAY. >> THE OTHER TEAMS ARE SITTING ON THE FLOOR THERE IN BUILDING 9 JUST OFF THERE, BUT WE’RE ACTUALLY USING THAT VIDEO STREAM SO THEY CAN WATCH IT ON A TV. IT’S JUST DOWN BELOW– THEY’RE NOT TOO FAR AWAY, BUT THERE’S JUST NOT ENOUGH ROOM. BECAUSE IT’S ELEVATED– IT’S ABOUT FOUR FEET UP OFF THE MAIN FLOOR. >> OH, OKAY. >> SO THE CATWALK ALONG THERE, THERE’S REALLY ROOM FOR ONE TEAM AT A TIME. SO– YOU KNOW, WE REALLY WISH WE HAD A LARGE GALLERY AND COULD GET LOTS OF FOLKS UP THERE, BUT IT’S RATHER HARD TO DO. >> I SEE. YEAH, AND THEN SO ON THE FLOOR, THEY HAVE THEIR PHONES OUT OR SOMETHING AND ARE SKYPING OR FACETIMING REAL TIME. >> EXACTLY. >> LIKE THEY’RE MISSION CONTROL, I GUESS. >> A PHONE, OR AN iPAD, OR I’VE HAD THEM HOLDING UP WHOLE LAPTOPS TRYING TO GET THE RIGHT ANGLE TO GET IT ON THEIR CAMERA AS WELL. SO YEAH, IT WAS FUN TO WATCH THE DIFFERENT APPROACH EACH TEAM TOOK TO KEEPING UP WITH THAT CONNECTION. AND LAST YEAR, ONE THING WE WERE ABLE TO DO– UNFORTUNATELY WE WON’T THIS YEAR BECAUSE THE RESOURCES ARE UNFORTUNATELY NO LONGER AVAILABLE TO US, BUT ONCE THEY COMPLETED THEIR TEST, THEY GOT A CHANCE TO DO A DIRECT VIDEO CONFERENCING LINK WITH THEIR TEACHERS AND STUDENTS BACK HOME AFTERWARDS. AND I KNOW A NUMBER OF THOSE SCHOOLS HAVE WHOLE ASSEMBLIES DURING THAT HOUR OF TESTING THAT THEY HAD– AT LEAST ON DAY ONE. >> OH, WOW. >> SO ONE DAY WE GO BACK AND ANSWER QUESTIONS ABOUT HOW IT FELT TO BE THERE, ABOUT THE WHOLE ENVIRONMENT, AND THAT WAS REALLY A FUN THING TO ADD LAST YEAR. >> YEAH, TO ADD THAT– I GUESS TO GET A LARGER AUDIENCE TO KIND OF EXPERIENCE IT. >> IT WAS, AND WE HOPE THE SAME THING WILL HAPPEN THIS YEAR. BUT WITHOUT THAT DIRECT VIDEO CONFERENCING RESOURCE WE HAVE, WE’RE REALLY RELYING ON THE TEAMS TO MAKE THAT UP WITH THEIR OWN. THEY WERE DOING IT SOMEWHAT LAST YEAR, WHICH IS [ INDISTINCT ]. WE’VE ASKED THEM THIS YEAR JUST TO MAKE IT MORE PART OF THEIR PLAN, AND TO PLAN ON THAT KIND OF CONNECTION. >> YEAH, REALLY, BECAUSE IT’S ALMOST LIKE PLANNING FOR JUST AN OPERATION, LIKE A REAL MISSION HERE AT MISSION CONTROL, TOO, BECAUSE YOU’VE GOT THE FOLKS ON THE GROUND, RIGHT, QUOTE “THE GROUND” SUPPORTING THE ASTRONAUTS UP IN SPACE. KIND OF LIKE THAT, RIGHT? YOU’VE GOT YOUR MISSION TEAM UP HERE DOING THIS TO MICROGRAVITY TEAM, BUT THEN YOU’VE GOT FOLKS BACK HOME HELPING YOU OUT. >> EXACTLY, IT IS EXACTLY LIKE THAT SETUP WE HAVE HERE BETWEEN MISSION CONTROL AND THE FOLKS ON STATION. AND REALLY, IT TOOK SOMEONE BETWEEN THEIR FIRST DAY ONE OF TESTING TO THEIR DAY TWO TO ACTUALLY FIGURE SOME OF THAT OUT WITH THEIR TESTS. YOU KNOW, WE DIDN’T LAY IT ALL OUT IN FRONT OF THEM. IT WAS A LEARNING EXPERIENCE. >> YEAH. >> SO A LOT OF THEM MADE THAT CONNECTION THE SECOND TIME AROUND, AND YOU SAW CHANGES LIKE KIND OF RANDOMLY CHANGING THIS, AND IT CAME DOWN– ALL OF A SUDDEN YOU SAW THEM WORKING WITH CHECKLISTS AND ALL THESE OTHER THINGS THAT YOU– YOU KNOW, WE KIND OF EXPECT TO HAVE ON A MISSION. SO THEY LEARNED ON THE FLY, WHICH WAS GREAT. >> YEAH, AND THAT’S EXACTLY RIGHT. SO IT SOUNDS LIKE A LOT OF IT IS– YOU KNOW, OBVIOUSLY IT’S PLANNED AHEAD OF TIME, RIGHT? HOW LONG UNTIL YOU START PLANNING THE MISSION UNTIL THE MISSION ACTUALLY HAPPENS? LIKE, HOW LONG IS THAT STRETCH OF TIME FOR MICROGRAVITY UNIVERSITY? OR MAYBE APPLICATION TO MISSION. >> WELL, THE APPLICATIONS HAVE BEEN OUT. THEY’LL BE DUE DECEMBER 13th FOR THIS NEXT GO AROUND. >> ALL RIGHT. >> GIVE US THE HOLIDAYS, A COUPLE WEEKS TO READ THEM AND EVALUATE THEM. WE HOPE TO HAVE EVERYBODY LINED UP WITH THEIR ACCEPTANCE LETTERS BY MID-JANUARY, ABOUT THE 15th. SO FROM THERE UNTIL MARCH 15th, THEY HAVE ABOUT TWO MONTHS IS ALL, TO DESIGN AND– TO FINISH BUILDING IT. SO THEY’VE GOT A PROPOSAL ALREADY. >> SURE. >> OF COURSE, EVERYBODY KNOWS THAT FROM PAPER TO ACTUALLY BUILDING, THERE’S ALWAYS CHANGES. >> YEAH, YEAH. >> BUT SO THEY HAVE IDEAS IN MIND, BUT THEY’VE REALLY GOT EIGHT WEEKS, PROBABLY, TO JUST FINISH DESIGNING, BUILD IT, AND SEND IT DOWN HERE TO US AND BE PREPARED FOR ALL THIS. SO IT TURNS AROUND PRETTY QUICKLY. THE END OF– EACH TEAM THEN GETS A CHANCE TO COME FOR ONE WEEK. WE ACTUALLY HAVE TWO TEST WEEKS, SO FIVE TEAMS EACH OF THOSE WEEKS OF THE TEN THAT ARE INVITED. AND SO– YEAH, IT’S A VERY FAST TURNAROUND. AND THEN EVEN– THERE’S FOLLOW-UP, BECAUSE WE EXPECT THEM TO GO BACK, PULL EVERYTHING THEY DID, THEIR NOTES, ANY DATA THAT THEY TOOK, TO PULL THAT ALL TOGETHER INTO A SUMMARY REPORT WHICH THEN THEY’LL SHARE BACK WITH US AS WELL. WE’LL DO THAT REMOTELY AFTER THE EXPERIENCE. >> ALL RIGHT, SO IT’S GOING TO BE PRETTY QUICK AFTER THE HOLIDAYS HERE. >> IT IS. >> 2018’S GOING TO BE RAPID, LIKE A REALLY QUICK START TO THE YEAR. >> IT IS– IT’S COME VERY QUICKLY, AND GETTING ALL THAT STUFF SET UP, YOU KNOW, WORKING WITH BUILDING 9 AND GETTING THE WORD OUT. YEAH, IT’S A VERY BUSY TIME FOR ME RIGHT NOW. >> YEAH, FOR SURE. ALL RIGHT, WELL, WE’RE GOING TO PUT THIS OUT BEFORE THAT DECEMBER 13th DATE FOR SURE SO MAYBE YOU’LL GET A COUPLE EXTRA APPLICATIONS. >> WE’RE LOOKING FORWARD TO IT. >> YEAH, I’M HOPING YOU’RE HAPPY, OTHERWISE YOU KNOW, SITTING OVER THE HOLIDAYS AND READING ALL OF THESE PROPOSALS. I HOPE I’M NOT PUTTING TOO MUCH WORK ON YOU. BUT WHERE’S THAT WEBSITE THEY CAN GO TO SUBMIT THEIR PROPOSAL? >> THE WEBSITE IS A VERY SIMPLE ONE TO GO TO. IT IS GO.NASA.GOVNASAMGUE. THAT’S N-A-S-A-M-G-U-E. >> ALL RIGHT, MGUE IS MICROGRAVITY UNIVERSITY, BUT JUST CONDENSED? >> CONDENSED, YEAH. >> ALL RIGHT, MGUE. OR YOU COULD PROBABLY JUST– YOU COULD PROBABLY JUST SEARCH MICROGRAVITY UNIVERSITY, RIGHT? >> MICROGRAVITY UNIVERSITY FOR EDUCATORS WILL TAKE YOU STRAIGHT TO US. YOU DO WANT TO ADD THAT FOR EDUCATORS, BECAUSE IF NOT, YOU’LL WANT TO PUT THAT OVERARCHING– YOU CAN FIND IT FROM THERE AS WELL. >> OKAY. [ LAUGHTER ] >> WE WANT TO MAKE IT AS EASY AS POSSIBLE. >> OH, YEAH, DEFINITELY. WOW, ALL RIGHT, WELL, IT’S GOING TO BE A FUN TIME FOR THEM. SO, OKAY, WE TALKED ABOUT THE CHALLENGE ITSELF, AND WE DID KIND OF ALLUDE TO SOME OF THE STUFF THEY’RE GOING TO SEE. I KIND OF WANT TO GO BACK THERE, BECAUSE SOME OF THE THINGS I’M KIND OF JEALOUS. I FEEL LIKE I HAVEN’T EVEN DONE SOME OF THESE THINGS THAT THE STUDENTS ARE GOING TO DO. SO WHAT’S THE– THE FIRST ONE WAS THE SIMULATOR, RIGHT? WHAT WAS THAT ONE? >> THEY WORKED WITH BUILDING 16, ONE OF THE ENGINEERING SIMULATORS THERE, LAST YEAR. I BELIEVE THE ONE– BECAUSE I DIDN’T GET TO GO DO IT, EITHER, SO I’M JEALOUS AS WELL. BUT THEY GOT TO DO, I BELIEVE, ONE OF THE DOCKING SIMULATORS. >> AS IF YOU WERE LIKE DRIVING IT, OR AS IF LIKE YOU WERE TRYING TO CAPTURE A CARGO VEHICLE? >> I BELIEVE THIS WAS ONE WHERE IT WAS TRYING TO CAPTURE A CARGO VEHICLE OVER THERE. AND I DON’T KNOW IF YOU’VE BEEN OVER IN BUILDING 16 WHERE THEY DO THE– THEY HAVE THE DOME PROJECTION OF THE– IT’S KIND OF LIKE A VR SETTING, TO A DEGREE. >> OKAY. >> NOT WITH THE GOGGLES, BUT JUST TRYING TO PUT YOU IN THAT ENVIRONMENT. YOU’RE AT A STATION THAT LOOKS LIKE ONBOARD, AND THEN THEY SURROUND YOU WITH A DOME OF PROJECTIONS. >> OH, YEAH. WE ACTUALLY JUST TALKED ABOUT THAT LAST WEEK ON LAST WEEK’S EPISODE WITH SHANE KIMBROUGH. WE WERE TALKING ABOUT THAT VERY SIMULATOR, BECAUSE THAT’S THE SAME SIMULATOR THAT HE USED TO PRACTICE ROBOTIC ARM OPERATIONS. >> EXACTLY. >> SO IT WAS THAT? THAT’S WHAT IT WAS? >> YEAH, I MEAN, THESE FACILITIES ARE THE SAME ONES THAT OUR ASTRONAUTS TRAIN IN. >> THERE YOU GO. HOW ABOUT THAT? IT’S PRETTY COOL, FROM WHAT THEY DESCRIBE. AGAIN, IT’S ON THE BUCKET LIST FOR ME HERE. I STILL HAVEN’T DONE IT, BUT IT’S LITERALLY A PROJECTION OF THE EARTH, SO IT LOOKS LIKE WHENEVER YOU’RE TRAINING YOU’RE INSIDE THE CUPOLA. YOU’RE INSIDE THE SAME MODULE ON THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION WITH RELATIVELY THE SAME VIEW THAT THEY HAVE. OBVIOUSLY, AS SHANE KIMBROUGH SAID, IT WAS NOT THE REAL THING, BUT IT IS PRETTY CLOSE. >> IT IS PRETTY CLOSE. WELL, AS I WAS SAYING, I HAVEN’T SEEN IT RECENTLY, BUT IT’S A VERY NICE SIMULATION. >> YEAH, AND THEN YOU PRACTICE DOING THE ROBOTIC ARMS THINGS. AND THEY GET NO TRAINING, RIGHT? DO THEY ACTUALLY GO IN AND DRIVE IT? DO THEY ACTUALLY RUN THE SIMULATION? OR DO THEY JUST WATCH IT? >> NO, THEY ACTUALLY GO IN AND GET A CHANCE TO– NOT FOR A LONG AMOUNT OF TIME. THEY USUALLY GO IN, THEIR WHOLE TEAM OF FIVE OR SIX, SO THEY’LL EACH TAKE A QUICK TURN ON DOING IT. SO THEY EACH GET THAT HANDS-ON OPPORTUNITY. >> YEAH. WOW, ALL RIGHT. AGAIN, SUPER JEALOUS. >> I AGREE. LIKE I SAID, I DIDN’T HAVE A CHANCE TO DO THOSE, EITHER. >> OKAY, SO WHAT’S SOME OF THE OTHER COOL STUFF THEY’RE GOING TO SEE? >> WELL, DEFINITELY WHEN THEY COME DOWN HERE, WE WANT TO GIVE THEM THE CHANCE TO SEE MISSION CONTROL. >> OH, YEAH. >> BUILDING 9– OF COURSE, THEY’RE ALWAYS WORKING THERE. I MEAN, I THINK IT’S ONE OF THE HIGHLIGHTS. IF YOU GO ON THE TOUR FROM SPACE CENTER, HOUSTON OR ANYWHERE, IT’S ALWAYS ON THE TOUR. BUT THERE’S A WHOLE LOT OF DIFFERENCE FROM BEING UP ON THE CATWALK WHERE THE VISITORS ARE AND BEING ACTUALLY ON THE FLOOR WORKING FOR TWO OR THREE DAYS. >> YEAH. >> SO MISSION– THEY ALSO GET TO DO POGO THERE, THE PARTIAL GRAVITY SIMULATOR. >> THAT’S RIGHT. >> THIS IS ONE THAT WE’VE DONE IN THE PAST. THE ROBOTICS GROUP, WHICH HAS ALSO BEEN THERE, HAS BEEN GREAT TO WORK WITH. AS I SAID, LAST YEAR THEY GAVE THE PARTICIPANTS AN OPPORTUNITY TO TAKE A RIDE– THEY DIDN’T GET TO DRIVE, BUT IT’S STILL A FUN RIDE IN THE MARS EXPLORATION VEHICLE– YOU KNOW, THE LITTLE CAR THAT WAS A JOINT PROJECT WITH, I BELIEVE, GM THAT CAN DRIVE SIDEWAYS OR SIT AND SPIN IN ONE SPOT. >> OH, YEAH, THE MRV, YEAH. YEAH, THE MRV. SO THAT’S A FUN ONE, BECAUSE IT’S LITERALLY OMNI-DIRECTIONAL DRIVING. >> EXACTLY. >> SO YOU CAN SPIN, AND GO SIDEWAYS, AND– THAT’S A COOL CAR. >> THEY GIVE EVERYBODY A CHANCE TO RIDE IN THAT. YOU KNOW, PERHAPS WE’LL DO THAT AGAIN, OR GET A CHANCE AT ONE OF THE SUVs THAT ARE OVER THERE. >> AH, YEAH. >> DON’T KNOW– AGAIN, WE’RE STILL NOT– A FEW THINGS WE’VE STILL GOT TO NAIL DOWN BETWEEN NOW AND MARCH, BUT THERE’S DEFINITELY SO MANY NEAT THINGS TO DO HERE. WE’LL GIVE THEM A CHANCE TO SEE THE SATURN V OVER IN THE SATURN V BUILDING, WHICH IS ALWAYS IMPRESSIVE. BECAUSE WE’VE FOUND THAT MOST OF THE FOLKS THAT ARE COMING HAVE NEVER BEEN HERE BEFORE. >> YEAH. >> SO AS I SAID, LAST YEAR WE DID HAVE A TEAM FROM THE LOCAL CLEAR CREEK SCHOOL DISTRICT, BUT OTHER THAN THAT, EVERYBODY WAS REALLY THEIR FIRST TIME TO JOHNSON SPACE CENTER. >> YEAH. >> SO IT’S AMAZING. >> WE MIGHT TAKE THAT A LITTLE BIT FOR GRANTED, BECAUSE WE GO INTO WORK EVERY DAY AND PASS LITERALLY ONE OF THE WORLD’S LARGEST ROCKETS IF NOT THE LARGEST ROCKET– I’M GOING TO HAVE TO DOUBLE CHECK ON THAT. BUT THAT WAS THE ROCKET THAT TOOK US TO THE MOON, JUST LAYING ON ITS SIDE, JUST– YOU KNOW, AS WE’RE DRIVING BY. AND IT’S SO COOL TO– IT’S LIKE A HIKE TO WALK FROM ONE END TO THE OTHER AND SEE THE WHOLE THING. BUT IT’S DEFINITELY ONE OF THE COOL THINGS TO SEE. MISSION CONTROL, DEFINITELY. POGO, THAT’S A GOOD ONE, TOO, BECAUSE YOU’RE KIND OF SUSPENDED ON A STRING THAT SORT OF SIMULATES, RIGHT, SIMULATES– >> IT DOES. IT USES– THE [ INDISTINCT ] AND TAKES THE LOAD OFF SO THAT YOU’RE SUSPENDED AND ACTUALLY FEELING WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE ON A SPACEWALK. >> RIGHT. >> AND THEY SET UP A NICE LITTLE SIMULATION TO USE HANDHOLDS AND MOVE THROUGH TWO OR THREE PLACES AND DO A– TRY TO MAKE A CONNECTION OF A CABLE INTO A SOCKET, WHICH, AGAIN, IF YOU’RE NOT USED TO THAT– YOU KNOW, WHEN WE’RE SITTING HERE SOMEWHERE, OH, LET’S JUST GRAB IT AND PUT IT IN THERE. WELL, YOU’RE PUSHING AGAINST THE FLOOR AND ALL THESE OTHER THINGS THAT AREN’T MOVING. WELL, ALL OF A SUDDEN, EVERYTHING’S MOVING. YOU TAKE THE TINIEST PUSH ON THAT, AND YOU’RE GOING THE OTHER DIRECTION ALL OF A SUDDEN. >> THAT’S RIGHT. MICROGRAVITY. >> MICROGRAVITY AT WORK. IF YOU’RE NOT USED TO IT, IT’S DIFFERENT, WHICH I’M SURE YOU VISIT WITH SOME ASTRONAUTS, THEY’LL ALWAYS TELL YOU THAT. BUT– SO THIS GIVES US FOLKS DOWN HERE ON EARTH A LITTLE PEEK INTO WHAT THAT’S LIKE. >> THAT’S PRETTY COOL. YEAH, NO, THAT’S TRUE. YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT TAKING IT BACK INTO THE CLASSROOM– NEWTON’S LAW OF ANYTHING IN MOTION WILL STAY IN MOTION UNLESS ACTED ON BY ANOTHER FORCE. >> THAT’S RIGHT, OR THAT ACTION AND REACTION– THAT’S THE ONE THAT REALLY GETS YOU ON THAT SPACEWALK. >> AH, I SEE. >> A LITTLE PUSH HERE, AND ALL OF A SUDDEN, YOU’RE ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE ROOM IF YOU’RE NOT CAREFUL. >> THAT’S TRUE. YOU KNOW, TALKING WITH DIFFERENT ASTRONAUTS, OBVIOUSLY, BUT THEN EXTRAVEHICULAR ACTIVITY SPECIALISTS, TOO, THE TRICK IS THE SLOWER, THE BETTER, RIGHT? BECAUSE IF YOU MOVE TOO FAST, THEN IT’S EXACTLY THAT– YOU’RE ALREADY IN MOTION. NOW YOU HAVE TO STOP. >> RIGHT. >> SO YOU KNOW, UNDERSTANDING THAT WHOLE THING. AND NOW YOU’VE GOT THIS 300-POUND SPACESUIT THAT EVEN IN MICROGRAVITY DOESN’T WEIGH THAT MUCH, BUT IT’S STILL A MASS THAT YOU’VE GOT TO CARRY WITH YOU WHENEVER YOU’RE MOVING. >> GOT TO CARRY WITH YOU, GOT TO STOP IT, GOT TO START IT. >> YEAH. >> YEAH, MASS IS STILL MASS NO MATTER WHERE YOU’RE AT. >> EXACTLY. DOES THAT KIND OF TRANSLATE INTO THE CHALLENGE, TOO? IS THERE LIKE UNDERSTANDING MASS AND HOW IT INTERACTS WITH THIS WHOLE SETUP HERE? >> IT REALLY DOES BECAUSE MOMENTUM– YOU GET INTO FORCE OF MOTION, YOU GOT ALL THESE OTHER THINGS– MOMENTUM AND ENERGY– THAT GO INTO IT AS WELL. AND THAT’S ONE THING THAT THEY DO GET A CHANCE TO WORK WITH. OF COURSE, THE WHOLE DEVICE HAS SOME MASS TO IT, BUT SINCE THEY’RE– IF YOU THINK ABOUT FROM AN OLD PHYSICS CLASS ABOUT– TALKING ABOUT MOMENTUM, YOU KNOW, MAYBE SHOOTING A CANNON AND THE BIGGER CANNON WILL SHOOT THE SAME SIZE BALL FURTHER JUST BECAUSE OF THE MASS DIFFERENCES. >> OH, YEAH. >> THEN YOU GET A CHANCE TO ADJUST SOME OF THE MASSES ON THE LAUNCHING DEVICE, THAT THEIR SLED IS CONNECTED TO. SO THEY HAVE TO TAKE THAT INTO ACCOUNT. YOU KNOW, LIKE YOU MENTIONED EARLIER, THERE’S A LOT OF DIFFERENT FACETS TO THIS THAT THEY REALLY THINK THROUGH. >> YEAH. >> AND THAT’S ALSO WHY WE FOCUSED THAT HIGH SCHOOL LEVEL FOR THEM TO TAKE THAT THOSE THAT MAY HAVE HAD THE PHYSICS OR TECHNOLOGY CLASS THAT AT LEAST HAVE BEEN EXPOSED TO THIS AT A LITTLE HIGHER LEVEL. >> DEFINITELY. >> DOESN’T MEAN MIDDLE SCHOOL CAN’T BE INVOLVED, BUT IT’S– THERE’S SOME PRETTY GOOD SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING IN HERE. >> SO THAT– I KIND OF WANT TO EXPLORE THOSE LAYERS A LITTLE BIT MORE ACTUALLY, BECAUSE I FEEL LIKE– WHAT ARE THEY DESIGNING? WHAT ARE THEY BRINGING TO THE TABLE? AND THEN, WHAT ARE THE THINGS THAT ARE HERE THAT THEY HAVE TO INTERACT WITH? LIKE, WHAT’S THE WHOLE CHALLENGE THEN? >> WELL, THE DEVICE THAT THEY’RE BRINGING– WE PROVIDE THEM WITH A– AND THIS IS SIMILAR TO A NUMBER OF DESIGN CHALLENGES THAT ARE OUT THERE IN DIFFERENT PLACES, IS WE PROVIDE THEM WITH A KIT OF SOME BASIC SIMPLE MATERIALS. THAT IS FROM CARDBOARD, TO SOME DOWEL RODS, SOME SMALL PIECES OF WOOD, SPRINGS, RUBBER BANDS, BUNGEE CORDS. THING THAT’LL GIVE YOU THE BASICS OF A DEVICE BECAUSE IN ESSENCE YOU’RE PUTTING TOGETHER THIS LAUNCHING DEVICE. WE CALL IT THE SATELLITE LAUNCHING EXPERIMENTAL DEVICE, OR SLED. >> OH, SO YOU’RE BUILDING A LAUNCHING DEVICE? >> THAT’S WHAT THEY’RE BUILDING. >> GOT IT. >> THE DEVICE IS ACTUALLY GOING TO SHOOT A SATELLITE. IN THIS CASE, WE USE A– ONE OF THOSE LITTLE AIR HOCKEY BALLS YOU CAN KIND OF LIKE BOUNCE AROUND THE KITCHEN. >> LIKE A DISK? >> YEAH, THE DISK THAT’S ABOUT 6-INCHES ACROSS, IT BLOWS AIR DOWN, AND YOU CAN BAT IT AROUND. >> YEAH. >> THAT’S THE SATELLITE THAT THEY’RE TRYING TO LAUNCH FROM THEIR DEVICE INTO THE TARGET. THAT’S ACTUALLY OUR SATELLITE IN THIS. >> THE SATELLITE IS THE HOCKEY DISK? >> IT’S THE HOCKEY DISK. >> OKAY, COOL. >> SO IT’S GOING TO MOVE VERY EASILY ACROSS THAT HIGHLY POLISHED STEEL FLOOR OF THE PABF. SO THEY’RE BUILDING A DEVICE THAT’S GOING TO LAUNCH THAT, TRYING TO HIT THIS SMALL INSERTION TARGET THAT’S MOVING. >> OH, THE INSERTION TARGET IS MOVING! >> YEAH, IT’S MOVING AT THEM, MOVING– HITTING A MOVING TARGET. THAT’S WHY IT’S– THERE’S A LOT TO THIS. >> YEAH. WOW! OKAY. >> SO THEY’VE GOT TO DECIDE, YOU KNOW, HOW TO LAUNCH THIS, HOW FAST IT NEEDS TO GO, WHICH DEPENDS ON HOW MUCH ENERGY THE INPUT IS SO THEY WANT TO USE RUBBER BANDS OR SPRINGS OR SOMETHING MORE HEAVY DUTY. THEY DO GET A CHANCE TO ENHANCE THAT KIT THAT WE GIVE THEM WITH SOME THINGS THEY HAVE THERE AS WELL, ABOUT 20%. IT’S 80/20 ROUGH GUIDELINE FOR THEM TO USE WHAT WE’VE PROVIDED AND THEN DESIGN FROM THEIR OWN MATERIALS THAT THEY HAVE. >> MM-HMM. >> AND TO ME, THE HARDEST PART FOR THEM IS TO DECIDE HOW TO MAKE THAT AUTONOMOUS. YOU KNOW, DECIDE WHAT MECHANISM THEY’RE GOING TO USE TO RELEASE IT AT THE RIGHT TIME AT THE RIGHT SPEED TO HIT THAT TARGET. LAST YEAR, WE HAD SOMEONE THAT BUILT HER OWN BREADBOARDS. WE HAD SOME THAT USED THE LEGO MINDSTORM ROBOT TO ACTUALLY LAUNCH IT– SOMETHING THEY ALREADY HAD AT THEIR SCHOOL. >> YEAH. >> AND THERE ARE OTHER OPTIONS THAT OTHER TEAMS OUT THERE WILL FIND TO MAKE USE OF. USUALLY ONE OF THE FUNNEST PARTS FOR ME IS SEEING THE DIFFERENT DESIGNS THAT THESE TEAMS COME UP WITH. >> YEAH. A BUNCH OF DIFFERENT DESIGNS FOR EXACTLY THE SAME TASK. >> EXACTLY. >> BUT, MAY THE BEST DESIGN WIN, I GUESS. >> EXACTLY. AND, ONCE YOU ACTUALLY– IF YOU’VE EVER BEEN IN ONE OF THESE, IT’S NOT JUST THE DESIGN IT’S EXECUTING THAT DESIGN. SO IT’S ALSO BUILDING IT SO THAT IT WILL WITHSTAND THAT LAUNCH AND ET CETERA. SO YOU’VE GOT TO PUT SOME DURABILITY INTO IT AS WELL. >> KIND OF HARD WITH CARDBOARD AND RUBBER BANDS. >> IT IS, BUT THEY FIND MORE WAYS. >> ALL RIGHT. >> WE HAD A TEAM LAST YEAR THAT TOOK THE CARDBOARD BOX WE SENT THEM, WHICH WE DIDN’T REALLY HAVE IN MIND AT THE TIME FOR THEM TO USE, BUT THEY USED IT AS THEIR BASES AND FIBERGLASSED IT. >> OH! ALL RIGHT, THERE YOU GO. WAY MORE STRUCTURALLY SOUND. EXACTLY. SO, USING THAT– USING THEIR OWN CREATIVITY IS REALLY KEY TO THIS. >> YEAH, DEFINITELY. WOW. SO THE FIRST– SO THEY’RE HERE FOR A WHOLE WEEK THEN, AND THIS CHALLENGE IS– IS IT– YOU SAID THERE’S A LOT OF TESTING INVOLVED IN THE BEGINNING, RIGHT? YOU’RE KIND OF– JUST KIND OF PRACTICING AND– >> THERE IS. IT’S OVER A WEEK, SO THEY COME IN ON A MONDAY. >> YEAH. >> THEY GET A CHANCE THAT FIRST DAY, ONCE THEY GO THROUGH THE SAFETY REVIEWS, SPEND AN HOUR TESTING IT ON THE FLOOR. WHICH DEPENDING ON HOW WELL IT PERFORMS, WHAT KIND OF ADJUSTMENTS THEY MAKE. THEY CAN GET 1 SHOT IN TO 20 OR 30, DEPENDING ON HOW WELL IT WORKS. >> YEAH. WE’VE GOT TO WORK IN THAT TIME FOR THEIR EXPERIENCES AS WELL. TOURS, THE THINGS THAT WE WILL DO. >> YEAH. >> AND THEN, A CHANCE TO DOING THE MODIFICATIONS THEY NEED. AND THEN, THEY ALSO GET A CHANCE THEN– AND THAT’S PROBABLY ON WEDNESDAY. THEN ON THURSDAY, THEY’LL GET A CHANCE TO WORK THROUGH IT AGAIN AND SEE IF THE MODIFICATIONS THEY’VE MADE WORK BETTER AND THEY’LL HAVE A BETTER– ANOTHER HOUR ON THE FLOOR TO GET AS MANY SHOTS IN AS THEY CAN AND SEE WHAT SUCCESSES THEY HAVE. >> MM-HMM. >> BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT YOU’RE LOOKING FOR IS NOT THAT THEY CAN DO IT ONCE, BUT THAT YOU CAN DO IT REPEATEDLY, YOU KNOW, FAIRLY QUICKLY. >> YEAH. >> WE GET THEM COMPETING AGAINST THEMSELVES, HOW MANY TIMES CAN THEY HIT THE TARGET, SO TO SPEAK. >> YEAH. >> AND THEN, WE’LL ASK THEM TO DO A QUICK SUMMARY HERE LOCALLY, SHARE KIND OF A SHOWCASE WHAT THEY’VE LEARNED THROUGHOUT THE WEEK, WHICH WE’LL INVITE THE JSC COMMUNITY TO COME AND PARTICIPATE IN AS WELL. >> OH, REALLY? >> LIKE WE DO WITH A LOT OF THESE ACTIVITIES, YEAH. >> COOL. SO, REAL SCIENTISTS AND ENGINEERS FROM HERE AT THE CENTER COME AND CHECK IT OUT. >> THEY’LL HAVE THAT OPEN INVITE. >> ALL RIGHT, COOL. SO THEY HAVE A LOT OF TIME TO KIND OF REFINE EVERYTHING AND PRACTICE, BECAUSE THEY COME HERE ON A MONDAY AND BY– >> BY FRIDAY, THEY’RE DONE AND HEADED HOME [ INDISTINCT, 33:33] THAT SHOWCASE. >> YEAH. >> SO THEY– REALLY, THEY GET TO SPEND ABOUT OUT OF THAT 2-3 HOURS ON THE FLOOR. >> WOW. >> SO BETWEEN ALL THE TEAMS IT’S A LOT OF TIME, BUT AN INDIVIDUAL TEAM GETS ABOUT 2 HOURS ON THE FLOOR IS ALL. >> OH, THAT’S RIGHT, BECAUSE– OH, BECAUSE YOU HAVE TO SHARE. I DIDN’T THINK ABOUT THAT. >> GOT TO SHARE. YEAH, GOT TO SHARE. >> YOU GOT TO SHARE THE FLOOR. OKAY. WOW, THAT’S SUCH A COOL EXPERIENCE. YEAH, I HAD NO IDEA THAT THAT WAS SOMETHING– YOU KNOW, BECAUSE I– WHEN I– IN HIGH SCHOOL, I REMEMBER DABBLING IN ALL KINDS OF DIFFERENT FIELDS, RIGHT? >> RIGHT. >> BECAUSE HIGH SCHOOL IS KIND OF THE TIME WHERE YOU TRY TO FIGURE THAT OUT, RIGHT? “OKAY, WHAT AM I GOING TO DO FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE?” >> EXACTLY. >> SO YOU KIND OF DO SOME CHALLENGES OVER HERE, SOME THINGS. DO YOU FIND THAT THE STUDENTS ARE MORE SORT OF SET ON, “YEAH, YOU KNOW WHAT? SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING IS FOR ME?” OR DO YOU FIND THEM KIND OF THIS IS ANOTHER STEP ON THEIR EXPLORATORY MISSION OF WHAT THEY WANT TO DO FOR THE REST OF THEIR LIVES? >> BEING THE FIRST TIME WE’LL HAVE STUDENTS HERE, MY GUESS IS THAT WE WILL FIND MOST OF THE ONES THAT ARE COMING HERE ARE REALLY INTERESTED IN SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING. >> YEAH. >> BUT, I’M SURE THAT THERE ARE A LOT THAT ARE ON THE TEAM BACK HOME THAT ARE STILL CHECKING THINGS OUT. >> YEAH. >> AND I’M ALSO SAYING THAT FROM MY EXPERIENCE. I’M A FORMER CLASSROOM TEACHER. I TAUGHT PHYSICS AND WAS A ROBOTICS COACH. >> ALL RIGHT. >> SO THERE’S SO MANY FACETS TO THIS PROGRAM AS WELL. YOU KNOW, WE GIVE THEM A CHANCE TO DESIGN THEIR OWN TEAM PATCH, YOU KNOW, OR LIKE A MISSION PATCH AND SUCH THAT YOU CAN REALLY BRING IN A LOT OF DIFFERENT THINGS. MATTER OF FACT, I WAS– ONE OF OUR TEACHERS LAST YEAR WAS ACTUALLY THE FRENCH TEACHER THAT WAS INVOLVED. >> HUH. >> BUT SHE WAS ALSO INTERESTED IN SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING AND SHE FOUND WAYS THOUGH TO WORK THIS INTO HER FRENCH CURRICULUM AND ALL SORTS OF THINGS. YOU KNOW, WHEN YOU GET CREATIVE THERE’S LOTS OF CONNECTIONS YOU CAN MAKE, BECAUSE EVERYTHING IS CONNECTED. >> OUI. >> BUT YOU KNOW, FOR THE STUDENTS, IT’LL BE INTERESTING TO SEE THIS YEAR AS WE– BECAUSE WE WILL SURVEY THEM BEFORE AND AFTERWARDS IF THIS CHANGES THEIR FEELING ABOUT STEM CAREERS OR– BE IT SCIENCE, OR ENGINEERING, OR TECHNOLOGY, OR WHATEVER IT MIGHT BE, WE WILL ASK THAT QUESTION SO WE’LL HAVE SOME BETTER DATA LATER. >> DEFINITELY. NO, THIS IS– IT’S KIND OF THE MISSION OF WHY WE DO NASA– EDUCATION HERE AT NASA IS TO KIND OF– IS THAT FAIR TO SAY? IS THAT THIS KIND OF HELPS INSPIRE THE NEXT GENERATION? >> THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT WE’RE TRYING TO DO. I MEAN, THAT’S WHAT THESE ARE ALL ABOUT, NOT ONLY INSPIRE THOSE STUDENTS, BUT GIVE THE TEACHERS THAT ARE WORKING WITH THEM THE TOOLS TO HELP NOT ONLY THE STUDENTS THEY BRING THIS TIME BUT STUDENTS IN THE FUTURE. >> YEAH. >> THEY GET A CHANCE TO DO THIS, OR THEY CAN GO DO SOMETHING SIMILAR ON THEIR OWN. >> YEAH. SO THAT’S– MAYBE LESSON PLANS ARE A PART OF THIS, RIGHT? OR IS THAT ANOTHER PART OF NASA EDUCATION, THERE ARE LESSON PLANS? >> IT REALLY IS– WE DON’T NECESSARILY DESIGN A LOT OF LESSON PLANS HERE PER SE. >> OH. >> WE DO PROVIDE A LOT OF [ INDISTINCT, 36:21] AND MATERIAL. WE TALKED ABOUT, YOU KNOW, MICROGRAVITY EARLIER AND LEARNING ABOUT THAT. >> YEAH. >> AND WE HAVE AN ENTIRE LESSON GUIDE ON MICROGRAVITY, DEMONSTRATIONS AND LESSONS THAT THEY CAN USE, WHICH WE’LL BE SHARING WITH THE EDUCATORS, OF COURSE. >> COOL. >> BUT, WHAT WE’RE REALLY TRYING TO DO IS GET THEM ENGAGED IN THESE UNIQUE EXPERIENCES AND REALLY GIVE THEM THAT OPPORTUNITY FOR THEM AND THEIR STUDENTS TO EXPERIENCE IT AND WORK THAT INTO THEIR LONG TERM DEVELOPMENT AS AN EDUCATOR. >> YEAH. OH, OKAY. RIGHT, BECAUSE YOU GOT EDUCATORS HERE, RIGHT? THE FRENCH TEACHER. >> THAT’S RIGHT. >> AND YOU GOT OTHER FOLKS COMING THAT ARE GOING TO APPLY THIS, RIGHT? >> THAT’S RIGHT. >> THAT’S VERY COOL. >> AND THAT’S ONE OF THE THINGS WE FOUND LAST YEAR IS THAT THEY FOUND SO MANY WAYS TO DO– THIS IS SOMETHING IN EDUCATIONS THAT’S CALLED THE PROJECT-BASED LEARNING. >> HMM. >> AND A LOT OF THEM ARE NOT, YOU KNOW, THEY MAY DO THIS ON A SMALL SCALE, BUT THEY FOUND THIS IS A WAY THAT THEY CAN DO MORE LARGER PROBLEM-BASED LESSONS BACK HOME. IT GAVE THEM THE COURAGE TO GO HOME AND DO THAT, THE KNOWLEDGE TO DO IT. IT WAS QUITE A DEAL. ONE STORY I WANT TO SHARE THAT I THOUGHT WAS JUST SO MOTIVATING TO ME AS WELL THAT IT’S IMPORTANT WE DO THESE IS WE HAD A TEACHER DOING A GREAT JOB, HAVING FUN, IT WAS OBVIOUS. BUT WAS, FROM MY POINT OF VIEW, WAS ACTUALLY SHOCKED THAT THEY– IN THE WEEK, HE’S GIVING US A BREAKDOWN OF WHAT HE’D LEARNED IS, YOU KNOW, ALMOST– I CAN’T QUOTE HIM EXACTLY, BUT BASICALLY WHAT HE WAS SAYING WAS HE HAD HAD SUCH A TREMENDOUS EXPERIENCE HERE AND LEARNED SO MUCH MORE ABOUT WHAT HE COULD SHARE WITH STUDENTS THAT HE DECIDED NOT TO RETIRE AND CONTINUE TO TEACH. >> WOW! HOW ABOUT THAT. >> YEAH, IT IS VERY INSPIRING WHAT THEY’RE ABLE TO DO HERE AND WHAT THEY’RE ABLE TO TAKE BACK AND SHARE. >> A NEW WAVE OF INSPIRATION. >> EXACTLY. >> THAT’S PRETTY COOL. >> SO IT’S NOT JUST THE YOUNG KIDS WE’RE INSPIRING, IT’S THOSE DEDICATED EDUCATORS OUT THERE AS WELL. >> YEAH, DECIDED TO STICK AROUND. THAT’S AWESOME, NOT EVEN RETIRE. THAT’S REALLY COOL. I COULD TOTALLY AGREE WITH THE PROJECT-BASED LEARNING, TOO, BECAUSE I’M THINKING– WHILE YOU WERE TALKING ABOUT THAT I WAS THINKING ABOUT EXPERIENCES IN HIGH SCHOOL AND EARLIER THAN THAT EVEN WHERE– I THINK THE LESSONS, WHEN IT COMES TO LIKE ACTUAL LESSONS THAT I LEARNED AND THINGS I LEARNED IN SCHOOL. THE THINGS I TAKE AWAY THE MOST ARE WHENEVER THERE WAS SOMETHING VERY SPECIFIC THAT I HAD TO DO. IT WAS A TASK, RIGHT, THAT YOU HAD TO START AND THEN FINISH. AND THROUGH THAT WHOLE THING YOU SORT OF CAN PULL BACK AND LEARN THAT BROADER PIECE OF INFORMATION, THE WHOLE PURPOSE OF WHY YOU WERE DOING THAT PROJECT. >> RIGHT. THAT’S WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT. WE ALL KNOW IT WORKS BEST, BUT SOMETIMES MAKING IT– PUTTING IT IN ACTION IS NOT THE EASIEST THING TO DO. >> YEAH. >> SO THIS GIVES EDUCATORS A CHANCE TO LEARN HOW TO DO IT AND GIVES STUDENTS A LARGE IMMERSION INTO THIS KIND OF ACTIVITY. >> DEFINITELY. WELL, WHAT ABOUT YOU, MIKE? BECAUSE YOU– YOU’RE HERE AS A– ARE YOU CONSIDERED A NASA EDUCATOR, IS THAT WHAT YOU ARE? OR DO YOU HAVE A DIFFERENT JOB TITLE? >> THAT’S BASICALLY MY JOB TITLE, A NASA EDUCATION SPECIALIST. >> EDUCATION SPECIALIST, YEAH. >> DO A LOT OF DIFFERENT THINGS, DESIGN THIS EXPERIENCE THAT WE’RE GETTING READY TO PUT TOGETHER, WHICH WILL INVOLVE SO MANY DIFFERENT THINGS, COORDINATE ALL OF THAT. SO I’M KIND OF A PROGRAM MANAGER IN A WAY. >> YEAH. >> BUT, HAVE TO BRING THE EDUCATION VALUE TO IT, WHICH IS I THINK WHY AS A FORMER CLASSROOM EDUCATOR IT’S– EXCUSE ME, THAT’S A REQUIREMENT FOR MY JOB. >> YEAH. HOW’D YOU– HOW DID THAT CAREER PATH GO? HOW’D YOU GET FROM HIGH SCHOOL EDUCATOR TO THE PHYSICS TEACHER ALL THE WAY TO NASA? HOW’D THAT GO? >> WELL, ACTUALLY, I WAS TRAINED AS AN EDUCATOR IN COLLEGE, BUT WENT OFF IN ANOTHER DIRECTION WITH A NON-PROFIT FOR A WHILE. BUT I WAS COMING BACK INTO EDUCATION I KNEW THAT I NEEDED TO REFINE MY SCIENCE SKILLS AGAIN. YOU KNOW, ANYTHING GETS A LITTLE RUSTY WHEN YOU DON’T USE IT. SO I WAS LOOKING FOR SOME SUMMER OPPORTUNITIES TO– I DIDN’T WANT TO JUST GO BACK TO SCHOOL, BUT I KNEW IF I LOOKED I COULD PROBABLY FIND SOME OPPORTUNITIES. AND FORTUNATELY, ACTUALLY JOHNSON SPACE CENTER THERE WERE SOME OPPORTUNITIES TO COME DOWN AND BE A MENTOR FOR ACTUALLY THAT– SPEND A WEEK HERE AT JOHNSON SPACE CENTER AND WORK WITH STUDENTS AND THAT’S WHEN I FOUND ALL OF THE NEAT THINGS THAT WERE GOING ON HERE. >> YEAH. >> AND DID THAT, GOT ME HOOKED ON NASA, AGAIN. BECAUSE I REMEMBER THE MOON LANDING, SO YOU KNOW, IT’S ALWAYS BEEN THERE IN THE BACK OF MY MIND, BUT WHAT COULD IT DO FOR EDUCATION? >> RIGHT. >> EXCUSE ME. AND ONCE I FOUND OUT THERE WERE OPPORTUNITIES I STARTED LOOKING FOR MORE AND I FOUND THEM. I HAD OPPORTUNITIES TO GO INTO DIFFERENT THINGS. AND FINALLY, I FOUND OUT, “HEY, THERE’S A JOB. I CAN ACTUALLY GO DO THIS.” I APPLIED AND A COUPLE YEARS LATER I WAS LUCKY ENOUGH AND HERE I AM. YOU KNOW, IT WAS A JOURNEY ITSELF. >> YEAH. >> BUT I’M GLAD I’M HERE. IT IS VERY INSPIRING TO GET TO WORK WITH ALL THESE EDUCATORS AND STUDENTS OUT THERE. >> DEFINITELY. YEAH, I WAS A STUDENT MYSELF WHEN I FIRST GOT HERE AND TRANSITIONED MORE TOWARDS THE MENTOR ROLE. AND SO, I CAN APPRECIATE ALL THIS STUFF THAT YOU’RE DOING, BECAUSE I LIVED IT. I WAS THERE. I WAS DEFINITELY INSPIRED TO COME WORK HERE THROUGH THE INTERNSHIPS AND FELLOWSHIPS AND ALL THE OTHER OPPORTUNITIES, TOO. I WORKED WITH– DID A ROTATION IN EDUCATION, ACTUALLY WORKING ON VARIOUS PROGRAMS THERE. >> OKAY. >> WHAT WAS– AND I ACTUALLY DID REDUCED GRAVITY. THAT WAS ONE OF THE PROGRAMS I WORKED WITH. >> OKAY. >> HAS WAS ANOTHER ONE. SO WHAT’S– DO YOU WORK WITH HAS AT ALL? >> I REALLY WORK WITH THEM JUST A LITTLE BIT, USUALLY HELPING THEM DURING THE SUMMER WHEN THEY HAVE SOME STUDENTS HERE WHEN THEY NEED EXTRA ESCORTS FOR SOME OF THEIR TOURS AND ALL. BUT, AS I MENTIONED, THAT PROGRAM THAT I FIRST HAD THE SUMMER TO COME AND WORK FOR A WEEK, THAT WAS THE FIRST YEAR THAT THEY DID HAS. >> REALLY? >> IT WAS, AND I WAS A MENTOR FOR ONE OF THOSE WEEKS DURING THAT INITIAL YEAR FOR HIGH SCHOOL AEROSPACE SCHOLARS. SO YEAH, I’VE WORKED WITH THEM OFF AND ON THROUGHOUT THE YEARS AS WELL. >> ALL RIGHT. HAS IT CHANGED? HAVE YOU NOTICED SINCE ITS INCEPTION? >> IT HAS. A LOT OF IT IS THE SAME. THEY’VE REFINED REALLY WHAT’S TO ME THE DIFFERENCE IS, THEN IT WAS A CHANCE TO– STUDENTS JUST CAME AND SPENT THE WEEK HERE AND HAD A GREAT EXPERIENCE. BUT THEY’VE ADDED A LOT OF PRE-WORK THAT THE STUDENTS NEED TO DO, AN ONLINE COURSE, ACTUALLY, AND PREPARATION FOR COMING HERE. >> THAT’S RIGHT. >> AND THAT’S MADE IT A DEEPER EXPERIENCE FOR THE STUDENTS. THAT’S BEEN A GREAT ADDITION TO IT. >> YEAH. AND JUST TO PULL BACK EVEN FURTHER JUST FOR THE LISTENERS SAKE, IT’S HIGH SCHOOL AEROSPACE SCHOLAR, RIGHT? >> RIGHT. >> THAT’S HAS. AND IT’S ANOTHER– IT’S KIND OF LIKE MICROGRAVITY UNIVERSITY WHERE IT’S A CHALLENGE BASED COURSE AND YOU COME HERE FOR A WEEK AND DO THE CHALLENGE, RIGHT? >> THAT’S RIGHT. IT’S A SERIES OF SMALLER CHALLENGES THAT THEY DO. LIKE, IT’S DESIGNING AND BUILDING A ROCKET, A SMALL ROBOT. SO IT’S A BUNCH OF SMALL CHALLENGES THAT THEY DO. I BELIEVE ALMOST A DAILY KIND OF FOCUS CHALLENGE THAT THEY DO. AGAIN, NOT WORKING WITH IT DIRECTLY I DON’T WANT TO TALK TOO MUCH. >> OH, YEAH. >> BUT, IT DEFINITELY DOES HAVE THOSE ELEMENTS LIKE OUR LARGE CHALLENGE FOR MGUE HAS BUT JUST ON A LITTLE SMALLER SCALE. >> YEAH, JUST FROM MENTORING IT, I KNOW THAT THEY– AT LEAST FOR WHEN I WAS MENTORING IT, THEY DID LIKE A MARS ROBOTICS CHALLENGE AND YOU HAD TO DESIGN A ROVER. AND THEN, DO THIS COMPETITION WHERE YOU KIND OF HAD THIS MAT THAT WAS YOUR MARS, RIGHT. >> RIGHT. >> YOUR MARTIAN SURFACE AND THEY HAD ROCKS AND LITTLE SHINY PIECES OF WATER, I GUESS. AND YOU HAD TO COLLECT AS MUCH AS YOU COULD, BRING IT BACK TO YOUR HOME BASE, AND THEN HOWEVER MUCH YOU COLLECTED THEN THAT’S HOW YOU WON. AND THAT WAS THE COMPETITION. IT WAS PRETTY COOL. >> IT IS, AND THAT SOUNDS VERY SIMILAR TO THE– THERE’S A VERSION THAT’S FOR COMMUNITY COLLEGE STUDENTS. >> OH. >> AND THAT’S DEFINITELY WHAT THE COMMUNITY COLLEGE AEROSPACE SCHOLARS DOES, OR WHAT WE REFER TO AS NCAS. >> NCAS, OKAY. >> YEAH. >> IS THAT FOR TEXAS COMMUNITY COLLEGE OR IS THAT ACROSS– >> THAT ONE’S NATIONWIDE. >> NATIONWIDE. ALL RIGHT, COOL. >> AND ACTUALLY, THEY DO THAT ONE IN MULTIPLE NASA CENTERS. >> WOW. EDUCATION HAS QUITE A FEW PROGRAMS GOING ON, HUH? >> IT SURE DOES. >> YEAH, THAT’S QUITE A FEW. I KNOW JUST UNDER THE MICROGRAVITY UNIVERSITY, WE TALKED ABOUT THIS COMPETITION HERE. BUT THEN ALSO, WE KIND OF SKIMMED IT OVER, BUT MICRO-G NExT IS ANOTHER ONE, RIGHT? THAT’S– >> RIGHT, MICRO-G NExT IS ANOTHER ONE. THAT ONE’S AGAIN FOCUSED AT GRADUATE OR UNDERGRADUATE COLLEGE LEVEL STUDENTS. >> OH, OKAY. >> AND IT IS FOCUSED ON– THEY WORK WITH THE ENGINEERING TEAM THAT WORKS ON SPACEWALKING TOOLS. >> ALL RIGHT. >> SO THEY’RE GIVEN A CHALLENGE OR TWO. THEY CHOOSE WHICH ONE THAT THEY WANT, BUT USUALLY THERE’S TWO OPTIONS THAT GO OUT IN THE PROPOSAL. THEY CHOOSE WHICH ONE THEY WANT TO WORK ON, THEY DEVELOP THAT, AND THEN THEY GET A CHANCE TO BRING IT HERE AND THEY WORK UP A TEST THAT’S ACTUALLY PERFORMED IN THE NEUTRAL BUOYANCY LAB. >> MM-HMM. >> STUDENTS DON’T GET TO GO ACTUALLY DIVE IN PUT IT– THEY WORK WITH THE DIVERS OUT THERE. >> DARN. >> AGAIN, ONE OF THOSE, “AH, SHUCKS, CAN’T DO THAT.” BUT THEY’RE THERE, THEY’RE WATCHING IT RIGHT ON THE MONITORS, THEY’RE GETTING FEEDBACK FROM THE DIVERS ABOUT HOW WELL IT WORKED, HOW EASILY– WHAT THE EASE WITH WHICH THEY WERE ABLE TO UTILIZE THE TOOL. >> YEAH. >> SO THEY GET ALL THAT SAME ENGINEERING FEEDBACK VERY SIMILAR TO WHAT THE ENGINEERS HERE DO. >> YEAH. WOW, OKAY, COOL. SO YEAH, A LOT OF THESE CHALLENGES ARE KIND OF BASED OFF OF LITERALLY WHAT IS DONE HERE AT NASA. >> OH, DEFINITELY. IT REALLY NEEDS TO BE TIED INTO WHAT WE’RE DOING, EITHER RUNNING PARALLEL, LIKE WE MENTIONED WHAT WE’RE DOING IS VERY SIMILAR TO LAUNCHING THE CUBESATS ON THE ISS. >> YEAH. >> AND IT’S VERY SIMILAR TO A MISSION, WORKING WITH MISSION CONTROL. BUT AS YOU GET INTO THE MICRO-G NExT AND SOME OF THE OTHERS, IT IS VERY MUCH WHAT THEY’RE– WHAT THEY’RE GOING TO BE DESIGNING IS A TOOL THAT MAYBE THAT DESIGN WORKS ITS WAY INTO A REAL TOOL. >> OH, WOW. HAVE YOU SEEN– HAVE YOU SEEN EXAMPLES OF THAT? HAVE YOU SEEN EXAMPLES OF STUDENT RUN PROJECTS THAT GOT FIT INTO LIKE REAL– >> ACTUALLY, THERE’S SEVERAL, AND LET ME THROW IN ANOTHER PROGRAM, THROW IT OUT THERE. >> YEAH. >> IT’S CALLED HUNCH. >> OKAY. >> I CANNOT REMEMBER EXACTLY WHAT THAT ACRONYM STANDS FOR, BUT IT’S BASICALLY HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS DESIGNING SPACE HARDWARE. >> OKAY. >> AND A NUMBER OF DIFFERENT THINGS. THEY’VE ACTUALLY DONE SOME DIFFERENT CHALLENGES ON SPACE HARDWARE. THEY’VE ALSO DONE A FOOD CHALLENGE WHERE THEY ACTUALLY COME UP WITH A NEW RECIPE WORKING WITH THE FOOD LAB ON THAT. >> SWEET. >> ONE THING THEY’RE TESTING RIGHT NOW ON BOARD SPACE STATION ARE– IS FOOTWEAR. >> OH. >> TO– I’M NOT SURE WHAT YOU WOULD CALL IT, A SLIP-ON BOOTY, A MOCCASIN– A SPACE MOCCASIN, WHATEVER IT MIGHT BE. >> SPACE MOCCASIN SOUNDS PRETTY COOL. >> YEAH, THERE YOU GO. BECAUSE YOU GOT TO PROTECT YOUR FEET UP THERE, BUT SOME OF THE– BUT WHEN YOU’RE– WHAT I UNDERSTAND THE PROBLEM IS, WHEN THEY LOCK IN ON SOME OF THE HANDHOLDS OR FOOTHOLDS, WE’RE NOT USED TO HAVING THE TOPS OF OUR FEET IN THAT SITUATION, RUBBING SOME SORE SPOTS. SO THEY’VE DEVELOPED THESE SPACE MOCCASINS, WE’LL GO AHEAD AND USE THAT TERM. AND THEY’RE TESTING THOSE RIGHT NOW ON BOARD TO SEE HOW WELL THEY WORK AND THEY’LL GET FEEDBACK FROM THE GUYS ON ORBIT– THE GUYS AND GALS ON ORBIT AND SEE HOW WELL THEY WORK OR MAKE MODIFICATIONS AND TRY IT AGAIN. >> THAT IS SO TRUE, BECAUSE THEY DO A TON OF SCIENCE ALL THE TIME, THEY’RE WORKING ALL THE TIME, 200 EXPERIMENTS GOING ON IN ANY 6 MONTH INCREMENT. THERE’S JUST SO MUCH WORK TO BE DONE, INCLUDING MAINTENANCE AND ALL THAT, BUT YOU DON’T THINK ABOUT YOU’RE– YOU KNOW, YOU’RE NOT WALKING, YOU’RE WORKING WITH YOUR HANDS AND YOUR FEET ARE LOCKED INTO THESE HANDRAILS ALL THE TIME, CONSTANTLY JAMMING INTO THESE METAL HANDRAILS. OF COURSE THEY’RE GOING TO GET SORE. >> RIGHT. >> THAT MAKES SO MUCH SENSE. WOW, ALL RIGHT. CAN’T WAIT TO SEE WHAT THESE SPACE MOCCASINS ARE GOING TO BE. >> YEAH, THAT’S WHAT– I KNOW THEY’VE WORKED ON THE DINING TABLES AND A NUMBER OF OTHER– DIDN’T BRUSH UP ON THAT, BUT THAT’S A GREAT PROJECT AS WELL, AND IT’S CALLED HUNCH. >> COOL. YEAH. ALL RIGHT, YEAH. THE DAY TO DAY STUFF, THAT SOUNDS PRETTY COOL TO WORK ON THAT. >> THAT’S RIGHT. >> ALL RIGHT. >> THERE’S ONE THING YOU MENTIONED EARLIER, IF I CAN THROW OUT THERE. >> YEAH, SURE. >> YOU TALKED ABOUT WHEN YOU WERE AN INTERN AND OTHERS HOW YOU WERE MENTORED. >> YEAH. >> YOU WENT THROUGH THAT PROGRAM. AND THAT’S ONE OF THE OTHER THINGS THAT WE GET WITH THE MICROGRAVITY TEAMS THAT’LL BE INVITED TO COME DOWN HERE DURING THEIR DESIGN AND BUILDING. AND ACTUALLY, WHILE THEY’RE TESTING HERE, WE’RE RECRUITING NASA JSC PERSONNEL TO BE MENTORS TO WORK WITH THEM THROUGHOUT THAT PROCESS, TO BE A TECHNICAL ADVISOR, COACH, YOU KNOW, MENTOR THROUGHOUT THIS AS WELL. OF COURSE, WHEN THEY’RE WORKING DESIGNING THEY’LL BE VISITING WITH THEM VIRTUALLY, YOU KNOW, EMAIL, OR WHATEVER THEY ARE DOING THERE. BUT WHEN THEY’RE ACTUALLY ON SITE THROUGHOUT THAT WEEK, ESPECIALLY DURING TESTING, WE’LL INVITE THEIR MENTORS TO BE THERE WITH THEM AND GO THROUGH THAT. AND THE MENTORS HAVE A LOT OF FUN WITH THAT AS WELL. >> I CAN IMAGINE, ESPECIALLY– I MEAN, YOU’RE WORKING THROUGH THESE CHALLENGES TOGETHER. JUST ANY KIND OF CHALLENGE-BASED THING, I CAN SEE ANYONE GETTING CHARGED ABOUT THAT KIND OF STUFF. THAT’S REALLY COOL. >> THEY ARE. YOU KNOW, THEY VOLUNTEER FOR IT. YO UKNOW, WE ASK FOR VOLUNTEERS, WE’RE IN THAT PROCESS RIGHT NOW. >> YEAH. >> SO WE JUST SHOUT IF ANYBODY WANTS TO VOLUNTEER FOR THAT. BUT, YEAH, THAT’S JUST ANOTHER LAYER THEY EXPERIENCE TO HAVE THAT NASA CONNECTION WITH A MENTOR AS WELL. >> YEAH. HEY, THAT’S PRETTY COOL. YOU’RE COMING TO NASA, YOU’RE SEEING ALL THE COOL STUFF, DOING REAL NASA CHALLENGES THAT ARE PERFECTLY APPLICABLE TO REAL SPACE FLIGHT, AND TALKING WITH NASA SCIENTISTS AND ENGINEERS ALONG THE WAY. >> RIGHT. >> AND DOING IT IN REAL NICE FACILITIES. >> AND DOING IT IN REAL NICE– >> ALL AT THE SAME TIME. I MEAN, WHAT ELSE COULD WE ADD TO THIS? >> ALL RIGHT, WELL, MICROGRAVITY UNIVERSITY. THIS IS THE PLACE TO GO IF YOU REALLY WANT THE TRUE NASA EXPERIENCE. SO I WANT TO KIND OF END WITH JUST THE OVERARCHING IDEA OF EDUCATION AT NASA. YOU KNOW, JUST TALKING ABOUT ALL OF THIS SEEMS PRETTY APPARENT, BUT IF YOU CAN KIND OF PUT LIKE A LITTLE– I GUESS, BECAUSE OF THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT COMING UP, A LITTLE STAR ON TOP OF THIS TREE, OR A LITTLE CHERRY ON THE FRUITCAKE. NOBODY LIKES FRUITCAKE, COME ON. YOU KNOW, WHAT IS THE WHOLE IDEA OF NASA EDUCATION, THE PURPOSE OF WHY WE DO IT? >> WELL, THE PURPOSE IS TO INSPIRE AND ENGAGE. WE WANT– IF WE’RE WILLING TO CONTINUE WITH EXPLORATION OF THE UNIVERSE IT’S GOING TO TAKE AN EDUCATED WORKFORCE WITH LOTS OF CREATIVE IDEAS AND AN UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT IT TAKES TO WORK OUT THERE, BECAUSE IT’S NOT EASY. IT’S NOT LIKE BEING HERE. IT’S A DIFFERENT ENVIRONMENT, IT’S LOTS OF DIFFERENT CHALLENGES THAT WE’RE LEARNING MORE AND MORE EVERY DAY. WE MAY THINK WE’VE SOLVED ONE, BUT WHEN WE DO WE DISCOVER THERE’S 20 MORE THAT WE HAVE TO DEAL WITH. WHEREVER WE’RE GOING, BE IT TO LUNAR ORBIT OR TO MARS OR BEYOND, WHATEVER IT’LL BE WE’VE GOT TO HAVE PEOPLE THAT DO THAT THAT ARE INTERESTED IN THIS. SO THAT’S OUR JOB IS TO INSPIRE AND ENGAGE AND GET THOSE FOLKS IN THE PIPELINE SO THAT THEY CAN BE INVOLVED DOWN THE ROAD. >> ALL RIGHT. THAT WAS A PERFECT WAY OF WRAPPING IT UP, MIKE. >> I HOPE SO. >> VERY COOL. ALL RIGHT, WELL, STICK AROUND UNTIL AFTER THE MUSIC HERE AND WE’LL RECAP THAT WEBSITE FOR YOU OF WHERE YOU CAN APPLY TO SIGN-UP AND SEND YOUR PROPOSALS TO MIKE HERE FOR MICROGRAVITY UNIVERSITY AND ALL THE OTHER COOL STUFF. THERE’S MORE THAN JUST MICROGRAVITY UNIVERSITY, SO WE’LL KIND OF SHARE THAT, TOO. BUT, MIKE, THANKS SO MUCH FOR COMING ON AND DESCRIBING ALL OF THIS– THESE COOL CHALLENGES AND THE GREAT EXPERIENCE THAT THE STUDENTS AND EDUCATORS ARE GOING TO COME DO. >> MY PLEASURE. I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO IT. >> VERY COOL. [ MUSIC ] >> HOUSTON, GO AHEAD. >> TOP OF THE SPACE SHUTTLE. >> ROGER, ZERO-G AND I FEEL FINE. >> SHUTTLE HAS CLEARED THE TOWER. >> WE CAME IN PEACE FOR ALL MANKIND. >> IT’S ACTUALLY A HUGE HONOR TO BREAK THE RECORD LIKE THIS. >> NOT BECAUSE THEY ARE EASY, BUT BECAUSE THEY ARE HARD. >> HOUSTON, WELCOME TO SPACE. >> HEY, THANKS FOR STICKING AROUND. SO AS PROMISED, HERE IS THE MAGIC LINK WHERE YOU CAN SUBMIT ALL OF YOUR GOOD IDEAS, YOUR PROPOSALS TO PARTICIPATE IN THE MICROGRAVITY UNIVERSITY NEXT YEAR, AS MIKE SAID, IN MARCH. IF YOU GO TO GO.NASA.GOV/NASAMGUE, AND THAT’S N-A-S-A-M-G-U-E. MICROGRAVITY UNIVERSITY. SO THAT’S WHERE YOU CAN GO AND SUBMIT THE PROPOSAL AND FIND THAT EVERYTHING THERE IS TO KNOW ABOUT THE PROGRAM. IF YOU WANT TO KNOW– OH, AND BY THE WAY, THAT’S DECEMBER 13th– DECEMBER 13th IS THE DEADLINE TO SUBMIT THOSE PROPOSALS. IF YOU WANT TO KNOW ALL OF THE OTHER EDUCATION PROGRAMS GOING ON, SOMETIMES THEY’RE KIND OF SCATTERED, SO YOU GOT THEM GOING ON ALL THROUGHOUT THE YEAR. SOME OF THEM ARE IN MARCH, LIKE THE MICROGRAVITY UNIVERSITY. I KNOW HAS, HIGH SCHOOL AEROSPACE SCHOLARS, IS IN MORE OF THE SUMMER. BUT THEY KIND OF GOT SPREAD OUT. BUT IF YOU WANT TO KNOW ALL OF THE EDUCATION PROGRAMS AND MAYBE YOU’RE GOING TO MISS THE DEADLINE HERE BUT YOU WANT PARTICIPATE IN THE NEXT UPCOMING ONE GO TO NASA.GOV/EDUCATION AND YOU CAN GET A PRETTY GOOD LIST OF ALL THE ONES HERE AT THE JOHNSON SPACE CENTER, BUT ALSO ALL ACROSS THE SPACE AGENCY AT DIFFERENT CENTERS ACROSS THE U.S. IF YOU WANT TO KNOW SOME OF THE THINGS GOING ON TO SEE SOME PICTURES, IF YOU KIND OF DIDN’T REALLY UNDERSTAND KIND OF THE VISUALS– MIKE DID A PRETTY GOOD JOB OF ACTUALLY DESCRIBING THE VISUALS OF HOW EVERYTHING WAS SET UP, BUT IF YOU WANT TO SEE SOME OF THE PROGRAMS HERE JUST GO TO, ON SOCIAL MEDIA, @JSCEDUCATION. ON FACEBOOK IS WHERE YOU CAN FIND ALL THE STUFF GOING ON HERE AT THE JOHNSON SPACE CENTER. @NASAEDU ON TWITTER IS WHERE YOU CAN FIND ALL OF THE EDUCATION PROGRAMS GOING ON ACROSS THE AGENCY. AND THEN, ALSO, WE’D LIKE TO SHARE THINGS ON THE JOHNSON SPACE CENTER ACCOUNTS, SO LIKE WE SAY IN PREVIOUS EPISODES, NASA JOHNSON SPACE CENTER ON FACEBOOK, AND THEN @NASAJOHNSON ON INSTAGRAM, AND TWITTER IT’S THERE, TOO. SO IF YOU WANT TO ASK A QUESTION ABOUT THE SHOW, JUST USE THE HASHTAG #ASKNASA, OR IF YOU HAVE A QUESTION ABOUT HOW TO APPLY OR ANY OF THE EDUCATION PROGRAMS USE #ASKNASA ON ANY ONE OF THOSE PLATFORMS AND GO AHEAD AND ASK A QUESTION. AND IF YOU HAVE AN IDEA FOR THIS SHOW JUST MAKE SURE TO MENTION IT THROUGH “HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PODCAST.” THIS PODCAST WAS RECORDED ON NOVEMBER 20th, 2017. THANKS TO ALEX PERRYMAN, DYNAE FULLWOOD, AND STACEY WELCH. THANKS AGAIN TO MR. MIKE McGLONE FOR COMING ON THE SHOW. WE’LL BE BACK NEXT WEEK.
Gary Jordan (Host): Houston, we have a podcast. Welcome to the official podcast of the NASA Johnson Space Center, Episode 65, We’re Not in Kansas Anymore. I’m Gary Jordan and I’ll be your host today. So, if you’re new to the show, we bring in NASA experts to talk about all different parts of our space agency. Sometimes we get lucky enough to bring in astronauts and talk about their story and today we’re talking with Colonel Tyler Hague, goes by Nick. He’s a U.S. astronaut and an Air Force colonel and he’s about to launch to the International Space Station here in October for his very first space flight. We talked about his education, studying astronautical and aeronautical engineering and his time in the U.S. Air Force and his training and expectations before his first trip to space. Also, we were lucky enough for Lieutenant Colonel Catie Hague, his wife, to stop by the studio and talk about their family life and the expectations of how his space flight is going to be on their family. So, with no further delay, let’s go lightspeed and jump right ahead to our talk with Nick and Catie Hague. Enjoy. [ Music ] Host: Nick, thank you so much for joining me today to tell your story. Col. Nick Hague: Yeah, absolutely. Glad to be with you. Host: So, I kind of wanted to start from your humble beginnings in Kansas. You know, you were growing up in a small town there, right? Nick Hague: Yeah. Yeah. So, I grew up in a few different small towns, graduated from Hoxie, Kansas out in northwest Kansas. My parents are educators and so we moved around a couple different times through my, you know, K-12 education. But, yeah, I’m a Kansas product. Host: What do they teach? Nick Hague: So, my dad was a high school football coach and then he got into administration and retired as a superintendent. My mother is a fifth-grade elementary educator. Host: OK. Do you know what subject she teaches? Nick Hague: So, it was social studies. Host: Social studies, OK. Nick Hague: Social studies and reading. Host: OK. Seems like your dad– I mean, seems like he kind of moved his way up the chain like a true leader then. Did you take a lot of influence and inspiration from him? Nick Hague: Yeah, you know I took a lot of inspiration and influence from my parents. They’ve instilled in me the whole, you know, work ethic and nothing comes easy, you’re going to have to try. You’re going to stumble, you’re going to fall, you’re going to get a bloody knee or– and but you’ve got to get up and dust yourself off and keep going. So, they instilled in me the idea of, you know, right and wrong and just the importance of a hard day’s work and– but I think, you know, most importantly they always believed in me and taught me to believe in myself. Host: That’s pretty important. Nick Hague: Yeah. Host: Did your dad ever push football on you or any kind of sports? Nick Hague: So, growing up in rural America, you know, I graduated with a high school class of 39 people, so it was a small class. If we wanted an athletic team, pretty much everybody had to play. So, I played football and basketball and baseball and ran in track and did a bunch of other stuff too. Which I think is– I mean that’s a little secret about growing up in rural America. People will tend to focus on all the things that are missing, but there’s a lot of opportunity there. If you go into a really big, really big high school, you may only be able to do one sport. You know, I was able to do four sports and be on the debate team and do forensics and do all of these other things. So, there’s something special about growing up in a small town. Host: Yeah. I know for me personally, I mean, I grew– I graduated I think 530. Yeah, it was a little bigger of a class and I tried every sport, but I was just awful, so that’s why I stuck with– I ended up being in the media room. I was editing videos instead. That was just how I– Nick Hague: I told you I played a lot of sports, I didn’t say I was great at a lot of sports. Host: So, you know, the next step for you, you know, after graduating was the Air Force Academy. I’m guessing somewhere along the line in early education was some sort of influence for STEM, math, science, some kind of interest there. Do you know when that sparked? Nick Hague: You know, ever science I can remember I’ve always just– kind of math has come a little bit easy and I’ve always been interested in how things work. Finding a broken toy and putting it back together. Building LEGOs, you know, all those things that kids do. I just naturally gravitated towards those. And, you know, the idea of being an engineer, I don’t think I really appreciated that until I was a senior in college, right, at the Air Force Academy that, hey, I’m an engineer. You know? Now when I look at– look at– look at my sons, you know, I can see engineer tendencies and I know that someday that, you know, they may come to that realization, hey, well, I’m an engineer too. But it’s– when I was growing up, it was just I did the things that I enjoyed and I gravitated towards engineering and physics, you know, and math and it just came a little easier and I guess that’s why I liked to do it. Host: You just found like a natural talent for it. You’re like I’m good at this and I think I can be successful at it. Nick Hague: Yeah, and maybe it’s as much of a I like puzzles and so it’s constantly being thrown a new puzzle, a new, you know, math problem, a new, hey, design this. It’s all about puzzles. Host: Yeah. Fixing things and then stepping back and looking at the thing you fixed and kind of feeling proud of that. Nick Hague: Yeah, yeah. Host: So, where did the Air Force Academy come in? What made you want to pursue the Air Force over other options? Nick Hague: Yeah, so, you know, kind of my first exposure to the Air Force Academy was on one of these education conferences that my parents would go to over the summer. And it was up in Denver and Colorado Springs where the Air Force Academy is located is just a little south of Denver and one of those, you know, side excursions that the conference organized was a trip to the Air Force Academy. So, my parents took me along and that was my exposure to it. And I saw, you know, just the structure and the– just the way of life, it was– it was– it was something that just– there was a spark there and I was like, hey, you know, I’d be interested in going to school here. And, you know, that was in junior high. And then I spent the next couple years trying to meet, you know, meet the representatives that I was going to need congressional appointment from. Writing letters to their offices saying, hey, I’m in ninth grade and I’m interested. Don’t forget about me. I’m going to be looking for an appointment here in four years. And so that was a long process, but it also taught me that, you know, once I finally got accepted to the academy that, hey, you know, investing the time can really produce results. Host: Yeah. It was that– it was that visit, though. I mean you kind of– when you were there, you imagined yourself there and realized that this is something that I can actually fit in. I would like to be here and be successful here. Nick Hague: Yeah. Absolutely. And it was– it’s grown more within me now, but it’s this idea that, hey, I want to be a part of something big. And maybe it’s because I came from, you know, a small town in western Kansas where you feel like you’re not part of something big and the rest of the world seems like it’s a long ways away. Host: Right. Nick Hague: You know, all– you see all the stuff happening on the news and it doesn’t seem like it really affects anything that’s going on because you’re so removed from all that. Host: Yeah. Nick Hague: And so the idea of being part of something big, serving the country, being in the Air Force, I think that that made that really, really exciting. Host: It was like this sort of distant sort of idea, you know, you’re living in your remote town, but it’s like, wow– it’s almost like a fairy tale land. Kind of out there, you know, something– if I can go there and achieve, imagine what’s possible. Almost. Nick Hague: Yeah, it’s– you know, it’s trying to chase an opportunity. Host: Yeah. So, I noticed that you graduated with a bachelor’s in astronautical engineering, so it seems like space was already something that influenced you along– maybe it was the Air Force or maybe it was before that. Where did that– Nick Hague: Yeah. So, I grew up staring at the night sky. Host: Oh, yeah. Nick Hague: And so I was interested in space and the idea of exploration and, you know, the Air Force Academy at that time, you know, when I was looking around at all my options, that was the place to go study astro– that was– the astronautical engineering program that they had there, you know, I– when I graduated, I had actually worked on building a satellite. And, you know, they’re still doing that today, but, you know, it was one of the first places in the world where undergraduate students were building satellites that were going to fly on their own. So, it was just an awesome opportunity. And when I went there, it was with the idea that, hey, you know, I want to get involved with that part of it. I want to get involved with space, with engineering, and this is how it all kind of comes together. Host: So, what made it– made you want to continue your education then? Because you kept going for aeronautical and astronautical engineering. Nick Hague: Yeah. So, following graduation from the Air Force Academy, I was fortunate enough to get a fellowship to go to MIT. A school that I would have never guessed that I would have been able to get accepted to. So, I thank the Air Force Academy for that. But, yeah, so I continued to pursue that. I wanted to try to understand better. It’s always that idea of, you know, continual self-improvement. I want to know more about what I learned about. You keep peeling away, you know, layers of the onion trying to find out what’s below. So, that was– it was a lot of fun. It was a completely different experience going to, you know, college and, you know, going to graduate school in Boston and going to the Air Force Academy in Colorado. But it was eye-opening because of that stark difference. Host: Eye-opening and cold. You seem to like cold places. Nick Hague: I’ve changed that now, right? Host: Yeah, now being in Houston a little bit differently. At what point did you meet your wife, Catie? Nick Hague: Speak of the devil. Host: Hey. Catie, you want to come here? Lt. Col. Catie Hague: Sure. Nick Hague: You can participate. Catie Hague: Do I have a choice? Host: You don’t have to. Nick Hague: We’re doing a podcast. Host: Yeah. Catie Hague: Fun. Host: So, was this– did you guys meet during your bachelor’s or– Nick Hague: Yeah, so at the Air Force Academy. At the Air Force Academy. We both graduated in 1998, so we were in the same squadron the last two years there. Host: OK. Nick Hague: It’s kind of funny, you know, we had lunch together every day for two years. Host: Really? As friends? Catie Hague: Right. Nick Hague: We didn’t– we didn’t get married until two years after graduation. Host: OK. Nick Hague: So, yeah, it was just– Host: So, what were you studying? Were you studying– were you similar programs? Catie Hague: I was studying law. Host: Law? OK, so not similar. Catie Hague: Not similar. Host: But just same kind of– Catie Hague: I am not as smart on the technical side, let’s put it that way, but, yeah, I studied law and then at the academy it’s a combination of engineering and whatever you major in. So, we wind up getting a Bachelor of Science degree in whatever it is that we’re studying. So I have a Bachelor of Science degree in law. It’s very interesting. Nick Hague: It’s unique. Every cadet takes astronautical engineering and learns about orbits. Host: Really? Catie Hague: I did not do as well as Nick in that, but I tried really hard. Host: So, why did you choose the Air Force Academy for law then? Catie Hague: Well, I didn’t. I actually chose it because I wanted to fly. Host: Oh, OK. Catie Hague: Originally, I wanted to be a pilot and then I got to the Air Force Academy and found out that I was too short because I’m only five-one and you have to be five-four. Should have done better research. So, I kind of changed my tune and decided that that’s kind of what I wanted to study. My whole family is a bunch of lawyers and judges and so it’s been something I grew up with and it was very interesting to me. Host: Were you naturally good at it like Nick was naturally good at math and science? Catie Hague: I’m very good at arguing, yeah. And winning arguments, as he can attest to. Nick Hague: Yes. Host: You’re in the right field. Nick Hague: I can vouch. Host: You’re in the right field. So, how did you meet and start having lunch then? Nick Hague: So, in the– in a squadron, so, the cadet wing is organized in groups of squadrons and so there’s about 120 cadets in a given squadron and all of those will sit at and have like a family-style lunch every day. So, tables of 10 with seniors and juniors and sophomores and freshmen, and we just happened to sit at the same table. And you kind of find the people you’re comfortable with and you have lunch with them over and over and over again and, yeah, so– Catie Hague: Eventually you like them, but it takes a few years, so– Nick Hague: It took me a long time to wear her down. Host: But it worked. And you said you start– you didn’t date until afterwards, right? Nick Hague: Yeah, so we had a long-distance relationship for the first two years– Host: That’s where I was going to go. Nick Hague: Following graduation, yeah. Host: Yeah. So, how was that? How was fitting that into regular life? Catie Hague: It was difficult, but it was manageable. I mean we didn’t have kids at the time, right, so it was kind of easier because you could hop on a plane after work and fly up to Boston. I was down at Tyndall Air Force Base doing public affairs, which is my career field. Host: Mine too. Catie Hague: So– I know. It’s the best ever. Host: Right? Catie Hague: Next to being an astronaut, OK, that’s kind of cool. Host: We’re sitting next to Nick– Catie Hague: I know, right? But, so it wasn’t too hard to– and he was doing academics as well, so his schedule wasn’t as crazy as mine was at times, so we were able to fly back and forth. Not ideal. It’s still difficult. Nick Hague: But it’s still you know seeing every– each other, you know, a weekend once every two to three weeks, three to four weeks. Yeah. Host: And it’s become a normal part of your life. You know, reading through your biography, it seems you had a couple deployments too and just from overhearing your interview before this, it seems like you were deployed as well. Catie Hague: Yeah. Host: So, you were used to the long-distance thing. Catie Hague: Yeah, you do get used to it. It’s still very difficult, especially– I would say I didn’t realize how difficult it was with kids until we had our oldest and I wound up getting the call to deploy for a year to Iraq and he had just turned one years old. So, that was a rough one. That was probably the hardest deployment I had ever done because it was– I left when he was one and I came back when he was two and he was walking and doing all kinds of things and I didn’t know– I didn’t know him. It was– it was rough. So, that was probably the hardest deployment. Nick Hague: It was the hardest for me. Catie Hague: Yes, we know. Yes, yes. Host: Were you doing a lot of the work then? Nick Hague: The single parent. Host: Yeah. Nick Hague: The single parent job is not easy. Host: Right. Nick Hague: I have an immense appreciation for single parents out there. Host: Yeah. You know, this makes me think about long-distance space travel. You know, you see it all the time in the movies, you know, like videoconferencing and stuff, but as we go further out into the solar system, you feel maybe a little bit more isolated, but that communication, you still need to maintain it. You’ve got to feel connected to Earth. And I’m sure you’re going to plan to do the same thing on the International Space Station, Nick. Nick Hague: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. It’s an important part because life doesn’t stop at home. You know? When I stayed back on that deployment, that’s what I realized is that, you know, life at home doesn’t stop. Things continue to happen, you know, everyday life happens and it changes the people that are back at home. And so staying connected so that you can understand what they’re going through is important. You know, I– it’s not just about me up there having my experience. It’s about what the family is experiencing both on the ground and on orbit. Host: Right. You know, because you only– you have your personal ambitions, right, you have your work ambitions, but once family comes into the picture, that’s a whole new thing. Right? Now you have a family to take care of, you love, and you have to balance that short amount of time we get every day and prioritize what things you’re going to, you know, you’re going to dedicate this amount of time to work, this amount of time to family, communicating. So, I mean you guys just through the deployment have had to balance that. So, what’s the– what are your tips? What are your tricks, tactics? Nick Hague: Yeah. Perseverance. Host: Yeah. Nick Hague: I think communication is the key. Making sure that you just don’t stop talking to each other and always continue to share. You know, even when you were deployed and I know that you’re having a bad day and it’s a stressful thing, but if we’re having a terrible day at home, it’s important to still share that so that everybody understands what everybody’s going through. If you start not communicating, then that’s when you start to drift apart. That’s when you start to create complications. Catie Hague: And I think, honestly, that’s probably the best part of being military to military is the fact that he knows what it’s like to be at home when I’m in an environment that’s extremely dangerous and where you’re living on edge every day from a vigilance standpoint and now it’s going to be reversed where I’m home and he’s doing the same thing. So, we both have lived that before and so we understand that dynamic and understand how to communicate through that. So, I think that’s probably prepared us for this expedition more than anything else has. Host: Yeah. I would almost– I mean, you know, I would almost compare it to say that you might be a little bit more prepared than maybe other couples, other families, just because of the experience of having that long distance but still having to maintain– you know what it takes to maintain a successful relationship despite the distance. So, you know, tell me about some of the training that you’ve been doing more recently, Nick, to start preparing for this flight. Nick Hague: Yeah. So, that’s a– that just kind of builds upon that learning through separation. A huge chunk of the training flow leading up to launch is time spent in Star City, just outside Moscow, learning how to fly the Soyuz and it’s a lot of time away from home. It– you know, personally, I find it very fascinating. It’s another one of those complex systems that I get to crack open the hood and see how it all works and so the engineer in me loves the puzzle. Host: Yes. Nick Hague: But it also takes you away from home a lot. So, that, you know, of that two years, I’d say about a year-and-a-half of that has been on the road. So, spaceflight– the separation doesn’t start at launch. Host: Right. Nick Hague: It starts when you’re assigned and it doesn’t stop until you’re back on the ground after your mission. Host: Wow. So, what do you do to balance it? Are you still maintaining the long-distance communication even through the Soyuz training from Star City? Nick Hague: Oh, absolutely. Host: Yeah. Nick Hague: And technology today is awesome. I remember back to the first deployment, to that deployment that you did to– Catie Hague: Afghanistan? Nick Hague: No, I’d say– so, the deployment to Iraq, that’s when we first started messing around with doing videoconferencing and being able to do that. The technology has gone so much– I mean we can just call up and whether it’s Skype or FaceTime or whatever you want to use, you can video call and almost with enough frequency that you’re interrupting the flow on the other end. Hey, I’ve got– Catie Hague: Well, that is the other problem. Nick Hague: I’ve got work to do. Stop calling me. Catie Hague: That is the other problem. Nick Hague: The time change. You know, I’d get done with work over there and she’s just starting her work day and so I call to check in and then she’s like I have things to do. Host: Oh yeah. You know those– you’re going to have very busy days on the space station, honestly. I mean, you know, going over to Star City and learning about Soyuz systems is one thing, but there’s a lot of other expectations when you’re on orbit and you’re going to have very, very long days. So, fitting that in is going to be important. Nick Hague: Yeah. Absolutely. Host: So, what are you’re– some of your ambitions whenever you go to the space station. What do you really want to accomplish? Nick Hague: Oh, so just– Catie Hague: Survival. Nick Hague: Well put. Well put. Yeah, it’s get the mission done. I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to go up there. It’s a unique position to be, you know, to go up there and be the steward of the station and help maintain it so it continues to provide the awesome opportunity it provides for scientists. And to get to be those scientists’ eyes and ears and hands and collect the data that they need to be there on that front line and experience life in zero G and to experience my body adapting to all of that. Just getting the job done is the ambition. Host: Right. Nick Hague: And coming back with the, you know, the personal satisfaction that, OK, I made as few mistakes as I could possibly make and I got the job done and hopefully I’ve advanced everything one step more and the next guys are in a good position to take it from there. Host: Yeah. It’s the– because there’s a lot of demand when you’re up there, right, you’re expected to do a lot of tests and a lot of different tests too– maintenance, science, you know, spacewalks, what have you, but I like your point of saying that being successful in the tasks but also making sure that the tasks are meaningful. That they have an impact on the larger goals of the agency. And there’s a lot of stuff that we’re looking forward to. I know one of the things you’re working on now is commercial crew, so what are you working on for there? Nick Hague: So, per the timeline right now, commercial crew, there’s the opportunity to have multiple of the first commercial crew launches come up and dock, whether that’s the unmanned variants that come up and do their first test missions or whether we’re there– I’m there long enough that I’ll see the first crew rotate up. It’s a great milestone. You know, we’re returning launch here to the U.S., which I think is a great thing, but the larger point is that it provides us with more resilience as a program. That we’ve got the ability to withstand problems with any one particular launch vehicle or spacecraft and still have a means to provide that continuous flow of astronauts and cosmonauts up there to keep doing the work. I mean ultimately that’s what it’s about. We’ve– going to have the station, you know, we’re coming up on the 20th anniversary of the station in November. Host: Right. Nick Hague: You know, so we’re talking about this station having, you know, that’s two decades of work. Let’s keep that going. Host: Right. Nick Hague: And this is just a means to help do that. Host: Yeah. To enable access to it. Right. Nick Hague: Absolutely. Host: I did want to kind of circle back because you’re– you were selected in the 2013 class and now you’re the first astronaut assigned, the first to go up. Can you tell me about the training that you guys have done together as a class and are you ready? Are you ready for this task? Nick Hague: Yeah. So, the first two years of training following getting selected back in 2013, the astronaut candidate training was just awesome. It’s your first– it’s your first chance to dip your toe into this is what spaceflight is going to be like. The first time– it’s so many firsts. It’s the first time that you try to work a robotic arm and you’re mentally contorting yourself so that you can see, you know, three dimensions upside down and work things backwards and make it work. It’s the first time you get to try on a space suit. And go under the water in the neutral buoyancy lab and go, OK, this is what a spaceflight– spacewalk is going to be like or this is as close that I’m going to feel. It’s the first time I got to feel, you know, zero G. We went on, you know, the vomit comet– Host: Oh, that’s right, yeah. Nick Hague: And we did a trip together. So, you share those and you come in with, you know, in my case seven other people that hadn’t had those experiences either and so we’re experiencing them all together for the first time. And so that’s a– that’s an awesome bonding experience. You know, that shared experience that we have and all those firsts really draws you together as a class. Host: Yeah. Nick Hague: So, that was just– those two years were pretty awesome. Host: And then you had a lot of training after that and now it’s time to fly. Nick Hague: Yeah. Training hasn’t stopped since I walked in the door. Host: Well, you know, going back to that theme of there’s a lot that you have to know and do and there’s a lot of different things too because– commercial crew, right, that’s going to happen during your stay up there and that’s new. That’s going to be a new thing for the station. Nick Hague: Well, we’re doing new stuff every mission. Host: Yeah. Nick Hague: So, you know, and there’s focus on the commercial crew because that is a big thing, but there are new experiments going up all the time. There’s new science being performed. There’s new capabilities and new tech demos that we’re doing. It’s, you know, research, it may seem like we’re doing the same thing over and over there to the person sitting on the sidelines and not paying close attention, but we’re doing new, different, groundbreaking research on the station every day and we have been for almost two decades. Host: I want to go back to– because now you’re assigned– now you’re about to fly. I want to go back to the time where you got the call that you were selected to be an astronaut. Do you remember that time? Nick Hague: I do. It’s funny you mention it, because I was actually on my way to have lunch with Catie. Host: Really? And that’s where– it was lunch with Catie that you got the call? Nick Hague: Yeah, I mean it was lunch with Catie. So, I was working– Catie Hague: Which is rare. Nick Hague: Yes, but it was a day she was in the Pentagon in her office and I was in an office in Crystal City, just south of the Pentagon, and I was getting on the elevator. I had just walked out of the office. We weren’t allowed to have cell phones in there and so I was checking my cell phone and I saw I had a message from NASA and so immediately the heart starts beating through the chest going, OK, well, we find out if this is it or not. So, side note, that was less of a reaction or maybe– it might have been more of a reaction. I had had the call before and gotten the bad call a few years earlier. Host: Oh, OK. Nick Hague: So, I listened to the voicemail and so as soon as I checked the, you know, the voicemail, I kind of knew what was going to happen because the last time I got a call, it was from somebody on the board and they said, hey, you know, you didn’t make it this time. This time I got a phone call from the person running the selection panel, Janet Kavandi, and so at that point I knew, OK, this is the person that sends the good calls. So, when I was finally speaking to her, you know, the heart had stopped racing a little bit, but it was checking that message that was the– my heart was jumping out of my chest. But as soon as that happened, I immediately did not call Catie. I hopped on– I walked over, met her in the office, we closed the door, and I said guess what. And she was excited and– you may have hit me or something, no, I don’t believe you. Catie Hague: Yeah, probably. Nick Hague: Yeah. Host: Really? Nick Hague: Yeah. Host: Just because of going through the experience before, right, now it comes around again and you’re hoping, but, you know, now it’s the real deal. You got it. Nick Hague: I mean so we– I say we because we submit my applications– so, we submitted the first one in 2003. So, it had been a long process of submitting applications and waiting and getting rejected and submitting again, but that’s just kind of how it goes. Host: It’s all worth it. You’re right about to fly. I want to end with one more question and since Catie is here, you know, what is– how are you guys preparing the family for this journey? Catie Hague: We’re watching a lot of Star Wars. Host: Look what daddy’s going to do, right? Catie Hague: Probably going to go see the new movie soon. Host: OK. Nick Hague: That’s probably it. You know, it’s trying to make it more familiar. Because, you know, the boys are young and trying to make it less scary and more exciting and I think the way to do that is just make it more familiar. So, we’ve watched some of the recent launches on NASA TV and they’ve had the opportunity to come over to Star City and visit so they could see where I was training and they can see, hey, this is the capsule that dad’s going to sit in and I take pictures and send them back and show them everything that’s going on. So, hopefully they’ve got an appreciation of what’s going to happen and then they can just be super excited when they feel the roar of the engines and watch me streak off into space. Host: I have no doubt that they will. Catie Hague: We are– we’re also trying to make it not scary. So, we’re talking a lot about how the system works and what the different stages are and what they’re going to see and just kind of trying to explain to them that, yeah, this is a dangerous process, but this is how safe it is and kind of explaining that to them. So, they’re kind of engineer minds. They like to know how things work, so as soon as they understand how the stuff works, they seem to be a little more confident and OK with the situation. Plus we just built the– Nick Hague: The Saturn V. Catie Hague: The Saturn V out of LEGOs. Nick Hague: So, we built it out of LEGOs and then we talked about all the systems and they’re like oh, OK, now we get it. Host: Oh, yeah, putting it together. That’s great. All right. Well, I’m very excited for your mission, Nick. Thank you so much for joining me and, Catie, thank you for stopping by. Catie Hague: Absolutely. Nick Hague: Thanks. [ Music ] Host: Hey, thanks for sticking around. So, today we talked with Colonel Nick Hague about his expectations before his flight and his journey to actually become an astronaut. And, of course, thank you for Catie Hague for stopping by. So, you’ll be able to follow Nick on his journey to the International Space Station. He’s going to be on Twitter, @AstroHague. You can also go to the International Space Station accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and we’ll be sharing his story there. If you have a question for Nick or maybe a question for us and you’d like to submit an idea or a suggestion for the podcast, we’re using the #AskNASA. Just make sure to mention it’s for Houston, We Have a Podcast and we’ll bring it on a future episode. This episode was recorded on June 29th, 2018. Thanks to Alex Perryman, John Stoll, Pat Ryan, Bill Stafford, John Streeter, Brandi Dean, Kelly Humphries, and Sandra Jones. Thanks again to Nick and Catie Hague for coming on the show. We’ll be back next week.
Gary Jordan (Host): Houston, We Have a Podcast. Welcome to the official podcast of the NASA Johnson Space Center, Episode 87, Twins Study. I’m Gary Jordan and I’ll be your host today. On this podcast, we bring in the experts, NASA scientists, engineers, astronauts, all to let you know the coolest information about what’s going on right here at NASA. So, today we’re talking about one of the more famous studies conducted here at NASA in recent years. It’s called the Twins Study. You may remember from March 2015 to March 2016; now former NASA astronaut Scott Kelly spent a year in space with Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko. The One-Year Mission was to investigate just what you think, what happens to the human body during and after a year in microgravity. At the same time, another study was being conducted with Scott Kelly, but this one brought in his twin brother Mark Kelly, also a former NASA astronaut. This investigation, called the Twins Study, examined what happened to both Scott Kelly in space and Mark Kelly on earth during the same period of time. It was a dense study, packed with 10 different investigations, 12 universities, different corporations and government laboratories, all looking at the more subtle changes that may occur within the human body during a long duration space-flight. So, with us to discuss the intricate details and even some of the recently published findings of this investigation is Dr. Andy Feinberg and Dr. Steve Platts. Dr. Feinberg is the principal investigator of one element of the Twins Study looking at epigenetics. We’ll get into what that means in this episode. He’s based at Johns Hopkins University, in the school of medicine. Dr. Platts is based here at the Johnson Space Center as the deputy chief scientist of the human research program. The program that sponsors the whole Twins Study. So, with no further delay, let’s jump right ahead to our talk with Dr. Andy Fienberg and Dr. Steve Platts. Enjoy. [ Music ] Host: Steve and Andy, thank you so much for coming on to talk about this Twins Study. There’s a lot of interesting stuff here, and it’s a very dense topic, so I appreciate you both coming on. Dr. Andy Feinberg: Really glad to do it. Host: Alright, I think this is such a popular things because it is something that is sort of easy to grasp, right? You hear Twins Study, you know there are twins involved, one person in space, one person on the ground. It’s something that is easy for people to sort of wrap their minds around, and you know, we did this big communications package when it was happening, so it was just something that people just got. But what’s interesting is that the amount of research that’s going into this is so dense and so widespread, and even just talking with Steve just before the podcast even started, he was saying, he showed me a picture of the opening to the article, or to the paper itself. Dr. Steve Platts: Yep. Host: And how many authors are a part of this. This is a very dense study. Dr. Steve Platts: Yep. Huge undertaking. Host: [Laughs] Very huge. So, before we get into that, before we get into the juicy details, I kind of wanted to pull back and start from the beginning, because I’m sure there is a sort of entrance point to when the Twins Study even started being a topic of possibilities. So, Steve, kick us off; where did this begin? Dr. Steve Platts: Sure, it’s kind of funny actually. You know, one of our goals is to go to Mars, and to get to Mars and get back home, it’s going to be roughly three years. And so we knew we had to spend more time on the space station, we need more experience with longer duration missions in space. And so, we developed with our Russian counterparts this One-Year Mission program where we had one US astronaut, and one Russian cosmonaut who would do one year in space. And so we were, you know, talking that with people and our former chief scientist, John Charles, was on stage with Scott Kelly one day, and they were talking to an audience. And then on their way off of the podium, Scott turned to John and said, so, you remember that my twin brother is also an astronaut, so what are you going to do about that? And that was sort of the big ah-ha moment. It’s like, wow we have to take advantage of this. And so that began a frenzy of how do we pull together a program, how do we get this stuff going? We did these rapid response grants, we had some people who knew geneticists. Because we wanted it to be a pathfinder study, where we did something we’ve never done before, where we really start to do genetic analysis the right way. And this was our entry into it. And so we pulled it together. We got 10 separate investigator teams, and within each team are some, you know, investigators on their own. In fact, we would call them the Gang of Ten because we have, you know, these powerful ten groups all coming together. They all came to JSC, we had working groups, we had folks decide, okay, I’m going to do this, you’re going to share; the intellectual generosity between the teams was amazing. You know, you hear often for research like this where people are closely guarding their data, and you know, they don’t want to share, they don’t want people to see what they’re doing. And this group was like okay, let’s go, and they’re just sharing all of this. So, it’s just stunning really, the amount of work that we could do in such a short period of time. And, you know, we talk about the One-Year Mission, and the Twins Study was one year, but think about it; we had to start a year before to do data collection, and then we went for almost a year afterwards for data collection. So, it’s really more of a three-year study than a one-year study, and Twins was a major, major part of that project. Host: Now, that is fascinating that the Twins Study came up even after the One-Year Mission was a thing. Literally pulling John Charles aside and saying hey, there’s a twin involved, you know, that we can do something with this, what are we going to do? And then that’s when really things kicked off. I thought, you know, for sure it would have been something beforehand but, you know, why not? There’s an opportunity here, let’s take advantage of this. Dr. Steve Platts: Absolutely, yep. Host: And as you said, let’s bring in all these people, and do the maximum amount of research that we possibly can. So, you said there’s ten different things, and we could totally get into all of that. But I did want to start with, there is a difference, right, between One-Year Mission and Twins Study, they are separate investigations. Same time-frame, but they’re different. Dr. Steve Platts: Yes. So, really, it’s the Twins Study was tacked onto the One-Year Mission. So, there were other, many other studies going on besides the Twins Study on the One-Year Mission. But the Twins Study was a major part of the science that was done. In fact, just a few kind of quick facts about that One-Year Mission; so, we launched in March of 2015 and landed in March of 2016, not quite a full year, but if you go on to Google you’ll see Commander Kelly up there with a sign that says, you know, 350 days, close enough for government work. So, it was close, but not there. But, think about this, during this One-Year Mission, they travelled 143,846,525 miles. [Laughter] I mean, just amazing, right? And we did over 751 hours of HRP research during the One-Year Mission, and the Twins Study was a large part of that, but as you had said, it wasn’t the entire package. Host: Right, okay, so those miles traveled is how many laps around the earth? Dr. Steve Platts: Many, many, many. Host: Yeah. Dr. Steve Platts: It’s 5440 orbits. Host: Oh, you have the number. Dr. Steve Platts: I do. Host: Unbelievable. Dr. Steve Platts: Yep. Host: Unbelievable. Yeah, that’s, I mean, think about it, what is it, 16 sunrises and sunsets per day every 90 minutes, so that’s going to, that’s going to add up, and a lot of science, a lot of human science, right? Dr. Steve Platts: Absolutely, yes. Host: That was, like you said. Dr. Steve Platts: That was just human research program with the over 750 hours. Host: Unbelievable. Dr. Andy Feinberg: I would like to add something to what Steve just said about the nature of how we came together looking at it from the view of an outside scientist if I could. So, what would NASA, from our point of view, so, people, we all have this experience, people would write to us and say, you know, you probably don’t follow the, you know, the NASA news feed, but they have a solicitation to look at these identical twins. And, you know, later we got the backstory about how Scott himself, you know, suggested that there might be something pretty useful to do and then John Charles picked up on this right away. So, we entered this competition because from our point of view we thought that it would be very interesting to look at the fact that these are identical twins, they have the same genome, we’re interested in that, but genetics, I’ll come back to that in just a minute, because I want to just say something about the process. And it would be a really worthwhile and really unique opportunity to ask a question like this. But, regarding what Steve said about the cooperation among the scientists, he’s right. I mean, when we’re out doing a regular science, by definition it’s very competitive. I mean, we’re like nice people and we actually share data and all of that, but you know somebody publishes something before you do, and in general science, right, it’s going to be hard for you to get your data published. The same thing with grants, so you’re always in this forced competition because of limited resources. That is not how any of us approached the NASA work. To us, it was, here is this amazing opportunity to be part of what I think is the greatest science project in the history of mankind, that is turning eventually, started before I was born, and it’s going to end long after I’m gone, and it’s turning human beings from a terrestrial species into an interplanetary species. I’m not saying anything about colonization, I mean, you’re not supposed to say that. But, you know, just in terms of exploration, right? And, it’s such a large thing that’s bigger than ourselves. And also, it’s this amazing product of our government. I mean, you know, I’m a big fan of government science. I mean, it’s amazing what the federal government can do and in cooperation with other countries to ask really big questions that can’t be asked on a small scale by, you know, private research foundations, or even, really, industry because there’s this fundamental drive for knowledge that’s associated with this kind of research and it’s been incorporated from the very early stage into NASA, this whole idea about human effects, and so forth. So, it’s a privilege for us to do this, and it’s a much larger thing than any one of us. And, I’ll tell you the practical consequence of this is, we had this opening several days where we got, we knew we were getting funded, but we had our organizational meeting where we had to work out the details of the experiments, but then also NASA started out by having this thing, we all got into the auditorium, there were a couple of astronauts that we wound up interacting with that were like watching the whole thing. And they wanted to know, like, okay, how’s, what’s the authorship list? What’s the publication rules? And this whole list of things that you’ll see in big projects, you know, if you’re doing, you know, outside research. And very quickly we said, we’re one group, we’re all in together, whatever is best for the interest of the group is what we’re going to do, when we publish it’s going to be a joint thing from our group. And, let’s get to work now, let’s spend this extra time you allotted for all this politics, which we’re not interested in, and let’s get right down to how we’re going to do these studies. So, what we did, we just worked incredibly closely together to figure out, like, how are you going to get this material? I mean, the amount of blood that you can get from an astronaut in space is very tightly controlled by the operations people, and it’s less blood than you would draw from a child who’s in the hospital. And, I mean, there are a lot of reasons for this, but you know, you have to work within those parameters. And there’re very strict rules in terms of how it can be collected and what was done with it immediately, and so forth. And we had, just like Steve said, many different kinds of investigators. I mean, people studying genetics and epigenetics, but then people studying the chromosomes and people studying the biochemistry, and so, there’s a lot of different things. If you were on the ground doing something like this, you’d have a tube for genetics, you’d have a tube for chromosomes, you’d have a tube for biochemistry, literally. They’re completely different. And chemistry is another one. So, we couldn’t do that. We had to figure out exactly how we do things like, the minimum number of tubes, and the minimum volume, and we spent a lot of time working on that, and not just working that out, which involved experimentation, not the kind of experimentation you’re used to doing, like, you know, okay, we’re going to draw blood, what’s the minimum volume, let’s take it all the through, like on practice samples, we had volunteers who gave us practice specimens. You know, exactly as we would be handling it, short of, like, having it in space itself. And then run it all the way through the analyses, look at different methods, compare what the validity of the experiments are and their consistency. You know, it’s a lot of sort of pedestrian but detailed work that you do, like, sort of from an engineering point of view that would just never be part of a normal biology or medical experiment, but we have to do it in this context. But then, in real time, because we already had such a great working relationship, we got along incredibly well, and I remember, I’ll never forget, there was one of our conference calls, we would have these every week to two depending upon where in the program we were. And, the delivery spacecraft, thank goodness, it didn’t have any astronauts on board, but it was an unmanned delivery spacecraft by one of the commercial carriers that blew up on the way. And, you know, that was really bad news, we’re all really upset about this, it was in the news, you know, but we’re thinking, oh my gosh, what’s going to happen with the experiments. And sure enough, there were supplies, you can’t just send them all up ahead of time, because of weight. So, there were supplies, and tubes and so forth, and I just remember all sitting around on the phone and you know, who needs this tube more than somebody else on this particular day? In this case, I didn’t really need it as much as Emmanuel Mignot needed it because he needed a tube for the second part of his immune vaccine response thing. And it, if we had our tube he couldn’t do that. And I said, you know, this one’s for you, we will get by without that time point. He would have done exactly the same thing if the tables were turned. But that’s what I mean, I mean NASA thinks like this, we all got to participate in this wonderful cooperative venture, and it’s all, a lot of this is just opaque to the astronauts. I mean, they have to focus on what they have to do. But these dedicated people on the ground, the mission’s operations people, the people in the HRP, you know, the administrative people, all the logistical people, I mean they knocked themselves out. I know the astronauts get the fame, they deserve it, we’re glad of it, but I hope that people who are listening realize like how much hard work is done behind the scenes by NASA people who makes all this possible. So, I just wanted to communicate that. It really is a different kind of experience working with NASA. Host: Yeah, and Steve, to Andy’s point, I mean, this is, not only is the research itself very expansive, and you said this was coming from after the One-Year Mission, you know, let’s get together and think about what we could do with this Twins Study, but it is this giant collaborative effort. So, where did you start? You got this idea, okay, there are these two twins we can work with, Scott Kelly and Mark Kelly, and we can go into a little bit about who they are, just to add a little bit more context, but where do you start saying, you know, who do we reach out to? Who would be interested in this type of science? Dr. Steve Platts: Well, we did rapid solicitation. And, Andy said they saw this solicitation and said hey, that’s something that we’re interested in. And, that’s how the whole team was formed. And we had, you know, a lot of people had contacts and said hey, make sure you see this, because this is the kind of thing you’d be interested in. And so, usually it takes a year and a half plus from when we solicit for a grant proposal to when we could actually start the work. And I think that we did this in under nine months. Host: Wow. Dr. Steve Platts: And had everything going. We had the investigators working group that Andy was talking about when we brought everyone in, and we thought we were going to have to have this long conversation about authorship and everything and everyone was like yeah, whatever, okay what do we need to do? And one of the other things that, when Andy was talking, I was thinking of is, and you don’t think about this when you do science on the ground, but when you do science in space, you really have to think about it. We didn’t have a tube on the space station that could do what we needed to be done. And so we had to flight certify a whole new tube. So, Andy was saying that they had to do some like, pre-research on the ground before, they had to figure out if this tube was going to work. Right? And if it would work for all the parties involved. So, just those kind of things that you don’t think about when you’re doing research on the space station, that’s 220-ish plus miles above the earth, traveling at 17,500 miles an hour, with limited power, limited mass, all of these things you have to consider that a lot of scientists here on earth don’t have to deal with, and all of these folks not only dealt with it, but made it a huge success. Dr. Andy Feinberg: Yeah, let me say something. Dr. Steve Platts: Sure. Dr. Andy Feinberg: Let me jump in. My, you know, about the tubes, because it’s a really great story and I think people will enjoy it. So, you know one of the nice things about this thing is I actually got to do some of this stuff back in the lab. So I’m like in there myself, because we’re talking about like, sort of, you know, fashion science, that actually got so fancy that I understand it, but I don’t normally, you know, do the manipulations of the genomic libraries, we have specialists for that. But here, we’re talking about like tubes and spinning blood through it, and like matching the gravitational conditions that, you know, the centrifuges that they have, which is some old, half-broken thing by the way. It’s been up there for like ten years. Dr. Steve Platts: We have a new one, though. We have a new one. [ Laughter ] Not in time for your study, but yeah. We have it. Dr. Andy Feinberg: So you know, so we’re working this out, but then there’s this critical issue that come up right away, and it has to do with when you’re doing epigenetics research, I do have to get a little ahead and talk about what that is for a minute. So, epigenetics, this is why the twins are really interesting, so epigenetics has to do with information that’s in the cell that’s remembered when the cell divides other than the DNA sequence itself. So, what’s that mean? That means things like DNA methylation which is a chemical change in one of those four nucleotides, the, it’s the cytosine, you know like Gattaca, the c in Gattaca, that’s cytosine, and it is something that turns genes on and off. That’s one of the things, but that’s the one that we focused on. And what that’s responsible for is it tells you what your cells do, so like, as the DNA sequences like the words like in the alphabet, the epigenetic information is the grammar. And that’s the reason why your stomach is different than your eyeball. I mean, they have the same DNA sequence in them, but they’re obviously really very different, and that has to do with specialized functions. It also is something that’s effected by the environment, which is the question of the day, you’re going into space flight, so, you know, that’s going to be a different environment. So, if you have identical twins, you know, sure, there were people that were looking for genetic damage, but generally the genome will be the same, in fact that’s what it was. So, what the differences might be that would have information content and tell cells to have a different function, would be epigenetic information, and you, the ideal way to do that is to have an identical twin on the ground, and another one in space. But, here’s the problem. Just, I just said that each of those different cell types has a different epigenetic pattern, or different methylation pattern. If you just draw blood from somebody, you have a whole mixture of cell types, and even if you can separate out the, what are called the peripheral blood mononuclear cells, which include, like the b-cells, you’ve heard off, t-cells, monocytes, things like that. There’s so many cell types that are among those. That, the tube is something that has a built-in membrane, so it could separate out those if he just drew the blood and then took that tube, just as it is, put it in a centrifuge, spun it round. You’d get those peripheral blood mononuclear cells. But we had to test to see whether or not we could actually fractionate out the subtypes of cells, and you have to do this if you’re going to look at epigenetic information. So, we were looking at, like, what are called CD4 cells, CD8 cells, CD19 cells, things like that. These are like differences between, you know, the sort of different kinds of t-cells and b-cells, and so forth. So, they’re very different in their normal methylation pattern. And we had to compare that to what if you just took fresh samples and looked at them? And the answer is, you lose that information. You cannot freeze these cells and then separate out the individual cell types later. So, the validity of these experiments would have been lost, at least for what we do. I mean, not for other things, there were other kinds of analyses people could do. But, for looking at DNA methylation for the high-resolution that we wanted to do, would not be possible. So, what we suggested, and I remember, we had a conversation, Kate Rubins was one of the astronauts in the room. So, I remember standing there; there was Kate, and me, and one of the other investigators, I can’t remember if it was Mike Snyder or Chris Mason, and then Clarence Sams, who’s this brilliant engineer who’s in charge of deciding like what blood can get drawn, and what the operational conditionals are going to be. So, I mean, he sees the big picture. So, he’s a scientist, he’s a senior scientist at NASA. So, I remember our talk about this, I said, well, you know, Dr. Sams, I mean I think what we have to do is we have to let the astronauts pipette out the material in a glove box after it’s been spun through the tube, and then they can combine it with this like antibody, we’ve done this a million times, they’ll be able to separate that out, and if they can’t do that, then at least what we would like them to do is take out those cells, wash them once, and then combine them with some glycerol, which is an okay way to preserve cells, it’s not the ideal way, there’s another chemical that you can’t put on the space station, but they use glycerol, so it’s should be fine. And then, they could freeze it, and then we could look at it later. And he said, you’ve got to be kidding. You know, like, this whole study has been, like, bootstrapped onto something, you know, we’ve planned these things like three-years ahead. This whole things been added on, we can’t, like, put a whole procedure through certification, so that’s completely out of the question. So, we said, well then you know, if we want to get this work done, then we’re going to have to get Ambien samples, which means that the blood for our studies would have to be drawn on the day that a Soyuz is coming to earth, and that’s what would happen. So, there would be blood drawn, Scott would draw it himself, centrifuge it in that device, package it the way that we did, we had like these tubes, like pre-wrapped with some plastic in case they fractured, no glass would come loose, but also, we wouldn’t lose the blood either. And then they would be loaded in the appropriate container, and sent by rocket ship to Kazakhstan, [laughs] and then a Leer jet would fly this and, I guess an astronaut, too, because they need to go home. I think it was always an astronaut going down and always an astronaut going up. And then they would be driven by Jeep, they had a Jeep ride, and then they converted one of the labs, the one that was used to store the lunar rocks, and they converted that, a part of that building into a lab for us and equipped with the facilities we needed. And we would have pre-positioned one of the scientists from our group, at one point, the scientist who was down there processing that was my son Jason, who’s a scientist and he works with a collaborator mine, and he has special expertise in this purification. So, he was the right guy to do it, he’s on the paper, too. And so, they would purify this stuff through the night, freeze it in the proper way, and then we’d show that would could isolate those materials in the way that we want. Anyway, so getting back to this, I just kept nudging NASA about, you know, we want to show that it’s not such a big deal to do this pipetting in space. They thought, well, you know, the materials going to get loose, the blood’s going to float free, maybe it will hit the start button, and they’ll be off to Mars prematurely or something. Who knows, right? But, I understand their point of view, but from my point of view it just seemed like it’s not that difficult. But, you know, this is, we have to follow those rules. So, I kept bugging them and then I get a call one day and they say, hey, guess what, if you can do this right away, we’re going to rush through a review process for your doing this veryt testing on the Vomit Comet. So, that’s that aircraft, transport plane that they modified for parabolic flight. So, my post-doc Lindsay Rizzardi and I spent a week doing parabolic flights, so we would be, we’d have these evolutions of weightlessness, and that’s when we would do our experiments. So, we’d be pulling 2 point something g’s, and then we’d be at total zero g’s, and then we would be handling the material in the glove box. What was really fantastic is that Kate Rubins was there on the first day, independently. She decided this is really an idea worth pursuing, and she threw her [inaudible] on it. She’s the astronaut obviously, worked out and with another scientist, Brian Crucian, and so we wound up all just collaborating together. Brian was on this thing, too. So, Kate, and Lindsay, and Brian and I, and Clarence, too. We wound up showing how this is done, it actually turns out to be very easy. It’s easier if you have the right tips to pipette liquids in zero gravity than it is on earth, because of the surface tension. We noticed it’s difficult to keep the pipette tips in place, they tend to float away, so they’ll have to come up with another box to store them, it was sort of amusing how they sort of came released in the glove box. I think NASA was right to be worried, but not because of the blood, because of the tips. But we showed how it could be done, and we even did some of the first sequencing using a little, these mini-sequencers now, that was done in the Vomit Comet. And then we continued to collaborate with Kate during her mission, on her free time she continued to do sequencing and operations with DNA, using materials that are approved by NASA for sort of ordinary use, so instead of bringing like a private kit up of supplied from her husband, Jeff, would send up to her, like pipettes and tips and things like that. And so, you know, we still maintain that interaction, because we think in the long-run the astronauts are really going to be doing this, and then at the right point, NASA will go through the certification process for this kind of work. So, it turned out to be, it’s like you know, it’s like with NASA, you know you have to follow the procedure, but, you know, if you could figure out how to do something, they’ll work with you to get it done. Host: Yeah. And what’s interesting about this, is this for the, you know, the epigenetics part of things, you had to have these special tools, these special techniques, and this is just one element of what, Steve, you were saying was these ten different elements of these four categories. I mean, this is just a lot of, a lot of material, a lot of information going into this Twins Study, and this is just one part of it that needs to be collaborated as part of this larger idea. If you can, actually, Steve, go over some of the other parts. You know, this was just, these tubes story was for the epigenetics part and, there’s certain things that are required just to get that science, what about the other science, what else are we looking at? Dr. Steve Platts: Well, we had folks looking at biochemistry, right? So, just the normal, everyday bio markers and things in your blood, saliva, urine, that we study all the time, already. But, again, in a One-Year Mission, and then, again, when you have twins, that adds a whole, another layer to it. We had a group looking at more physiology type stuff, and so they were, they did a lot of cardiovascular physiology, looking at oxidative stress and those kind of things. And different proteins. We had a group looking at the micro-biome. So, this is, actually, a lot of the listeners might be familiar, it’s in the press all the time now, micro-biome. I even saw it on TV, there was an advertisement for some soap product, and they were talking about it’s so gentle it doesn’t disturb your micro-biome. [Laughs]. Okay, but what is micro-biome, right? So, imagine everything that’s most of the cells in your body are not your cells, right? They are bacteria, they’re fungi, they’re other things. They’re inside you, they’re outside you, they’re all over you. And they contribute to your health and well-being. They’re actually part of you. And so, how does that change when you go into space? You can imagine you have six people in a tiny, little, confined environment and how eating the same foods, you know, being in close proximity, doing all those kind of things, might shift how your gut is behaving, and how the things on your skin are. So, we had a whole study looking at things like that. Immunology, he mentioned Brian Crucian, who’s one of our immunologists at JSC. And so, he did a whole study on immunology and we had an investigator who looked at the flu vaccine. And, so, does your immune system work the same in space? So, if I got a vaccine in space, is it going to work the same way? Turns out, yeah, it does, it works just the same way. So, very exciting there. And, cognition. So, we had a group looking at how your brain works, right? So, how, we hear all the time when we talk to astronauts that they get the space fuzzies, right? They kind of get this fuzziness, blurriness doing things in space, and what is that form? Is that from the fluid shift? Is that, you know, from, they often don’t eat enough calories and so they tend to lose weight. Is that part of it? And so we had a study up there for this mission also, looking at the cognitive ability, so not just can you remember things, but the speed and the accuracy and those kind of things. So, if you’re thinking about, so now we’re looking at genetics, genomics, epigenetics, micro-biome, biochemistry, immunology, physiology. I mean, we have everything, right? And so, really, this is the first time we have had an integrated study like this where we can look at the whole gamut. We can look at what’s going on with DNA, we can look at what’s going on with RNA. We can look what’s going on with the whole organ, the whole body, the mind, all of that connected. So, it’s, I mean, just you know, very exciting. Host: Now, along the points of executing this science, you know, Andy was talking about these specific tubes, and these specific techniques that need to be practiced to make sure that the science was good for his particular part, which was epigenetics. And I’m sure that every scientist has their needs. Dr. Steve Platts: Oh, yes. Host: You know, they have their, what do they want to study? They have particular tubes or whatever they may have, that is necessary for their science. How do you fit that into a year? How do you allot that into a crewmember’s time making sure that all of this can be addressed and executed over the course of a year? Dr. Steve Platts: Very carefully. [Laughter]. So, we actually have an element within HRP called ISSMP, it’s the ISS Medical Project, and that’s what they do. They work on the experiments, and they’re the folks who are talking to Andy about tubes and processes, how do you do this? And they coordinated each individual experiment into a larger experiment. They work with the schedulers for the astronauts. They work with the ISS program, so this team, that’s what they’re designed for, that’s what they do every day for every experiment we ever do. So, for them, this wasn’t all that unusual, it was a lot in one big lump, but it was sort of business as usual. Okay, so we have this experiment, they want to draw out 20 mils of blood. How do we do that? Okay, we know they want them on these days, okay. Can we do those days? Oh, we can’t do this day, because there’s an EVA on that day, or a space-walk. So, then they figure out how to move it. So, all of those intricacies, and we call it project implementation, right? And so that’s what these folks do, and they do a tremendous job. And so they were put on the spot to do this and all the other One-Year Mission stuff. And then, the other crew members we had on board doing the regular science. Host: Right. Dr. Steve Platts: Right? All of that was going on all at the same time. We had a few people who didn’t sleep very much for a while, you know. They were working really hard, but I think it’s a testament to the whole group as Andy said, that it went off as well as it did. Dr. Andy Feinberg: Yeah, and just a minor thing, but they have to figure out the weight of everything we use. Dr. Steve Platts: Mm-hmm Dr. Andy Feinberg: And also the power drain, you know, for every procedure and how that matches up with other things they’re doing. So, because you know, it’s a finite thing and it has to keep everybody, you know, healthy, and have all their other mission critical things running. So, it’s incredibly complicated. Host: And this is sort of adding to your point, Steve, that this is not just a one-year thing, there’s a lot of planning that goes beforehand, there’s a lot of research that goes beforehand, and you even said, even after the One-Year Mission was done, you know, you were still doing research. There was still a data gathering period. Dr. Steve Platts: Absolutely, yes. So, when, so if things change, when do they come back? If they come back to normal. That’s critical for us. Host: Right. Dr. Steve Platts: Because our astronauts have to live when they come home. And so we want to know if something changes, how long does it take to come back to normal? So, that’s part of the process. We have different time points after flight so that we can follow up and make sure that the crew are healthy. Host: Yeah, so, Andy, you could probably go into a little bit more detail here, but just especially from an epigenetic standpoint, just exactly what is the most interesting part about having, and you could probably address this more, identical twins, you know, in space and on the ground. What exactly is interesting about that, and what was the execution on your end to look at this? Dr. Andy Feinberg: Okay, well, so first the headline news from the analysis of their epigenetic information is that there was nothing that changed in Scott over the course of a year that was out of the range of the variation that we see in Mark. So, in other words, in terms of like, is space causing some overall change to their epigenetic information that we measure, of course we’re just measuring methylation, but is there anything about that that’s out of kilter, sort of on a large-scale way with what you’d see in Mark, and the answer to that is no. But, I was surprised to find that there was a fairly striking degree of variation over the course of a year, both of them. So, people have followed things like gene expression, like the activity of genes over long periods of time in these, you know, these studies where they kind of sample you at regular intervals. Mike Snyder’s done that kind of work, actually on himself, over the course of a year. But, well, I don’t, to my knowledge, nobody’s done this at the level of DNA methylation, at least with this kind of comprehensive analysis across the genome, purifying the individual cell types, and it really does vary by several percent. Nothing out of the normal range, but I was surprised by that. And, what we saw was that, overall, levels of DNA methylation across all the genes, I mean there’s, you know, thousands and thousands of genes in the genome, there’s an argument over the exact number, but it’s at least 17,000 genes probably less than 25,000 depending upon what you call a gene. But there’s, there’s a several percent change in DNA methylation in a couple of the different cell types that we looked at. Not necessarily in the same direction, either. And, but Mark showed similar changes in overall levels of DNA methylation across his genome. So, it was specific to Scott. And I think this gets to another point that Scott raised when he was, on one of the podcasts, when he was being interviewed initially about this whole idea, is that the n, what we call the n, the number of, the real number sort of experimental replicates, is one, we have one twin pair. So, just Scott and Mark. When I wrote our proposal, I suggested that we also get samples from additional astronauts who were in space. That would enable us to determine whether anything that we saw in Scott was, if it was different than Mark is that something that is reproduced in other astronauts. So, we want to increase that n to like two, or three, or four, or whatever. NASA said we couldn’t do it because remember what Steve said at the beginning; this was an add-on special project. So, there wasn’t the capacity to then go expand that to other astronauts and the whole consent process, and so forth. That all had to get worked out. It’s very complicated, how to deal with what could be, like, you know, personal medical information and all of that, right? So, they couldn’t do that. So, you cannot say that what we observe is caused, at a global level, is caused by space flight. It could just be random chance, just on the face of it, looking at the total levels of methylation. It could be some other aspect of the environment. Maybe not microgravity, it could be the food that they eat, right? They were eating this like package stuff that, you know, in the 1960s and 1970s, you know, looked really cool. You know, Tang through a straw and like some kind of like, you know, apparently, it’s tasty, they didn’t let me taste any, but you know, sort of mushed up stuff in a plastic freeze-dried bag. I mean, you know, it’s different. And one other big difference between Mark and Scott is that Mark can have alcohol when he’s on the ground, and it’s absolutely forbidden on the space station. Because even the most miniscule vapors that come from alcohol are bad for some of the equipment that they use in environmental control. And I don’t think that’s fully understood why that is, but it is certainly an absolute proscription. So, there are some, and that’s a pretty significant potential epigenetic modifier, too. So, you know, they’re well within their range. Now, that said though, we did a different kind of analysis, a serial analysis, where we’re looking at serial — like S-E-R-I-A-L, I was just talking about food, it’s not the other kind. Dr. Steve Platts: Oh, I thought you were talking about Captain Crunch. Host: Yeah, I was getting hungry. [Laughter]. Dr. Andy Feinberg: No, but it’s a sequential, you know, analysis. So, we then also asked, well what is consistent in terms of DNA methylation before he goes into space, then changes as he goes into space, and then when he comes back to normal, returns to the baseline, are there things like that? And we did find differences in Scott. And then you can ask, well, are they, did these genes fall into certain categories? And indeed, they did. They fell into gene categories that are related to either inflammation, or stress. And, those two things are highly, what we call convoluted in science. In other words I mean, things that are related, inflammation, are also related to stress and vice versa. So, there was something that looked like that, and we didn’t see those changes in Mark over that time course. Now, because, still it’s an n of one, we can’t say that this related to space flight. That’s just not, you know, not until it’s verified. But it’s awfully tantalizing. And the other thing that was consistent with that is that the people who were looking at gene expression, they say changes in gene expression that fell into those same categories, too. So, there does seem to be something related to an increased stress response in space that, after he comes back to earth over, you know, by several months later, that that goes back to baseline. And if I said normal before, I used the wrong word, I really should say baseline. And the reason is that even these changes are within the range of what we would say for people who are on earth that were exposed to stressful situations, like, for example an infection. Like, getting the flu, or getting some other infection. You’ll get changes like this. And I don’t know about methylation, but it’s certainly in gene expression. You’ll see changes like this, too. So, it’s not like it’s some space special thing, but it appears, again, with the n of one caveat, it appears that there really is something going on in terms of stress response in space, and what they need to do now, I would hope it would be we, that I’d love to participate in this, but we’ll see, but what has to be done next is to repeat these observations on additional astronauts. And then I want to touch on something that you actually mentioned, I think at the beginning in your introduction, that’s as we’re thinking about going to Mars, and we’re going to be trying to understand what happens when you go out for you know three years in space, is it possible for us to project from what the experience is in in a three month space flight, in a six month space flight, in a one year space flight, if we can project how to tell about time dependent trends that occur. Than we then make a projection into what’s going to happen when you’re three years out. Because if you can do that, you might be able to identify, it’s a kind of like personalized preventative medicine, or just medical care for astronauts who are going to go as a group, or maybe even individually. We’re going to go on really long-term missions, including for example, like have the right supplies for things that happen when they’re, you know, when they’re traveling into space. And I think the most exciting thing that coming to your real answer now, the most exciting aspect, I think, of our study, is that it was the dawn of the genomic era of space. So, we really did work out the methods, both in terms of the mechanics of how you do these experiments, how you do this kind of analysis on very small amounts of material, how you can coordinate with different kinds of investigators, and also how you analyze the data. I mean, we did some real work in trying to figure out like, longitudinally, how do you analyze people’s data, serially over time, and compare that to pre-flight and post-flight, a lot of the methods that we worked out could be used to extrapolate to longer distance space flights, and I think that will help to answer that question as they go out, you know, for longer duration missions. And while we didn’t do any sequencing on this flight, some of the preparative stuff did lead to some sequencing, and Kate’s already done that. Not, as an official, you know, actually, I think there are some sequencing projects that were part of the last mission, but that’s getting incorporated, too. So I think that as people go to Mars, they’re going to need to be, fairly autonomous of NASA. I mean, for one thing, you know, as you could see from the movie The Martian, which I think has a lot of the details right, you can have a conversation where the response might take 20 minutes to get back. And, certainly not going to be able to ship extra materials to people and so forth. So, they’re going to have to be autonomous in a lot of ways. One of them is they’re going to be, they’re going to need to be autonomous in terms of evaluating their health status. And part of doing that is measuring the genome, the epigenome gene expression. And also, just bacterial things. So, you know, you can, it’s probably not going to be a great idea to have an incubator full of pathogens that are in the space craft because you need positive controls for doing assays for drug resistance. I don’t think you’re really going to want to have dangerous organisms there that you can compare. Somebody gets an infection, the response to that infection, you know, and to this drug or that drug, but the positive control, you know, of the actual bad thing; might be a lot better idea to take your little specimen and sequence it and know exactly what’s in there. And you already have on hand the medicines you can use. But it isn’t just that, I mean there are other disorders that might be difficult to diagnose where ancillary methods, if you take the whole ten studies as an aggregate would be very helpful. So, working that out, and then figuring out how to project what’s going to happen to astronauts on long-term space flight I think would be really helpful, and I think that this study was the study that opened the door to that. Host: Yeah. There’s definitely a lot to this study. And to your point, man, would it be nice to increase that n to like, a thousand, I don’t know. You guys probably know this more than me, being scientists, but man, it would be nice to get more of those studies, but this is an opportunity in and of itself. To explore that more would be absolutely fantastic. But, Steve, you know, Andy was going into some of the things that, especially in the epigenetics world, what are we finding from this study? We’re starting to get some of these data back, and understand what was happening even with this n of one, you understand a little bit what was happening in all these different areas, so what else, besides epigenetics, what else is happening in the Twins Study world? Dr. Steve Platts: Well, just to pick up on one thing that Andy said. Host: Sure. Dr. Steve Platts: And one of the things that I think is beautiful about this study is he said that the markers that he was looking at were showing stress and inflammation. And if you look at all the biochemistry, and physiology, and pharmacology we’ve been doing for years, the main things that we see are inflammation, and the same types of things, the stress, that Andy’s talking about. And we have multiple studies looking at those exact things. So, even though it’s new, it’s reinforcing things that we already know, right? So, I mean that’s one of the beautiful things about how they link up. As far as some of the other things they did, so, one of the groups looked at cardiovascular responses. And so they looked at the carotid artery in the neck. And it’s known that if you measure the thickness of the wall of that blood vessel, that relates to overall cardiovascular health. And it’s used here on earth, we actually use it at NASA as a technique to look at the astronauts and see how things are going. And they showed that in space for the twins, Scott has an increased thickening in that carotid artery. And so, oh, that’s interesting, right? What does that mean? And now when they only got to do a four-day return, right, so they didn’t get to do long-term to see how long it took to recover. On earth, we know what that means, in space we have no idea what that means, right? Something that happens that mimics a pathology, but then either comes back to normal or something that in space, our mind automatically goes to, well it must be the same, right? It must be a pathology, right? But that’s not necessarily true. So, we don’t really know. We know that changes, we know that vessel will get thicker, and in other investigators, not in the Twins Study, but in other space flight studies have shown that those same vessels also get stiffer. Ah, now stiffness, that can relate to blood pressure control, and we know that astronauts have issues with blood pressure control when they come back from space, especially long duration. So it’s starting to help us kind of link more and more of these chains together to figure out the big picture of what’s going on. I mentioned earlier the immunology, where they gave the flu vaccine, and they showed that the vaccine makes the body respond in exactly the same way in space as it does on the ground, which is very, very interesting as well. And so, you know, just a lot of different things. Cognition, that study was kind of mixed. They showed that there weren’t changes in a lot of it, but there was one assay where they showed a decrease in accuracy of some of the responses. And again, what the long term follow up is, we’re still working on those kind of things. So, just lots of really interesting things. Andy, I wonder if you’d be able to say just a few words about the telomeres, because I think that’s really exciting, but I’m not technically proficient in describing that. So I wonder if you could describe that? Dr. Andy Feinberg: Yeah, sure. So, that wasn’t our, you know, our part of the study, but they found an increase in telomere length for Scott during space flight compared to Mark. And it was observed over, I think, all eleven in-flight time points in which they measured it. And they did this in number of different ways. Their data are really solid. And then that also came back, I’m pretty sure, it came back to either the same level it was before or close to it, after space flight. And so, I mean that’s an interesting observation, because telomeres are the ends of chromosomes, and the length has been associated with, you know, disease states and with aging, and so forth. So, again, this is an n of one, you have to always keep in mind that, you know, you have to look at what you would see in other individuals. You have to repeat it. But it shows that it’s something worth looking at, just like the stress factors are. Host: So, you understand– Dr. Andy Feinberg: By the way, I want to just mention, we did see methylation changes, and there were also gene expression changes consistent with this observation. So that was another reason why this multi-modality study is useful, because at least you know the technical observations are really probably right. It’s probably not a measurement error, or a method error, if you’re seeing by completely different kinds of measurements data that are consistent with one another. So, I think there’s no question that his telomeres changed length. The question is whether or not another astronaut you would see that, or to what degree you would see that, and then what you could relate that too specifically in the environment. And none of these things can be answered, but certainly raises a good question. Host: So, is the idea, you understand what happened in this particular case, but how does this apply to the grander, you know, space flight. What does that mean when an astronaut is going to land on a different planet? Like, those are the sorts of things that you could take this data and apply it to future space flight and help you understand what you need to do. Dr. Steve Platts: Yeah, I think Andy hit the nail on the head earlier when he said this is really telling us how to do it. Host: Right. Dr. Steve Platts: Right? I call it a pathfinder mission, because really this is the first time we ever tried to do, you know, real genetics in space. And, this study taught us how to do it. And for the future, I mean, it just opened up everything for the future. Now, we have astronauts who were never ever interested in doing anything genetic, you can imagine how some folks might be trepidations about doing genetic studies, right? Having their genome potentially out there, the loss of privacy, that could mean, although we’re extremely careful about that. But now we have astronauts coming up to us, asking us about genetic studies and what are we doing next, and how can we do this? So, this study, just beyond the scientific advances it’s going to help us make, the technological and the philosophical advances it’s going to help NASA make, we can’t even figure out what those are just yet. I think they’re going to be tremendous. Host: Yeah. Dr. Andy Feinberg: Yeah, if I could add a little to that, sort of bring it home. So, the really big issues that are going to face them that we haven’t addressed in terms of like genomic integrity are, well what happens if there’s an exposure on the space craft to something? And, so we don’t know what, right? So, there could be like a solar flare, there could be some environmental contaminant on the space craft, whatever. There needs to be a mechanism to sort of robustly, and without having to do 2-3 years of planning, have a mechanism for them to be able to assess that. I mean, what I’m talking about when they travel to Mars. So, you know, there can be some evaluation of the effects of things without knowing in advance what they might be. So, I think you need to have some kind of laboratory capability, simple laboratory capability. And nowadays you can have things that are so modular and so small that I don’t think it’s asking a lot to do that. These guys are incredibly dedicated, they learn really well, they actually physically have great dexterity, and they’re very curious, and they’re like you know, either engineers already, or they have an engineering mind. And I say guys and women, I mean, actually it’s one of the really interesting things of the study by the way is that, you know, there are these changes in the shape of the eye, and there’re changes in the retina that are associated with visual problems. But the women don’t get this, right? So, they’re like, it’s just not going to happen in the women. So, I think it’s very important to include men and women in these analyses in a robust way, too. But the really big thing that’s different about what happens when they go to Mars is the radiation. It’s much greater. I mean, the amount of radiation that Scott got exposed to was sort of like four PET scans, something like that, over the course of a year. Not out of line, like within an order of magnitude of what airline pilots get. Why? Because they’re inside the Van Allen Belt. I mean, they’re in low-earth orbit. It’s more radiation than we get down here, but not that much more. But, when they go to Mars, they’re not going to have that shielding, and there’s this, not only more radiation, but this high energy radiation, a cosmic radiation, which are these, you know, heavy metal nuclei that are very damaging when they hit. I mean, they have to hit the DNA. And we don’t know anything about that, because people haven’t been there. Steve probably knows this, what the actual number is, but we haven’t had very many human beings outside of the Earth’s protective field. Just the people who went to the moon. Either circled it or landed there. So, I don’t know what is, a couple of weeks or something like that is the longest exposure. Host: Yeah very short. Dr. Steve Platts: Yeah. Dr. Andy Feinberg: Yeah. So, that’s a big question. So, if they’re going to be sending people out, like to the moon, you know, for, you know, to the lunar orbit or– Dr. Steve Platts: Yeah, the Gateway that we’re building. Dr. Andy Feinberg: Or some period of time. That’s when you can answer that question. And so, you know, I don’t know if NASA’s decided what they’re going to do, but I think there’s a really good, there’s a really important part for doing these kinds of measures, doing this all over again really when astronauts are going to be either on the Moon or at one of the, I think they’re called the La Grange points, where they have a sort of a stable orbit, for some period of time, actually. And then you can collect a symmetry, you can understand what kinds of radiation exposure there were, and you can ask these questions. I think we’re going to get different answers then, because I think the radiation’s going to be more substantial, and I think that’s their biggest threat. And I was on a panel with the National Academy of Sciences that also identified for the HRP, you know, this is one of the things that is a particularly high priority issue for which we don’t really have that kind of information. Dr. Steve Platts: And we are working on exactly those things right now with the Gateway program that’s spinning up, and we are going to put a station orbiting the moon. And the first thing we told them we have on board is bio-dissymmetry. So, we’re absolutely right with you that, we’re thinking about that radiation and we have an element that all they study is space radiation and so, we’re looking at that intensely. Host: It’s very fitting all the research that’s going into this Twins Study, you can take a lot of it and expand that knowledge. Dr. Steve Platts: Absolutely. Host: You can just keep learning, keep more and more in science. Always great. Dr. Andy Feinberg: And by the way, I got stumbled up there on my words, but just for your listeners out there, Mars is something like 50 to 400 million kilometers, something like that I think, from Earth depending upon when you’re looking. Something like that, right? Host: Yeah. Dr. Andy Feinberg: But the Moon, the Moon is only something like a couple hundred thousand miles away, and so, you know, getting back and forth is not that difficult, especially if you don’t actually land. So, I think, this issue about genomic integrity, it’s one of the major reasons I think to gather more data that’s closer to earth. If something does happen to somebody, you can send them back, they need something, you can send it out there. It’s not that impossible to do. Host: Yeah, there’s still, there’s definitely a lot more science that we need to do to really understand how to go further and further. And Andy, too, to your point, you know, Mars is just a couple more steps beyond the Moon. So, it’s going to be, it’s going to be a challenge just to get there. You’re talking about a few days of a mission there and back versus months. Even, I guess years, expanding past a year to get there and back. At the very least. But guys, I know we’re past our hour here, and I have so many more questions, but I know that with the recent release of some of these findings you can go, I’ll talk about a website at the very end of the podcast here where people can go and check out some of the other great findings that we have as part of this Twins Study. But I really just wanted to take this time to thank you both for taking the time to come and talk with us on the podcast and get this great information out. This is just, I think really a taste of all there is to the Twins Study. And it sounds like there’s a lot more science that we need to do to fully understand all of these different elements. So, really guys, I appreciate your time, thank you. Dr. Steve Platts: Oh, you’re very welcome. Dr. Andy Feinberg: It was wonderful talking to you, thanks so much. Appreciate it. [ Music ] Host: Hey, thanks for sticking around. So, today we got a chance to talk to Dr. Andy Feinberg and Dr. Steve Platts, going into the intricate details of all these elements of the Twins Study. Now, we really only got to address a little bit of it. Again, this is a very dense study, lots of different investigations. And we just recently published some of the findings. So if you go to NASA.gov/twins-study — that’s Twins dash Study — you can list, first of all, what is the Twins Study, but then you can actually see some of the recently published findings and really go into the intricate details of what some of the research that was done over these past few years. Otherwise, in terms of the human research program, we have worked with them before. You can go to NASA.gov/hrp to look at some of the human research. Otherwise, we’ve done a five-series, or a five hazards of human space flight series with the Human Research Program. We got to talk to even one of the investigators that were part of the Twins Study here, Dr. Crucian, Dr. Brian Crucian. We got to talk to him about immunology, you can listen to one of those episodes there. Of course, all of this research is being done aboard the International Space Station, NASA.gov/iss to find out what’s happening there. And Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, all of the different accounts that we have, the Johnson Space Center accounts, and of course, the International Space Station to figure out what’s going on. So, this episode was recorded on April 1st, 2019. Thanks to Alex Perryman, Norah Moran, Pat Ryan, and Shaniqua Vereen. Thanks again to our Twins Study experts, Dr. Andy Feinberg, and Dr. Steve Platts for coming on the show. So, if you are sticking with us right now, thank you for listening to this entire episode, and you’re in for a very special treat. Because next week we kick off a four-part series on a very unique story. So, with me is Pat Ryan, producer of the podcast to tell us more. Thanks for joining me, Pat. Pat Ryan: Hey kids. Host: [Laughs]. So, what exactly Pat are we in for for this four-part series? What’s it all about? Pat Ryan: Last year I discovered that there had been a project going on in another part of the production facility, that I wasn’t involved in at all. But one of my colleagues here told the story and it struck me as almost like a mystery story. The more he kept telling I’d go, what? We did what? How did we do that? And I said that needs to be a podcast. So, Greg Wiseman and I resolved to try to produce this story for the podcast, and we did it by doing podcast interviews with a lot of the people who were involved, but then cutting them together so that the story is told from all of their different perspectives, their different points of view, and we mixed in music and sound effects, and we also mixed in Mission Control room conversations from Apollo 11, the first landing on the Moon. That’s what the whole thing is about, rescuing the sounds of the people who worked here at the Manned Space Craft Center in Houston in 1969 to make sure that Apollo 11 went off successfully. Host: And this is a little bit different from our normal podcast. Obviously, if you’ve been listening to us, it’s, really, we just sit down with a guest and talk face to face for, and go really into a topic, but this is a little different in the way we structured this podcast. Pat Ryan: The story could have been told by talking to any one of several people, and that would have been fine, but I thought that there were enough different people involved in it, from different angles, that it would be worth talking to them all. And we did and then what we put together is a condensed version of those interviews, with some narration to hold all the pieces together, to tell it over a broader sense. And to tell it in a little different way, mostly because we can. Host: And I really hope you guys enjoy it. Next week we’re going to kick it off. It’s, the title is the Heroes Behind the Heroes, and there’s a very great story as to why it’s titled that. It kicks off next week, with part one, and there’s again, four parts to this story, and we’re going to go into the intricate details really of what it took to rescue these tapes. Pat, thank you for coming on, and talking about this. That will kick off actually a series of Apollo episodes we have as we near the 50th anniversary of the landing on the Moon. So, with that, check it out next week, the Heroes behind the Heroes. We’ll see you then.
Pat Ryan (Host): Houston, We Have a Podcast. Welcome to the official podcast of the NASA Johnson Space Center. This is Episode 114: “The Value of the Moon”. I’m Pat Ryan. On this podcast we talk with scientists, engineers, astronauts and other folks about their part in America’s space exploration program. And today we’re going to talk about the target of a lot of our current efforts: the Moon. NASA’s Artemis program is focused on returning American astronauts to the Moon by 2024 through the use of the Space Launch System rocket, the Orion Spacecraft, the Gateway Lunar Outpost and a new lunar lander. And to do so in a sustainable way, that is to go to the Moon to stay, to learn how to support astronauts in that environment and in the process get ourselves ready to go on from there to Mars. As a part of that mission, we mean to make the best use of the natural resources on the Moon, and that’s very different than what the Apollo program set out to do 50 years ago. It also prompts an echo of President Kennedy’s question: why the Moon? Well today we’re going to start scratching the surface of answering that question by talking to the self-described cheerleader-in-chief for the Moon. Dr. Samuel Lawrence is a planetary scientist in the Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science Division here at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. And he is the lead lunar exploration scientist at JSC. His research is focused on using petrology which is the study of rocks and the conditions under which they form. I know because I looked it up. His research is focused on using petrology and remote sensing to investigate the composition, origin and evolution of planetary surfaces. He’s been heavily involved in the development and testing and the science operations of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter which is now ten years into studying the Moon up close. He is also busy in Project Artemis in the formulation of science objectives and operations for the next generation of exploration on the Moon. As they say, “we are going.” And today we talk about what we hope to do and to learn when we get there. Okay then. Here we go. [ Music ] Host: Let me start by helping to introduce the audience to who you are. Where does your interest in the Moon come from? Does it come out of the Apollo missions from 50 years ago or some other aspect of astronomy or geology? Samuel Lawrence: Well, that’s a very good question. Back when I started into graduate school in the 2000’s, discovery of the potential microfossils in Meteorite ALH84001 was in the news and so like many people I actually went to graduate school to do Mars work. Host: Yeah. Samuel Lawrence: Mars. But I’ve always been interested in lunar exploration. Starting when I was a kid growing up, we had the space shuttle, had just started to fly. That’s the reason why I’m here, and one of my earliest memories is watching Columbia launch on her first flight as STS-1. And so that’s very inspirational. It has an effect on people. And keep in mind the space shuttle wasn’t just — at the time it was first launching, it was the tool that was going to open up the space frontier to the human species and we were all going to get a chance to ride in the space shuttle. Host: You were going to go there, back and forth all the time. Samuel Lawrence: We were going to go, yeah. I had a pamphlet that was put into a lot of Cheerios boxes when Columbia’s first flights were going on. It was like, “You will ride to work one day on a space shuttle.” And you read that stuff and it does have an impact on you. And I think that actually did pull in a lot of young people in the early 1980’s into the science, technology, engineering and math fields. So it does have, you know — the space program does have a demonstrable impact on what young people choose to do with their careers. But again, during the 80’s it was sort of assumed that we would all be — you know, the 21st century was right around the corner. We would have moon bases and people on Mars. And the first President Bush hopped up there in 1988 and says, “We’re going to back to the Moon to stay and then on to Mars.” Host: Right. Samuel Lawrence: And so like most people, like most fourth-graders, when the president hops up there and says that, you might reasonably expect it’s going to happen. And it’s really kind of a shame it really didn’t turn out the way we had been told. That is truly unfortunate because it does indicate something about our ability to make and follow long-term plans as a culture and as a society. But anyway, to answer your actual question, I’d always figured I would go to college to be an aerospace engineer. But I read — you know, growing up in the 90’s, you know, there was a lot of backing and forthing. And I read some op-eds by a guy named Paul Spudis and I was like, “Wow, this makes really good sense.” And so I was very excited about aerospace. I was going to go to college to be aerospace. And then I read a book by the legendary lunar geologist Don Wilhelms who did a lot of work during Apollo. And it was very interesting and I had this very epiphany that if you’re really going to do space in the 21st century, then understanding where the resources are to enable human exploration is going to be a really important question. Host: And you’re talking about the resources that are out there in space. Samuel Lawrence: Out there in space, that’s right. Yes. Host: Yeah. Samuel Lawrence: And so I changed course slightly and became a geologist. And you know, geology’s a very interesting field. It’s very integrated. Any given day you might have to understand biology and physics and thermodynamics and chemistry in order to understand the history of rocks and how it worked on this planet. And in the book that Don Wilhelms wrote, “To a Rocky Moon,” he made the really cogent point that up until the space age, the Moon had been an object of fascination for astronomers. But the space program and the space race converted it into an object we could explore and understand using principles of terrestrial geology to understand how the Moon worked. And the great gift of Apollo was that it essentially opened up our understanding of the entire solar system and the universe around us in a way we could understand. And so when I went to college, I went — or when I went to graduate school rather to get my doctorate in planetary science, I originally did it to do Mars work. And then I met — and then I just sort of realized there was a lot of interesting stuff to be done on the Moon. And everyone else was doing Mars work, so I figured, I might as well just switch over to moon work and then I’ll have less competition. Host: Yeah. Samuel Lawrence: Which proved to be an interesting choice. Host: Have you been at NASA for your whole career? Samuel Lawrence: No. No. I was hired three — I was on the research faculty at Arizona State University and I was hired at Johnson Space Center three years ago specifically to shore up their lunar expertise in anticipation of a new program of lunar exploration. Host: I read an article in getting ready for today that quoted you as saying the “Moon is the Rosetta Stone for the whole solar system.’’ Samuel Lawrence: That’s actually true. Host: That’s pretty high praise. Samuel Lawrence: Yeah. Host: Tell me why you think that? What is it that we can learn studying the Moon that teaches us about the rest of the solar system? Samuel Lawrence: Well, that is a very good question. So in general, when we went to the Moon the first time, we didn’t really understand — there were still major questions in the 60’s about where did the Moon come from? There are these features on the lunar surface that look very much like rivers. And so there were people, serious scientists making serious suggestions there might have been liquid water on the Moon at one point. They look just like rivers. So they must be. Host: Well if it’s the evidence of your eyes and it’s the only evidence you have. Samuel Lawrence: That’s right. That’s right. So then we went to the Moon and we discovered, as I sort of alluded to previously, that the Moon gave us this insight into planetary processes, the way geology works in other planets. And one of the reasons — so we actually landed on one of things that looks like a river. Host: Right. Samuel Lawrence: And discovered it was actually a lava channel and the Moon had never had liquid water on its surface and that the Moon was not just an asteroid that had been captured in lunar orbit. But we discovered that it was very similar to a rocky planet. It had a crust, a mantel and a core and it had very likely been created by a Mars-size impactor hitting the primordial earth and then the materials thrown off by that impact aggregated in low Earth orbit and differentiated into the Moon. Host: It’s formerly a piece of this planet. Samuel Lawrence: Right. Which explains why the chemistries of the two bodies are so similar in some respects. They’re very different in others. But in some respects they are actually pretty similar. And so but the biggest reason why I say that Moon is the Rosetta Stone of the solar system is we landed with astronauts who did field work in key locations on the lunar surface. From that field work — they picked up samples, they did geology in the field, they selected — they carefully selected samples, well more carefully in some cases than others. But they selected samples that were tied back to specific locations on the lunar surface. And from that we brought it back here to Houston and then distributed those samples all over the world and did radiometric age dating, figured out how old the samples were. And very similarly to — you know when you cut down a tree you count the number of rings? Host: Right. Samuel Lawrence: And that tells you how old the tree is. Well, on another planet, especially ones that don’t have atmospheres, it’s the number of craters that tells you — they can be used to infer how old the surface is. The more craters there are, the older the surface is. Host: The longer it’s been there exposed to passing asteroids. Samuel Lawrence: That’s right. That’s right. And so there are always exceptions to every rule and that’s sort of a gross oversimplification of it. But in general that rule holds. The older the surface, the more craters there are. So what you could do is you could count the areas near the Apollo landing sites, see how many craters are on those areas and then figure out because we have samples, the radiometric age dates, you know, see how old they were. And then that time scale has actually been extended to every single one of the inner terrestrial planets. Mercury, Mars, Vesta. And it really is this gift that has kept on giving. You can make a pretty good case in a sense it is actually what happened that most of the discoveries we’ve made in planetary science for the past five decades are directly or indirectly related to the discoveries made by the Apollo astronauts on the surface of the Moon. That was landing in six locations for only a few days at a time. Host: Right. Samuel Lawrence: For over a two-year period. So imagine what’s going to happen when we go back to stay. I cannot predict it. That’s why you explore, right? But in general we do really need to go back to the Moon and get more samples and understand the radiometric age dates of other locations on the Moon. Because it sort of turned out that the Apollo — the six Apollo landing sites and the Soviet landing sites were all actually in a very narrow band along the equator of the Moon and they’re not actually truly representative of the Moon as a whole. Host: Not distributed across, around the whole body. Samuel Lawrence: That’s right. Yeah. So we do actually need to go back and get more samples and understand when things happened on the Moon. And that will actually help us to understand when things happened in all the other terrestrial planets too. So that’s one of the key objectives for what we’re going to do for future lunar missions as well. Host: I must ask for everyone like me that doesn’t know precisely what radiometric dating is. Samuel Lawrence: Well, there are certain isotopes that decay over time. If you’ve — I guess it’s — for those of us who grew up during the Cold War, it’s probably an easier story to tell than others. But basically when a rock is erupted and forms onto a planetary body, it has certain elements that degrade naturally over time, radioactive decay. You can measure the abundances. And the way the decay rates are known. They’ve been measured in laboratories. You can measure the amount of these radionuclides in a rock and figure out based on what the abundances are how old the rock is. Host: How long it’s been deteriorating. Samuel Lawrence: Yeah, that’s right. How long the radioelements have been decaying over time. And then do math and figure it out. Host: See, the math part is the hard part that keeps — Samuel Lawrence: That’s actually the easy part. It’s the measurement that’s the hard part, but sure. Host: You’ve started to touch on some of the importance of the science of what we can learn at the Moon. We learned about the age of the planets from the Moon. How do you characterize generally — and then we’ll get more specific — about the value of the science that we can get from going to the Moon? Samuel Lawrence: Oh, it’s immense. And the value you get from sending human explorers is going to be even larger. I think one of the key points I like to make which I sort of already have made is that we only landed on the Moon with human beings six times. And they only explored a very small, vanishingly small area of the lunar surface. And they had intense schedule pressure, intense time pressure. And you’ll always have that in spaceflight. But if you’re going back and our paradigm this time around is different. We’re not going on camping trips. We’re going to stay. And that means we’re going to — if you’ve listened — so right now at NASA our focus right now is the 2024 landing, the Artemis III mission. But beyond, yeah, what comes after that, we’re still working on it. It’s still in development. Host: Right. Samuel Lawrence: But the Space Council and the Vice President and the administrator have all been very clear we’re going this time to stay and that requires a paradigm shift. It’s not a camping expedition. We’re going to go back and establish some sort of permanent presence on the lunar surface. And hopefully enable sustainable exploration in a way that doesn’t — you know, Apollo was fantastic but Apollo got cancelled and we don’t want to have that happen again. Host: And Apollo wasn’t meant to go there to stay. Those missions were meant to go there for those short periods of time and come home. Samuel Lawrence: That’s right. Host: It’s not like it was their fault. But now we’re doing something different. Samuel Lawrence: That’s right. Host: We’re going there to stay there to learn more about the place and to learn how we can stay there for a long time. Samuel Lawrence: That’s right. Host: Long periods of time. Samuel Lawrence: That’s right. Host: Are there certain aspects that you think of lunar science, if that’s the right phrase to use, that are more valuable? What are the more valuable areas of science that we can learn about? Samuel Lawrence: Well, I think there’s a lot. Obviously there’s — in terms of understanding fundamental processes in the solar system, you know, the impact process. It affects every single planet in the solar system, not just the Moon. It affects Earth. That’s why we’re having this conversation, not, you know, some dinosaur radio show or something, right? I mean, that’s why we’re here. Host: Right. Samuel Lawrence: So the impact process is fundamental. Understanding what exposure to the space environment does to a surface. Understanding the physics of how light interacts with the surface to understand how do you use remote sensing techniques to interpret mineralogy and composition. All of these are fundamental processes across the solar system, and the Moon is a natural laboratory for them. The Moon also records the first billion years of the history of the Earth/Moon system. So on earth we have plate tectonics and that tends to recycle, you know, the continents. You know, materials from the earliest part of earth when one-celled organisms were starting to crawl out from under the ground and get onto the surface and start the long evolutionary path that resulted in us — that’s all gone. We don’t have that record on this planet anymore. Host: Because it shuffled up the evidence. Samuel Lawrence: Yes. Well, evidence was destroyed by plate tectonics. Host: Right. Samuel Lawrence: But that evidence is there on the Moon. The Moon actually does record because it’s the Earth/Moon system. It does — the first billion years is available and can be found on the Moon. It’s not saying you can say, “Well, we’re going to go to this spot and find it.” But with a long-term presence on the lunar surface and lots of astronaut field work, you will find it eventually. Host: Because there aren’t plates and tectonics on the Moon. Samuel Lawrence: That’s right. There’s no plates. There’s no tectonics. There’s no recycling. You know, you will find it on the Moon and that’s very interesting. That will tell us a lot about the rise — you know, we’re always talking about how to find life in the solar system, but how life evolved on Earth is a very, very important question for us. And a key part of that story is told on the Moon and only accessible there. Host: It’s not just the lack of plate tectonics. The Moon doesn’t have weather or other things. Samuel Lawrence: That’s right. Host: Or other things that would disturb the evidence of these ancient events. Samuel Lawrence: That’s right, yeah. Host: Does the Moon have natural resources? Samuel Lawrence: Well, that’s one of the great discoveries we made during Apollo. So even before — even before we started to understand the nature of the polar volatile deposits that everyone is talking about today, even during the Apollo missions we began to have an understanding that the Moon actually did have a lot of resources that could enable future human exploration. Jack Schmidt, the only geologist who ever flew to the Moon, sampled a thing called a pyroclastic deposit at the Apollo 17 site. And it turns out those are spread across the near side of the Moon. They have a uniform chemical composition. We can use simple chemistry to extract water and oxygen from these materials. They’re large. And so this field — we had, you know, lunar base concepts in the 80’s that would have worked that used these deposits as the feedstock to sustain astronauts on the lunar surface. So you know, we’ve been thinking about this problem for a long time. And then in 1994, the Clementine mission was flown and that discovered the first tantalizing hints of potential water deposits or potential volatile deposits I should say at the lunar poles. Host: You want to make the distinction between water deposits and volatile deposits? Samuel Lawrence: Well, there’s a perception out there that there are these skating rinks hidden in the lunar poles. And unfortunately or that is not in fact the case. Our lunar reconnaissance orbiter mission has shown that there is no observable skating rinks at the lunar poles. Host: No big slabs of ice. Samuel Lawrence: No big slabs of ice. But it has detected pretty conclusively — and there was a mission called LCROSS, the Lunar Crater Remote Observation Sensing Satellite. Host: Good for you. Samuel Lawrence: It was co-manifested on the LRO launch in 2009 that impacted into Cabeus Crater on the Moon and discovered the unambiguous presence of water, H2O. And a lot of other possibly economically useful materials as well like methane. And the reason this works — we sort of skipped a step there — is that the Moon has a slightly tilted orbit. And so there are areas at the lunar poles where the sun both never stops shining or effectively, you know, where you have a lot of illumination, and where the sun never shines. Host: And when you say tilted, you’re saying — is that in reference to — Samuel Lawrence: To the sun. Host: To the sun. Samuel Lawrence: That’s right. Host: And the side of the Moon that we see is the same side all the time. Samuel Lawrence: That’s right. Because the Moon is tidally locked. And there is no dark side of the Moon. This isn’t an Isaac Asimov novel. There’s a far side of the Moon which we never get to see, but it does get the same day/night cycle that the rest of the Moon does. But at the lunar poles, and this is why this is the target for the Artemis program, there are these areas of near-permanent illumination. And that has a couple of very positive effects. It means that the lunar night only lasts for something like 6-7 days at a stretch as opposed to 14 days. And you get 200-day periods each year where the sun never stops shining. And so it’s a great spot to put down a stake hold and try to figure out how to live and work on other planets. Host: Because you would have 200 days of sunlight to provide power? Samuel Lawrence: That’s right. And it’s also a benign thermal environment. So on the moon there’s this diurnal day/night cycle with an extreme of temperatures. And at the poles the swing is much less. It makes it easier to design habitats. It makes it easier to design systems to enable astronaut habitation on the surface. Host: The change is less but still what’s the temperature we’re talking about? It’s not an Earth kind of temperature. Samuel Lawrence: It’s equivalent to what you’d see on the International Space Station. So you’re looking at around 200 degrees Fahrenheit in the daytime. Host: Okay. So it’s an environment that we already kind of know how to live in? Samuel Lawrence: That’s right. Host: We’re talking about natural resources. Are these natural resources — it sounds like they would be useful to us in order to be able to go there and stay, as opposed to resources that are valuable that people would want to go and take away and sell somewhere. Samuel Lawrence: It’s very difficult to make the case that anything you mine in space is ever going to come back to Earth, for now. That could change in the future, but for right now the most near-term utility for lunar resources or any space resources — and asteroids are chock full of useful things too, useful for people in space. So the things we’re interested in are oxygen. Oxygen is rocket propellant, the stuff you breathe. We’re interested in the possible, you know, volatiles which is hydroxyl, because that can be easily split off into oxygen and hydrogen which is rocket fuel. So there are — you know, the near-term things — Host: And the oxygen is water? Or the other way around? Samuel Lawrence: Yeah. Host: Yeah. Samuel Lawrence: Yes. Host: Yeah. Samuel Lawrence: The water can easily be converted into oxygen and hydrogen. Host: Right. Samuel Lawrence: So you know, we care about these things because oxygen is not only the stuff you breathe but it’s oxidizer for rocket fuel. The hydrogen could also be rocket fuel. And so, like I said, the near-term thing is going to be focusing on enabling and making human exploration more sustainable. And the reason why is that it takes roughly six times — there’s a six-to-one gear ratio for getting stuff to the Moon, is sort of the lingo. And that’s because for every pound you have to take to the lunar surface it takes roughly six pounds of fuel to get it there. Host: Okay. Samuel Lawrence: So give or take. So anything you can make on the lunar surface will eventually pay for itself, no matter how — you know, and you always hear people talk about, “Oh, you know, launch prices will go down eventually.” Sure. Maybe. But it still doesn’t change the fact you’re still going to take six times as much fuel to get something to the lunar surface. So the more you can make on the Moon, the easier it will be to sustain a human presence there. Host: The less you have to take. Samuel Lawrence: The less you have to take. Host: And the less of your resources here on Earth you have to expend for that portion of it. Samuel Lawrence: That’s right. And also you have to learn how to live off the land if you’re ever going to do Mars sustainably too. Because you’re much, much farther away than, you know — going to Mars is a much bigger technological leap and to really do it right, again, if you’re going to do it in a way that doesn’t eventually get cancelled, you want to have a sustainable presence on the Martian surface. You have to learn how to live off the land and use local resources. So it’s an important paradigm shift and we can get started doing it on the Moon. Host: You made reference to the lunar South Pole as a place where water, ice, has been found. Are there other of these valuable materials also in that same general region, making it a nice target for us to want to go to first? Samuel Lawrence: I mean, what do you mean valuable materials? Host: Well, the other natural resources. Samuel Lawrence: Oh, other natural resources. Well, you can take lunar regolith and craft oxygen out of it pretty much anywhere on the Moon. Host: And regolith is? Samuel Lawrence: Lunar soil. Host: Okay. Samuel Lawrence: Yeah. Host: And you can get oxygen out of the dirt? Samuel Lawrence: Yeah. It’s chemistry. You can do it. So you can — some of the higher-grade resources are only found in equatorial regions of the Moon. So we’ll have to — like I said, this is a marathon, not a sprint. So we want to try to establish a beach head at the lunar South Pole and then eventually branch out to doing other missions to other places with gradually increasing capability. And that is why the Moon is very interesting, because it’s not just an interesting scientific target. It’s an interesting aspiration target. And we are not — we don’t just want to go to Moon and stay there. Going to the Moon actually gives you the capabilities you need to go anywhere you want in the solar system with any capability you might actually have. Host: The things we can learn by going to the Moon and staying teach us. Samuel Lawrence: And the workforce and technologies required to go back to the Moon will reenergize the aerospace industrial base and give us a body of knowledge which you know, I mean, has been lost or is on the verge of being lost. The Apollo generation is leaving us. No one alive, or very few people present at the agency today have designed a vehicle that’s landed human beings on another world. Host: Right. Samuel Lawrence: And so we actually need to relearn how to do stuff we once learned how to do. Host: We’ve been talking for a few minutes about what there is on the Moon and it occurs to me to make sure I understand how we know that. I mean, we didn’t — it’s been 50 — almost 50 years since the last human beings went there and gathered up samples for us to bring back. But is that the primary way that we know about what’s on the Moon? Or have we learned it from other things? And I’m thinking particularly of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter that you also worked on. Samuel Lawrence: Right. Well, over the past two decades we’ve had a nice renaissance in lunar exploration. Because it’s not — yeah, like I said, the Moon is a very accessible target and so it’s something we can actually get to relatively straightforwardly. And so we’ve had certain — the Clementine mission which gave us our first global mineralogical maps of the Moon and the first tantalizing hints of polar volatile deposits. We’ve also had a series of international missions. So we’ve had our colleagues in India launch the Chandrayaan mission, Chandrayaan I. And you have Chandrayaan II on its way to the Moon right now. We have had the European Space Agency launch SMART I. Our colleagues in Japan launched the KAGUYA mission. And KAGUYA was a fantastic mission. It produced a tremendously valuable global dataset for mineralogy and composition and topography. Then we also finally had the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter which was launched in 2009 as the first step of the — first actual mission launched as part of the vision for space exploration, President Bush’s former program to return to the Moon and stay and go on to Mars. And so LRO really I think is an example of how you know — how science can enable human exploration. The mission was an exploration mission, an ESMD, Exploration Systems Mission Directorate mission, but it was staffed by Science Mission Directorate scientists and it was expressly designed to collect the data needed to enable a program of lunar exploration. But along the way, it also produced fantastic paradigm-shifting science and reinforced the Moon’s status as the cornerstone of planetary science. So it made a series of very important discoveries. Among them abundance of volatile deposits at the lunar polar regions, but also new details of lunar mineralogy, lunar chemistry, the lunar landforms we can see with LRO’s camera system, land forms as small as a meter in diameter. Host: Wow. Samuel Lawrence: So we’ve discovered all kinds of interesting things about lunar geology and the physics of the impact process, and created a whole new set of places we really want to send astronauts and their robotic precursors. So ten years into the mission, we have fuel for six or seven more years of operations. It’s my finest hope that we can actually have LRO still in orbit and taking images when the next American steps onto the surface are taken. That would be a nice shot. Host: Overhead shot. Samuel Lawrence: Yeah, that would be a nice symbolic closure of the mission. Host: It would. I’ve wanted to set the stage for what there is there on the Moon to talk about what we would find when we go back. And part of your current portfolio is that you’re working on developing the scientific objectives and the ways to do research during the Artemis missions that are coming up. It’s still early in Artemis. Samuel Lawrence: Still early. Host: To the extent that you can, what’s the outline of flights as we understand it so far? Samuel Lawrence: Sure. Host: What’s the early plan? Samuel Lawrence: Well, we had an exciting conference in January of 2018 called the Lunar Science for Landed Missions Workshop that went through and it was a great meeting and it went through — it was sponsored by our friends at the Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute. And it was at the Ames Research Center. And that was a great meeting. It was the science community coming together and going, “These are our high-priority targets for where we’d like to send precursor missions and also” — it was mainly focused on precursor missions, but all the stuff from that workshop is equally applicable to the human missions. So an inherent part of the Artemis concept is that we have this thing called the Lunar Discovery and Exploration Program. So part of that is going to be — it’s an exciting program. It’s leveraging the power of American enterprise and American industry to create a whole new set of lunar landing vehicles and designs to carry payloads to the lunar surface. And as part of that program, or actually as part of LDEP we’re going to be landing exciting new missions for science at various spots around the lunar surface. I don’t know where they’re going to be landing, but they’ve selected instruments and they’ve selected payloads and there’s several contractors working right now to create new American lunar landing systems that will take US payloads to the lunar surface. So that’s really exciting, and that’s a key capability. Because as I mentioned previously it’s been five decades since the United States landed a spacecraft on the lunar surface. So I view LDEP as a really important part of our lunar portfolio and I’m really looking forward to the discoveries those missions are going to make. Host: And if I can, to be clear, the LDEP payloads are not humans down to the Moon. Samuel Lawrence: That’s right. Host: These are research missions. Samuel Lawrence: That’s right. But for this to work and work sustainably, we’re going to have to have robots and humans working together. And I think that really does act as a force multiplier and it’s going to make our exploration more effective and efficient and affordable when we can have regular cadence of missions going to the lunar surface. Because I could see scenarios where you are flying payloads designed to understand how to produce resources on the lunar surface to the moon on these LDEP payloads. Host: If we’re going to make use of those resources, we’ve got to have the tools to do it. Samuel Lawrence: You’ve got to have the tools to do it. So I think it’s a very good synergy between the mission directorates. It’s a very exciting program. It’s very innovative. It’s going to be I think really exciting to see what American commerce can bring to the game in a way that is designed to enable innovation. And then moving on beyond LDEP which is our first missions as part of so-called Artemis umbrella are going to be LDEP missions. Host: Okay. Samuel Lawrence: In the early 2020’s. And then we have the Artemis III and that’s the first human mission as part of the Artemis program, presumably the seventh human lunar landing. And we have clear direction from above to land at the lunar South Pole which is a very interesting location. Like I said, there are — it’s an interesting environment that is enabling for future human exploration for long durations on the lunar surface. There’s potential access to these volatile deposits which are not only interesting as a potential resource but are also interesting scientifically because it’s that — like I said, the first billion years of history. So we can go to these volatile deposits and presumably understand how organics and other cometary materials evolved over time in the solar system. That’s an interesting thing scientifically. And there’s also rocks we can pick up, and potential multiple — potentially sampling multiple lunar terrains with access to the — or excuse me, which could be accessed by landing at the South Pole. And by astronauts doing field work. So it’s an interesting location. We’re still working on some of the details here, but in general the idea is astronauts will land there and get out of the spacecraft, do space walks and make some very interesting new discoveries as they start to figure out what it’s going to take to learn how to live and work on other planets. Host: So if that’s Artemis III, Artemis I and II and LDEP missions? Samuel Lawrence: No, no. Host: No? Okay. Samuel Lawrence: Those are the missions formerly referred to as Exploration Mission I and Exploration Mission II on the space launch system. Host: I see. Samuel Lawrence: So those are Orion test flights in lunar space. Host: Okay. And Artemis III gets the first humans back to the Moon? Samuel Lawrence: That’s right. Host: And you made reference there, if I can — there’s a little exit ramp there. You were talking about doing exploration and finding evidence of the evolution of comets? Samuel Lawrence: Well, sort of. Host: Okay. Samuel Lawrence: That was perhaps inelegantly phrased by me. What I’m alluding to here is again the Moon preserves its first billion years of history of the Earth/Moon system. And the reason why you have these polar volatile deposits is that again the Moon has these areas where the sun never shines. And when comets which are sort of wet, muddy ice balls hit the Moon, those volatiles during the lunar day/night cycle literally hop from one spot to another on the lunar surface. And eventually they get trapped in these cold traps at the poles. That process has presumably been going on for most of the history of the solar system. So by going to these volatile deposits in the lunar Polar Regions and studying them — and we will get some of this data as we use these resource deposits for resources as we do resource extraction. As you start to really dig down into these deposits, you will get interesting information about how these volatile rich compounds, you know, water, methane, have involved over the complete four-billion-year history of the solar system. Host: Because you will have had evidence of them from throughout that timeline. Samuel Lawrence: That’s right. That’s right. And we just went to the Moon and found it. And so it’s going to be very interesting to see what develops out of this. Host: How do they hop from one place to another on the Moon? Samuel Lawrence: Boiling. So the water boils and then it gets so far — some of it gets lost to the space environment, obviously. Host: Okay. Samuel Lawrence: Some of it lands when the sun goes down, and then the sun rises and the process repeats. And then eventually, so you know, from the giant ice ball that hit the Moon at the equator, a few molecules wind up in the lunar poles. Host: It’s dispersed. Samuel Lawrence: Yeah. But they get trapped in the polar environment. That’s a gross oversimplification. I’m sure some of my colleagues are cringing at the thought of it. Host: Well, but you can imagine why when I heard it hops from one place to another that you had more clarification than that. Samuel Lawrence: Indeed. Host: So you talked about up to Artemis III and the first humans that would land by 2024. Are there plans for further human missions in that timeline beyond that? Samuel Lawrence: Sure. I mean, the idea is — Host: Do we know much yet? Samuel Lawrence: A lot of this is still under development. But you’ve seen in some of the public talks given recently at the NASA advisory council and other places, there is essentially — there are plans for other missions beyond 2024. So usually — Host: Since we’re going to stay. Samuel Lawrence: Since we’re going to stay, yes. So you’ve seen charts shown that show, you know, one mission a year in ’25, ’26, ’27, ’28 and continuing thereafter. So it should be interesting. Host: Yeah. Samuel Lawrence: As we establish this capability to do human planetary exploration. Host: What would you say are both the immediate and the long-term goals of Artemis at the moment? Samuel Lawrence: Well the long-term — the immediate goal is to reestablish a credible capability to get human beings onto another planet. And you know, this, like I said, it’s something we haven’t done in a while. And if you’re really going to be credible about saying, “Yes, we can go to Mars or go to Sirius,” or go to other places we want to go to, it makes sense to establish that capability in a place that’s really only a few days away. Where you can take risks and have some confidence you might be able to get back to earth in a reasonable timeframe to preserve human life. The other — there are other near-term objectives too. I mean, one of them besides reestablishing planetary exploration with human beings is understanding the lunar resource potential and understanding how to use it. Understanding how to incorporate that into human space flight architectures I think is a really key paradigm shift. Host: Knowing more about what’s actually there on the ground. Samuel Lawrence: Knowing — well, both. More about know what’s actually there in the ground and providing ground trips, but also figuring out how to design systems that can leverage it once you find it there. Because again, you have to do that for just about anywhere else you want to go in the solar system. Host: Sure. Samuel Lawrence: So it’s a key paradigm shift. And understanding how to, you know, refuel a spacecraft in microgravity or fractional gravity environments is a thing we’ve never — don’t have a lot of experience with. So we need to get some of that. Understanding and developing systems that can handle not just days on the lunar surface but months or even years of surface operations is critical for understanding, for enabling again longer journeys to Mars and beyond. So I think there’s this whole host of technology development things that should and will come out of the Artemis program. There’s scientific discoveries about the nature of the early Earth/Moon system, of fundamental planetary science processes. There’s also things you can do on the Moon that aren’t related to geology. There’s interesting — there’s interesting things you can do from materials science. There’s interesting scientific objectives for understanding the biological impacts of fractional gravity on human beings. Again, we have lots of data from ISS. We have lots of data at 1G on this planet. Host: Yeah. Samuel Lawrence: Very little between those two extremes. So having astronauts on the lunar surface for months or even years at a time or for weeks or months, possibly even years at a time will provide a critical data point for understanding what fractional gravity — what the effects of fractional gravity are in human beings and possibly also developing coherent mitigation strategies for them. It is possible there is some number between zero and one where the deleterious effects of microgravity exposure are mitigated to some large degree. And that could be very useful for future exploration. Host: I think it’s very important that you point that out. Because a lot of times we, I think, maybe overlook the fact that the microgravity environment that we’re learning about on the space station is not what you have on the Moon. Samuel Lawrence: No. It’s not what you have on Mars either. Yeah. Host: There is gravity there. Not as much as Earth, but there is gravity. Samuel Lawrence: There is gravity. And it turns out, you know, there are areas on the Moon, like I said, the far side is shielded. It never sees the near side. So there are interesting things you can do from radio astronomy, looking for the early cosmic dawn. There’s teams of astronomers who are really excited about putting a radio telescope on the lunar far side. Again, with a field station on the lunar surface, permanent power production infrastructure, these kind of long-duration experiments become very possible. And the Moon I think will eventually become a platform very much like the ISS where you can use it for a variety of interesting things. And that’s really exciting. You know, I can’t — it’s difficult to predict the future. You know, always in motion, the future is. But once you establish the capability to access the Moon’s surface on a regular basis, have infrastructure there to support long-duration experiments and activities, very exciting things are going to start happening. It’s going to be very interesting to see. Host: Set up on the far side of the Moon and able to look out in a way that we can’t do from earth. Samuel Lawrence: That’s right. Because it shields all the radio transmissions, right? Host: Those coming from Earth? Samuel Lawrence: Those coming from Earth. Earth is very noisy, but the far side of the moon is very quiet so you can actually do interesting radio astronomy from the lunar far side that is unique for the solar system. Host: Talk a little bit about what kind of work we’re doing now and work we need to be doing in the near-term future in order to support these goals of Artemis on the Moon. Samuel Lawrence: Yeah, it’s very interesting. So some of this work, you know, we’ve restarted it. It was quiescent for some time. So some of that work is slowly coming back to life as we realize we have to do this again. We’re looking at where do you actually land? Where are the spots on the lunar surface that are safe that can be accessed by astronauts and robotic precursor missions? How do you account for, is there enough space to put landers down close together without having dust impingement on each other? So there’s a lot of applied science research going on right now as we try to answer these questions in a way that makes sense and enables value to the taxpayer. We’re working on the new space suits that will enable lunar missions. We’re working on developing mobility systems that will let astronauts — you know, like rovers that will let them go. Host: Yeah. Samuel Lawrence: From their lander and go out to do exploration, working on ISRU systems, in-situ resource utilization designed to use lunar resources and produce things of value to human explorers. We have American companies working on commercial landers right now to enable the goals of the Lunar Discovery and Exploration Program. So there’s a lot of work which has all of the sudden come into very clear focus thanks to the challenge of the 2024 deadline. Host: You’ve mentioned just then and earlier too about international and private or commercial participation in all of this. This is not just a NASA by itself effort, is it? Samuel Lawrence: No. No, it’s not. We have — there’s been for the last decade significant international interest in lunar exploration. And I think to paraphrase John Kennedy, you know, it’s as true now as it was when he said it back in 1962 at Rice University. Whatever human beings undertake, free humans must fully share. There is a lot of international interest in the Moon. And I think, you know, it is incumbent upon the United States to lead the way back. And so I think there’s a lot of — I think there’s going to be a lot of opportunities, good opportunities for our international partners to make meaningful contributions to the success of the program. All that is being worked on right now, so I would imagine there’s a lot of excitement out there in the domestic United States community about a renewed emphasis on lunar exploration. And there’s a lot of excitement from international partners about the United States finally committing to go back to the lunar surface. Host: Well, the European Space Agency is already participating in the Orion Spacecraft. Samuel Lawrence: That’s right. Host: But other national space agencies are I guess — are they being encouraged to participate? Samuel Lawrence: Yes, they’re being strongly encouraged to participate and I think that would be most welcome. Host: And you talked about in the LDEP missions, private companies are already working on some of these — I don’t know what the right way to put it is — but science experiments that will be going and landing on the Moon on their own. Samuel Lawrence: That’s right, yes. Host: As well as, you know, work has begun somewhere I’m sure on figuring out the actual mechanism of putting the human beings down on the Moon too. Samuel Lawrence: Yeah, that’s right. While that process — there’s already — there was already a set of — there was an action taken earlier this year. We call it on the inside appendix E which were essentially study contracts given to industry to study human lunar landing systems. And that’s in progress right now. Host: Before we get too far away from the mention of it, we were talking a minute ago about dust, moon dust. And one of the things that I learned a lot about during all the recent attention to the 50th anniversary of the first Moon landing was how much of a real problem the dust was in how it messes up our stuff that we bring there. Samuel Lawrence: Yeah. That’s actually true. But this is not — so the dust is a problem. But keep in mind- Host: I’m not saying that it can’t be defeated, but it is one of the really — one of the big things that people have to — Samuel Lawrence: Yeah it is. It’s something you’re going to have to do anyway, no matter where you go in the solar system. Host: Right. Samuel Lawrence: It turns out you find dust. So it’s something we’re going to have to address. And also keep in mind that most of the Apollo systems were designed in the early 1960’s before we had any sense of what the lunar surface was like. So yes, they had a lot of problems during the Apollo missions. Some of that was caused by the fact they took good guesses, guesses that pretty much actually worked. Host: Yeah. Samuel Lawrence: We’d go to the Moon, we landed safely, we returned safely. We brought back 800 pounds of lunar rocks. But you know, most of those systems were designed well in advance of any realistic or actual knowledge of what the lunar surface was going to be like. So now that we have that knowledge, now that we fully understand the characteristics of the lunar environment, I’m actually pretty confident we can come up with engineering-based solutions to most of the dust issues that people are presently worried about. So I mean, it is something you have to worry about. It is something you pay attention to. But at the same time, we actually do know what the lunar environment is like and that will make I think all the difference in the world this time. Host: Yeah. You’re starting further ahead. Samuel Lawrence: We’re not starting from zero, yeah. Host: As we did before. Samuel Lawrence: Yeah. Host: You’ve mentioned that a big part of the goal of the Artemis program is to return human beings to the Moon to stay, to create a sustainable presence. And we’ve talked about how we want to use the resources that we will find there in order to support this sustainable presence. Is a sustainable presence on the moon the same kind of thing — or is it the same thing as a sustainable presence on Mars, which is the long, long-term goal of this? Samuel Lawrence: Well, I would contend that the knowledge you get from going back to the Moon to establish a sustainable presence there will actually make a Mars mission happen a lot sooner. Because you have that workforce and industrial base recapitalized, I think it actually makes Mars missions more feasible, not less. It’ll happen more quickly, not farther away. But that’s common sense, right? Once you’ve done it on the Moon, it should be a lot easier to get the confidence back to go back to thinking about how to do Mars. Host: You learn at least the general outlines of what you have to do. But there are going to be differences between the environments. Samuel Lawrence: There will be key differences. Yeah, there are. But I would — they are actually probably going to be pretty similar. I mean, if you look at the body of work that’s been done recently for the — there’s been a lot of series of conferences and people have thought about this a lot. There’s this concept of the Mars field station. And if you look at what that is, it’s shockingly similar to what you might actually envision for a lunar field station too. So I guarantee you that establishing a sustainable presence on the lunar surface will buy down a significant amount of risk and develop a significant amount of industrial experience in how to create and fabricate habitats and have them be successful for the Martian experience. You know, there is a big difference — it will shock you I’m sure to learn — from going from a PowerPoint slide to actual hardware. [Laughter] And that is a gap we need to figure out how to jump to before we can start to really credibly talk about going to Mars with human beings. And you will do that on the Moon in a place where you can make mistakes and it’s less bad. Host: Yeah. It’s exciting to be looking at really doing something like this, doing something that we did 50 years ago, but on steroids, in a different way. No? Samuel Lawrence: It’s different. Host: Okay. Samuel Lawrence: Again, 50 years ago we did camping trips. Host: Right. Samuel Lawrence: We have never established a permanent or semi-permanent, whatever you choose to call it — I mean, humans won’t be there the whole time. They’ll be there some of the time. But we’ve never put down permanent human-tended infrastructure on another planet before, another world I should say. The Moon is not a planet. It’s a world. But we’ve never done that before. It’s new, it’s exciting, it’s a capability we have never had before, and I think people say, “Oh, the Moon, we’ve been there, we’ve done that.” No, we really haven’t. We went there five decades ago. We landed in six spots and we only stayed there for a few days. When we go back, this time sustainably, this time to stay, that is something we have never done before. And it will accrue incredible value for the United States, for our allies and it will send a powerful message to the rest of the world of what we can do when we can put our minds to it. Because you see the moon with your naked eye. You can see it every day. No matter how dark the sky is, no matter how much pollution there is, no matter how much light pollution there is, you can still see the moon. And when you have Americans living and working on the surface of the Moon that sends a powerful message to the rest of the world about what we can accomplish. Host: And that’s exciting. Samuel Lawrence: Yes, it is. Host: I think that’s exciting. This is not the first time that the United States has said we’re going to return to the Moon and build on what we’ve learned from Apollo. What needs to happen so that Artemis can succeed where those previous efforts didn’t? Samuel Lawrence: Well, I think — this is just me speaking personally. I’m not going to speak for the agency in this case. This is my perspective. Host: What do you think is required for this effort to work? Samuel Lawrence: I think we have to be very good stewards of US taxpayer dollars, more than anything else. They trust us. It is a special obligation and a special privilege to work for the American people. And I think when you go to them and say, “We need your support to do something really exciting and provide value,” it is incumbent upon us to make it work. It’s up to us. So we have to say, here’s the value proposition. These are all of the different ways. These are all of the different industries here in the United States we’re going to be creating as part of this effort. Here’s all the different ways we’re going to enhance science, technology, engineering, medicine in this country. And here is the value proposition. It’s up to us to sell it. You know, we have to be good stewards with taxpayer dollars, but in return we have to deliver. It’s up to us. So that’s my answer to that question. It is up to us. We have to deliver. We have to provide value. We have to do it in a way that is different and actually works this time. It is not sufficient to say we’re going to do something and not do it. If we say we’re going to do it, we have to do it. We have to deliver. Host: Dr. Samuel Lawrence, thank you very much. Samuel Lawrence: Yeah, you’re very welcome. [ Music ] Host: If you listened to the first part of our “Heroes Behind the Heroes” series about recovering recordings of the Apollo 11 mission control team — by the way its episode 88 posted on April 19th — it’s still there online if you didn’t. Well, you know I tried to set the scene with some historical precedent for the attraction of exploring the Moon. And now I wish I had talked to Sam Lawrence too so I could have mixed in some delicious scientific reasons why bringing the Moon into our orbit in a symbolic sense was such a draw for folks back in the 1960’s and for many still is today. To get more into the details of what’s on the drawing boards for the Artemis program right now, go to NASA.gov/Artemis, or check out NASA.gov and follow the links to Moon to Mars, and to humans in space. I’ll remind you that you can go online to keep up with all things NASA at NASA.gov. Also, it would be a good idea for you to follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. You will thank me. When you go to those sites, use the hashtag #AskNASA to submit a question or suggest a topic for us. Make sure to make a note that it’s for Houston, We Have a Podcast. You can find the full catalog of all of our episodes by going to NASA.gov/podcasts and scrolling for our name. You’ll also find other exciting NASA podcasts right there at the same spot where you can find us. NASA.gov/podcasts. Very convenient. This episode was recorded on August 28th, 2019. Thanks to Alex Perryman, Gary Jordan, Norah Moran and Belinda Pulido for their help with the production. To Noah Michaelson for his help in arranging the guests, and to Sam Lawrence for sharing his knowledge and insights about the object of our affection. We’ll be back next week.
Pat Ryan (Host): Houston, we have a podcast. Welcome to the official podcast of the NASA Johnson Space Center. This is Episode 102, “The Next First Steps.” I’m Pat Ryan. On this podcast, we talk with scientists, engineers, astronauts, and other folks about their part in America’s space exploration program, and today, that means getting their thoughts on space exploration of the past, as well as of the future. We hope you’ve heard — NASA’s been celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing — big parties. Well, two weeks ago, Gary talked with NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine about the significance of the anniversary, and the agency’s current plans to return astronauts to the Moon in the next few years. Last week, he and JSC historian Jennifer Ross-Nazzal hit on some of the lesser-known stories of Apollo 11, and we heard a few Apollo veterans share their memories of when they made history. The thing about that history is, the chances are you don’t remember it. About 65% of the population of the United States today is under the age of 50. That means for roughly two out of every three people you meet, the first landing of human beings on the Moon is a topic from history for them. It’s not something they experienced. Well, I do remember 1969, and believe me, it was a huge deal. The fact of NASA meeting President Kennedy’s goal of landing men on the Moon in the 1960s was mind-boggling for those of a certain age who never even conceived of such a thing in all their natural-born days. And for many of those who were children during that historic summer, it set their lives on a new course of scientific and technical study, and for some of them, a career in the space program. Over the last few weeks, I’ve had a chance to put a microphone in front of some of the leaders of the human spaceflight programs and offices at NASA today, to hear their memories of Apollo 11 and learn how that influenced their lives. But also to get them to share their thoughts on the value of putting the “human” in human spaceflight, and to talk about why they’re so jazzed about the emphasis within NASA today of creating a sustainable human presence on the Moon soon. As you’re about to hear, these discussions of the past very quickly turned into dreams of the future that go far beyond the Moon. Ready? Here we go. [ Music ] Host: We can read about history and study it as a set of facts, or we can try to get inside the history by living it through the experience of others. It turns out that most of the people who are leading NASA’s human spaceflight programs today have their very own real memories of the Apollo 11 moon landing that happened 50 years ago this month. It was, for them, a real thing — an experience they lived. And today, they can talk about it so the rest of us can share it, and can see how it informs today’s human spaceflight programs, and how it’s influencing what NASA plans to do next, starting with the return of astronauts to the Moon by 2024. Eagle landed on the Moon on a Sunday afternoon at 3:18 Houston time. Neil Armstrong put his first boot print in the Moon dust at 9:56 that evening. So most of the kids of that day were all in exactly the same place to see this piece of history unfold. They were in front of the TV, at home, with their parents, and that included several of those who would grow up to work in the human spaceflight program, and who, today, are in positions of leadership, including Mark Geyer, the director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. Mark Geyer: I was 11, and so — and I lived in Idaho at the time, Boise, Idaho. We had three channels — no ABC, just the other three. We had a PBS, and so we had three channels. Host: Nice. Mark Geyer: And I remember that day — my brother and I, we went to the convenience store and bought those space sticks you might remember, and they were like chalky-tasting sticks. There was vanilla, chocolate — but there was — cool, because it was like you were in space. We did that, and then, when it landed — and then, I remember it being in the evening. I’ve talked about it before — using our fireplace tools, pretending I was collecting rocks on the surface, as Neil was — Neil and Buzz were walking around. So I remember that. I remember the living room. I can — and my mom was there. She stayed up with me, and we watched it together. So that was really cool. Host: The International Space Station program manager, Kirk Shireman, and the Orion program manager, Mark Kirasich, have similar memories. Kirk Shireman: I remember as a young child — I guess I was six years old. I remember, very distinctly, watching the first steps on the Moon. You know, it was a big deal for our family. I remember the quality of the TV wasn’t very good, although at that time, I don’t think it was a big deal. Even now, I remember — I remember the quality not being that good, but that was amazing, to be — even see it. Mark Kirasich: Oh, my goodness, I — it is clear and distinctive like it was yesterday, one of the most vivid memories of growing up. It was July 1969. I was nine years old at the time. I was sitting in the living room of my family’s house where I grew up — in case you were wondering, 1500 South Highland Ave in Lombard, Illinois. Host: Okay, we’ll all run there now [laughter]. Mark Kirasich: Yes. Host: Look at the picture. Mark Kirasich: And I was — I was sitting on the couch in our living room with my dad on one side of me, and my little six-year-old sister on the other side of me. And we watched the landing, and I was glued to the TV set. And after Neil and Buzz actually walked on the Moon — while they were walking on the Moon, there was a cut-away to a commercial or something. My sister and I dragged my father out and into the street, because we wanted to look up at the Moon and find Buzz and Neil. We didn’t that night, but it was clearly one of the most vivid memories I have from my childhood. Host: The memory of that day is a little bit different for the woman who, today, is the manager of NASA’s commercial crew program, and that’s because Kathy Lueders was in a very different time zone 50 years ago. Kathy Lueders: We’re all getting old. Host: I know. Kathy Lueders: I mean, I have a memory of Apollo 11. Host: So do I. Yeah [laughter]. Kathy Lueders: But I — it’s — it’s of my dad. I was living in Tokyo at the time, and my dad woke us all up early, and said, “You need to come down, because this is, like, a memorable moment.” So we come down the stairs, and of course, on a black-and-white screen, you know, dragging us in, and you just see this little picture of people climbing down a ladder and standing on the Moon. And I — and, you know, at the time, I was five. And so — you know, but it’s always been this kind of distant memory of seeing people on TV standing on the Moon. That’s just amazing. Host: John McCullough had something of a different-than-usual experience of the first moon landing, too. Fifty years ago, the man who now oversees the Johnson Space Center’s support of all NASA exploration objectives as director of exploration integration and science was a preschooler on a family road trip. John McCullough: I absolutely do. I have actually three space memories from when I was very young, very formidable, that stuck with me, and still stick with me today. And so, the first one is Apollo 11. I was four-and-a-half years old. We were on a family vacation. We traveled 1000 miles from — I lived in Ohio, and we were going to Minnesota to visit some family friends. And I remember going across the Mackinac Bridge, this big, giant bridge, and I remember stopping and watching in the black-and-white TV the Apollo 11 landing. And that was a huge, huge moment. The whole family gathered around and watched that piece of it. So it was a big deal. Host: You didn’t stop and watch it in the car? John McCullough: No, no. We were — we were at a house, so it was good. But it was a little black-and-white, you know, console TV. I remember it vividly. So we still talk about that periodically. Host: There are some leaders of human spaceflight in America today who are too young to remember Apollo 11, like Lara Kearney, the deputy manager of the Gateway program, and Steve Koerner, the director of flight crew operations at JSC. Lara Kearney: Yeah, I was about seven months old when Apollo 11 happened, so I don’t have a direct memory of Apollo 11. But I do — by the time the Apollo program was coming to the end, they were flying their last few flights, I was about three, three-and-a-half. And I do remember that. Host: Really? Lara Kearney: I remember watching on the television with my family, and seeing something that looked really cool on the television. I — you know, looking back at it now, I had no concept of what a significant achievement it was at the time, but I definitely remember watching it on television with the family. Host: And having some understanding of what was happening? Lara Kearney: Yeah, I definitely think so. I mean, it was clear to me at the time that it was a man, and that man was on the Moon, and that was very different than being on the earth [laughter]. So, you know, even as a child, I understood that that was kind of a big deal. Just — you know, at that point, no appreciation for the magnitude of the effort that had to come together to make something like that really happen. Steve Koerner: You know, I was very, very young on Apollo 11, so I don’t have a specific memory that ties me to Apollo 11. I do remember two things in the Apollo program. I can’t pintail them to an exact mission, but watching on a grainy black-and-white television Apollo astronauts standing on the Moon — I couldn’t even tell you, at that age, who — what — which astronaut it was standing there. But I can remember family gathered around, watching on this grainy black-and-white television an Apollo astronaut standing on the Moon. At the age I was at, I don’t think I appreciated the significance at the time. Fast-forward a couple years later, and I believe it was an Apollo Soyuz capsule that we went out in the backyard and we watched in the night sky as it circled the earth. We could see it go overhead, and even then, at a young age, in the early ’70s, thinking, “How is that possible? People are on that?” And I remember just questioning the how. Host: Others of today’s leaders are younger still. For Holly Ridings, the chief of the flight director office here in Houston today, her first memory of Apollo 11 came from a science teacher. Holly Ridings: Wow. The first thing I remember learning about Apollo 11 — so I was very young when I sort of had some awareness of space. So this is elementary school. Host: Okay. Holly Ridings: And I had an amazing science teacher. Her name was Ms. Daniel. We called her Science Daniel, not necessarily to her face, and so she really was excited about space. And of course, being the age I am, we would go to the cafeterias and watch the shuttle launch at the time. Again, this is about the sixth grade, but, you know, she did an amazing job of explaining to us, you know, space, and how we’d arrived at that point, which obviously — you know, you had the Apollo missions that came first, much before we had the shuttle. And so, you know, that’s kind of my first memory of understanding, you know, one, the concept of human spaceflight, right, and just that amazing endeavor, and two, the history of how we’d arrived, you know, at that point in time, again, when I was about in the sixth grade. Host: As the leaders of America’s human space exploration programs today experienced the Apollo 11 moon landing in different ways, so too were they influenced by it in different ways. For people like Mark Kirasich, the impact of Apollo 11 was direct, and its influence never wavered through their lives. Mark Kirasich: It not only inspired my education and career, it changed a lot about my family’s life for me, starting with our next family vacation. We — in the summer of 1970, our family vacationed down at the Kennedy Space Center. We were in Coco Beach. I still drive by the hotel on the A1A Highway where we stayed that year. So it changed a lot about my life. I was really — Apollo inspired me, if you will. It interested me in science and math, and I don’t know that I was smart enough at the time to know I wanted to work in the control center, wanted to be the flight director. But it definitely pulled me in that direction. Host: And was that what you studied in school, for example? Mark Kirasich: Yeah, that’s when — and I went to high school, studied math, science, and I was an engineer at the University of Notre Dame. Host: Most of the others say that the Apollo 11 mission was a strong part of an influence that was exerted both before and after those couple of weeks in July 50 years ago. Here’s Steve Koerner, and then Mark Geyer. Steve Koerner: At the time, I don’t think, either watching the Apollo event on the television or seeing that capsule in the sky, I definitively said, “Hey, that’s what I want to do.” I just wasn’t knowledgeable enough in knowing, at that young age, what that even entailed. But as I — as I aged, as I watched rocket launches subsequent to that, that same inquisitive “how” kept resonating, and ultimately, led me to look into pursuing engineering as a career choice, or a college major, to state it that way. But absolutely, I think it was linked to those events of, “How is this possible? How is this happening?” And as I got smarter and realized just how hard human spaceflight is — boy, that was an incentive to pursue. Host: And you stuck with it. You’ve worked at NASA your whole career, right? Steve Koerner: Yeah. I was fortunate straight out of school. I had an internship while going to school, and was able to join NASA straight out of school. So I’ve been with it — had different roles throughout the years, but human spaceflight is my passion. Mark Geyer: It wasn’t just that one moment. Host: Okay. Mark Geyer: I remember the Gemini launches, too. I remember — I had tonsillitis. I remember being in the hospital, and they decided it was time to take me in. And there was a launch about to happen, and I was upset that I wasn’t going to see it. So I remember the Gemini launches. I remember all the Apollo launches. My brother and I had the models. We knew how an orbit rendezvous — we knew how all that stuff worked, at least to the level you could as a kid. So to me, the landing was a piece of that, a big piece, right, because it was success. But we’d been — I’d been following it long before then. It was very exciting. Host: And I take it that that was a goal for you, then, to want to be in that program in some fashion? Mark Geyer: Yeah, I knew I wanted to be a part of it, because, one, it was very exciting. It looked very difficult, and also, that it meant something. You know, it was more than just — I don’t know. It meant something bigger than myself. It was part of a national — actually a world thing. I mean, I just remember all these big events, how many people would stop and go to their TV — not just the landing, but all sorts of things, Apollo 8, everything. So it just meant — it was — it’s hard to put it into words, but it was kind of a feeling. It was more of a national focus, and I said, “Wow, that would be great, to be a part of something like that.” Host: For John McCullough, the Apollo 11 landing was inspiring, and motivating, but only the first of three big events he remembers. John McCullough: The other events — obviously one of them is — really, my mom was very supportive, and I would go in the backyard at a very young age and dig up rocks. And she would convince me they’re moon rocks, and I was doing the right thing. And they were cool. And it was downtown Cleveland, so it was, like, pieces of concrete and stuff, you know, but it had holes in it and stuff. And she’s like, “That’s a moon rock,” you know. She’s right, right? The Moon and the earth are joined, so — so yeah, it’s all joined in one piece. And then, in the early ’70s, there was a comet that came through, and I remember the big deal about that comet, Kohoutek. It was a big deal, and all three of those events kind of — by the time I was in fifth grade, I wanted to be an aerospace engineer. And I was going to do stuff in the space program. Host: For Lara Kearney, the more direct influence came during high school from the space shuttle program, the first flight of Sally Ride, the loss of Challenger. But even that didn’t set her on a course straight to NASA’s door. Lara Kearney: I was actually not one of those people that went to college saying, “I’m going to college to go to NASA.” Host: Okay. Lara Kearney: I was, again, more interested in just combining my love of engineering with my love of the, you know, human, and medicine. And towards the end of my college career, NASA was at Texas A&M, where I was a student, recruiting for biomedical engineers, or the folks that sit console, you know, during the missions, and take care of the crew. And I think just the light bulbs went off for me. I’m like, it never really dawned on me that, with that kind of background, I could work in the space industry. You usually think of aerospace engineers or things like that, and so that made a connection for me. And that’s how I came this direction, is more through the biomedical engineering and space-life sciences path. Host: Kathy Lueders started off on a path that led in an entirely different direction before she was re-vectored to the space program. Kathy Lueders: I’m not one of those people that said from that, “I’m going to go work for NASA.” Host: Right. Kathy Lueders: I said, “I’m going to go off and work on Wall Street,” and then I kind of — after going, and going and getting a business degree with a finance background, and doing a couple other things, I came back and said, “I want to become an engineer.” And as I was working through engineering, then I started co-oping with NASA, and started realizing really how to apply some of the practices that I’d learned through my business degree, and kind of meld it, then, with my engineering degree. And seeing kind of the value of what NASA does from an engineering fundamental — it allows us to do a peaceful engineering job. You know, I started realizing when I was coming out of school — and you start looking out there at what are the opportunities for engineers at the time. A lot of the defense contractors were pulling people in, and what you realized was — I realized I had a chance, from a NASA perspective, to apply my engineering knowledge in a way that was going to further mankind. And how many places can you do that? When I was coming out of school — and this is about early ’90s. At the time, people were really struggling with, “Am I going to go — where am I going to go do my job? Am I going to go work in a place where I’m building a product, which is a noble goal? Am I going to go build, you know, different things that are going to make us safer?” That’s also a noble goal, but people were conflicted about the things that make you safer are also things that kill people. And so when you have a — you — I really realized, you know, as I working the co-op, that I have a job that I can go work to be able to further our knowledge, and perform a mission in a way that not only is going to help us as a country be able to expand, but also be able to expand our knowledge for all the people on the earth. I grew up in Japan, and so you — when you grow up overseas, you realize that it’s — really is a world community. And as a world community, it’s always been really important to me that we get to operate as a world community. And so, the great thing with NASA is, you get to operate as a world community with other space-faring nations, and it’s a way to do that peacefully. Host: For others, the influence of Apollo 11 did contribute to their education and career path, but actually became a stronger influence after they got to NASA. Kirk Shireman — Kirk Shireman: I don’t know that that event itself inspired me to come to NASA. I don’t remember it that way, but I think that event really has inspired me at NASA. You know, what I remember is that, of course, people walked on the Moon. That — the biggest thing to my life certainly since that point was that we can do anything. And so, the things that we’ve accomplished since then, the things that we do, I would say, every day — there’s really nothing we can’t do, because we were able to put people on the Moon. So of course we can do all these things that are put in front of us. So I think it’s really been more of an inspiration in terms of the boundless capacity of humans. I think we can do anything. Can we put people on Mars? There’s no question in my mind, and I think it all ties back to that event as a young child. Host: All of these folks have spent some or all of their careers working as part of the team, executing a coordinated plan to put human beings on top of the controlled explosion that is a rocket launch, and shoot those people into space to explore. I wanted to know why they feel it’s important, to use the old phrase, to have a man in the can. Why do you think it’s important that we send people to explore space? Holly Ridings: I’d say for me, personally, it transcends, you know, all of the challenges we have in the world today, just with different countries, different borders, different perspectives, and if you think about it, it just ties every human together. Right? It’s this amazing endeavor that takes just so much energy, and technical expertise, and fortitude. And you get up to space, and of course, I’ve not been myself, but you speak to the astronauts. And of course, we have the benefit of sitting in mission control, watching the beautiful pictures come down every day, and you just see the planet. And so, really, to be a part of experiencing that, and making that happen for the entire world, you know, really to move us forward as a human race. Mark Geyer: The human mind is an incredible machine, and we — the mind is capable of learning and adapting so much more than any computer that we may ever develop. And we saw in Apollo that, when we sent those scientists to the surface, their ability to learn, and adapt, and enhance what we were trying to do — we just multiplied our capability so much more. You know, the rovers on Mars are incredible machines, but even then, they’re limited. So that’s number one. Number two, I think it is — you know, I believe that the — that our destiny as a species is not limited to Earth, that we will go out into the solar system. And so, to me, this is the beginning of that destiny, too. Steve Koerner: Asking the first folks that sailed the seas, “Why is it important?” Or asking the first folks that flew, “Why is it important?” You look back, and now, it seems commonplace that, of course, it was important. But I don’t know that they started off with all those answers, but that inquisitive human nature of — this is something that ought to be pursued. So that’s kind of at one almost general level. I’m not sure what the right word there is, but for me more personally, it’s the opportunity to influence in a way that’s significant. Human spaceflight — I mean, I can’t think of a better time to spend — a better way to spend my time for myself personally, challenging me, but also contributing to my kids, my family. Human spaceflight is an impressive, grand, bold effort that, to me, is absolutely worth it, from a — again, a personal perspective. In anything I do, I look for three things. I want to have fun. I want to provide value, and I want to learn something. And I challenge somebody to point out something other than human spaceflight that could more maximize those three things. Host: Now, we do — we have explored space without people. We’ve sent robots, and landed them on Mars, for example. Why is it important to send people out there? Steve Koerner: Yeah, I think sending people is significant from the perspective of adaptable, flexible, understanding the situation, being able to respond to the unknown. If it were routine that we could write a script that allowed a robot to pick up a rock, fine, but if we programmed it to drill an inch, and we realized, you know what, two inches — I see something there. I can respond. I can adapt. Just having that ability to overcome obstacles, being able to reason and think makes sense to me from a practical perspective. And don’t get me wrong — I think this — robots serve a huge, huge piece of this, and being able to go with the technology that’s available. Man, that only makes the human aspect more important, but — exciting. Mark Kirasich: Yeah, well, there’s something about having a person, having a human on a mission. First of all, take our — take our one orbital flight test to date, exploration flight test one. It was — there was nobody on board. It was a four-hour flight, but it was a flight that went higher in altitude, in a more energetic orbit than any other spacecraft designed for people had done since the Apollo program. And it — and I had a feeling — I think everybody in the program at the time had a feeling for a short period of time, a couple hours before and after on that day — it felt like the whole world stopped to watch, because here we were doing something really bold, really brave again. So it’s — I think it’s — there’s a factor — there’s something that happens when you bring people into this endeavor that changes it from just a machine to something that more people relate to, get excited about. Host: Does it make it seem more real to people, do you think? Is it something like that? That it could be me over there? Mark Kirasich: I think so. I think so. That’s definitely — it’s one of the reasons — it’s one of the — one of the feelings that affected me, yes. Yeah, it’s a person. Kathy Lueders: I think people see themselves as explorers. It was interesting to me, the social phenomena of anthropomorphizing Opportunity, right? Host: Uh huh. Kathy Lueders: I mean, my children came home from school, and my daughter was crying because Oppy died — like, died. You know what I mean? It was, like, terms like that, right? Host: You’re talking about the Mars rover. Kathy Lueders: Yeah, the Mars rover, like Oppy died. And I think it — that shows that we see ourselves — you know, it’s not — it’s not — we see ourselves on these other worlds, you know? I’m always amazed — I used to read Isaac Asimov when I was growing up, and this concept that we’ve always seen that we are going to be other places. It may take us time to get to these other places, but we’re not going to just stay here. And I think that’s reflected with — when we go send a rover out, we are finding a way to put eyes on that rover, and we’re finding a way to make that rover us. And I think it’s just this — there’s this inherent part of us that is about — if we know of a place, how do we go see that place? And it’s kind of what got people to get on a boat and go to a shore, and we actually, in some ways, have more knowledge than they did about the worlds that they were going to in some places, right? Now, the challenges we have are — may seem to us way greater, and I’m sure at the time — if you’re — I’m always amazed when you see those rickety boats, and you think, oh, my gosh. You got on that boat, and then headed out into the ocean? Like, that was crazy. Host: That was state-of-the-art. Kathy Lueders: Well, that — but that was also crazy, right? And so — so, I mean — but there’s probably some people that think, hey, you go get in a little tin can and go out in the netherworld, and that’s crazy. But look at what came out of it, you know? I think sometimes we don’t know what’s going to come out of it. And — but we do know what has come out of our exploration activities in the past, and we know that if we don’t explore, we’re not going to ever know. Kirk Shireman: Part of being a human is seeing it through someone’s eyes, and so it’s — today, it’s — the easy analogue is music, or art. You know, those things are part of the human condition. I think our lives are rich because of those things. We need humans, the ones who can go and describe it to those of us who didn’t get to go. We need them to be there and describe it. So I think not only do we need them to be part of the system, we need them to be part of the experiment, but we need them to be able to bring the rest of humanity with them. And I really do think that, in the near-term, that’s what human spaceflight is all about. Long-term, there’s no question — I think the species needs to be a multi-planet species. And so, for — I believe, ultimately, for the survival of the species, we need to be able to live in other places. Now, that’s probably not in the next 10 or 20 years, but I think that’s the direction that the human species needs to go. Host: You probably have your own reasons why you believe in putting the human in human spaceflight, and they very likely go beyond the Cold War political reasoning that was part of the calculus when President John Kennedy set the goal of landing Americans on the Moon in the 1960s. When I asked today’s guests for their thoughts about why it was important to return people to the Moon, none of their answers had to do with political motives. They believe in making a practical use of the Moon, which is relatively close to Earth, to get ready for missions that will go thousands of times farther out into space. John McCullough: Learning those 30, 60, 90-day missions around the Moon and on the surface allow you to use those resources, understand how to work in that environment. That’s 1000 times further than the low Earth orbit missions on station that we do, 1000 times further — hugely different problem. Well, Mars, the next step, is 2000 times further than the Moon. Host: Two thousand times? John McCullough: Two thousand times further than the Moon, and that is a whole — you got to build those capabilities. It’s a really good proving ground before you go to the next step, but you’ve got to take those steps. And you’ve got to take them before — when the time allows you to get there, and get it done. Otherwise, you’re not going to survive as a civilization. Lara Kearney: So going — so the ultimate goal is to get us to Mars, and then beyond, of course, but to get us to Mars. But going to Mars is really, really hard. Well, going to Mars and bringing someone back safely is really, really hard, and so the Moon really provides for us a way to practice, and learn the things we don’t know already, right? And so, to go back to the Moon in a long-term sustainable way, learn how to live there for a period of time, learn how to, you know, live off of the resources on another planet, learn how to take care of the human body in an environment that it’s not meant to be in. Being on the Moon for a sustained period of time will help us learn all those lessons while we’re still relatively close to home, right, before we take that really big leap onto Mars. Host: Two hundred fifty thousand miles is your definition of relatively close [laughter]. Lara Kearney: Relative to Mars, that’s pretty close. Holly Ridings: Yeah, so flying in low Earth orbit, right, which we’ve been doing for many years, you know, with the Space Station, and before that, with the shuttle, you know, teaches you a certain set of skills, right? How you communicate with people in orbit, how quickly you can get home if something goes wrong — you know, once you get outside of low Earth orbit, go farther away from the earth, you know, to the Moon in this case — you know, you have a different set of technical problems to solve. And if you’re a flight director, and working operations, you think about in terms of risk. Okay, how long does it take to talk to someone? They’re on the backside of the Moon. Can you talk to them at all? Something goes wrong — can you get home? How often can you get home? How fast can you get home? And when you think about all of those challenges that we will get to solve, and then sort of move that thought forward even farther out, inside — outside of low Earth orbit, past the Moon, and into the solar system, those challenges only get more complicated. And so, you have to transition to a system that can’t rely on, you know, everything back home helping you out. You’ve got to have more autonomy with the way we look at flying in space, and so that’s just sort of one example of how much we’re going to learn by getting to the Moon and staying there. Host: Let’s keep in mind — in today’s NASA, under the Artemis program, the goal is not to just put people on the Moon, as we did two generations ago. The goal is to return American astronauts to the Moon by 2024, and establish a sustainable presence on the Moon by 2028. From there, astronauts can make scientific discoveries, demonstrate technological advancement, and lay foundations for private companies to build a lunar economy. Lara Kearney: I think part of what the Artemis program will do for us, and the Gateway, is learn how to develop and fly reusable spacecraft architectures, right? You know, Apollo — think of it as a point solution. They went to a specific destination, and they came back. The Gateway and the Artemis program will allow us — I think of it more like an infrastructure. We build an infrastructure that allows multiple spacecraft to come and go. And how do we operate that infrastructure, and how do we reuse vehicles so that we’re not disposing of them every time we want to fly a mission? And every — the more we learn about that, the more we bring the costs down, the overall costs down, and when it becomes more affordable, we can start doing more. And when we can do more, we can go farther. Host: Kirk Shireman’s been working on the International Space Station program since the first component, the Zarya module, was still in a factory in Russia. So he knows something about creating a system that will support a vehicle in space, or an outpost off-world. Kirk Shireman: Sustainable’s a really hard thing. It’s a really difficult thing. Host: Ask the International Space Station. Kirk Shireman: [Laughter] Yes, and the further away from home, the harder it is. It — so even learning how to be sustainable in that sense is going to be difficult. Now, the Moon — the Moon is a lot further away. In the International Space Station, you can be on the space station, and be home in a matter of, you know, three-ish hours. In fact, we did that here Monday night. So — but if you’re in the Moon, if you’re at the Moon, certainly on the surface of the Moon, but even in the vicinity of the Moon, you might be nine days from coming home. Host: Wow. Kirk Shireman: And so, that’s a big change. You know, three hours to nine days — and so, even that, and keeping humans alive and safe in that environment I think is a great thing to learn. How you put things on the surface, and then how you hook up to those things, how you link up with those, and when you arrive there — a lot of practicality. How do you build things with the resources that are present on the Moon was great, and that technology can be used here on the planet, so — on Earth. So what we do out there, I think, will also have benefits back here. I think people are already working on building habitats with lunar soil, lunar regolith right now. If you can do that, you could do it here with the Earth. And so, I think there are benefits that we’ll get back here, even from basic engineering things that we’ll do on the Moon. Host: And presumably, the — what you’ve learned doing that on the Moon may be then applicable to doing it on other, further-away planets. Kirk Shireman: Sure. You know, who knows? I hope so. I think when they talked about making rocket fuel out of the ice or the water that’s there, we certainly think that’s applicable in other places. There’s, you know, moons around Jupiter that we believe have water ice, and so you can envision, in the future, doing the similar thing out there. So Mars has an atmosphere of carbon dioxide, which doesn’t quite scratch all the itches for rocket fuel, but could be used to convert that carbon dioxide into useful things for a long-term human presence. So all this — even this notion of using the resources that are present I think will definitely apply not only in the Moon, but as we take the human species further and further from home. Kathy Lueders: You’re establishing places where people can develop and actually potential use the capability that’s there. It’s not about visiting anymore. It’s about staying. This may be a 100-year goal. It may be a 200-year goal, but it’s in the same vein of — if you’re going to have a goal, it’s about can — is there ways to do it in a way that enables it to be able to expand the potential of the mission when you get up there. This is — these are hard things. Host: Yeah. Kathy Lueders: These are hard things. They are not easy things. We don’t have the answers to how you go do that, but in the same way, I think if we knew what the answers were today, then we’re not making our hard goal to enable us to be able to push the learning. And really, that’s, to me, the value. That’s the value proposition. The value proposition is having a goal that’s so hard we don’t know how to do it yet. And through the figuring-out-how-to-do-it, that’s when we’re expanding human knowledge. John McCullough: I think going and learning how to work there, and, again, figuring out how to use resources where you find them to propel you to the next milestone is what this is all about. If we can’t live and work in space, there’s only a finite amount of space and capability on this planet. And again, we need to protect this planet. We need to preserve it, and we need to push out and learn how to live in that — what is the 99% of the rest of the space we have, right, is that type of environment. So we need to get to that environment, and understand, and live there. Host: You’ve talked about the things we need to learn in order to provide for our own future, as well as supply future exploration. Can you give me a couple of concrete examples? What kinds of questions do we have about future space exploration that this sustainable presence on the Moon is going to help us answer, to get us ready to do those future things? John McCullough: It varies significantly from the simple things that we do and take for granted every day in this environment — and we’ve learned a lot about that on space station. But 1/6th gravity is different than zero gravity, and it’s different than full gravity. And so, that environment, from a radiation and a thermal perspective, plus 200, minus 200 degrees, day and night, or shade and light, is a huge, huge challenge of environment to work in. And so, we have worked in that environment, but being able to work there in a way that you can’t run home and get spares or supplies on a daily basis means you’re — so for example, our spacesuit design — it’s significantly more versatile, and significantly more flexible in terms of redundant systems and capabilities. So that when you’re out there on your own, and you’re roving, or you’re further away from your vehicle, you have capabilities that allow you to get back safely. So managing how to operate safely, managing the risk, and learning how to accept the kind of risk that we have to take to get out there are huge challenges for us to face. Holly Ridings: You can go camp in the mountains for a week. You have to have a certain set of stuff in your backpack. You’re going to go build a cabin and stay there for three years. That’s a very, very different — different challenge, and I think that the world is really excited about taking on that challenge. Steve Koerner: And you think about what’s necessary — what resources are necessary to launch that capsule with people in it into space. Well, we’re not going to have that infrastructure on Mars, or we’re not going to have that infrastructure on the Moon. So what’s available that we can take advantage of to be able to do this effort in a way that’s actually — makes it the potential to be successful? And so, you know, you hear the administrator talk today about discoveries of water or ice on the Moon. Host: Right. Steve Koerner: And why we maybe should head to the South Pole of the Moon — things like that. What are we going to find out when we get there that enable us to say, “Ah, okay, here’s what we can do with what we’ve uncovered.” Host: While the Artemis program is relatively new, it’s clear that the men and women who lead NASA’s human spaceflight effort have been thinking about putting people on the Moon again for quite some time. And it probably won’t come as a surprise to you to learn some of the reasons they put stock in just such a future. Steve Koerner, the chief of the JSC flight operations directorate: Steve Koerner: Looking back over my career, some of the most powerful things that I didn’t even realize I was a part of as it was happening was that alignment around a common goal, the International Space Station. Human spaceflight’s hard, and yet, numerous countries aligned around a common goal, and able — were able to put that amazing machine in orbit. We put aside our differences, whether where we lived geographically, or our political persuasions, or whatever, because we were focused around a common goal, human spaceflight. Hugely powerful to look at what can be accomplished when your team, your company, your organization, your country, whatever, is aligned around a common goal, and to me, that’s been the most satisfying piece of this job, is seeing — being a part of a goal that I think is hugely significant, and watching — watching the collective organizations, the entire team around that same goal be successful. Host: Johnson Space Center director, Mark Geyer: Mark Geyer: We talked a little bit about what motivated me when I was a kid, and I remember — I remember that time. I remember the excitement, and the newness of going to space, and I remember how it affected the whole culture. You know, I had a Major Matt Mason toy, and I watched “Star Trek.” Right? It all started in about that same timeframe. So it kind of changed the whole vibe in that timeframe. So, NASA’s done a lot of cool stuff in between that. The shuttle was incredible. The station is really a world wonder, and we’re about to do more of that. But I do think going back to the Moon is such a significant step that I do believe it will amp — it’ll ramp up the attention, and the interest of the kids in this country. And if we can show them that they have a place in that future with these companies, or with NASA, and that we can continue to bring them along, and help make sure that they have the opportunities they need to get the education they need — I mean, whether they end up at NASA, or Boeing, or SpaceX, or not, it doesn’t matter. If they’ve — if it motivated them to get through science, or even, you know, liberal arts and everything else, it gets them excited enough to get through their degree, and we have an educated workforce, that’s better for everybody. And I do feel like Apollo helped, even if a lot of people didn’t end up at NASA. I still think it helped our overall youth and the country in general. Host: Chief Flight Director Holly Ridings is one who sees potential rewards that go beyond the engineering achievements that will come out of the Artemis program. Holly Ridings: When I think about what we can learn — you know, there’s — so there’s the technical answer, right? Host: Okay. Holly Ridings: We can figure out how to, you know, build spacecraft, and land on the Moon, and stay there, but I’d say that I’m more excited about what we can learn as people, right? You know, how to bring hope, and energy, and excitement to the world, you know, something that everyone looks at, and wants to be a part of, and believes in. Host: Last word today to International Space Station Program Manager Kirk Shireman: Kirk Shireman: The thing is, going to the Moon is a really, really difficult thing, and people remember it now. People my age certainly remember it, but people that are younger, which is, you know, most of the population of the world, haven’t ever seen that. And I think that will be really cool. One of the great things that I didn’t notice when I was six years old, but as I have been on the International Space Station program, had a chance to travel around the world. And people all over the world know NASA and remember that event, and in fact, I see pictures of people from all — different countries all over the world stopping to watch that first step. And I think that’s something really, really cool. It’s something that brings the whole together, when a human being steps foot on another body, and that’s something I think the world really needs, something to bring it together. There’s so many things today that drive us all apart. Wouldn’t it be great to have something like that, that would bring the whole world together? So I’m really looking forward to going back to the Moon. I think it’ll be great for NASA. I think it’ll be great for the United States, but it’ll be a great thing for the whole planet. [ Music ] Host: Well, that was fun, talking with these men and women who lead human spaceflight at NASA today. Hearing their memories of Apollo 11, and getting some insight into how that historic first moon landing 50 years ago is connected through the space shuttle program right into today’s efforts with the International Space Station and Commercial Crew and cargo programs. Into the development of the programs that will help give life to the Artemis program, the Orion vehicle, the Space Launch System rocket, and the Gateway. I hope you enjoyed listening. You want to get more into the details of what’s on the drawing boards right now? Go to nasa.gov, and follow the links to “Moon to Mars” and to “Humans in Space.” You can go online to keep up with all things NASA at nasa.gov, but also be a good idea for you to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. You will thank me. When you go to those sites, you can use the hashtag #askNASA to submit a question, or suggest a topic for us. Please indicate that it’s for “Houston, We Have a Podcast.” You can find the full catalog of all of our episodes by going to nasa.gov/podcasts. While you’re there, look around at all the other NASA podcasts that you can find. They’re all available there at the same spot where you can find us, nasa.gov/podcasts. The interviews for today’s episode were recorded from June 6th to July 3rd, 2019. Thanks to Alex Perryman, Gary Jordan, and Norah Moran for their help in the production, to Johnson Space Center Public Affairs Officers Brandi Dean, Kyle Herring, Jenny Knotts, Isidro Reyna, and Laura Rochon for their assistance in lining up the talent. And thanks to our guests, in alphabetical order, Mark Geyer, Lara Kearney, Mark Kirasich, Steve Koerner, Kathy Lueders, John McCullough, Holly Ridings, and Kirk Shireman. We’ll be back next week.
Production Transcript for Ep27_ The Search for Life.mp3 [00:00:00] >> Houston, We Have a Podcast. Welcome to the official podcast of the NASA Johnson Space Center, Episode 27, The Search for Life. I’m Gary Jordan, and I’ll be your host today. So this is the podcast where we bring in the experts — NASA scientists, engineers, astronauts — all to tell you the coolest information about NASA and about space. So today we’re talking about something super cool, how we’re looking for life in the universe. We’re talking with Aaron Burton and Marc Fries. Aaron and Marc are both planetary scientists here at the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. And we had a great discussion about the different NASA initiatives all looking at organic material in the solar system and what we’re finding from these studies that help us understand the fundamentals of life here on Earth and possibly in the universe. So with no further delay, let’s go light speed and jump right into our talk with Dr. Aaron Burton and Dr. Marc Fries. Enjoy. [00:00:50] [ Music ] [00:00:57] >> T minus five seconds and counting. Mark. [00:01:05] >> [Inaudible] there she goes. [00:01:06] >> Houston, we have a podcast. [00:01:08] [ Music ] [00:01:14] >> Well, this one’s going to be good because — I’m excited because this one’s about the ultimate question, right? Are we alone in the universe? That’s literally — I mean, it’s in the NASA mission statement, right? Everything we do is to explore the unknown and — reveal the unknown for the benefit of humankind or something like that. So I guest I’ll start off with this question: How many times a day do you ask yourself that question, “Are we alone?” [00:01:40] [ Laughter ] [00:01:42] >> Well, it’s back there, you know, squirrel caging around somewhere all the time. [00:01:46] >> Yeah. [00:01:46] >> I don’t know if I stop in, like, the middle of shaving and go, “Wait a minute, but are we alone?” [00:01:51] [ Laughter ] But, you know, I do think about it on a regular basis, sure. [00:01:54] >> I figure, well, because that’s the whole thing, right? This is your job. Your job is to look for organic material, right? So I guess to just pull back. And I just think that would be super cool, are we alone or — you know, that’s not bad. [00:02:06] >> You know, I’d say I think about it more at night. Well, when you look up at the stars and you just see all of the stars. [00:02:13] >> Okay. [00:02:13] >> That’s just what we can see. [00:02:15] >> Yeah, exactly. [00:02:16] >> So the thought that we’re the only game in town seems a pretty — pretty unlikely. [00:02:21] >> Yeah. I just took a camping trip out to Big Bend a couple weeks ago. And that was just an eye-opener. Because I thought I had seen, “Wow, there’s a lot of stars in the sky,” you know, when I was living in Pennsylvania. But out in Big Bend you can see the Milky Way. And there’s constellations where you couldn’t even see them because there was just that many more stars. It was just the clearest sky I’ve ever seen in my life. I was like, “Wow, this is just — from a different part of Earth I can see this many stars.” It was crazy. All right. Well, so let’s start off with just a little bit about you guys and since you’re both planetary scientists kind of what your focuses are. [00:02:59] >> Okay. Yeah. So I have built a research lab where we look for organic molecules that we find in meteorites. So these are carbon-containing molecules. And I’m interested in the ones that are related to biology. So things that biology could use. And so by looking at the organic molecules that are found in meteorites, that gives us a way to look at samples where biologically interesting molecules are made but they weren’t made by life. They were just made by sort of abiotic chemistry, things that can happen in our solar system. And so I’m interested in doing that because I want to know about the chemistry that was going on before life started. And then from understanding that chemistry, try and take the next step forward to think of if we know the chemistry that was going on without life, how did that transition into a living system that we have? [00:03:53] >> Wow. Literally the origins of life. [00:03:56] >> Yeah. [00:03:56] >> That’s pretty cool. How about you, Marc? [00:03:59] >> I work in curation. I’m a scientist in curation. And then curation I should explain. We basically take care of NASA’s collections. We have the Apollo moon rock collection, we have meteorites from Antarctica, we have samples from — delivered by a couple sample return missions. And all the curators, all the curation scientists are expected to have a scientific interest as well and maintain a scientific course of study. What I study is carbon in geological systems, not necessarily just organic chemistry. Aaron’s much more of a specialist in that, much more of an expert in that than I am, per se. But more of carbon in entire systems ranging from, you know, gas phase carbon that you find in rocks, whether it’s biological or geological carbon is part of a system on planetary surfaces and interiors and such. [00:04:54] >> But it’s fair to say, you know, carbon is an essential component of life, right? [00:05:00] >> As far as we know, yes. [00:05:01] [ Laughter ] [00:05:02] >> That’s true. There’s a bunch of other things, you know, that we can talk about. I don’t know — I don’t know if you guys actually discuss silicon-based life forms or anything like that or — [00:05:12] >> Yeah, I — [00:05:12] >> — I would say carbon. Carbon’s usually the good stuff, right? That’s the basic form of life. [00:05:18] >> Yeah. So at the most simple aspect you have carbon, and we like it because it make four bonds. So you can make these long polymers out of it. And so if you just go down the periodic table, silicon, well, that does, you know, similar things. [00:05:31] >> Right. [00:05:32] >> But carbon’s actually pretty special. So if you compare carbon and silane or methane and silane — so metaion is CH4, silane is SIH4. You know, those would be sort of the analogous molecules. By silane actually is, like, an incredibly explosive gas. And it’s very difficult to keep on Earth, whereas methane, you know, sort of hangs around and gets produced. So that works out well for organisms that produce methane and for life. And then if you start looking at other things like CO2 as a gas, that’s what we breathe in and breathe out, you know, trees use that for photosynthesis. If you compare that SIO2, you know, that’s — [00:06:14] >> It’s a rock. [00:06:15] >> [Laughs] Yeah, that’s a — [00:06:15] >> Kind of hard to breathe rock. [00:06:17] >> [Laughs] Yeah, it’s — yeah. So it’s hard to breathe. It’s not very easy for organisms to process it or to access it. And so, you know, it ends up being just a less mobile sort of building block. If you’re whole life was centered around silicon, now it’s all sand, right? [00:06:34] >> Yeah, a little harder. So carbon is just the magic ingredient, really, just because that ability to bond to so many things. [00:06:43] >> Yeah, at least based on physics in our solar system. [00:06:48] >> Well, so, you know, the whole just concept of life, searching for life, right? I mean, there’s a lot of things that we study out in the universe, but this quest to find life outside the solar system, why is that so fundamental to us as humans, to go out and to search for it? [00:07:06] >> It’s a good question, kind of hard to answer because it’s just kind of — best answer I could give is that it’s just a fundamental question. I mean, anybody’s who’s looked up at night, like Aaron said, has had to wonder. You know, there’s an awful lot of stuff up there. Surely there’s got to be something else. It’s just a basic, almost primal human query. I don’t know how to put it any better than that, honestly. [00:07:34] >> Yeah. [00:07:35] >> Yeah. I mean, I think it’s kind of like the human tradition of exploring. And, you know, first it started out, you know, humans on a land mass. And they said, “Well, what’s on the other side? You know? What’s over those mountains?” [00:07:46] >> Right. [00:07:47] >> What’s across that river? And then expanded to what’s across that ocean? And then what’s at the bottom of the sea floor? And now, you know, what’s on the next world over? And, you know, it’s kind of that exploring but also then, you know, if we’re asking these questions, is there anyone else out there that’s asking those same questions? [00:08:06] >> Yeah. That’s true. I mean, if you think about human history, just the fact that people travel, they find a new civilization and can open up new trade routes. Or even as far as cross the Atlantic Ocean and discover a whole new world trying to find more trade routes or something like that. So it’s just — I guess you’re right, it’s kind of built into our DNA that we just have this drive to — it’s not enough, right? We want to — we want to know. We want to know why. We want to know more. [00:08:33] >> Yeah. You look at the sky and you say, “I’m pretty sure there’s life out there. but I want to sort of prove it.” You know? [00:08:37] >> Yeah. [00:08:38] >> I want to find it, actually know. [00:08:40] >> Pretty sure is not good enough [Laughs]. [00:08:42] >> Luckily humans have a low fascination threshold. [00:08:46] [ Laughter ] [00:08:48] >> So — so I mean, just besides the fascinating of it, why is it important to understand the origins of life? You know, what can we get out of it? [00:08:59] >> Well, for me, you know, I’ve just been interested, I guess, from the scientific standpoint of, you know, how does life start? Which I think naturally leads to could life exist elsewhere? And so those are two kind of the basic questions. Because if life could exist elsewhere, then that answers your sort of fundamental, intrinsic question of is there life elsewhere? If you know how it started, then you know what signs to look for, what kinds of environments you need to look in, what types of chemistry needs to be going on for you to look there for life. [00:09:34] >> So how does just — you know, once you do that, you know, I guess you can help you search for life outside, but what about here on Earth? You know? Is there applications for, you know, learning more about how the origins of life and how that comes to be? How can that help us here? [00:09:51] >> See, I would answer that by saying that, you know, fundamentally we’re answering — it’s like we said, like [inaudible] talked about just a minute ago, this understanding the origin of life is one of primal fundamental human queries that most people want to know. And as scientists, our goal, our purpose is to discover exactly that sort of thing, to try to answer those sort of questions, to be the interpreters of the world around us, to try to enrich everyone’s lives. And that’s a really important thing that a lot of people are interested in. So it’s a high priority for scientific investigation. For a more nuts and bolts approach, you know, maybe understanding the fundamentals of how life arose would give us better understanding into our own biochemistry at a very fundamental level. That’s a possibility. [00:10:49] >> Improving life for us, you know, making life better for humans. Just however — you know, bring it into industry, make better drugs or understand how, you know, people grow up or develop. You know, just life, right? [00:11:03] >> The fundaments of how a cell functions on the chemical level. It can’t be bad to know more about that. [00:11:11] >> [Laughs] Well, talking to — [00:11:13] >> I would — [00:11:13] >> Oh, go ahead. [00:11:14] >> Sorry. So I would just add that a lot of what origins of life researchers try to do is sort of recreate how life could have started. You know, ideally if you had a time machine, you would just go back in time 4.5 billion years — [00:11:28] >> Oh, that would be easy [Laughs]. [00:11:29] >> — to the start of life. But it raises a philosophical issue, which is what if you disrupted that process and so you actually killed life? So maybe that’s a bad idea. But, you know, without a time machine we don’t have to worry about that. But the best we can hope to do is sort of recreate how life started or how life could have started. And so a lot of the experiments that have gone on in there have looked at sort of alternatives to DNA. And so these alternatives to DNA have actually been shown to not be recognized by sort of modern biology. So you can make sort of a drug out of this alternative DNA that now has a longer lifespan inside of a human. You know? So it’s kind of expanded the range of drugs that are accessible and kind of opened up or helped contribute to the field of synthetic biology where we can start, you know, doing gene manipulation, genetic therapies. So there really are practical applications of it in addition to satisfying our kind of curiosity about how life started. [00:12:32] >> Just out of curiosity, these studies, are there any going on, on the International Space Station right now that have to do with sort of understanding life and how the origins or maybe just how it affects humans? [00:12:44] >> Well, yeah, every astronaut that we send up there is sort of an experiment on how — [00:12:48] >> There you go. [00:12:49] >> — how environmental conditions are affecting life and biology. But there’s also exposures. So they put microorganisms on the outside of the ISS, for example, and then expose them to radiation, that sort of thing, bring the organisms back. So that’s kind of, you know, an emerging field, too. [00:13:10] >> Wow. All right. So we talked a lot about the why of — why search for life and all of that. But let’s pull back and just kind of understand just what we’re talking about here. So how — as one of the experts in the field of understanding life and studying life, how would you define life, Aaron? [00:13:28] >> That’s a good question [Laughs] that people have actually really wrestled with. [00:13:33] >> Really? [00:13:33] >> It’s not an easy one to answer. So the origins of life community has settled on a sort of mouthful, which is that life is a self-sustaining chemical system that is capable of Darwinian evolution. And so, you know, there’s a lot in there. [00:13:52] >> Yeah, yeah. That makes sense. [00:13:53] >> But self-sustaining means something that can actually reproduce itself and grow, not necessarily grow in size but grow in population. So if you have one molecule and now it can make, you know, ten more, etc. and continue to reproduce. But it’s also important that it be able to actually change over time. And that’s where the Darwinian evolution comes in. So if you have, you know, a salt crystal that’s made up of sodium and chloride, and you can add more sodium and chloride to that salt crystal and it’s getting bigger, so it’s growing in some sense. There are more sodiums and chlorides in there. But it doesn’t really change. Right? So we would never call a salt crystal alive, even though it can, you know, grow. It’s a chemical system. So you really need that capacity to change for an organism to be able to do something different and to sort of respond to its environment. That’s a very technical — [00:14:43] >> It makes sense, right? You got to check those boxes. Because otherwise if you do the wrong definition, you know, salt is life now. So [Laughs]. [00:14:46] >> Yeah. [00:14:46] >> You’ll get that salt life sticker on the back of your car. [00:14:48] [ Laughter ] [00:15:00] >> Yeah. [00:15:01] [ Laughter ] [00:15:02] >> Totally different thing. [00:15:03] >> Very funny. Yeah. [00:15:04] [ Laughter ] [00:15:05] >> That’s awesome. [00:15:05] >> So then for you, Marc, I guess you’re studying carbon specifically, right? So then how does that fit into the picture of understanding life? [00:15:15] >> It kind of goes to what Aaron was saying about understanding the chemical conditions at the origin of life. There’s a fun conundrum there, actually, in that okay, we know that life arose on Earth and — but it’s basically being able to get directly at the conditions where that happened is very, very difficult because of ironically life itself. Life has basically overprinted everything on the planet. Whatever conditions it was that gave rise to life on Earth, you know, they might be here today, there might be something in the deep ocean, there’s all manner of hypotheses about this, but it’s very, very difficult to pin that down because life has altered this planet so — so completely. I mean, from the mantle to the surface, to the top of the atmosphere, chemically, morphologically, isotopically, everything has been changed. And so trying to get back at that original set of conditions that gave rise to life is actually really difficult here on Earth. [00:16:16] >> Wow. Is it — is it, you know, postulated more that life itself started on Earth and then just sort of spread and literally changed the makeup of the Earth, or is there some chance that maybe, you know, it came from somewhere else and maybe just got delivered to Earth or something? [00:16:34] >> I don’t like that — [00:16:36] [ Laughter ] Here’s the reason I don’t like that, is the notion of life coming from somewhere else. Just from the sake of samples that it doesn’t actually answer the question of how life arose; you just moved it somewhere else and put an almost impossible journey in between the origin and its evolution on Earth. We know that the Earth has been changed considerably by life. We have oxygen in our atmosphere because of it. I guess that’s off on a tangent a bit. [00:17:07] >> Please go if you need to. [00:17:09] [ Laughter ] [00:17:12] >> Yeah. So fundamentally that’s my problem with saying that it started somewhere else and came here. Because that you are introducing a big complication to it without really putting any light on how it happened. [00:17:25] >> Yeah. [00:17:26] >> Yeah. As Marc was saying, you know, we think life started in water on a rocky body somewhere. So whether that’s Earth, or Mars, or, you know, somewhere else, you still need life to start on a rocky body with water somewhere. So, you know, speculating that it was Mars and then it got transported here doesn’t — from a practical standpoint doesn’t help you address, you know, those conditions necessarily any better. [00:17:54] >> Well, still, I mean, narrowing it down to, you know, we could say you need a rocky body with water for it to at least start, right; is that at least a starting point for understanding the origins life? [00:18:06] >> I think it is. That’s a good distillation. There’s another interesting little conundrum in there. Aaron mentioned Mars. And I was just talking about how Earth has been completely overprinted. There’s a lot of interest in trying to find life on Mars. And that’s fine, that’s good. But there’s kind of a — a hidden value to a completely dead Mars. Let me go off on a little bit of a tangent here. [00:18:39] >> Please do. [00:18:40] >> Let’s say that life started on Earth and that Mars, even though it had all the conditions for life — apparently water, fairly warm, fairly dense atmosphere — never had life. If that’s the case, then basically Mars has preserved in a kind of mummified state those conditions early in the formation of the terrestrial planets when life arose on Earth. So one of the fun conundrums here is that a completely dead Mars with no history of life may give us — may be a very powerful tool to understanding the origin of life on Earth. [00:19:15] >> Huh. So that’s where the many rovers that we’ve sent to Mars over the year come into play, right? We’re studying Mars and trying to understand its history to see what we can learn about its past and see if what you’re saying is true. Maybe — maybe the atmosphere was — was thicker. Maybe there was water. And all of these instruments that we’re sending there are the things that are finding all of this out. [00:19:39] >> That’s right. Narrowing down that history. [00:19:41] >> Yeah. [00:19:42] >> And looking — and trying to answer the question of whether there is or was life on Mars. That’s an important part of it. [00:19:48] >> All right. Well, understanding Mars and the different, you know, rovers we’ve sent there to study that — you said you were part of the curation facility. [00:19:56] >> Yes. [00:19:56] >> So — and you said all the different things that are there, right? So you’re talking about meteorites and moon rocks. Are there hints there that maybe can points towards the origin of life? [00:20:07] >> Right. So amongst the samples we have are samples of Mars. You know, they come to us as meteorites. The — here at NASA we curate — we partner with the Smithsonian to curate the Antarctic meteorite collection. We have a very large number of meteorites from Antarctica. There is a team called ANSMET, the Antarctic Search for Meteorites, which goes every year and collects more of them. Actually, the team for that left into the field to go start their annual search — I believe it was two days ago. They just started off. [00:20:40] >> All right. [00:20:40] >> So we get these meteorites every year. And they include periodically Martian meteorites. To date, you know, not just the NASA collection, but all the collections in the world, we have on the order of — well, in excess of a quarter of a metric ton of Mars meteorites. We have samples of Mars that date back to billions of years old or as young as ten of millions of years old. We have samples that have come from evidently only a meter deep to ten meters deep or so, others that were solidified in place like a kilometer deep, much deeper than that. There’s this random sampling from all over the planet. Here’s where I say the thing that a lot of people don’t like to hear and that I am fairly — there’s a wide range of opinion about — in the scientific community onto whether or not there’s been life on Mars, is life on Mars? I’m fairly convinced by the meteorite evidence that there is not life on Mars, nor has there been. [00:21:45] Because in all those meteorites that we have from all over the surface, all manner of depth, all through a wide range of history is this neat random sampling all over the planet, we have yet to see any evidence — any conclusive evidence of any metabolizing in those rocks. And that tell us that not just today but for a very long period through the past that these meteorites have witnessed that nothing has lived in them. I think that that’s a fairly compelling result. It’s not the final say, but yeah. [00:22:19] >> Yeah. Guys, it’s kind of interesting because you say Martian meteorites. But, you know, to an average Joe like me, I would ask the question how does — how does a piece of Mars get delivered to Earth? [00:22:33] >> Right. Well, the solar system’s a wild, unruly place with a lot of things that run into each other. You know, basically take a look at Mars and you see impact craters all over it. What happens is a meteorite falls onto Mars, or the moon, or other asteroids and they spall material off in an energetic high-speed event known as an impact and kick material clean off the planet basically. And this stuff, you know, winds up in orbits across the Earth’s orbit and fall to Earth. And we find them — they fall — meteorites fall all the time. The reason why these guys, ANSMET, goes to Antarctica is because they tend to concentrate in places where they’re easier to find there. There are literally places in the Antarctic ice sheet where the only rock you’ll see is something that fell there. And so they can go out and collect these things there. And that’s the process. There’s an impact at the beginning, a long period in the vacuum of space, a fall to Earth through a fireball which destroys most of the meteorite. [00:23:40] And if anything survives, it winds up here. [00:23:43] >> All right. So, Aaron, what would you be — do you investigate the meteorites? Are you looking at organic compounds in them? [00:23:54] >> Yeah. [00:23:54] >> So what inside of them would sort of hint at life, that life would exist within that and you can find traces of it? [00:24:03] >> So I actually usually look at it from the other perspective. So to me, you know, I look at meteorites, which are the surviving remnants of likely asteroids but potentially even comets. You know, it’s the material that falls to Earth. So I look at that material and I start with the hypothesis that there was no biology. So this to me is a dead rock from something that, you know, was an uninhabitable environment. And then I’m looking at it for the chemistry that can go on without life present. And so for me, this is, like, the next-best alternative to my time machine from earlier because now I have this asteroid that’s been, you know, floating around. It was formed about at the same time that the Earth was forming in the solar system, so 4.5 billion years ago. And it’s just been floating around in space. And every now and then pieces of these asteroids get fragmented off and they make their way into Earth. [00:25:05] And then we get these samples. And then when I look at one of these samples in this 4.5 billion-year-old rock and I find things like amino acids that are the building blocks of proteins, you know, then I say, “Okay, so what was the chemistry that was going on in this asteroid or in the solar system 4.5 billion years ago that led me to find the amino acid glycine?” That’s kind of the perspective. And we know from sort of modern biology there’s DNA, RNA, and proteins. And in proteins in particular there’s 20 amino acids that are used in all of biology. And if you look at a particularly amino acid-rich meteorite like the Murchison meteorite, which is probably one of the most famous carbon-rich meteorites, so it’s got about 80 different amino acids in them. [00:25:58] >> Whoa. [00:25:58] >> And many of them are not used in biology at all. And so, you know, that’s both a good indicator that’s it’s not contamination from modern biology on it, but it’s also indicative of sort of abiotic chemistry, you know, happening 4.5 billion years ago where there’s a lot more random chemical reactions that are taking place. Whereas in biology everything is very controlled. You know, you take a range of chemicals in that you eat, and then you turn them into a fixed number of chemicals that, you know, make up your body. [00:26:34] >> Yeah. [00:26:35] >> Whereas abiotic chemistry will make all sorts of things, a whole range of things. [00:26:40] >> Wow. So what does that mean? That means that, you know, life here has restrictions based on what could be possible. And then maybe there’s amino acids that could create life maybe on another planet with a different set of amino acids that are not restricted by the norms of Earth; is that kind of fair? [00:27:04] >> Yeah. [00:27:05] >> All right. I could be a scientist [Laughs]. Maybe not, too fast. Okay. [00:27:10] >> Yeah. So there’s two sort of variations on that. And both of them would sort of be the ideal case — or you can’t have two ideal cases, can you? But both would be two very good cases. So one is that you’re looking for life on another body, and you find life, and it uses entirely different amino acids. But it’s got proteins, and they’re just different than what we have on Earth. You can say, “Okay, cool. You know, that’s life and it’s not something that we just brought in our spacecraft.” [00:27:41] >> Yeah. [00:27:41] >> The other difference that could happen is subtler. And it’s — and it’s an interesting thing. So we talked about carbon being able to make four bonds. And carbon makes sort of a tetrahedron shape when it’s in these — when it’s made four bonds. And so it’s almost like a pyramid. [00:28:01] >> Oh, okay. [00:28:02] >> And so what’s interesting is that the four atoms connected to that carbon atom, if they’re arranged in a different way stereochemically or so, like, the different sides of the pyramid and then one point sort of floating up above it, you can actually have two different sort of chiralities or stereochemistries of those molecules. So we talk about it shorthand left-handed and right-handed molecules, which are really just an easier way for us to keep track of it. Your two hands are the same, they do the same job. You know, one’s just a left hand and the other’s a right hand. And you don’t notice a problem until you grab the wrong glove and it no longer fits on your hand. [00:28:44] >> Okay. So it’s more of a fitting problem rather than a dominant hand kind of a problem? [00:28:48] >> Yeah. [00:28:48] >> It’s more of a — okay — how things put together. [00:28:50] >> Yeah. And then, you know, when you measure the chemical and physical properties of molecules that are handed, they’re identical except in how they interact with other handed molecules or certain kinds of light. And so if you found life on another planet that didn’t use different amino acids, it would be interesting if it used a different handedness than life on Earth. So all life on Earth makes left-handed proteins. And all life on Earth — [00:29:18] >> All? [00:29:19] >> All. [00:29:19] >> What — wow. Okay. [00:29:21] >> So all life on Earth uses left-handed amino acids in its proteins and all life on Earth uses right-handed sugars in its DNA and RNA. And so if you were looking for life elsewhere and you found only right-handed proteins and, say, only left-handed sugars, then, hey, you’ve got life and it’s definitely not Earth life. So it’s definitely a difference. [00:29:43] >> Yeah. So — so DNA, RNA is a right-handed sugar that just happens to pair nicely with the left-handed amino acids, which are exclusive to Earth, right? [00:29:54] >> Yeah, to biology. [00:29:55] >> To biology? Okay. So then would — is there a left-handed sugar of DNA, RNA, or are you thinking there’s something entirely different, like, that would fit with the right-handed amino acid? Maybe I’m not asking the question right. [00:30:10] >> No, it’s — [00:30:11] >> It would still be DNA, RNA? [00:30:14] >> Yeah. So they’re — you know, so DNA is deoxyribose nucleic acid and RNA is ribonucleic acid. [00:30:20] >> Right, right. [00:30:21] >> And what we leave out of there is a little prefix at the front that has a D. And in the case of amino acids and proteins, we leave out a little symbol in front that’s an L. And so it’s believed that one of those came first and was fixed. So you either had left-handed proteins or right-handed sugars that came about. And then proteins or — the other one evolved around it. So you started with a system that had left-handed proteins and that fit really well with right-handed sugars. And that was where evolution took off and that was how you got, you know, sort of left-handed life and right-hand sugars. [00:31:00] >> I see. Okay. [00:31:01] >> But we were talking about synthetic biology and origins of life experiments. So I have left-handed proteins and right-handed sugars in me. And if you give me a drug that’s made out of left-handed sugars, my left-handed proteins don’t recognize those sugars anymore. And so those molecules can stick around a lot of longer in my body because my natural mechanisms for processing, you know, DNA from food I eat or, you know, bacteria that are floating around everywhere, they don’t work on those molecules. [00:31:31] >> Hmm. So what’s an example of a left-handed sugar that would just sort of stick around? [00:31:38] >> So you could actually make just left-handed DNA. [00:31:41] >> Oh. [00:31:41] >> And left-handed RNA. [00:31:43] >> How do you make it [Laughs]? [00:31:45] >> So that’s a synthetic organic chemistry that ends up being fairly difficult. But what’s interesting about this is so people have gone in the lab and taken a naturally-occurring left-handed protein and they’ve synthesized a right-handed version of it. [00:32:01] >> Yeah. [00:32:02] >> And they’ve found that it works just fine. You know, it fold into its active state. There’s no difference in the activity, except that now this right-handed protein recognizes a left-handed sugar molecule. So in this case I think it was the glucose molecule. [00:32:16] >> Okay. [00:32:16] >> So we eat right-handed glucose all the time — that’s what our natural food is — but this artificial enzyme that they made wouldn’t recognize that. But when they gave it left-handed glucose, it processed its chemical reaction just fine. [00:32:32] >> Hmm. So then — all right, let’s think about a hypothetical. So if you’re on another planet that isn’t the mirror world, I guess, right, you got right-handed proteins and you got left-handed sugars, would it kind of look — it’s like a mirror version of Earth, right? It’s just, like, the same. Would that work, or are we talking about something that would be entirely — like, things would just look different, act different, or is it just a mirror image? [00:33:01] >> It would be weight loss world. [00:33:03] >> Weight loss world. [00:33:04] >> You go there and eat all you want. You don’t actually — you’re not actually able to metabolize any of the food [Laughs]. Correct me if I’m wrong but, you know, there’s no reason why that sort of biology wouldn’t work within its own system. But, you know, if we went there and tried to live there and eat the foot off the tree or whatever, we wouldn’t get anything out of it. If I’m not mistaken, there is a commercially available artificial sweetener that is the other-handed version of sugar and it tastes sweet, but you can’t digest it. [00:33:34] >> Huh. So what does it do? Does it make you — it’s not weight loss city in that world, is it? Or is it because you’re not processing it, maybe you don’t gain any weight. I don’t know how that would work. [00:33:46] >> You can’t use it. [00:33:46] >> You can’t use it? [00:33:47] >> Yeah. It’s just — yeah. [00:33:48] >> So would you pass it, then? It will be — okay. So it wouldn’t just, like, stick around and be fat. Okay, that’s good to know [Laughs]. All right. Maybe I’ll sprinkle that on some cupcakes or something and tell myself it’s okay. [00:34:05] >> Yeah. [00:34:05] >> [Laughs] So that’s interesting, just the idea of right-handedness and left-handedness. And there’s a certain set of amino acids that exist on Earth, but there’s a whole realm of possibilities that can exist just because we’ve studied, you know, rocks in space or something. So correct me if I’m wrong here because this is just piece of trivia that I thought I knew, but now that you guys are here, I want to ask you. It’s an asteroid when it’s in space, it’s a meteor when it’s passing through the atmosphere, and a meteorite once it hits the ground? [00:34:38] >> Or a meteoroid in space, which is — [00:34:40] >> Meteoroid. [00:34:41] >> Smaller asteroid. [00:34:42] >> Oh, okay. [00:34:43] >> But yes, meteor when it’s passing through the atmosphere, that’s the luminous ball. And then if anything survives to the ground, that’s a meteorite. [00:34:50] >> Okay. Yeah, that’s always something that stuck in my mind just because, you know, I used to call it the wrong thing. So when you study meteorites, you are specifically talking about the things that are on the ground? [00:35:01] >> That’s right. [00:35:01] >> You’re not going out and grabbing things and bringing them back or you’re not catching things as they’re passing through the atmosphere? You’re going out. And Antarctica’s a good place to find them because black rocks on a white surface are pretty good, right? [00:35:12] >> Yep. [00:35:12] >> Is it fair to say meteors are falling throughout atmosphere all the time? [00:35:16] >> All the time. [00:35:16] >> Yeah. [00:35:17] >> On average there is a meteorite fall somewhere on Earth about once a day. [00:35:21] >> Wow. [00:35:22] >> But, you know, most of those are very small. You figure 70% of them are going to land in the ocean because planet’s about 70% ocean. You know, of the remainder — of the remaining 30% half of them are going to happen during the day and probably no one will notice them. Most of the ones that make it down of the remainder from that — excuse me — fall someplace that’s, you know, difficult to recover. And it doesn’t take much. You know, tall grass is enough and you won’t find them. Swamp is enough, you won’t them. If it lands on the nuclear power plant, you’re not going to get those back, either. [00:35:56] [ Laughter ] [00:35:58] >> On — so on average you get about a meteorite fall a day somewhere on Earth. There’s the Meteoritical Society maintains a database of all the world’s meteorites. And they record give or take about a dozen new meteorite falls per year. Those are the ones that are actually found. Some of those hit something and, you know, they become hard to miss, like, coming through the roof of someone’s house or dentist office. Or other ones are just very large events that people go hunting for and find. So there’s your statistics. [00:36:32] >> Yeah. And a lot of the material that comes in is just dust. By the time it makes it through. And so if you think about, like, meteor showers that we have all the time, that’s when Earth is passing throughout debris from the tail of a comet. So this shooting star is material that’s burning up, you know? But some of that material falls in as dust. And so you would never, you know, notice it. [00:36:52] >> Yeah. [00:36:53] >> But there’s little grains of cosmic dust that are — [00:36:55] >> Yeah. We actually have a collection of that, too. The cosmic dust collection. [00:37:00] >> How do you collect cosmic dust? [00:37:01] >> Airplanes — very, very high altitude. NASA has a — operates a fleet of basically former spy planes — WB-57’s here at Ellington and ER-2, which is sort of like a U2, out at Dryden, California. And they fly to 60,000 feet and up and deploy collectors that collect this falling dust out of the atmosphere. [00:37:24] >> Wow. So if it’s not big enough to actually strike the Earth, you say it kind of disintegrates and doesn’t hit the Earth, but it’s there. It’s in the atmosphere just kind of floating around at 60,000 feet. That’s cool. All right. I like to see that collection. That would be a pretty cool collection. Cosmic dust. [00:37:38] >> We can do that. [00:37:40] >> [Laughs] So once it passes through the atmosphere, is there — is there a change that happens? Like, is there a difference with if you were to pick up a meteorite off the grouped, maybe there’s something that — the way it interacted with the Earth’s atmosphere or something that changed something that would be different from if you were to find the same thing up in space. [00:37:58] >> Yes. [00:37:59] >> Okay. [00:37:59] >> The most fundamental change is that a good probably 99% of it is now gone; it turned into a plasma on the way to the ground. So most of it’s lost. The next big thing that happens is the outside of any meteorite you find is going to be covered with a molten crust. I think it’s called a fusion crust. And it kind of looks like a pottery glaze. It’s from basically flash melting the surface of the thing as it’s coming through the atmosphere. And but the — probably the biggest change that happens to any of them, you know, rule number one of meteorites is that they all have life. And they get the life from Earth. When they land here, they’re coming into our biosphere. They will land on the ground somewhere. Even ones in Antarctica, we’ve found life in some — terrestrial, excuse me — life in a lot of these meteorites. So that’s the biggest change. Because anything infecting these rocks tends to start to eat any of the carbon that’s in there and process it and change the — like he was saying, it takes the native amino acids and starts to process them into — as you’re basically turning it into microbial matter, now it has a chiral preference as the microbes grow. [00:39:14] They change it isotopically and chemically over time, and that’s probably the single-biggest change that happens. Especially for organic chemistry and the things we’re looking for, for the question of origin of life and whatnot. [00:39:29] >> Yeah. So then how do you isolate to find out what things have not been affected and what things you can tell are within the meteorite that, you know, were there before it came to Earth and was affected by Earth’s atmosphere? [00:39:45] >> Exactly the kind of chemical signals that Aaron was just talking about — chirality, you know, the amino acid abundance, you know, looking for biomarkers/biosignatures, depending on what you want to call them, such as DNA. If you find terrestrial DNA and terrestrial microbes in this thing, then it’s been altered. You can kind of expect that. But good laboratory practice is, you know — is fundamental to sorting out exactly that question. You know, you have your blanks, and standards, and replicate measurements, and statistical analyses. [00:40:20] >> And yeah, what I’m looking for molecules that are relevant to biology, I start with the assumption that anything that looks like biology in the sample is from biology that was introduced on Earth. And then I need the evidence in the meteorite to, you know, support that — a conclusion other than that. So if the amino acids were made out in space, they should actually have an equal mixture of left-handed and right-handed amino acids. They shouldn’t have that predominant left-handed excess that biology shows. So if I take a bacteria and I run it through my meteorite processing methods, I’ll get all L amino acids. And a little bit of it gets converted back to D during the process. So a meteorite, the initial sort of baseline hypothesis is that if it’s from the meteorite, it should be a 50/50 mixture. And if it’s skewed towards left-handed, then I have to assume it’s biological contamination unless there’s some other piece of evidence that tells me that, you know, no, this really did actually happen out in space. [00:41:26] >> For example, way more right-handed amino acids, right? [00:41:30] >> So that would be, you know, the ideal scenario, especially when looking for life. [00:41:35] >> Yeah. [00:41:36] >> There are other less sort of obvious markers that we can look at. So one of them has to do with stable isotope ratios. And so if we think about something like carbon, it normally has in the most abundant form of carbon has six protons and six neurons. And it’s carbon-12. [00:41:54] >> Okay. [00:41:54] >> And then about 1% of carbon on Earth is carbon-13. And then some trace amount is carbon-14, which is actually radioactive. And so that’s what they use for radioactive dating. [00:42:05] >> Okay. [00:42:05] >> And so things that are found on Earth tend to be enriched in carbon-12 relative to carbon-13. And then even furthermore, things that are processed by biology on Earth really like carbon-12 and they don’t like carbon-13 very much. Now, what’s interesting is if you go out into a very cold environment, so out in sort of our pre-sun, our protosolar nebula where places were much colder, you actually prefer the heavy isotopes. So carbon-13 is actually favored over carbon-12 more so relative to the preference on Earth. So it’s not like you have 10 times as much carbon-13, it’s like 1.01% carbon-13 instead of, you know, 1% carbon-13. And so from these very small signal differences, you can actually tell that something was actually made out in space rather than processed by biology on Earth. And it’s these kind of subtle differences that they actually use in, like, Olympics events to determine whether people were using steroids. [00:43:11] >> Oh, really? [00:43:12] >> Because our biochemistry produces different, like, testosterone than, like, soy plants if you’re getting it from plants. And so you can actually tell from the isotopic signatures whether the testosterone in an athlete came from them or if it was produced in a lab or grown in, you know, some plant somewhere. [00:43:32] >> Wow. The answer’s in the details. [00:43:34] >> Yes. [00:43:34] >> Literally you’re looking at the finest details and even the slightest change, you can tell if it’s otherworldly. That’s pretty cool. [00:43:42] >> Yeah. And that’s where you have to start with the hypothesis that this is contamination. [00:43:47] >> Yeah. [00:43:48] >> You know? Unless you can prove that it’s not. [00:43:51] >> Okay. So then — so then is there an effort to go out and, you know, find something more pristine? Maybe rather than doing — getting a meteorite maybe go out and get an asteroid that has not touched the Earth’s atmosphere, is there something we’re doing now? [00:44:09] >> Yep. That would be OSIRIS-REx. [00:44:11] >> Okay. [00:44:12] >> So OSIRIS-REx mission is on its way to Bennu. It will collect samples from that asteroid. It is a carbonaceous body. We can tell this by, you know, spectroscopy at a distance. And actually, what we’re touching on here is a sample return missions and why you would want them. This is actually really nice conversation leading up to it. For example, let me explain why you want to do missions like this in general. Let me use the example of Mars. Okay? We’re seriously talking about doing this, collecting samples from Mars and returning them from Earth now. I had said earlier that we already have a quarter of metric ton of Martian meteorites on Earth. So if you’re just going to go get more for the sake of getting more, it’s really not a really use of your resources. But we also talked about how any meteorite that falls to Earth, you have to assume it’s contaminated. And so what you — the really nice things you get out of a sample return mission that you can’t get from meteorites is you get to collect materials where you to great detail know their contamination and alteration history. [00:45:25] And by and large you’re going to get stuff that’s very minimally altered. That’s usually one of design goals of the mission — definitely part of the ones we’ve ever done. So you control the contamination history of the meteorite, and you get to know to great detail what it is by monitoring during the course of the mission. You also get to select your samples. For the example of Mars samples, what we can do is collect types of rock that we don’t have in the Martian meteorite collection. Sedimentary rocks take very poorly to getting pounded by a meteorite and blasted off the planet. They tend to turn into dust and you never see them. But we can go and carefully collect these. Basically, the meteorites that survive the trip from Mars to Earth tend to be very, very tough rocks. Now we can go and carefully collect the ones that we are actually more interested in, in some respects for investigating the hypothesis of past or present life on that planet — the sedimentary rocks, the evaporites, the very friable, crumbly stuff that may preserve evidence of ancient organics. [00:46:34] Those we can collect. So — and finally, you get to know exactly where your rock came from. When you look at a meteorite, you know, most meteorites, Martian meteorites, we can say, “Where this from? Well, it’s from Mars, you know, somewhere on the planet.” If you go and do a sample return mission, you know the contamination history, you get to select samples that you don’t otherwise have access to, and you know exactly where it came from on the planet. And you can take everything you learned about it in the lab and apply it to, you know, an outcrop, a spot, a crater, a lithology, some location on that planet and start to build the greater history of the planet in great detail that way. So that — whether it’s for Mars or for Bennu or, you know, eventually comets or otherwise, that’s kind of the driving impetus for doing these sample return missions. [00:47:26] >> Hey well, I’m going to stay optimistic and say if we explore some of these spots in the more pristine environment of Mars, I think we can maybe look for the origins of life that way. [00:47:37] >> But if there’s — you know, so as Marc was saying, you know, the rocks that we get on Earth from meteorites are really hard, tough ones. And so, you know, the chances of life living in a solidified lava flow is probably a little bit different than if you could actually get material that was in a location that we think was the bottom of a lake, say, where would expect life to have existed and perhaps get actually trapped into that sedimentary material. [00:48:05] >> Yeah, that’s true. Because location, location, location, right? [Laughs] [00:48:09] >> It’s a fair argument. Like I said, you know, there’s a lot of discussion about this. It is a — not all scientists are — how do I put it? We’re still discussing it. [00:48:23] [ Laughter ] [00:48:25] >> More research is needed. [00:48:26] >> More research. [00:48:28] >> And scientists hate consensus. [00:48:30] >> Ah. [00:48:30] >> Yeah, pretty much. [00:48:33] >> So then what’s — you said Bennu is carbaceous [phonetic]? Is that the word? [00:48:38] >> Carbonaceous. [00:48:39] >> Okay. Carbonaceous. [00:48:40] >> It is black as coal. [00:48:41] >> Black as coal. So it’s full of carbon. Very interesting thing to observe. So what’s OSIRIS-REx going to do? Is it going to land and bring something back or is it just going to stay there? What’s the mission like? [00:48:53] >> Yeah. So Bennu is about a half-kilometer-wide asteroid. OSIRIS-REx launched in September of 2016. [00:49:01] >> Okay. [00:49:01] >> Rendezvous is going to be in 2018. [00:49:05] >> All right. [00:49:06] >> And actually, the spacecraft is going to orbit for about a year and a half and carefully map out surface of the asteroid to identify scientifically interesting regions that it can collect a sample from. And the scientifically interesting question will be counterbalanced by safety. [00:49:23] >> Ah. [00:49:23] >> Because you can’t, you know, really endanger the spacecraft while you’re trying to collect the sample. [00:49:27] >> Yeah. Oh, that sharp mountain looks really, really interesting. [00:49:31] >> Yeah. Yeah, it’s more important that you get the sample back than [Laughs] that you choose the exact-most scientifically interesting place. And so the — after finding a suitable location, the spacecraft is going to go down and it’s got almost like a little reverse vacuum cleaner. So it’s got a little touch and go sample acquisition mechanism that will actually contact the surface of the asteroid. And then it’s got nitrogen gas that will it will actually blow into that surface. And that will actually push the dust into the sample collector. And so like I was saying, like a reverse vacuum cleaner. You’re blowing the dirt in. [00:50:12] >> Blowing it, yeah. [00:50:13] >> You know, that works on a rather small body because gravity is much less of an issue there. So the mission requirement is to get at least 60 grams. And from experiments on Earth and under similar gravity conditions, they should be able to get several hundred grams or more that will then be tucked away into a sample return capsule that will make its way back to Earth. It will land. I’m amazed that people can do this with orbital dynamics. But it will land in Utah. [00:50:45] >> Wow. [00:50:46] >> In the desert in September of 2023. And these samples will be transported to a curation facility and processed and then eventually made available to researchers all over the world who are interested in, you know, studying this material. [00:51:01] >> Oh, that is cool. Fire it out to space and land it in Utah. That’s — that’s a target. That’s quite a target practice right there. That’s pretty cool. So I guess it’s going to kind of be like — so the moon rocks that we have here in our — some of them have actually never been exposed to Earth’s atmosphere, right? They’ve been sealed. Like, are we going to expect the same thing for OSIRIS-REx? It’s going to be sealed away from Earth’s atmosphere? [00:51:27] >> Some of the samples will be preserved for future research. [00:51:31] >> Okay. [00:51:31] >> I think the design of the capsule doesn’t keep it entirely free of Earth’s atmosphere. But for what they’re trying to do for the mission goals, that was appropriate. But yeah, definitely some will be preserved away for future generations just like any other collections. [00:51:49] >> All right. That’s a pretty cool mission. [00:51:51] >> Yeah, yeah. Looking forward to seeing it. [00:51:54] >> Yeah. 2023, that will be a cool thing to watch it come back. So, Aaron, since I have you here, I did kind of want to bring up DNA sequencing just because you — you know, that’s such an interesting thing that will happen on the International Space Station, literally sequencing DNA in real-time. Can you kind of explain kind of what that project is all about? [00:52:15] >> Yeah. So this — this is a project that actually has sort of two goals. So one is, you know, crew health and human exploration. And then I have my sort of ulterior motive or goal, which is looking for life elsewhere in the solar system. So it’s a nice marriage of two applications of the same technology. [00:52:38] >> Pretty cool marriage. [00:52:39] >> Yeah. [00:52:40] >> Looking for life outside the solar system and studying astronauts in space. Pretty cool pairing. [00:52:44] >> Yeah. [00:52:45] >> Yeah. [00:52:45] >> And so this — the DNA sequencing, we want to use it for crew health, to be able to do environmental monitoring. And so you want to look on the International Space Station or ISS for microbes, be able to identify them to know if there’s harmful organisms there. And as we think about going beyond ISS, if you’re going to send humans to Mars and they’re going to go on a three-year mission, if the crew member shows signs of an infection, you know, we want to have a diagnostic capability to know, you know, so if you cough up some phlegm, okay, what’s in that phlegm? And then is that something that needs to be treated with an antibiotic or that something your body will clear on its own? You know, be able to make informed decisions about that. Because we’re not going to be able to do resupply missions on — it would hard to hit a moving target flying to Mars and catch up to it. [00:53:40] >> Yeah. [00:53:41] >> So we’re trying to give that sort of in-flight, you know, diagnostic capability with the DNA sequencing. And then when the humans get to Mars, you know, I’d like them to be able to go out and dig up a sample and extract it and actually look for life that’s present on Mars. [00:53:58] >> Wow. So sequencing DNA is kind of like — I’m trying to explain it in as laymen terms as possible to wrap my brain around it because it is pretty complicated stuff. But it’s basically identifying, right? [00:54:08] >> Yeah. [00:54:08] >> It’s — so if you said, you know, if they have a cough, they can do a sample and they know exactly what you’re coughing up. They know the exact makeup, and then you can identify what kind of antibiotic you need to take because you know exactly what’s inside your body. [00:54:21] >> Yeah, yeah. So DNA, you know, is like a language. It’s got an alphabet. There’s only four letters — there’s A, G, C, and T. But all life on Earth uses that same alphabet from the tiniest microbe to humans. And so it’s sort of like books in a library, right? The books are all different because they have more letters or less letters that are arranged in different words. And so, you know, analyzing — I guess sequencing DNA is like taking a page out of that book and then searching for all the words on that page. And then if you had a computer that could process it, you could say, “Oh, that page came from A Tale of Two Cities. Or that page came from this book.” [00:55:07] >> All right. [00:55:08] >> Or that paragraph. And so the more of that page or paragraph, the better of a match you can get, you know? If you have a chapter of a book, then you can nail it down to — discounting plagiarism. You know? [Laughs] You can nail it down to a single book or a single organism. [00:55:25] >> All right. That’s pretty cool. Although, I mean, for an alphabet of four letters, you know, life is pretty diverse [Laughs] for such a tiny alphabet. And, you know, you’re taking analogies from books and I’m imagining the books. But four letters that can make all these different things, that’s pretty astounding. [00:55:45] >> Yeah. Well, so a virus can have around 50,000 of these letters in its entire genome. So all the instructions that a virus needs to do to infect a cell and then get the cell to make more copies of it all encapsulated in 50,000 letters. [00:56:01] >> Whoa. [00:56:01] >> And that’s something like the microbe that that virus might affect could have several million of these letters. And then humans are about 2.5 billion of these letters or 3 billion. And then actually, there are certain plants that even have, like, ten-fold more of these letters in their genome. But it’s a — you know, it’s pretty amazing that biology can do so much with a limited — sort of the limited alphabet. [00:56:31] >> That’s true. But thank goodness there’s no — there’s no word in the English language that’s 10 million letters long. [00:56:38] >> Yeah. [00:56:38] >> So that’s pretty good. It would be really hard to write A Tale of Two Cities with [Laughs] — you would probably get one word in and still it would be the biggest novel you’ve ever seen in your life [Laughs]. [00:56:51] >> Yeah. An interesting thing about that is they are actually starting to switch to — or trying to develop DNA as a way to store information. So it’s like a new data, I guess, like replacing solid state drives or spinning hard drives is to encapsulate things in DNA. [00:57:09] >> Whoa. All right. Well, it’s got a lot of storage, right? Because you can — [00:57:12] >> Yeah, yeah. [00:57:13] >> — you can fit it. Wow. Okay. That’s difficult to wrap my mind around [Laughs]. I’m thinking about storing something in, like, a cell. [00:57:22] >> Can I talk about something else weird, too? [00:57:24] >> Yes, please. [00:57:25] >> No [Laughs]. [00:57:26] >> This is not the place for that [Laughs]. [00:57:28] >> So one of the things interesting that we’ve — you know, we’ve talked about life as we know it and the search for life. And then there’s this concept of being able to identify life as you don’t know it. [00:57:41] >> Whoa. [00:57:42] >> And so we’ve talked about, you know, left-handed and right-handed proteins and it would be great if you could find right-handed proteins or amino acids that aren’t on Earth, or left-handed sugars, or sugars that aren’t on Earth. So that’s one of the cool things for me about the DNA Sequencer Project is the way that it sequences DNA has actually got these little tiny pores that are actually just big enough for a single strand of DNA to pass through. And when there’s nothing in the pore, you get basically an open current. And then as the DNA molecule passes through it, it blocks that pore. And so the current is reduced. And the reduction in current tells you something about the sequence of DNA that’s passing through it. So, like, AGCTA would have a different signal blocking than GACTA, for example. And so it’s an entirely electrochemical way of detecting this. And you can apply it to other molecules that we might not necessarily recognize as life. [00:58:46] So — [00:58:46] >> L, M, N, O, P. [00:58:48] >> Yes [Laughs]. That’s exactly right. And so people are using this technology to sequence RNA, which is different than DNA. It differs in the sugar, so it’s deoxyribose versus ribose. But in RNA an interesting thing is that you have more than the A, G, C, and T — actually, RNA uses U instead of T. But in things like ribosomal RNA and transfer RNA, which are present in biology, extensive modification is made of the bases. So there’s actually, like, 118 different letters that show up in RNA that people are figuring out how to actually characterize using this nanopore sequencing. [00:59:28] >> Wow. [00:59:29] >> And so I’m interested — and not just me, a number of people are looking at this — but, you know, making a more universal life detection mechanism. So, you know, if you can do DNA by now you don’t need the deoxyribose, it can be any sugar in there. [00:59:46] >> Oh. [00:59:46] >> Or instead of the A, G, C, and T letters, if you can L, M, N, O, P as Marc said. [00:59:51] >> Yeah. It will just look for letters and then just see what pops up. [00:59:54] >> Yeah. [00:59:54] >> Yeah. [00:59:55] >> Yeah. And so you lose some of the resolution. So maybe you won’t know that it was an A. But if you start seeing a polymer of semirepeating, you know, signals or letters, you know, at some point that starts to tell you there’s information there. [01:00:12] >> Oh, wow. [01:00:13] >> Yeah. That’s where it gets really deep [Laughs], is that, you know, probably one of the most important biosignatures or biomarkers is information. Right? You have to have instructions for how to do whatever it is that the organism is doing and a way to copy that information. [01:00:29] >> Wow. All right. I can think of, like, 100 different ways we can go and just go on a tangent and talk about all these crazy topics. It’s amazing. But we do have to wrap up. So I kind of wanted to end on something like a — some of the guests I like to bring and ask this question specifically because we’re at the Johnson Space Center and it’s human space flight. But for you guys, you know, in the search for life, why from your point of view is human exploration so important to discovery, especially in the field of looking for the origins of life? [01:01:01] >> I can give my answer, sure. [01:01:02] >> Yeah. [01:01:03] >> You know, basically humans have an innate need to explore. It’s something written into, I think, most children. Unfortunately, I think a lot of adults tend to lose that over time. But it’s there. The — we can explore with robots. You know, I’ll use some air quotes, you can’t see them. It’s exploration, but in a sense you’re — with a robot, you are exploring through a computer screen. And that’s fine, you do learn. It is exploration. But on — it may not be — you know, at what point is that no longer satisfactory? I’d answer that with a question: At what point do you just have to go there and see it yourself? You know, there’s technical arguments for why you want send people. They are, I believe, much better in a field environment when you’re investigating something. You know, they can turn around data, they can come up with new ideas, they can process things. [01:02:07] You know, you can get a whole lot more out of having somebody kneel down, pick up a rock, and turn it over in their hand in some instances than some of the data you get from rovers and landers and such. You know, that’s been my experience. But fundamentally there’s that innate drive to explore. And yeah, that’s the question. You know, when is watching all this through a computer screen going to be unsatisfactory? [01:02:39] >> How about, you Aaron? [01:02:41] >> I got to follow that up? [01:02:43] [ Laughter ] So I would, you know, echo the — the — just the much more versatile skillset that, you know, a human has compared to a robot, you know, where a human can look out for several miles and walk and adjust its path in a pretty easy way and, you know, not get stuck somewhere. So you can, you know, explore a lot more ground in a given, you know, time period. If you want to dig a hole, you can dig a deeper hole because you’ve got a shovel and you just keep digging until you decide that — you know, it’s easier for a human to make these decisions themselves than, you know, try to communicate all that to a — to a robot. But I think, yeah, as Marc was saying, it comes back to that sort of innate curiosity, you know, where — what’s over the mountain, what’s across the river, what’s at the bottom of the ocean. You know, we didn’t know that these other places would be good or great or, you know, useful. [01:03:44] But you kind have to know. And so, you know, going to Mars or the moon and learning how to live on the moon or learning how to live on Mars teaches you something about how to live on Earth, how to travel in space, how to live on other planets. And then it serves as a stepping stone. Okay, well, what’s beyond Mars? What’s beyond our solar system? You know? We’re going to need to develop light speed travel and all that. But, you know, assuming that we’re able to do those things, you know, it just — it enables the next frontier, if you will. [01:04:21] >> Very cool. Guys, thanks so much for coming on today. This was a fascinating topic. And always at the end of these I get so charged, especially when we end with, like, the why. I’m like, “Yes, let’s do it. Let’s go out and explore.” So thanks so much for coming on and talking about life. Can’t wait to follow it up with one of these weird tangents that we almost went on today. But thanks again, guys. [01:04:40] >> No, our pleasure. [01:04:42] [ Music ] [01:04:50] >> Houston, go ahead. [01:04:50] >> [Inaudible] of the space shuttle. [01:04:52] >> Roger, zero G and I feel fine. [01:04:54] [ Inaudible ] [01:04:55] >> We came in peace for all mankind. [01:04:57] >> It’s actually a huge honor to bring [inaudible]. [01:05:00] >> Not because they are easy but because they are hard. [01:05:02] >> [Inaudible] Houston, welcome to space. [01:05:05] [ Music ] [01:05:06] >> Hey. Thanks for sticking around. So today we talked about Dr. Aaron Burton and Dr. Marc Fries about life in the solar system, went off on a couple awesome tangents and had some great conversations just about everything life in the universe and just kind of scratched the surface, really. We can do a bunch more episodes just on this topic alone. But if you cannot wait and need to know this stuff right now, both Aaron and Marc are part of the astromaterials group known as ARES here. You can go to ARES.jsc.nasa.gov to learn all about the different initiatives. Just going on, on astromaterials alone and that’s — you can learn more about OSIRIS-REx there, and you can learn more about meteorites and curation. And even you can learn how to get your hands on a meteorite, if you are dying to get your hands on and study the sample material yourself and maybe search for organic compounds. Otherwise if you just want to focus on just OSIRIS-REx, go to NASA.gov/OSIRIS-REx. On social media if you want to talk to us there, there is the Johnson Space Center accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. [01:06:09] Also astromaterials has their own, NASA ARES on several different accounts. Otherwise you can find them, it’s NASA Astromaterials. If you want to use the hashtag #AskNASA on any one of those platforms, any one of those pages, you can submit an idea. Just make sure to mention it’s for Houston, We Have a Podcast so we can find it and answer it in a later episode for you or perhaps dedicate an entire episode to it. So this podcast was recorded on November 28th, 2017. Thanks to Alex Perryman, Tracy Calhoun, and Jenny Knots. Thanks to again Dr. Aaron Burton and Dr. Marc Fries for coming on the show. We’ll be back next week.
Gary Jordan (Host): Houston, we have a podcast. Welcome to the official podcast of the NASA Johnson Space Center, Episode 110, “From the Seas to the Stars.” I’m Gary Jordan. I’ll be your host today. If you’re new to the show, we bring in NASA experts to talk about all the different parts of our space agency. Sometimes we get lucky enough to bring in astronauts to talk about their story. So, today we’re talking with Jessica Meir. She’s a US astronaut. And she’s about to launch to the International Space Station this September 2019 for her very first space flight. We talked about her education, studying biology, space. And she got a PhD in marine biology. We talked about her research studying marine mammals and animals in extreme environments, even in Antarctica. We talked about her training as a NASA astronaut and what she’s doing to prepare for her first space mission, including putting herself in an extreme environment and living underwater for a few days. So, with no further delay, let’s go lightspeed and jump right ahead to our talk with Jessica Meir. Enjoy. [ Music ] Host: Jessica, thank you so much for coming on the podcast today. I know you’re very busy, especially coming so close to your launch here. So, appreciate your time. Jessica Meir: Yeah. You’re welcome. It’s great to be here. Host: You’re leaving soon, actually, to go to, is it Moscow? Jessica Meir: Yes. Well, this is actually my last day of training here in Houston. And I leave Sunday. I go via Cologne. So, I’ll be in Cologne for a week training. And then, I’ll be in Russia. Host: Yeah, wow. That’s just a few short days. And then, you’re there until you go to Baikonur for launch. Jessica Meir: That’s right. Host: That’s going to be very exciting. I wanted to take a step back, though, and go through just your story, starting from where you were born and raised in Caribou, Maine. I’m actually. I wasn’t familiar with it. So, I had to go look it up. It’s pretty far north. What was it like living there? Caribou, Maine. Jessica Meir: Yeah, Caribou is actually the northeastern most city in the US. Host: Yeah. Jessica Meir: Not the northern most, nor the eastern most. But the northeastern most. It’s a really small town. And, you know, for me, just like anyone, you don’t really know what to compare it to when you just grow up there. Host: Sure. Jessica Meir: So, I was lucky enough to travel quite a bit with my parents. Both my parents are from other countries, so. But it was a wonderful place to grow up. You know, it was a very small town. So, we were always outside running around. Safety wasn’t an issue or anything like that. And I had a great time growing up there. I think it was a great place for my parents to raise their kids. And for us to grow up. Host: Yeah. Looking at some of your interests as part of your biography, it’s mostly outdoorsy stuff. I guess that’s where your main interests lie, kind of being outside. Jessica Meir: Yeah, I think that’s definitely true. I love nature. And I think. My mom always says, nothing beats nature. And she’s right. And I always feel, I think the happiest I feel and the most relaxed I feel are when I’m on a camping trip and I’ve been away from everything else for a few days. And I can really relax and just enjoy what’s around. Host: There’s nothing like unplugging when it comes to camping. There’s just something about it. Jessica Meir: Absolutely. Host: Yeah. Have you ever been to Big Bend, Texas? Jessica Meir: I have not. It is on my list. And I’m dying to go. So, hopefully I get a chance when I finally get some well-earned vacation time after space flight, I think that’s on my list. Host: Yeah, definitely one of my favorite places because you lose cell coverage. So, you completely unplug. It’s actually something you don’t appreciate until you actually lose cell coverage. You also find out that you’re quite addicted to your phone afterwards. Jessica Meir: Right. It’s rare to find those places these days. [Laughter]. Host: So, when did your interest in space flight start coming up in your life? Jessica Meir: I started saying I wanted to be an astronaut when I was five, my mom tells me. And I don’t really remember that. But that’s what she says. And then, in first grade we were asked to draw a picture of what we wanted to be when we grew up. And I drew an astronaut standing on the moon next the flag in a space suit. That kind of image. And I really said it my whole life ever since then. So, it was something that my family, you know, my parents, my siblings, my close friends from the time I was a little kid all the way through college and beyond that. Everybody associated that with me. Called me space girl. They knew it was my dream. Host: That’s right. I think one of the things you participated in was Space Camp, actually, right? Jessica Meir: Yeah, not NASA’s real Space Camp. But I went to Purdue University Space Camp when, I think it was the summer before my freshman year. My sister was a graduate student out there. And she found out about it. So, I went for a few weeks there that summer. Host: Alright. So, space was definitely engrained early in your life. How about biology? When did that start becoming a possibility? Jessica Meir: Yeah, biology was also my favorite subject growing up. So, I think I really always pursued the two in parallel from the time I was a kid as well. Host: Yeah. Did you have an idea about what you wanted to pursue, I guess late in your, late in high school, about what you wanted to pursue for your career, in terms of college? Jessica Meir: I knew. Well, I believe. As soon as I went to college, I thought I wanted to major in biology. And that was cemented pretty quickly. Right after that first basic biology course, I knew that that was the right direction. I didn’t know, you know, exactly what I wanted to pursue later. I thought in later years about maybe going to medical school or maybe doing a PhD. But I hadn’t quite narrowed it down yet. So, I actually ended up working for a while. And working here at NASA and doing a master’s degree at the International Space University before I even got to that graduate work phase. Host: That’s right. Yeah, so, even, even though you were pursuing biology, it seems like space was on your mind. I know recently. We’re recording this in late July now. But we just recently did a broadcast for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing. And you were, you were a part of that actually with us. And told this fantastic story right next to the person who influenced you about how they kind of, I guess, pivoted your career towards what you’re doing now. And it was with Charlie Duke. Jessica Meir: Yeah, that’s right. Charlie Duke was actually the first astronaut I ever met. And as I mentioned, Caribou, Maine is a pretty remote place. We didn’t have other astronauts coming through. We didn’t know anybody that worked at NASA. But he was speaking at the neighboring town. And I wanted to be sure not to miss it. So, I went to watch him speak. And I went to speak to him afterward. And he gave me his card. And I wrote him a letter. And he wrote back to me. And by the time he wrote back to me, I was a freshman in college at Brown. And I still have that letter. So, it was a really extraordinary experience last week to be with Gene Kranz and Charlie Duke in the newly renovated Apollo Mission Control room, the flight director, of course, and the CAPCOM for the Apollo 11 flight. It just was spectacular to be in there with them, especially with that connection of, you know, remembering that Charlie Duke was the first astronaut I met. And I haven’t seen him since. And now, being only two months away from my own space flight. So, it really brought that full circle. And I think he was pretty excited as well when I showed him that I had actually kept that letter. Host: Yeah, I can’t imagine. I mean, just, just you appreciate when the astronauts actually take the time to do that because look at you now. I mean, you got to present the letter to him. And saying, hey, here’s the letter you wrote me a while ago. And I’m about to go to space a couple months. So, thank you very much [laughter]. Jessica Meir: Yeah, it was a really special moment, I think, for me. Host: For sure. And it was cool to witness for sure. Now, because, I guess, he responded to you when you were at Brown, like you said, you were still going for biology. But I think this idea of space was probably still in your mind even during your career, or during your time going for your bachelor’s in biology. Jessica Meir: Yeah. I was still trying to involve myself in any space related activity that I could. So, I got my pilot’s license. That, you know, wasn’t necessarily connected to space. That was something that I’d always wanted to do was fly airplanes. So, I started taking flying lessons while I was at Brown. I was also involved in another summer program. The Space Life Sciences Training Program that Kennedy Space Center had. I believe they still have it. Where they actually, it’s fully paid, fully funded and paid for. And they bring a group of students down for all training in the Space Life Sciences. So, we were actually living there for, I think, six weeks. We were working in the labs. We had our own research projects. We were learning. You know, we had classroom instruction from all kinds of different people that worked at Kennedy Space Center. Astronauts came through and talked to us. It was a really cool experience. Host: Yeah. Jessica Meir: I also was part of the Brown Space Club. And we designed an experiment where we, which we ended up getting to perform on the Vomit Comet. It was the KC135 back then. And that was when NASA still had the reduced gravity student flight opportunities. So, we designed an experiment and we were actually suturing pigs feet. So, we were comparing using conventional suturing, which with using a tissue adhesive, which was relatively new back then, called Dermabond. But it’s just basically like superglue. That’s used all the time now. And we actually have some up on the Space Station in order to, you know, just to quickly close a small wound. Instead of having to stitch it up. So, we did that study on the Vomit Comet. And that was the first time that I came to the Johnson Space Center. Host: Okay. So, that’s kind of where you got a feel for what, I guess, the Johnson Space Center was like. And it comes later in your career too. I think shortly after Brown. Correct me if I’m wrong. Is where the International Space University comes in, if I’m not right — Jessica Meir: Yeah, that’s right. So, there was another connection to the Johnson Space Center as well because I had done that reduced gravity flight. They had a little job fair for people. And so, I thought, oh, I’m not, I’m not doing engineering. There’s not going to be anything relevant for me here. But I went anyway. And I, you know, gave my resume around to a few people. And I didn’t think anything would ever come of that. And then, I was at the International Space University, as you mentioned, in the master’s program there. So, master’s of space studies. And that was another really exceptional opportunity because it was interdisciplinary, international, intercultural. There were students from over 20 different countries, I think it was. And we were learning everything from typical things that you might think of, like orbital mechanics or space engineering. But also, space policy and law and medicine. So, it was really multidisciplinary. And I think was a unique way and unique exposure, of way of looking at the space program. And then, I ended up getting a call when I was there from somebody from Lockheed Martin, who had my resume from the time I was there on that reduce gravity flight. And they ended up offering me a job to come to Johnson Space Center and work in the Life Sciences for the Human Research Facility. So, that was a job, in which we coordinated all of the life science experiments that were being performed back then on the space shuttle. And then, also on the Space Station. Host: Look at that. Look at how everything just lines up because you graduated International Space University in 2000. And then, joined Johnson Space Center in 2000. So, that’s kind of how that happened. And you were doing a bunch of different life sciences. One of the things I did want to point out particularly. And I don’t know if this is where marine biology comes in later. But is that the time you participated in a NEEMO mission? Jessica Meir: Yeah, I did. At the time NEEMO was pretty new. And NEEMO is, of course, the NASA Extreme Environment Missions Operation. So, an analog that we use to help train astronauts. You know, there are a lot of similarities to living underwater in an underwater habitat, as there are to living in space. You need a life support system to go outside. You’re living in a small, confined area with a group of other people. You’re conducting a mission timeline where you have experiments to do, various tasks throughout the day. So, at the time, this was, there had been three NEEMO missions before that. Never. There had been no people involved from the Life Sciences Directorate. So, the Life Sciences Directorate thought, well, you know, maybe this a good analog for some of our research as well. Let’s check it out. Let’s send a crew member down there and see. So, they had an application process. And I heard about it. And I thought, this seems so cool. I love to scuba dive. I actually didn’t have a ton of scuba diving experience at the time. I had been certified when I was in undergraduate at Brown. But, you know, scuba diving’s expensive. And when you’re a student, you can’t really pay for exotic diving vacations. So, I actually took vacation from my job here at Lockheed Martin. And went to Bonaire and went on a two-week diving trip, so that I could quickly accumulate enough dives to apply for this opportunity. And I applied and was fortunate to be selected. And it’s interesting to think about some of the personalities or some of the same people that ended up selecting me as an astronaut, so some of the selection board had carryover to that. And so, I did the NEEMO four mission. And that was with two other astronauts, Scott Kelly before he was quite as famous. It was well before the year long mission. Rex Walheim. And then, Paul Hill, who was back then a flight director. So, it was a really cool, diverse team. And then, we had two other habitat technicians down there in the habitat with us. Host: Interesting. So, what was, what was your perspective as the, in the Life Sciences side compared to some of the astronaut and, I guess, I don’t know if Paul Hill was a flight director back then. Was he? Jessica Meir: Yes, he was. Host: So, what was the, what was your perspective, I guess, compared to the other guys perspective? Jessica Meir: Well, I think it was a really unique and cool experience for all of us because everybody had a different point of view. You know, for the astronauts it was really kind of a training, teamwork, you know, looking at a mission commander type role. So, like we do now, we use these analog environments before missions to hone in on those skills of teamwork and expeditionary skills. For me, from the Life Science perspective, we were trying to evaluate if it would be an efficient analog and trying to understand more about the resources. And how we could compare that to some of the research that we were doing. So, we all had kind of different angles of looking at it. But it was a very, it was a unique opportunity to combine those elements, just like we do on space missions. You know, we’re working with the scientists on the ground. We’re working with a flight control team and mission control. And then, we have the astronauts up there. So, it really combined all of that down here on Earth. Host: Did it have some influence in your pursuing marine biology later? Jessica Meir: It did actually. You know, I had this interest in scuba diving and in the oceans. But after that mission and really living underwater and seeing all of that diversity underneath the surface, I thought this is something that I would really like to pursue further. And I wasn’t sure exactly how. But when I started thinking about going back to graduate school. And just kind of exploring on the internet and reading different things, I found this really interesting research by these researchers at various institutions. But particularly at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Jerry Kooyman and Paul Ponganis were these kind of legends of diving physiology. And I thought, wow, what a cool combination of this hardcore physiology and science out in nature, in diving, diving underwater, you know, all these things that I really was already passionate about and interested in. And that’s how I ended up contacting them and eventually going to graduate school there. Host: Wow. So, what was that like going to Scripps Institution of Oceanography? Jessica Meir:Well, I was a bit sad to leave NASA, of course. Host: Yeah. Jessica Meir: You know, I had been here for three years. And I had a lot of extraordinary opportunities, like you mentioned. More parabolic flights, like the one I had done before. But this time, you know, being a subject in the NEEMO mission. But it was really time for me to. I wanted to do my own science. You know, it was, it was — my job on the ground here was coordinating and making sure that other people’s science was undertaken correctly that we would be performing in space. But I kind of wanted to be on the other side. I wanted to be on the side of designing the experiments and testing these hypotheses. So, I ended up going to Scripps Institution of Oceanography and studying with Paul Ponganis. And studying diving physiology. Because I was just so astounded with this remarkable behaviors of animals in the animal kingdom. So, looking at deep divers. An emperor penguin can hold its breath for 30 minutes. So, one breath, 30 minutes. An elephant seal, two hours. So, these are breath holding, air breathing animals, just like us. But somehow, they have a much more developed capacity to thrive in these environments. And we really wanted to understand how, to study them further and understand how their physiology allows these types of behaviors. Host: I’m thinking about an experiment. And the experiment in my head is just holding your breath for a long time. How are you with holding your breath? Jessica Meir: I’m not great really. [Laughter]. No, I actually have some really close friends that are professional free divers. And, you know, we talk about that a lot. Like, how, how do they do this? You know, it does take a lot of control. For these animals, though, I mean they are actually adapted. They have evolved to thrive in these environments. And that’s why, you know, I always tease my friends, its much more interesting to study these animals that are actually adapted to this environment. Because as humans, we’re really not very good divers. [Laughter] Host: So, what were — tell me about some of your research. Because you were going really cool places to study these, these deep diving species in the animal kingdom. Jessica Meir: Yeah, we were studying diving physiology in general. But specifically, for my research, I was looking at oxygen depletion in some of the elite, some of the consummate divers. The emperor penguin, the best diver in the bird world. And the northern elephant seal. Elephant seals are the best diver in the seal world. So, looking at these extremes, I thought was a good place to start. Because you probably would elicit the most extreme physiological adaptation in an animal that had the most extreme behavior. Diving animals have a range of diving capabilities. So, they can’t all dive to these such extraordinary depths and for such durations as these two species can. So, we were conducting experiments with the animals in their environments. And we would actually anesthetize the animals, so that we could be a little bit more involved in how we undertook these studies. So, we would implant ECG. So, electrocardiogram recorders, just like if you go to the doctor and, you know, get all the electrodes and get your heart rate. So, we used ECG to get heart rate during dives. And then, we also even inserted oxygen electrodes into their blood vessels, so that we could measure the amount of oxygen in their blood, understand how low the levels go. And understand how they utilize oxygen while they’re diving. Host: I’m guessing, I don’t know if you have any findings from some of that research. But that — I don’t know what’s happening in their body, but it’s got to be something where their body is using oxygen very efficiently. Jessica Meir: Yeah. That’s exactly right. They have adaptations really all throughout the oxygen transport cascade. Getting oxygen in and using it effectively. Some of the things that our research showed were that they could tolerate extremely low levels of oxygen. So, you know, at a certain partial pressure of oxygen where we and other animals would be completely unconscious, our brains would not be able to function. They are still down there swimming, foraging, catching fish. And somehow, they have adapted to withstand and to tolerate these very low level of oxygen. And then, they use oxygen very, very effectively. So, they slow things down. And so, you can imagine they, first of all, have higher oxygen stores. That’s something we knew going in. We’ve known for a while that animals that are good divers have enhanced oxygen stores, even on a mass specific basis. So, they have higher blood volumes. They have more oxygen in their blood because they have higher hemoglobin concentrations, the protein that carries oxygen in the blood. They have higher myoglobin concentration, the protein that stores oxygen in the muscles. So, you imagine these three things. If you have more oxygen on board to begin with, you utilize it really effectively. And then, you can tolerate a really low level of oxygen. Then, that allows you to hold your breath for a much longer period. Host: See, the thing that was going through my head was just how, how does something evolve to a point where that is some– that is something that actually exists within the animal kingdom? That, that animals can actually make that a possibility just through evolving and that becoming a way that they support themselves. It’s crazy. That’s crazy to think about. Jessica Meir: Right. That is the beauty of evolution. Host: I can see why you got into this field. It’s absolutely fascinating. To do this, though, were you in Antarctica for some of these research expeditions? Jessica Meir: Yes. I went to the Antarctic five times. So, four times was for the emperor penguin research. Where we would setup a base called Penguin Ranch. [Laughter]. And it was located about 15 miles usually away from McMurdo Station in the Antarctic. So, McMurdo Station is the largest of the American bases. And we would setup this camp site out on the sea ice. And we would drill two holes in the sea ice, so that the penguins could dive through the holes. And this was a concept called the isolated dive hole paradigm. So, the isolated dive hole, it was a model that Jerry Kooyman at Scripps, who was one of my mentors, really pioneered and came up with on his own. It was a really cool way to do the science because if you want to put these instruments on the animal and let them dive freely really in the wild, you still need a way to get these instruments back. You know, we weren’t able, these, it was not telemetry. We weren’t telemetering the data back. We had to recover the recorder to get the data back. So, if you drill a hole in the ground. Sorry. If you drill a hole in the sea ice. And it’s in an area where there are no other holes or cracks and you put a fence around those holes, then the animals can dive freely with your instruments on them. And then, when they come back up, you can get the instruments back. So, a really clever way of conquering this type of research. And that’s how we did all of the work looking at heart rate responses and looking at the oxygen levels in the blood vessels of the emperor penguins while they dive. Host: Wow. It must’ve been quite an adventure to do all that, especially in Antarctica of all places. Jessica Meir: Yeah. That’s. And one of my favorite things about working down there is that it’s not just all science. You know, I didn’t really want to be the type of scientist that’s just inside in a lab or sitting at a desk. I love the outdoors so much. And love this active lifestyle that when you’re working in the Antarctic, you know, of course, it involves all of that mental and scientific method. You have to be a great scientist in order to conduct a good study down there. But you also have to be able to just survive in a harsh environment or if a snowstorm comes through, you’re not doing any science that day, you’re just shoveling snow. And making sure that the penguins are safe and taking care of everything. So, it’s not only mentally challenging, but it’s physically challenging as well. Host: Yeah. I think you’re one for extreme environments for sure. The Antarctic being one. It’s actually surprising how many people we talk to on this podcast that have been to Antarctica. It’s crazy. This is just an awesome place to work. But now, you’re going to space. So, transitioning from your time studying marine biology and doing this research in Antarctica, when did astronaut start becoming a possibility? Jessica Meir: Well, since it was something that I dreamed about my entire life, I started applying to become an astronaut as soon as it became realistic for me. You know, in order to become an astronaut, you really only need to have a bachelor’s degree in science in a STEM field. So, science, technology, engineering or math. And three years of experience. So, I applied, I think for the very first time was back in 2004. But I didn’t even have an advanced degree then. You know, that was really early on for me. So, I didn’t expect an interview. Then, the next selection after that was in 2008. So, for the 2009 class. That was when I was just wrapping up my graduate work. And I thought, okay, I’m finally in a much better position for this. But, you know, I still knew that it’s such a small chance of it happening no matter how qualified anybody is that I didn’t think that it would happen. But I applied. And I did get an interview. And I even made it to the final round that year. Came down to the final round, which is usually between 40 and 50 people. And everything went really well. And, you know, since I had worked here before, it was really nice to be back and to see the people that I had worked with. And it was a great experience. You know, you meet these extraordinary candidates and that’s when you really know, wow, I’m never going to get selected. [Laughter]. These people are amazing. But it’s great to even just meet those people because you form these connections and new friendships. And that year, I was unsuccessful. You know, they called me. I’ll never forget it. Suni Williams called me. And I was actually showing someone around Sea World in San Diego. And she gave me the call that nobody wants, you know, telling me, you know, it didn’t happen. But she said everything went well, you know, we encourage you to apply again. You didn’t do anything wrong. But we’re only selecting nine people this year. And you’re just not one of them. And so, of course, that’s really devastating when it’s your lifelong dream. But at the same time, you know, you knew that it was such a small chance that it really was just realistic. So, I went on. I finished. I defended my thesis shortly after that call. And then, went to pursue my post-doctoral research in an entirely different realm looking at high altitude animals instead of the diving animals. The opportunity came up during that research to apply again. And this was now for, in 2012 for the 2013 class. And I was actually a little bit surprised. I didn’t think that there would be another selection right then. I had actually convinced myself that I didn’t get it in 2009. That was probably my last chance. Just kind of thinking of the combination of my background and my age and everything and how often they did selections. I thought that that was probably my last opportunity. So, when this chance came around again, I thought, oh, wow, well do I want to go through that whole thing again? You know, it is an amazing opportunity and experience. But it’s also pretty exhausting and challenging as well psychologically and emotionally. And I thought, okay, wait a minute. What am I thinking? Of course, I’m going to apply. I can’t not apply. Of course, I have to. So, I applied again. And at the time, I was really happy with my new career in academia. And that was one of the things I felt so fortunate about. You know, I had this lifelong dream of becoming an astronaut. But I knew now that that wasn’t going to happen. And I felt so lucky that I had found this other field that really fulfilled me, that I loved and that I was passionate about and happy to go to work every day for. And so, I thought, well, you know what? This is just how it’s supposed to be. You know, I’m happy. I’m content. And I still submitted that application. And I got the interview. And I thought, well, you know, like any normal human behavior, this is going to just like it did last time. It’ll be nice to go back to Houston and see everybody. But it’ll be the same result. It’s just a numbers game. And it’s just not going to happen. And so, maybe it was having that attitude or just that’s always when things like this happen. That year I got a different call. A very different call. And that was asking me to come join the 2013 class. And it was really quite shocking. You know, I think everybody in our office remembers where they were when they got that call. And I thought, normal human behavior, it’s going to be the same call that I got before. I’m prepared for that. And it wasn’t. You know, Janet Kavandi called me and said, Jessica, looks like second times a charm. And that, you know, I knew that only meant one thing. And so, I was just so completely shocked, I was very eloquent and said, really? [Laughter]. So, she asked me to come work here. And, of course, it was not something that I could turn down being my childhood dream. And so, that was the start of it all. Host: Wow. Yeah, I’m sorry. We skipped a couple steps where you were going into academia and doing. I did want to talk about the bar headed geese. But I do want to make sure I’m conscious of your time. But I just, I know you had a great call story. So, I wanted to at least get to that. Going into actually becoming an astronaut, training as an astronaut candidate. I guess, I guess for the sake of time, we’ll, and with this. What are you looking forward to most? Because you’re going to be launching here in September. What are you looking forward to most during your expedition? Jessica Meir: Yeah. It’s difficult to believe after being here and training for almost six years, you know, we start thinking that this is just our normal job, all the stuff that we’re doing on the ground. And really, the way things work now, you’re really only in space for a very small fraction of your career. So, it’s really interesting to think about the fact that in two months all this training that I’ve been doing really will be the culmination of all of that. And I am so looking forward to participating in all the scientific investigations. You know, the International Space Station is a national lab. And we are doing experiments ranging from how space flight affects the physiology of all the physiological systems. And how it affects our bodies, spaceflight microgravity, radiation. All of the problems that can, we can encounter as humans that we really need to have answers to. You know, we have a lot of information now on how to prevent the muscle atrophy and the bone loss that we experience as soon as we get to microgravity. We still have some unanswered questions on, especially radiation. All of these things are incredibly important in order for us to explore further. Especially when we start thinking about these new Artemis Missions when we go back to the moon, when we are ready to go Mars. This will be probably something like a three-year mission. So, we really need to understand and have a good grasp and handle of all of these physiological effects. Right now, we still have some hot topics in what’s going on with our eyes. Are there are some changes even in the retina of our eyes. Things that we need to make sure that we understand the mechanism for, so that we can prevent and bring astronauts, make sure that they reach their destination safely. But also, make sure that we bring them back safely. We have experiments of combustion. There’s a combustion integration rack where we’re looking at combustion processes. And even flames burn differently in space. That’s the kind of thing that you can apply to having more fuel-efficient engines in cars here on Earth, or also for propulsion systems for space, for future space flights. We will have later this fall a bio fabrication facility, which is something so interesting. I was astounded to think, to find out that this was launching, you know, soon after I get there. Where we’ll actually be growing bio artificial organs. So, one of the problems with artificial organs on the Earth is that you have to have these support structures in order to effectively have the tissues and organs form. And the theory is that in microgravity you won’t need these support structures, which you then have to remove and can cause some deleterious effects to these artificial organs. So, in space, we might be able to grow and to harvest these organs in space and then bring them back down to deliver to people on Earth. And that’s a huge problem right now where there’s never enough organs for people that are in need of organ transplants. So, some of the different things that we’re doing on the Space Station are really remarkable areas of research. And, of course, those are just a few examples. There’s so many more. And as a scientist, I’m really excited to participate and to collect data for all the researchers on the ground. But aside from that personally, I’m also incredibly excited to fulfill that goal that I wrote about in my high school yearbook. And I listed my future plans as to go for a spacewalk. So, I’m hoping to deliver on that one this year. And that’s something that I’ve always thought about, you know, being out there on your own in a space suit looking back at the planet. And you’re, you’re really in this self-contained life support system, really your own little spaceship. And kind of perspective changing shift that will have on me as an individual. And I’ve heard this from a lot of astronauts in the past, you know, looking back at the planet, thinking back toward those early iconic images from the Apollo astronauts. You know, we first saw our planet when our eyes were from outside and the perspective change of understanding how special and unique our Earth is, our home planet. And how we need to do our best to protect it because we only have one. And it’s very fragile. And also, in terms of understanding the perspective of us as humans and really how insignificant we are in the grand scheme of the solar system and the universe. And so, that’s, that’s something that I think will really have a profound effect on me as an individual. Host: Wow. I think you’re the perfect person to go on a Space Station expedition. Your passion for science and looking forward to, you know, your whole life of really wanting to go to space and writing in your yearbook that you wanted to do a spacewalk. And it’s all going to be fulfilled soon, so. Jessica, I appreciate your time. And best of luck on your mission coming up here soon. Jessica Meir: Okay. Thank you very much. It was great talking to you today. [ Music ] Host: Hey, thanks for sticking around. I had a conversation with Jessica Meri today. And she’s going to be launching very soon to the International Space Station. Go to nasa.gov/ntv to watch her launch. She’s launching with Hazza Al Mansouri and Oleg Skripochka. If you want to listen to Christina Koch’s story, she’ll be on board the same time as Jessica Meir. Go to check out Episode 82. She’s been there since March and has an extended stay through 2020. And you can also check out Drew Morgan’s episode, Episode 98. He just arrived just a few months ago in July. Otherwise, you can check out the many other NASA podcasts we have on nasa.gov/podcasts. Follow Jessica’s journey on Twitter @Astro_Jessica. Or the journey of the International Space Station on the Space Station pages of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Use the #AskNASA on your favorite platform to submit an idea for the show, ask a question about Jessica and make sure to mention it’s for Houston We Have a Podcast. We’ll bring it right on the show. This episode was recorded on July 24th, 2019. Thanks to Alex Perryman, Pat Ryan, Norah Moran, John Streeter, Brandi Dean, Megan Sumner and Dan Hout. Thanks again to Jessica Meir for coming on the show. Godspeed. We’ll be back next week.
Gary Jordan (Host): Houston, we have a podcast. Welcome to the official podcast of the NASA Johnson Space Center, episode 48, Moon Rocks. I’m Gary Jordan and I’ll be your host today. So, in this podcast, we bring in the experts, NASA scientists, engineers, astronauts, all to let you know the coolest information about what’s going on right here at NASA. So, today, we’re talking to the keeper of all moon rocks in the world, Ryan Zeigler. Well, technically, they’re all held here at the Johnson Space Center by NASA in the Lunar Curation Facility. But Ryan is the lunar sample curator here in Texas and he’s also a planetary scientist. We had a great discussion about moon rocks, like the reason why we brought them back from moon during the Apollo Program, more about the facilities that keep them, and also what we’re still learning from them. So, with no further delay, let’s go lightspeed and jump right ahead to our talk with Dr. Ryan Zeigler. Enjoy. [ Music ] Host: Ryan, thanks for taking the time to come on the podcast today. I can’t believe it, but we’re actually finally going to talk about moon rocks. Ryan Zeigler: I know, I mean you’d think this was a cursed subject or something. Host: Well, it’s interesting because — and correct me if I’m wrong — all of the moon rocks that were collected on the Apollo missions are here, correct? Ryan Zeigler: Most of our here, about — about 85% are here or maybe 80% are here, 5% are out with scientists, and about 15% are at a secret remote storage facility at White Sands, so — Host: Oh, okay. Ryan Zeigler: Not that secret, I guess, so. Host: The secret’s out now. Okay. So — but — but the moon rocks were collected on just human missions, right, not robotic missions? Ryan Zeigler: For NASA, yes. Host: Okay. Okay. So, were there other lunar acquisition — like robotic ones? Ryan Zeigler: Yeah, so the Soviets had three Luna missions — Luna 16, 20, and 24, and they collected about a pound of samples. Host: Oh, really? Ryan Zeigler: Yeah. Yeah. Host: Robotically? Ryan Zeigler: Robotically, yup. Host: Okay. Very cool. Must have been a different profile. But we went a couple times, right? We did — we did Apollo, you know, 11 through 17. Ryan Zeigler: Yeah. We had six missions that landed on the surface. Host: Exactly. All right, a lot of moon rocks. So. So, let’s talk about moon rocks, themselves, because, you know, how I imagine it is just, you know, gray rocks. But I’m sure — and I’m sure as — from a geologist’s perspective, there are interesting ones and there are — there are not so interesting ones. And there was — there was just some decision-making that went with the acquisition of them. Ryan Zeigler: No, absolutely. And you’re right, though. If you look at moon rocks, most of them are kind of boring to look at. I mean they have a bit of an image problem. Most of them are sort of gray rocks but there’s a few things about them that really set them apart. They’re really old. They formed on a body with no atmosphere, so there’s a lot of micrometeorite impacts into them. There’s a lot of things that set them apart from Apollo’s — from terrestrial samples. And so, they are really interesting to scientists for a lot of those reasons, yeah. Host: For sure, definitely. So, some of the first ones were collected from NASA on Apollo 11, right? Ryan Zeigler: Yes. Host: Awesome. So, how much — do you know how much they collected? Ryan Zeigler: It’s about 25 kilograms, so about — a little over 50 pounds. Host: All right. Ryan Zeigler: Yeah. Host: But I guess it felt different when they were actually collecting it. Ryan Zeigler: Well 1/6 as much. Yeah. I know. I mean everyone was super strong on the moon and it was great. You could jump super high, except for the spacesuits, I think. Host: Oh, yeah. Yeah. So, what did they used to collect it? Was it kind of bending over and picking it up or was it — Ryan Zeigler: Well, they couldn’t bend over very well and that was good for us because that kept them from touching them with their gloved hands because the gloves were a source of contamination. So, they had specially designed tools made out of either stainless steel or aluminum. And so, they — like, basically one of those long claw things you see that — like the t-rex with the two claw things, that’s kind of like that, only NASA, so it was made of steel. Host: Okay. Ryan Zeigler: And then they had sieves and they had some rakes. And so, they had a couple different instruments — tools to help them collect them. Host: Okay. And that was all planned ahead of time. They knew that the — did they understand the surface of the moon before they went? Ryan Zeigler: They understood it pretty well. What they didn’t — they underestimated how important the impacts were on the surface. And on Earth, impacts are a relatively minor thing because we’ve got an atmosphere. So, you see shooting stars at night and that’s little sand sized stuff being burned up. On the moon, all of that stuff, it’s the moon going several kilometers per second. So, it’s a much finer grained place and there’s just — yeah. So, the tools they use evolved over time. On Apollo 11, they had one set. And by Apollo 17, they had a much more evolved set. They learn from being there and sort of redesigned them on the fly, so to speak. Host: Okay. That makes sense. You go on the surface and you have people actually using the tools and then providing real-time feedback. Ryan Zeigler: Exactly. Host: Hey, this worked, this didn’t. I need this bigger, this smaller, this longer, whatever, so. Okay, that makes a lot of sense. So, when they collected them, what was that process like? Did they kind of put it into bags and seal them up or was it like a bin? Ryan Zeigler: On Apollo 11 especially, because they didn’t collect that many rocks, I mean 50 pounds sounds like a lot, but rocks are heavy. So, they had a special box with a metal-on-metal knife edge seal that allowed them to seal them away. And so, they would collect them with the tool, put it inside a Teflon bag, roll up the bag, and then the bag would go in the box. Host: Okay. Ryan Zeigler: And then at the end of Apollo 11, just before they were sealing them up to put them inside, Neil Armstrong looked at it and thought that the box looked kind of empty, so he got his shovel out and literally just shoveled a bunch of dirt into the box around all of the other samples. Host: Really? Ryan Zeigler: It’s — almost as an afterthought. And it ended up being like 11 kilograms or something. And it being almost a quarter of the sample they brought back. Host: Whoa. Ryan Zeigler: And it ended up being the largest single sample from Apollo 11 and probably one of the most important. And it was just — he just looked at it and thought, this is silly, I’m going to go all the way to the moon and I’m going to bring back a half-full box of rocks. So, he shoveled some dirt in, sealed it up, and that came back. On later mission, when they started collecting more rocks and would fit in the rock boxes, some of them came back just in the Teflon bags, sealed up tight, like cookies or coffee or something. But those probably saw a little bit of atmosphere. Host: Oh, okay. So, the idea was to protect it from the Earth’s atmosphere, once it got back, to avoid. Ryan Zeigler: Exactly. But the boxes are heavy and so they couldn’t bring 10 boxes to bring back all those samples. So, they decided that for some samples, just being sealed up and minor exposure to air would be okay. Host: Okay. So, why did the dirt ended up being one of the more important pieces of Apollo 11? Ryan Zeigler: Well, one of the things they didn’t realize — because the impacts are so important on the moon, and a lot of the material just gets spread around. And so, the dirt — the soil — the regolith, official — is the technical name for it — is a really good average composition of a large area on the moon, whereas the rocks mostly come from that local area. So, you collect the rocks, you learn a lot about the local area. You collect the soil, you learn about the local area, but also exotic stuff coming from farther away. And it being so big, and hey, us having so much of it, everyone wanted Apollo samples when they came back, and obviously, we had a very limited mass. And so, them bringing back more than they expected opened up new studies just based on mass availability. And we also used those as a goodwill sample. We — every country on Earth in 1970 got a piece of the moon as a gift that came from that soil — that big shoveled soil. They took out the bigger particles, put them in plastic, took some flags they had flown to the moon, put it on a plaque, and they just handed it out to everybody. It was great, yeah. Host: I wish I — Ryan Zeigler: All because — all because Neil thought to shovel in a [inaudible] we’re real close, so. I call him Neil, so. No, I mean all because he had the — you know, the foresight to do something like that. Host: Exactly. So, what was interesting about the Sea of Tranquility, whenever they were picking the location for Apollo 11? Ryan Zeigler: Honestly, I think it really came down to safety. I mean they had some really strict constraints. They — first time, they wanted something near the equator, so they used less Delta V, less fuel. They wanted something flat, so they’d have to worry about landing on, you know, a crater, which they almost did anyway, and they had to avoid it. So, a lot of it came down to it had to be on the equator and it had to be flat. And then they used spectroscopy. They looked at the light and it was bouncing off the surface and trying to find a place that was slightly unusual. And it turned out, Sea of Tranquility had a lot of titanium in it. And so, the light bouncing off it looked a little different and so they thought, let’s go try that place. And then when they went to 12, they had similar constraints, but they went to the other end of the spectrum. And they got low titanium basalts. And so, you know, science wasn’t driving the landing sights at that point, but they were still trying to maximize how much science they could get out of it. Host: Right and, you know, priority one was safety. Priority two was all right, in terms of the safest areas we could land, this one is also — Ryan Zeigler: Exactly, that’s how they did it. Yeah. Host: Okay. Cool. So, what’s — what was interesting about titanium then? Ryan Zeigler: On Earth — I mean this is sort of a technical detail that almost no one’s going to care about. But on Earth, you know, basalts only have a weight percent of titanium, 1% titanium. And on the moon, that’s 8 or 9% titanium, and it tells you about the interior of the moon and what was melting to form these basalts. And it’s quite different than Earth. And so, it was telling us about how the moon formed and evolved, all from one rock on the surface. And it wasn’t the whole story, but it sure got things moving in the right direction. Host: All right. Ryan Zeigler: Otherwise, we’ve been wasting our time for 45 years. Host: Well, then so that was just a piece of the story. And then you went to — we went to different areas to kind of let — you know, we have these Apollo missions, let’s use them to our fullest advantage. Let’s figure out this story of the moon. So, what were some of the decisions — and you said Apollo 12 was lower titanium — but what were some of the other decisions for the later missions? Ryan Zeigler: So, for the later missions — if you look up at the moon at night — and this is super basic, but there’s dark parts and light parts. And the first two missions went to the dark parts, those are mare basalts, like you would get in Hawaii. And then there was the bright parts, which actually make up about 80% of the moon, so they need — they were like, we need to go to one of these bright parts and see what make up the Highlands. And so, same constraints, Apollo 14 landed pretty close to Apollo 12, near the equator, but in the Highlands. And then they got those samples back and realized, wow, everything’s an impact, everything’s a breccia, a rock made of pieces of other rock. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle almost. And then after that, when they got to 15, 16, and 17, those were the J missions, so they had a Rover, they had much more — better suits, they had a lot of other stuff. And so, then they were able to go to more technically challenging sites that were, at the junction, between the bright parts and the dark parts mostly. And so, also, I mean I’m sure you know this and all of the pilot — all of the Apollo astronauts are pretty much test pilots. So, just landing on a flat bit, I don’t think he was doing it for them. And so, Apollo 15 and Apollo 17, when you hear the astronauts talk about what it was like to land there, like landing in this little narrow valley on Apollo 17, and Apollo 15 landing and coming over this huge mountain. And then having to get down really fast and land onto — before the big canyon. Host: Canyon. Ryan Zeigler: Yeah. You know, and so, you know, they were able to do more technically challenging things with flying too. Host: Okay. Yeah. Well, that was — that was their thing, right? Ryan Zeigler: Yeah. Host: But then on — was it Apollo 17, Jack Schmitt, now you finally have a geologist, right? Ryan Zeigler: Right. I mean, and Jack had played a really important part. I mean Jack comes to all of our science conferences. Jack has PhD in geology. He’s way smarter than I’ll ever be, and he still comes to all of the — all of the conferences and many, many, many a debate ends with, well, when I was on the moon — and that’s when you know you’ve lost the argument because he’s really [inaudible]. You know, you don’t get to use that. No, Jack was there. And so, he was able to help select the sites but when they were on the ground, he was — you know, everyone got a — basically a master’s degree in geology as part of their training. But he already had a PhD and was one of those people who trained the other astronauts in geology. And so, he really was able to spot and collect things from a different perspective. Host: Okay. And was — did he have a part in deciding where they were going to land and what things to pick up and bring back? Ryan Zeigler: I’m sure he did. And I mean he started to tell a story at a meeting a couple months ago, about well, that’s not how we selected that site. And he never finished the story, so I don’t have the whole story yet. But I don’t think the sites were selected that far ahead of time. As they were leading up to a new mission, the scientists and Jack, because he’s one of the scientists, would get together and talk about where they wanted to go from science priorities. And then the mission safety people would be like, yeah, we’re not landing in the middle of Tycho Crater, that’s crazy, and then there would be some back-and-forth. And — but yeah, no, Jack was definitely part of that discussion. Host: Okay cool. So, what were — what were some of the — besides titanium — what were some of the more interesting things that you found? Because there’s a finite number of samples we have from the moon, right? So, what are — were some of the most interesting things that we found from those samples? Ryan Zeigler: Well, they’re really old. I mean — and that’s — that sounds very basic. But essentially, every rock from the moon is older than every rock on Earth. It’s not perfectly true. There’s some overlap in the middle. There’s like four places on Earth where they’re that old. But it turns — so the moon is just an ancient body. The fact that everything was either a volcanic process of basalts, like what you’d see in Hawaii, or breccia, something from impact, that threw people off. There was no water on the moon and that’s not true anymore. But compared to terrestrial rocks, which every rock you pick up on Earth has a mineral with water in it and they couldn’t find any water in lunar samples until about 10 years ago. And it was only when instruments had evolved to the point where they could measure lower concentrations and new scientists came along and said, this doesn’t make sense. We need to re-examine these. And so, there was a little bit of missed from earlier. But the moon is a very dry place and that throws people off. Host: So, you said there’s– parts of it, you said it’s not true anymore. Ten years ago, we discovered there’s a little bit of water on the moon. What was the instrument that found that and where is it? Ryan Zeigler: It was something called the SIMS, the secondary ion mass spectroscopy. And so, what you do is you take the sample, you bombard the surface with ions, either positively or negatively charged, and then that sputters off what’s there. And before, we were using an electron probe, where you’re doing essentially the same thing, but with electrons. And they just — they started looking at a mineral called apatite and on every other planet where you find that mineral, there’s water in it. And then when they started looking at it on the moon, there was a fair amount of water in it. And so — and it was one of those cases where the analytical instruments in the ’70s were very good, and Apollo helped revolutionized them. But the little bit of water — the little bit that was missing, they just assumed was analytical error, and it was very hard to directly detect water because you’re not doing it by mass, you’re doing it by energy and so — anyway. So, they — so this — these new instruments — which weren’t new in the — in the 2000s. They were invented in the — in the ’80s. But by the 2000s, when new scientists came along, that’s when they started to figure it out. Host: Okay. Isn’t it also true that there are — on the polar ends of the moon, there are [inaudible] shaded areas that have I guess never seen the Sun, are their deposits of water there too? Ryan Zeigler: Almost certainly. We have limited direct evidence of that, but we have a lot of circumstantial evidence. There’s extra hydrogen there, so what’s the hydrogen there as? They — you get a different radar back scatter out of there and one of the only things that causes that is ice. And so, they did have the L Cross mission, which landed in one of these permanently shadowed regions, put up a plume of debris, and then it flew through it. And they did detect water, and so we do have some direct evidence, but — so that’s a different kind of water. So, I’m talking about water that came from the interior of the — of the — of the planet. And the water that’s at the poles probably is from comets and meteorites slamming into the surface over time. And the ice that’s in that, sort of migrating along the surface, and then freezing down in these cold areas. And so, I — you know, I’m talking about intrinsic water to the moon versus external water. The external water might be more interesting for like refueling spacecraft someday. Intrinsic water, it’s very minor and so it’s always going to be of geologic interest, but probably not economic importance. Host: I see. So, when you say that you were looking at rocks and using these instruments to find little — you know, use a different type of method to discover the water inside the rock, that was here on Earth, right? That was here — Ryan Zeigler: All of that was done on Earth. In fact, the — in Apollo missions — I mean you see the Mars missions now and they have Rovers and they do all these cool measurements on the — on Mars, they didn’t do that on Apollo. They had some surface experiments where they did some geophysical experiments on the surface, but that was on the moon, as a whole, and not on the rocks. The rocks were really not studied until they came back because anything they might have done on the surface could be done much better back on Earth. And since they knew they were bringing the rocks back anyway, they didn’t spend any mass, or time, or energy on that. They just collected the rocks and brought them back. Host: Plus, you risk the chance of contamination. Ryan Zeigler: Exactly. I mean we have a lot of talk now about, you know, what could be done on samples like on the way back and the answer is always like, don’t touch the samples, just bring them back. Just don’t touch the samples. We’ll do it when you get them back here. And we is not me, and we is not NASA. We, is this — the larger scientific community on the planet. And so, I keep using the royal we. And as my dad always asked, do you have a mouse in your pocket? No, it’s just, you know, it’s a very large and active science community that studies all these samples. Host: Well, and the — and one of the more important parts about that is there is a finite number of samples that you have, right? Ryan Zeigler: There is. There is. Host: So, whenever they’re bringing these samples back, the story from the Apollo days, what were some of the facilities that they were bringing them back to? What were some of the methods to make sure that they were acquired safely and properly? Ryan Zeigler: So, they had designed Building 37 here at Johnson Space Center was the Lunar Receiving Lab and they finished that in 1967, so a couple years before it came back. Because they had no real idea what lunar samples were like and because everyone has read War of the Worlds, they actually designed it as a quarantine facility. And so, both the astronauts and the samples went into quarantine for 21 days after Apollo’s 11, 12, and 14, to make sure all the bugs from the moon didn’t kill all life on Earth. And now once they got to the surface and they realized there was no water, and really no atmosphere, and they already knew that, they’re like, there’s no bugs in these samples. But through an abundance of caution, for the first three missions, they kept the quarantine going. And so, that was a facility designed to keep everything in, so everything leaked in. And the problem with that is everything leaks in on the samples, and we’re trying to keep the samples clean. And so, once they realized, no, this isn’t — you know, this isn’t a concern, we’re not trying to keep the bugs in. They redesigned laboratories in the building next door — in Building 31. And within about three or four years, they moved over and put most of the samples there in a positive pressure laboratory, where everything leaked out and everything leaked away from the samples. And the samples were stored in glove boxes surrounded by nitrogen and no one ever touched them, no one ever breathed on them, or coughed on them, like me. And so, yeah. So, that was — that was a pretty quick change they had to make. Host: Okay. So, some of the later Apollo missions — the samples collected from those I guess have some of the more pristine samples that you have here because of this method? Ryan Zeigler: Sort of. I mean there’s more of them and so some of them were able to be held in reserve. But all of them originally came back and were open and then — and initially analyzed in their lunar — in the LRL, in the Lunar Receiving Lab. And then it wasn’t till like ’73, ’74, when all of the samples got moved over to the next — to the next thing, so yeah. Host: So, then the actual study of — or the actual process of studying, what’s that like? What is — what do you do to actually figure out what’s inside? Ryan Zeigler: Wow. There’s so many different studies. So, I’ve been the Apollo curator for about six years now and I’ve had almost 400 individual requests to analyze sample. So, I’d like to go through them one by one — no? Okay. So, yeah. Yeah. No, it could be a long podcast. You know, if you — if you look at all of the collections in total, a lot of effort goes into dating the samples. And you would think, yeah, we already know the date of them. Well, as instruments and scientists get better — oh, man — the way they age date the samples has been refined over time. And there’s a couple different camps still trying to figure out exactly the age of the moon. A lot of study has been on the new water they found. But there’s even esoteric things. Like a guy in the UK wanted samples to do spectroscopy to figure out if he could see life on planet — on exoplanets. And so, all life on Earth has a chirality, it’s all left-handed or right-handed, and I’m not a biologist, so I don’t remember. But if you look at the light that reflects off an atmosphere with that light in it, can have a chirality to it. And so, they’re from orbit and Earth, they’re trying to do that. And one of the main sources of contamination for them is light bouncing off the moon. So, he needed to see what light bouncing off the moon looked like to put into his equations to understand whether they could see life on exoplanets from their atmospheres — from spectroscopy of their atmospheres. And so, every– I mean everything in between. It’s just crazy how diverse Apollo samples and samples, in general, can be used. Host: So, it’s fair to say you’re still studying them though, right? Ryan Zeigler: Oh, absolutely. This year, I — you know, we have — a new batch of requests just came in and we have 36 new requests for the — to be considered by the committee that reviews all of these and they’ll do that next month, so. I — they might find out about it on here. They don’t know how many we got, so they might be a little dismayed at how much work they have to do. Host: We’ll put this out a little bit later, so we don’t have any spoilers. Ryan Zeigler: No, that’s okay. They wouldn’t listen to me anyway. Host: Okay, so when you’re cracking them open — and some of the — some of the first times you were actually — you — now you have scientists that have their hands on these lunar samples — the first time. Ryan Zeigler: They better not. Host: Well, oh, okay. They have — they have protective gloving — gloves and — Ryan Zeigler: Yeah. Sorry, sorry, sorry. Host: Proper equipment to analyze the samples for the first time, first time humans have ever done that. What were some — was some of the first things that they wanted to look at and some of the first things that they found? Ryan Zeigler: So, some of the very first measurements that were done, after the Apollo 11 samples came back, were actually done here. So, the LRL was both the containment facility and the curation facility, but it also had a certain number of built-in instruments to do some of these initial preliminary examinations. And one of them was to look at the radiation in the sample. Now everyone hears radiation and thinks, Chernobyl or — no, what they’re trying to see is the natural radiation that every rock has. And so, they built a special pit underneath Building 37 that was lined with dunnite, a special type of rock from Earth, battleship armor from pre-nuclear tests. So, the — it could drive down the low levels of natural background radiation. Put the samples in front of a detector and then see just how much radiation was coming off of these. And so that was one of the very first things done. They had a gas lab to see what kind of gases came off it, whether there was a, you know, measuring the solar wind. So, it was — it was measurements like that that were initially done at Johnson Space Center. And then almost immediately after those initial measurements were done, they went out to I think 50 or 60 different groups around the country who were pre-approved, and they all had different stuff they were doing. Host: Unbelievable. So, I guess to work with this and to find out something specific, right, if you wanted to find out something more about radiation, there’s something special that you have to design, something special that you have to do. It’s not just chiseling at it and looking at it and say, ah, there’s the radiation. There’s like this huge — this very unique type of experiment and facility that you have to design. Ryan Zeigler: Right. And that particular facility was both expensive and time-consuming. And so, that was the kind of thing that NASA was going to take on, where — because they could use Apollo money on it. And then other things that didn’t require quite such specialized equipment, that could be done better by the experts in those individual fields at the different universities and other institutions. Host: There you go. Okay, so I’m assuming that one of the main objectives, when you have these samples of moon rocks, is to find out what happened to the moon. What was the formation of the moon? So, does some of your findings support Giant Impact Theory? Ryan Zeigler: I think, at this point, pretty much all of the findings support Giant Impact. Now there’s still — yeah. I mean there’s still a little bit of debate about how big the impactor was, or the exact timing, or — but as far as I know — and I go to all of these conferences, whether I like it or not, I’m — and, you know, keep an eye on these guys. And no, I mean everyone — no one’s arguing about — at these science conference — whether there was a Giant Impact. They’re arguing about the details of the Giant Impact. I know there are one or two holdouts, but that they are being increasingly marginalized, just by the — by the data that’s coming off the samples. Host: So, we can pretty much sit down and say, yeah, it was some kind of Giant Impact Theory that formed it. Ryan Zeigler: At this point, yes. I mean, although if you’d asked me 10 years ago if there was any water on the moon, I would have said absolutely not and everyone agrees on that. And so — but there’s physics involved here and I don’t understand physics because I’m a geologists. But I mean the angular momentum of the Earth-moon system and the spin and all that, that’s really hard to do any other way. And that’s not going to change, like we’re not going to learn how to measure angular momentum better. So, I don’t think the Giant Impact is going away, yeah. Ryan Zeigler: Okay. Okay. That’s fair. So, kind of going back to some of the facilities that you have. I’m imagining — I’m imagining these guys in gloves and you said, oh, no, they’re not going to be touching it. They’re going to be wearing proper equipment and they’re going to be using — you know, they’re going to make sure they’re not — nothing’s going to get contaminated. What does that look like? What is this — you say, bunny suit? Ryan Zeigler: Well, so in our lab, if you want to come and study the samples — so, yeah, you would put on a full bunny suit. Think white polyester suit head-to-toe. Host: Okay. Ryan Zeigler: Basically, a pair of coveralls, cloth gloves, a hat. Not — we don’t have to wear masks most of the time. And then over boots. And then you go into a laboratory that’s sterile — not sterile because they’re — that’s very clean. And then the samples are inside the cabinets. And then you put your hands through neoprene gloves and then if you needed to handle the samples, themselves, on the inside of the neoprene gloves — excuse me — you would put Teflon gloves. And so, you can only touch the samples with Teflon, or aluminum, or steel. So, you would have to actually handle the samples in our laboratory through three layers of gloves, inside of a controlled atmosphere cabinet. Yeah. And so, now not everyone in their own lab has to do that because we have to keep the samples ready for anyone to do anything, as near as we can. If somebody knows that they’re not going to contaminate the samples by handling them in air, what — when I did this at Washington University in Saint Louis, before I came here, we had a clean flow bench. We would take the samples to JSC [inaudible]. We would open them, we would pour them out, then you rinse them off with acetone, you get some of the dust off. Picked them up with tweezers, never touched them with my hands, despite what the pictures show. And then we would get them ready and when we send them off to the reactor to do — to do — to do measurements and stuff like that. So, clean space, controlled atmosphere, but not a controlled atmosphere — sorry. Not inside of a nitrogen glovebox. And that’s — most people don’t have the glove boxes we have. They cost a quarter of a million dollars each and there’s all this infrastructure that goes into it, so. Host: Wow. Ryan Zeigler: Yeah. No. Host: Take your moon rocks very seriously. Ryan Zeigler: Yeah, well we spent 24 billion dollars to bring them back, we ought to — we ought to keep — you know, okay, we’re trying to keep them safe for long term. Host: Exactly. And like you said, you’re still studying them and there’s still a lot of things to be discovered. So, the last thing you need is to — is to waste any of the samples. Ryan Zeigler: You don’t get to have two bad days in curation. You have one bad — you can’t un-contaminate a sample. If something goes wrong and water got on the samples, it’s always going to have had water on it and it will eliminate certain number of measurements. And so, no, we — yeah, you’re right. We do — we have procedures — I mean I used to make fun of procedures before I came to NASA. Now I really make fun of procedures, but I understand why they’re important and why we have them. And so — and we have like 160 of them to run the lab and all the different things we have to do to them. Yeah. Host: Wow. Ryan Zeigler: Yeah. Auditors love us because we’ve got everything written down. It’s great. Yeah. Host: Okay. So, then that brings me to the thought that there’s a finite number of — or finite amount of moon rocks that you have. So, how do you keep track of it? How do you make sure that you have — that you’re taking advantage of this finite amount? Ryan Zeigler: With great effort. So, every sample that we loan to a scientist to do study on — to do a study on, we keep track of. And everything’s a loan and they have to return it. So, if they destroy it, as part of the analysis, then great, then they have better have had permission to do that. Then that’s great, we mark that off. But anything else, they would study, and they would come back. And so, once a year, I send them all an inventory, and they have to check off and they say, yes, I have all these samples or no I don’t, in which case bad things happen. And no one ever says, no, I don’t. They’re very, very conscientious. And so, 125 inventories a year gets sent out and I have to — you know, we all – we all take care of it. Now we do in — an internal inventory with JSC security where once a year — or once every other year, they come by and they ask us to find every sample for them. And so — yeah, no. And so, we have to meet the same bar as everyone else, just every other year, because we have 100,000 samples and most scientists have 50 or 100, so. Host: So, the interesting thing about the moon rocks is that you’re still — you’ve collected them so long ago but you’re still finding stuff out, right? And so — so what are the — some of the more recent findings that you’ve been having? Ryan Zeigler: Well, one of the more recent findings that has come out and in the last five or six years was that perhaps the Solar System didn’t form the way we originally thought it did. People noticed that there was a preponderance of samples on the moon that are 3.9 billion years old. Now the age, itself, doesn’t matter to you or me. But within the Solar — and they were all formed by giant impacts. Now 600 million years after the Solar System formed, there shouldn’t be a bunch of giant impacts. Everything should have quieted down by that. So, for — to explain the lunar samples, they had to come up with a new dynamical model for the evolution of the entire Solar System. So, originally, it was — the new one was called the Nice Model because it was formed by a bunch of scientists in Nice, France, which I hope is true or I’m going to get phone calls. And that said that Jupiter, and Saturn, and Uranus, and Neptune all formed in much closer to the Sun. They gravitationally interacted and then they spread out 3.9 million years ago. And when they did that, they took all of the asteroids and comments and spun them around the Solar System and that caused the Giant Impacts. Now people don’t like the Nice Model anymore. Now they have something called the Grand Tack Model, but it doesn’t matter. Any of the models for planetary formation actually have to explain the ages that we see in the Apollo samples. Now the ages, themselves, are actually old. They figured that out early on. But no one noticed how many ages were 3.9 and put two and two together with what it meant for the Solar System, as a whole, until more recently. And so — you know. So, when people ask me what moon rocks can tell you about, I say, well, where Jupiter formed. And they always look at me like I’m lying. Host: Well, it’s kind of amazing how we can find so much about our Solar System, just from studying so close to home. I’ve had a couple conversations with some — some of the meteorite sample curators and like — [ Inaudible ] Host: Yeah, I’ve had conversations with all of them and just the stories that you can find from analyzing these rocks are fantastic. Ryan Zeigler: And it’s really nice because the meteorites are all really old. So, almost all the meteorites are older than all the Apollo samples. And all the Apollo samples are older than the Earth. And so, each of them gives you a different window into how the Solar System formed. And if we only had one, we wouldn’t know the whole story, or even if we only had two. Having all three is really important to understanding how things work. Host: So, looking towards the future, are there missions that you are kind of planning for for possibly extra curation missions or anything that is going back to the moon to analyze something new? Ryan Zeigler: Well, I mean there was just a big announcement yesterday, obviously, that, you know, NASA is refocusing on the moon and I think want to send people back to the moon. And there was some talk about robotic missions, both to do in situ science, science on the surface, but also to hopefully bring back some samples. I stayed at Wash U to be part of the Moonrise Team, which was a new frontiers mission, so a billion dollar mission, to bring back samples back from the far side. We came in second twice to Juneau and OSIRIS-REx, I’m not bitter, especially while I was at the Juneau — at the — at the OSIRIS-REx launch. No. And then this most recent time, they just down selected Caesar and Dragonfly as the finalists for the next round of New Frontiers, so Moonrise won’t go either. But within those two, Caesar is a sample return mission. It is a sample return mission from the surface of a comet. So, there was a Rosetta Mission by Europe and it went and it — you know, it went into orbit around a comet. And then sent a lander and then studied that and I don’t know that much about it. And I don’t know that much about Caesar yet because it’s brand new. But their plan is to bring back samples from the surface, both gas and ice, and I think rock samples, back from the surface of a comet, to Johnson Space Center, where we will curate them. So, we’re going to have to figure out how to curate gas and ice. Host: Oh, yeah. Ryan Zeigler: And it’s not that we don’t have an idea. We do but we have never had to do it before. And so, we’re going to spend the next — luckily, we have about 15 years to build up the capabilities to get ready for that. Host: Okay, so capabilities in terms of facilities. Ryan Zeigler: Right. So, I mean keeping ice cold is easy. There’s lots of ice labs around the country. But if you want to treat that ice like we treat rocks, where you’re going to subdivide it, and that’s different. If you want to work on it cold, that’s harder. And also, there’s cold and then there’s cold. So, minus 20, great, that’s easy. We can do that with a freezer. Minus 80, oh, that takes robotics and [inaudible] minus 160, like do you really want to keep it like the temperatures on the comet, itself? And these are things we still don’t know all the answers to and we don’t even know the requirements yet. But this is going to be what we spend the next decade figuring out. Host: Okay. All right. Well, best of luck to you. Ryan Zeigler: Yeah. Yeah. Host: It’s going to be a long process. Ryan, thank you so much for coming on. That was — that was fantastic to learn about everything — all these moon rocks. I’ve been dying to have this conversation. Ryan Zeigler: It was my pleasure. Host: Fantastic. And it’s crazy what the moon rocks can tell you, just from looking at these and that we’re still finding stuff out and just, you know, the story of water that has to — you have to rethink these thoughts that — and findings from decades ago because there’s something new that we found. So, it’ll be interesting to see what comes up in the future. Ryan Zeigler: Yeah. Absolutely. Host: All right. Very cool. Thanks for coming on. Ryan Zeigler: All right. My pleasure. [ Music ] Host: Hey, thanks for sticking around. So, today, we talked with Ryan Ziegler about moon rocks and the facilities that are keeping them. And honestly, we’re still hurting so much from these rocks. If you want to know more about the rocks, you can go to the ARES site, that’s our Astromaterials group. It’s ares.jsc.nasa.gov. You can go to that site also to find out how to get your hands on a meteorite sample if you actually want to study meteorites or moon rocks. On social media, you can follow the NASA Johnson Space Center accounts or the Astromaterials accounts, they have their own on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. You can go to any one of those accounts and use the hashtag ask NASA to submit an idea or question for the show or for I guess any other reason. But if you want it to be brought right here on Houston, we have a podcast, just make sure to mention the show, and then we’ll actually bring it on, maybe answer it, or dedicate an entire episode to it. We have done in the past. This podcast episode was recorded on February 14, 2018. Thanks to Alex Perryman, and Tracy Calhoun, and Jenny Knotts. Thanks again to Dr. Ryan Zeigler for coming on the show. We’ll be back next week.
This artist’s concept puts solar system distances in perspective. The scale bar is in astronomical units, with each set distance beyond 1 AU representing 10 times the previous distance. One AU is the distance from the sun to the Earth, which is about 93 million miles or 150 million kilometers. Neptune, the most distant planet from the sun, is about 30 AU. Informally, the term "solar system" is often used to mean the space out to the last planet. Scientific consensus, however, says the solar system goes out to the Oort Cloud, the source of the comets that swing by our sun on long time scales. Beyond the outer edge of the Oort Cloud, the gravity of other stars begins to dominate that of the sun. The inner edge of the main part of the Oort Cloud could be as close as 1,000 AU from our sun. The outer edge is estimated to be around 100,000 AU. NASA’s Voyager 1, humankind’s most distant spacecraft, is around 125 AU. Scientists believe it entered interstellar space, or the space between stars, on Aug. 25, 2012. Much of interstellar space is actually inside our solar system. It will take about 300 years for Voyager 1 to reach the inner edge of the Oort Cloud and possibly about 30,000 years to fly beyond it. Alpha Centauri is currently the closest star to our solar system. But, in 40,000 years, Voyager 1 will be closer to the star AC +79 3888 than to our own sun. AC +79 3888 is actually traveling faster toward Voyager 1 than the spacecraft is traveling toward it. The Voyager spacecraft were built and continue to be operated by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in Pasadena, Calif. Caltech manages JPL for NASA. The Voyager missions are a part of NASA’s Heliophysics System Observatory, sponsored by the Heliophysics Division of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. For more information about Voyager, visit: www.nasa.gov/voyager and voyager.jpl.nasa.gov . Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech NASA image use policy. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center enables NASA’s mission through four scientific endeavors: Earth Science, Heliophysics, Solar System Exploration, and Astrophysics. Goddard plays a leading role in NASA’s accomplishments by contributing compelling scientific knowledge to advance the Agency’s mission. Follow us on Twitter Like us on Facebook Find us on Instagram
NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) has found three confirmed exoplanets, or worlds beyond our solar system, in its first three months of observations. The mission’s sensitive cameras also captured 100 short-lived changes — most of them likely stellar outbursts — in the same region of the sky. They include six supernova explosions whose brightening light was recorded by TESS even before the outbursts were discovered by ground-based telescopes. The new discoveries show that TESS is delivering on its goal of discovering planets around nearby bright stars. Using ground-based telescopes, astronomers are now conducting follow-up observations on more than 280 TESS exoplanet candidates. The first confirmed discovery is a world called Pi Mensae c about twice Earth’s size. Every six days, the new planet orbits the star Pi Mensae, located about 60 light-years away and visible to the unaided eye in the southern constellation Mensa. The bright star Pi Mensae is similar to the Sun in mass and size. Next is LHS 3884b, a rocky planet about 1.3 times Earth’s size located about 49 light-years away in the constellation Indus, making it among the closest transiting exoplanets known. The star is a cool M-type dwarf star about one-fifth the size of our Sun. Completing an orbit every 11 hours, the planet lies so close to its star that some of its rocky surface on the daytime side may form pools of molten lava. The third — and possibly fourth — planets orbit HD 21749, a K-type star about 80 percent the Sun’s mass and located 53 light-years away in the southern constellation Reticulum. The confirmed planet, HD 21749b, is about three times Earth’s size and 23 times its mass, orbits every 36 days, and has a surface temperature around 300 degrees Fahrenheit (150 degrees Celsius). It is the longest-period transiting planet within 100 light-years of the solar system, and it has the coolest surface temperature of a transiting exoplanet around a star brighter than 10th magnitude, or about 25 times fainter than the limit of unaided human vision. What’s even more exciting are hints the system holds a second candidate planet about the size of Earth that orbits the star every eight days. If confirmed, it could be the smallest TESS planet to date. In its primary two-year mission, TESS will observe nearly the whole sky, providing a rich catalog of worlds around nearby stars. Their proximity to Earth will enable detailed characterization of the planets through follow-up observations from space- and ground-based telescopes. But in its month-long stare into each sector, TESS records many additional phenomena, including comets, asteroids, flare stars, eclipsing binaries, white dwarf stars and supernovae, resulting in an astronomical treasure trove. In the first TESS sector alone, observed between July 25 and Aug. 22, 2018, the mission caught dozens of short-lived, or transient, events, including images of six supernovae in distant galaxies that were later seen by ground-based telescopes. These early observations hold the key to understanding a class of supernovae that serve as an important yardstick for cosmological studies. Type Ia supernovae form through two channels. One involves the merger of two orbiting white dwarfs, compact remnants of stars like the Sun. The other occurs in systems where a white dwarf draws gas from a normal star, gradually gaining mass until it becomes unstable and explodes. Astronomers don’t know which scenario is more common, but TESS could detect modifications to the early light of the explosion caused by the presence of stellar companion.