LIVE – SPACE 101: The future of space exploration with Jenni Sidey-Gibbons

published on July 2, 2020

Hi everyone

My name is Jenni Sidey-Gibbons and I’m a Canadian Space Agency astronaut

Now we’re all in a really interesting situation right now being home,

but I want to take the opportunity to talk to you about space,

one of my favourite subjects

Now, you might already know quite a bit about space exploration,

but do you know what’s coming,

what is the next big space exploration in (off microphone)?

Why are we still exploring further into space?

Let’s see what the next steps in space exploration actually are

I’ll be talking a little bit about the Moon and Mars,

and then I’ll have some time to answer some of the awesome questions

you guys are sending us

So, let’s start with a little summary on the topic

Right now, astronauts like me train to prepare to go to space missions

to the International Space Station, which is actually not that far away

It’s only about 400 km above the surface of the Earth

That’s about the same distance between Ottawa and Toronto

Now these days, astronauts leave Earth and arrive on the International Space Station

between six days and two hours after launch

And they tend to stay there anywhere between three months to around a year

(Audio technical difficulties)

David, here in this picture, stayed for almost seven months

on the International Space Station last year

When you’re on the ISS, you eat food that’s shipped there regularly,

you train on exercise machines that help reduce the effects of microgravity on the body,

and you would also conduct many science experiments on pretty much any topic

that you can imagine

Particularly interesting, science – (audio technical difficulties)

base to study astronauts’ bones, their heart, their blood vessels and their brain

Now, these experiments have produced findings that help people here on Earth,

from those suffering with balance problems like seniors to those with osteoporosis,

cardiovascular disorders and even type 2 diabetes

So, it’s been about 20 years that astronauts from around the globe have been travelling

to the International Space Station to live and work

Although their space missions always present challenges and risk,

this type of space travel has been tested pretty thoroughly

But now, by going even further into the solar system, like back to Moon,

back to the Moon or even onto Mars, we’ll have even more challenges for astronauts

and for the sciences – scientists, engineers and other teams working

to make sure their space missions are a success

So, the next generation of astronauts, like myself, are preparing to travel to missions

to the Moon

Now the Canadian Space Agency is working with NASA on the next space station

but unlike the International Space Station,

this station will orbit the Moon and it will be called the Lunar Gateway

We, in Canada, are experts at building robotic arms, which operate in space

So, you might have heard about Canadarm or Canadarm2;

these are giant robotic cranes that work in the vacuum of space

And they actually built the International Space Station

For Gateway, we will be building Canadarm3

Now Canadarm3 will use artificial intelligence to help astronauts work around the Lunar Gateway

It will do anything from inspect and repair the station to capture visiting vehicles

to helping astronauts during spacewalks

The Gateway will be about one-fifth of the size of the International Space Station

And just like (audio technical difficulties) that will be used to test new technologies

But it will also be used as a rendezvous location to go to the actual Moon,

like a mission control centre for operations on the lunar surface and one day,

it might be a stepping stone for voyages to Mars

Building a base around the Moon will also allow for a deeper understanding

of the possible health effects of deep-space travel,

for instance learning about cosmic radiation or solar (inaudible)

It will also give us access to the lunar surface to conduct innovative science

and test technologies

The Gateway will give us a unique point to observe our Sun,

other stars and even our own planet Earth

And before we go further into space, like to Mars,

it will allow us an easier return to Earth if we have any issues

This is incredibly important as it’s only a three-day trip back

versus a six months to a year trip back from Mars

So, if you’ve ever been camping, you can kind of think of space exploration activities

in the following way:

going to the ISS would be like camping in your backyard,

it’s not too far and the way back home is pretty quick and relatively straightforward;

going to the Moon is more like going on a backcountry camping trip,

if you have an emergency, it’s harder to come back home but it’s still not too far away;

but going to Mars – going to Mars is going to be like camping somewhere around Mount Everest,

the trip is going to be longer and more challenging,

and it will take a lot of technological development and prep to keep you safe

Now, we talked about the travel to Mars taking over six months

Well, with the technologies that we’re using today,

a round-trip to Mars would take a minimum of two years

considering how long we would want to spend on the surface of the planet

Astronauts visiting Mars will have more risks than those going

to the International Space Station or even the Moon,

including spending more time in weightlessness so their muscles

and bones will suffer from not being forced to work like they (off the microphone)

They’ll experience more exposure to radiation,

as they will not be protected from being close to Earth;

(audio technical difficulties) trip will just be longer as well

Like all of you at home right now, they’ll go through longer periods of isolation

and confinement, which (inaudible) as you know, can be pretty difficult

And they won’t be able to communicate as regularly as they do now

with their colleagues on the ground

So, communication could take anywhere from 7 to 20 minutes from Mars back to the Earth

Imagine that you’re talking with your friend and it takes 20 minutes for your friend

to hear what you have to say

They reply and it takes another 20 minutes to get back to you

Finally, the medical and health situations on Mars

would need to be handled on the spot by the crew because the (inaudible)

doesn’t really allow for any ground assistance

All in all, going to Mars will require a lot more autonomy

It will require the development of new technologies

that will allow astronauts to rely on themselves for a very long period of time

It’s forcing us to be pretty creative with the technologies that we’re developing today

You can imagine the solutions that we find to help us with many of the challenges

in space exploration like going to Mars also help us here on Earth

In fact, one of the biggest benefits to travelling in space

is that the solutions we develop to travel in space actually

are very much applicable to improving life here on Earth

For instance, this is just (audio technical difficulties)

we used to have to take photos with extremely large cameras

but to travel in space, we would need smaller and lighter cameras,

so science and engineers develop those

These cameras for space (audio technical difficulties)

of the cameras that we have now in our smartphones

And that’s just one of the technologies we’ve developed in space that helps us here on Earth

Not to mention the water purification technologies,

Earth observation and the medical advancements

that space exploration also contributes

Now, the Canadian Space Agency estimates

that the first humans that will step on Mars are middle school age right now

So, if this is interesting to you, maybe you’re one of them

Now (audio technical difficulties) space exploration but my favourite part of these

is always answering your questions

So, I know you have a ton of them, and let’s start right away

We’ve already had some come through

Looks like the first one is from James, age five,

and he wants to know, how far is the Moon from Earth

and how long does it take to get there?

Good question I think a lot of people have wondered this before you have, James

And the answer is the Moon is over 380,000 km away

It’s a really long way, that’s about 1,000 times further than the International Space Station

is from the Earth And with the technology that we have now,

it’ll take about three days for teams of astronauts to get to the Moon

It’s a long way (laughing) – it’s like going around the Earth 9 or 10 times

Okay Missa, age 14, wants to know what kind of experiments

will the Artemis astronauts conduct on the Moon after landing,

and how will that help in exploring Mars?

Well, the experiments that we’ll do on the Moon haven’t actually been decided yet,

but they’ll likely involve things like Earth exploration,

maybe some planetary science and medical experiments

Actually, Canada is developing medical technologies for astronauts

to go to the Moon right now

So, once we get there, we’ll have an opportunity to (audio technical difficulties)

understanding and really expand on those studies

But we don’t know yet

What are the main challenges, oh,

Aya, 13, wants to know what are the main challenges

scientists need to address before sending astronauts to Mars?

There’s a lot of challenges

Going to Mars is pretty difficult

We can definitely do it if we commit to it, but there are plenty of challenges along the way

One of them is the transport, how do we actually get there

and what are fuelling sources going to be, we’ve taken all of our fuel with us?

That’s a big problem to solve

How do we resupply a station on Mars,

keep our astronauts fed and healthy, do we take everything with us?

How do we survive once we’re on Mars?

Mars is a pretty different climate to the climate here on Earth,

so that’s another challenge to solve

How do we produce electricity on Mars?

These are all things we’re going to have to think about

And, of course, how can humans survive on Mars?

How (audio technical difficulties) astronauts and look after their health

when they’re on a mission to Mars and on the surface

And that, I, kind of, group that in, also with the well-being of astronauts

I mean, what happens to astronauts when you can no longer see the Earth anymore?

That’s not a trivial question, that’s something we’re definitely going to have

to think about as we push toward Mars

Okay A question from some Grade 7 students in Stonewall, Manitoba

(Technical difficulties) we study geology on Mars and compare it to Earth geology?

This is a great question Actually, a lot of our work in our initial ASCAN training,

our Astronaut Candidate Training, was on planetary geology

So, as astronauts, if we could go to another planet or Moon,

what do we look for and how do we describe it to the ground team?

And Earth actually presents an excellent analogue or comparison for Mars,

so we can learn a lot about both planets by comparing what’s different

and what’s the same

We can use Earth as a laboratory to study Mars,

and we can notice the same processes on both planetary surfaces,

and then actually go out into the field, (audio technical difficulties)

analyze and get our hands on the rocks on Earth and apply that knowledge

to images and other data that we have of similar surfaces on Mars

So, we can learn a lot about both planets,

but we can also figure out what happened to the climate on Mars

and learn more about our solar system

Really interesting area of study

Okay Next question

This is from Gavin in Winnipeg, 11 years old All right

Gavin wants to know, will there be a way to use less fuel during takeoff

in the future of space travel?

Well, with our current technologies we can’t really use less fuel to get off the planet

because we’re bound by the gravitational constant of Earth,

the actual energy requirement that it takes to get where we want to go

and the performance of the fuels that we actually use to get there

That being said, science and engineering are always evolving and jumping forward,

so we can always develop new propulsion systems

that would make the journey more efficient

That’s why we need smart people out there working on those problems, like you, Gavin

Okay Next question, this is from Asher, five years old

Hi Asher

Will I ever be able to go on a space vacation?

I think so I think that’s on its way

Maybe a way off, but there’s definitely

commercial space flight opportunities (audio technical difficulties) for space tourists

There’s been tourists who have already been to space, they paid quite a bit of money to do it

But I think it’s going to get more and more regular as we see these commercial partners

develop their systems more and more

So, yeah, I think you could go on a space vacation one day, if you want to, Asher

Okay Esme, age nine

How soon do you think humans will be able to live on planets other than Earth?

You know, I think that we can actually do this relatively quickly,

thinking at maybe a decade if we really, really commit to it and put a lot of resources towards

developing the technologies to get us to another planet like Mars

and building a base there, making it sustainable

But it’s a question of how we (audio technical difficulties)

want to commit to it and whether we want to pay more attention

to other space endeavours or even other types of science and engineering as well

So, it’s just, it just depends on when we want to go, I think

It’s going to take a lot of work to get there, we don’t have that technology now,

but I’m pretty sure that we can develop it

So, we have to decide to do it first

Okay And another question

Will space exploration change the world?

Yes It already has (Audio technical difficulties) does every day,

space exploration changes the world

For instance, we talked about the way that cameras have changed

because of their development for use in space, they’ve gotten a lot smaller and lighter, we

benefit from that technology in our phones

Computers have gotten a lot smaller and lighter in the wake of the Apollo Program

I mean, there are dozens of examples

GPS, the way that we navigate, that’s thanks to space exploration

Water purification systems, I mentioned previously

but the way that we develop water and clean water,

recycle water on the International Space Station,

that’s also used to provide clean water in remote areas on Earth

So, space exploration does change the world, it has changed the world

and it will continue to do so

Okay Now, another question

This is from Charlotte

Does teamwork play an important part of being an astronaut?

Absolutely, teamwork plays an important role in being an astronaut

I work in a team every day

Sometimes it’s a huge team like the team in Mission Control

that supports astronauts on the International Space Station,

I act as CAPCOM, which is the voice that goes to the Station,

I speak to my friends up there and help them with whatever they need

But that’s part of an enormous team on the ground of specialists in all areas,

all systems on the International Space Station

So, that’s just one example

When you’re in a crew of astronauts, you work as a team every day

to accomplish your mission (inaudible) as well

You really have to be able to be a good teammate,

a good follower and a good leader and also, just nice to be around

I mean, we call these skills expeditionary skills or expeditionary behaviour

How do you look after one another and yourself on these longer expeditions and missions?

That all is rolled into teamwork, I would say

So, it’s incredibly important and a great skill that people in the astronaut office

have worked really hard to develop

Okay, next question

This is from Nina, age 10

What is the most beautiful thing about space?

Well, I’ve not been to space yet, I’m training to go to space

But I hear from my friends who have gone to space and recently come back

that the most beautiful thing about space is the Earth

So, it’s looking back at our planet and seeing all the places that you’ve been previously

In a way, you’re looking down at all the people that you know besides your crew

You see all of the city lights,

you see all (audio technical difficulties) oceans, you see all of our weather patterns, the clouds

You see our thin little atmosphere protecting our world,

you see how fragile it really is, and I hear that that’s incredibly beautiful

So, I look forward to seeing that one day

Okay Next question

This is from Julie, age 10,

and she wants to know, can you really grow food on Mars, like in the movie The Martian?

(Inaudible) book as well

We haven’t tried yet

But we have a lot of analogue missions,

so missions that kind of mimic what it would be like to grow food on Mars, here on Earth

And our initial tests show that yes, you could, if you provide the right environment

It would be difficult, but it’s definitely possible from what we’ve seen so far

And a lot of these analogues are in really interesting places on Earth like in Antarctica,

greenhouses down there that one of my friends is working on, actually,

to see if you can grow, grow food on the, in these really extreme environments

with greenhouses and all sorts of new technologies

So, yeah, I think it’s possible But great book and great film, The Martian,

had a lot of really interesting details in there that I think are pretty accurate, actually

Adam, 12 years old, he wants to know, would you prefer to go to the Moon or to Mars?

Oh, I would go to either (laughing)

Obviously, I would love to travel in space

So, wherever we will get the most benefit from me going,

I certainly would go I would love to go to the Moon

I think that that is on the horizon for the next couple of years,

and I think that Canada could learn an enormous amount from going there

I also think Canadians really care about space exploration

and are really excited about the idea of sending an astronaut to the Moon

So, if anyone in our corps got to experience that,

I think that would be a really wonderful thing

So, for now, let’s say the Moon, but who knows after that

Okay Another question coming through

Let’s see, when the Gateway is in space,
will missions to the Moon be more common?

Yeah I think so

The purpose of creating the Lunar Gateway is to enable missions to the Moon,

to support missions to the Moon and activities on the lunar surface

So, in a way, it’s going back to the Moon in a much more sustainable way

It’s going in a way that will support future missions

and (audio technical difficulties) for a prolonged presence like the International Space Station

in space

This is really interesting because it provides us with an opportunity

for long-duration science and long-duration technological development

that’s going to be required if we go anywhere else in space for a long period of time

So, the Gateway is built, fit for purpose really for that,

to enable more frequent missions to the Moon,

which is pretty exciting for all of us here on Earth (laughing)

Okay Layden, age eight, wants to know, when was the International Space Station built,

and when do you think we’ll go to Mars?

When we’ll go to Mars really depends on when we choose to do so

It’s certainly years away at this point, I’d say over a decade away

But I think those of you of who are in middle school now, again,

will see or may even be some of the first people on Mars

So, it’s coming

But it depends on when we commit to that goal

and choose to make it happen and choose to benefit from all the technological development

that comes to it

The first part of your question was when was the International Space Station built?

The International Space Station has been up and running for 20 years, two decades,

and it’s had a continuous human presence for just under that

So, that’s pretty impressive I mean, talk about sustainability,

that Space Station has been up there a long time and contributed so much

to what we know about space and life here on Earth

Chloe wants to know, what is the Moon made of?

Well, the Moon is actually really interesting geologically

The Moon is made up of rocks, rocks that are strongly similar to a lot of the rocks

that make up our own Earth, but it’s covered in this fine dust we call regolith

And it’s actually a pretty battered surface

The Moon has essentially no atmosphere, which makes it very vulnerable to little meteoroid hits

So, it’s a pocketed, sort of, surface

There are all sorts of interesting geological activities (off microphone)

know that it used to be volcanically active,

so you see evidence of volcanic eruptions on the Moon

There are Moon quakes

I mean there’s a lot of geological features that we might recognize

but are just a little bit different from what we have here on Earth

Pretty interesting for a planetary geologist to explore which,

actually one of my classmates is a planetary geologist,

so I hope that she has the opportunity to go and explore the Moon one day, that would be great

Demetri asks, I learned that you studied fire in space

Why is knowing about how fire burns in space important?

Oh, this is a great question

So, I wish that (audio technical difficulties) fire in space now, maybe one day I will again

But my background is a combustion scientist

So, I was a professor previously before I got this job

with the Canadian Space Agency, and I studied fire, how it burns, what pollutants it produces,

how to minimize those pollutants and how we use fire in engines,

and how we can make it better

I did some experiments in microgravity, which were pretty cool

And the main reason for studying fire in space is really that fire is very complex

Even though we’ve been using it for thousands and thousands and thousands of years,

we still don’t really understand all the processes that are going on in,

let’s say a candle flame

And part of the reason for that is not only that it’s very complex

but also that when we study fire in gravity, or in a one-gravity environment,

the dominating, kind of, phenomena is driven by gravity

If you’re able to have a flame in a confined environment,

let’s say on the International Space Station like we do – droplets burning in space

or different types of gases and materials burning in space –

we can study them free from the effects of (audio technical difficulties) environment,

so in a microgravity environment

And when you do that, you can notice a lot of little different phenomena

that otherwise you wouldn’t be able to see on Earth

So, we actually end up learning a lot more about combustion processes

and fire when we study it without that one-G, or gravity effect It’s really interesting

I hope you can read more about that if you’re interested in it

Okay, next question

Tobey, age four, asks how will spacesuits change in the future,

especially in regard to oxygen tanks?

Interesting question

So, spacesuits will change in the future, but it will become,

my first prediction is that they’ll definitely become more mobile

So, the spacesuits that we use for spacewalks on the International Space Station

(audio technical difficulties) actually are different than the ones that we used when we went

to the Moon with the Apollo Program

They are much more rigid because you don’t have to actually walk on a lunar

or planetary surface when you’re doing a spacewalk on the International Space Station,

you move yourself around by grabbing handrails

You don’t really use the legs to walk or anything like that

So, they are much more rigid and built for purpose in that way

When we develop the next generation of spacesuits,

which NASA is developing now, you’re going to have to be able to bend down,

pick up rocks, collect samples

We’re going to be, have to climb hills, you’re going to have to go down slopes,

navigate larger objects, (audio technical difficulties)

really has to be a much more mobile suit, which is still safe

So, that’s one of the big changes that we’re going to see

As far as oxygen tanks go,

I don’t actually know what the big changes are going to be

That’s (audio technical difficulties) not an area that I’m familiar with

But I’ll be interested to see what other people come up with, should be pretty cool

Okay Audrey, aged 11, asks, what is training like?

Training is really cool (laughing)

And how have you been handling the quarantine?

Oh, thanks for asking

So, training is wonderful I really love my job, I’m very, very fortunate to be able to do it

My training consists of things like learning the Russian language

because it is an International Space Station, so we have astronauts from all over the globe,

and in fact, half of it is Russian; (inaudible) the Russian Space Agency Roscosmos

So, we need to be able to communicate with our cosmonaut colleagues in Russian

We fly very fast planes, (inaudible) jets, in order to, kind of, mimic

the, sort of, teamwork environment that you would need in space,

you fly in a crew of two in those jets

We learn how to do spacewalks, it’s a really interesting part of our job

We learn how to manipulate the robotic arm, Canadarm2 on the International Space Station,

another really interesting area that we spent time developing

And training is just a lot of fun I mean, it’s very, very challenging,

but I get to work with these amazing teams of people who really built

the infrastructure that we’re using in space

So, it’s such a joy to learn from them and get to work with them, and I love it

So, I’m really lucky

And quarantine, I’ve been doing well Thanks for asking Again,

I hope you guys have been doing well also

Obviously, it’s a bit of a change

But I’m very fortunate, I’ve been able to work quite a bit from home

and being able to support the mission that’s currently in space from home as well

My family has also been able to work from home, so we are relatively very, very lucky

But, of course, it’s a big change

Hopefully, all of you are doing well too

I know it’s a pretty challenging time

Okay I think we have time for one more question

So, last question today, guys

Will we build a space centre on Mars?

Hopefully, one day I think that we will, some sort of base on the Martian surface

would be incredibly interesting for humanity –

being able to have a continued presence on a planet other than our home planet

in our solar system

It will allow us to develop all sorts of technologies to improve life on our own planet

but also learn so much about our solar system and the way that it was formed

So, I think that we will build a space port or a space base on Mars

It’s just a matter of when and who’s going to do it

Hopefully, you guys will be involved

All right So, great questions, guys (laughing)

Now that I know you are all explorers, I have one more challenge for you

There is an activity on the Canadian Space Agency’s website,

and it is called Creating Moon Craters You should (audio technical difficulties) pretty fun

We put the link in the comments of this video if you’re interested

And while you’re on the Canadian Space Agency’s website,

there are many, many other interesting activities

I encourage you to check them all out, do whichever ones you like,

you might need your parents’ help for them

And if you want, you can send us a photo of you doing any of these activities,

we would love to see how you like them

So, with that, I want to say stay tuned, there will be other activities

and presentations like this one in the coming weeks

Thanks for listening, and stay curious

I will be speaking with you soon Bye

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