The kids are alright

Last week I spoke at the Tanbridge Academy about going to Mars and my personal reasons for doing so. I’ve done this talk close to 20 times and I still love doing it every time. I love doing it because I get to see the faces of kids who are hearing it for the first time. There are always a few whose faces light up with excitement, or frown with questions. It’s very rare that they will run out of questions before I run out of time. When I’m coordinating the talks with teachers and other adults, I tell them that I usually talk for 10-15 mins and then answer questions for another 20. It’s the adults that can’t fill 20 minutes of questions, kids want to know it all. The youth of today gives me hope for tomorrow.

At the beginning of the month I was asked to be the closing speaker for a space camp being put on by Connect Charter School and Millarville Community School. The topic I chose was life in the solar system. It was the first time I had talked about this topic, and I was excited to do so. When people ask me if there is life outside of earth, I tell them yes. I spent time explaining myself to these kids, and the reaction was similar; they wanted to know more. It’s the best feeling in the world being able to talk to someone about what you are passionate about, and they always want to hear more. Not only that, but their questions and conversations are usually much better than with adults.

Kids have an amazing ability to learn that we lose as we grow older. We believe there is a “real world” out there and we have to fall in line. Kids live in the same universe that we do, but they see it so much differently. They see possibility and they want to do amazing things. The grown up world should spend more time with kids. Not to teach them how to be grown up, but for the kids to teach us adults how to imagine. If we want a better world, we should encourage our youth to follow their own path instead of telling them what to do. We need creativity, passion and drive more than ever and you find this in elementary school, not graduate school.  We should help them, not tell them. They already have the skills they need, it’s our job to make sure they don’t lose them when the join the “real world”.

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.

Copenhagen Suborbitals

Late this month, Mars One announced that Kristian von Bengtson has joined the company to help build hardware for the mission. This is fantastic news, I can’t think of anyone better for the job. He’s an ISU alumni, spent time in a Mars Analogue and makes rockets in his garage. I’m not talking about model rockets, I’m talking about “get you to space” rockets.

 

Copenhagen Suborbitals is one of those companies that you can’t ignore once you hear about them. They embody everything about the pioneering and adventurous spirit. Their goal is a familiar one, to put people into space. The thing is they are amateurs doing it in their spare time. During the height of the Apollo missions, NASA spent about 5% of the US budget. These guys are doing the same research on donations and they are just as successful. That’s a hard fact to wrap your mind around; with hard work, smart people and determination anyone can get into space.

Amateur rocket engineers at work.

I can’t find the words to properly explain how awesome this is. Not only to they make their own rockets to carry humans, but they have their own submarine and ocean launch faculty. All this hardware was build on volunteer time by enthusiasts who don’t listen when people say it’s impossible.

The folks at Copenhagen Suborbitals are space travel pioneers. It common for people to think that anything that happens in space is because of NASA. That may have been true in the 60’s, but no longer. The work these guys are doing is creating a future where anyone can buy a rocket to space as easily as we buy cars today. That’s a future I want to live in. Now that Kristian is working with Mars One, I’m ever more confidant the project is attracting the right people.

 

 

Grade 6 Science fail

I’ve been going into classrooms talking to elementary students about Mars One, space and engineering. Grade 6 classes in Alberta study Sky Science, so my talk fits well with their curriculum. I thought it would be a good idea to read up on the curriculum so I could better tailor my talk. When I printed off a study guide, I found it was riddled with errors.

Science!Why are we lacking STEM talent in Canada? Could be that the facts we teach our children aren’t correct. The document was written in 1996, but even then we knew about more than 1011 stars, and where we parked the Hubble. Click the picture for full resolution and read it for yourself. It’s embarrassing at best.

There is one very troubling sentence that appears in the official curriculum. I don’t know what to make of it.

Describe the location and movement of individual stars and groups of stars(constellations) as they move through the night sky

This seems to say that individual stars and the constellations move at different rates. Technically, that’s true, but for a 11 year old observer, all the stars in the sky keep the same orientation. The constellations are not grouped by nature, they are grouped by our imagination. That’s how we discovered the planets, they moved and the stars didn’t. It’s this sort of ambiguous teaching that will confuse students and turn them away from STEM.

Remember the taste map we learned in school? There are places on the tongue for sweet, sour, bitter and salt? That’s not true either. Turns out that hypothesis from 1901 was disproved in 1974 when someone checked the data. No one updated the teaching material; thanks for nothing.

How can we avoid teaching myths as facts?

We have a whole body of academics and professionals in this country. They oversee all sorts of regulatory issues across Canada. Why don’t we get the experts in their respected fields to proof read the material we are teaching children? It’s just so simple, it might work.

Mars One in the eyes of Islam

Obviously, I pay attention to news about Mars. It’s usually about missions, funding cuts and new discoveries. This past week I learned that the UAE Islamic watchdog has declared that Muslims must not take part in Mars One, as it is against Islam. According to their site, they issues 337,000 Fatwas last year, so it’s a very common practice. At more than 100 a day, it seems they are a very busy agency. According to Wikipedia, a Fatwa is a legal judgment or learned interpretation based on the the teachings of Islam. As I understand it, when something new in the world shows up, it is judged against Islamic Law and then decided upon if it is a sin or not. Traveling to Mars is apparently a sin in Islamic Law.

That doesn’t make me happy. I’m not a Muslim or a member of any organised religion. I do strongly believe that space exploration is very important, so a decry by anyone that it’s morally wrong doesn’t sit right with me. In this case, the voyage has been likened to suicide, and suicide is a Sin, therefore the voyage is against Islam.

I’m not going to argue against Islam, but exploration is not suicide. Suicide is intentionally killing oneself; there argument is that the trip is so dangerous that death is a certain outcome. Two things about that:

  1. Death is a certain outcome of life
  2. The trip does not mean certain death

Life and death are part of the package. Every living thing will die. The risks we take in life can increase the likelihood of dying sooner, but risks also let us live more richly. Everything we do has a risk. Life itself is a risk. So how do we die on Earth? A good portion of it is from cancer, cardiovascular diseases and respiratory diseases. Suicide and accidents are higher in the USA, but cancer and heart are still fantastic killers. Motor vehicle accidents are up there as well, 1 in 84 chance in 2006, but driving isn’t a sin.

The NASA study on radiation says there is about a 5% increase in fatal cancers for every three years you are on Mars. On the flip-side there is no risk of a traffic accident or accidental firearm discharge on Mars. You will be on a strict diet so your chances of heart disease goes down. You can’t drown in the bathtub either on Mars. (1 in 818,015, about the same risk as electrocution.) People die all the time. It’s cliché but not everyone lives a full life. Exploring, pushing boundaries, growing and making new frontiers is how we live our lives to the fullest.

Lets get back to what was said:

Professor Dr. Farooq Hamada, who presides over the fatwa committee, shared the motivation for issuing the fatwa: “Protecting life against all possible dangers and keeping it safe is an issue agreed upon by all religions and is clearly stipulated in verse 4/29 of the Holy Quran: Do not kill yourselves or one another. Indeed, Allah is to you ever merciful.”

Do not kill yourself or one another, that’s the verse. This year, the UAE is creating a law for mandatory military service. The UAE has a standing military force of 70,000 souls; over 5% of it’s GDP used for it’s upkeep. That’s the 5th highest in the world for 2011. If you have control over a standing army, you are preparing to take lives. FULL STOP. Any one of those 70,000 people can be called in to combat and is expected to fight another human to the death. That’s what war is, that’s what armies do.

Mars One is sending 4 people on a settlement mission. Permanent settlement requires people to be alive. No one on the mission is intentionally dying, therefor no one is committing suicide. The fact that you could die an accidental death during the trip is no more suicide than dying accidentally on Earth. Taking risks to live a better life is how we make tomorrow better.

A peaceful path to a brighter future is not a sin.

Space Studies Program

I’ve been accepted into the International Space University Space Studies Program! I am incredibly excited about it. It’s a 9 week crash course into everything space related. The program aims to solve the ever present problem of “you don’t know what you don’t know”

I get all smiles just thinking about it. The concentration of space geek is going to be amazing! I just have to come up with the funding… space school is not cheap.

Victory Dance

I was reminded last night with in conversation at a restaurant about my Victory Dance. Not that I ever forgot about it, but I was reminded that not many people know about it. I want to work in the Space Sector in some capacity, that’s my dream. For a dream to become a reality, it needs a plan, goals and rewards. A year ago, I bought a bottle of scotch as my victory dance. It’s a bottle of Blue Label.

Blue Lable

The plan is, once I feel that I’m where I want to be, I open this puppy up and share it with those around me. Victory doesn’t happen solo, it takes support from those around you to get where you want to go. It’s a constant reminder that I am not an island, I am capable of great things and my friends and family can help me do great things.

The inscription says “MOVE ZIG!” a reference to the video below. Watch it, FOR GREAT JUSTICE!

Doughnut Rock

No, it’s not a new type of fast food, it’s a rock that mysteriously appeared on the Martian surface right in front of Opportunity. Lucky for me, I have a team of people looking our for me. The folks on the X92.9 morning show left me this voice mail.


This is what the rock looks like.

Mystery Rock

 

No one knows what it is, or what’s it’s doing there. The current theory is that it was kicked up, and we are seeing the side that’s not been exposed to the Martian atmosphere. That tells me that Mars it much more interesting that what the pictures show us. We won’t know for sure unless we go there and check. Even if it is deadly alien bacteria, it’s still really cool.

Mars Interviews Part 2

The interviews keep coming, and I’m more then happy to keep answering questions. I think I’m getting better. Hopefully there are people out there that hear what I have to say and become interested in science, engineering and planetary exploration.

Here’s a link to my x92.9 interview. It was recorded at 6AM and played back during people’s normal commute time.

Here’s the CBC interview I did in the studio! It was the first time I went somewhere to do the interview. I was in the booth, with the microphones and traffic lady and program directors and all sorts of things. It was a lot of fun, but very nerve racking. I’m sure I’ll get the hang of it by the time I make it to Mars.

After the interview, Doug gave away two copies of Mission:Mars that I brought in; hopefully two future Mars colonists are reading up on it now.