Russ: This is The BusinessMakers Show heard on the radio and seen online at TheBusinessMakers.com. Its guest time on the show and this is very special guest time because I have wit me Dr. Mae Jemison; Physician, Engineer, former NASA Astronaut and in fact the world's first woman of color to go into space. Mae, welcome to The BusinessMaker Show.
Mae: Thank you very much Russ, I'm excited to be here.
Russ: All right, well we have to start with that first mission in space of a woman of color, tell us about that, what was that like?
Mae: Well, you know what, I have to start a little bit differently. I have to start and say that when I was a little girl growing up during the Apollo era I assumed that I would go into space and I went on and did a whole bunch of other things before I got to the Astronaut program. I joined the Astronaut program because I wanted to go into space.
The mission I did was with a Japanese space agency; it was called Space Lab J and we carried up a laboratory with us. I was the Science Mission Specialist which meant that I was responsible for as much of the science on board as possible and I was the representative of the primary researchers who were on the ground. And we did experiments ranging from looking at semi-conductor materials and how you could make them in weightlessness to how the human body responds to weightlessness and including taking up a project with adult female frogs that we caused to shed eggs; we watched the growth and development of tadpoles. Why was that important? It's because if we're ever going to be in space for long periods of time we have to figure out how animals reproduce and grow.
Russ: When you were there and you were doing these projects I mean was it easy to focus on the project when you know you could walk over and look out the window or fly over and look out the window and see where you were?
Mae: So that's the reason why I told you about all the training that's necessary (Russ: okay) because you train to do this and so yes you're excited and you look out the window whenever you can but you have a task to do and that task is to make sure that you get these experiments done, that you use this opportunity in weightlessness to find out so many things about the world. So, it wasn't difficult because the experiments in themselves were exciting. I had some great views out the window though, I mean, I saw Chicago, my hometown (Russ: okay). Tthat was the first thing I saw when I got into space (Russ: okay) was Chicago, my home town; I saw Egypt go passed, images that are just embedded in my mind.
Russ: I've had one other Astronaut on the show, Dr. Bernard Harris; great interview, we talked about this a long time but do you start sort of getting nausea because you don't know which way is up and down and you look out the window and it's confusing?
Mae: Well that's a whole nother thing. So, the first couple of days there's something called space adaptation syndrome (Russ: okay) or some people call it space motion sickness, but it's really not motion sickness. People think that it's really a disconnect in your body between what your eyes see - which still records hey, there's the top of the shuttle (Russ: right), there's the bottom of the shuttle, there's Earth down there - and your inner ear, which now has no gravity reference (Russ: right); there is no up and down, and so he says I'm confused, I get sick, right (Russ: yes)?
So we really don't know the whole part of it, but it is something that happens and some people get so sick they have to do things, you know, take stuff for it, but it happens, it's a self-limited but it does have an effect on mission.
One of our experiments actually was on counteracting space adaptation syndrome using something called Autogenic Feedback Training, experiment in exercise, where you learn to control your autonomic nervous system's symptoms yourself. Autonomic Nervous System, Voluntary Nervous System, that thing that (Russ: like breathing and heartbeat and…yeah, wow) regulates our breathing, sweating, all those kind of things. There's a researcher out in California (Russ: wow) named Pat Callens who found that she could teach people to control motion sickness yes, using your mind. So you can - the same way you regulate your breathing, you can regulate these other things.
Russ: Okay. Now trust me, we're going to get to your new, exciting cause (M: I'm waiting, I'm waiting) but one more thing (M: okay), the take off and the re-entry, I mean, was that harrowing?
Mae: So the very first launch I saw of a shuttle I had worked on that night - and it was the launch of Discovery after the Challenger accident (Russ: oh wow, yeah) I was in the first class of Astronauts who came in after the Challenger accident (Russ: okay) and in fact my application was in at the time of the Challenger accident.
So, you have a really good, healthy respect for sitting on - you're sitting on tons and tons (Russ: right) and tons of high explosives (Russ: right) - it's basically a controlled explosion (Russ: right), but at the same time you've never had so many committed, intelligent, bright, dedicated people looking out for you (Russ: okay). I mean, I used to tell people, for God's sake, people dress me, you know (Russ: okay), so they really care about you. So you make a decision - for me at least - I made a decision, this is where I wanted to be. I didn't want to be any place else at that time. And there are very few times in life you have the capacity to say this is exactly where I want to be.
So yes I had, you know, a good healthy respect for it (Russ: right), but this was what I was choosing to do so I was very excited about it. I mean I was like a little girl, I thought about that little girl on the South side of Chicago who used to dream about going into space, so I had this big grin on my face just like she would've.
Russ: Okay, really cool; all right, now to your new mission. You have been selected to lead the Hundred Year Starship Initiative and my goodness as people learn about this more and more it's very exciting but give us an overview. What is the Hundred Year Starship Initiative?
Mae: The One Hundred Year Starship is an initiative by DARPA to ensure that we have the capability of sending humans to another star system within the next one hundred years. DARPA is the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency; they're the Defense Department's premier research (Russ: right) agency. They're the group that brought us the internet (Russ: right) - that's where it was developed - global positioning satellite systems, they do exoskeletons, they do that really cutting edge, bleeding edge research that moves us further, that we not thinking is this really something that's gonna get us there (Russ: right)? They were interested in how do we reconnect with that incredible wealth of innovation that came out of space exploration, or that comes out of grand challenges?
Russ: So they were concerned that we maybe are losing that nowadays?
Mae: Well they were concerned that there wasn't a push as much (Russ: all right) and actually there was the fellow who was the head of the Tactical Technology Office named - named Dave Neyland, he said he wanted to push this, and so what happened was they created a grant to seed fund an organization, a non-governmental organization, to ensure human interstellar flight and I led the group, the team, that won the grant and the seed funding.
Russ: Goodness. Well congratulations big time.
Mae: I teamed with two other groups; so the Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence was the prime. It's an organization that I founded, named after my mother who was a Chicago public school teacher for twenty-five years.
So there was the Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence, we teamed with Icarus Interstellar and Foundation for Enterprise Development. Icarus Interstellar is a group of Astrophysicists, Astronomers, Engineers who have been working for the past year and a half on trying to design a theoretical probe to another star system. And Foundation for Enterprise Development is an organization that looks at governance of technological and innovative companies. So it was really exciting to get this group together and the thing I can say is that it was a very short process for the seed funding, , grant proposal and when we got it we were like wow…
Mae: I gotta say, I would say that we were both excited (Russ: yeah) and sobered (Russ: I bet) by the confidence that DARPA placed in us.
Russ: So I have to ask, does this mean that we're gonna put together a program to venture out there and find Avatar?
Mae: Why would you wanna find Avatar? So let me tell you what the - so what our project is…I think the whole idea of, you know, this can seem like Science Fiction, right?
Russ: Yeah, it does.
Mae: But what we're doing is trying to make this reality.
Mae: So our task as One Hundred year Starship is to assure that within the next hundred years we have the capacity to mount a mission to another star, a human mission to another star, if we choose to do it, if humans choose to do it. Doesn't mean that is has to happen, but that the capabilities are in place.
Russ: And does it mean it could happen before a hundred years?
Mae: If it could happen before a hundred years, I mean yes. (Russ: okay). It's just within the next hundred years, how do we make this happen?
Russ: Okay, would you go if it could happen in your lifetime?
Mae: I would go in a heartbeat; I would go in a heartbeat.
Russ: But no matter what kind of technology you all come up with, it still is like a trip that might take a decade or something?
Mae: Well here's let's talk a little bit about the challenge.
Mae: So the challenge is that if we were to go at the same speed Voyager is going - Voyager's the object that's furthest - human made object that's furthest from (Russ: right, right, right) our - us, right - it would take seventy thousand years to do it (R laughing: okay). So that's a long time (Russ: yes it is). We don't even know (Russ: yes it is) - we're humans, so we gotta go faster (Russ: okay), right? So one of the challenges is how to go faster and to go faster you need to have - create more energy (Russ: okay). So you have to look at different kinds of energy sources, that's one of the fundamental technologies.
The other thing that happens is, , no matter how fast you go, whether you go at 0.5 light speed and get there in ten years, you know, fifty percent of the speed of light which is, you know, a phenomenal (Russ: right, right) thing to do, , or you develop a wormhole and you go there lickety split (Russ: okay) like in all the science fiction movies (Russ: okay), nobody - I did not say we could develop a wormhole (Russ: okay), everybody throw that out your mind (Russ: okay), but even if you could do that (Russ: right), the likelihood is that you're gonna stay wherever you are for long periods of time. So again, energy becomes an issue because we don't know what's on - in interstellar space, right? You can't use sunlight, you can't use solar power, so you have to come up with (16:38-Russ: wow) energy sources. So we're looking at things like Fusion, people look at, you know, , Ion Propulsion, Beam Propulsion Energy and even Antimatter, right? That whole thing that Gene (Roddenberry) - and yes there really is antimatter (Russ: okay) and, you know, so there's some really interesting things we have to look at.
One of the other challenges is a ship that is large enough to have a self-renewing ecosystem, right? Cause you're gonna have to take everything with you and you don't know that you're gonna have a waters break along the way, you don't know that once you get there that you're gonna be able to quote unquote terrafrom wherever you are. So you have to have a vehicle that's big enough and you have to understand enough about ecosystems. And I bet that wasn't one of the ones you were thinking I was gonna talk about.
Russ: No, no it wasn't. It sounds, Mae, it sounds overwhelming, my goodness.
Mae: Well, do you know, here's the thing, no group, no one organization can do all of this. And there are a bunch of (Russ: right) problems; there are radiation issues, there are, you know, how do people interact with one another (Russ: right). You'd hate to get a really good ship with a really great ecosystem arrive without any people (Russ: right) on it because they couldn't get along.
Russ: Well the, yeah, the psychological aspect is oh, daunting.
Mae: There's no way any one group can make this happen. So what we're trying to do is to supersaturate the environments, right, so that people want to - to make something like this happen so the different technologies and capabilities, be they economic, be they the social sciences, behavioral sciences, material sciences, energy; so that that environment will be there and then we can be the nidus around which such an endeavor can crystalize. That's what our task is, is not to be able to be the end all be all, but to make sure that the environment survives that will prosper, , that a project like this would prosper in.
Russ: My goodness, it's - it's admirable that you're excited about it and I can feel the passion in you, excited about the mission, but my goodness. So let's get back down to the real world. So what's like...
Mae: This is the real world!
Russ: Okay, okay, but what's like step one in the near term with this mission?
Mae: So, this is like the bites, how do you bite this (Russ: right), you know, how do you eat this elephant, right? Well the first thing I think is most important is public engagement (Russ: okay) because there's n- you have to have public engagement, you have to have a long term commitment. I think that people large need to see this as something that they can be involved in. You know, space exploration, a mission like this, is not just for rocket scientists and billionaires (Russ: right, okay), it's for all of us and in fact, we have to have that support to make it happen (Russ: okay).
It's really important to understand that this project is about creating industries. New industries from super conducting, , magnets to radiation therapy to new materials; it's gonna change our world. It's the benefits that we get from trying a challenge like going to another star system that are so important to improving our quality of life here on Earth today and in the years to come. And another thing that's also incredibly important about this grand challenge, about this initiative for interstellar flight, is that it's really about, , growing jobs, growing our economy; it's going to create these new industries, it's gonna be - create new capabilities that will create jobs.
Well we have lots of different people involved, but what this whole challenge is about is the new businesses and industries that this will spawn. That becomes important because we change life here on Earth as we start to develop new energy systems, as we start to look at new materials, as we use some of space technologies for bettering life here on Earth. That's the promise.
So our public outreach includes a symposium that's gonna be taking place this September in Houston, Texas (Russ: whoa), the 13th through the 16th (Russ: okay) and it has a call for paper technical tracks, we'll be doing course work where people want to know well, tell me about Solar System 101, you know, I want to play with you all (Russ: right) but I don't want to know what an Oort Cloud is (Russ: right) every time you talk (Russ: right) about that, or what do you mean by faster than light travel or - or faster than light communications; or when our physicists say well, I know about all that but what do you mean there're ethics involved in this and you (do?) so Ethics 101. Or, this is all great but I want to draw a really pretty space pictures cause that's the way I want to contribute (Russ: right).
One of the things that's really important as we look at the symposium and actually the public outreach is getting companies involved. Companies should, come in, be a part of the expo, exhibit want to sponsor different kinds of projects with the expo and also sponsor projects going forward because as we create a research institute called The Way, we're going to be looking at these different projects related to how humans adapt in weightlessness, using remote sensing, navigation; all of these areas that are very important to move forward that have incredible applications here on Earth. So we really want companies to be involved, to sponsor different projects and to be partners.
We're looking at, having very, incredible events; like we're gonna do a salute to, , fifty years of space exploration in Johnson Space Center. This is actually happening the same week of the fiftieth anniversary of Kennedy's speech to send humans to the moon.
Russ: The speech that he made at Rice University.
Mae: That he made - the speech that he made at Rice University (Russ: wow); it's the fiftieth anniversary (Russ: great). So, we're doing the fiftieth anniversary, we're tying it to the next hundred years.
Russ: Really cool. So let's say we've got somebody watching right now and say I want to go; how do they find out more? How do they sign up?
Mae: They go to 100yss.org (Russ: okay). So that's One Hundred Year Starship.org (Russ: okay) and they look at 2012 Symposium and it gives you all the information. We have the hotels, , to connect with the hotels, how to sign up for workshops and classes and everything, it's all there. 100yss.org
Russ: Mae, I really appreciate you coming in and sharing your passion about this cool mission with The BusinessMakers.
Mae: Thank you so much.
Russ: You bet. That's Dr. Mae Jemison, now leading the Hundred Year Starship mission. And this is The BusinessMakers Show, heard on the radio and seen online at TheBusinessMakers.com.