News – November Newsletter

November Nonsense

Ever felt you’re completely burned out, begging for a month to disappear and catch your breath… you suddenly get it, and immediately realise you really just needed to sleep in a few days and stop worrying about what happens next? Ever wondered how you stop yourself from over-committing again so things are a little more balanced? Or why we use questions we don’t want answers to in an attempt to engage others with our otherwise bland narrative?

Things have significantly shifted in the last few weeks: away from the mad-dash of constantly travelling over the last 2 years, and into something slower paced but far more productive.

I’ve published more on Patreon and joshrichards.space these last few weeks than any time before, and yet it’s also been less stressful to get things written than any time before… probably because I’ve cut back on trying to speak directly to every damn person on Earth about how I’m trying to abandon them to live on a desolate, toxic red rock

That said there’s still been plenty of interviews, including an amazing feature by Stories Out Loud and a chat with Chris from Science Over Everything about the latest from Mars One. I’ve just updated my Media page over at joshrichards.space and discovered I’ve done on average an interview every week for the last 4 years… no wonder I’m sick of my own voice.

I’m also really excited to be at the Women in Technology (WA) breakfast event on November 16th – speaking about my weird career path to Mars One, before hosting a panel on the jobs of the future with four extraordinary women leading tech innovation. It’ll be wonderful to talk not just about jobs of the future, but also why we work and how technology is changing that.

That focus on “why” we work and how technology is changing society isn’t accidental either – I’m very proud to say that I’ve just been accepted by the University of Twente to start a Masters programme in September 2018 on the Philosophy of Science, Technology and Society! A lot could happen between now and September, but I’m excited about the prospect of doing a masters while asking what it means to be human and how technology shapes that!

Before I jet off to the Netherlands though I’ve got plenty of applications and writing to get on with, and I’ve been sharing most of it on Patreon!

For those of you supporting me on Patreon you’ve had plenty of exclusive content this month, and there’s a LOT more on the way in December!

Things have been just as busy over on my website, as I’ve finally gotten around to posting all the content I’d been too busy to share over the last few months!

  • Space – IAC2017 Wrap-Up – A huge summary of the 2017 International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, covering all the highs and lows across 5 days of total spacey madness.
  • Personal – Motivation Letter – I’ve been accepted for a rather amazing Masters program in the Netherlands that will start September 2018, and this is the letter I wrote to the university detailing my motivations for choosing their program over any other in the world.
  • Space – IAC Paper: Laughing At Mars – The paper I submitted and presented at the 2017 International Astronautical Congress last month, detailing all of the adult science engagement (eg. anything outside of a school) I’ve done over the last 5 years.
  • Colonising Mars – School Skype Q&A – After a Skype call to a Year 4 class I typed my answers to their questions so they (and you) could read them later!

2018 is already shaping up to be an incredibly exciting year – more intense than 2017 but with a lot less travel and a lot more focused on writing… which is great for all of you reading online, and also perfect practice for someone who eventually wants to live 56 million kilometers away from crowds!

So as always keep an eye on Patreon for the latest news and articles, regular posts on joshrichards.space as well as my more sporadic nonsense on Facebook & Twitter!

Stay awesome,
Josh

Colonising Mars – School Skype Q&A

I’ve mentioned it before, but I spend much of my time either visiting schools or skype calling them to answer questions about Mars One. Often I’ll end up answering a mountain of questions sent through after a school incursion from kids who couldn’t make it on the day, however this week I was sent a list of questions before a school skype call so I knew what their students were going to ask.

While Skype calls are far more engaging than just answering questions via email, often a lot of the detail gets lost in the process. With that in mind I wrote up answers to the questions I was sent this week, and sent them to the teacher so that she and her students had written answers to come back to, and so that you could all read the answers to the genuinely insightful questions I often get from Year 4 groups!

How did you find out about Mars One? I’d just finished my fourth year at the Edinburgh Fringe festival, performing comedy as a giant ukulele-playing koala called “Keith the Anger Management Koala”, and was living in Brighton (UK) reassessing what I wanted to do with my life. Comedy was hard work and I wasn’t enjoying it enough to keep going, so I decided I was going to write one final Edinburgh fringe show on something I’d been thinking about for 3 years – sending people one-way to Mars. I knew from my physics degree that we could get people to Mars, but didn’t have the technology to bring them back, so I was sitting in a coffee shop in Brighton researching a comedy show about going one-way to Mars when I discovered Mars One!

Who or what inspired you to go to Mars? For me Mars isn’t special – it’s just one of many destinations in the solar system we should be looking to explore and colonise. I’d wanted to be an astronaut when I saw Andy Thomas being selected as Australia’s first professional astronaut in 1992 when I was 7, but I knew he’d had to become a US citizen in order to join NASA so I forgot about wanting to be an astronaut and go to space for nearly 20 years. It wasn’t until after I left the military at 25 that I suddenly remembered one night that I’d wanted to be an astronaut as a kid, and just after I turned 27 I discovered Mars One. When I realised Mars One was open to any one regardless of their nationality, I knew I needed to sign up to help make humanity a dual-planet species.

How does the selection process for who’s going to Mars work? You can read a full description here on the selection process from Mars One’s Chief Medical Selector Dr Norbert Kraft, but the short story is that in 2013 Mars One had 202,586 people start the online application, only 4,227 successfully completed it. From there Mar One selected 1,058 candidates they thought were serious about the application and sent them for a medical exam very similar to what a commercial pilot requires each year. 660 of the people who passed the medical exam were offered a psychology interview, and from those people the current 100 were selected for their understanding of the mission and their motivations for applying.

The next phase of selection is expected in 2018, when the remaining 100 candidates all get together for 5 days to see how we work in teams. This will cut the group down to 12-24 people who will start 14 years of training as full-time employees of Mars One. Teams of 4 will be tested to find who works together most effectively, and shortly before the final launch date there will be a vote involving both expert judges and the public to select the team who will be first to go.

Do you have to have a special skill to be able to go to Mars? The most important skill you need to go to Mars is to self-reflect and know yourself really well. Mars One needs people who are a bit like MacGyver – not the best in the world at one thing, but very skilled at a lot of different things and fast learners of new things. People who are resilient, curious, trustworthy, adaptable and resourceful; but above all they need to be honest with themselves and know what their strengths and weaknesses are so that they can help the team and the mission most effectively.

Do you have to pay to go? I had to pay about $30AUD when I first applied, so that someone else could be paid to read my application and decide if I was serious enough to be one of the 1,058 selected in the first round. Since then I’ve never needed to pay anything, however since 2014 I have bought a lot of Mars One merchandise to give away at National Science Week so I could promote what Mars One is doing.

Are you scared that you won’t come back? I’m excited about the opportunity to explore a whole other planet! To travel further than anyone ever has before, and help humanity learn more about the universe we’re part of. Earth is a pretty amazing place for humans and there’s lots of incredible things to want to stay for, but I’m excited about being part of something that is so much bigger than me that it will change the way we see ourselves as a species.

Will you miss your loved ones? Ofcourse, but at the same time I’ll be doing something way bigger than myself, bigger than my friends and family, something that will help people everywhere look to the sky and see life from an orbital perspective. A lot of people get really attached to their family, friends, pets, car, house, football team and country – living on Mars is something that is so much bigger than all of that, so while I’ll miss my loved ones we all know that what I’m involved with is so much bigger than my individual relationships.

What did your friends and family say when they found out you are in the running to go to Mars? It varied a lot initially, and has changed a lot over the last 5 years as I’ve been shortlisted further. My Mum and Dad were pretty upset when they first heard I applied but have always been very supportive of whatever I choose to do with my life, especially supporting the work I do visiting schools and talking to kids about space exploration. A lot of my friends laughed it off when they first heard, but as time has gone on my good friends have made more of an effort to catch-up and people I was friends with but not that close too have disappeared.

Will there be a way for you to contact your family and friends? We’ll have email that we can send messages, videos and files back and forth between Earth and mars, however the distance between Earth and Mars means those messages will take between 4 and 22 minutes each way because that’s how long it takes light to travel between the planets. So no instant messaging, video chat, or even phone calls – we’ll have to record audio or video messages, send them to Earth, and then wait at least 8 minutes for a reply.

Are you scared? nervous? I’m excited about the opportunity to do something really incredible that will help humanity learn more about the universe and change the way we see ourselves – to make humanity a dual-planet species. Right now all I can do is answer questions, write and do interviews in-between getting myself physically and mentally ready for the next phase of selection, so while I might feel nervous when the next selection comes around I’ll also know I’ve done all I could to be prepare for it, regardless of whether I get selected or not.

Do kids get to go as well? For now you have to be at least 18 to apply for legal reasons, however we also don’t want to send kids to Mars for quite awhile after we’ve sent adult, because we don’t know how living on Mars will effect the astronauts’ bones and muscles. Kids muscles and bones grow in response to the effects of gravity, and with just 38% as much gravity of Mars we don’t know how kids bones would be effected. There’s a really high risk that kids growing up on Mars would have really weak bones and muscles compared to kids growing up on Earth because of the difference in gravity, so until we know more about how Mars gravity affects adult bones we really don’t want to be risking sending kids.

Where will you live on Mars? Mars One is looking at colony sites between 42 and 45deg north of the Martian equator, in a band from +130deg to -190deg latitude stretching from Utopia Planitia (near where Viking 2 landed) to Arcardia Planitia (directly north of Olympus Mons). We need somewhere that’s got fairly level ground with lots of water in it, but not so far north that our solar power won’t work. The area near where Viking 2 landed looks especially promising, but we’ll need to send more probes there to be sure. We’ll be using rovers to dig up the water-laden dirt, extract the water using an oven, and then dump the dry dirt on top of our living habitat to provide radiation protection. We’ll be living indoors under these mounds of dry dirt most of the time, but we can go outside (in spacesuits) for 1 hour per day on average for 60 years before reaching our safe radiation dose limit.

What do you want to do on Mars? I want to tell the story of what life is like for the first people living on another planet. There’s lots of science and maintenance to be done – such as medical research into how our bodies are changing in the reduced gravity, geology to learn more about Mars’ past, or repairing life support systems and growing plants to eat. But for me the really interesting part of sending humans to Mars is sharing the story of what it’s like for people to live there. Our colony of Mars will be very similar to an Antarctic research base initially, so just like the stories of the first Antarctic explorers I want to record the human experience of living on another planet.

What happens if you miss Mars and go past it? Short answer is we die! The spaceship taking us to Mars will only have just enough resources to get us to Mars, and not enough to get us all the way back to Earth if something goes wrong. This is why we have to work so hard to get things right, but also have to accept that there’s a much higher risk of us dying in an accident trying to get to Mars than if we stayed on Earth. Doing things that no one has ever done before means accepting there might be things that go wrong that you didn’t expect because you don’t have all the answers – if you already knew all the answers it wouldn’t be exploring!

How will you grow plants if Mars has toxic soil? The perchlorate salts in the Martian soil are toxic to humans by shutting down our thyroid function, however experiments in the Netherlands has shown that plants grown in Mars-like soil don’t absorb any of the perchlorates. The cool thing about perchlorates too is that they LOVE water, so you can easily remove them from the soil just by washing it. As an added bonus, if you collect the perchlorate-laden water and dehydrate out the perchlorate salts, they can be used as an oxidiser for rocket fuel! So the chemical that makes Martian soil to humans can be easily extracted and possibly used to launch rockets back to Earth.

What do you think it will be like in the rocket? The 7 month journey to Mars will be the toughest part. We’ll be four people inside a relatively small spaceship – cramped in with 800kg of dry food, 3000L of water, and 700kg of oxygen. We’ll want to point our spaceship away from the Sun almost the whole way to Mars so that the rocket engines and fuel block as much radiation from the Sun as possible, so we won’t have a day/night rotation because the Sun will always be in the same spot behind us, and also means we won’t see any stars out the window (besides the Sun). We also have to be watch out for Coronal Mass Ejections – huge eruptions from the Sun that happen reasonably regularly. Here on Earth we’re protected by the Earth’s magnetic field, but aspaceship on the way to Mars will be exposed to a huge amount of radiation if a Coronal Mass Ejection is thrown towards them during their 7 month journey, so the four astronauts will need to hide for 2-3 days in a radiation shelter in the middle of the spaceship that is about the size of a telephone booth.

Are you going to take technology with you? Will it work? We’ll be completely dependent on technology just to stay alive on Mars. Our life support systems will be working constantly to process our air and water, we’ll need to use solar power technology to provide power to the colony, and because we’ll be indoors and underground we’ll need special LED lighting systems to grow plants. A lot of technology will work exactly the same on Mars – things like computers will work exactly the same – however some of the systems will need to be adapted because of the reduced gravity. Toilets and showers will work mostly the same, but we’ll need to change the way water moves through them because water won’t flow as fast in the reduced gravity. If you used a normal shower on Mars the water would come out of the shower head in huge, slow-falling droplets because the water’s surface tension would affect the shape of the droplets more than gravity.

How are you going to contact Earth? We’ll use laser communication satellites between Earth and Mars to send messages, but they’ll still be limited to the speed of light which takes 4-20 minutes to travel between the planets. Lasers are more difficult to use for communication than radio is, but you can send a LOT more information with a lot less power using laser light than you can with regular radio waves. There are times when you can’t communicate directly because the Earth and Mars are on opposite sides of the Sun, so about every 2 years NASA has to shut down all communications with their rovers and satellites on Mars for about 6 weeks because the Sun is in the way. Mars One will get around that by placing a communications satellite in a special orbit around the Sun so that it can always see both Earth and Mars, that way communications can be relayed by the satellite when the Sun is blocking Earth’s view of Mars.

How old will you be when you leave? If we launch in February 2031 I’ll be 45, and I’ll have my 46th birthday in space a few months before we land on Mars!

What do you do in your free time? Right now I do a lot of reading and writing about Mars, and lots of exercise to stay fit and ready for the next Mars One selection. I also play ukulele as much as I can, and I’ve also started to learn to draw!

Do you like particle physics? I love particle physics and try to stay up to date with the latest news on discoveries about the universe are the smallest level, but my university studies were mostly of physics at the other end of the scale in astrophysics and cosmology. I like all forms of physics because it’s a way of investigating and learning more about the universe we live in.

How does it feel to be so close to accomplishing your dream? I still feel like I’m a long way off “accomplishing” my dream. We still have selections to get through, then 14 years of training where anything could happen to stop this mission or my role in it. Even once I launch to Mars my job isn’t done – I’ll still be working to survive, working to share the story of colonising Mars with the rest of humanity, working to make things easier for the people who come after me. Every day I get to write, talk and think about living on another planet, so I don’t think I’ll even “accomplish my dream” because that would mean I’m complete and don’t have to do anything any more. While being selected and being one of the first people on Mars would be an amazing accomplishment, it would also just be the start of a new adventure to discover more about the universe except on a different planet to the one I was born on.

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Space – IAC Paper: Laughing at Mars

 

The regular space posts have been pretty quiet here for the last few months as I’ve been finishing/publishing Becoming Martian, so I’m happy to say things will be returning to more regular scheduling now that it’s out in the wild!

I’ll be returning to the “Getting To Mars” series in the next few weeks to conclude it before the end of 2017, but first I wanted to share the other thing that consumed so much of my time after Becoming Martian was published – my IAC2017 paper! I originally had two abstracts accepted to the conference, but decided to withdraw one so I could focus on the one I cared most about: summarising the work I’ve done over the last 5 years in adult science engagement using Mars One as a hook.

I’ll share video of my presentation of this paper in Adelaide at IAC separately soon, but in the meantime enjoy reading my paper on how to use comedians and storytellers to engage the public with space!


IAC-17-E1.6.2

Laughing at Mars: Using Comedians and Storytellers for Wide-Spread Public Engagement With Space

Josh Richards –  Launchpad Speaking, Perth, Western Australia

Abstract
This paper looks at a range of space outreach events conducted since 2013 for the general public, with a specific focus on using comedy and storytelling to engage adults not already interested in space. A major challenge in space science communication is making an incredibly interesting subject accessible and relevant to the general public: while few would deny the broad appeal of space exploration to kids, a lack of engaging space science events for adults often means that childhood enthusiasm fades.   Using stand-up comedy and Mars One’s proposed one-way mission to Mars as a science communication “hook”, adult audiences have been engaged and taught complex space science while they laughed during three, one-hour long comedy shows performed more than 40 times in 6 different countries since 2013. “Mars Needs Guitars” blended space science with personal storytelling around the concept that the first Mars crew would need a balance of personalities similar to a stereotypical rock band, and was first performed during Australia’s National Science Week with the support of Inspiring Australia. “Becoming Martian” shared how colonizing Mars would change humans physically, psychologically and culturally; and was also published as a non-fiction book at National Science Week 2017. “Cosmic Nomad” featured at the World Science Festival and shared how being shortlisted for a one-way mission to Mars impacts a candidate’s life while still on Earth, while also explaining the search for extraterrestrial life, the Drake equation, and the Fermi Paradox by using a Tinder metaphor.   General public engagement with space science was also achieved through large scale media events such as 20th Century Fox’s “Bring Him Home” campaign for the Australian release of “The Martian”. Coordinating with numerous television and radio stations, along with global media outlets and a sustained social media presence, the “Bring Him Home” campaign engaged more than 95 million people with space science and STEAM education while the author lived “like Mark Watney” isolated in a glass and steel habitat for 5 days. Numerous external organisations such as Boston’s Museum of Science and Sydney’s Museum of Applied Arts and Science have also been partnered with for ongoing educational impact and long-term space science engagement.

Keywords: Comedy, Storytelling, Mars One, STEM, STEAM

Nomenclature None.
Acronyms/Abbreviations STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. STEAM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics

1. Introduction  A major challenge in space science communication is making an incredibly interesting subject accessible and relevant to the general public. While few would deny the broad appeal of space exploration to kids, a lack of engaging space science events for adults often means that childhood enthusiasm fades. Adults who didn’t pursue a career in science immediately after secondary school are largely ignored by institutional outreach programs as they focus on encouraging students to pursue tertiary study in STEM studies, while significant government funding to encourage STEM skill training encourages this focus. Unfortunately this narrow focus often leads to alienation of adults who haven’t pursued studies and work in STEM fields, as they feel they’re “Not smart enough to understand”, “Not interested in science”, or that it’s “Meant for kids” to even attempt to engage with space science outreach events.

This paper aims to demonstrate that by supporting comedians and storytellers with an interest in space, science, space science can be communicated far more effectively to adult audiences through the incorporation of the arts. Case studies over five years are presented where the author has used public interest in Mars One’s proposed 2031 one-way human mission to Mars as a vehicle specifically for the engagement of adult public audiences with space science through STEAM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics.

2. Material and methods

Mars One’s announcement in 2012 of a one-way human Mars colonisation mission generated significant global media coverage, and continues to generate considerable media attention as the project progresses five years on. Utilising a personal interest in space exploration and experience as a professional stand-up comedian, the author began creating comedy shows based around the science and human story of applying for a one-way mission to Mars.

2.1 “Mars Need Guitars!”

With the support of Inspiring Australia, “Mars Needs Guitars!” was a 50 minute stand-up comedy show initially written Australia’s 2013 National Science Week. Named after the Hoodoo Guru’s album, the show was written around the concept that the first four Mars One crew members would need a mix of personalities similar to those found in a stereotypical rock band, and presenting who the author would want to take to Mars and why. Rather than purely aiming for laughs, this show’s intention was to interest adult audiences through a mixture of science-based comedy and deeply personal storytelling, spelling out the very real risks of a human Mars mission in jargon-free language, and finally asking who in the audience would be willing to sign up. The author had applied to Mars One’s 2013 astronaut applications in the April, however applications were still open during National Science Week 2013. With this in mind performances of “Mars Needs Guitars!” concluded each night with an open call for interested audience members to apply to Mars One too.

A trial show was performed at The Butterfly Club (Melbourne, Australia) prior to being performed over three consecutive nights at Scitech (Perth, Australia) during the 2013 National Science Week, with the final Perth performance being filmed[1]. After a follow-up performance at the “Living On Mars” conference at the University of Twente (Enschede, The Netherlands) in November 2013 was also filmed [2], “Mars Needs Guitars!” was shelved so writing could commence on a new Mars One-based show for 2014.

Responses to “Mars Needs Guitars!” were extremely positive, with audiences appreciating the jargon-free approach to space exploration carefully combined with emotion-driven storytelling and especially dark humour. Approximately 350 people in total saw “Mars Needs Guitars!” across five performances in two countries.

2.2 “Becoming Martian”

With the author shortlisted as one of 705 Mars One candidates and building on the success of the performances of “Mars Needs Guitars!” during the National Science Week 2013, “Becoming Martian” was written initially as a 50 minute science communication stage show for National Science Week 2014 before being published as a non-fiction book three years later to coincide with National Science Week 2017. Focused on how the colonisation of Mars will change humans physiologically, psychologically and culturally (“body, mind and soul”), “Becoming Martian” removed the personal stories that had been present in “Mars Needs Guitars!” and presented a far more scientific and objective narrative on the implications of humans colonising Mars.

2.2.1 “Becoming Martian” Stage Show Tour

With the support of Inspiring Australia, “Becoming Martian” was performed across three consecutive nights at Scitech (Perth, Western Australia) during the 2014 National Science Week, with the final performance in Perth being filmed for DVD. After a follow-up performance at the “CultureTECH” festival (Londonderry, Northern Ireland) in September 2014 “Mars Needs Guitars!” was shelved as the author decided to reassess artistic direction.  Responses to “Mars Needs Guitars!” were overwhelmingly positive however the author was deeply disappointed with the stage show, with a strong sense that it was “soul-less” to only focus on the science of Mars colonisation and exclude the raw and deeply personal stories that had defined “Mars Needs Guitars!”. Approximately 300 people in total saw “Becoming Martian” across four performances in two countries.

2.2.2 “Becoming Martian” Show Support Events

Alongside performances of “Becoming Martian”, for National Science Week 2014 the author also coordinated public talks on space exploration at the Perth Science Festival, a space-science and poetry-reading talk “The Physicist and The Poet” in conjunction with poet Bronwyn Lovell, a science-themed comedy night “Shapiro Tuesdays Science Week Special” with the Brisbane Hotel (Perth), as well as a public space-science talk and gaming session “Kerbals on the Big Screen” on the Perth Cultural Centre’s 8m wide LED “Super Screen”.    Follow up support events were also run at the 2014 National Young Writer’s Festival, notably a space-science education and small-team psychology workshop called “How To Be An Astronaut”. Approximately 480 people in total attended six separate support events across Australia.

2.2.3 “Becoming Martian” Book Release

Based on the 2014 stage show of the same name but with radically updated and expanded content, “Becoming Martian” was released as a humorous non-fiction book for National Science Week 2017. After the author’s disappointment with the “dry” nature of the original stage show and on-going delays with a leading international publisher, the book was re-written with a far more engaging and personal tone (while still retaining the essential premise and structure of the 2014 stage show) and self-published.  “Becoming Martian” is currently available in 35 countries and on sale in six Australian and US science museums. Australian print sales currently exceed 200 (as of September 2017) and are projected to exceed 1000 before the end of 2017.

2.2.4 “Becoming Martian“ Book Support Events

Public talks and book launches were organised across Australia to support the publication of “Becoming Martian”. Curtin University’s ChemCentre (Perth, Australia) hosted the first book launch and public talk during National Science Week 2017, with a second book launch held four days later at the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (Sydney, Australia) as the final event of both Sydney Science Festival 2017 and National Science Week 2017. Approximately 220 people in total attended two events.

2.3 “Cosmic Nomad”

Developed independently, “Cosmic Nomad” was a 50 minute science-comedy show initially written for the 2016 Adelaide Fringe Festival, starting an eight month global tour including the World Science Festival (Brisbane, Australia), Melbourne (Australia), Launceston  (Australia), Ulverstone (Australia), Hobart (Australia), Cincinnati (Ohio, United States), Haifa (Israel) and Cork (Ireland).

Learning from the mistakes made with “Becoming Martian” and capitalising on the strengths of “Mars Needs Guitars!”, “Cosmic Nomad” was written once the author had been selected as one of 100 Mars One candidates worldwide, and shared how being shortlisted for a one-way mission to Mars had significantly changed the author’s personal life – notably what the author would try to do before leaving Earth behind forever. Implications for the author’s relationships were also explored through the search for extraterrestrial life, the Drake equation, and the Fermi Paradox by using a Tinder metaphor. With a clear focus to interest adult audiences rather than entertaining or educating them, “Cosmic Nomad” was deliberately written to make the author uncomfortable and vulnerable (both emotionally and physically) on stage to provide an account of life as a Mars One candidate that was as raw and honest as possible.

Audience responses to “Cosmic Nomad” were overwhelmingly positive, praising it for it’s ability to blend storytelling, comedy and heartbreak while sharing space science. Theatre critics ranged in response from cheerfully positive to deliberately vicious. Given the deeply personal nature of the show and the vulnerability required to perform it however, the author ‘s only response to negative critical review to date has been  howling laughter, often followed by an expletive-laced recommendation for the critic to share their opinion elsewhere. Approximately 2250 people in total saw “Cosmic Nomad” across 24 performances in four countries.

2.4 Individual Events  Alongside the three science-comedy stage shows, numerous other adult space-science engagement events have been organised and performed by the author. The most notable examples between 2013 and 2018 are described below.

2.4.1 “Bring Him Home”DVD Release Event

Andy’s Weir’s bestselling novel “The Martian” and subsequent film starring Matt Damon actively embraced  adult non-specialist audiences with space science through humour in a Mars setting. Given the obvious parallels between the main character Mark Watney and this paper’s author – especially in the context of applying humour to space science and Martian exploration – 20th Century Fox engaged the author for a five-day art installation on Circular Quay (Sydney, Australia) in February 2016 to promote the DVD release of “The Martian” in Australia.

This installation was a self-contained living unit with 26.1m^3 of habitable living space under 24 hour video surveillance and glass walls, in which the author had to live while completing challenges designed around being marooned solo on Mars like the character. While some challenges were fictionalised to demonstrate space science and provide interest to the audience outside and watching online; many others such as heat management, electrical power control and communications were genuine installation issues that needed to be resolved through science and engineering. Physical and psychological fitness assessments of the author were also conducted remotely over the length of the installation.  Approximately 50 thousand people viewed the “Bring Him Home” installation on Sydney’s Circular Quay across the five days, while 95 million people engaged with content for radio, television, web articles and social media.

2.4.2 “Moving to Mars”

During the eight month “Cosmic Nomad” tour, the Museum of Science (Boston , MA) contacted the author to host a public talk with four other Mars One candidates, discussing the personal journey for each and the implications of being shortlisted for a one-way mission to Mars. Approximately 350 people attended this 2 hour event hosted at the Museum of Science’s main theatre in October 2016.

2.4.4 The Laborastory

The Laborastory is a monthly science storytelling event hosted at the Spotted Mallard (Melbourne, Australia) where science communicators share the personal story of their favourite scientists from history through a 10 minute spoken word presentation without slides. The author was invited to speak at two Laborastory events in 2015 to share the stories of Sally Ride [3] and Wernher Von Braun [4]. Approximately 500 people in total attended these two events.

2.4.4 PlanetTalks – WOMADelaide

The author was invited to speak alongside  Mars analogue commander Carmel Johnston at two of events organised through the University of South Australia and the 2017 WOMADelaide festival. These events were panels hosted by leading Australian journalists facilitating a discussion on the future of human space exploration and Mars colonisation, with both events being recorded [5][6]. Approximately 1200 people in total attended these two events in Adelaide during April 2017.

2.5 Media Engagement

Significant global media attention has been focused on Mars One and it’s candidates, especially since astronaut applications first opened in April 2013. Utilising this interest in the human story of Mars One, the author has also served as a media ambassador to National Science Week (2016 and 2017), the Perth Science Festival (2017) and the Sydney Science Festival (2017). Between June 2013 and September 2017 the author has been interviewed for radio, TV, newspaper and web content  more more than 200 times [7], sharing space science and personal perspectives on space exploration directly with mass media outlets in nine different countries and syndicated globally.

3. Calculation

Due to the wide range of adult engagement approaches, multiple methods are required to calculate attendance and engagement. Engagement is calculated on reported ticket or book sales. This calculation approach applies all activities listed under section 2 excluding 2.4.1 “Bring Him Home”DVD Release Event, and 2.5 Media Engagement.

Engagement with 2.4.1 “Bring Him Home” DVD Release Event was compiled by Frank PR. Engagement with the installation itself was calculated on Sydney city council measurements of approximately 10,000 people passing the Circular Quay Overseas Passenger Jetty (the location of the installation) each day over five days. Social media engagement was calculated as the total listeners, viewers and readers for radio, television and web respectively; being measured by broadcasters and content providers for advertising purposes.

Calculation of 2.5 Media Engagement is from consistent cataloguing of interviews for radio, TV and web content since June 2013 until July 2017, with 157 interviews recorded. An additional 44-47 interviews were conducted during National Science Week 2017 and another 5-8 since August 2017 that have not yet been publicly published and catalogued.

4. Results and Discussion

Engagement from August 2013 to August 2017 is calculated at approximately 55,650 people in total across 47 public events targeted at non-specialist adults. It is important to note that approximately 50,000 of these engagements come from 2.4.1 “Bring Him Home”DVD Release Event. Removing this individual outlier, average audience size is approximately 120 people per event.  It is also important to note that the calculated engagement figures do not include adult events closed to the general public (such as invite-only corporate events) or events for students. Total engagement for closed adult events since August 2013 is estimated at 2,000 to 3,000. Total engagement for student events since August 2013 is estimated at 90,000 to 100,000.

Given the relative lack of adult space science outreach when compared to funding for student STEM engagement, considerable future opportunities have been presented to the author to continue to engage the under-appreciated adult non-specialist demographic with space science.   Expanding on the growing success of 2.2.3 “Becoming Martian” Book Release, an audiobook version of “Becoming Martian” will be recorded in November 2017 to engage adults through audio rather than written text. As “Becoming Martian” was turned from a 2014 stage show into a 2017 non-fiction book, work has already begun on turning “Cosmic Nomad” from a 2016 stage show into a non-fiction book being released for National Science Week 2018. Two further non-fiction books are also being actively researched and developed, respectively focussed on humanity’s relationship with the cosmos and our perception of reality.

Consistent engagement with the media has also presented considerable opportunities to work more directly in radio and television. Three television shows based on student and adult space science engagement and education are currently being negotiated in Australia and the United States, with similar standing offers in Australian commercial and community broadcast radio.

5. Conclusions

Effective space science engagement for non-specialist adults is sorely needed to make space accessible to everyone, not just for students or adults with careers in a STEM field. Incredible opportunities for space science engagement are available by supporting comedians and storytellers to add the “A” for arts into STEM to make it STEAM, while further opportunities are available to science communicators willing to develop and present space science in an interesting and engaging manner for non-specialist adult audiences. Mass media is a significant amplifier for communicating space science, provided scientists embrace opportunities to share their work through humour and focusing on the human story of science.

Acknowledgements

The author would like to formally acknowledge Inspiring Australia, which has funded and supported the author’s work through numerous projects since 2013, as well as Mars One, without whom the author would likely never have moved into space science communication. The author would also like to acknowledge the following organisations for hosting and supporting adult space-science engagement events in partnership with the author: Scitech Science Museum, the University of Twente, CultureTECH, Australia’s Science Channel at Royal Institute of Australia, World Science Festival Brisbane, the Boston Museum of Science, WOMADelaide, Curtin University’s ChemCentre, and the Museum of Applied Arts and Science.

References

[1] Josh Richards, Josh Richards – Mars Needs Guitars! (Full Show – August 15, 2013)  youtu.be/fCNoWgSa0fI (accessed 5/9/2017)
[2] Living On Mars Convention, LOMC Josh Richards, youtu.be/kRcyfD2Bk4s (accessed 5/9/2017)
[3] The Laborastory, Josh Richards on Sally Ride, youtu.be/Qiwy2-QXhoA (accessed 5/9/2017)
[4] The Laborastory, Josh Richards on Wernher Von Braun, youtu.be/adNU_2Urir0 (accessed 5/9/2017)
[5] HawkeCentre, Life on Mars, youtu.be/ttnEeLHT8Xc(accessed 5/9/2017)
[6] Radio National – The Science Show, Fly me to Mars!, www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/scienceshow/fly-me-to-mars!/8625154 (accessed 6/9/2017) [7] Josh Richards, Media,  joshrichards.space/media/ (accessed 5/9/2017)

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 🙂

News – October Newsletter

October Oddities

I’ve mentioned it before, but 2017 has been… hectic. I knew I was running at full-tilt, but when the IAC finished things finally slowed just enough for me to realise just how utterly exhausted and burned out I’ve become. Travelling non-stop for two years, writing a book, being a National Science Week ambassadorand presenting at the world’s biggest astronautics conference the week Australia announces the formation of a space agency – who’d have thought that would wear someone down… right?!

Thankfully now there are clearer skies ahead, and I’m spending a lot more time rethinking my “YES TO ALL THE THINGS” attitude of the last few years.

I’m still tempted to disappear to some log cabin, ignore everyone’s messages and generally live like the Unabomber… but for now my overloaded introvert-self is just grateful things have backed off so I can stop constantly talking my way around the country/world, and go back to more writing and sharing updates on Patreon and joshrichards.space

For those of you already supporting my writing on Patreon, you’ve been getting regular updates on my fiery descent into exhausted madness over this last month:

  • Space – IAC Paper: Using Comedians and Storytellers for Wide-Spread Public Engagement With Space – The paper I submitted and presented at the 2017 International Astronautical Congress last month, detailing all of the adult science engagement (eg. anything outside of a school) I’ve done over the last 5 years.
  • Personal – Motivation letter – I’ve applied for a rather amazing Masters program in the Netherlands that would start September 2018, and this is the letter I wrote to the university detailing my motivations for choosing their program over any other in the world.
  • [Journal] Effortless NYWF Convo & Train Couple – 6 October 2014 – One of my all time favourite journal entries, posted exactly 3 years after I originally wrote it. The entry itself is amusing, while the commentary reflects on a relationship that had just started, where it ended up, and how I’ve come full circle personally since then.
  • Space – IAC 2017 Wrap-Up – A huge summary of the 2017 International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, covering all the highs and lows across 5 days of total spacey madness
  • Reading, Watching & Listening – October 2017 The last few months have been quite a strange mirroring of events from the past, and what I’ve been reading, watching and listening to in October has led to some especially bizarre trips down memory lane.

Cutting back on trying to do everything means I have more time and energy to devote to projects I genuinely care about, so I’m incredibly excited to finally announce I’ll be featured in the season finale of Stories Out Loud being released on October 27th!

Stories Out Loud is a short documentary web series, designed to tell the stories of people who contribute to their community, organisations and businesses in ways that matter and take courage… and apparently that includes ginger idiots trying to move to Mars! It’s a huge honour to be interviewed, and I’m especially excited to be doing a series of live Q&As for Stories Out Loud on October 29, October 31 and November 5 to answer questions about Mars One project and the weird path I took to become one of their 100 remaining astronaut candidates! I’ll be giving away signed copies of Becoming Martian for the best questions during each Q&A, so keep an eye on Facebook & Twitter next week for all the details on how to take part!

Things have been pretty full-on this year… but I’ve survived it, and I’m looking forward to finishing 2017 with plenty of rest, relaxation and reflection. As always keep an eye on Patreon for the latest news and articles, regular posts on www.joshrichards.space, as well as my sporadic nonsense on Facebook & Twitter!

Stay awesome,
Josh

News – September Newsletter

Sh-lippery sh-lippery Sh-eptember

I’ll be honest – at this point I’ve pretty much lost my mind.The last 6 months have been so unbelievably out of control, I’ve barely been able to keep track of where I am and where I need to be next. I hate the word “busy”, but it’s safe to say I’ve been spending more time doing stuff than has been healthy.

Thankfully the end is in sight. My work as a media ambassador to National Science Week is now over after 50+ interviews in the space of 4 days, my first book Becoming Martian has been published (head to www.becomingmartian.com if you haven’t ordered your copy yet!) with book launch events in Perth and Sydney, and yesterday I submitted my final paper for the 2017 International Astronautical Congress 2017 on using comedians and storytellers to communicate space science to the public!

All I have left now is to present that paper in Adelaide at the end of the month, and then I have NOTHING planned!

Ofcourse I say “nothing” but what I really means is “I don’t have any thing booked for weeks and fully intend to spend at least a month hiding away in some isolated log cabin away from humans – sleeping in every day, eating better and exercising, and writing heaps… like the Unabomber“. So while all my focus has been on writing and publishing Becoming Martian the last few months, I’m really excited about returning to the basics and getting back to publishing on Patreon and joshrichards.space with a little more consistency this month!

Which means September promises to be a particularly good month if you’re a Patreon supporter!

For those of you already supporting on Patreon, you’ve been plenty of sneak peaks of Becoming Martian along with a bunch of exclusive content;

I’m really proud to say I’ve now published my first book, and it’s launch for National Science Week was an incredible success… but I’m also really grateful that the whole process is nearly over so in October I can get back to what I truly love: avoiding human contact, living like a prepper and writing manifes… errrr… articles. Many articles. Yup.

Between now and then there’s still five days of space industry chaos at IAC2017 though. With promising rumblings from Mars OneAustralian space industry roundtable meetings and other awesome opportunities emerging, the final months of 2017 are still sure to be eventful no matter how much I try to disappear – keep an eye on the www.joshrichards.space for regular postsPatreon for the latest news, as well as my usual nonsense on Facebook & Twitter!

Stay awesome,
Josh

Becoming Martian Pre-Orders Now Available!

Pre-Order Becoming Martian Today!

Pre-order Becoming Martian now at
www.becomingmartian.com

After a mad trip through the US/Canada and plenty of last-minute book wrangling along the way, I’m very pleased to be back in Australia to promote Becoming Martian and Australia’s National Science Week (August 12-20)! Since I shared the pre-order link on Facebook and Twitter on the weekend, fans have been hammering the site with orders. It already looks like we’re going to run-out of the initial printing run, with many folks opting for the limited edition signed copies.

With Becoming Martian being published in 38 countries on August 12th to mark the start of National Science Week, the chaos is only going to grow though. So if you want to make sure you can actually get a copy, head to www.becomingmartian.com now!

As a media ambassador for National Science Week you’ll be hearing plenty from me about everything science-related happening August 12-20th around Australia. I’ll also be talking about colonising Mars and signing books in Perth & Sydney too!


As always, my supporters on Patreon have known what I’m up to well ahead of time – reading early book drafts and extra content, early access to articles, and Patron-only exclusives. To thank them for their incredible support through 2017 in making Becoming Martian a reality though, I’ve just shared something extra special just for my supporters here.

If you’re not yet a supporter on Patreon, there’s still time to sign up and take part in our massive Patreon Book Launch Giveaway on August 12! Every Patreon supporter gets something completely random in the giveaway, so between all the extra content from Becoming Martian and the launch giveaway this is definitely the time to become a supporter if you’re not already!


Thank you all again for your amazing support – Becoming Martian truly has been a huge team effort, and with it being published to kick off the madness of National Science Week I can’t wait to see what happens!

In the meantime head over to www.becomingmartian.com to pre-order a copy of the book, and keep an eye on Patreon for the latest news as well as Facebook & Twitter!

Becoming Martian will be out August 12!

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News – “Becoming Martian” Book Launch Giveaway!

As promised in the June newsletter the Becoming Martian Patreon Giveaway is now underway! Check out the video above for a quick glimpse at some of the goodies in the mix, and as always the rules are very simple – just sign up to be a supporter on Patreon! Every supporter gets something completely random in the giveaway, plus higher level supporters also receive:

  • $10/month – An electronic copy of Becoming Martian as soon as it publishes on August 12 in your choice of ebook format, along with a thank you note for your support
  • $25/month – A signed physical copy of Becoming Martian as soon as it publishes on August 12, along with an acknowledgement of your amazing support in every copy of the book!

Not only will you get all the exclusive content I only share with Patreon supporters, but you’ll also be the first people to read my very overdue book! Prize giveaway will be held on August 12 to coincide with Becoming Martian being published.

If you’re already a Patreon supporter, firstly THANK YOU! Secondly, you don’t need to do anything – just sit back, because you’ll automatically have things coming your way on August 12! But if you’re not a supporter yet and thinking about becoming one then this is definitely the time to do it!Very proud to say I’ll also be back in Sydney during National Science Week to support an amazing event at the Sydney Opera House August 17th… which is also my birthday!

Thanks again for all your amazing support – with Becoming Martian being published in among all the usual madness of National Science Week I can’t wait to see what happens! In the meantime keep an eye on the website for regular postsPatreon for the latest news, as well as Facebook & Twitter!

Becoming Martian will be out August 12!

News – First Draft, First 3000 Words [Becoming Martian]

They say the hardest thing is just to begin… but I’m pretty sure that’s utter crap because I “began” writing a book nearly 3 years ago, wrote the first draft in 26 days, and barely touched it again until recently. These days I’m certain the hardest thing is just getting things DONE: don’t pour constantly over it trying to make it perfect, putting off working on it till you feel “inspired”, or waiting for someone else to come along and finish it for you. Just. Get. It. Done.

So with that in mind, I’ve spent the last week housesitting, watching Netflix, playing ukulele, running and generally finding anyway I could to procrastinate in every way possible to avoid editing and finishing my damn book.

There is some truth to the “hardest thing is to begin” thing though, because as soon as I ran out of things to watch and actually opened up the old book draft documents I started to immediately pick it apart and edit – change a phrase here, update with new research there, cut a section because it doesn’t fit with the overall message, ect. There’s also the added bonus of knowing that you’ve fallen way behind on all your Patreon commitments this month, but there is an absolute mountain of content already written in your book drafts that you can share.

So with that in mind I give you the first draft of the first 3000 words of “Becoming Martian” – my long overdue book about how colonising Mars humans will change physiologically (body), psychologically (mind), and culturally (spirit). Don’t get too attached to any of this – it’s just a draft. And for Patreon-supporters, you can expect to be inundated with more drafts for the rest of the book over the next 3 weeks of my housesit while I write, re-write, edit, tear out my hair, wonder how I could have written something so stupid, consult a thesaurus to find a 4th way to say “crap in a plastic bag”, scribble inane pictures because I can’t find creative common images of what I’m describing, and generally have the same nervous breakdown each writer has trying to publish their first book.

Enjoy.


Sitting on the edge of the couch, mouth agape, I was staring at the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. She smiled gently back, floating ceaselessly in front of me like a flame-haired goddess. Suddenly another passenger appeared from the right of the screen, seemingly on a collision course this perfect being, but with just the slightest push of her finger she sent him sending him spinning away again into the distance. This floating ginger Diana turned back to me, smiled that most glorious of smiles, then effortlessly sailed away out of frame like a dream. Abruptly the scene jumped to a shot of strangers in blue jumpsuits bouncing weightlessly around inside a padded aircraft, with the sounds of angels singing in my head slowly fading back to the overly enthusiastic American narrator describing parabolic flight training… and she was gone.

For weeks I’d been tirelessly working my way through a documentary series on the challenges of sending humans to Mars, and to be honest the eye-candy was generally dismal. No disrespect to the likes of Professor Paul Delaney or Dr Robert Zubrin, but after literally hours of watching aging white men talk to the camera about the finely-tuned personality dynamics required for deep space exploration, I was yet to see much evidence of this “mixed gender crew” everyone was so keen to send to Mars. My initial primal “Who are you and will you bear my children?” response to the floating redhead subsided however, and as I picked myself up from the puddle I’d formed on the floor there was a horrible, dawning realisation: If I were ever to actually meet this majestic space unicorn, it’d probably be while I was stuck to the floor of an aircraft during a 2g climb, hurling up breakfast into one of those sarcastically labelled “Motion Sickness Discomfort Bags”, impotently waving my arms around like a sea turtle stranded on it’s back and while she told she didn’t date other gingers because of the in-flight fire hazard.

You see weightlessness isn’t all champagne, floating red hair and Strauss’s Blue Danube. You might gape slack-jawed at the wondrous freedom of micro-gravity from the comfort of your lounge room, but modern humans have also spent the last 2.3 million years eating, shuffling and shagging in the consistent pull of Earth’s gravity. So while your mind is buzzing at the idea of zero-g backflips, the rest of your body should immediately start screaming “AHHHHHHHH!!! WHY?! Hang on, is that… wait, I think I’ve got… NOPE – MOTHER OF MONKEY ZEUS, WHAT EVEN IS THIS? WHY CAN I TASTE PURPLE RIGHT NOW? AHHHHHHHHH!!!”

At the start of the 1950’s Gemini program, NASA wanted it’s future astronauts to have a tiny taster of what micro-gravity is like. The idea was so they could get a sense of how to move themselves and equipment around without the binding embrace of gravity, while also observing how their bodies reacted to the changing forces. So they ripped all the seats out of a C131 Samaritan military cargo plane, covered the cabin with white cushions so it looked like a padded white cell with a curved roof, then started flying this winged roller-coaster through the sky on what was benignly referred to as “parabolic flights”.

Just seconds from filling their helmets with carrots & peas [Credit: NASA]

Each parabola is broken into two parts that are filled with wildly different levels of joy & despair. For the first 90 seconds the aircraft climbs at a rather aggressive 45 degrees, where you’ll be stuck to the floor with nearly twice the force of gravity trying to force your stomach out through your back. But as the aircraft reaches ~35,000ft, the pilot gently arcs the plane out of the climb and straight into a 45 degree dive, so that for about 25 to 30 seconds your body is still going up while the plane arcs downwards. Done at the right speed, you and your fellow passengers will be weightless. Which is great, because now instead of your stomach trying to come out your back it’s lurching forward trying to float in front of you. Delicious. Then you go back into a 45 degree climb to do it all again – over a standard 2 to 3 hour NASA training flight, the aircraft will do 40 to 60 of these parabolas. Which is why 60 years later astronauts still call it the “Vomit Comet”.

Motion sickness in a deliciously nifty diagram [Credit NASA]

In the mid 70’s NASA replaced the original aircraft with two KC-135 Stratotankers that stayed in service till 2004. And like everything that survived the 80’s, NASA even tried slapping on some shoulder pads and skin-tight lycra by renaming them the “Weightless Wonders”, but to no effect. The “Vomit Comet” nickname has lived on like the Dread Pirate Roberts of motion sickness. There was even an attempt later to call the aircraft “Dream Machines” during the 90’s as part of another sexy re-branding, but unless your idea of a sexy dream resembles a David Lynch-esque nightmare where re-tasting the pasta linguine you had a few hours earlier forms an important part of a bizarre erotic fantasy involving the Log Lady… chances are you’re still going to have a bad time no matter what the aircraft is called.

Not that sexy re-branding is a bad thing when it might genuinely reduce passenger fears. According to John Yaniec – lead test director for 15 years to NASA’s Reduced Gravity Program – anxiety is the biggest contributor to airsickness among passengers, and the chances of re-visiting lunch seem to follow a rule of thirds: “one third violently ill, the next third moderately ill, and the final third not at all”. Which also matches up pretty closely to how Ron Howard and the stars of Apollo 13 fared filming the movie’s weightless scenes. Over 10 days, 612 parabolas and 4 hours of cumulative weightlessness, the scorecard finished with Gary Sinise and Kevin Bacon regularly filling their vomit bags, and Tom Hanks and Ron Howard feeling green but managing to keep it all down. But Bill Paxton? He was zooming around grinning without a care on every parabola, and I can only hope he was also having flashbacks to playing Private Hudson in Aliens and occasionally screaming “WE’RE ON AN EXPRESS ELEVATOR TO HELL, GOING DOWN! WOOOO HOOOO!”.

You are really not helping the situation here Bill… [Credit: 20th Century Fox]

So it’s not all airborne despair. Nor do you have to be a trainee astronaut or a Hollywood star to experience weightlessness on a parabolic flight. For every day civilians wanting to get a tiny taste of space, a 90-100 minute flight aboard Zero-G Corporation’s “G-Force One” might be as close to the full physiological nightmare of weightlessness as you might want. Founded in 2004 by Peter Diamandis, astronaut Byron Lichtenberg and NASA engineer Ray Cronise, the Zero-G corporation offers regular parabolic flights all over the US for a cool $5000US per person. And thankfully, they also do it with a surprisingly low vomit ratio. It seems most people are okay for about the first 15 parabolas, but then start to go green at around 20, and the cascade hurling is usually in full force by the 25th. So instead of subjecting paying customers to a 3-4 hour flight involving 40-60 parabolas like NASA does to it’s astronauts, Zero-G avoids the dry-cleaning by only performing 12-15 parabolas over a flight. It might only equate to about 5-6 minutes of weightlessness, but a slew of ex-girlfriends will attest this is plenty of time for someone like me to have fun and make an idiot of out myself in front of dozens of people we don’t know. Unfortunately I’m yet to experience a parabolic flight myself though, because if I had I probably wouldn’t be writing a book about going to Mars, I’d be sitting on a back porch playing banjo and enjoying domestic bliss with my curly-haired ginger wife and our half dozen soulless ginger children.

Medically speaking the nausea of motion sickness stems from a mis-match between what we’re seeing, and what the tiny loops of fluid in our inner ear – the vestibular system – are telling the brain. If your inner ear is saying you’re spinning & bouncing around but your eyes say you’re not moving (like when you’re inside a parabolic aircraft), then your brain thinks you’ve been poisoned and gets your hurling reflex cranking. Likewise if your inner ear says you’re standing perfectly still but your eyes believe the world has been flipped upside down you’re also probably going to be tasting lunch twice too.

There’s one of these in each of your ears telling you which was is up [Credit: NASA]

The quickest and easiest way to ease the nausea and re-establish some sense to your world is to simply find a window and look out to the horizon. Not only does this give your visual system a fixed frame of reference that will partially subdue the vertigo, it also provides a psychological “horizon” that you can pin your hopes and dreams on. But as an ex-girlfriend once told me there’s no “horizon” when one of you is going to spend 7 months hurtling through the darkness of interplanetary space on a one-way trip to Mars. With nowhere to look to but the yawning abyss to subdue your motion sickness and relationship issues, the best option is legitimately curl up in a ball to cry yourself to sleep. The actual tears themselves do very little, but closing your eyes stops the visual element from confusing your brain’s balance system, and if you do actually manage to sleep you’ll get a few hours bliss to forget about motion sickness and instead dream of giant hammocks, bouncy castles and emotional security.

Also like an emotional, wailing infant you’ll find chewing on things can ease the nausea too. Obviously you don’t really want to eat anything substantial out of fear of adding to the washing machine that has replaced your stomach, but light snacks and chewing gum appear to help at least distract nausea sufferers. There’s also evidence that ginger can help: chewing ginger root or drinking ginger-infused tea won’t stop the raw sensation of nausea, but it’s been proven to be an effective herbal remedy to reduce vomiting. Chewing on an actual ginger person however will likely result in physical violence by making them “rangry”.

Even if you’re Bill Paxton you’ll still want to take some sort of medication to ease the trauma of bouncing around inside an airborne roller-coaster though. After a few days filming inside the vomit comet for Apollo 13, Tom Hanks got a little too confident one morning and decided to skip his daily dose of Dramamine to see what it would be like un-medicated – this was not a mistake he would repeat. While there’s plenty of remedies that claim to treat motion sickness that are “all natural with no drugs, artificial additives or stimulants” and contain “only the freshest, highest quality Chamomile, Lavender and Frankincense oils”, most space agencies like to give their trainee astronauts medication that actually works, instead of simply leaving them smelling like vomit and potpourri. Same goes with those band things that put pressure on your forearm’s “Nei-Kuan” point: by all means give it a go, but the scientific consensus is that pharmacology & psychology are more likely to win the nausea battle.

By far the most commonly prescribed motion sickness medication is Dimenhydrinate, more commonly known as Dramamine. Combining a nausea-quelling antihistamine with a stimulant not dissimilar to caffeine, Dramamine WILL help reduce the nausea associated with motion sickness… but it might also knock you out in the process. While other medications such as Meclizine may not put you in the land of nod quite as quickly, all current motion sickness medications make people at least a little bit drowsy because they work by telling your central nervous system to calm down instead of freaking out and bringing up breakfast. Which is why most aviation authorities worldwide prohibit pilots in command from using motion sickness medication at all, and why the boxes recommend not to take it and operate heavy machinery. Warnings that I’m guessing probably also apply to flying a multi-billion dollar spaceship to Mars…

There’s also the minor issue that when these drugs start to mess with your central nervous system they can also make you trip harder than Ringo Star writing Yellow Submarine. In sufficient doses Dramamine acts as a deliriant, with recreational users talking about “Dramatizing” or “going dime a dozen”, and giving the drug a whole series of different street names like “dime”, “D-Q” and “drams”… all of which I just pulled straight off Wikipedia because I have no experience with Dramamine-induced delirium what so ever. But my Mum does! A few years ago my parents went on a scuba diving trip out to the the Rowley Shoals: a series of atolls about 260km out from Broome on the Australian north-west coast. While Dad has always prided himself on his cast-iron stomach, the 8 hour boat trip to the shoals took it’s toll on Mum. Luckily though there were some friendly Germans on the boat too, and rather than indulging in their national past time of Schadenfreude by laughing at her suffering, they gave her a couple of tablets that they assured would help the nausea… and it worked! Mum didn’t feel an ounce of nausea while she chased non-existent “molecules” around the deck of the boat for the next few hours, trying to scoop them up gently in her hands and showing them to everyone on board. So the Germans had their Schadenfreude after all, only with less “projectile vomiting” and more “Australian mother of two hilariously tripping her face off while hundreds of kilometers into the Indian Ocean during in heavy seas”.

While Dramamine might be the solution for parabolic flights and regular car/seasickness, the best option for astronauts seems to be the far stronger and longer lasting Scopolamine. Usually coming in the form of a VERY sexy* trans-dermal patch that gets stuck behind your ear like a leech (*not sexy at all), Scopolamine patches slowly administer the drug over several days and provide astronauts nausea relief during their initial adapting to life in space. Just make sure you wash your hands if you touch the patch though, as it’ll cause blurred vision if you manage to get it in your eyes. Scopolamine still causes drowsiness though, so the military found a solution for their fighter pilots: “Scop-Dex”, or Scopolamine mixed with dextroamphetamines. That’s right: the air force took heavy-duty motion sickness medication, and mixed it with the pills your friends used to buy/steal from the ADHD kid in high school before dancing to Moby. Scientists didn’t believe it was even possible to dance to Moby, but the kids you went to school with proved it, while the ADHD kid just bounced awkwardly in the corner as the un-medicated control sample.

Space agencies are obviously keen to avoid having astronauts a) vomit on expensive control panels, b) doze off at the flight panel, or c) throw out all the supplies to make room for an all-night space rave. As a result, a huge amount of research is continuing into how nausea from motion sickness can be minimised in space without medication. One of the most promising technologies currently being investigated by NASA is the use of strobe lighting and LCD shutter glasses that flicker at a sufficiently high frequency to not interfere with your vision. Initial experiments with participants on the ground and during parabolic flights have now shown that a short duration flash 4 to 8 times per second significantly reduces the symptoms of motion sickness. So while I might not be drowsy or vomiting into a paper bag when I finally meet that ginger sky unicorn on a parabolic flight, but I’ll probably be suffering the indignity of having to wear NASA-designed shutter shades and feeling like I’ve helped Kanye West get into space.

Atleast Daft Punk have moved on from the full-size helmets [Credit: New Scientist]

Speaking of indignities, if you were hypothetically to type “zero g corporation redhead” into google image search, Jake Gyllanhal is the 8th picture you’d see. Probably. When you eventually found your ginger space unicorn on the 14th page of results, it’d also be instantly obvious she’s not really a red-head, and all your ginger militia-founding hopes instantly disintegrate right there. In retrospect though if I’m falling in love with a women based on about 8 seconds of footage from a documentary series made in the late 90’s, I’m probably not in the right place emotionally to be contributing to the gene pool anyway.

But for all the wonder and inspiration of space, all the spiritual awakening that astronauts report seeing our beautiful, fragile planet from a perspective that doesn’t see borders, racial or religious differences, just one Earth… chances are you’re STILL going to be tasting your own stomach acid. Your life-altering spiritual experience is being tainted by a little thing space medicine experts casually refer to as “S.A.S.” or Space Adaptation Syndrome. And we can’t talk about Space Adaptation Syndrome without talking about Senator Jake Garn…


End of Draft.

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