Regarding the growing space debris ... what measures will be taken to reduce it? I imagine that as more countries are putting things up in orbit that it will be hard to avoid the debris.
Right now, there are regulations in place to prevent the growth of space debris population. In addition, NASA and other government agencies are working on early stage technologies to remove debris. A lot of that work is sponsored by NASA's new Space Technology Mission Directorate.
What do you see as the most important technological advancement that will get us closer to the outer reaches of space? Is it something still under development? Is it something as simple as the smart phone?
Right now, we're working on the technologies that will get humans to an asteroid by 2025 and on to Mars in the 2030s. Some of those technologies include propulsion and navigation, but also technologies to protect astronauts from radiation on the trip there and back. Some day, the earliest explorers of the outer solar system and beyond will be robotic spacecraft, some may be as small as smart phones.
Would it be possible or practical to bring samples back from Mars to Earth?
Both, definitely. We have been working toward bringing samples back from Mars for some time, and the "Mars 2020" robotic mission will take us further along that path.
Please elaborate on the Mars 2020 mission and what it entails.
We're still working on the details. We will do what we can to reuse technology from the successful Curiosity mission. Mars 2020 will achieve a number of very different and compelling science goals. You can find out more at http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/m2020
Can we bring back Spirit? <sad puppy face>
Arthur C. Clarke said something similar about Syncom, the first geosynchronous communications satellite, on its 40th birthday, he promised it a nice spot in the Smithsonian. It'll be an interesting day when you can visit the Smithsonian and see Spirit, Curiosity, the first asteroid NASA brought back and relics from the first explorers on Mars.
The trickle down of technology from NASA to the real world is well established. In your opinion what is the next big thing to coming down the line that will benefit society?
It may be that someday we will explore the solar system and even settle it using hardware and supplies that we create from resources we gather from other planets. Advanced manufacturing technologies such as 3D printing may be the way that we will build all that hardware in space. What we learn from meeting that kind of challenge will have a big impact on manufacturing here on Earth.
Can you give us some more details about possible applications for 3D printing in your field? Thanks.
NASA has been funding an exciting study known as Contour Crafting, which involves using a kind of large 3D printer to assemble large structures on the Moon from lunar regolith. One of the most exciting possibilities is that we could be recycling old spacecraft, building new spacecraft out of asteroid material, all of which will increase access to space, because we will only have to launch the valuable difficult to manufacture components such as integrated circuits and people.
In your opinion, what aspect of our current space technology (besides funding) is truly keeping us back from a trip to Mars?
It comes down to survival of the crew. We need to create ways to help astronauts survive exposure to galactic cosmic rays and other hazards on the trip there and back. Getting there quicker would help. So that inspires the creation of advanced propulsion capabilities, but right now there's nothing on the horizon to shorten the trip time enough so that we don't have to worry about radiation.
Has much thought been given to a spacecraft essentially surrounded in water to help shield radiation? Are there any technologies currently being worked on that may prove promising for shielding?
That's been proposed, but water is heavy. It might be a little less heavy to surround astronauts themselves with water, but even that is not very efficient and is difficult to achieve. The solution ultimately will be a combination of technologies, some having to do with human health and some having to do with the design of the vehicle and some having to do with the timing and operation of the mission.
Hi there! thanks for doing this AMA just two questions:
What do you think is going to be the next "big thing" in space technology?
Is there any technology currently being developed by NASA or any partners that you are excited about?
I heard that NASA only gets 1/10 of 1% of the national budget; is that true and, if so, what can we do to change that?
It's about half a percent. NASA is a government agency, and like any other US government agency, its budget is determined by the White House and Congress. Our $17 billion budget is more than that of all other countries space programs combined. Through engagement of people like you we have a chance to make a real difference in the world, and I hope that you will response to our calls for engagement with NASA through prizes and challenges.
Do you agree with Stephen Hawking when he said this?
"It will be difficult enough to avoid disaster in the next hundred years, let alone the next thousand or million,""Our only chance of long-term survival is not to remain inward-looking on planet Earth, but to spread out into space."
Do you think we are doing enough to secure our place in the universe?
Are we failing?
I make it a practice to never disagree with Stephen Hawking. I think our destiny lies among the planets of our solar system. It'll take a combination of NASA, other governments of the world, and the participation of all of you to make this happen.
A mission to Mars would be an wonderful achievement, however it would be hard to land on Mars and the come back to Earth. Recently, a company, Mars One, started taking applications for a one-way trip to Mars.
Is that something NASA would entertain?
NASA's approach would be to bring its astronauts back. Mars One is like a number of other very exciting new endeavors in private space: NASA will provide access to what we've learned over the years and we hope they are successful.
How the other countries can help to protect us from the threat of asteroids? Is there an international effort for this?
Defending the planet from threats from space is a global problem. It's going to take all of us pulling together. For 2014, President Obama has requested funding to allow NASA to engage with the nation and the world on the science and technology that will be necessary to accomplish this goal. Keep watching for ways you can engage with NASA on asteroids.
What are the main difficulties on finding (and going to) Lagrangian orbit points? Also, there are plans to use them as places for space telescopes? (Am I wrong in thinking they would make nice places to put a telescope?)
A great point. In fact, the James Webb Space Telescope will be located at the Earth-Sun L2 point because it will be far from the Earth's albedo. But it's not easy to navigate to there and keep something in place. It requires some subtle approaches to mission operations because the Lagrange points are barely stable or completely unstable. But what we learn from JWST will serve as a pathfinder for future science missions and possibly future human missions.
What is your perspective on PPT's (Pulsed Plasma Thrusters), or electric propulsion in general? Any opinion on the CubeSat program?
PPTs are one of many electric propulsion technologies, and NASA is investigating several of them for use in our new Solar Electric Propulsion technology demonstration. In fact, SEP will provide the thrust necessary for the mission we've described to redirect an asteroid. As for CubeSats, they are a very compelling paradigm that NASA has embraced and will be incorporating into its mission portfolio so that we can extend the reach of science.
Do you think humans will ever be capable of interstellar travel? Do you think anything in the universe has reached this point yet?
Yes. Our robotic explorers such as Voyager are almost past the edge of the solar system. That's taken a number of decades. So for humans to travel there or beyond we will need some extraordinary advances in technology, but I'm fully confident that we are capable of that. Kepler's recent discoveries of many extrasolar planets including a number of Earth-sized planets, is a great motivation to explore beyond our solar system.
With companies like SpaceX wanting to put man on Mars in the foreseeable future, is there any competition at all between NASA and other space frontier companies to reach certain goals?
NASA is working with a number of commercial companies, including SpaceX, to bring about a future in which American industry will provide access to space for the sake of science or human exploration. In the past, NASA has entered into agreements known as data buys, where NASA agrees to procure the results of investigations - science data - instead of prescribing every step along the way. I believe this model can be very successful, and I hope we see more of it.
As Nasa's chief technologist, are you frustrated with the lack of progress in manned space travel over the past 50 years? Why, for instance can't we return to the moon? Why can't we go to Mars? And the underlying question, why can't these types of projects be funded on a purely scientific basis now that the cold war is long gone, removing the past ulterior motive for persuing such technology.
We have made progress in human space travel. For well over a decade, we've had humans living and working on the International Space Station. The work on the ISS is critical to learning how to travel farther into space. In fact, we have crew members who are getting ready to stay on ISS for one full year, and that will give us insight into how astronauts headed to an asteroid or Mars will be able to survive. Let's be clear that budget does influence how far we go and how fast. There's only so much we can do with what we have. I think NASA does a lot with only half a percent of the federal budget. I also believe that commercial enterprise can be a motivator, so I would challenge you to come up with killer apps for space that will motivate a space economy.
If there was an asteroid coming towards earth and it was going to make impact, what do we have right now to divert or destroy this threat?
The best defense we have against asteroids is early warning. We need to complete the scientific study of asteroids in the solar system to locate all the threats to human population. The sooner we know, the easier it will be to deflect the asteroid.
Do you think warp drives will become a reality in the near future?
In fact, we are looking into the basic physics that could lead to warp drive someday. That work is going on at Johnson Space Center. This kind of investigation is part of NASA's early stage innovation portfolio. Our philosophy is that only a few of these early stage ideas will ever be prove out, but we must invest in early stage technology if we are to have a hope of transforming space travel the way that a warp drive would.
Could you please clarify what you mean by "massless exploration"?
I mentioned something about this a moment ago. Let me describe it this way: right now, the mass we use in space all comes from the Earth. We need to break that paradigm so that the mass we use in space comes from space. The more we can leverage the resources of the solar system, the less we have to spend to make science and human space exploration successful. There are materials science challenges here, as well as new technologies needed for manufacturing with in situ resources.
As a sophomore college student involved in aerospace engineering and looking to get involved in NASA satellite technology, could you give me any insight into what technologies/programs/literature I should study that will be applicable to future NASA missions once I am out of college?
Get a good grounding in the traditional aerospace engineering fields such as structures, propulsion and navigation, but then specialize in what you think you'll be able to do to change the world. Maybe that's new technology, or some form of science. As for literature, you can't wrong seeking inspiration from Arthur C. Clarke. One of my favorite authors is Neal Stephenson, who offers really compelling and diverse visions of technological futures.
Is mining in space going to become reality and if so, what makes Nasa think the most valuable minerals to transform the globe are in space?
At least two recent startup companies think that's the case: Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries. It's widely accepted that the Earth is running out of rare Earth metals, such as indium, and some have argued that mining asteroids would be profitable for that reason. Let me point out that the 1967 Outer Space Treaty precludes ownership of celestial objects, so there is an interesting discussion ahead of us.
What do you think NASA would have achieved if they had maintained a higher % of the fed budget? Such as the 4.41% of 1966?
I'd rather look to the future. I believe we'll eventually emerge on the other side of this financial funk the stronger for having made some tough decisions over the recent years. When we return to a time of relative abundance, I look forward a more robust investment in our nation's future in space.