This is Part II. Dr. Pascal Lee is a planetary scientist with the SETI Institute. He’s also Chairman of the Mars Institute, and Director of the NASA Haughton-Mars Project at NASA Ames Research Center. His research includes the history of water on Mars and planning future human exploration of Mars. Pascal has a Ph.D. in Astronomy and Space Sciences from Cornell University.
In Part I, we chatted about his background and how he became a planetary scientist. We had just started discussing the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), when an internet outage stopped us cold. So I invited Pascal to return for Part II and discuss his analysis of the Drake Equation and its implications for the existence of other advanced, intelligent life in our galaxy.
The Star Trek TV shows and movies have had a pervasive effect on our culture, language and space technologies. This extensive article at Space.com looks at the history of the franchise and its real-life impact on space exploration. From the article: “Star Trek also has generated a diverse fan base, some of whom create limited episode productions for themselves. Conventions continue to attract thousands of fans who are eager to rub elbows with actors, writers and other people who worked on the various series and movies. The franchise celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2016 and continues to live long and prosper.”
Kurt Hughes, in Seattle, has used his boat design experience to construct a 250 square foot (23 square meter) tiny house in the style of the lunar lander used in the U.S. Apollo program. It features a kitchenette, breakfast alcove (with a view), bathroom and sleeping quarters. The home will be used for “weekend trips and creative respites.” The photos are great, so take a look.
In September 2016, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Rosetta space probe crashed into comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Here’s a video from the spacecraft’s camera as it approaches. It shows the comet’s surface up close as Rosetta plunges in. (Courtesy Digg.) It’s very cool.
Because of they way they’re photographed, we don’t often get a good perspective on how big modern rockets are. For example, the SpaceX Falcon 9 is 230 ft (70 meters) tall. The SpaceX BFR rocket is 348 ft. (106 meters) tall. What does that really mean in everyday terms? In this video, a VFX artist, with great style, puts the size of these rockets into perspective for us. (Those who’ve been to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida will understand.)
Here’s a nice collection, “The Week’s Coolest Space Images.” From spectacular dunes on Mars to the Guatemala volcano eruption. photos like these help us visualize and tell a story that can’t be appreciated with just words. And they also punctuate the importance of satellites that can observe the surface of planets. Not to mention the science. Check it out.
Dr. Alan Stern is a planetary scientist with the Southwest Research Institute. He’s also the co-founder and chief scientist of World View, working with high altitude balloon research. He is perhaps most famous as the principle investigator for NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto. Way back in grade school, Alan was interested in space exploration and wanted to be a part of the Star Trek future. He received his Ph.D. in planetary science from the University of Colorado, and that launched his life-long interest in Kuiper Belt Objects and the Oort Cloud. He’s a licensed pilot, was selected by NASA as a Payload Specialist, and has flown research missions in high performance jet aircraft. We talked about his career, the New Horizons mission design, Pluto discoveries (and planetary classification) and his latest research.
Let’s say you could travel 50 light years from Earth, or maybe 100. What would you hear? That’s exactly what Lightyear.fm shows us, and it’s eerily awesome. The site’s developers used more than 120 years of data from Billboard to simulate the radio transmissions we’d hear—assuming the inverse square law of propagation didn’t exist, of course. What they came up with is akin to taking an FM radio on the Starship Enterprise and warping away from Earth. Listening to more recent songs is cool, but I loved the surreal sensation of feeling like I’m 100 light years from Earth catching hollow sounding early radio transmissions.
Elon Musk isn’t the only CEO who has his eyes on reusable, commercial space vehicles. Recently, Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos floated a white paper to NASA management that outlines a plan to send as much as 10,000 pounds of cargo, in a lunar lander, to the moon in a single trip. It’s called Blue Origin. The target would be near the Moon’s south pole, the Shackleton Crater, where there are sections of permanent sunlight that may also harbor ice, key to a permanent human base. It all sounds very Robert Heinlein-esque, these billionaires setting out on new commercial missions. Very cool.
Dr. Phil Plait is an astronomer and a very popular science communicator. His blog, Bad Astronomy, “covers the entire universe, from subatomic particles to the Big Bang itself, astronomy, space exploration, and the effect of politics on science.” Like many young astronomers, Phil’s interest in astronomy ignited when he first saw Saturn and its rings through a telescope. He earned his Ph.D. working on the study of supernovae with the Hubble Space Telescope. We chatted about his career, his enduring work in amateur astronomy with his telescope, his love for science communication, why people who don’t believe in the Apollo moon landings are wrong, the study of a potentially dangerous asteroid or comet collision with Earth, how climate change is affecting us, and the recent discovery of a nearby solar system with Earth-like planets.
The history of space flight is amazing, especially when you take into account the vast distances between planets and the complex flight paths spacecraft take to get to their otherworldly destinations. Pop Chart Lab does a great job of showing what humans have accomplished in their beautiful Chart of Cosmic Exploration. The 39-inch by 27-inch color print details the routes for about 100 different craft that have gone to the Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto. The print costs US$38 and you can pick it up at the Pop Chart Lab website.