Talking about Mars – Coast to Coast

My 32ed year on the planet earth has been very eventful to say the least. On my birthday, Dec 30th, I found out that I had been shortlisted for the Mars One mission to colonize Mars. Since then, I’ve been very busy assimilating that into my day to day on top of everything else that goes on during a normal life. Very early on, I started talking to people about Mars. Mars has been an interest of mine for many years so it wasn’t that difficult. I would much rather tell a story than recite facts and figures and for the first time I got to tell my story about Mars.

I was on twitter talking about going to schools and talking about Mars when the Engineers of New Brunswick invited me to their AGM. Their keynote speaker was talking about Life on Mars and they were kind enough to extend an invitation so I could hear him speak. Being the lead scientist for the Curiosity mission, he had some great information to provide. As well as all the normal questions I had for him, Dr Meyer and myself closed the hospitality bar the last night talking about Mars, science and other stories. It was amazing. I was also able to talk to other engineers about the mission. There were two other Mars One candidates in attendance, so there were many questions between sessions. It was great speaking to my peers about the mission and really solidified my resolve that this was the right course of action. It’s a real litmus test to be able to convey your ideas and convictions to experts and I had a very warm reception on the east coast.

A few weeks later, I was on a plane flying to Vancouver to do a mini speaking tour there. I have some friends there that were able to set up talks at a half dozen elementary schools and two universities. I usually talk for 20 minutes and answer questions for another 20. One day I did this 8 times, and by the end I was exhausted. At the same time I was truly amazed at the enthusiasm for exploration that kids have. Their questions are always more fun to answer. An adult question are usually framed around “what if something goes wrong?” where kids ask questions that sound more like “is it possible?”

In addition to speaking to some 300 people about Mars I was able to catch up with some friends, have a fantastic few nights out and get on a west coast radio station. Being able to spend your day talking about the things you love is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.

The week after that I was off to Manitoba to present to a university audience. I had my own timeslot and everything. The Dream Big week had a wide talent of speakers of Professors, students, professionals and myself. Other attendees included the current and past president of the Canadian Space Association, CEOs of aerospace companies and of course the keynote speaker, Neil deGrasse Tyson. This experience was surreal. For the first time I wasn’t going to a place to talk to people, they were coming to me. I had people in the audience with decades more experience and a collection of PhDs asking me about Mars. You can listen to the audio below.

I could not have imagined in 2012 this is what I would be doing in 2014. I love talking about Mars and space exploration. It’s been exhausting and stressful on my mind, body and wallet to travel and organize these events. It’s also been rewarding in ways that makes it all worth it. I can only hope my 33ed turn around the sun will be filled with as much excitement.

Science Fiction

When I talk to people about going to Mars and space travel, their eye’s tend to glaze over a bit. I can almost hear their inner monologue “He’s talking about science fiction” Yes, yes I am. Science fiction is the herald of science fact. Just like you make a shopping list before you can cook a meal or look at a map before a road trip society must try out ideas in fiction before we do it in real life. We’ve gotten use to blockbuster movies showing fantastic aliens and forget that fiction does become fact.

In 1959, the first episode of The Twilight Zone aired about a man training to go to the moon. This was two years almost to the day since Sputnik, and another 10 years before the US landed on the moon. It was still 2 years until Apollo was even announced. The episode seems out dated now, not because of production value but because of what we now know.

The main character is in solitary confinement for 20 days in preparation for the flight to the moon. Apollo 11 lasted 8 days with a crew of 3, and they were in constant communication with Earth. (mostly) We’ve had test crews in solitary for 500 days to study the effects of isolation. In 1959, it was guess work, now we know. 

It’s the same reason the original Star Trek looks campy; we have technology that’s better than what they are using. We have computers that are more advanced than what we could have imagined back then. But we had to imagine it first.

Without the images of Frau Im Mond we would not have the rockets we have today. It’s been said that the 10 second countdown was first used in this movie to launch a rocket. (why not 5 seconds?) It was the first time an audience had seen a multistage rocket, now we have private companies building them and a space station.

Science fiction to engineered reality.

Yes, a Martian colony is currently science fiction, but that’s encouraging, not a limiting factor. Humans are amazing, if we can imagine it, we can do it. We will put people on Mars and the science fiction will seem just as silly as Star Trek communicators do to us today.