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National Geographic: Be Inspired Breakfast – The Future of Space Exploration

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing on the 20th July 2019, the National Geographic Society and space technologist Jennifer Lopez held a talk about the future of space exploration. YSJ team members Tushar Bhudia, Ambassador for Materials Science, and Katie Savva, Senior Biochemistry Editor, were lucky enough to be invited to this event at AllBright in London, and reflect on their experiences of the day…

We were welcomed by Claire McNulty, Senior Director at the National Geographic Society, before grabbing some fruit and cereal, settling into our seats, and excitedly waiting for the event to begin.

Figure 1: The view from our seats as we waited for the talk to begin! (Katie Savva)

The talk began with an introduction from Claire about Jennifer’s previous and current work. It was interesting to hear that she started her career as a microbiologist, before she moved to work for NASA in the areas of business and technology.

Jennifer opened by talking us through a video of the Apollo 11 landing, and showing us the famous video of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, whilst explaining the capabilities of it and how it impacts the future of space exploration. The Falcon Heavy has successfully launched 24 satellites into orbit this year, providing GPS, data transferring and weather forecasting systems used by millions of people every day. For us, this really put the evolution of technology, from the first manned mission to the moon to the latest, into perspective.

After this came a talk about the International Space Station (ISS), how all governments worked together to design and build it, and how much it has benefited us as a species. Just one example of this is the crystallization of hematopoietic prostaglandin D synthase (H-PGDS), a protein which has the potential to be used to develop more effective drugs to treat muscular dystrophy. The microgravity which makes the ISS such a unique laboratory environment allows for optimal growth of the unique and complicated crystal structures of these proteins, so the ISS is allowing the development of important medical treatments.[1]

Jennifer also touched upon the use of artificial intelligence (AI) aboard the ISS, as well as the use of robotic arms mounted on the outside to build modules and perform repairs. Parts needed for repairs and upgrades can also be 3D printed on the ISS, meaning that parts can be made available according to demand, and space is saved on rockets for more experiments or supplies.

On the ISS, astronauts have a robot companion called CIMON, the Crew Interactive Mobile Companion. Created by the International Business Machines Corporation (IBM), CIMON uses AI to hold intelligent conversations with crew and help astronauts complete important scientific experiments. Matthias Biniok, team lead at IBM, writes, “Studies show that demanding tasks are less stressful if they’re done in cooperation with a colleague”.[2] Therefore, if the astronauts have someone to talk to throughout the day, they will remain calmer and more focussed, so will be more efficient and accurate when completing important tasks.  For example, CIMON can recognise emotions from facial expressions, and can respond to “I miss my family” not just with “I’m sorry,” but with “I’m sorry, how can I help?”

To conclude, Jennifer talked about the Artemis mission to space. Named after the goddess of the Moon and Apollo’s sister, the Artemis Lunar Program aims to study the moon’s interactions with the sun, as well as put the first woman on the moon, inspiring a new generation of young girls to work in the space industry.

After the talk, we had the opportunity to speak to Jennifer. With Tushar being interested in materials science, we discussed testing materials in the extreme low-gravity conditions of space, how he became interested in material science through learning about space, and the potential opportunities of obtaining materials from space to advance life and technology on earth.

Later, we were fortunate enough to talk with Simon Ingram, a UK Online Editor at National Geographic. He gave us a great insight into what goes on behind the scenes of the society, such as the vast amount of research that takes place. We also discussed the work we do at the Young Scientists’ Journal, such as our upcoming yearly conference. 

We thoroughly enjoyed the experience and would like to thank both the National Geographic Society and the Young Scientists’ Journal for giving us this opportunity.

 

More Information:

These are not the same videos as those shown during the National Geographic talk, but we have included them for your interest:

Apollo11: Lunar Landing. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k_OD2V6fMLQ  

SpaceX triple booster landing, BBC News. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tkk9VIKWw2w

References

  1. Kristine Rainey, “15 Ways the International Space Station is Benefiting Earth”, NASA, last modified August 7, 2017, https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/news/15_ways_iss_benefits_earth.
  2. “Project CIMON Journal”, IBM, accessed July 16, 2019, https://www.ibm.com/thought-leadership/smart/de-de/ai-in-space/journal/index.html#entry3.

About the Authors

Tushar Bhudia, UK

Tushar Bhudia is a 17 year old student studying maths, further maths, physics and chemistry A levels at Beal High School, a school and sixth form in east London. Tushar is interested in materials science and plans to pursue it to PhD level and hopes to make advancements in this field.

Katie Savva, UK

Katie Savva is a Biochemistry student at the University of Warwick where she enjoys the 6 hour experiments, and the 9am lectures slightly less. When she isn’t playing quidditch or programming, Katie is the Senior Biochemistry Editor at the Young Scientists Journal.

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