Podcast: A Canadian Rover on the Moon

Image (Credit): Picture of the Canadian rover being built and finalized for a trip to the Moon. (Canadensys Aerospace)

I am recommending another episode from The Planetary Society’s podcast Planetary Radio. In the episode, The Canadian Lunar Rover with Peter Visscher, we get to learn more about Canada’s plans to place a rover on the Moon.

The interview is with Peter Visscher, Director of Canadensys West, which is building the rover after receiving a contract from Canadian Space Agency’s Lunar Exploration Accelerator Program. Here is a little more about the rover and the partners on the mission:

The 30-kg lunar rover will be sent to the Moon’s south pole region as early as 2026. The rover will be carrying multiple science payloads from Canada and the US. Canadensys Aerospace is leading a broad team of partners, including NASA Ames Research Center, NGC Aerospace, Maya Heat Transfer Technologies, Nokia, Bubble Technology Industries, Waves in Space, Simon Fraser University, Western University, the University of Winnipeg, l’Université de Sherbrooke, Leap Biosystems, Surrey Satellite Technology, and RF Collins. The team’s scientific investigators are among the leading lunar researchers in Canada and the US and are affiliated with the core team organizations as well as Arizona State University, Planetary Science Institute, and University of Alberta.

The rover will explore the Moon’s South Pole as it searches for water ice. Such ice has already been detected from orbit, but this mission will test the soil in the area where the water was detected. Water on the lunar surface will be of great benefit to future missions on the Moon and elsewhere – it represents not only water itself, but oxygen for breathing and hydrogen for fuel.

The objectives of the mission were recently laid out by the Canadian government:

  • travel on the surface of the Moon to see how the various systems perform;
  • showcase the possible applications, feasibility and performance of a new technology;
  • make scientific measurements that will help determine the amount of hydrogen present in the Moon soil, which is one of the best indicators of water ice while defining at which temperatures it is detected;
  • analyze the lunar soil to better understand the geology of the site; and
  • assess lunar surface radiation to find out how much radiation future astronauts will be exposed to.

The interview in the podcast gives you more background on the project as well as potential plans to provide the rover with its own name.

NASA is working on another rover that it plans to send to the Moon’s surface by 2024 – Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER). I can cover that mission and other lunar missions looking for water in a later post.

Podcast: Assist UCLA with a SETI Project

I found another episode from The Planetary Society’s podcast Planetary Radio that is worth checking out. In this episode, Are we Alone? The Search for Alien Technosignatures, Professor Jean-Luc Margot and doctoral student Megan Li discuss their project at University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) to identify signals from other civilizations in the galaxy and then extract information encoded in those extraterrestrial signals. This project, called UCLA SETI, was also the winner of a Planetary Society STEP Grant as well as a NASA grant to conduct this work.

As of last week, a volunteer site was set up to assist the UCLA SETI team with this project. Here is some key information from its website:

We host a citizen science collaboration on Zooniverse. Please consider partnering with us to identify the most interesting signals in our data. Subscribe to our newsletter to stay informed about our progress. Past issues of our newsletter are available.

Watch a two-minute video about the UCLA SETI course or a 30-minute talk about the search for life in the universe.

The video is actually a 55-minute talks, but the key section related to this project starts at the 23:38 minute mark where the downloaded data is discussed.

This is your chance to identify something that no one has every seen before. Put some of that time you might have spent watching The Ark toward something useful.

Podcast: Capturing Life Off Planet and Here on Earth

Image (Credit): Venus as captured by NASA’s Mariner 10 spacecraft in February 1974. (NASA)

I recommend checking out Alan Alda’s interview with astronomer Sara Seager in a recent Clear + Vivid podcast episode. MIT Professor Seager has focused her work on exoplanet atmospheres as well as another planet nearby – Venus. In the interview, she discusses her early work as well as her theories about the existence of life in the atmosphere of Venus. She also discusses her involvement with MIT’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Telescope (TESS). 

And while I do not remember it coming up during the interview, Professor Seager is also known for the Seager equation (shown below), which is less demanding than the Drake equation and focuses on any form of life on another planet (without reference to technology).

  • N = the number of planets with detectable signs of life
  • N* = the number of stars observed
  • FQ = the fraction of stars that are quiet
  • FHZ = the fraction of stars with rocky planets in the habitable zone
  • FO = the fraction of stars with observable planets
  • FL = the fraction of planets that have life
  • FS = the fraction of life forms that produce planetary atmospheres with one or more detectable signature gases

But in addition to the science, it was a fascinating discussion about Professor Seager’s life covering the early death of her husband from cancer, her attempts to get her life back on track, and her discovery later in life that she has autism. Most science stories focus on the work, but Mr. Alda has a unique way of drawing out the person in these interviews. It is a great episode, and you can read more about Professor Seager’s life and work in her book The Smallest Lights in the Universe.

Credit: Crown Publishing

Podcast: Discussing Science Fiction and Astronomy with Andy Weir & Rob Manning

Credit: Planetary Society

If you have not yet tapped into The Planetary Society’s podcast Planetary Radio, then now is the time to do so. Host Mat Kaplan and his guests had a great time on the recent podcast, One Last Blast: Author of ‘The Martian’ Andy Weir with JPL Chief Engineer Rob Manning.

Both Andy Weir (author of The Martian, Artemis, and Project Hail Mary) and Rob Manning (Chief Engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory) were shooting the you-know-what as they chatted about science fiction books they read as teenagers, the role of real science in fictional tales, astronomical conspiracy theories, and mankind’s need to expand into the unknown.

It was interesting to hear Andy Weir talk about curiosity being humanity’s survival mechanism. He pointed out that curiosity has allowed humanity to survive disasters here on Earth because we were all spread out rather than clustered on one flood plain. The same applies to expansion beyond the Earth.

Check it out for yourself. You may want to check out some of the earlier podcasts as well, such as:

Credit: Random House Publishing Group

Podcast: Solar Sailing to the Stars

Image (Credit): NEA Scout sail fully deployed. (NASA)

On a recent episode of the Clear + Vivid podcast, Alan Alda interviewed NASA engineer Les Johnson about his efforts to develop a solar sail that can take us to the stars. He is the Principal Investigator for the NEA Scout, which was launched into space during the Artemis I mission and is now heading towards a near-Earth asteroid via solar sails (see above).

During the interview, Mr. Johnson discussed the NEA Scout as well as his hopes for future human travel to the stars using solar sails, noting that while slow, the sails can outperform modern rocket engines in the long-run. He also pointed out that a solar sail may be able to get us to Proxima Centauri, the closest neighboring star, in hundreds of years versus the 70,000 years it will take the Voyager spacecraft to travel that same distance. I like how he puts such a mission in perspective, pointing out it took hundreds of years to build some of the great cathedrals.

Messrs. Alda and Johnson also discussed the ethics of space travel considering astronauts will be spending generations in space with many humans never seeing either the Earth or the destination in their lifetime. Mr. Johnson said space lasers may be another option for interstellar travel at some point in the future, reducing the travel time to Proxima Centauri to 40-50 years. Given the time spans, he said it may make sense to initially send robots into space first.

Finally, the podcast covered missions closer to Earth, such as mining asteroids for water and minerals, as well as 3D printing to create what we need in space. It sounded a lot like the situation in find in the science fiction TV series The Expanse.

Overall, it was a great conversation worth a few minutes of your day. Check it out.

Extra: Mr. Johnson is also the author of several books, including the co-authored Saving Proxima. Here is a quick summary of that tale:

2072. At the lunar farside radio observatory, an old-school radio broadcast is detected, similar to those broadcast on Earth in the 1940s, but in an unknown language, coming from an impossible source—Proxima Centauri. While the nations of Earth debate making first contact, they learn that the Proximans are facing an extinction-level disaster, forcing a decision: will Earth send a ship on a multiyear trip to render aid? 

Interstellar travel is not easy, and by traveling at the speeds required to arrive before disaster strikes at Proxima, humans will learn firsthand the time-dilating effects of Einstein’s Special Relativity and be forced to ponder ultimate questions: What does it mean to be human? What will it take to share the stars with another form of life? What if I return younger than my own children? The answers are far from academic, for they may determine the fate of not one, but two, civilizations.

Credit: Baen Publishers