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Guest: Dr. Geoffrey Landis; Topics: Making oxygen an fuel on Mars, Mars research, lunar technology, private space capitalism, private Mars and lunar missions, artificial gravity, Venus, and lots more.
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We welcomed Dr. Geoffrey Landis back to the Space Show for this two segment 92 minute Mars, lunar and commercial exploration discussion covering a wide range of topics including both government and private missions. Dr. Landis started out talking about Mars and his work in making rocket propellant from INSITU resources from the Martian surface. He focused in on making propellant from oxygen on Mars. As I have done with other recent programs, I am copying the tags and key words below as they follow the topics in the order they were discussed. I will summarize topics that got my attention or the attentions of listeners.
Tags/Key Words: Making oxygen on Mars, sample return mission, planetary protection, future spacecraft design, rocket propellant, Mars biologicals, organics on Mars, extremely cold Martian climate, Sabatier Reaction, Mars 2020, Perseverance Rover, The Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE), plausible commercial Mars missions, humans to Mars, centrifugal gravity, artificial gravity, tethers, high temperature reactors, thermal issues, solid oxide electrolysis, zirconium dioxide, CO2 temperatures, lunar reactors, Mars experiments applicable to the Moon, INSITU resource usage, time lines for humans to Mars, private sector Mars missions, space settlement technologies, Martian resources including water, 55KM in the Venus atmosphere above the surface, Venus balloons, Soviet Union missions to Venus, space mining, cislunar development, tourism, lunar tourism, orbital tourism, why Martian launch windows, Venus flyby to Mars, Titan and Europa for life, Europa ocean, phosphene in the clouds of Venus, private science missions, RocketLab, lunar base development, Artemis, space property rights, advanced propulsion, Tic Tac, extraterrestrial life, Mars habitability, science fiction to reality, technology needed for a Venus probe in the upper atmosphere.
Dr. Landis first talked about his own history in working on making fuel from Martian INSITU resources. He talked about his earlier work from the 1990s as part of this discussion. He shifted to the present to discuss the MOXI experiment on Perseverance heading to Mars now, the chemical process used for making propellant on Mars, the Sabatier Reaction plus a bit more history with previous missions and the capabilities of modern day engineering to get it done. In addition, he referenced earlier MIT work. This discussion soon evolved, with the help of listener emails, to talking about commercial missions for Mars needing a commercial to do project to be commercial. Our guest said that we were not there yet. The processes he was describing would not be commercial on their own as they needed a product with market potential. He also replied to a listener asking about humans to Mars and said that today it would be a challenge. He talked about needing centrifugal gravity or artificial gravity and said the technology for this with tethers was already known.
Kim called from Mexico and sparked a good conversation about reactors, high temperatures and thermal issues for production on Mars using ISRU. Geoffrey brought up the process known as solid oxide electrolysis and provided an excellent discussion for understanding this subject. Then he put zirconium dioxide into the discussion mix. This was a very important part of our discussion. Kim inquired about temperatures for reactors on the Moon as compared to Mars. Don't what our guest had to say on this subject We took a quick email from George wanting to know how applicable the Martian experiments and technology were to the Moon.
I jumped in with a minor change in topics by asking Geoffrey for his take on a plausible time line for humans to Mars. He said it was more about our will to do it than anything else. Be sure to hear all of what he said about what it will take to get humans to Mars. Listener Don brought up space settlement. Our guest said the Moon was closer to reality than Martian settlement, possibly even more so than on orbital settlement. We then talked about advanced propulsion and what it would mean to have nuclear propulsion which he said would open up the solar system.
Fremont John called to talk about the value of space regarding one of our recent programs. John brought up the comment that the lower the launch price goes, the more likely it will be cheaper to bring things up from Earth rather than to produce them in space. Dr. Landis did not completely agree with that so listen to his answer. What do you think? Let us know by posting your comments on our blog.
We started the second segment with my asking our guest if we have been expecting too much too fast regarding human spaceflight and space exploration. Our guest jumped to space mining which he thought was still fairly far off in the future. Paul then sent in a note asking about cislunar economic and commercial development plus commercial opportunities. Geoffrey suggested for the near term tourism might be the winner, specifically orbital, hotels, and lunar tourism.
I thought the question asked by listener David about launch windows to Mars was informative, especially when our guest said there was another doable launch window via a Venus flyby. This launch window though would still require a longer trip than launching when Mars was close to Earth. Another listener asked our guest about possible life on Titan and Europa. Our guest had lots to say about both moons, specifically Europa and the probability of a liquid (non-water) ocean below the surface.
At expected a listener sent in a note asking if the phosphine announced in the upper atmosphere of Venus was a life indicator. Dr. Landis said maybe but it was still unexplained and we needed to do more studies to find out more about Venus. We then discussed possible new missions to Venus, even a private sector mission that has been talked about with RocketLab. Listener Helen changed the subject when she asked if it was really cheaper to launch missions to Mars and elsewhere in the solar system from the Moon due to lower gravity. Don't miss what Dr. Landis said in response to Helen's question.
As we were nearing the end of the program, Roger from Phoenix sent in a note asking if Artemis was the best way to return to the Moon. You will want to hear what our guest said about returning to the Moon. He was then asked for his opinion on obtaining space property rights. He said yes but once again listen to all of what he had to say on the subject.
Tic Tac, extraterrestrial life and far out advanced propulsion was next up for discussion. His responses included talking about Mars in the early solar system maybe having been habitable. From here, I asked our guest for his summary and take away points regarding our discussion. Before ending the show, Geoffrey was asked about science fiction writers and how they were able to suggest, even sometimes predict the future. You definitely want to hear what was said in response to this question. The final question came from Kim wanting to know if we had the technology to be in orbit about 55 miles up from the surface of Venus. Dr. Landis reminded us of older Soviet Union missions that did that so he said the technology was not the challenge. He addressed balloon missions to Venus to float in the upper atmosphere and more.
Please post your comments/questions on our blog for this show. You can reach Dr. Landis through me or his website, www.geoffreylandis.com.