Space – IAC 2017 Wrap-Up

Much of 2017 so far has been about just keeping my head down to work constantly at specific projects while waves of chaos have crashed down around me, while I try to catch a few quick breaths before the next wave. Between speaking across Australia, touring the US and Canada,  publishing my first book, serving as a media ambassador for National Science Week, a NASA Social event for Cassini, then leaping straight into writing and presenting an academic conference paper… there’s no doubting I’ve been incredibly productive, but it’s definitely not been pleasant. Thankfully I knew months in advance that I really just needed to keep it together till the end of September: once the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide was finished on September 29th the rest of 2017 was relatively clear, and I could finally take some time to process what has been a fairly insane 2 years.

Going into the conference though, I knew I was already wrecked. I also knew I’d become quite jaded with Australia’s space industry and science education/communication institutions. While the word “innovative” gets thrown around a lot at their heart they’re both are quite conservative, so I’ve gotten tired of regularly being taken advantage of or being dismissed by both because I operate as a freelancer and outside of a larger Australian-based institution. I’d even developed the not-so-joking nickname of “Space Grinch” the week before getting to Adelaide because I was struggling to match the enthusiasm pretty much everyone around me had for the conference. Besides seeing a few friends and Elon Musk’s talk, IAC2016 in Guadalajara felt mostly like a week of “old space” throwing around buzzwords and trying to hire new engineering graduates to do the same shit their companies have been doing for 30+ years, so why would IAC2017 be any better? In fact with such a small and hyper-competitive space industry in Australia and such loud calls for the formation of a space agency, IAC2017 was likely to be even worse for someone like me as others jostled and fought to leverage the conference to position themselves for a job in a future Australian space agency.

Then you have to add in that during 2017 I’ve grown to genuinely despise much of the SGAC – the “Space Generation Advisory Council”, which is supposed to be a global not-for-profit to represent space professionals under 35 (eg. me). It should be something I would want to support unequivocally, and I whole-heartedly support their mission statement of providing a younger voice in shaping the future of space exploration, but ever since I heard about SGAC in 2014 something has smelled off about it. Now having been close to someone who’s a representative of SGAC for awhile and seen the abysmal way they’ve been treated by “more established” members though, it’s pretty clear that there’s an in-crowd who use their positions purely to further their own careers through scholarships and as an entry point for leadership positions in the IAF.

I wasn’t alone in Adelaide though – while I may avoid contact with some of ISU’s faculty and administration these days, I’m still incredibly close to some of my fellow alumni, staff and former Summer program students from Adelaide and Haifa, so I was excited to catchup with many of them and see their conference paper presentations. I’d also been asked to feature on IAC TV, hosted by the wonderful folks at Australia’s Science Channel at the Royal Institute of Australia. I also had my own conference paper to present on using comedians and storytellers for wide-spread space science engagement too, which while stressful to develop would serve as a beautiful bookend to my efforts over the last 5 years to communicate space science to adults. We’d also be hearing much more concrete plans for SpaceX from Elon Musk – building on his inspiring but detail-light presentation at IAC2016 in Guadalajara on his new rocket for Mars colonisation.

So with all of this in mind, I turned up to IAC last week exhausted and with some pretty mixed feelings about the whole thing…

Day 1 – Monday September 25

Most of us were already tired before we even started, having arrived 5 days earlier to try to catch up with friends who were taking part in the 3-day SGAC event before the main conference started. Turning up at the Adelaide convention centre nice and early, I decided to avoid the crowds fighting for the best seats to the opening gala and headed into the near deserted exhibition hall. And who would I find cruising casually around in there? Only the Curiosity rover…

While the “real” rover is obviously science-ing hard on Mars, NASA always builds an “un-flown” twin of their rovers for troubleshooting that they also occasionally fly around the world for exhibitions. I couldn’t hang out with Curiosity for long though because the Opening Ceremony’s theatre was filling fast, and as it was the few of us who got seats wound up right at the back while many of my friends had to watch it on TVs in overflow rooms downstairs!

It was a nice surprise, but not a huge surprise, to have the formation of an Australian Space Agency announced at the IAC’s opening ceremony. The news had filtered out to the media a few hours earlier and a variety of articles had already been published, but the Senator still received a significant applause break when he confirmed it at the ceremony. Many of us have been campaigning hard for an agency for years, and many of the folks who have been shaping the dialogue around an agency were also involved in organising the 2017 IAC in Adelaide. The ceremony itself was pretty incredible – especially the Welcome to Country – but I’m still not sure I understand the bit with the little girl using a Hill Hoist to go into space… it looked a lot a ballerina playing Goon of Fortune.

While most of the 4000+ conference participants used the time after the opening ceremony to explore the exhibition hall before the technical sessions started that afternoon, I headed back to the apartment to run through last minute preparations because was going to be presenting at one of those afternoon technical sessions!

“E1.6 –  Calling Planet Earth – Space Outreach to the General Public” was dedicated to activities, programs and strategies for engaging the general public rather than formal education programs. Given I’ve spent the last 5 years in Australia writing/performing science-comedy shows about space exploration, this was my place to shine.

This paper was a really great opportunity to summarise all the outreach I’ve done since coming back to Australia in early 2013 and honestly acknowledge the absurd amount of people I’ve engaged with space science in that time. When you’re working alone doing something fairly unique but are surrounded by people doing related work that’s supported by institutions, it can be really easy to lose perspective I think no one gives a shit about what you’re doing – that all your efforts aren’t noticed, appreciated or effective. Being forced to look back through 5 years of effort and reflect honestly on what I’ve achieved puts it all back in perspective though. When you calculate you’ve coordinated more than 50 global events over 5 years with an average of 120+ people attending each event, that you were the key player in a 5-day art installation that more than 50,000 people saw in person and another 95 million engaged with online, published a book available in 38 countries, and that’s all excluding the ~100,000 kids you’ve spoken to as part of school events at the same time… it becomes difficult to take anyone’s criticism seriously or to feel sorry for yourself 😉

With exhaustion already setting in and the pressure to present my paper suddenly relieved, I was ready to completely bail on the evening drinks at the Opening Reception. I’m glad I stuck around long enough to enjoy the tiny cocktail food and catch up with a few friends, but it was certainly a relief to crash into bed around midnight at the end of a long first day.

Day 2 – Tuesday September 26

It’s not like I could sleep in though – we had a 7am breakfast for the Space Industry Association of Australia (SIAA) to get to!

With minimal sleep I was running on emotional fumes and caffeine at this point, so while it was great to be at the breakfast to celebrate the amazing effort the SIAA has made representing the Australian space industry I was mostly there in body rather than mind. What did snap me out of my fugue state was having someone from NASA interrupt the speeches to deliver a soft-toy koala to Michael Davis (Chairman of SIAA) on stage, and then announce that the koala had just come back from space after 6 months on the International Space Station! Michael immediately donated the koala to Nova Systems director Peter Nikoloff, and Peter wandered around the conference for the rest of the week letting any idiot who asked to get a selfie with a space-koala…

I knew that Wednesday was going to be a huge day and I needed to catch up on emails/sleep, but there was no way I was going to miss the “A5.2 –  Human Exploration of Mars” technical session. Especially when John Connolly – my former boss and now lead of NASA’s Mars Study Capability team – was going to be delivering NASA’s updated plans for getting humans to Mars.

I’ve heard John give a version of this talk 3-4 times over the last few years, and while it wasn’t radically different from previous versions, there was one stand-out change: shifting from a crew size of 6 down to 4. Every NASA Mars mission architecture that I’m aware of has aimed to send crews of 6 or even 8 people at a time, which has created issues with designing a launch vehicle to get back off the surface to come back to Earth: more people ~ heavier capsule. Dropping the crew size to 4 means NASA’s latest Mars mission design is now inline with Mars One’s plans… although they still want to bring them back after 2 years 😉

There were all sorts of social events going on Tuesday night, and I got invites to them, but there was no way the Space Grinch was going to socialise – I disappeared back to the apartment to nap, catch-up on my overflowing inbox, and not look at other human beings for a few hours.

Day 3 – Wednesday September 27

I’d planned to be at another 7am breakfast, but there was no way THAT was happening. My two flatmates both had their most stressful presentations on that morning – Matt presenting his PhD research at the Japanese space agency, and Lisa presenting her Masters outreach work through the Questacon Science Circus – so I focused on trying to make their morning was as stress-free as possible and filming their presentations. Matt was first up presenting his research on how reducing the temperature rocket engines operate at can significantly extend their lifespans.

With SpaceX now consistently reusing launched rocket boosters, understanding how to reduce the amount of damage each launch does to the engine bells means that instead of a booster being used for up to a dozen launches as Elon Musk has spoken about for his Falcon 9 boosters, the kind of research that Matthew is doing at JAXA means that future boosters could be reliably reused for hundreds launches.

Packing up the camera, I bolted upstairs to where Lisa was going to be setting herself on fire in the newly established “E1.8 – Hands-on Space Education and Outreach” session, added this year to the education and outreach stream.

While Lisa managed not to singe anything setting her hands on fire to demonstrate the heat capacity of water, the audience were a little less willing to volunteer after a demonstration of vacuum power went awry and a postcard holding a glass of water slipped and soaked some kid who’d foolishly volunteered to be involved. After drenching the kid, she then made 6 people from the audience hold hands as she shocked them with static electricity, so obviously the rest of the audience were feeling pretty shy when she then asked for a final volunteer to help with a rocket launch… so somehow I wound up doing it, having a pressurised water bottle fired at me along a length of washing line while I was supposed to “catch it”.

I kept the Space Grinch persona up through most of it, but I have to admit the whole thing waspretty fun 😀

It was a huge relief for both Matt and Lisa to have their most important presentations done, and we headed out for lunch with some fellow ISU alumni. But while Matt could now relax, Lisa and I had to get ready to feature on IAC TV’s “Space After Five” aka “Space AF”!

You can watch the full video here, but it was great talking about one-way missions to Mars alongside someone who’s aiming to be the first Martian gardener. Wednesday still wasn’t done though, because almost immediately after the broadcast was the official ISU alumni meetup! After a few heated words with some of the France-based administration staff trying to block my students from ISU’s Southern Hemisphere program from coming in because they’d never met them before, we all managed to crowd into a very small bar, celebrate the 30th anniversary since ISU’s founding with a birthday cake, and then get the inevitable alumni group photos…

Top image: Students of the 2014 Southern Hemisphere Summer Space Program. Bottom Image: Students of the 2016 Southern Hemisphere Summer Space Program, with John Connolly and myself as staff

it was great to see a few folks and  avoid a few others, grab some delicious pizza and get a few photos… but grandfather space grinch was getting pretty sick of space people at this point, so I headed home while the others kicked on into the night.

Day 4 – Thursday September 28

Thursday started so well. I had a decent night’s sleep, completed everything I’d agreed to do, seen most of the folks I’d wanted to see and given up on trying to impress anyone else – I was totally free to float around and go to whatever presentations or technical sessions I felt like, and on Thursday morning I felt like going to the “SETI and Society” technical session.

Paul Davies is a childhood science hero of mine, so seeing he was chairing this session made going to it a no-brainer. As soon as I arrived it was clear that Professor Davies wasn’t there, but what I got instead was completely worth it. After an opening lecture on how “social media and the degeneration of journalism is the greatest modern threat to serious SETI research”, we had an obituary lecture on an Australian SETI researcher and STEM advocate who’d died from a brain tumour in the mid-90’s, a lecture on the legal aspects of defining alien intelligence and what rights ET would have, and a presentation on von Neumann machines and the Fermi paradox that included slides composed almost entirely of close-up views of kids toys. Without sugar-coating it, this was without doubt the most bonkers 90 minutes of an especially bizarre week. I decided a few months ago that once I’ve written Cosmic Nomad on how Mars One has changed my life, my third book will be about SETI and what kind of message we’d send aliens if we were to ever make contact, and I cannot wait to interview some of these folks for it because it’ll be utterly hysterical.

Before the conference started I’d originally planned to use Thursday afternoon for a nap to try to catch up before the inevitable madness of Friday’s “Elon Musk/After Party” combo, but after easing back on Wednesday and the laughs of the SETI session had brought I was keen to keep soaking up interesting technical sessions. I’d had my paper for “E1.9 – Public Engagement in Space Through Culture” rejected because apparently comedy isn’t “culture”, but was keen to see artists like Aoife van Linden Tol (using explosives for space science art events) and Sarah Jane Pell (using performance art to connect sea, space and the human experience) share their art alongside the large-scale engagement programs run by ESA using cartoons for the Rosetta Probe.

I’m not going to say that I saw or heard anything that is going to radically influence my own work in the future, but it was definitely interesting to see the kind of art practices other people are following to engage audiences with space science.

Day 5 – Friday September 29

This was always going to be the biggest day of the conference, so each and every one of us was pacing ourselves right from the start. Some folks had their eyes set only on Elon Musk’s talk and the closing ceremony, so they grabbed a coffee and started lining up for Elon’s 1pm talk at 10:30am.

I was keen for Elon’s talk too, but had mischief in mind before hand. Two of my more ridiculous former students from ISU were presenting before Elon’s talk on the cost of clearing space junk using reuseable rockets – quite a reasonable proposition – while trying to squeeze as many Rick and Morty references into their talk as possible. With two of my favourite idiots trying to keep straight faces while dropping “Awww jeez” in the middle of a very serious technical session on space junk mitigation, I was obviously compelled to go along and ask questions designed to make them crack.

After about a dozen “Awww jeez” and even a couple of “Merge” references, the confused session chair took the microphone off me, their presenation finished, and all of us made for the door… to find it locked and guarded by a fairly zealous volunteer.

Turns out that security had put entire sections of the building into lockdown to prevent unauthorized people from getting into the room where Elon Musk would be delivering his talk – the only way out of this viper pit of agitated space junk professionals was to use the doors at the front of the room directly between the speaker and the presentation screen. There was no way any of us were leaving until atleast the next speaker was done. About 10 of us stood awkwardly near the locked door at the back of the room, watching a presentation the speaker knew none of us wanted to be there, but all being cautiously watched by the volunteer to make sure none of us made a break into the locked down area on the other side. As the speaker finished up, a radio call came through saying that the lockdown had been lifted… or was that going to be lifted?

Some of my work with the Army I’m still not allowed to share, but parts of it involved learning how to exploit communication breakdowns and using social engineering to get into places I really wasn’t supposed to be. The details aren’t important, but a moments confusion over whether the lock-down was in place was all it took to find myself in the middle of a reception area that at the time was strictly off-limits ahead of Elon’s talk… while friends who had lined up for 2 hours glared at me through the guarded glass doors mouthing “WHAT THE FUCK?” over the shoulders of security guards looking the wrong way. When the doors opened 20 minutes later I blended back into the crowd, texted directions to some friends hiding out in the toilets, before a dozen of us somehow wound up in the roped off VIP seating…

It was absolutely fantastic to hear a more detailed view of SpaceX’s BFR (“Big Fucking Rocket” incase you’re wondering) and to see a dialing back from the engineering insanity shown at IAC2016 in Guadalajara to something that is still crazy but a little more feasible. I’m obviously watching all the developments at SpaceX with my Mars One hat on, and the aspect that has always interested me about BFR is that they’ll need crews to land initially to setup a methane production unit before anyone can talk about launching from Mars back to Earth. It’s almost like you would need a contingent of people willing to potentially go one way to Mars to land first and set things up before return trips become possible… Elon Musk has also repeatedly said that SpaceX is all about providing the launch infrastructure for exploring the solar system, but not in training astronauts. Just imagine if there were a company selecting and training future Mars colonists who would all be prepared to go to Mars one-way that could partner with SpaceX to provide the personnel to build the Mars surface infrastructure for return missions…

After seeing the closing ceremony in Guadalajara the year before I knew I wouldn’t be missing much besides a bunch of award presentations if I skipped it, so I did a quick interview with ABC Adelaide about Musk’s presentation before a bunch of us piled into a bar and then a dumpling house to start the end-of-conference celebrations before the conference had even ended. While most folks headed to the Closing Night Dinner, Space Grinch headed back to the apartment after a quick detour to the bottle shop – settling in for some quiet before everyone else turned up.

All round it was one hell of a conference, but I was mostly relieved when I left. That final day really marked the end of an epic 5 year loop here in Australia, and the end of an especially stressful 2 years. I’ve been pretty much on the go since I moved out of my shared house in Melbourne at the start of 2016, and IAC2017 was really the final commitment I’d made to this nomadic science communicator lifestyle I’ve adopted. I’m not saying I’m about to get a job in a bank, take out a mortage on an overpriced house in Sydney and settle down with a “nice girl” to flop out a few grandkids… because I’m sure as hell not.

But I certainly don’t have to keep trying to convince Australians we need a space agency anymore – we’re getting one. I’ve also spoken to over 100,000 students in the last 5 years, been featured countless times on national radio, television and newspapers, and been a vocal ambassador for space science and science communication throughout it all… and I’m sick of it. Contrary to popular opinion I don’t speak to the media because I want to – I speak to them about Mars One because I want kids to hear about space exploration from someone who’s actively working to live on another planet rather than an astronomer or astrophysicist. Experts in space enginnering are limited in Australia and folks involved with human spaceflight are practically non-existent, so as an astronaut candidate I’ve felt compelled to use my stand-up background to promote the idea in the media. But friends in comedy are well aware that I was done with standup by the end of 2012 – sharing Mars One with the public is the only reason I kept doing it.

Now that I’m writing books and loving it, I can step back from trying to just be a professional speaker and share what I’m doing by publishing it rather than talking about it. I don’t really know what 2018 will bring, but I love that the end of IAC marked the start of a quiet time when I can really reassess where I want to go next and what I want to do to contribute to the goal of making humanity a dual-planet species.

Here’s to taking a breath and preparing for new adventures 🙂

Personal – Mars One School Visit Q&A

I wanted to share something that happens when you regularly visit schools and talk about something awesome like exploring Mars: the job isn’t just answering questions for kids at the school on the day, it also usually means answering questions for kids (and adults) who couldn’t make it or didn’t have time to ask their question on the day too!

After my run of school visits recently one of the teachers at a school I spoke at was bombarded by their 9-10 year olds who didn’t get a chance to ask everything they were curious about, so when I made my usual offer to answer via email they took me up on it. For those of you curious about what sorts of questions I usually get from students and the answers I give them, read on!


Is part of your job to look for any precious stones on Mars? We won’t be looking specifically for precious stones on Mars, but we will definitely spend a LOT of time looking at the rocks on Mars! Studying the rocks on Mars can tell us more about Mars what it might have been like in the past and where the water is. We’ll also have to study the rocks on Mars if we ever want to try to find alien life there, because if we’re going to find fossils or even living alien microbes or bacteria, they’ll be living in or on the rocks!

How do you eat with your helmet on? Inside the habitat you don’t need a spacesuit, so you can just wear normal clothes and eat/drink normally. When you go out onto the surface however you need to wear the bulky spacesuit with the helmet for up to 7 hours at a time. There’s a bag of water inside the spacesuit with a straw next to the astronaut’s head they can sip from, and there’s is a pouch below their chin they can reach down with their teeth to pull up a fruit & cereal bar to eat if they get hungry. The water is pretty easy, but the fruit & cereal bar is really awkward, plus they have to eat all of it straight away so that they don’t have crumbs floating around inside their helmet! Eating with a spacesuit on is really difficult, so most astronauts eat before they put the spacesuit on to go outside.

What does the impact feel like when you land the space craft? Depending on the spacecraft it can be either really gentle like a passenger plane landing, or it can be incredibly jarring and potentially break your back! The space shuttles landed just like a plane, and even though they were going much faster than a jet when they touched down, they could still be very gentle. A Soyuz capsule however fires a single rocket blast a few meters above the ground to make an impact that could kill you a tiny bit gentler! The spacecraft that will land us on Mars will almost certainly use rockets for a lot longer to land much gentler than the Soyuz, but not as gentle as landing like a plane with a space shuttle.

Soyuz landing with retrorockets firing (middle) and impact (right)

What happens if you stay on the surface of Mars longer than one hour? There’s no problem staying on the surface of Mars longer than an hour, and we’ll regularly need to go outside for a lot longer than an hour to make repairs and explore. At the moment though our spacesuits don’t provide any extra protection from the radiation on the surface of Mars, so if we went outside for more than an hour every day then we’d be exposed to too much radiation. We might go outside for 7 hours one day, but then we might stay inside for the rest of the week! It’s all about making sure you don’t go out on the surface more than an hour per day on average, because if we do we’ll increase our risk of cancer and other radiation illnesses beyond the approved limit.

How will you grow fruit and veggies with all the gases in the Mars environment? A friend of mine has been researching exactly what mix of gas would be best for growing fruit and veggies on Mars! The atmosphere on Mars is too thin to grow things outside of a sealed habitat, but she found that if we took the atmosphere on Mars and pressurised it, then added a little bit more oxygen (made by extracting water from the soil then splitting it into hydrogen and oxygen) then you would have the perfect mix of gas for growing plants! Humans couldn’t breathe it because there would be way too much carbon dioxide, but plants would flourish.

What type of plants grow on Mars? No plants yet, but once we start landing greenhouses and habitats there we’ll be able to start! So far Mars One has tested growing radishes, peas, rye and tomatoes and shown that they are completely safe to eat when grown in soil with the same soil with a mix of minerals and heavy metals as we’ve detected on Mars. There are 6 other crops that we know will grow in that same type of soil, but they haven’t finished testing to see if the heavy metals have been absorbed by the plants yet.

The first harvested tomatoes from Mars soil simulant.

Have you discovered any space junk on Mars yet? Depending on who you ask, there’s a few things on Mars some people might call junk that others call “historical sites”! We know the Beagle 2 probe landed on Mars safely in 2003, but it never deployed all it’s panels so it eventually ran out of power and is sitting dead on the surface of Mars. There are rovers like Sojourner and Spirit that have now failed too. Plus there’s stuff on Mars that really is junk – the heat shield that protected the Curiosity rover as it traveled through Mars’s atmosphere was dumped mid-air so that the skycrane could deliver the rover to the surface, plus the skycrane itself crash landed somewhere on Mars afterwards too! There’s a few bits of human junk on Mars, but not a lot – it’s pretty tough to get things there, so we want everything we send to Mars to be as useful as possible.

How can you live without your family? Lots of people in history have had to say goodbye to their friends and family in order to explore places that people have never been before. Most explorers plan to come back again, but millions of people said goodbye to their families forever when they immigrated from places like England to Australia, or from Ireland to the USA. Those families would know that they were starting a new life somewhere else, and while they would miss them they knew that life itself is a one-way mission.

How do you wash your clothes on Mars? We’ll have to be very careful to conserve water on Mars, plus the reduced gravity on Mars means we won’t sweat into our clothes as much as we do on Earth so we probably won’t need to wash our clothes as regularly. There’s still some gravity though, so we’ll either wash by hand in a tub of water or if we’re really lucky someone might design a washing machine that works in the reduced gravity on Mars.

How do you play sport on Mars? We might not be able to play lots of team sports on Mars, and if we do it’ll be really difficult in our spacesuits outside! People have done it though – in 1971 Alan Shepherd played golf on the Moon after sneaking a golf club and some balls onto Apollo 14 before the launch! Mostly we’ll stay fit and healthy by using equipment like you’d see in a gym, but designed to work on Mars.

How do you get materials to Mars to grow crops? The soil on Mars (called “regolith”) has almost everything you need to grow plants, except it doesn’t have any living bacteria or microbes to support the plants. So one option shown in the movie “The Martian” is to use the regolith along with waste from the toilet (after it’s been treated) to make soil that plants will grow in!

What type of safety equipment would you use most of? We’ll use a lot of different safety equipment in all sorts of different ways on Mars, but one of the most important is something as simple as a cable to hook your spacesuit onto! In space it’s VERY important to tether yourself during a spacewalk because you could float away if you aren’t hooked on to the spacecraft, but on Mars hooking yourself onto a cable between you habitat and a rover could mean the difference between finding the habitat in the dark after a long spacewalk, and getting lost in the dark!

Are you hoping to find aliens on Mars? I think we’ll find aliens on Mars, but they won’t be little green men or Marvin the Martian – they’ll be bacteria, microbes, and maybe something like a tardigrade. Tardigrades are these tiny little creatures smaller than a pinhead that are incredibly tough: surviving radiation, freezing cold, blistering heat, and even the vacuum of space! We know that Mars had water and was more habitable than Earth a few billion years ago, so it’s even possible that life started on Mars, hitched a ride to Earth on a meteorite, and we’re actually all descended from Martians!

Tardigrade (Approx. 1mm long)

How do you drink fluid on Mars? You can drink on Mars just the same as on Earth, except water will pour out nearly 3 times slower than it does on Earth. It means that for things like showers, you might get really big droplets instead of the ones you’re used to from your shower at home, but drinking will be just the same.

Will you have a car on Mars? The first people on Mars won’t have a car, but when they first land on Mars they might sit on a rover and have it take them from where they landed to the habitat that the rovers have setup for them. Sending a car or truck for Mars means lots of weigh, and we are only sending just what we need when we first go. In the future though we will definitely want someone to bring a car or big rover we can live inside so we can explore much further from the habitat than we can just walking or sitting on a normal rover.

How high can you jump on Mars? Mars has 38% of Earth’s gravity, so you provided your legs muscles are still as strong on Mars as they were on Earth, you’d be able to jump nearly 3 times higher!

Will you get sick of eating the same food all the time? We have to be really careful about making sure there is lots of variety in our food, because people DO get sick of eating the same thing all the time and it’s important for people’s mood. The very first mission NASA carried out at their Mars simulation mission in Hawaii was to see how they could add variety to the meals while people were living in a white dome with only limited food selections. For 4 months the people inside needed to work out how to use the same few ingredients they had to make all sorts of new dishes. So learning to be creative and take what you have and turn it into something new and different is one of the most important skills a Mars colonist will need to have.

Hi-SEAS in Hawaii

News – April Newsletter

April Awesomeness

We’re only a quarter of the way into 2017, and I already feel like I’ve had enough of an emotional roller-coaster to satisfy me for the rest of the year. That of course is not how these things work, but it’s certainly been a wild ride and all indications are it’ll only get even more chaotic as we edge closer to Mars One’s final selection phase later this year.

March kicked off with a mountain of amazing events at the WOMADelaide festival though! From meeting science heroes and world-renowned explorers, to speaking to thousands of kids about space exploration alongside a former commander of NASA’s Hi-SEAS mission, and a bundle of incredible public events; the WOMADelaide festival was wonderfully coordinated chaos from start to finish … and you can read all about it right here!

Above: Speaking at the University of South Austrlalia’s sold-out “Life On Mars” event alongside Hi-SEAS IV Commander Carmel Johnston and hosted by Angela Catterns.

Far and away the absolute highlight of WOMADelaide though was being able to present Buzz Aldrin’s signature to Robert Jefferies – a 9-year old who’d written to the Australian Academy of Science in late 2016 when Buzz was touring Australia, hoping to get Buzz’s signature for his Dad for Christmas.

You can read the full story about Robert’s letter in the academy’s article, but it was really wonderful to be able to give something which means so much to someone… even if it was just a little piece of paper to me 🙂

After WOMADelaide the rest of March was a complete flurry of interviews, travel and school visits – speaking to 4,000 primary school students at the Halogen Foundation’s Melbourne event, another 1,000 during six separate school visits, speaking to Gillian O’Shaughnessy on ABC720, Belle Taylor from The Sunday Times, and joining The Daily Edition to talk about Mars One too!

I’ve also been asked to host several new science TV shows that are in the works too, so after filming pilot episodes in March I’m hoping I’ll be able to share more about invading your TV screens soon.

And somewhere in among all this chaos I’ve managed to share all sorts of interesting things with my supporters on Patreon!

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 also ran my first Patreon Giveaway!

Congratulations to the folks who won hats, t-shirts, and even a remote control BB-8 unit… just for being supporters on Patreon! I’ll be putting most of the prizes in the mail this afternoon (and hand-delivering the rest later this month) so keep an eye on your mailboxes.

If you missed out this time don’t despair – sign up to become a Patreon supporter from just $5 a month, and besides early and exclusive access to my articles you’ll automatically be in the running for the next giveaway!


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.

Click here for all the details on becoming a Patron!


March was absolutely out-of-control, so I’m looking forward to a couple of weeks house-sitting while working on my book – drafts are on the way for $25/month supporters! At the end of April I’ll be back in Melbourne to take part in the Ginger Pride Rally on April 29th, before heading on to speak at more schools and events in Sydney and Canberra.

It’s never dull, so I’m looking forward to sharing the next set of adventures with you all! Keep an eye on the website for regular posts, Patreon for the latest news, as well as Facebook & Twitter – can’t wait to see what April brings!

Stay awesome,
Josh

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

News – February Newsletter

 

Unleash the inner honey badger!

It’s safe to say that the 10 months on the road in 2016 with my Cosmic Nomad tour took one hell of a toll, and since it ended the last few months in Perth have been pretty emotionally taxing too – not just processing and revisiting things, but also the challenge of living in a city I have a very checkered history with.

After being knocked back for a job in Melbourne I decided I needed to be anywhere but Perth for a few weeks. So I’ve just spent a week on an island off the coast of Bali (because my inner bogan needed to be exercised) and I’m currently in Kuala Lumpur for the weekend visiting an ex-girlfriend (because I’m an emotional anarchist).

Things are still pretty uncertain, but the time away has already been the right kind of challenging to get real clarity on who I am and how I’m going to keep attacking this year. And I really do mean “attack” because while we wait to hear more from Mars One I’ve already started hitting 2017 in the face like an angry honey badger.

The last few days in particular have been all about jumping in and seeing what happens rather than overthinking things and worrying I’m might not be good enough – applying for a mountain of jobs at Questacon (interviews start next week), chasing up producers for a potential TV show (oh yes), and editing my “Becoming Martian” ahead of it’s publication this year (first drafts available to Patrons later this month).

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 – Dear Josh in 2020” – A lot of famous folks write open letters to their younger selves as a sentimental kind of “You’ll be okay” & “If only you knew then where you’d wind up”. Because I’m not massively lame this is an open-letter to my future self saying “You’re always getting better so don’t be a nostalgic wanker”.
  • “Space – Choosing a Crew for Mars” – Most folks think “The Right Stuff” is some steely-eyed high-flying aviator, but who wants to be locked inside a tin can for 7 months on the way to Mars with THAT? This looks at how we need folks more like Ernest Shackleton than the Mercury 7 on a Mars mission crew.
  • “Personal – Badgers, Bender & Ink” – Anyone who has seen my 2016 show “Cosmic Nomad” is painfully aware of my ludicurous cartoon tattoos, but you might be surprised to discover they’ve all got layers of meaning deeper than “I want a robot spaceman tattooed on my ass”. Here’s the story behind all of them.

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

The support from fans through Patreon has grown surprisingly quickly too, with several folks being absolute heroes and signing up for early access to my book drafts and journals! Patreon is a great platform and I’ve started to get a real feel for sharing content through it, so get ready for a mountain of exclusive content there this month!

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.

As promised 2017 is quickly turning into a rollercoaster, and I honestly don’t know what I’ll be writing in the March newsletter… but it’s safe to assume it’ll involve a lot more honey badger-like behavior as I start ripping up the challenges this year tries to throw at me 😀

Keep an eye on the website for regular posts, Patreon for the latest news, as well as Facebook & Twitter – can’t wait to see what chaos is unleashed in Februrary!

Stay awesome,
Josh

 

News – January Newsletter

2016 Is Dead – All Hail 2017

Pretty safe to say 2016 was a tougher year than most, but that’s not to say it didn’t have it’s fair share of highlights. I might have been living out of a backpack for most of it, but that didn’t stop me from:

But it looks like 2016 was really just a warm up, with 2017 already shaping up to be even more exciting again.

And somewhere in among all this chaos I’ve managed to launch my new website at joshrichards.space as well. If you’ve missed them, here’s everything I’ve posted publicly over the last month;

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

It’s been a great first month on Patreon, with people contributing high and low to read more of what’s going on behind the scenes. I’ve spent most of the last 3 weeks transcribing 5 years of my journals, and now that I’ve redacted some of the names I’m much more comfortable sharing them. So to celebrate I’ve decided to remove  the $50/month patron level altogether, making the journals available at the $25/month level!

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.

So for all the ups and downs of last year, I hope you’re ready for the incredible rollercoaster that 2017 is shaping up to be. Keep an eye on the website for regular posts, Patreon for the latest news, as well as Facebook & Twitter – I’m looking forward to sharing some incredible adventures with you all in 2017!

Best regards,
Josh

 

Personal – “Waiting”

 

Hey everyone,
Here’s my first “personal” post, about my experience waiting to hear about my application to the Hi-SEAS mars mission analog in Hawaii. This month is going to be pretty full on as I try to write 4 articles (2 months worth) to get things started here and on my Patreon page at the same time.

Enjoy, and let me know in the comments what your experience has been with waiting for big life-changing events!

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