Lex Fridman Podcast - #51 - Dava Newman: Space Exploration, Space Suits, and Life on Mars

The following is a conversation with David Newman.

She’s the Apollo Program Professor at MIT

and the former Deputy Administrator of NASA

and has been a principal investigator

on four space flight missions.

Her research interests are in aerospace

biomedical engineering, investigating human performance

in varying gravity environments.

She has designed and engineered and built

some incredible space suit technology,

namely the BioSuit that we talk about in this conversation.

Due to some scheduling challenges on both our parts,

we only had about 40 minutes together.

And in true engineering style, she said,

I talk fast, you pick the best questions, let’s get it done.

And we did.

It was a fascinating conversation

about space exploration and the future of spacesuits.

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And now, here’s my conversation with Deva Newman.

You circumnavigated the globe on boat,

so let’s look back in history.

500 years ago, Ferdinand Magellan’s crew

was first to circumnavigate the globe,

but he died, which I think people don’t know,

like halfway through, and so did 242 of the 260 sailors

that took that three year journey.

What do you think it was like for that crew at that time

heading out into the unknown to face probably likely death?

Do you think they were filled with fear, with excitement?

Probably not fear, I think in all of exploration,

the challenge and the unknown, so probably wonderment.

And then just when you really are sailing the world’s oceans,

you have extreme weather of all kinds.

When we were circumnavigating, it was challenging,

a new dynamic, you really appreciate Mother Earth,

you appreciate the winds and the waves,

so back to Magellan and his crew,

since they really didn’t have a three dimensional map

of the globe, of the Earth when they went out,

just probably looking over the horizon thinking,

what’s there, what’s there?

So I would say the challenge that had to be really important

in terms of the team dynamics and that leadership

had to be incredibly important, team dynamics,

how do you keep people focused on the mission?

So you think the psychology, that’s interesting,

there’s probably echoes of that in the space exploration

stuff we’ll talk about.

So the psychology of the dynamics between the human beings

on the mission is important?

Absolutely, for a Mars mission, it’s lots of challenges,

technology, but since I specialize

in keeping my astronauts alive, the psychosocial issues,

the psychology of psychosocial team dynamics, leadership,

that’s, you know, we’re all people, so that’s gonna be,

that’s always a huge impact, one of the top three,

I think, of any isolated, confined environment,

any mission that is really pretty extreme.

So your Twitter handle is devaexplorer,

so when did you first fall in love with the idea

of exploration?

Ah, that’s a great question, you know, maybe as long

as I can remember, as I grew up in Montana

in the Rocky Mountains and Helena in the capital,

and so literally, you know, Mount Helena was my backyard,

was right up there, so exploring, being in the mountains,

looking at caves, just running around,

but always being in nature, so since my earliest memories,

I, you know, think of myself as kind of exploring

the natural beauty of the Rocky Mountains where I grew up.

So exploration is not limited to any domain,

it’s just anything, so the natural domain of any kind,

so going out to the woods into a place you haven’t been,

it’s all exploration.

I think so, yeah, I have a pretty all encompassing

definition of exploration.

So what about space exploration?

When were you first captivated by the idea

that we little humans could venture out into the space,

into the great unknown of space?

So it’s a great year to talk about that,

the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11,

as I was alive during Apollo,

and specifically Apollo 11, I was five years old,

and I distinctly remember that, I remember that humanity,

I’m sure I probably didn’t know their names at the time,

you know, there’s Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin,

and never forget Michael Collins in orbit,

you know, those three men, you know,

doing something that just seemed impossible,

seemed impossible a decade earlier, even a year earlier,

but so the Apollo program really inspired me,

and then I think it actually just taught me to dream,

to any impossible mission could be possible

with enough focus, and I’m sure you need some luck,

but you definitely need the leadership,

you need the focus of the mission,

so since an early age, I thought,

of course, people, it should be interplanetary,

of course, people, we need people on Earth,

and we’re gonna have people exploring space as well.

So that seemed obvious, even at that age, of course.

It opened it up, before we saw men on the moon,

it wasn’t obvious to me at all, but once we understood

that yes, absolutely, astronauts, that’s what they do,

they explore, they go into space,

and they land on other planets or moons.

So again, maybe a romanticized philosophical question,

but when you look up at the stars,

knowing that, you know, there’s at least 100 billion

of them in the Milky Way galaxy, right,

so we’re really a small speck in this giant thing

that’s the visible universe,

how does that make you feel about our efforts here?

I love the perspective, I love that perspective,

I always open my public talks

with a big Hubble Space Telescope image,

looking out into, you mentioned just now,

the solar system, the Milky Way,

because I think it’s really important to know

that we’re just a small, pale, blue dot,

we’re really fortunate, we’re on the best planet by far,

life is fantastic here.

That we know of, you’re confident

this is the best planet.

I’m pretty sure it’s the best planet,

the best planet that we know of.

I mean, I searched my researches, you know,

in mission worlds, and when will we find life?

I think actually probably the next decade,

we find probably past life,

probably the evidence of past life on Mars, let’s say.

You think there was once life on Mars,

or do you think there’s currently?

I’m more comfortable saying probably 3.5 billion years ago,

feel pretty confident there was life on Mars,

just because then it had an electromagnetic shield,

it had an atmosphere, has wonderful gravity level,

three HGs, fantastic, you know, you’re all super human,

we can all slam dunk a basketball,

I mean, it’s gonna be fun to play sports on Mars.

So I think we’ll find past, no, fossilized,

probably the evidence of past life on Mars.

Currently, that’s okay, we need the next decade,

but the evidence is mounting for sure.

We do have the organics, we’re finding organics,

we have water, seasonal water on Mars.

We used to just know about the ice caps,

you know, North and South Pole,

now we have seasonal water.

We do have the building blocks for life on Mars.

We really need to dig down into the soil,

because everything on the top surface is radiated,

but once we find down, will we see any life forms?

Will we see any bugs?

I leave it open as a possibility,

but I feel pretty certain that past life,

or fossilized life forms, we’ll find.

And then we have to get to all these ocean worlds,

these beautiful moons of other planets,

since we know they have water,

and we’re looking for some simple search for life,

follow the water, carbon based life,

that’s the only life we know.

There could be other life forms that we don’t know about,

but it’s hard to search for them, because we don’t know.

So in our search for life in the solar system,

it’s definitely search, follow the water,

and look for the building blocks of life.

So you think in the next decade,

we might see hints of past life, or even current life?

I think so, that’s it.

Pretty optimistic.

I love the optimism.

I’m pretty optimistic.

Do humans have to be involved,

or can this be robots and rovers and?

Probably teams, I mean, we’ve been at it,

on Mars in particular, 50 years.

We’ve been exploring Mars for 50 years, great data, right?

Our images of Mars today are phenomenal.

Now we know how Mars lost its atmosphere.

We’re starting to know,

because of the lack of the electromagnetic shield.

We know about the water on Mars.

So we’ve been studying 50 years with our robots,

we still haven’t found it.

So I think once we have a human mission there,

we just accelerate things.

But it’s always humans and our rovers and robots together.

But we just have to think that 50 years,

we’ve been looking at Mars, and taking images,

and doing the best science that we can.

People need to realize Mars is really far away.

It’s really hard to get to.

You know, this is extreme, extreme exploration.

We mentioned Magellan first,

or all of the wonderful explorers and sailors of the past,

which kind of are lots of my inspiration for exploration.

Mars is a different ball game.

I mean, it’s eight months to get there,

year and a half to get home.

I mean, it’s really extreme.

The harsh environment in all kinds of ways.

But the kind of organisms we might be able to see

hints of on Mars are kind of microorganisms perhaps.

Do you think?

Yeah, and remember that humans,

we’re kind of, you know, we’re hosts, right?

We’re hosts to all of our bacteria and viruses, right?

Do you think it’s a big leap

from the viruses and the bacteria to us humans?

Put another way, do you think on all those moons,

beautiful, wet moons that you mentioned,

you think there’s intelligent life out there?

I hope so.

I mean, that’s the hope, but you know,

we don’t have the scientific evidence for that now.

I think all the evidence we have in terms of life existing

is much more compelling again,

because we have the building blocks of life now.

When that life turns into intelligence, that’s a big unknown.

If we ever meet,

do you think we would be able to find a common language?

I hope so.

We haven’t met yet.

It’s just so far, I mean, do physics just play a role here?

Look at all these exoplanets, 6,000 exoplanets.

I mean, even the couple dozen Earth like planets

that are exoplanets that really look like habitable planets.

These are very Earth like.

They look like they have all the building blocks.

I can’t wait to get there.

The only thing is they’re 10 to 100 light years away.

So scientifically, we know they’re there.

We know that they’re habitable.

They have, you know, everything going from, right?

Like, you know, we call them in the Goldilocks zone,

not too hot, not too cold,

just perfect for habitability for life.

But now the reality is if they’re 10 at the best

to 100 to thousands of light years away,

so what’s out there?

But I just can’t think that we’re not the only ones.

So absolutely life, life in the universe,

probably intelligent life as well.

Do you think there needs to be fundamental revolutions

in how we, the tools we use to travel through space

in order for us to venture outside of our solar system?

Or do you think the ways, the rockets,

the ideas we have now, the engineering ideas we have now

will be enough to venture out?

Well, that’s a good question.

Right now, you know, cause again, speed of light is a limit.

We don’t have a warp speed warp drive

to explore our solar system, to get to Mars,

to explore all the planets.

Then we need a technology push,

but technology push here is just advanced propulsion.

It’d be great if I could get humans to Mars

and say, you know, three to four months, not eight months.

I mean, half the time, 50% reduction.

That’s great in terms of safety and wellness of the crew.

Orbital mechanic, but physics rules,

you know, orbital mechanics is still there.

Physics rules, we can’t defy physics.

I love that.

So invent a new physics.

I mean, look at quantum, you know,

look at quantum theory.

So you never know.

Exactly, I mean, we are always learning.

So we definitely don’t know all the physics that exist too,

but we’re, we still have to, it’s not science fiction.

You know, we still have to pay attention to physics

in terms of our speed of travel for space flight.

So you were the deputy administrator of NASA

and during the Obama administration,

there’s a current Artemis program

that’s working on a crewed mission to the moon

and then perhaps to Mars.

What are you excited about there?

What are your thoughts on this program?

What are the biggest challenges do you think

of getting to the moon, of landing to the moon once again,

and then the big step to Mars?

Well, I love, you know, the moon program now, Artemis.

It is definitely, we’ve been in low earth orbit.

I love low earth orbit too,

but I just always look at it as three phases.

So low earth orbit where we’ve been 40 years,

so definitely time to get back to deep space,

time to get to the moon.

There’s so much to do on the moon.

I hope we don’t get stuck on the moon for 50 years.

I really want to get to the moon, spend the next decade,

first with the lander, then humans.

There’s just a lot to explore,

but to me it’s a big technology push.

It’s only three days away.

So the moon is definitely the right place.

So we kind of buy down our technology.

We invest in specifically habitats, life support systems.

So we need suits.

We really need to understand really how to live off planet.

We’ve been off planet and low earth orbit,

but still that’s only 400 kilometers up, 250 miles, right?

So we get to the moon.

It really is a great proving ground for the technologies.

And now we’re in deep space, radiation becomes a huge issue

and to keep our astronauts well and alive.

And I look at all of that investment for moon exploration

to the ultimate goal, the horizon goals we call it,

to get people to Mars.

But we just don’t go to Mars tomorrow, right?

We really need a decade on the moon, I think,

investing in the technologies, learning,

making sure the astronauts are, their health,

they’re safe and well,

and also learning so much about in situ research utilization,

ISRU, in situ resource utilization is huge

when it comes to exploration for the moon and Mars.

So we need a test bed.

And to me, it really is a lunar test bed.

And then we use those same investments

to think about getting people to Mars in the 2030s.

So developing sort of a platform

of all the kind of research tools of all the,

what’s the resource utilization, can you speak to that?

Yeah, so ISRU for the moon, it’s,

we’ll go to the South Pole and it’s fascinating.

We have images of it.

Of course, we know there’s permanently shaded areas

and like by Shackleton crater,

and there’s areas that are permanently in the sun.

Well, it seems that there’s a lot of water ice,

water that’s entrapped in ice and the lunar craters.

That’s the first place you go.


Because it’s water and when you wanna try to,

it could be fuel, life support systems.

So you kind of, again, you go where the water is.

And so when the moon is kind of for resources utilization,

but to learn how to,

can we make the fuels out of the resources

that are on the moon?

We have to think about 3D printing, right?

You don’t get to bring all this mass with you.

You have to learn how to literally live off the land.

We need a pressure shell.

We need to have an atmosphere for people to live in.

So all of that is kind of buying down the technology,

doing the investigation, doing the science.

What are the basically called lunar volatiles?

What is that ice on the moon?

How much of it is there?

What are the resources look like?

To me, that helps us, that’s just the next step

in getting humans to Mars.

You know, it’s cheaper and more effective

to sort of develop some of these difficult challenges,

like solve some of these challenges,

practice, develop, test, and so on on the moon.

Absolutely. That is on Mars.


And people are gonna love to, you know,

you get to the moon, you get to,

you have a beautiful Earthrise.

I mean, you have the most magnificent view of Earth

being off planet.

So it just makes sense.

I think we’re gonna have thousands, lots of people,

hopefully tens of thousands in low Earth orbit,

because low Earth orbit is a beautiful place to go

and look down on the Earth,

but people wanna return home.

I think the lunar explorers

will also wanna do round trips

and, you know, be on the moon, three day trip,

explore, do science, also because the lunar day

is 14 days and lunar nights, also 14 days.

So in that 28 day cycle, you know,

half of it is in light, half of it’s in dark.

So people would probably wanna do, you know,

couple of week trips, month long trips,

not longer than that.

What do you mean by people?

People, explorers.

I mean, yeah, astronauts are gonna be civilians

in the future too.

Not all astronauts are gonna be government astronauts.

Actually, when I was at NASA, we changed,

we actually got the law changed to recognize astronauts

that are not only government employees,

you know, NASA astronauts

or European Space Agency astronauts

or Russian Space Agency that astronauts,

because of the big push we put on the private sector,

that astronauts essentially are gonna be astronauts.

You get over 100 kilometers up

and think once you’ve done orbital flight,

then you’re an astronaut.

So a lot of private citizens are gonna become astronauts.

Do you think one day you might step foot on the moon?

I think it’d be good to go to the moon.

I’d give that a shot.

Mars, I’m gonna, it’s my life’s work

to get the next generation to Mars.

That’s you or even younger than you,

you know, my students generation

will be the Martian explorers.

I’m just working to facilitate that,

but that’s not gonna be me.

Hey, the moon’s pretty good.

And it’s a lot tough.

I mean, it’s still a really tough mission.

It’s an extreme mission, exactly.

It’s great for exploration, but doable,

but again, before Apollo,

we didn’t think getting humans to the moon was even possible.

So we kind of made that possible, but we need to go back.

We absolutely need to go back.

We’re investing in the heavy lift launch capabilities

that we need to get there.

We haven’t had that, you know,

since the Apollo days, since Saturn five.

So now we have three options on the board.

That’s what’s so fantastic.

NASA has its space launch system.

SpaceX is gonna have its heavy capability

and Blue Origin is coming along too with heavy lifts.

So that’s pretty fantastic from where I sit.

I’m the Apollo program professor.

Today I have zero heavy lift launch capability.

I can’t wait, just in a few years,

we’ll have three different heavy lift launch capabilities.

So that’s pretty exciting.

You know, your heart is perhaps with NASA,

but you mentioned SpaceX and Blue Origin.

What are your thoughts of SpaceX

and the innovative efforts there

from the sort of private company aspect?

Oh, they’re great.

They’re, remember that the investments in SpaceX

is government funding.

It’s NASA funding, it’s US Air Force funding,

just as it should be,

because they’re betting on a company who is moving fast,

has some new technology development.

So I love it.

So when I was at NASA,

it really was under our public private partnerships.

So necessarily the government needs to fund

these startups.

Now, SpaceX is no longer a startup,

but you know, it’s been at it for 10 years.

It’s had some accidents, learned a lot of lessons,

but it’s great because it’s the way you move faster.

And also some private industry folks,

some private businesses will take a lot more risk.

That’s also really important for the government.

What do you think about that culture of risk?

I mean, sort of NASA and the government

are exceptionally good at delivering sort of safe,

like there’s a bit more of a culture of caution and safety

and sort of this kind of solid engineering.

And I think SpaceX as well has the same kind of stuff.

It has a little bit more of that startup feel

where they take the bigger risks.

Is that exciting for you to see,

seeing bigger risks in this kind of space?


And the best scenario is both of them working together

because there’s really important lessons learned,

especially when you talk about human space flight,

safety, quality assurance.

These things are the utmost importance,

both aviation and space, you know,

when human lives are at stake.

On the other hand, government agencies,

NASA can be European Space Agency, you name it,

they become very bureaucratic, pretty risk averse,

move pretty slowly.

So I think the best is when you combine the partnerships

from both sides.

Industry necessarily has to push the government,

take some more risks.

You know, they’re smart risk

or actually gave an award at NASA for failing smart.

Failing smart, I love that.

You know, so you can kind of break open the culture,

say, no, look at Apollo, that was a huge risk.

It was done well.

So there’s always a culture of safety, quality assurance,

you know, engineering, you know, at its best.

But on the other hand, you want to get things done

and you have to also get them,

you have to bring the cost down.

You know, for when it comes to launch,

we really have to bring the cost down

and get the frequency up.

And so that’s what the newcomers are doing.

They’re really pushing that.

So it’s about the most exciting time

that I can imagine for space flight.

Again, a little bit, it really is the democratization

of space flight, opening it up,

not just because of the launch capability,

but the science we can do on a CubeSat.

What you can do now for very,

those used to be, you know, student projects

that we would go through, conceive, design, implement,

and think about what a small satellite would be.

Now they’re the most, you know,

these are really advanced instruments,

science instruments that are flying on little teeny CubeSats

that pretty much anyone can afford.

So there’s not a, there’s every nation,

you know, every place in the world can fly a CubeSat.

And so that’s…

What’s a CubeSat?

Oh, CubeSat is a, this is called 1U.

CubeSats we measure in terms of units.

So, you know, just in terms of, I put my,

both my hands together, that’s one unit, two units.

So little small satellites.

So CubeSats are for small satellites.

And we actually go by mass as well.

You know, a small satellite might be a hundred kilos,

200 kilos, all well under a thousand kilos.

CubeSats then are the next thing down from small sats.

You know, basically, you know,

kilos, tens of kilos, things like that.

But kind of the building blocks,

CubeSats are fantastic design,

it’s kind of modular design.

So I can take a 1U, one unit of CubeSat and, you know,

but what if I have a little bit more money and payload,

I can fly three of them

and just basically put a lot more instruments on it.

But essentially think about something

the size of a shoe box, if you will.

You know, that would be a CubeSat.

And how do those help empower you in terms of doing size,

in terms of doing experiments?

Oh, right now there’s, again,

back to private industry, Planet, the company,

is, you know, flying CubeSats

and literally looking down on Earth

and orbiting Earth, taking a picture, if you will,

of Earth every day, every 24 hours,

covering the entire Earth.

So in terms of Earth observations,

in terms of climate change,

in terms of our changing Earth,

it’s revolutionizing because they’re affordable.

We can put a whole bunch of them up.

Telecoms, we’re all, you know, on our cell phones

and we have GPS, we have our telecoms,

but those used to be very expensive satellites

providing that service.

Now we can fly a whole bunch of modular CubeSats.

So it really is breakthrough in terms of modularity,

as well as cost reduction.

So that’s one exciting set of developments.

Is there something else that you’ve been excited about,

like reusable rockets, perhaps,

that you’ve seen in the last few years?

Yeah, well, the reusability you had,

and the reusability is awesome.

I mean, it’s just the best.

Now we have to remember, the shuttle was a reusable vehicle.


Which, and the shuttle is an amazing,

it’s narrow space engineer.

You know, I mean, the shuttle is still,

this is the most gorgeous, elegant,

extraordinary design of a space vehicle.

It was reusable, it just wasn’t affordable.

But the reusability of it was really critical

because we flew it up, it did come back.

So the notion of reusability, I think absolutely.

Now what we’re doing with we, you know,

the Global We, but with SpaceX and Lord Jim,

setting the rockets up, recovering the first stages,

where if they can regain 70% cost savings, that’s huge.

And just seeing the control,

you know, being in control and dynamic as a person,

just seeing that rocket come back and land.

Oh yeah, that’s.

It never gets old, it’s exciting every single time

you look at it and say, that’s magic.

So it’s so cool.

To me, the landing is where I stand up,

start clapping, just the control.

Yeah, just the algorithm, just the control algorithms,

and hitting that landing, it’s, you know,

it’s gymnastics for rocket ships,

but to see these guys stick a landing,

it’s just wonderful.

So every time, like I say, every time I see,

you know, the reusability and the rockets coming back

and landing so precisely, it’s really exciting.

So it is actually, that’s a game changer.

We are in a new era of lower costs

and the higher frequency.

And it’s the world, not just NASA,

many nations are really upping their frequency of launches.

So you’ve done a lot of exciting research,

design, engineering on spacesuits.

What does the spacesuit of the future look like?

Well, if I have anything to say about it,

it’ll be a very, it’ll be a very tight fitting suit.

We use mechanical counter pressure

to pressurize right directly on the skin.

Seems that it’s technically feasible.

We’re still at the research and development stage.

We don’t have a flight system, but technically it’s feasible.

So we do a lot of work in the materials.

You know, what materials do we need to pressurize someone?

What’s the patterning we need?

That’s what our patents are in, the patterning,

kind of how we apply.

This is a third of an atmosphere.

Just to sort of take a little step back,

you have this incredible biosuit where it’s tight fitting,

so it allows more mobility and so on.

So maybe even to take a bigger step back,

like what are the functions that a spacesuit should perform?

Sure, so start from the beginning.

A spacesuit is the world’s smallest spacecraft.

So I really, that’s the best definition I can give you.

Right now we fly gas pressurized suits,

but think of developing and designing an entire spacecraft.

So then you take all those systems

and you shrink them around a person,

provide them with oxygen to breathe,

scrub out their carbon dioxide,

you know, make sure they have pressure.

They need a pressure environment to live in.

So really the spacesuit is a shrunken,

you know, spacecraft in its entirety,

has all the same systems.

Communication as well, probably.

Yeah, communications, exactly.

So you really, thermal control,

little bit of radiation, not so much radiation protection,

but thermal control, humidity, you know, oxygen debris.

So all those life support systems,

as well as the pressure protection.

So it’s an engineering marvel, you know,

the spacesuits that have flown

because they really are entire spacecraft,

they’re the small spacecraft that we have around a person,

but they’re very massive,

but 140 kilos is the current suit,

and they’re not mobility suits.

So since we’re going back to the moon and Mars,

we need a planetary suit, we need a mobility suit.

So that’s where we’ve kind of flipped the design paradigm.

I study astronauts, I study humans in motion,

and if we can map that motion,

I want to give you full flexibility,

you know, move your arms and legs.

I really want you to be like a Olympic athlete,

an extreme explorer.

I don’t want to waste any of your energy,

so we take it from the human design.

So I take a look at humans, we measure them, we model them,

and then I say, okay, can I put a spacesuit on them

that goes from the skin out?

So rather than a gas pressurized shrinking

that spacecraft around the person,

say, here’s how humans perform,

can I design a spacesuit literally from the skin out?

And that’s what we’ve come up with,

a mechanical counter pressure, some patterning,

and that way it could be order of magnitude less

in terms of the mass,

and it should provide maximum mobility for moon or Mars.

What’s mechanical counter pressure?

Like how the heck can you even begin

to create something that’s tight fitting

and still doesn’t protect you from the elements and so on

and the whole, the pressure thing?

That’s the challenge, it’s a big design challenge

we’ve been working on it for.

So you can either put someone in a balloon,

that’s one way to do it, that’s conventional,

that’s the only thing we’ve ever formed.

What’s that mean?

That means the balloon that you fill with gas?

That’s a gas pressurized suit.

If you put someone in a balloon,

it’s only a third of an atmosphere

to keep someone alive.

So that’s what the current system is.

So depending on what units you think,

in 30 kilopascals, 4.3 pounds per square inch.

So much less than the pressure that’s on Earth.

You can still keep a human alive with 0.3

and it’s alive and happy.

Alive and happy.

And you mix the gases.

June, we’re having this chat

and we’re at one sea level in Boston, one atmosphere.

But a suit. Oxygen and nitrogen.

Oxygen and nitrogen.

And you put a suit, if we put someone to a third

of an atmosphere, so for mechanical counter pressure now,

so one way is to do it with a balloon.

And that’s what we currently have.

Or you can apply the pressure directly to the skin.

I only have to give you a third of an atmosphere.

Right now, you and I are very happy in one atmosphere.

So if I put that pressure, a third of an atmosphere on you,

I just have to do it consistently,

across all of your body and your limbs.

And it’ll be a gas pressurized helmet.

Doesn’t make sense to shrink wrap the head.

See the blue mangrove, that’s a great, it’s a great act.

But we don’t need to, there’s no benefits

of like shrink wrapping the head.

You put, you know, a gas pressurized helmet

because the helmet then, the future of suits,

you asked me about, the helmet just becomes

your information portal.

So it will have augmented reality.

It’ll have all the information you need.

Should have, you know, the maps that I need.

I’m on the moon.

Okay, well, hey, smart helmet.

Then show me the map, show me the topography.

Hopefully it has the lab embedded too.

If it has really great cameras,

maybe I can see with that regolith.

That’s just lunar dust and dirt.

What’s that made out of?

We talked about the water.

So the helmet then really becomes this information portal

is how I see kind of the IT architecture of the helmet

is really allowing me to, you know,

use all of my modalities of an explorer that I’d like to.

So cameras, voiceover, images, if it were really good,

it would kind of be, would have lab capabilities as well.

Okay, so the pressure comes from the body,

comes from the mechanical pressure.

It’s fascinating.

Now, what aspect, when I look at Biosuit,

just the suits you’re working on,

sort of from a fashion perspective, they look awesome.

Is that a small part of it too?

Oh, absolutely, because the teams that we work with,

of course, I’m an engineer, there’s engineering students,

there’s design students, there’s architects.

So it really is a very much a multidisciplinary team.

So sure, colors, aesthetics, materials,

all those things we pay attention to.

So it’s not just an engineering solution.

It really is a much more holistic, it’s a suit.

It’s a suit, you’re, you know,

you’re dressed in a suit now.

It’s a warm fitting.

So we really have to pay attention to all those things.

And so that’s the design team that we work with.

And my partner, Geetraati, you know,

we’re partners in this in terms of,

he comes from an architecture, industrial design background.

So bringing those skills to bear as well.

We team up with industry folks who are in, you know,

athletic performance and designers.

So it really is a team

that brings all those skills together.

So what role does this space suit play

in our longterm staying in Mars,

sort of exploring the,

doing all the work that astronauts do,

but also perhaps civilians one day,

almost like taking steps towards colonization of Mars?

What role does a space suit play there?

So you always need life support system, pressurized habitat.

And I like to say, we’re not going to Mars to sit around.

So you need a suit.

You know, even if you land and have the lander,

you’re not going there to stay inside.

That’s for darn sure.

We’re going there to search for the evidence of life.

That’s why we’re going to Mars.

So you need a lot of mobility.

So for me, the suit is the best way

to give the human mobility.

We’re always still going to need rovers.

We’re going to need robots.

So for me, exploration is always a suite of explorers.

Some people are going to,

some of the suite of explorers are humans,

but many are going to be robots, smart systems,

things like that.

But I look at it as kind of all those capabilities together

make the best exploration team.

So let me ask, I love artificial intelligence

and I’ve also saw that you’ve enjoyed the movie

Space Odyssey, 2001 Space Odyssey.

Let me ask the question about HAL 9000.

That makes a few decisions there

that prioritizes the mission over the astronauts.

Do you think, from a high philosophical question,

do you think HAL did the right thing

of prioritizing the mission?

I think our artificial intelligence

will be smarter in the future.

For a Mars mission, it’s a great question

that the reality is for a Mars mission,

we need fully autonomous systems.

We will get humans, but they have to be fully autonomous.

And that’s a really important,

that’s the most important concept

because there’s not going to be a mission control on Earth.

20 minute time lag,

there’s just no way you’re going to control it.

So fully autonomous,

so people have to be fully autonomous as well,

but all of our systems as well.

And so that’s the big design challenge.

So that’s why we test them out on the moon as well.

When we have a, okay, a few second,

three second time lag, you can test them out.

We have to really get autonomous exploration down.

You asked me earlier about Magellan.

Magellan and his crew, they left, right?

They were autonomous.

You know, they were autonomous.

They left and they were on their own

to figure out that mission.

Then when they hit land, they have resources,

that’s in situ resource utilization

and everything else they brought with them.

So we have to, I think, have that mindset for exploration.

Again, back to the moon, it’s more the testing ground,

the proving ground with technologies.

But when we get to Mars, it’s so far away

that we need fully autonomous systems.

So I think that’s where, again, AI and autonomy come in,

a really robust autonomy,

things that we don’t have today yet.

So they’re on the drawing boards,

but we really need to test them out

because that’s what we’re up against.

So fully autonomous meaning like self sufficient.

There’s still a role for the human in that picture.

Do you think there’ll be a time when AI systems,

beyond doing fully autonomous flight control

will also help or even take mission decisions

like Hal did?

That’s interesting.

It depends.

I mean, they’re gonna be designed by humans.

I think as you mentioned, humans are always in the loop.

I mean, we might be on Earth,

we might be in orbit on Mars,

maybe the systems of landers down on the surface of Mars.

But I think we’re gonna get,

we are right now just on Earth based systems,

AI systems that are incredibly capable

and training them with all the data that we have now,

petabytes of data from Earth.

What I care about for the autonomy and AI right now,

how we’re applying it in research

is to look at Earth and look at climate systems.

I mean, that’s the, it’s not for Mars to me today.

Right now AI is to eyes on Earth,

all of our space data, compiling that using supercomputers

because we have so much information and knowledge

and we need to get that into people’s hands.

First, there’s the educational issue with climate

and our changing climate.

Then we need to change human behavior.

That’s the biggie.

So this next decade, it’s urgent

we take care of our own spaceship, which is spaceship Earth.

So that’s to me where my focus has been for AI systems,

using whatever’s out there,

kind of imagining also what the future situation is,

what’s the satellite imagery of Earth of the future.

If you can hold that in your hands,

that’s gonna be really powerful.

Will that help people accelerate positive change for Earth

and for us to live in balance with Earth?

I hope so.

And kind of start with the ocean systems.

So oceans to land to air and kind of using

all the space data.

So it’s a huge role for artificial intelligence

to help us analyze, I call it curating the data,

using the data.

It has a lot to do with visualizations as well.

Do you think in a weird, dark question,

do you think human species can survive

if we don’t become interplanetary

in the next century or a couple of centuries?

Absolutely we can survive.

I don’t think Mars is option B actually.

So I think it’s all about saving spaceship Earth

and humanity.

I simply put, Earth doesn’t need us,

but we really need Earth.

All of humanity needs to live in balance with Earth

because Earth has been here a long time

before we ever showed up

and it’ll be here a long time after.

It’s just a matter of how do we wanna live

with all living beings, much more in balance

because we need to take care of the Earth

and right now we’re not.

So that’s the urgency.

And I think it is the next decade

to try to live much more sustainably,

live more in balance with Earth.

I think the human species has a great long optimistic future,

but we have to act.

It’s urgent.

We have to change behavior.

We have to realize that we’re all in this together.

It’s just one blue bubble.

It’s for humanity.

So when I think people realize that we’re all astronauts,

that’s the great news is everyone’s gonna be an astronaut.

We’re all astronauts of spaceship Earth.

And again, this is our mission.

This is our mission to take care of the planet.

And yet as we explore out from our spaceship Earth here

out into the space,

what do you think the next 50, 100, 200 years

look like for space exploration?

I’m optimistic.

So I think that we’ll have lots of people,

thousands of people, tens of thousands of people,

who knows, maybe millions in low Earth orbit.

That’s just a place that we’re gonna have people

and actually some industry, manufacturing, things like that.

That dream I hope we realize, getting people to the moon.

So I can envision a lot of people on the moon.

Again, it’s a great place to go.

Living or visiting?

Probably visiting and living.

If you want to, most people are gonna wanna come back

to Earth, I think.

But there’ll be some people and it’s not such a long,

it’s a good view, it’s a beautiful view.

So I think that we will have many people

on the moon as well.

I think there’ll be some people, you told me, wow,

hundreds of years out.

So we’ll have people, we’ll be interplanetary for sure

as a species.

So I think we’ll be on the moon.

I think we’ll be on Mars.

Venus, no, it’s already a runaway greenhouse gas.

So not a great place for science.

Jupiter, all within the solar system,

great place for all of our scientific probes.

I don’t see so much in terms of human physical presence.

We’ll be exploring them.

So we live in our minds there because we’re exploring them

and going on those journeys.

But it’s really our choice in terms of our decisions

of how in balance we’re gonna be living here on the Earth.

When do you think the first woman, first person will step on Mars?

Ah, step on Mars?

Well, I’m gonna do everything I can

to make sure it happens in the 2030s.


Say mid, 20, mid 20, 2025, 2035, we’ll be on the moon.

And hopefully with more people than us.

But first with a few astronauts,

it’ll be global, international folks.

But we really need those 10 years, I think, on the moon.

And then so by later in the decade, in the 2030s,

we’ll have all the technology and know how,

and we need to get that human mission to Mars done.

We live in exciting times.

And, Dava, thank you so much for leading the way

and thank you for talking today.

I really appreciate it. Thank you, my pleasure.

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