Future of Exploration: MIT Astronaut Alumni Panel
YOUNG: My name is Larry Young. And with my colleague Jeff Hoffman, we'll allow some of the MIT astronauts to respond to the challenge of looking ahead in space exploration, in part by looking back on their own experiences.
Jeff and I are both professors in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics here at MIT. Jeff, who was an astronaut who flew on five space shuttle missions, including the amazing first repair of the Hubble Space Telescope. I was a scientist responsible for human ballast experiments on seven space shuttle missions and was an alternate payload specialist on the crew of one flight.
HAUCK: Anybody have a cellphone?
YOUNG: Well now a question for you. Did you know that MIT graduated more astronauts than any other university, leaving aside the--
--leaving aside the three service academies. The Apollo astronauts alone, including my old graduate school buddy, Buzz Aldrin, and five others were from MIT on Apollo. We have to believe that this is more than pure chance.
This morning we'll explore exploration with our space traveling friends. And for any of you who might have an additional question, there will be cards made available towards the end of the panel. You'll have a chance to add your questions those that Jeff and I will get into. So Jeff, let's get on with it.
HOFFMAN: Well, I will just say that I teach the freshman introductory class in aerospace engineering. And we always take an informal poll at the beginning of the year, why people are going into aerospace engineering. And typically, when you ask people to raise their hands about half the class will say that they had always dreamed of being an astronaut and flying in space. It is still a very high motivation, particularly for our MIT students.
And this spirit of exploration and interest in space travel is certainly alive and well here at the Institute. So it's a great opportunity to gather together a group of MIT alumni. Unfortunately, in your schedules we also had Janice Voss and John Grunsfeld, who are not able to attend because of sickness and illness in their families. But we have a great representation here.
And we'll start out asking a few questions. And I'm going to start with you, Buzz. You were the first of us to go into space. And your last mission was the one that certainly everybody remembers, of being the first two people on the Moon. And I'd like to know if you had a chance to go into space again, what would you do? What would you like to do?
ALDRIN: I'm not sure that I get along with people that well to be up there for a long time.
I'm not so impatient as Wally Schirra. In his flight where we did a rendezvous, he didn't eve spend the night up there. He had to get back and smoke a cigarette. The reason that that mission was so successful is because all the help I had up here, becoming Doctor Rendezvous.
I guess I feel that my floating days are over. But right now, I've got to float in the water to strengthen my muscles in the back on my hip. So I've sort of transferred the zero gravity to neutral buoyancy in the oceans.
And as a matter of fact, next week there's a great organization that's meeting in Puerto Rico, the Sea Space Symposium. People from under oceans and people up in space, a number of astronauts are part of this group. It was founded in 1970. And both those regimes of underwater and up in space require considerable human support, life support systems. And we exchange different technologies with each other and find it very useful to go to nice diving places.
I'm pretty happy with the way my flight distributions worked out. I was in the right place at the right time. And I'm sure that the rest of these guys were too.
But I think we had a much better choice of destination and missions. And I really look forward to helping to plan what we will be doing in the next 10, 20 years that I probably won't be around to see happen. Is that short enough for you?
HOFFMAN: Well, by the way, we're not going to run this as a panel discussion where we ask the same question to every single person, because that would go too long. But I would like to pose this, maybe to you, Terry, since you had essentially one flight on the Space Shuttle. So you're the one who could use another flight the most. And what would you like to do?
HART: Well I think, Jeff, you probably agree with me. The greatest thing about being an astronaut is being part of this immense team of people at NASA. They really know how to train you, get you ready.
And almost any opportunity to go up for a mission where you have something to do-- in the case of my flight we fixed Solar Max, which was a two-year effort to get ready to do that. And what you learn from that experience is just a sense of how well NASA puts a team together to do something very difficult. And the concept of doing something difficult in space I think is the big challenge that drives most of us.
YOUNG: The two guys who are seated at the end, Byron Lichtenberg and Mike Massimino were both my students. And maybe you're trying to get as far away from me as you can.
But the MIT ties are long and rigid. Byron, you were the first payload specialist, a non NASA engineer scientist, to go into orbit. And you did it twice.
I'd like to know how you feel now about commercial space flight? After all, you're one of the principles of the ZERO-G Corporation, which flies tourists and other paying customers into the weightlessness of parabolic flight. What does your crystal ball tell you about commercial space flight?
LICHTENBERG: Well, I think that commercialization of crew transport to lower Earth orbit is really a good thing. And administrator Charlie Bolden, who was my commander on my second shuttle mission, Charlie has been pushing the concept that commercial companies can build vehicles that are essentially dual use. They can take people and tourists and whatever into space, cargo, as well as professional NASA astronauts.
And from I guess the beginning of my career, after my second shuttle mission, back in '92, I looked around and said that I think that there's a real commercial business here, and kind of put together a timeline in my head that we could do commercials zero gravity flights on an airplane, within a few years. And that would be about '94, '95. Then suborbital flight should come around '97 or '98. And I was hoping to see the first commercial tourist in space by the Millennium, year 2000.
Well, the timeline is a little bit off there, Larry. We're a little bit behind. But it will only take about 17 years for us to get the Boeing 727 commercial parabolic flight airplane certified by the FAA, to be able to apply the general public.
And it's a stepping stone. We kind of look at a pyramid. We have a base of access into weightlessness for 10 to 20 seconds at a time.
And when I was doing this as both training and as a subject, before my first shuttle mission, I realized a lot of people were on this airplane because it was a lot of fun. They really wanted to do it. They would come up with experiments.
They would come up with ideas and concepts that NASA would fund. And they went up there, and they were able to conduct them and really have fun. So in the back of my mind, it said that there's a market for this.
So we started off with the airplane, because that seemed to be the easiest one. And then Peter Diamandis and I started the X-Prize Foundation, which finally raised $10 million. And we're able to demonstrate to the general public that a small commercial company, Burt Rutan, could in fact build a suborbital vehicle to go up to 100 kilometers, come back, carry three people or the mass thereof, and then repeat that again within two weeks.
So that was kind of the existence proof, I think, to NASA and the general public that commercial companies could really do this. It didn't have to be just a government NASA program. And then if you look at NASA and their funding in the budget and Space Station, you say, well-- and I've used this analogy for many, many years-- if NASA wants to send a bunch of engineers to a conference, they go out and buy tickets on an airline, hopefully Southwest, who I fly for. But they don't go off and build an airplane dedicated to go to that conference.
And I use that analogy to think that we can have commercial companies, and we're finally getting there now, to build orbital transportation that is a reliable, safe. And if you can spread the costs and increase the number of missions over both delivering cargo and people to the Space Station for NASA and research flights, as well as for tourists and people that can actually afford it, then we should be able to bring the cost down for everybody. And that was the concept originally with Zero Gravity Corp and the Zero-G airplane, that we could do commercial missions and media missions and companies and commercial research, as well as NASA research.
So I feel very confident. It's unfortunate there's a gap here. And that's, I think, the big issue, that there's a gap in the ability for us to get into orbit. But I see a lot of commercial companies coming along. I believe that they're going to be successful. And it's going to help NASA to be able to put their money into exploration, heavy lift vehicles, doing future missions, exploration to the Moon, asteroids, Mars, wherever.
YOUNG: Well Byron, I can assure you that among the people who followed you here as a student in our lab are a number who are enthusiastic about the commercial aspects of-- and commercial flights. I think we may have passed the watershed.
Mike, how about you? What's your take on commercial space flight, Mike Massimino. How do you feel about NASA buying tickets for your astronaut successors on commercial rockets?
MASSIMINO: I think that would be great. I hope we get to that point. With the shuttle program ending, we do have a launch coming up here at the end of the week, on Friday, and then one more in June. And then that's it, the Shuttle program is done. And we need some other way for us to get to space. And of course, we're going to be partner with our Russian friends.
And TJ Creamer my friend here, has flown on the Soyuz, to and from the Space Station. And that's how we're going to be getting there. I think that's a great option. It's great to have a partner who can help us get there.
But I think it would be nice to have another option. It's always nice to have another way to get there. So what I thought I really hope is that we come up with something.
I hope our country's able to develop something, so that we can launch astronauts and if it ends up being tourists or whoever is interested in going. But at least from the astronaut perspective, I really would like to see us have another option besides the Soyuz that hopefully we can provide. And whether it's a NASA government developed vehicle, or if it's a commercial vehicle, I think that either way is great. I would just like to see something that we can get into and go to space with. So whether it's commercial or government, hopefully we have something.
HOFFMAN: I'd like to ask Rick to comment, though. How is this going to change the nature of what it means to be an astronaut? You're a pilot, you're a shuttle commander. It's a little different from being a passenger in a commercial crew vehicle, if somebody else is actually flying it.
HAUCK: Well, I think we've come to grips with that. Our egos have been depressed a bit.
HOFFMAN: Oh, you're getting old, Rick.
HAUCK: And recognize that it takes a certain amount of adventurism to venture forth, whether you've got the controls or not. And I think that commenting on the tourism aspects, what we really need as a society, I think, is to develop the infrastructure to permit us to go farther. Tourism is not exploration. But without building the infrastructure that the commercial entities can offer, in which the impetus of tourism efforts will help provide, I think it's a win-win. It's just a question of how that all flows in together.
HOFFMAN: Tourism may not be exploration in one sense. Although in a personal sense, I think we'd all agree that anyone who straps himself on top of a loaded rocket is going to-- they're undergoing a voyage of personal exploration, that's for sure.
HAUCK: I was thinking in the context of an earlier panel we had this morning.
HOFFMAN: MIT as an astronaut prep school. TJ, what did you learn here? Were there any special subjects, thesis projects, professors that you would think back on through your astronaut experience and say, yeah, I got something from MIT that was really valuable here.
CREAMER: You're asking a great question. And from an ethereal sense, I can simply say that the dedication to the end goal, no pun intended, but the exploration of an area that we want to contribute to and are provided the tools to be able to do that, all assisted in that.
A confession-- while I was going to MIT, I had not targeted the astronaut program. And yet in fact, it wasn't until I had grown up a little bit more, after my graduate work here, that the opportunity actually sparked. While I was teaching physics was when that opportunity came.
And it became pretty clear to me as we're filling out the mountains-- this is prior to word processing, so you're actually typing out the form. And every time you make a mistake, you have to start over. And so during that long process of filling out the form it became pretty clear-- and then going through the application process-- that the insights, the dedication to the end goal, and the ability to be able to examine that and contribute to the larger whole is what we got from the experiences here.
HOFFMAN: I'd like to throw that open to anybody who would like to mention some aspect of their MIT experience that they maybe took with them into space.
LICHTENBERG: I'd like to add a little bit. I'd always had that ambition, ever since I was young. And in the military back in the '60s, '70s, they were all military test pilots. And that was my career path originally.
And after a tour in Vietnam fighting the war, you come back and looked at it. And I said, well, the shuttle is come along. And there's going to be two pilots upfront, but there are going to be four to six people in the back that will be doing experiments, doing space walks, working the arm, doing things up there.
And at that point, I made a decision to go back and try to be a fighter pilot with a PhD Degree and was fortunate enough to get under Larry's tutelage here. And you know, somebody talked about timing, I think Buzz, earlier. And timing is everything a lot of times.
And that's just the point when NASA was opening up a call for experiments to look at the vestibular adaptation to weightlessness and a bunch of broad based experiments, to show the utility of the Shuttle and the Space Lab system to do science research. So for me, it was kind of a godsend. I was going to go off to Cornell or someplace.
And then I talked to Story Musgrave. And Story said, well, we're not doing bionic, six million dollar man. And you really want to get into vestibular physiology. And there's a guy up in Boston that's doing really good work.
So he kind of steered me a little bit into that. And I guess I was very fortunate and blessed to work under Larry and end up where I am.
YOUNG: Both Jeff and I get a lot of students who come by, asking what they should do to become astronauts. How many of you here would like to fly? Any of you have any wisdom on that subject for MIT undergraduates?
HAUCK: I'll offer a thought or two. We have the privilege, all of us, I'm sure, talking to young people, whether they're second graders or graduate students. And that is a very common question.
And I think the essence of the answer is find a field that you enjoy. And then put your heart and soul into it. And I give the example of Mary Cleave, who was a colleague of TJ's and mine when we were there. She did graduate work in sanitation engineering. And she used to joke about how she would go put on her scuba suit and dive the sewers of Chicago.
And what did that have to do with astronautics? Nothing. But she was superb at what she did. She was a team player. She had a lot to offer.
And that's the advice I give. Get into something, be tenacious about it. Be a team player. Make sure you understand that communicating is not just talking, it's also listening.
HOFFMAN: Anybody else?
CREAMER: I just had the opportunity to speak at several places. And the question always comes up. And as we just heard here, stay in school as long as you can and follow the love that you have to be able to become as good at what you love in order to contribute to the bigger picture and the bigger team.
Demonstrate that you can manage risk. Not that you're going to be risky, but that you can manage risk and still operate in an environment where you can contribute to the greater team. Do the sky diving, do the mountain climbing, scuba, hang gliding to demonstrate that you can operate when there is risk and manage that risk successfully.
And then the third thing is to be the best team player that you can be. Not the best player on the team, but to be the best team player, so you can contribute to the greater whole.
YOUNG: I'm interested that the both of you volunteered the term team player. And that's something that I heard during all my involvement with the manned space program. And in a way, it's a little different than the experience that we have day to day in most classrooms here, where it's more on individual excellence, getting the best grades on the quizzes. That's a transition which some people find a little hard to take. Obviously, all of you and your colleagues have done it well
HOFFMAN: It's an interesting dichotomy, in a sense. Because-- and I've been on an astronaut selection panel, have you Rick? And anyway, the people who get to the final stages and are qualified to be astronauts are all very high achievers. As people here said, whatever you do, you have to be excellent in it. And that means you're a Type A personality, you're a hard charger, you have a strong ego.
And yet, the ego can't get in your way of being a member of a team. And there were many applicants who we interviewed who were absolutely stellar in their qualifications. But when you start talking with them, there's kind of ego dripping all over the table. And that's like the kiss of death. So it is this very interesting balance that you have to achieve.
HAUCK: Frank Sinatra would not have been a good astronaut.
HART: I might point out that's a good trait for almost anything in life. Particularly nowadays in technology, almost everything is interdisciplinary. There will always be a role for the individual contributor, no doubt. But more and more of the complexity of our technology is driving us toward highly complex solutions that are interdisciplinary and require people to work together as a team. So it's a great trait for astronauts. But it's also a great trait I think for all of you in your careers.
YOUNG: Let's start turning from the past to the future a little bit. And Buzz, I'm going to ask you about the perennial question of human versus machine. Things are changed.
They changed a lot since the Apollo period. Robotics, planetary rovers and so on have led a number of people to question the need for the expense and the risk of human space flight. Based upon your own flight experiences, can you either relate any examples relating to the human versus machine, or how do you think we should proceed in the future?
ALDRIN: Um, first off, I wanted to ask how many of you guys went through test pilot training? Only one?
HART: A fighter pilot, not a test pilot.
ALDRIN: Okay, well.
HAUCK: Air Force, right?
HART: Also Air Force, whereas--
ALDRIN: Of course, that was a requirement going into the third group, where I was selected. I applied for the second group, but I didn't have this test pilot in my background. Because somehow I didn't want my future career in the Air Force to be dependent upon how great a stick and rudder guy I was. I thought I had more to offer.
But then it appeared as though you had to have test pilot training in that second group. Ed White and I were pretty close. They picked him, but they didn't pick me.
But somehow, MIT's background and a wise decision on my part prevailed, and they made some exceptions for the third group. I think that there are some lessons, maybe, that in the Mercury Gemini Apollo program that I can look back. And I'd like then to ask these guys about the lessons that we may have learned from the design of the shuttle system.
When the president said we're going to go to the Moon, von Braun really had his eyes set on a Nova rocket with nine engines on the bottom. And on top of that, he needed that big a rocket to put the translunar injection propulsion stage and the multipurpose spacecraft.
Now they didn't call it that then. But because of some legislative laws that Congress has passed-- why, I'm going to use multipurpose in this explanation-- the Nova rocket wouldn't be ready until the 1970s. So that wasn't going to help. Von Braun had to resort to using two Saturn Vs with the propulsion system for translunar injection on one and a multipurpose spacecraft on the other.
Until a guy came along, and mind you, he was not an orbital mechanics guy, so let's not look at the reason as being earth orbit rendezvous versus lunar orbit rendezvous. People in Congress don't really understand the difference in those two things. And that certainly wasn't the reason.
It was that looking at the performance of rockets, what was needed land on the Moon, an engineer from Langley didn't originate the idea. But he had been reading up on other people's suggestions. And he said, you know, I think if we specialize the mission into specialized spacecraft, we can have one that launches people into orbit. And because it's a short mission, just to the Moon and land and then come back, we could probably use the same spacecraft to go to the Moon. But now we need a specialized spacecraft to make the landing.
Well the upshot of all of that was that one Saturn V would launch two specialized spacecraft. But if you want to make it multipurpose, it takes two Saturn Vs. Now I think elementary school people will understand the difference in the comparison between specialized and multipurpose. And hopefully some of the congressional staff people will understand that too. To pass a law that says Congress thinks you must have specialized-- I mean, you must have multipurpose spacecraft. That means that you lift off in the spacecraft, you get into orbit, you go all the way to Mars and you come back. Sure, you have a different lander there.
But clearly the specialized launch into orbit needs to be one specialized spacecraft. And now, I believe, you need two of them to mutually support each other, going from one orbit to another. And yet, that's not what Congress wants us to do.
HOFFMAN: And they have all those great aeronautical engineers who are in Congress, right?
ALDRIN: Well, yeah, there's a representative Posey from Melbourne, who wants a law passed that we must land Americans on the Moon by 2022. There's no way we can do that in the funding. But they want to mandate what we ought to do.
HOFFMAN: Well and then, also when NASA went back and told Congress that we didn't think we could actually build a 130-ton launcher by 2016.
HOFFMAN: And the answer from one of our representatives was, you have to do it. It's the law.
I think of King Canute, trying to hold back the tide, because I'm the king.
ALDRIN: Well, the fact of history is that in 1970, '71, what we were trying to build was a two-stage, fully reusable shuttle system. Unfortunately, Marshall Space Flight Center was jealous of Houston because they had astronauts in Houston. So they sort of mandated that the booster have a crew of two in the booster.
What a stupid thing that is. But of course, the various companies knew what the client wanted. So they all answered manned versus unmanned that you should have people in the booster.
Now because that was way expensive, and-- but that was what we wanted to do back then. So we had to come up with a quick fix. And that, audience, is where solid rockets came from. It was not the preferred way.
And now there are people that want Heritage stuff, which means let's go back to what we had designed in 1970. And if ATK has their way about getting a five segment solid instead of four segment, they'll be around for the next 20 years. We've got a big challenge job.
Now what I want to ask these guys is it was clear that it was a good idea to put crew and cargo together in this shuttle vehicle. I don't believe that we should have done that, anymore, despite Solar Max and all the other things we were able to do-- assemble a space station by putting one rocket up there and one spacecraft, and you've got the crew and they can operate things out of the--
But I think the price we pay is 14 guys, a shuttle that can't fly 40, 50 flights a year-- the average is about six times a year. And that makes the costs tremendously higher. And it's because of, I think, crew and cargo together.
Now the Accident Board sort of suggested separate crew and cargo on the launch vehicle. Now that's very ambiguous. But what it did was open the door to put the crew on one solid rocket and everything else on the big heavy launch vehicle. That's how we got to the way too expensive Constellation program. And we're trying to move out of that.
YOUNG: Buzz, I just wanted to let the audience know that we will have an opportunity for you to present your questions to the panel. And to do that, we're passing out little index cards and pencils. So think about what you might like to ask and pick up one of those cards as our colleagues go around. Anybody want to respond to Buzz's look back at the virtues and deficiencies in the shuttle?
HART: I think he's right. I mean when we look at the program, it was amazing flying machine, a great engineering accomplishment to build the shuttle. But it was probably the wrong architecture from the get go.
And looking back now, maybe we should have made this decision back in the '90s. But at that point, we could have started with the technology and all of our experience flying the shuttle, building a much smaller shuttle that was crew only, and then put the big payloads on expendable rockets. And if you built that shuttle-- smaller, crew only-- it would probably be a lot more reliable, inexpensive, and safer than the shuttle has been.
But maybe we'll do that yet. Maybe the time is coming. But in the meantime, we'll be seeing what the commercial people can do.
HOFFMAN: Of course, the history of how the shuttle got to be like it is is full of political and economic compromises. But in a sense, I mean any time you're spending billions of dollars of public money, politics is going to get involved. I mean there were compromises made in Apollo. And I'm sure there will be compromises made in the next launch system.
Talking about the next system, and this is maybe for, let's see, you've been up on the Space Station, TJ, and that's going to really be the center of NASA's human space program for at least the next decade. And yet, you know, certainly in this country, we're not going to see people get launched, because they're being launched out of Russia. And there certainly is not the day-to-day fascination with what's going on on the space station, because really, now, we're not building it anymore. We're going to be using it as a laboratory. And typically you don't pay a lot of attention to the daily work inside a laboratory.
So what does this mean for the ability of the human space program to excite the public, which of course has always been one of its strong aspects? Is there any way that we can keep the public involved with an interest in human space flight?
CREAMER: The disadvantage that we have is we tend to go to audiences to speak, to audiences that are thirsty for and friendly with the space program. So the data and feedback that we get tends to be biased in that direction. I have very rarely ever gone to an audience that says, convince me that we need to be doing space research and space travel. So it's a bit skewed in my answer.
However, as we progress farther and farther-- meaning down the next 10, 15 years-- part of the mission that we have is, as President Obama has stated, is to go find a near Earth asteroid to go also to Mars, skipping over the Moon. Although, small digression, we may get to the point when our engineering community has to go back to Congress and go, before we travel six months to Mars, we might want to practice some things a little bit closer. And so there may be reasons to go only three days away as opposed to six months away. I'm just leaving that as an option for discussion, whether we return to the Moon or not.
The long range plan, though, is to get to Mars. And so some exciting things are occurring as we speak, like for instance, next summer we're going to start using the Space Station as an analog for the Mars trip. And what does that mean? That means that the crew is going to become more and more autonomous, having to be able to control the Space Station, being able to deal with the malfunctions, being able to do the planning of the days.
Because the farther and farther you go, the fewer opportunities for communications exist. And so we're going to try to mimic that to include Houston not getting the telemetry down. They won't be able to know if the decisions you need to make cannot command up to help us out. There will be some mystery and some excitement there, I think. And it's part of our job-- our job-- and part of NASA's PAO job to be able to express and incite and entice with the teasers that would bring people to do that kind of awareness.
LICHTENBERG: Jeff, I'd like to add another aspect to that. My parent company, Space Adventures, that bought Zero Gravity Corp. And I was an early astronaut adviser to Space Adventures. And they're of course well known by sending seven tourists into space on the Soyuz, going to the Space Station and back. For years they've had a program out there and just found out several weeks ago that they have sold a seat on a circumlunar mission.
HART: Finally. All right. That's $100 million, right?
LICHTENBERG: We need that $100 million now. The deal is, and it's on the Russians, and they're not going to land obviously. We're going to lunar orbit. They're just going to go around the Moon and come back.
But we need one more seat. So the first person to put a $100 million check out there, and they'll be ready to go. You ready, Rick?
But I think that's really-- Larry, yeah. But I think that's exciting. And something like that, I think, could really reinvigorate the concept of space exploration and get people thinking about it. So I just wanted to put that little tidbit out there. We're excited.
HAUCK: This morning we heard a wonderful panel about the history of exploration, and what some of the social and economic imperatives were that drove exploration. And we look at space exploration, of course it's rooted in the Cold War. And as more than one Apollo astronaut has said, I think, gee, I thought we were exploring. Were we really just trying to beat the Russians?
Now that's a trivialization of how that was put. But I think we should look forward in what will future exploration involve, by what is the context. What are the social and economic contexts that will drive that? We don't have the same level of competition and, in fact, mutual potential aggression between the Russians and the United States that required the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles.
I was surprised however, this morning except for one of the questions, that China was not mentioned. China has certainly said that they plan to put human beings on the Moon. I forget what their timeline is.
But my question might be is that a challenge that would develop any kind of energy in the US space program? Where will the energy come from? It's certainly not as imperative as what we had in the Cold War.
YOUNG: Let me turn to Mike at this point, to think a little bit more about how to get the public invigorated about space exploration. After all, Congress is supposed to be our representatives and representing the public will. Is the apathy that we're seeing now a lack of support at the ground roots? Is it that people are just not interested in what's going on, going around and around the Earth on the Space Station? How do we meet the challenges without a return to the Cold War?
MASSIMINO: Yeah, and I think of-- sitting up here with you guys is pretty cool for me. And Buzz, Buzz Aldrin, my boyhood hero. I just got asked-- five minutes before we started, someone asked me how I got interested in being an astronaut. And for me it was I was six years old, my family home, my parents, in my pajamas on that day, watching on TV. And I got to see Buzz and Neil take those first steps.
And even before that, following what you guys were doing really caught my imagination. The Apollo missions that led up to Apollo 11 and then after is what inspired me. And I think that's one of the great benefits of the space program. You could talk about spin offs and international cooperation and exploration.
But inspiring, particularly students, to come to a place like MIT and get involved with exploration, I think, is one of the great benefits we have. And that's what, no kidding, inspired me, when I was a young person and then growing up and following the shuttle program when I was in college encouraged me to continue.
And I hope we're still doing that. I think we are. And I hope we still will continue to do that.
We are doing exciting things on the Space Station. I think we've done it so well, we've been so successful in building that Space Station, it's incredible.
TJ, when they told us about it when we first started 15 years ago as astronauts, and they said we're going to build this big space station, we're going to do all these space walks, all this stuff is going to get put together. I was like, I don't how this is going to really happen. I'm very happy to go on a space mission, but who knows if all this stuff is going to fit together with all these different countries.
And no kidding, it did. It's all up there, working. And so hopefully we'll be able to explain what we're doing, maybe a little bit better, bring it to the public in a more personal way. So they can hear some of the stories and learn more about what we're doing.
We're trying our best to do that. But I think in addition to that, we have to keep going. We have to have something for all the smart students here at MIT to be inspired by. And if it's the opportunity to go to a commercial company, whether it's Byron's place or one of these commercial companies we've got that are getting money from NASA to develop things, it that's where the exciting things are going to take place, where they can feel that they can contribute to the future exploration of getting off the planet, or whether it's coming more traditionally to NASA, we're going to be continuing to do things.
I just think that we're kind of at this crossroads now, with the shuttle program ending. We're going to have this gap of being able to launch people off the planet from the US, where I think there is the danger of people losing some interest. And I think we have to do the best we can to tell folks that we still have people on orbit. We've had them there for over 10 years now, on a permanent basis. We trade them out every six months, but we have people there.
And I think that's very exciting. I think we are at this crossroads, which could be maybe not so exciting, but it could be very, very exciting, if some of these commercial companies start developing new spaceships or NASA keeps going in that direction. And whether it's back to the Moon or asteroid or Mars, I think there's some really exciting things. And I hope we can get that message not just to the general public, but particularly to the people that are going to be doing it, which are hopefully students in this audience and studying in the classes, the ones that are learning something.
YOUNG: I must say Mike, that as Jeff alluded to when he talked about the enthusiasm of freshmen, that you see here in Cambridge and talk about what can be done in space and it's an easy sell. But I'm a little concerned that when you go out to places in parts of the country where they're worried, correctly, about the economy, about their job security, and they look at all the other infrastructures. It gets hard to answer the question of why should we be spending our money on going to Mars, rather than spending our money on improving the schools. And of course, you know the answers to both.
Let me change gears. Before we've got an excellent set of questions from the audience, let me ask one that actually was suggested by one of my family members, about transformative moments. Byron or others, did you experience any transformative moments-- spiritual, ecological, or other-- during your space flight? And if so, how do you communicate that to the majority of us who will never leave the surface of the earth?
LICHTENBERG: Absolutely. And I don't speak for everybody. But when we started this group called the Association of Space Explorers back in the middle 1980s, a worldwide group of astronauts, cosmonauts, people that have been in orbit. And anybody that's been in orbit is cell eligible to join.
I realized in talking to these people that it really didn't matter what your background was academically or what your country of origin was or what your current job was, that there was really a human change in your perceptions of the earth and the world and civilization. And I think realizing that you orbit this earth every 90 minutes, and you see all of civilization as we know it today in 90 minutes. And then you look at the Earth, and you realize that unlike the little globe that you have in your classroom-- you don't have the dotted lines and the pink country next to the blue country next to the yellow country-- that countries flow from one to another and that we're all down there together.
And you talk to, whether it's US senator or a Mexican engineer, a Vietnamese fighter pilot, a Soviet test pilot, whatever, that all those people from all those countries share a human change, I think, a human experience that makes you much more of a global citizen. You realize we're all on this little world, connected together. You look out, the atmospheres is about a centimeter thick, perceptually. And you realize that that's all that's keeping us all live here together.
So that we really do share a requirement to be good stewards of our planet. And that organization really has been out there, trying to push for both the exploration development of space, as well as good ecological and good stewardship of the planet. So I would open to others also.
CREAMER: About a year ago from today, we were fortunate and blessed to be able to add Node 3 on to station. And on the bottom of Node 3 is this wonderful window to the world, a seven-window window, which we call the Cupola. And I had the pleasure of being among the first to go in there after we installed. But I also had the blessing of receiving three other crews while I was up there.
And I had a little game that I used to play with myself. But it emphasizes this transformative nature. Each of those seven windows has a shutter that you can close to protect it.
And what I would do is bring crew members in there, by themselves, who had never looked through Cupola before, and say, close your eyes. And then I would open up all seven shutters and say, open your eyes. And every single time I did it, they cried.
MASSIMINO: It's something.
CREAMER: You have a similar tearful story.
MASSIMINO: Now he's setting me up.
HOFFMAN: We need some drama.
MASSIMINO: For me, looking out, when you first get to orbit, and you look out the window and you see the beautiful earth, it's kind of like, um, it's the most beautiful thing you've ever seen. But the analogy I make between that and space walking is kind of like you're looking at the aquarium, how pretty the fish look through the window. And then you go outside, it's kind of like you're a scuba diver now.
My commander always got mad at me for telling this story. Rick, are you going to slug me? Because the commander has to stay with the ship and can't go space walk.
So he said no, don't play this up too much when I used to tell this story. But I have your-- it's okay? I can continue without you hitting me?
MASSIMINO: My commander always got mad at me when I told this story, because the mission specialists get the space walk. And what I found was once I got out, there's no window restricting your view. And I could see through my helmet, you could see anywhere you wanted to look.
And at the altitude we were at Hubble, you could see the Earth in its entirety. Not the way Buzz got to see it, of course, way from the Moon. But still, you can see it takes up your whole field of view. You can see the curvature of it and how beautiful it is.
And when I really had a chance to look at it later on, actually during my second space walk, when I really tried to soak it in, I said I really just want to take this moment and see what this planet looks like and what's this experience like. Because you're busy working, and you don't want to make any mistakes. But I finally got to a point where I felt like I could actually look.
And the first thing I did when I first looked, I turned my head. It was so beautiful, I could hardly stand to look at it. That's how beautiful it was. And then I got over that and took another look.
And I found myself, as TJ's referring to, I just found myself getting emotional. Just during my space walk, looking at planet was so beautiful, I just started to get overcome with emotion. And I started to tear up.
And then immediately, I got really, really nervous. Because at that time, we were concerned about water problems in the suit and water getting out in the suit. It could create a lot of issues.
We had this drink bag that would leak once in awhile, and it caused these problems. So I was really concerned, at that moment I realized, oh my gosh, I'm going to introduce water from my tears into the suit, cause a problem. What worried me worse was that there might be an investigation and they would ask me, and I'd have to admit to my tough guy friends that I was crying during my space walk.
HAUCK: It's your inner feminine self.
LICHTENBERG: Exactly. You know, there's a lot of tough guy test pilots. I kept my hands here when they were talking about the test pilots and fighter pilots. I'm just a civilian. So I would have to admit to all these tough guys, you know, that I was crying. So that was--
I got myself under control.
HAUCK: Mike, thank you for the deference. I found that being in space, going up there and experiencing weightlessness and the beauty of what the human body can do under erratically different circumstances than you've been used to for the entire earlier part of your life, that I call it it's like becoming a child again. It's like you're born, you learn how to crawl, transformative. You learn how to walk, transformative.
You learn how to ride a bicycle. How many of you remember how that opened the world to you, being able to ride a bicycle? And being in space, floating, enjoying that freedom, and looking down at the Earth.
HOFFMAN: That's why I really think there is a future for space tourism. All of us who have experienced it know that when people get back with their traveller's tales, once it's really affordable, you're not going to be able to keep people away.
But I do want to introduce a slightly different take on this. Because we talk about the beautiful view of the Earth. And there's this poetic idea that from space, the Earth has no boundaries.
And yet, and yet, if you look closely, there are boundaries. There's different agricultural practices. You can see the boundaries between Israel and Egypt, between Namibia and Angola, between Brazil and Paraguay. I could go-- between Mexico and Guatemala.
And not just the borders that you can see. But you can see from a cosmic perspective the impact that humans have had on our planet. And it's pretty scary.
And I think that that has been responsible for a lot of astronauts when they get back do have kind of a more ecological attitude towards the Earth and look on our planet as something which we can't take for granted. Because as I say, humans have now had an impact on our planet, which is visible from the cosmic perspective. And that's pretty scary.
YOUNG: Shall we turn to some of the questions that were written on these cards, Jeff?
HOFFMAN: Sure. Here is kind of a fun one. We talked a lot about teamwork. And there's a question of did any people here participate in team sports while at MIT? And if so, which ones?
LICHTENBERG: Well, I played intramural hockey in graduate school. Enjoyed that.
YOUNG: Did you wear a helmet? I don't think so.
LICHTENBERG: Um, yes. That's what happened.
HOFFMAN: Well, both you and I were on the ski team. But that was at Amherst College.
YOUNG: That's right, a major ski power.
YOUNG: No, but I think the question is along the lines of experiences that might have contributed to teamwork.
MASSIMINO: I got to play intramural basketball with Dava. Dava was a point guard. I don't know if she still plays out here. But she was really good. Played at Notre Dame and in grad school I got to play on the same team with her.
HOFFMAN: Another question is kind of personal. But do you dream about being back in space ever? And this may be different for people who are active in the corps, who are not. I'll just give my own answer for a start.
When I was an active astronaut, I never dreamed about being in space. After I left the corps, I started dreaming about it and sort of wishing I could be back, I guess. I even dreamed about getting a call to come back, sort of like in Space Cowboys, right.
HAUCK: Just five days ago, I rolled over in bed and told my wife, Susan, who's sitting out there, well, they didn't let me go this time. I was there, but I wasn't chosen.
HOFFMAN: Spaceflight can be kind of addictive in that sense, can't it? Once you've done it, it's sort of hard to stop.
YOUNG: We were a couple of questions here related to what the US can and should be doing about international cooperation in future space explorations. One of our colleagues writes, nations such as China and India are making rapid advances in human space flight. Yet the United States space policies have not been very collaborative so far.
By the way, I disagree with that. If you look at what we do with ISAS Japan or the Russian space agency.
However, how important do you think it is for the US to form collaborative partnerships in space, in particular with China and with India? Any opinions?
CREAMER: Well, let me start off by backing up on the question a little bit. China and India I'm under equipped to answer fluently. But the Space Station is a 16-country effort. And so when we say that the US hasn't been doing collaborative work, OK, I've got to go, well, I beg to differ on that one.
I mean, I am a Cold War baby. I was commissioned in '82, the wall came down in '89. And when I grow up, I want to be like my Russian commander. He's such a good guy. And I really enjoyed working with the people.
And the two countries, the two agencies put together have established a means of communications that I think is very collaborative and very beneficial for the world. As for China and India, I'll let you have that one.
ALDRIN: Well, there are military aspects. I think a lot of hardliners feel that anything we do, they're going to learn something from us. Yet I feel that we could start somewhere. And I feel that the Space Station is a good place to start.
But I don't think the partners, present partners, really want to open the Space Station partnership up to other partners and go through that reorganization. There may be additional people who can be a part of that. Certainly if China were to come on board, I think the price of admission is taking some people up there and use their transportation system.
I think that there's a good opportunity to lay the groundwork somewhere between the Space Station and solution of debris problems in space and the International Lunar Research Park that Ames is having workshops about. They just started doing that. And I think certainly the experience that the US has, that we should be the leaders of that. That doesn't mean we put up all the money to go back there and build a base for other people to use.
I think were we to go back to the Moon, it would be the quickest way that the US would seed its leadership role that we spent considerable money for in the '60s and '70s. And if we were to go back to the Moon, I think we'd guarantee being second and probably third, because the Russians don't want to go back to the Moon. It would indicate how far behind they are in world opinion and their own people.
China certainly can win any kind of a race. All they have to do is send one person to land on the Moon for one hour, and they beat the US back to the Moon. But we couldn't do that. So it's an unfair competition.
And besides that, what really can be done at the Moon that can come close to justifying the enormous cost of supporting-- launching and supporting-- human beings on the Moon? We put $100 billion into a space station. The Chinese and all the rest of the countries would love for us to spend $300 billion to set up a base on the Moon. But I'm saying again, that guarantees us begin second or third.
The Russians have a Project 500, where people are in isolation for the time that it would take to go to Mars and back. They have a Fobus-Grunt mission that will bring back a soil sample from the moon Phobos. It was supposed to launch last October, and in two years, it may go. And it has a Chinese payload on it that will be in orbit around Phobos. And they will share the samples that are brought back with the French.
And where the hell are we? Well, we're thinking of going back to the Moon. It just doesn't make any sense to me to take steps. There's not that much to be learned by going back to the Moon, in my way of looking at it.
HOFFMAN: Well, as far as going to Mars, when is the proper time to stop saying we're going to just do it robotically, and what should we be looking at to tell us that we're actually ready to send people there? And is anybody willing to speculate on how and when that might become possible?
HAUCK: Have we solved the radiation problem?
ALDRIN: I think this coming May 25, the 50th anniversary of Kennedy's speech, would be an ideal time to say that we, the US, will establish permanence on Mars, within two to three decades, not one decade to the Moon. And I think we can really do that. But the economics today, the complications that this administration has gotten into, I think the best that I've been campaigning for is that maybe on that particular date, the 50th anniversary of Kennedy's speech, we might call attention to the success of having carried out that challenge by elevating the people-- 24 individuals living and deceased-- to a title of the Honorable Lunar Ambassador, to make it clear to other international countries and to make a reminder to our people of what we did, and how we did it. And I think that would serve to be a good remembrance of the past.
I think that the opposition for the election in 2012 can very well point out that this administration had the opportunity to do something, but because we had many other problems, we didn't. And I think we might get the people running against Obama to be able to set forth what they would have done, or what they would do if they were elected, about the future of space. And I think it's a great opportunity, with op-eds and others, to inject into the campaign of 2012 the future of the US in space.
HOFFMAN: Talking about the future, if we are going to go beyond the Earth-- whether be it to near Earth asteroids, Mars, whatever-- what are some of the key technologies that we should be working on now?
LICHTENBERG: Well that's a good question. Clearly, Rick talked about radiation, protection, understanding how to protect the human body and what the effects of radiation are. We know some of the effects.
But clearly propulsion this is the big one. I say that's the tall pole in the tent. And unfortunately, our colleague Franklin Chang Diaz can't be here today.
But Franklin and his companies and groups are working on plasma engines that have a very high specific impulse that hopefully will get us to the next generation. You can see matter, anti-matter, there's some things down the road that make some sense. But I guess good thing to open up the question about nuclear power also.
ALDRIN: If you're going to spend the rest of your life on Mars, why do you care how long it takes to get there?
LICHTENBERG: Good point, Buzz.
CREAMER: Because you don't want to give the engineers--
LICHTENBERG: Some people want to come back.
HOFFMAN: That's an interesting point. Because it brings to me, one of the key technologies is learning how to use the local resources. I mean, all exploration in the past, explorers, no matter where they went, they would make landfall.
They would look for fresh water. They could often find food. And you could basically take care of yourself, maybe not in Antarctica, that's a different story.
But I think that learning how to use local resources, if we are really serious about permanence of exploration, we absolutely have to do that. And that may be the one area where there is some real value in going back to the Moon, I think, because of the recent discovery that there may well be large deposits of water on the Moon, which is something we never believed before. But if there really are a large deposits of water on the Moon near the poles, that's an incredibly valuable resource for making propellant, for making oxygen, and for enabling the growth of food. And that may be the place where we ought to learn how to do it.
ALDRIN: Let's help the Chinese and the Indians do that instead of expending our money.
ALDRIN: There's plenty of water on Mars.
HOFFMAN: Oh, absolutely. But Mars is a lot farther away. I also want to go to Mars, Buzz.
HART: Hey, Jeff, I try to explain to my students who I'm teaching orbital mechanics the challenge of going to Mars and landing on the surface. So stop and think about it, what a rocket looks like that we build here on Earth to go to Mars. OK, you got that picture in your mind? A Saturn V kind of class rocket.
We get the Mars, we've got to come back, right? We've got to build maybe not quite that big a rocket, but we've got to build a pretty big rocket on the surface of Mars to come back. That's quite a challenge.
And the concept of gravity wells is the issue with orbital mechanics. And when you go down to the surface, you're going down into a deep gravity well that you have to climb out of. So you have to go down there with all the propulsion technology and capability to come back.
HOFFMAN: Unless you can make your own propellant on the surface, which is a huge difference.
HART: A great solution. The whole concept of propulsion, and then as Rick said, the radiation issues, are the key technologies that have to be advanced. And as long as we're stuck with chemical engines, it's going to be a difficult proposition to land on the surface and get back.
YOUNG: But as Byron alluded to, there are alternate propulsion techniques, which are difficult. But there is progress being made on them. When I listen to my Russian colleagues talking about going to Mars, they are entirely concentrating on nuclear electric, nuclear thermal engines, not the kind of bipropellant that we have.
HART: The issue with most of those, they're low thrust, as you know. They're high Isp but low thrust. If you're on the surface of Mars, you need thrust. You've got to beat that gravity to get back up in orbit. Once you're in orbit, then the electric propulsion is very attractive.
YOUNG: What are the questions asked about the advisability of human exploration of an asteroid, which is in the sort of near term plan? What's your feeling about the problem, the value? We know that you don't really land on an asteroid as much as you really rendezvous with it. You probably don't walk on it as much as you crawl on it. Any thought?
HOFFMAN: Or just fly around, using a maneuvering unit.
YOUNG: No takers, huh?
ALDRIN: I think it's a building block of achievement that builds up to Phobos or Deimos. And with very short time delay from those locations, what we can do is build the base before the people go there. And it doesn't take tremendous launches to do that. We can have quite a few launches throughout the year, with different travel time. And when the crew gets there, at Phobos, they can spend a year and a half putting things together.
YOUNG: Everybody knows Phobos and Deimos are the moons of Mars. And they're much easier to get to than the surface. No other takers on asteroids.
HOFFMAN: Well, that is one of the big advantages of the asteroids, that you don't have to land on it. If we develop a heavy lift vehicle that can take us beyond the Earth and have a capsule that can keep us alive for a few months, we can get to an asteroid. Whereas we can't with just that equipment land even on the Moon, much less land on Mars. And so it may be the first interesting place that we can get to, once we develop the heavy lift launch capability.
HART: Apparently the scientists are particularly interested in asteroids too. I don't understand all the science involved. But the fact that the material was the original material of our solar system has a lot more interest than the moons would have, from their perspective.
HOFFMAN: We had a graduate class last year that did a study of what humans could actually do on an asteroid as opposed to just sending a robotic mission. And there were a lot of very complicated things that you can do, like setting up a seismic network and then actually smashing something into the asteroid, so that you could basically do some tomography and investigate the interior structure of the asteroid. Just developing ways to anchor to an asteroid, to a body which has not enough gravity to hold you on the surface.
Do you shoot a harpoon in? Do you try to drill in and put in an ice screw, like mountain climbers do? There's all sorts of different technologies which you could possibly use, which would be rather difficult to build into a robotic spacecraft. Maybe you could have one or two, whereas a human crew could possibly take as many different techniques as you can possibly come up with.
And that's the sort of flexibility which humans bring to a mission, which I think we ought to be able to take advantage of. And then once you learn how to do that, then you can possibly build it into a whole generation of robotic explorers, which can go and visit a lot of how much farther away asteroids.
LICHTENBERG: I'd like to add a little bit, just a slightly different twist. And our good friend, Rusty Schweickart is involved in a lot of studies and organizations to try to look at protecting us from near Earth objects, potential asteroids. So I think that getting the technology and the techniques and understanding the complexities of rendezvousing with an asteroid would help us, in case we ever found one that we needed to divert and keep it from becoming the killer asteroid.
YOUNG: The question of how to deal with low probability but high impact events is one that's both philosophically and statistically difficult to wrestle with. I agree with Rusty, that we should not just be closing our eyes and saying, well, it won't happen.
Here's an opportunity, one of us asked what is your favorite MIT memory or funny story? In less than a minute, anybody?
HAUCK: Getting my degree.
YOUNG: Was that a funny story or a memory?
YOUNG: Any others?
CREAMER: I had the pleasure of helping Ali Javan, who was my thesis adviser, carry his original helium neon laser for transport to the Smithsonian. That was a treat.
LICHTENBERG: My most amazing moment was the day that Doc Edgerton came over to the lab and helped me set up some original photography of the eye, to try to understand how the eyeball rotates and moves.
YOUNG: Let me tell it from my end. Byron and I were interested in taking pictures of the eyeball. And he needed a strobe. And I said, let me see what I can do to help. He came back to my office and said, Larry, this older guy came in. I don't know who he was, but he knew everything.
LICHTENBERG: That's before I heard about EG&G.
YOUNG: That's right.
HOFFMAN: We've been talking about the transition of the Space Station from being a construction project to a scientific laboratory. And there's a question here, what would people see, up to now, as being some of the important scientific discoveries or contributions that have come from the space program, whether from Apollo or the shuttle or the Space Station? Byron, you were on Space Lab 1, that was a science mission.
LICHTENBERG: Yeah, Space Lab 1 was a joint mission with NASA and the European Space Agency. We had 72 experiments from 16 different countries, including Canada and Japan and most of Western Europe, the United States. The one thing that stuck out in my mind at the end of it and realizing that when you're up for 10 days and trying to do 72 different experiments, each experiment gets just a small fraction of resources in terms of crew time or power, observing time, whatever.
But the one that I saw that had a lot of promise and that actually took commercially with the Russians was protein crystallisation. And we just haven't moved forward too much. But very briefly, if you can get proteins to crystallize large enough, then you can shoot x-rays through them. Supercomputers can analyze the scattering pattern and then make a three dimensional model of the active sites in the protein.
And then the pharmacologist can design a drug or a chemical that will interact like that. It's just like a lock and a key. So rather than trying thousands of keys in one lock, if you can take a lock apart, then you can build a key that will open it.
And we had some success with the Russians. They did the first commercial experiments back in the '80s and early '90s on Mir, before the Space Station was up. So I'd be interested to see, and I haven't really followed it, but to see what we're doing and how protein crystallisation experiments are coming on the ISS.
HOFFMAN: Actually, last October I was at the International Astronautical Congress in Prague. And there was report by a Japanese team who had used protein crystals, which were grown on the Space Station in the way that you suggested, to come up with a treatment for Duchenne's muscular dystrophy, which was really quite astounding.
YOUNG: We've heard a lot this morning about the restrictions that we're facing, monetary restrictions, perhaps a lack of public knowledge, and the absence of a major driver such as the Cold War, which drove President Kennedy to his commitment to go to the moon. What do you feel is required to increase the level of fiscal support? Now the United States has been the major contributor to space exploration.
Does it require leadership? Does it require bold new ideas from the scientific community? Do we need another Carl Sagan?
I must say that I had the privilege of getting to know representative Gabby Giffords, just the week before she was shot. And I thought she was the one who could carry the flag. I don't know if there is at this time the obvious political leadership to which you guys can appeal.
HAUCK: Well, what problem are we trying to solve? I think we have limited resources. There have to be political decisions as to how to allocate those resources. Without strong leadership, that becomes a morass.
So I think leadership is absolutely needed. But you need to answer the question, what are we trying to solve or what are we trying to accomplish. And I'm not sure what we're trying to accomplish right now.
I think that either we need another crisis of some sort or perceived crisis, like the launching of Sputnik, that called attention to our so-called shortcomings in our educational systems and so forth. But I think we need the shock. And I hate to say that, because you don't want a shock. But that may be what it takes.
HART: The other aspect, Larry, just putting things in scale, we spent I think it was $25 billion for Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo in those years, $25 billion 1965 dollars or whatever.
YOUNG: But that was 3% of the federal budget at its peak.
HART: It was, yeah, NASA was up to 4% at one point there. We're typically more like 1%. So people go, that's a huge amount of money. We spent more money on dog food in this country during that time. It comes out to about $100 a citizen for the 10-year program.
So that I think most people in the public think the space program is a huge consumer. And it usually gets lumped in with the DOD budget, unfortunately, too. But in reality, we're not really spending all that much to do these wonderful things that inspire so many people.
CREAMER: Speaking of the budget that you mentioned, I think we got up to 4.4% total. But that was an infrastructure issue. We didn't have an infrastructure, so we had to invest the money to build the facilities. So there was a bit of a bump to get us to the point where we could be doing the Space Program.
And you're right, we're sitting around about the 1% level, but that-- which is really a small amount. To answer this question that's on the floor, a challenge that Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson is actually promoting is to double the budget that we have right now. I think we're sitting at about 0.7%. So we double the budget and then give the nation a problem to solve, such as go to the asteroid or go to Mars. And start infusing with that enthusiasm of solving the problem into the school systems, so that you're able to encourage the young upstart elementary and junior high kids, who are going up in that direction to become the experts that we were talking about earlier, to be able to solve the problem.
You've invested in the future. You continue to invest in the future, with really a pittance, in terms of overall GNP. That's where we're going to be feeding the future inspirations.
LICHTENBERG: He could be the next Carl Sagan, also. He's a very, very eloquent speaker.
MASSIMINO: I think it might be, too, once we realize that the Space Shuttle program is really over, and we're not launching people from Kennedy Space Center for a while, I think a lot of people are going to maybe be surprised that that actually-- we've been telling people, hey, if you want to go to a shuttle launch, hurry up, because it's going to end. But I think a lot of people are going to be shocked.
The question you had earlier was a benefit of the space program. My two flights have been lucky enough to go and service the Hubble Space Telescope. And Jeff was on one of those missions as well. And that is a wonderful machine.
What it has shown us, the window into the universe. It not only answered questions that the astronomers had, but it formulated questions. What is this energy source that they detected with Hubble that they now call dark energy? And what is this-- there was more matter in the universe than we were able to account for. Hubble discovered that.
We don't know the answers to that yet. But maybe this alpha magnetic spectrometer, the AMS that's going up into space on Friday is going to look for anti-matter. And maybe it will be able to answer that question.
There are some very basic questions that we have of what our universe is made of, and how do we fit in. These questions are being answered and also formulated by these wonderful instruments that we have up there, that we've been able to interact with through the shuttle program and the station program, now with AMS.
I think that once we stop-- my guess is once the shuttle program is really over, and we hit this time period where we're not launching people here from the United States any longer, and the only way to get to orbit will be the Soyuz, and maybe if the Chinese are sending people up there, I think it might be enough of a kick to get people going again and say, hey, what are we doing? We don't want to lag behind. Let's get back into the game, like we were before. So I'm hoping that that might be a bit of a kick.
YOUNG: I think we all hope you're right.
HOFFMAN: Space exploration, we talked a little bit about commercial space. And there was one question asking how we think space is going to develop in the future. And comparing it maybe to deep sea exploration, which is basically not commercial. I mean, we explore the deep sea for scientific reasons and have done that and continue to do that.
Is that the future for space exploration, deep space exploration? Or might, like aviation, which started out as kind of an exploratory, state of the art engineering but has become a critical commercial activity for our entire global civilization. How do you see space travel going?
LICHTENBERG: Well, I'd like to use the analogy really of opening up the Western frontier a couple hundred years ago. First the military went out, and they built their forts, and they were fortified. And it was entirely a government activity.
And then slowly people came, because they needed laundries and they needed restaurants and they needed doctors and they needed hotels and they needed what have you. So you built up this infrastructure around the original government structure.
And I think we're seeing that already. One of the things that's happening, Boeing is developing their CST 100. It's a seven-person commercial and also used for NASA transportation, up to low earth orbit. And Space Adventures Company, again, we are the exclusive commercial retailers of that service.
But to the more point, they're working with Bigelow Aerospace to develop inflatable structures that are going to go up and could be either rendezvoused or near or station keeping with the station, to have that same sort of sense, where you have a government facility, the Space Station. But then you have these other habitats that are going around it, that could have a variety of other services and support for other groups that want to go up there.
YOUNG: Jeff and I would like to thank first of all, thank the audience with this wonderful set of questions, which could keep us busy for the rest of the day easily, and especially to thank our wonderful group of MIT alum astronauts, for sharing your stories and sharing your time with us. We're very proud of you.