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Dr. Erik Conway, Monday, 4-13-15 April 14, 2015

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Dr. Erik Conway


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Guest:  Dr. Erik Conway.  Topics:  Dr. Conway’s book, “Exploration and Engineering: The Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Quest for Mars”  & more.  Please direct all comments and questions regarding Space Show programs/guest(s) to the Space Show blog, https://thespaceshow.wordpress.com.  Comments and questions should be relevant to the specific Space Show program. Written Transcripts of Space Show programs are a violation of our copyright and are not permitted without prior written consent, even if for your own use. We do not permit the commercial use of Space Show programs or any part thereof, nor do we permit editing, YouTube clips, or clips placed on other private channels & websites. Space Show programs can be quoted, but the quote must be cited or referenced using the proper citation format. Contact The Space Show for further information. In addition, please remember that your Amazon purchases can help support The Space Show/OGLF. See www.onegiantleapfoundation.org/amazon.htm.  For those listening to archives using live365.com and rating the programs, please email me as to why you assign a specific rating to the show. This will help me bring better programming to the audience.

We welcomed Dr. Erik Conway to the show to discuss his new book, “Exploration and Engineering: The Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Quest for Mars,” JPL history, engineering, Mars missions, and much more all from the historical perspective.  In the first segment of our 1 hour 28 minute discussion, I asked Dr. Conway how JPL engineers did things that led to major Mars exploration breakthroughs.  He cited the Mars Pathfinder mission as an example and the decision to use airbags for the landing.  Dr. Conway took us through the process, the cost benefit analysis of the decision and the role played by budgets, the engineers, policy makers, and others contributing to the mission.  Our guest provided us with other examples as well from other Mars projects and missions.  Listeners asked our guest about human missions.  Here, Dr. Conway had much to say throughout our discussion focusing on the fact that humans are dirty with bacteria, planetary protection is a priority, and there is zero risk or near zero risk for a human mission.  When asked if the Moon required the same planetary protection policies as Mars, he said no though in the early days of lunar exploration, it did.  I asked our guest about the roles played by policy makers and engineers and this resulted is a very interesting discussion. Don’t miss it.  Listener Barbara in Seattle asked our guest about Curiosity cost overruns and how that would be reported on in history.  This led to a discussion about the impact of management and others on the initial design and budgets.  Later, Dr. Conway was asked why JPL had a focus on Mars in the first place.  Doug called in to ask about the humans vs. robot debate for science.  Don’t miss the response to this question by our guest.  Doug also brought up the issue of finding past or present life on Mars and what that might mean for future  Mars missions.  Dr. Conway agreed that probably all sides in the argument of avoiding Mars to avoid contaminating and disturbing life to the opposite perspective will be arguing the issues for a long time to come.  Dr. Conway addressed commercialization and while supporting reduced launch costs said the cost reduction needed to be magnitudes lower than even the lower costs of today.  Dwayne called and addressed planetary protection, then he turned his attention toward asking about the research opportunities at JPL for outside historical researchers.  Erik explained why these opportunities were limited, partly holding ITAR responsible.

In the second segment, Erik talked about the risk versus return on the costs.  He talked about there being almost zero tolerance for accidents and losses with Mars missions and human missions.  He also said the zero risk tolerance for these missions has been a significant cost driver.  Our guest had much to say on this subject with regards to Mars so don’t miss it as it covered most of the second segment. Later in this segment, Jake inquired about the early JPL history and its founders and their impact on the JPL of today.  Penny wanted to know about the Cal Tech-JPL relationship.  Dwayne sent in an email asking about the Faster, Better, Cheaper programs and what happened with the JPL programs using this approach.  This was an interesting way to wind up the show. As we were ending we learned that Goddard has no historian so their programs are not being recorded or document.  I sked Erik the difference in JPL and the APL.  Note how he explained the difference between the two labs, their risk tolerance, and decision process.

Please post your comments/questions on TSS blog above.  You can reach Dr. Conway through JPL or me.

Dr. Scott Hubbard, Sunday, 9-2-12 September 3, 2012

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Dr. Scott Hubbard, Sunday, 9-2-12


Guest:  Dr. Scott Hubbard.  Topics:  Our Mars mission projects from the perspective of our first NASA Mars Czar.  You are invited to comment, ask questions, and discuss the Space Show program/guest(s) on the Space Show blog, https://thespaceshow.wordpress.com. Comments, questions, and any discussion must be relevant and applicable to Space Show programming. Transcripts of Space Show programs are not permitted without prior written consent from The Space Show (even if for personal use) & are a violation of the Space Show copyright. Welcomed Dr. Scott Hubbard to the program to discuss his new book, “Exploring Mars: Chronicles From A Decade Of Discovery.”  If your buy the book using the following Amazon URL, Amazon will make a donation to The Space Show/OGLF:  www.amazon.com/Exploring-Mars-Chronicles-Decade-Discovery/dp/0816528969/ref=onegiantlea20.  In our first segment, Dr. Hubbard talked about being selected as the first Mars Program Director after we lost both the MarsClimate Orbiter (MCO) and the Mars Polar Lander (MPL).  He also told us the story of how he got dubbed the first Mars Czar.  His story is fascinating, from how he was asked to do this by then NASA Administrator Dan Goldin to what the Blue Ribbon Panels said about why we lost both MCO and MPL.  We talked at length about the lessons learned from these losses, the review panels, and from the Faster, Better, Cheaper program strategy.  Given Dr. Hubbard’s experience as the program director, I asked lots of questions about getting program approval and keeping that approval over time with Congress.  Dr. Hubbard was most insightful about this process.  Other related topics discussed in this segment included risk, planetary science budgets, private sector companies such as SpaceX, and mission oversight and its cost.  We talked about private missions to Mars and what is referred to as the Holy Grail for Mars missions, a sample return mission.  We went into some detail regarding the sample return mission and Dr. Hubbard let us know why it was so important as well as to outlining a three part strategy for doing a Mars sample return mission.  As our segment ended, we talked about internationalization of our Mars mission programs.
In our second segment, Dr. Jurist asked our guest for some comparisons with the robots versus humans to Mars missions.  You do not want to miss what Dr. Hubbard said in reply to this set of questions.  Doug called in to inquire about cost comparisons for more robots over one human mission.  Doug also raised some interesting points about the sample return mission planning.  I then asked our guest about advocate lobbying for Mars and space policy and if it was effective given his experience with Congress, staffers, and the legislative process.  The value proposition issue came up in this segment regarding both robotic and human missions.  A listener then asked about the focus on space settlement by several advocate organizations and many in the NewSpace community.  Don’t miss what Dr. Hubbard had to say about settlement as a goal, especially when compared to exploration as a NASA goal.  Toward the end, I asked about the follow the water theme throughout his book and why that was so important for the Mars missions to date.  As we learned, the next phase of Mars missions will likely focus on the fingerprints of life, following the signs that may lead to discovering organics or even more. As our discussion was ending, we did talk about finding life on Mars & educational outreach.
Please post your comments/questions on the blog.  If you want to email Dr. Hubbard, send your note to me for forwarding.

Dr. Anita Sengupta, Tuesday, 8-28-12 August 29, 2012

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Dr. Anita Sengupta, Tuesday, 8-28-12


Guest:  Dr. Anita Sengupta.  Topics:  Entry, Descent, & Landing for Mars, Venus, propulsion, parachute issues, & more.  You are invited to comment, ask questions, and discuss the Space Show program/guest(s) on the Space Show blog, https://thespaceshow.wordpress.com. Comments, questions, and any discussion must be relevant and applicable to Space Show programming. Transcripts of Space Show programs are not permitted without prior written consent from The Space Show (even if for personal use) & are a violation of the Space Show copyright.  We welcomed Dr. Anita Sengupta, Senior Systems Engineer at JPL in Entry, Descent & Landing (EDL) Advanced Technologies Group to discuss EDL for Mars, other planets, and much more.  In our first segment, Dr. Sengupta described conditions relevant to Mars and landing an object on the planet. We talked about the Martian atmosphere and what an EDL team needs to consider and design to land any payload on Mars as well as humans. We also learned that EDL for a different size payload would be different than what was used for Curiosity, probably needing new systems.  We talked about supersonic parachutes & parachutes in general, addressing parachute materials, velocity, parachute violent extremes, the speed of sound & much more.  Another topic was testing on Earth to make sure the devices work on Mars.  Dr. Sengupta explained how such testing & Mars simulation is done on Earth.  Other landing techniques such as airbags were mentioned along with retro rockets.  During this discussion, our guest did a great job of explaining the various forces and physics involved in landing & how each of these forces must be dealt with for a successful landing.  We then talked about landing a payload on Venus and just how different Venus is to Mars.  The same for our Moon and the moons of Mars, Phobos & Deimos.  Listeners sent in questions about the rover debris being left on Mars as well as wondering if there were other ways to explore Mars than using rovers.  John called to inquire about first stage reusability & our guest talked about doing the “trades” (running the numbers to see if reusability is economic or not). Doug called to talk about orbital transfer vehicles, aerobraking, and more.  This led us to a discussion about larger launch vehicles, the need to dissipate lots of energy on reentry, and why larger areas with drag are preferable.

In our second segment, I asked about software programs we might use for the basic type of analysis Dr. Sengupta had been discussing. Note her recommendations.  We then talked about plasma propulsion and ion thrusters.  Dr. Sengupta had much to say on this subject including ion thruster fuel, costs, ISP, and again, the importance of doing trade studies for a mission to determine the best methodology/economics for the mission. Our guest also talked about the lower ISP Hall ion thruster which was also lower in cost but with substantially more ISP than a chemical engine.  Also in this segment, we talked about the Dawn mission & Vega, a possible Europa mission & the use of nano satellites for the Europa mission.  Doug called back regarding ion propulsion fuel, xenon, iron, lunar fuel, etc.  As our program was ending, Anita mentioned the Orion parachute system tests she works on & the new Mars mission InSight.  Several times during the program, Dr. Sengupta stressed the need to do the trade studies regarding mission planning to determine the best economics & cost effectiveness for the mission.  Many of you have heard on The Space Show that if one does not “run the numbers,” it is impossible to know if what you want to do is economically & mission productive/viable.  On Oct. 28, Dr. Jurist is doing a special webinar with his interactive Excel spreadsheet on rocket/mission planning.  It is essential to be able to do this in mission planning.  Trusting your beliefs, gut, & preferences are not the way to go so watch this webinar if you can.

Please post questions/comments on our blog.