Personal – Meeting Current Heroes & Cultivating Future Ones [WOMADelaide]

 

Some times there are months that seem to drag out relentlessly without the slightest movement. No matter what you do, opportunities seem scarce, unnecessarily tough to exploit, and the effort you put in doesn’t seem to balance with what you get in return. The days draw out and you wonder if it’s worth it , if you’re making an impact and improving the world by being in it.
And then there are times like this…
I flew into Perth after nearly 2 weeks in Kuala Lumpur – trying to break the emotional slog of being in Perth for 4 months while reconnecting with an old girlfriend living there. As I’d jokingly predicted earlier, reconnecting with the ex went horribly & hilariously wrong – an important reminder to never go back to the carpet store.
The time away certainly broke the slog from the previous few months though: there’s been an incredible surge of opportunities being thrown at me from everywhere, so I’ve been balancing all them with alongside getting myself to Adelaide for the long awaited WOMADelaide festival!
From landing to leaving, I had less than 48 hours in Perth to try and pack up as much of my childhood room as possible, load what I needed for the next month into a bag and a ukulele case, see an old friend, and fly out to Adelaide. Oh yeah, and casually try to submit 7 different abstracts to the 2017 International Astronautical Congress before the May 8th deadline. Generally people attending the conference submit 1 or 2 abstracts at most, and spend the rest of their time networking… but apparently I didn’t get the memo. I don’t even know if I’ll be able to be there yet because IAC2017 may clash with Mars One’s final selection phase, but if I am there I’ll apparently be sharing my nonsense with 7 of the 9 different outreach and education categories – only those at the undergraduate & postgraduate education seminars will be spared.

Me after submitting 7 IAC abstracts in less than 24 hours…

After landing I settled into my hotel the folks from WOMAD had organised, had dinner, and was on my way to speak on a fellow comedian’s podcast when I bumped into yet another ex-girlfriend on the street… at 11pm on a Wednesday night… in a city neither of us live in. The podcast was cancelled to boot, because apparently my life is some lame sitcom now, and to top it all off another friend got in touch the next morning (after a month of total radio silence) to say we shouldn’t talk anymore.
Things shifted gears the following evening though, when the University of South Australia (UniSA) hosted an event where Hi-SEAS IV Commander Carmel Johnston and I spoke to Angela Catterns about life on Mars. Carmel and I have emailed for the last few months, but hadn’t met until just before we took to the stage to speak in front of 800+ people together! We became fast friends, and had a perfectly balanced dynamic on-stage. It’s clear why she was selected to command NASA’s year-long Mars simulation in Hawaii: she’s incredibly personable and empathetic; cool-headed, firm in her convictions, and clear in her personal boundaries; and above all practical in her actions. Exactly the kind of personality you’d want commanding a human mission to Mars.

Angela Catterns (left) interviewing Carmel Johnston (right) and yours truly

The fun didn’t stop after the event though – that’s when the questions really started! UniSA had organised a VIP Meet & Greet with food for us afterwards, but we were so overwhelmed with questions that neither Carmel or I had much of an opportunity to eat. Several schools had been invited to see us speak, so naturally their students were eager to throw a million questions at both of us while we glanced over their shoulders at the disappearing food trays. The folks from UniSA managed to save us a little something to eat once the crowd started to thin-out, but after an hour-long onstage chat immediately followed by 2 hours of Q&A both of us were wrecked by the time we got to eat and head back to the hotel!
The next morning it was time to kick off the “Make Me A Martian” webcast schools event through Australia’s Science Channel! I worked with the folks from Australia’s Science Channel last year when I premiered “Cosmic Nomad” at the Royal Institute of Australia, so it was an absolute pleasure to be back to “compete” with Carmel in a game show designed to test our Mars knowledge while students all over Australia watched via the live webcast. If you missed it, you can watch Carmel thrash me in the habitat design challenge here.
The wonderful folks from Australia’s Science Channel took Carmel and I out to lunch, but my work definitely wasn’t done yet. I’ve been chatting to a production company in the US for the last year about a project involving space and science communication – I can’t talk about it much yet, and it may never go anywhere, but it was certainly exciting to slip back into the studio and film some pieces to camera for what could be an amazing project in the future.
With the side projects complete, it was finally time to get into the WOMADelaide festival itself! Carmel and I headed to Adelaide’s Botanical Gardens for the official opening ceremony for the festival, enjoying the opportunity to meet some of the incredible people involved in the seclusion of the Artist’s area. The personal highlight was briefly meeting Antarctic explorer, Shackleton Epic Leader and personal hero Tim Jarvis:

Tim Jarvis (left) with Barry Grey (right) during their attempt to recreate Shackleton’s epic journey to reach civilisation and rescue the crew of the Endurance

It’s no secret I’m a fan of Earnest Shackleton and of applying the leadership lessons of the Endurance expedition to a human Mars mission, so it was a genuine honour to meet and chat to a man who had painstakingly recreated that fateful escape from the Antarctic pack ice to safety. The fact that Tim did all of it alongside a ginger Royal Marine commando isn’t lost on me either!
Finally the event I was in Adelaide for had finally come: the WOMADelaide Planet Talks. Carmel and I had an absolutely amazing time speaking to a sold-out audience about “Human Life On Mars”, and it was an absolute honor to meet and have the event hosted by science communication and radio broadcasting legend Robyn Williams.
There was a little surprise organised after the event however which was a great personal reminder of why I love what I do. In late February I’d seen a post through the Facebook page for Australia’s Science Channel, sharing the story of a 9 year old boy who had written to the Australian Academy of Science asking if it were possible to buy Buzz Aldrin’s signature for his Dad for Christmas…

Click for full size

The Academy unfortunately hadn’t been able to get hold of Buzz, so they’d managed to get Professor Brian Schmidt to sign a poster instead. Now it just so happens that as Chancellor of the International Space University, Buzz Aldrin signs every certificate ISU issues. Which means I – the material good-shunning space hobo that I am – had a signature from Buzz Aldrin on a piece of paper hanging on my wall. Since I’m dedicated to reducing my footprint on Earth down a backpack and a ukulele, it was a pretty easy decision to send the Academy a Facebook message and say that I’d like to donate my copy of Buzz’s signature to the family. 
So after we’d finished the Planet Talk, Robyn Williams and I invited Robert up on stage to accept the signature and give it to his Dad. It was pretty wonderful to have the Robert’s family attend the talk, and to be able to donate something which means so much to a family that would have otherwise just hung on my wall at my parents place underappreciated.
All in all it’s been a pretty wild few weeks, but things are really just getting started! I’ve been in Melbourne for the last few days starting the final stage of very personal project that’s been on hold for nearly a year and a half (I’ll share in the next few days what’s going on in a separate post for Patrons-only), and I’m about to jump on a plane to Sydney for a day of filming and TV interviews, zipping out to Canberra for the weekend, and then back to Melbourne for school visits as well as a trip to Perth to visit even more schools. 
Absolutely no idea what I’m doing in April (or with much of the year generally for that matter) but there’s certainly no shortage of exciting opportunities and potential – I’ll keep you posted!

News – March Newsletter

 

March Madness

Ever have those times when you’re working away quietly, maybe not seeing a lot of direct reward for what you’re doing and maybe starting to question if you’re making an impact… when seemingly out of nowhere every thing absolutely explodes in your face and you’re suddenly running to try to keep up with it all? And your response is to throw even more fuel on the fire to see if you can go even faster? 

No? Is that just me? Maybe it’s good I didn’t go into bomb disposal after all…

All my claims last month about “hitting 2017 in the face like a honey badger” have come back to bite me, because now 2017 is giving back more than I bargained for.

There’s a lot of amazing things I can’t share publicly just yet (but can on Patreon), however the biggest public news is that on February 15 the ABC rebroadcast an interview I did on Conversations with Richards Fidler nearly a year ago, and now suddenly every teacher in Australia wants me to speak to their kids!

From March 13th on I’ll be visiting schools in Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Perth to give presentations and do Q&A sessions like this. So if you’re a teacher interested in having me to speak to your students about colonising Mars, or you’re a parents who’d love for me to visit your child’s class, then be sure to get in contactsoon to book before the end of Term 1!

Before I start visiting schools across Australia though I’ll be in Adelaide to speak at the WOMADelaide festival next week! The fine folks from WOMAD have put together a variety of amazing events that team me up with the extraordinary Carmel Johnston – commander of Hi-SEAS IV, NASA’s year-long mock Mars mission in Hawaii.

Together we’ll be speaking about getting to & living on Mars at:

– March 9: “Life On Mars” in conversation with Angela Catterns
– March 10: “Make Me A Martian” webcast with Australia’s Science Channel
– March 11: “Human Life On Mars” in conversation with Robyn Williams

All the Mars One candidates are expecting to hear very soon about when and where the next astronaut selection phase will be, and I’ve also just locked in a bundle of other interesting events later in the year too – stay tuned for updates on all of it that!

And somewhere in among all this chaos I’ve managed to keep things up to date on joshrichards.space – here’s everything I’ve posted publicly over the last month;

  • “Personal – Why I Don’t Get Invited To Writers Festivals Anymore” – Short answer: Mostly because I prefer to tell kids about space toilets & zero-g turds than make polite conversation with poets who think I’m hitting on them
  • “Space – Getting to Mars [Part 1: Overview]” – I’m constantly answering questions about what it might be like to live on Mars, but I’m very rarely asked about the incredible journey to get to Mars. So I’ve kicked off a new series on the trip looking at orbital mechanics, spaceships, the psychology of being in deep space, radiation, and landing people safely on the red planet.

For those of you supporting me on Patreon you’ve had several weeks early access to all the public posts, as well as;

To celebrate the amazing support I’ve had from fans through Patreon since we launched in December, I’m running my first Patreon giveaway this month! I’ll be giving away Martian t-shirt & hats, posters and all sorts of goodies as well as providing a huge amount of exclusive and behind-the-scenes content for supporters as I visit the WOMADelaide festival and speak in schools all around Australia this month.

I’ll launch the giveaway on Monday, but it’ll only be open to Patreon supporters – if you’re not one yet this is definitely the month to sign up!

The $25/month Patron level is ram packed with goodies. These patrons now get:
  • Early access to my “Becoming Martian” book drafts,
  • A personal acknowledgement in the final book,
  • A digital copy AND a signed paperback copy when it’s published,
  • AND all the private journal entries and other private content I share.

February has been crazy, March is going to be absolutely out-of-control, and right now I have literally no idea where I’ll be or what I’ll be doing in April… but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Every day I’m writing about space as well as speaking to kids and adults about exploring beyond the world they know, so whatever insane thing happens next I know I’m doing something I love.

Keep an eye on the website for regular posts, Patreon for the latest news, as well as Facebook & Twitter – can’t wait to see all the chaos unfold this month!

Stay awesome,
Josh

post

Personal – Why I Don’t Get Invited To Writers Festivals Anymore…

In October 2014 I was at the National Young Writer’s Festival in Newcastle, standing awkwardly by the snacks at the opening Meet and Greet event and trying to decide who looked friendly enough to fulfill the “Meet” component of this little soiree. By blocking the corn chips just long enough I accidentally made eye-contact with someone after a nacho cheese fix, introduced myself, then asked what she was doing at the festival: “I’m a poet. I’m running two workshops and doing a late night reading. What about you?” I told her, to which she replied “You’re not an astronaut – that is THE WORST pickup line I’ve ever heard”, then stalked off with corn chip dust all over her fingers and nose.

Sorry, I should probably introduce myself to you too. Hi! My name is Josh: I’m a 31-year-old physicist and comedian. I served as an explosives specialist with the Australian Army and British Royal Marine Commandos, then left the military to work in the UK as a stand-up comic and radio presenter. In 2012 I was writing a comedy show about sending people one-way to Mars when I discovered an international organisation planning to actually do it. So now I’m one of 100 people short-listed from over 200,000 applications worldwide to become the first colonists on Mars in 2031 and never come back. Right now though that mostly means I perform science comedy and speak in schools about how I’m willing to go to Mars one-way because it will change who we are as a species.

It also means I write articles about space exploration, and I’m currently editing my book on how becoming a dual planet species will change us in body, mind and soul. Which is why I was at a writers’ festival. It’s also why I was standing next to the Doritos, feeling out of place.

Most of the time I don’t immediately tell people I’m an astronaut candidate – ‘comedian’ is far less threatening. One-way missions to Mars are great for hooking people’s attention when you’re performing or writing, but it tends to shut down casual conversation pretty quickly. It always depends on who you’re speaking to though: when you’re at a writers’ festival to talk about colonising Mars ‘astronaut candidate’ is what you lead with. When you’re explaining to Peter Hellier what a Hohmann transfer is by comparing Courtney Love to a black hole, you’re a ‘comedian’ and ‘maniac’. And when you’re visiting a primary school because a science teacher saw you on TV talking to Hellier, you become a ‘science communicator’ who uses a merry-go-round metaphor to explain orbital mechanics, instead of Courtney Love.

Every time I visit a school though, some kid is guaranteed to ask me how you shit in space. EVERY. TIME. Of course they don’t say it that way, it’s “How do you go to the toilet in space?” But a quick Google image search – which I know they’ve already done – proves there’s a variety of zero-g hose systems for both male and female astronauts to urinate into. So what these kids are really asking is “How do you shit in space?” In the 60s the Apollo astronauts crapped into plastic bags then kneaded the bag (by hand) to work a bacteria-eating powder through it, because if they didn’t knead it properly the bag would fill with gas and explode. The space shuttle actually had something to sit on, but since things don’t flush in zero-g, the ‘toilet’ was basically a seat over a blender that used air-jets to push solid waste downwards. Yes, it would break. Yes, turds would escape the bowl and float around the spaceship.

How could you NOT tell kids this though? Kids ask because they don’t know, because how we shit is something kids (and a lot of adults) laugh about, and they want to hear stories about it. Space toilets are insanely complicated pieces of engineering, but kids don’t care – they want a story about shitting in space. Adults want to know too but are usually too polite to ask, so I’ve written a book they can read on the train and look intelligent reading because it has Mars on the cover. It sounds cheap, but if it takes toilet humour to explain a complex topic like space science, then I’m happy to share stories about exploding turd bags with people of any age.

The brilliant yet terrifying thing about public speaking and live comedy is immediately sensing if the audience is interested or amused, so you learn to adapt your performance and material as you perform it. Stand-up was how I learnt to turn things that interest me into things that are funny. At its core the challenge with writing is no different though: work out who your audience is, what they want and are familiar with, then connect your topic to that and make the audience feel something. Laughter, anger, disgust – whatever. Writing also gives you the luxury of time to twist yourself up over every syllable, in exchange for unloving silence when you write a great joke.

By the way, I genuinely wasn’t trying to pick up Dorito-fingers at the writers festival, but I DID describe our awkward exchange an hour later as I was chatting up someone I was actually interested in. Because if I’m going to leave Earth for good in 2031 then there’s no way I’m missing the chance to use “I’m a candidate for the first human mission to Mars” to get geek girls interested, make people of all ages people learn and laugh, and at least try to get laid occasionally.

Hopefully everyone will believe me when I say I’m just doing it for the species.