I did a fun interview this week with contributing editor Erick Trickey of Experience Magazine. Experience is an online publication based at Northeastern University in Boston. The magazine features stories about people’s experiences with new technology and the changes it brings to our lives.
I really enjoyed the interview. Erick’s questions were thought-provoking. Besides asking me about my experiences in space, he also asked my thoughts on emerging innovations.
Here are my answers to a few of his questions. For the full interview (which is part of Experience’s January issue on the Air + Space theme), go to this web site.
What are three technological advances on the horizon that you think will change space travel?
Ion propulsion systems will speed up travel within the inner solar system. The thrust from an ion thruster is low compared to a chemical rocket, but it can be operated continuously and the spacecraft can therefore build up large velocities. This will reduce travel times to interplanetary destinations.
In-situ resource utilization will allow future astronauts to produce consumables they need from local space-based resources, rather than bring them along from Earth. Breathable oxygen, potable water, and rocket propellant, for instance, can be derived from the Martian atmosphere and soil.
Landing heavy payloads. The one-ton Curiosity rover is the largest object that we have landed on Mars to date. For a human mission, we’ll need to land 40 tons of equipment and supplies, akin to landing a small two-story house. This decade’s lunar exploration program will provide opportunities for us to develop and test the larger landing systems needed for deep space missions.
A 40-ton cargo lander touches down on the surface of Mars in advance of the crew’s arrival. Courtesy NASA
What’s the biggest ethical conundrum we face when it comes to emerging technology?
Does the ability to edit the genetic code of humans mean that we should do so? Does the ability to cheaply launch mega-constellations of broadband satellites into low Earth orbit mean that we should? Before adopting these technologies, society needs to consider and regulate the unintended consequences.
What’s your favorite movie about space, and why?
Aargh! It’s unfair to ask me to choose my favorite space movie. I have so many. I really enjoyed the movie The Martian. I liked how the astronaut Mark Watney, played by Matt Damon, solved a series of complex problems in order to survive on the red planet until a rescue mission could be launched. Resourcefulness and an encyclopedic knowledge of science are well depicted in the movie as necessary astronaut traits. The movie also gave us a foretaste of the technologies – rover, habitat, ascent vehicle – that will be required to enable the first human mission to Mars.
(Note: Go to this link if you would like to read the rest of the interview.)