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Fifty years ago, as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin bounced on the moon’s surface below, Apollo 11 Command Module Pilot Michael Collins briefly disappeared behind the lunar disk, becoming the first person to experience space entirely alone. As we set our sights on the stars, space travelers will need to cope with ever longer stretches—months, years, and beyond—in the lonely environs of the cosmos. What will that take? What will that be like? How will it affect who we are? Join Michael Collins and fellow astronauts for a whirlwind journey boldly going where only a handful of humans have gone before.
This program is part of the Big Ideas Series, made possible with support from the John Templeton Foundation.
Miles O’Brien:To look over the horizon and wonder what’s there. It’s part of what makes us human. Even before we were fully human. Some 2 million years ago, our early ancestors, first left Africa for Asia, long before the age of European exploration, ancient Polynesians in canoes spread throughout the vast Pacific
Miles O’Brien:Phoenicians mastered the Mediterranean and Vikings crossed the Atlantic
Miles O’Brien:500 years ago in 1519 Magellan set forth on the first successful voyage to circumnavigate the entire Globe and in the 20th century, humans reached the planet’s highest peaks and its distant Poles
Miles O’Brien:With the invention of the airplane. A new era of exploration was launched
Miles O’Brien:And about a generation after Lindbergh flew the Atlantic, we reached outer space and a vast new frontier. It was 50 years ago this summer that Apollo 11 emerged from a ball of fire, streaking towards the moon with three men on board, Neil Armstrong, BuzzAldrin, and Michael Collins.
Miles O’Brien:Ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to introduce it as your pleasure to be in his presence. The command module pilot for the Apollo 11 mission, Mike Collins.
Miles O’Brien:Good to see you pal, how are you? Alright Mike, It’s really, it’s a great pleasure to have you here.
Michael Collins: Thank you, Miles. It’s nice to be here at this magnificent festival.
Miles O’Brien: Yeah, it’s a good crowd out there. You know, I will command every, the astronauts, uh, on our program today, all three of them have written books and with all due respect to the other two astronauts will be here. Mike wrote the book on writing books on flying in space. His book carrying the fire, which is now back out in print. Is a beautiful, eloquent tribute to space with great technical detail and a great sense of, um, what the mission is all about.
Miles O’Brien:So, uh, I recommend you read that and one of the things you say in your book at the end, uh, which kind of struck me is a mission like Apollo 11 is a mission that really never ends. Here we are 50 years later you’re still talking about it. And, and one of the, it’s a, it’s a blessing and a curse in some ways. You have to answer the same questions over and over again. So I need to know right up front, what’s your least favorite question that you get from the likes of me?
Michael Collins: What was it really like up there? What was, what really like up?
Miles O’Brien:So Mike, what was it really like up there? No, I uh, it’s interesting that question like you’ve been holding out or something.
Michael Collins: Yes.
Miles O’Brien:But having said all that, uh, I know, um, the three of you each have had a different approach. And I’m speaking of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. Uh, it, it, there are times when you prefer not to talk about it and there are times when you’d like to, um, what’s your feeling 50 years later now that you’ve had a chance to put a little time between you and the mission, how do you feel about reliving it in some fashion for people like this?
Michael Collins:Well, I like to talk about so many different facets of, you know, what’s it like up there? What is, what specifically, but I, I like to talk I guess a about Neil Armstrong a bit. Uh, um, he and Buzz a were remarkable crew members. They were, they were just wonderful. Uh, Neil was, um, I don’t want to say the best of the bunch, but he was the best of the bunch, we were experimental test pilots. Uh, and he was a foremost among us, uh, because of his flying experience with the X-15 rocket ship, which still today holds speed and altitude records. He was a very intelligent man. He had wide, uh, breadth of interests, uh, far beyond a NASA or the space program, centering on history, probably the history of science. But, uh, around, uh, we were very fortunate after the flight of Apollo 11 to have a around the world trip.
Michael Collins:And Neil was our, uh, our, uh, spokesperson, uh, at, for those occasions. And, um, wherever he went, he was a man of few words, but he had chosen him very carefully. He knew the background of the country we were visiting. He knew about a lot about their people and their country. He welcomed, welcomed the audience to come with him, aboard the spacecraft and fly with us. And I, I think I did that successfully. And uh, the thing that amazed me about it was that, uh, I thought the reaction would be uh, you, you Americans um, finally went to the moon. Instead of that, it was we did it, we humans, we finally got together, we did something that is wonderful. We can all embrace it. North, south, east, west, rich, poor. Everywhere we went, the reaction was we did it. And I can’t think of another achievement that has brought such unanimity of opinion about anything that we humans do here on earth.
Miles O’Brien:It’s an amazing irony because it was born out of cold war rivalry and in the end, instead of it being, we won, it was like we all did it. And you’d get congratulations from the Soviet Union even. That is extraordinary.
Michael Collins: Yes, I believe it is.
Miles O’Brien:I know you talk about this sort of a daisy chain of events that have to occur to make a mission successful. And um, there are any number of variables, but in, in many cases what NASA does is, has wood has redundancy or redundancies for redundancies. But I do know, I think you picked 11 spots along the way of Apollo 11 where you were most concerned and one of them is, um, what we’re going to see a brief clip of right now. Let’s roll the clip and we’ll talk about the significance of this moment.
Speaker 7:July 19, Apollo 11 slows down and goes into orbit around the moon. The bright blue planet of earth now lives 238,000 miles beyond the lunar horizon. Astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin, now in the lunar module, separate from the command module. Astronaut Collins remains behind. Preparation for the lunar module descent to the moon now begins.
Miles O’Brien:So that moment when the lunar module separated from the command module, Columbia, the lunar module being the Eagle, and your two crew mates went off, that was a tense moment, and those hours when they were on the surface were a period of time when you really sweated the details. Tell us a little bit about what was going through your mind and your concerns.
Michael Collins:Actually the, a, their separation from me in Columbia and their descent to the landing was not what was really foremost on my mind. I thought Neil would do a good job. He’d find a smooth, nice place to put eagle down. And although he fiddled and diddled a little bit on some of the terrain he considered to be rejectable for one reason or another, he still found a beautiful landing spot with about 30 seconds of fuel remaining and put it down. Um, this I kind of expected, uh, what worried me was the return. We, uh, we in NASA enjoyed, um, machinery that was redundant. Usually they, we had to have something, uh, not so in the case of ascent engine, the engine that would bring, uh, Neil and Buzz from the surface back up to me coming by 60 miles above them, um, that, that just had one, one small little combustion chamber that had to work properly or you, we had two dead man on the moon and that was, I think what was foremost on my mind. I had a long list of things to worry about, but uh, I think that was number one.
Miles O’Brien:That burn, that moment, pretty key and clearly the implications of it not working were a solo trip back to earth by you. And I assume you thought a little bit about that.
Michael Collins:Well, you know, I did think a lot about it and I’m sure Neil and Buzz both thought a lot about it. It was definitely not something we talked about. He, they knew, I knew, uh, uh, if, uh, if they couldn’t get off for some reason, a, there was nothing I could do about it. I had no landing gear on Columbia. I could not go down and rescue them. I either committed suicide or came home and, uh, and, and of course I chose to come homein a situation like that.
Miles O’Brien:I think that’s a good choice.
Michael Collins:I felt that it’d be a marked a man for life really if I’d been in that situation.
Miles O’Brien:What do you mean when you say you’d be a marked man? What do you think? How do you think it would have played out? We don’t have to go too far down that road, but I’m curious.
Michael Collins:Well, I, I think people would have been sympathetic to my situation and they would not have been critical of me, but for the rest of my life they say, oh, that’s that guy. You know, who left those two people to die on the moon.
Miles O’Brien:Yeah. That, that, that would be tough. That’d be tough. Let’s, uh, let’s go rewind the, uh, the tape just a little bit and go back to your early days at NASA. Uh, you, uh, Air Force fighter pilot and test pilot came to NASA in class number three. You called yourself the 14, right? Yeah. There were 14 of us. So it was the, the first, it was the seven than the nine, and then the 14. Right. So this is as a ramped up toward, um, Apollo and, um, a lot of diversity in that shot wouldn’t you say? What do you, what do you think? A lot of white male test pilots in that picture, you might say.
Michael Collins:Oh, oh yes. Yeah, no, no, I quite agree. And then that seems like a, an aberration today and it, and it is, and in the future should be an aberration, but, uh, it wasn’t really NASA’s fault. It was society’s fault. Uh, NASA, uh, picked graduates of an experimental test pilot school, there are are only three of those around. Uh, so the population available to, uh, to NASA was very limited. Uh, for example, NASA recently picked, uh, 12 new, uh, astronaut candidates. Uh, and to narrow it down to 12, they started with over 18,000 applications. Uh.
Miles O’Brien:So do your homework kids.
Michael Collins: So totally different than in my time. NASA picked graduates of experimental test pilot schools. At that time, uh, uh, NASA did not hire a women to be experimental test pilots. Uh, there were one or two black candidates around, but you know, in the flood of applications, they, they kinda got lost in it somehow. So that’s what you ended up with. It was, however, I defend NASA in saying that they were not on purpose selecting white males, that was our society in those years.
Miles O’Brien:So the decision to pick test pilots, I guess that makes sense. But they could’ve gone in other directions, couldn’t they?
Michael Collins:Yes, of course. And they have gone another directions and I’m, I’m glad, they should go in other directions. We were more concerned with the up and the down getting these new machines into the air successfully, uh, testing them, uh, bringing them back down to earth. And now that we’ve gone past that stage and we’re into, what are we going to do up there? What’s the science? What’s going on? Why do people want to go, uh, what can they learn? And that really has got very little to do with the upping and the downing that so obsesses the test pilot.
Miles O’Brien:So this I believe is a picture of you and some of your class doing survival training because you know, God forbid if there was what we would call a downrange abort or a landing in a location that wasn’t the ocean near an aircraft carrier, you might have to survive for a few days in a place like the jungle. And I know you had the great opportunity to um, camp out and eat Iguana. Is that right? How was it?
Michael Collins:Just like chicken.
Miles O’Brien:What was the, was the training, how much of the training did you think was kind of nutty and how much of it was worthwhile?
Michael Collins:Well, none of it was out and out nutty. Uh, some of it was, uh, had been given a great deal of thought in, in the sense of, suppose this goes wrong or this gadget breaks. And uh, and that was what we spent a great deal of our time doing. Failure mode, we called it, um, but you can take failure modes to an extreme. You know what If this does, well then you fix that. But while you’re fixing that, the other thing goes wrong. Well, we kind of had a real, well, we just can’t go there. We’re going to only pick one horrible thing at a time and not try to bunch them all up together.
Miles O’Brien:And inevitably the thing that goes wrong is the thing you didn’t think about, right?
Michael Collins:That’s, yeah. What, what worries you most about a flight? You hit the nail on the head it’s that thing that you overlooked in your training. That’s what we worried about.
Miles O’Brien:So let’s talk about your first mission in Space Gemini 10. And by the way, do you to pronounce the Gemini or Gemini? I’ve heard it in the old days. We used to say Gemini. I hear Gemini. What are you going?
Michael Collins:No I, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I do Gemini and Tuesday Thursday I go Gemini.
Miles O’Brien:Gemini or Gemini, whatever you prefer. And I, the Great John Young was your, your crewmate on that one who ultimately flew in Gemini, Apollo and the Shuttle Program for many years flew six shuttle missions and amazing career at NASA. Uh, but your mission on Gemini 10, you had two spacewalks, you’re the first guy to do that. Uh, and um, as I understand it, there are, we don‘t have many pictures of that spacewalk. Tellus what happened when you were out there.
Michael Collins:Uh, I think you say I lost my camera. Is that what you’re alluding to? Details, details.
Miles O’Brien:This was the best selfies ever, potentially. And there they are, they’re still floating around maybe, who knows right?
Michael Collins:Who knows, no, my, my job was to leave the Gemini uh, um, John was flying it in formation below, fairly close to it, maybe 20, 25 feet away. And I had a little maneuver unit, a thing called, we call it a gun cause it sort of looked like a little pistol you squirted gas out of that and that allowed you to propel yourself. And so I had to propel myself over to the Ageana, our target vehicle that had been up there for months and uh, and from it, uh, bring back an experiment package and return it to the Gemini and that eventually I did. But I had all kinds of things which I indelicately call maneuvers ass over tea kettle, uh, at the end of a 50 foot, uh, umbilical before I was the second time able to get to where the package was and bring it ok back into the Gemini. Without a camera!
Miles O’Brien:And the camera, there it all went. That must have been slightly disappointing. Of course, having done the space walk probably made that a little easier to go get through. Let’s talk a little bit about, you know, we know so much now, 50 years later, how little was known about what you were going to accomplish. You had to rely on all kinds of simulations. We have a picture here of, I believe it’s Buzz and Neil practicing gathering rocks on the surface of the moon. And I know you spent a lot of time learning geology that you wish you didn’t have to spend time doing. But I do know this, uh, the number of simulations you did were extremely challenging. What do you are talking after all about 1969 with key punches, you know, cards going into computers, trying to run simulators, simulators that would crash and so forth. When it came, as you got closer to that July 16th date for launch, which was set by virtue of what the lighting conditions were going to be at the landing site and you had to launch in that time or wait another month. Did you guys feel like you were ready?
Michael Collins:Um, I, I’m guessing that if you gave a crew six months, which is what we had, or a year, which most of them had, or two years, which some of them had or even longer and later on years. Um, I suppose that a, irrespective of that, the crew would say, well, you know, I had this notebook, I got 89 things checked off, but I still got 22 to go. The, that you never, I don’t think fully 100% confident that you know everything about what is going to happen or what might happen or might not happen. Uh, so I think, I think most people would feel like they could use a little extra time and I’m sure we did also.
Miles O’Brien:Well, it’s hard to simulate something that hasn’t happened before. You have to, there’s a lot of guessing that goes along with that. Right. In the end do you think the training match pretty well?
Michael Collins:The simulators were extremely accurate based on what we knew ahead of time. Uh, some of their presentations, what you saw out the window, we’re not good at all. They were very crude. But in terms of the duplication of the instrument panels and more important than that, uh, the software that backed up how those instruments would record good events, bad events, questionable events, that aspect of the simulator training was, was crucial to us. And, and, uh, hats off to all the engineers who put the long hours into designing those things.
Miles O’Brien:So when you think about what you did, the millions of parts, millions of subsystems, all from the low bidder that gave you the Saturn five and the stack which got you to the moon and back, even if it’s highly effective and efficient and, and works as planned, even a small percentage that still gives you thousands of possible failures with that many systems. Do you still marvel at how well it worked?
Michael Collins:I do indeed. Uh, uh, those machines look smooth and nice on the outside, inside they can, uh, be kind of a nightmare. I think in the, uh, command module a design of one switch, one switch alone, I believe I had 300 of those switches. Uh, presumably I should know each and every detail about every one of the 300. Clearly I did not. But you know, I tried my best to learn a few of them anyway.
Miles O’Brien:It’s good to have Houston at the other end of the line, isn’t it? Occasionally you might need them. I want to show you this picture because you know, almost every astronaut who goes to space has this, um, sense of moving forward into the, the, the void, but also looking back at the planet. And you of course had this opportunity, um, to see that which is an earthrise. And I’m sure you remember the first moment you saw that happen. Uh, I’m curious to what extent did you, um, discover the moon and to what extent did you discover this planet?
Michael Collins:On our way to the moon we didn’t look at the moon. I know that sounds strange, but, uh, we were worried about the constant sunlight hitting one side of our spacecraft and making it boiling and ruining instrumentation inside, the other side would be minus 400 and some degrees and everything would freeze. So the solution to that was to turn sideways to the sun and rotate slowly like chicken on the barbecue spit, uh, a, in that position we couldn’t see the moon until he got very close to it. We rolled out then and looked at it. Oh my God, it was awesome. It was totally different from that little silver sliver that you see at night, uh, from Earth. Uh, it filled our whole window, a big windowtoo, fairly big filled a whole window, uh, very three-dimensional. It bulges, its belly bulges out toward us.
Michael Collins:Uh, the sun was behind it and it cascaded all around the rim with this golden glow, which illuminated the oceans, the flat part, the marea and also the hilly, the craggy part, the, uh, big and small craters. And, uh, it was an awesome spectacle. Uh, and wasn’t a friendly one. It didn’t say go away, but it didn’t say come in either.
Miles O’Brien:The moon did not beckon, it didn’t beckon.
Michael Collins:But having said all that, having said all that, the moon was nothing compared to the earth. Earth was it. It was the, the centerpiece. It was all, there was a, we had an emotional, I suppose a rope attaching us to planet earth for whatever reason. It was what we wanted to look at. I mean, tiny little thing. You could make it go away by holding your thumb out at arm’s length. But if you put your hand down, Woop.
Michael Collins:There it was again, it wanted to be looked at. It uh, tiny is I say the blue and white colors primarily, the blue of our oceans, the white of the clouds, little streaks of, um, of, uh, kind of a reddish tan, things that we call continents. Uh, very shiny, very bright, very beautiful. And uh, and yet strange though it may seem the overriding quality, well, beauty, I guess I would say, but lurking right behind beauty was a sense of, it’s a fragile little thing out there. The fragility of the earth. It was a response that I never would have suspected. I mean, I know it’s made out of rocks mostly, but it seemed very fragile. And the more you examine earth, our planet, the more you discover that fragile is not a bad word. It is fragile, it’s fragile in thousands of different ways, uh, most of whichare not too good. Sometimes we humans don’t seem like we really deserve to live on this nice little thing you see from a quarter of a million miles out.
Miles O’Brien:I want to pick up on that theme a little bit later in our program when we bring out the rest of our panel, but I’m, I’m curious, um, about your thoughts on the space program. I know, uh, when you, you said that you, you made the decision Apollo 11 would be your last space flight it wasn’t like you were hurrying back to the moon, but even in those days you were like, let’s go to Mars. Uh, and you’ve, you’ve been very consistent about that over the years. Do you feel that that is still something that should be a, a national priority or for that matter, a global priority to put human beings on Mars? And if so, why?
Michael Collins:Well, when I came back from Apollo 11, I used to joke that NASA sent me to the wrong place, uh, that NASA ought to be renamed the National Aeronautics and Mars Administration. I even wrote a book one time 20 some years ago, mission to Mars. Uh, so I’m, well, what I’m about to say is a very one sided, uh, right now the administration is backing a return to the moon, um, as a, as a way point, a jumping off point for planet Mars. Uh, and, and that has a lot of merit. My friend Neil Armstrong, who was a lot better engineer than I thought that there were gaps in our knowledge when we prepare to go to Mars it would be useful maybe to stop off at the moon and learn a few things, pick up some of the knowledge that we didn’t have and then go. Uh, however, I, I disagree with all the experts. I say that, uh, I believe in the John F. Kennedy express, if I could call it that, Mars direct. If we want to go, let’s do it. Let’s put our resources into it. Let’s pick a way of getting there. Let’s get a schedule. Let’s get the funding. Let’s get the timing and so and let’s, let’s go to Mars.
Michael Collins:Thank you.
Miles O’Brien:So you, I’ve, you’re, you’re sort of the, I would call you the poet laureate of the Apollo astronauts. You, you have, you’re a very eloquent writer and, and you speak, um, uh, with great, uh, authority of course on the technical detail, but you also can capture what goes on in the right side of the brain.
Miles O’Brien:There is an expression, uh, of course, NASA has an acronym for everything. And, uh, when it comes time for a spacecraft to go from Earth to moon, in other words, fire the rocket and escape the clutches of Earth’s gravity. They call it trans lunar injection. T L I kind of a bore, right? TLI.
Michael Collins:How do you pronounce that?
Miles O’Brien:So, so he, Mike, I know I want to share a clip with people because you are the Capcom, which is the astronauts who speaks to the, the crew in space for Apollo eight, which was the first crew in history to have a TLI command. In other words, to leave the clutches of Earth’s gravity and go toward the moon and be pulled in by Earth’s gravity. It’s a momentous moment. Let’s listen to how this transpired in mission control for a moment. If we could.
Speaker 8:Apollo eight, Houston.
Speaker 8:Go ahead Houston.
Speaker 8:Apollo eight you are go for TLI, over.
Speaker 8:Roger Houston, we are go for TLI.
Speaker 8:TLI, trans-lunar insertion. This was Borman, Lovell and Anders were ready for the maneuver that would send them to the moon.
Miles O’Brien:That was a moment in history. And you said, go for TLI.
Michael Collins:Is that all I said? I mean I thought, uh, I thought the president should be sitting next to me. The pope would, uh, send a message, uh, Frank Sinatra would dedicate a song and instead of that I’ve got some trans lunar, whatever you said, a and a TLI. And I’m ah, but I knew, I knew down inside that, um, that, that frank Borman would rise to the occasion. So I was forced by the authorities to say, Apollo 11 you’re go for TLI. He says, Roger Houston. That’s it. That’s all he said.
Miles O’Brien:You know, people watching at home might miss that moment. So here we are about 51 years post that moment. Here’s your moment for a do over. What would you say if you could do it again?
Michael Collins:Uh oh. Well, I would’ve abide by the NASA rules, which you can’t, you can’t say more than I think eight words in a row and preferably they’re all be monosyllabic. But under those conditions I would say, Apollo eight, uh, the moon is yours. Go!
Miles O’Brien:That’s a good do over. All right, Mike Collins, we’re going to bring out the rest of our panel. We’re going to move into, um, still history a little bit, but present day as well. The shuttle ISS era, uh, let’s launch into the shuttle era first.
Speaker 5:5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0 and liftoff of space shuttle Atlantis on a mission to build, resupply and to do research on the International Space Station.
Speaker 5:Houston now controlling, Atlantis now begins its penultimate journey to shore up the International Space Station. Atlantis now on the proper alignment for its eight and a half minute ride to orbit. Four and a half million pounds of hardware and humans taking aim on the international outpost.
Miles O’Brien:All right, let’s bring out our additional panelists. First. Uh, the uh, former commander of the International Space Station. Uh, the only astronaut with an astronaut twin, the man who has done the longest stint in space for a US astronaut on ISS, Scott Kelly!
Scott Kelly:Thank you.
Miles O’Brien:Joining him is the only NASA astronaut who also played in the national football league and a man who somehow was able to sneak in his two dogs into his official NASA picture. To this day, no one knows how he did it. The coolest astronaut we ever met, Leland Melvin!
Miles O’Brien:So, I should tell you I didn’t get the memo on the NASA haircut today.
Leland Melvin:Its not too late.
Scott Kelly:I’ve got some scissors in the back.
Miles O’Brien:Should we do that right now? Why not? Let’s just get it over with. Now here’s the person you all want to talk to afterwards cause she will get you to space in the near term. She is the director of astronaut and orbital sales at Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos’s company that is working on all kinds of exciting things in space, sending tourists to space, going to the moon and maybe some day going to Mars, please welcome Ariane Cornell.
Miles O’Brien:Ok so Scott, as the is the longest tenured space traveler, all that time in space. We, you know, we get glimpses of what it’s like up there and we read your books, which they’re good but it’s not Carrying the Fire with all due respect.
Scott Kelly:I agree a hundred percent.
Miles O’Brien:I recommend these books but uh, nonetheless, uh, a lot of people, you know, they, they want to know what and just kind of the simple questions like what it’s like up there. We seen pictures of you guys playing with food and stuff and you know, spinning around and so forth. What, what you, what’s the takeaway? I know it’s difficult to explain to people that haven’t been there, but what do you tell them?
Scott Kelly:Well, you know, you, you try to share the experience with it. I’m fortunate enough to having got to fly in space four times and spent over 500 days in space, but I’d trade all of that for what General Collins got to do here of course, um, you know, floating is fun. There’s no question about it, it makes sense.
Scott Kelly:But it makes just about everything harder to do with two exceptions and that is moving things that are heavy and also getting your body into weird positions if you had to like fix something or you know, connect the a cable to the back of the TV. But the best part about it is it’s really, really challenging. It’s a challenging thing to do, to fly in space to live and work in space. And the best part about it is just that. Having something that you feel passionate about, working hard at it, doing it as part of a team and then being successful.
Miles O’Brien:So Leland I, would you agree with what Scott just said about the idea that a destination would be more fun than, than being in orbit. In other words, would you trade it off for a trip to the moon if you could?
Leland Melvin:I think I would sign up to Michael’s JFK express to Mars, definitely. Yeah. I think that destination piece will, will inspire you, will motivate you. You get the country behind it and you do it. You just go do it.
Miles O’Brien:Would you guys do that one way trip to Mars? That was bandied about a few years back.
Leland Melvin:I’m good, no.
Miles O’Brien:Anybody here? Would anybody do that one way trip to Mars?
Scott Kelly:You know what I would do? I would do Miles. Is, um, I would watch that reality show on TV.
Miles O’Brien:I’m with you on that one. I’m not sure I want to go with the people who want to go to Mars one way. Right? There’s maybe something wrong in their lives I’m just guessing.
Leland Melvin:You know, there’s, there’s one thing about traveling in space. Your best mission I think is the people that you fly with. It’s all about your crewmates.
Miles O’Brien:It’s kind of a family that’s built up, isn’t it? Yeah. Mike, over the years, your relationship with Buzz and Neil, you write in your book about how your, when you were together, uh, you, you had so many things to talk about that were of a technical nature that you often didn’t get below the surface. Over the years did it develop into a closer friendship or did you maintain sort of a distance from each other in a way?
Michael Collins:Well geography prevented us being really close all the time, uh, Neil lived in Ohio, Buzz was, uh, out in California mostly. I live in Florida, but, uh, we tried to stay in touch. Um, and, uh, as I said earlier, I got to know Neil the best, uh, during our round the world trip. And I really came to admire the many facets of the man and I was so glad that he was picked to be the first on the moon.
Scott Kelly:Yeah. You know, I was, I was shocked by the fact that for the most important space flight ever, they’d only trained together for six months. And that was just absolutely shocking.
Miles O’Brien:Isn’t that extraordinary? In the shuttle era that it’s unheard of. You would think at least two years of training, right? Would be about the norm or a year at anyhow. Right?Ariane, let’s talk about the commercial component now. You know, the shuttle’s gone now eight years. The shuttle was an amazing machine, but it was, it was meant to be cheap and easy access to space. That didn’t quite happen. As a matter of fact, not even close. It was actually pretty dangerous and expensive. And, we’re in a different era now where we’re thinking about, um, lots of people going to space. Um, what’s The big vision right now is, is it, is it for people who could afford $200,000 or I’ve heard Jeff Bezos and, and others, we won’t mention competitors, but others talk about sending millions of humans into the cosmos. Is that, is that even a realistic notion right now?
Ariane Cornell:Yes. So, in fact, our, our vision at Blue Origin is millions of people ultimately to be living and working in space. Um, that obviously is not happening tomorrow. Um, and our, our motto at Blue Origin is something it’s Gradatim Ferociter, which in Latin means step by step ferociously, and that’s how we’re going to approach it. Um, and our first step at Blue Origin is a suborbital rocket called New Shepard named after Alan Shepherd, of course, the first American in suborbital space. And by the end of this year, we’re going to be putting tourists on board New Shepherd. People like you and me, um, are going to be going up in space. Uh, initially, you know, you’re gonna get three to four minutes of weightlessness, so maybe not to quite orbiting the earth or the moon for that matter yet. But our next plan is New Glenn, a big orbital rocket that’s set to fly in 2021 that is going to be human rated. Uh, and ultimately we will be taking people to, uh, to, uh, space stations, to the moon, to Mars. No, we’re, we’re really, uh, a destination agnostic, if you will. But ultimately we will be taking many, many people to the, to space.
Miles O’Brien:So Ariane, when you talk about taking many, many people or maybe even one day, millions of people to space, uh, what I think about is what just happened on Mount Everest and uh, it can get crowded up there. You should, should, can anybody go to space? Should everyone go to space? And I want to get the astronauts to weigh in on that too. I mean, is there, should we set a bar or are we reaching, is will there one day be at a time when it, it’d be just as simple as getting on a commercial airliner?
Ariane Cornell:Well, the, the latter is our intent. I mean, you know, with, with New Shepard, you’re going to be able to fly to space in what we call a shirtsleeve environment. So literally what you guys are wearing right now, you could come fly on New Shepard with, uh, as in terms of clothing. And the other thing is what we’re trying to open up space for as many people as possible.
Ariane Cornell:We want the training for it even less than six months. It’s just going to be about a day and a half. The intent in fact is to make it so that as many people can go as possible. So it will be like getting on a commercial airline. If you think about getting on an airplane today, you sit there, matter of fact, maybe you’re on your iPhone even and the, you know, the training video is maybe two minutes. Um, we, we want, we want this to be, we’re gonna train you and make you feel comfortable, but we also want to make it to be uh, simple. And that’s, that’s important.
Miles O’Brien:All right, astronauts, what do you think can, Leland why don’t you go ahead? I know this is near and dear to you. You guys think about this a lot because after all you had to go through a lot of training to go there and it’s nothing to be taken lightly, at least as it is now.
Leland Melvin:You know, I’ve thought about what my Aha moment would be in space before I left the planet and I thought it would be when we install the Columbus laboratory with a robotic arm because that was my, my job and my primary mission objective. That paled in comparison to when Peggy Whitson, the first female commander invited us to have a meal in the Russian segment. She said, you guys bring the rehydrated vegetables, we’ll have the meats, right? She said that. So we float over with this bag of vegetables. We get there and it’s African American, Asian American, French, German, Russian, the first female commander going around the planet every 90 minutes at 17,500 miles per hour. And I felt like I was at home. We were breaking bread with people we used to fight against, the Russians and the Germans. And then when I looked out the window at Lynchburg, Virginia, my hometown, and then I’m thinking my parents would probably have a meatloaf down there, right?
Leland Melvin:Five minutes later we’re over Paris. Leo Eyharts is looking down his parents probably having wine and cheese or something and Yuri’s looking off at his parents probably eating Borscht in Moscow. So in this very short period of time, we are celebrating all of humanity as we go around the planet. And that perspective shift that I got was my Aha moment. And so if more people, if millions of people can get a chance to go to space and get this perspective shift that I got and get this connection back to the planet. I think it will advance our civilization, it will advance our race, the human race so significantly. My opinion.
Miles O’Brien:So Mike, if I’d talked to you in, um, after you got out of quarantine in August of 69, if I had asked you, can you imagine a day when that scene he just described happened, will happen, Russians breaking bread with Americans, the diversity, the whole component of the space station. Would you have said that was likely?
Michael Collins:I think it, I think it could very well be. Uh, I, I, I harked back as I say to, uh, uh, post Apollo 11, around the world trip. Everyone saying we did, right? What color were they? Were they male or female who said, we did it? Who’s this we? It was we, humankind that got all together, believe it or not. And I actually agreed on something. We did it. I think that’s a wonderful moment to remember and to treasure and we can have that I say world in my window, uh, I transfer that to you, world in your window. Well what is your world telling you about these things? You can have it, you can have a voice in it small, but you can have a voice in it.
Scott Kelly:You know, I think there could be a mission profile for just about anyone. And you know, the entry point would be the suborbital flight and I think you can probably fly, you know, 99.9% of the population on that type of mission. Now you take that a couple of step further, steps further and then you would have a flight like a shuttle flight. And that would be for, you know, someone may be a little bit more, you know, extreme adventure minded person and then living in space. It’s, you know, it’s a challenging place to live and it is not for everyone, but it’s for potentially a lot of people. But I think, you know, in our future we’ll have a lot of different opportunities for that. All of those collectively would be able to potentially include most of the population of the planet.
Miles O’Brien:So let’s, let’s talk about long duration space travel, which you on this panel have unique insight into. You uh, went to the space station for about a year and, uh, this was not just a, an endurance test. There was a lot of science associated with this and it helps the, uh, the science is helped by the fact that you have an identical twin brother who happens to be or was an astronaut, uh, Mark Kelly who’s now running for Senate, by the way, in Arizona. Yeah.
Miles O’Brien:Got a great uh, video.
Scott Kelly:That’s my brother cheering.
Miles O’Brien:I told Scott earlier that he could help him on the campaign trail because who would know it was him campaigning twice, twice the campaign power right there. So let’s talk about a year in space though. There was some science that was done. What was, what was the point? What were they trying to get at? What did we not know that we might have learned by virtue of you being up there for so long?
Scott Kelly:So those people that understand science and you may be a scientist or you just, uh, you know, are interested in it as a hobby. You understand that for an experiment to be statistically significant, you need a very large sample. So clearly this is a sample of one. There’s only one sample and that is my brother and I comparing, uh, me and space with my brother as the control subject on earth. So the stuff we find from this experiment, which was a bunch of different things, it’s basically considered anecdotal information. It’s interesting. It’s something that you can look at and then, um, decide that we need to investigate further. And there were a lot of, um, results that were surprising, you know, uh, as an example, my telomeres and the telomeres are the ends of our, uh, chromosomes. And as we, uh, as we age, they get shorter and more frayed.
Scott Kelly:It’s basically, basically an indication of our physical age. And the hypothesis was me in space, uh, you know, the radiation, challenging environment, stress or whatever, my telomeres would get, uh, shorter compared to my brothers on earth. Well, they actually got better. Now some people thought that they improve because of the, you know, the restricted diet you’re on, exercise. Um, you know, a very controlled schedule maybe. But recently I found out there were also, uh, some worms on the space station, that their telomeres actually improved as well. And the fact that I never saw them exercising, never once saw him on the treadmill or lifting weights. And also the fact that mine went back to normal pretty soon after I got back means there’s some kind of genetic thing going on that we don’t quite understand. Um, I also had some, you know, 7% of my, uh, gene expression had changed, uh, during the course of the year. So there are some genetic things we need to look at, uh, further and investigate further, I think as part of our plan to send people to Mars someday.
Michael Collins:Can I say something?
Michael Collins:I, I’m just, uh, you know, Hark back, uh, just, uh, a few years before that onGemini, we were just amazed. We thought we were really reaching out. We thought we’d reach maybe the limit. We sent two people up for 14 days. I don’t think you’d unpacked in 14 days.
Scott Kelly:probably didn’t even use the bathroom.
Miles O’Brien:But if you’ve taken a look at a Gemini spacecraft, 14 days in a Gemini versus a year on an ISS, I don’t know. I, it might be a, might’ve been a harder mission. For those two, that, they had very little room. But let’s go back to that site one more time because it talks about your cognition. How is your cognition anyway? You seem to be doing okay tonight.
Scott Kelly:Yeah. You know, a lot of people have focused in on the fact that when I got back, my cognition declined. I pretty much improved throughout the mission. And I think that’s a function of, you know, the longer you’re in space, the more comfortable you feel. I never actually felt normal. I don’t think anyone would ever feel completely normal. You always have the fluid shift to your head. On the ISS the CO2, even when it’s at its lowest, it’s still high.
Miles O’Brien:The CO2 bothered you on that.
Scott Kelly:Yeah. And you can feel it. Um, I could tell within, you know, a 10th of a millimeter what it was and then I could look and see that I was, I was pretty accurate. So you know, throughout the mission you’re, you’re feeling better. Never perfect. You’re doing these tests over and over so you’re getting better at them. So I think that was why my cognition got better. And then when I got back, I don’t really think it was a like a cognition deficit I had. I think it was more of the fact that I just didn’t feel well when I got back from Earth,back to Earth. And when you don’t feel well, like imagine going to take the SAT if you had the flu, you probably wouldn’t do well. That’s kind of, I think why they saw a decline that was noticeable when I got back. It was just a function of how tired I was and physically did not feel well.
Miles O’Brien:Sure. So let me get this straight. As CO2 rises, you get cranky and you don’t feel well. So you were kind of a lab rat for the future of climate change in some respects. Huh?
Scott Kelly:Tell you what, you know, when, like I said, with CO2 at its lowest, it’s 10 times what it is on earth, on the space station. Sometimes it’s 30 times.
Miles O’Brien:So we’re at like 415 parts per million. It’s 30, 30 times that? Right? That’s just, that’s amazing.
Scott Kelly:Yeah. Well It’s 10 times what it is at its lowest on the, on, on ISS and it is not comfortable.
Miles O’Brien:Huh. And that’s just because they want to save the machines. They could dial it. So it’s a little easier on you but…
Scott Kelly:Yeah, you know, it’s, it’s partly resources, problems. You know, you, you don’t want to use all your spare parts when the, you know, the supply chain is uh, not reliable. Um, some times things blow up.
Miles O’Brien:It’s hard to get to the home depot. Leland, you also spent a good deal of your time as an astronaut in, um, in Washington, but not a lot of space flights there, but a lot of engagement with young people. And you, you headed the, uh, education office for a time. I’m curious what your thoughts are, having had that experience of being in space and then and trying to reach out to young people, many of whom are in this audience. The value of space as a way to inspire young people and teach them about things like climate change and CO2 for example, or little things like that or, or what it’s like to be in space or telomeres for that matter. How much value is there in that?
Leland Melvin:I think it’s extremely valuable because it’s one of those things where I would go into a classroom and the kids love dinosaurs and space. And so if you can, if you can genetically make a dinonaut you’d be golden, right? But you know, the reason I have my blue flight suit, I got the memo to wear the jacket, but lots of times, you know I got something on Facebook from a mother Kelly out there somewhere who’s bringing her eight year old son here to see this and the suit for a lot of kids in communities that I go into would never imagine even thinking about going to space and certain zip codes didn’t even know what an astronaut is. But I walk into that neighborhood with this on and they ask the question, what is that? Where did you go? Who designed that? And that starts the, the exploration.
Leland Melvin:And I think once we, you know, once we have their interest just a little bit, then you can start changing the way they think, their mindset about what they can do with their lives. And representation, it truly does matter. Michael, you talked about earlier about how diverse that pitcher was not, those original people and how we’ve changed now in this day and age of who we’re sending to space and who’s representing, you know, the future of, of humanity. And I think education is one of the things that you can get a kid inspired. My mother gave me a chemistry set when I was probably in middle school and it was age inappropriate, non OSHA certified. And I created the most incredible explosion in her living room, burned a hole in her carpet. And then she had a hand in my development, you know, but my brain was activated, I majored in chemistry while playing football in college because of that one intervention. So if we can findinterventions using the space station, using Legos on the space station, going to Mars, and letting kids see that they can get to Mars. It’s this, that’s the way using space as a tool.
Miles O’Brien:Let’s talk a little bit more about the commercialization of space. First of all, the uh, Blue Origin is just part of a big picture here. You’ve flown 11 times now. L et‘s take a look at the most recent launch, which was earlier in first part of May, right? Let’s watch it.
Ariane Cornell:So this rocket, this is New Shepard. Uh, the, the capsule and the booster lift off together and at about 75 kilometers the capsule separates from the booster and you go over a hundred kilometers. So that view there is, that’s the beautiful view you guys are going to be seeing when you’re up in space. The booster comes back down to land because we reuse the rocket and then the capsule itself comes down under three parachutes. And just the last second, we have a retro thrust system or basically like an air cushion that gives you a nice soft landing. We’ve also, you saw in that film we’ve done quite a few um, uh, extreme tests on the vehicle to what we say as we say, test the corners of the system to make sure it can work, uh, in emergency situations or uh, in, in off, whatwe call off nominal situations and we’re, we’re getting very close to flying people. We’re going to be putting people on top of that rocket at the end of this year. You want to come flying with me? Excellent. Yeah. Excellent. We’re all in for that. Excellent.
Miles O’Brien:So when you say soon, uh, I know it’s hard to pin things. Are we talking about a year or less than a year from now? What are you thinking?
Ariane Cornell:So we, our aim is to put people on this rocket by the end of the year. And so, uh, we had another, uh, as miles mentioned, the last flight was in May. It was the smoothestto date. We are, we are really hitting our stride. Um, but most importantly we are not going to fly people, uh, until, until the entire team is ready and we feel, um, that we’ve, we’ve got a handle on the system, but we’re getting close. I, I would jump on that rocket tomorrow. Uh, if given the opportunity, um, we, you know, some of the tests that you saw there, we have an escape motor in the capsule. We’ve tested on the ground. We’ve tested it at, we’ll be called Max Q or the most, um, aerodynamically, uh, intense moment on the rocket, performed perfectly. We performed it up at, um, Max altitude. I mean things are going very well on the system, so.
Miles O’Brien:So it’s not just about flying tourists. However, I know Jeff Bezos vision is much grander than that. And he also just within the past month or so announced his, uh, his lander-
Ariane Cornell:Blue Moon.
Miles O’Brien:Blue Moon, which would go to the moon. Tell us about Blue Moon and what his goals are there. Uh, I was at this same NASA meeting I was at this morning. There was a lot of talk about Blue Moon as being part of the architecture of NASA’s renewed interest in going to the moon sooner because they don’t have a lender. And this project has been going on for a little while and you guys just don’t, you’re kind of secret about your projects generally. But let’s look at what Blue Moon looks like and why don’t you explain what the potential missions might be for it.
Ariane Cornell:Of course. So what you’re seeing here, so this is Blue Moon, our lunar lander. Uh, the intent with this, uh, this craft is to take about 3.6 metric tons to the lunar surface. And eventually 6.5 metric tons. On the way to the surface of the moon we can also, uh, deploy small satellites and some other scientific craft to, to take data. And then the, uh, Blue Moon itself will land on top of blue, uh, of the Blue Moon Lander. We can take, uh, rovers. We can take other craft and, and place them onto the lunar surface. So this, this, uh, our Blue Moon program fits perfectly into, uh, the administration’s plans to land on the moon by 2024. We’ve been at it for the last three years, which is why we can, we could jump to such, um, uh, an aggressive timeline. We’re, we’re ready. And, and one of the, you know, I was talking about earlier Gradatim Ferociter, step by step ferociously. One of the reasons why we’re going to be doing this or we’re able to do this is that we’ve taught ourselves how to land rockets here on earth, uh, which has six times as much gravity is a up on the moon. Um, so we, there are systems that we’ve been working on for a while that’s going to enable Blue Moon.
Miles O’Brien:So there, there is a little bit of confusion about this when you get into this idea of commercial space because the truth of the matter is NASA has never built a rocket. There’s always been a contractor in the mix. Uh, and it’s just how the contracts are structured. NASA in this case might buy a service, get me to the surface and back. Whereas in the days when you were, you know, shepherding through that, uh, that uh, command module you were in on the factory floor every week making sure everything was connected in the right way. It, what are the pros and cons of that. On the one hand, it sounds like that would be safer cause you’re really paying attention to how the craft is built. On the other hand, you have less visibility into how it is built. What are your thoughts on it Mike, is it inherently safer to do it the way you did it back in the 60s?
Michael Collins:I don’t know about to safety, but I don’t think a dollar bill knows whether it’s a federal dollar bill or a commercial dollar bill. I don’t know how you can say no to the overtures of Jeff Bezos and uh, and, and some others, uh, to put part of the, their private funds, uh, to add those to the, uh, federally appropriated, uh, Kitty and you can do more with more than you can with less and I, I welcome aboard. I think it’s wonderful.
Miles O’Brien:What do you guys think? Scott would you have any hesitation flying on whether it’s a, a, you know, a Blue Origin craft or a SpaceX craft to the space station or perhaps beyond? Would you do it?
Scott Kelly:I would have hesitation flying on anything.
Miles O’Brien:Which is appropriate, right?
Scott Kelly:It is very risky. Um, uh, you know, as we get more experience, it becomes less risky. So, uh, I would want to learn about the rocket, understand the systems, the redundancy, but I think, you know, I could, I would probably, uh, having done that, absolutely fly on a Blue Origin or SpaceX rocket. I mean they, I’ve been to Blue Origin, I’d been to SpaceX. They, uh, those two companies, both seem very, very professional, very talented people. But, um, yeah, I wouldn’t just jump on without understanding it because I want to come back. I like Earth.
Ariane Cornell:I’m just going to say we’re not building this in a vacuum, but that, that has a different context. And, you know, we, we are, uh, you know, as people, we’re standing on shoulders of giants. They’re sitting on this stage with me. Um, believe it or not, I’m having a hard time believing it, but, um, it’s, we have, we worked very closely with NASA. We take a lot of lessons learned from decades past. Uh, at Blue. We have a really nice mix of, um, veterans who’ve been in the industry for decades.
Leland Melvin:NASA astronauts.
Ariane Cornell:NASA astronauts. We‘ve got three veteran NASA astronauts, ah, working at Blue, including the head of the New Shepard program. Um, so we, and we also have those that are coming out of, out of university. So we’ve got this really nice balance because we really, really do believe that this company and these, these projects are going to be around for a while. So we, we are building a system that’s going to be the, the workhorse for the American space industry for decades to come. But the only way that we can do that is with really good relationships with NASA and with, uh, with those that have done it in the past. Yeah.
Miles O’Brien:Leland, how about you? Any hesitations?
Leland Melvin:I think the, uh, the rewards outweigh the risk. When I, when I went to space on the shuttle, you know, it was the lowest bidder, right? I got there and I undid my seatbelt and I floated over to the window and I looked out and I was looking at the Caribbean ocean and I needed new definitions of the color blue to describe what I saw. And that also fundamentally changed me. And if we can get more people to share that experience back, you know, back to the planet, you’ll get more energy around exploring. You’ll get more kids excited, you’ll get more people doing things, working together as one humanity, and that’s how it’s worth it to me to take the risk.
Miles O’Brien:Mike, I know when you were orbiting the moon, uh, you radioed down at one point, or maybe you were on your way back, but you said something to the effect, I wish, you know, several hundred million Americans could have this experience with me. How do you think that would change life on earth?
Michael Collins:I don‘t know. I don’t think he even, I don’t think you have to go to the moon. I’d go up, a hundred miles is a nice, uh, orbital. I mean, you’re above all that friction stuff there and uh, you, you’d be, you got the, uh, the communist and the capitalist and a, they’re side by side looking out a window. Hell, they can’t even find their own country much less say that one is better than that one. Uh, I, I think it would in subtle ways really change the way political leaders think about their, their own turf and other people’s, if it, if you can divide turf into, theirs and ours, uh, how you, how you deal with things on a unified global basis. I think it would help.
Scott Kelly:Yeah. My, my uh, my guy called my Russian brother from another mother, Mikhail Kornienko, Misha, my um, guy I spent nearly a year in space. He would sometimes say on the space station when we were there, he would say, you know, if our two countries wanted to solve, uh, any differences, solve the problems we have with one another. All we need to do is put our two presidents in space together for a year.
Miles O’Brien:Leland, this idea, it’s been written about quite a bit. This idea of, it’s called the overview effect. There is some, something that changes when people have this ability. Is that real? What is it about it? Is there something that really changes the way you view life when you get back down on terra firma or is it just a fleeting moment in space and you’re back to your everyday life?
Leland Melvin:Well, before I went to space, I was driving down, I was driving from Houston down to Clear Lake on highway 45 and this, driving my car and this guy in this big pickup truck with the big mirrors and the dually cuts me off and I, I go blep blep. I probably say some things I probably shouldn’t have said. And then the same thing happened, but this time I was driving from Clear Lake to Houston after flying in space. And I just said to myself, dude, you can’t hurt me. I’ve been to space, and I do feel like, I mean, Frank White would a book about this called The Overview Effect. And it’s a cognitive shift that people get when they see the planet from this vantage point. I feel like there was something cognitively that changed in me, especially when I was breaking bread with Peggy and the rest of the team over there in the Russian segment. And it did feel like something, you know, fundamentally changed. Now. Did you, did you feel that?
Scott Kelly:Yeah, of course. Um, you know, and I would describe it, um, a little bit more. You know, when you look at the earth, you don’t see any political borders. Uh, when you look at the earth from space, not like we expect to see it on a map, you think of earth in terms of, you know, before you flown in space, you think of how you view it on map with political borders. Of course, you know, you could see those at night, uh, with the lighting in different countries, but during the daytime you don’t, you see an incredibly beautiful planet. Uh, you know, because you follow the news that there are a lot of bad things that go on, on a daily basis on planet earth. Uh, and these are problems that are solvable when you’re on the space station, this $100 billion space nation, probably one of the hardest things we’ve ever done.
Scott Kelly:Uh, if we can do that, you recognize we can, you know, do other things to help humanity. The other thing you notice is just how fragile the atmosphere is. It looks like a thin film over the surface of the earth. When we’re on the ground, you look up, the sky looks infinite. When you’re in space, I remember one of my first days in space I was like, what is that film? And then you realize that is our atmosphere, just the, where all the pollutants start going into. You know, there’s some parts of the earth almost always covered with pollution, parts of Asia. I think, you know, kids in those countries, if you asked them what color the sky was, they’d probably say brown or, or gray. You know, the rainforest in South America. I noticed a very, very obvious change between my first flight in 1999 my last in 2016 you know, fires over certain parts of the, the continents. You see the effect of people that have, how people affect this planet, which is incredibly beautiful but also incredibly fragile.
Leland Melvin:I think we talk about fragility of the planet, but I, and I, I hear what you, both of you have said about the fragile oasis, but I think that it’s not that the planet is fragile, its that we are screwing it up and that we’re going to be burped out and the planet will be resilient and fix itself later. So we’re doing it to the planet and doing it to ourselves. And it’s, uh, its going to be us.
Ariane Cornell:So one of the, really the reason why, uh, Blue is so focused on these reusable rockets that you talk about is to, uh, access the resources of space, but it really is to help earth. So it’s bringing the resources down. But ultimately part of our grander vision is how, how do we get heavy industry off the planet? How do we get these pollutant, uh, elements and industries off and maybe use earth just for residential and maybe some light industry space has a lot of, it might sound far off, but the moment that we’re gonna hit that, that oh, oh gosh, moment, it’s going to be too late to work on technologies that are gonna be necessary to get us up there and get back in and bring resources back and get some of these, uh, um, again, infrastructure up into space. Help us here on earth. There should not be a plan B. We’ve been to every single one of the planets and this one by far is the best. So we got to do what we can to keep this one happy and healthy.
Miles O’Brien:Yeah. So Mike, uh, I know you’ve had similar, uh, it’s had a similar effect on you and made you very concerned about the environment. Tell us a little bit about how your view of the earth, that earthrise and being able to cover up everything you know, with your thumb, how that changed you as you lived out the last 50 years.
Michael Collins:Not, not, hadn’t changed me enough. I haven’t done a particularly good job in the last 50 years of, uh, putting my, uh, my footprints or uh, my bank account where my money is, I mean, where my mouth is. Uh, I think we can, I don’t think I’m rare in that. I mean, we, I think we talk a good game. I’m not sure we play a good game. Uh, I certainly have not. I, uh, I, I pursue my own hobbies and whatnot without really giving consideration of a sufficient consideration to, uh, the fragility and, and, um, and, and, and of course, uh, you’re absolutely right about the, is it really fragile or are we fragile people living on a rock, not sure that matters. Something is fragile system is fragile. And, uh, I, I certainly worry about that. The word fragility just floats in and out of my head whether I wanted it or not.
Miles O’Brien:Isn’t that what you’re writing about right now though? Tell us a little bit about it.
Michael Collins:Um, well I’m, I’m writing a book number five. It’s a series of essays and, uh, one of them touches on what we’re talking about which is world population. What should the world population be? Uh, is anyone working on trying to find an answer to that? I don’t think so. You know, there are organizations, international organizations, but, uh, the, they right, uh, learned papers that they pass back and forth between half a dozen people and, uh, and their, their, their conclusions don’t ever seem to reach, uh, the politicians. Uh, uh, when we flew to the moon, the world population was 2 billion. And uh, now it’s, uh, I think around eight. Predictions are, is going to fairly soon be 10. And is that sensible? Is that okay? Well, maybe, I don’t think so however, but, but my main point is not whether I think it’s too big, too small or just right, but that no one is paying the attention to it that nation should pay. And it’s an extraordinarily difficult, uh, uh, problem because we all know the diversity of north south one factor after another. But somehow we have to get all these, uh, competitive, uh, countries together to try to at least plan on where are we going, where, what do we want it to be next fiscal year, 10 fiscal years, whatever. I think we should be working the problem and we’re not.
Miles O’Brien:So we face this time of kind of peril and promise. The promise is a lot of the excitement that we hear here and how space can help us in ways, but does space at some point become frivolous and a waste or will it always be some means towards solving problems here.
Ariane Cornell:I think the latter, but I’ve, you know, I’m, I might be a bit biased on that, but no, I mean you, you are literally looking into infinity, right? This image that you’re looking here, the amount of resources that we can, that we can access and use and enhance, you know, if we’re looking at a, ultimately a population cap we’re walking towards stasis, that’s sad. Humanity is supposed to expand, is supposed to evolve. I mean, how, you know, think about things just plateauing or even going backwards that seems, yeah, that just makes me sad. I think we will continue to look to space and what it has to offer for our future.
Miles O’Brien:Scott, how mportant is space in the picture, when you think about the problems we have here on the ground.
Scott Kelly:So I, uh, you know, for one, it’s a technology accelerator. I don‘t, I don’t, you know, I’m not a believer that if it wasn’t for Apollo, we wouldn’t have cell phones right now or that we wouldn’t have computers. But I think–
Miles O’Brien:Well space food sticks and Tang for sure. We’ve got that.
Scott Kelly:And we do have the space ice cream, which we actually don’t have in space believe it or not, but uh, yeah. So I, I think, you know, doing the hardest thing we can do, uh, requires us to develop technologies to do that. And I think that improves our lives here on earth. Um, I also agree that we are explorers and as soon as uh, stop, uh, exploring and we look inward, we’re probably not going to exist for very much longer. I think that is part of our DNA, uh, to always want to see what is a over the horizon, whether that’s the horizon of, uh, of the ocean or the horizon of the moon or eventually Mars.
Scott Kelly:But if you made the argument that everything I just said was wrong and the only thing we got out of space flight is that kids in this country or around the world were motivated to become scientists and engineers to do their homework, to work in fields that are incredibly important to our economy. Incredibly important to our national security. If the investment alone just got us motivated and moving in a positive direction towards developing scientists and engineers I think every penny is well worth the expense. And the last thing is, I spent over 500 days on the International Space Station. There was no money there. All that money was spent on earth, you know, with people and with high paying jobs, good jobs, people that then, you know, go on to pay their taxes to send their kids to college. So I think it’s an investment in our future in, you know, many, many different ways.
Miles O’Brien:Leland, what’d you go along with that?
Leland Melvin:I agree with Scott and I just think that this, this wiring of us in our DNA to explore it is one of the biggest things that we do with space, whether it’s the oceans or space. And when I was interviewed to become an astronaut, there were 2,500 people that applied. I was one of 25 us astronauts chosen. And right before I was chosen, John Young turned to me and he said, Leland, if we stop exploring, we will falter as a civilization. And so I believe John Young and I know that if we stop doing this, we’re going to die as a civilization. The other thing is, you know Scott, you just said, I had a chance to talk to a kid when he was 16 years old at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory wearing this blue flight suit, and I gave a commencement speech at George Mason and this young guy walks up to me and he says, hey, do you remember me? I’m getting my PhD in aerospace engineering because you told me that I could.
Leland Melvin:That’s one kid. So, if we can do this, maybe that kid is not going to fly in space, maybe they’re going to cure cancer or maybe they’re going to get in some other field in build your rockets or something. But this hope, this inspiration, this leadership is something that I think we have to do. Whether wherever the exploration goes, we must explore.
Miles O’Brien:Should we go back to the moon? Shall we press toward Mars? How much does that matter if it’s about inspiring young people? Is it at, will any mission do?
Leland Melvin:I think, uh, I think going to Mars is showing, I mean, what President Kennedy saidback in the day, it’s because we do the things that are hard and we’ve been to the moon. We’ve demonstrated that. Do we need to have a lunar base as a, as a launch pad to get us to Mars? I don’t think so, but if we decide to do this as a civilization, as a people, let’s put the money up there and do it and go do it just like Kennedy did.
Miles O’Brien:What do you think, moon?
Scott Kelly:Well there, I think there are probably some teenagers in here and I don’t know if you guys are aware of this.
Leland Melvin:Stand up, teenagers.
Miles O’Brien:All teenagers stand, yeah! The Mars generation! We’re glad you’re here tonight.
Scott Kelly:I don’t know if you realize this, but you guys have never been on the earth with all of the people. Your whole lives, there has always been people in space and I think one of the things we should make a commitment to is never changing that. I think no matter what we do, and someday we will have to put the a International Space Station or at least parts of it in the, in the Pacific Ocean, I think we should make a commitment to always having people in space and at least that keeps us moving in the positive, in a positive direction. You know, someday we’re going to go to Mars. I hope I get to see it. I hope you guys get to do it. Uh, maybe we should go back to the moon. I think that’s a choice depending on really about how much money you have to invest. But I think the planet needs to make a commitment to always have people in space. We got a 20 year record. Don’t want to break it.
Miles O’Brien:All right. So I’m just going to go down the panel, starting with Ariane. Paint the vision, 50 years from now when we come back and do this event again and we’ll all be here. What will we be, where will we be in space? You think? What’s your prediction?
Ariane Cornell:Uh, I mean I think that um, I think that there are going to be a lot more people in space. I think that’s going to be driven by the improvements in uh, reusable rockets that are going to be able to get people and again, you know, space stations or other sorts of heavy infrastructure up there. Um, and I think it’s going to, as we’re seeing here, uh, touch a lot more people’s lives, um, through various elements of space technology, whether it’s people actually getting up into space or them being able to benefit from the technology that’s coming from space.
Miles O’Brien:Will there be millions by 50 years or thousands or hundreds?
Ariane Cornell:I don’t think necessarily millions. That vision of millions of people living and working in space, you know, is it my grandchildren? Is it your grandchildren or their grandchildren? We’ll see. We’ll see. And in fact, I think frankly, the future is, is to be written by them, right? So we can predict all day, but it’s the young people in the audience and the future generations that are gonna make, that are gonna paint the picture.
Miles O’Brien:All right, Leland, 50 years from now.
Leland Melvin:50 years from now, I’m inspired. These students who stood up, these kids who stood up, a lot of these kids don’t see race and don’t see color and don’t see isms. So I am very hopeful that in 50 years some of those kids will be orbiting Mars, working together as close knit teams with their friends and family and people from all around the planet. Um, I think it’s possible if we as a society decide that this is important. And you know, my experience on the space station working with people from around the world, it, it changed me and I think they’re already changed in the things that they do and the tweeting and texting and IG-ing and all of this connectivity even though sometimes a little too much, but um, but they will make it there, and we’ll be on Mars whether it’s on the planet or orbiting it’s Mars.
Scott Kelly:Well, I agree mostly with what my two colleagues here just said. And if you consider the fact that we went from flying an airplane for the first time in 1903 and then, um, general Collins here and Neil and Buzz, uh, stepped foot on the moon on Apollo 11, uh, what was that 66 years later. I mean, if you think about that, you know, advancement in technology and just barely over 50 years, what our potential is. Now, whether we, you know, use that potential to create a space industry that is vibrant, that have, have a, a lot of people, uh, having access to space, to going back to the moon and Mars. I don’t know, you know, if you consider the fact that there are going to be people in the U S air force flying the B52, that’s going to be a hundred years old at one point. People will be flying a hundred year old airplane in the US Air Force. Nothing against the B52, but I mean, you can see how you can sometimes just kind of get stuck and keep doing the same thing. And I hope we don’t wind up there.
Miles O’Brien:Mike we’ll end it with you. I want to modify the question. You have a two part. You have a bonus question in addition to a, the question I’ve asked everybody else I want to add, have you first answer, if I asked you this same question 50 years ago, what would you have said?
Michael Collins:No, I don’t want to answer that one. I want to, uh, I want to say what 50 years from now will bring.
Miles O’Brien:Well go ahead and, uh, you get to do what you want.
Michael Collins:And, and I, I don’t know, I haven’t a clue, but I think you will figure it out. I think the young people today are smarter. There’s you guys, or men and women, black, white, whatever. You’re smarter than I am. You’ll figure it out. You have, you’re working from a, a bigger database. Part of that thanks to the space program. Most of it not, but you’ll, you’ll, you’ll work it out. I’m very optimistic. Uh, that, uh, your, your future that you will chart as time goes by, is better than the future that I would perhaps predict right now.
Fifty years ago, as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin bounced on the moon’s surface below, Apollo 11 Command Module Pilot Michael Collins briefly disappeared behind the lunar disk, becoming the first person to experience space entirely alone. As we set our sights on the stars, space travelers will need to cope with ever longer stretches—months, years, and beyond—in the lonely environs of the cosmos. What will that take? What will that be like? How will it affect who we are? Join Michael Collins and fellow astronauts for a whirlwind journey boldly going where only a handful of humans have gone before.
This program is part of the Big Ideas Series, made possible with support from the John Templeton Foundation.
TOPICS: Art & Science, Biology & Origins of Life, Earth & Environment, Kavli, Mind & Brain, Physics & Math, Science in Society, Science Unplugged, Space & The Cosmos, Technology & Engineering, Your Daily Equation, Youth & Education
PLAYLISTS: Big Ideas
Video Duration: 01:20:43
Original Program Date: Friday, May 31, 2019
Miles O’Brien is a veteran award-winning journalist who focuses on science technology and aerospace. He is the science correspondent for the PBS NewsHour, a producer and director for the PBS science documentary series NOVA, and a correspondent for the PBS documentary series Frontline and the National Science Foundation Science Nation series.Read More
Ariane Cornell is currently on the board of the Society of Satellite Professionals International. She has served on the board of Women in Aerospace – Europe. Previously, Cornell worked in international management consulting.Read More
Scott Kelly is a former military fighter pilot and test pilot, an engineer, a retired astronaut, and a retired US Navy captain. A veteran of four space flights, Kelly commanded the International Space Station (ISS) on three expeditions and was a member of the yearlong mission to the ISS.Read More
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