The attempt to settle space is not a fantasy, it’s an inevitability, according to explorer and archaeologist, Cameron Smith.
However if we’re going to achieve it then we need to make a major shift in our thinking, away from individual space explorers and towards diverse communities of space pioneers.
During his recent TEDx Brussels talk, he explained how we also need to ‘rethink, reimagine and rebuild’ the technologies needed to get and maintain us there: essentially, it needs to be much easier and cheaper to access space.
You might not expect an archaeologist to take to the TEDx stage with a talk on space suits but Smith’s experience of exploring the past has fired his interest in space exploration: “When you spend your time looking at the remains of ancient civilizations what you see is that civilizations fail. We have about a 99 % failure rate for civilizations. And one way to preserve our civilization is to make our species multi-planetary.”
It may sound like the plot of an epic sci-fi adventure but this challenge is very much on the radar of the scientific community. As far back as 1567, Francis Godwin said that it was inevitable that humanity would try to colonise space.
Leading thinkers of today like Stephen Hawking are also backing the idea. The problem, Smith says, is that our energy and resources are focused on sending a select few individuals to space, when we need to be thinking in terms of large communities.
“We’ve been in the mode of a tightly constrained set of individual people popping up into space and popping back,” Smith said. “If we want to do space colonization, we need people of all varieties. That requires a major shift in our thinking, away from individuals and towards communities and cultural groups. This requires an anthropology of space colonization.”
Another thing that we’re going to need, according to Smith, is cheaper technology, and that’s where Smith and his group, Pacific Space Flight, come in. At the moment, a launch entry NASA/ACES suit costs about $88 000 to $100 000.
Smith believes this can be replaced by a $2 000 suit, opening up the possibilities for space travel en masse: “We’ve built a suit inside my home, which is my workshop … All of the NASA performance criteria for a launch entry suit are being met – it keeps the body cool, maintains the pressure, gives the wearer mobility at high pressure, now even at lunar pressure.”
Pacific Space Flight has collaborated with private space program Copenhagen Suborbitals who build their own spacecraft. Smith’s team were able to test their suits in the capsule and seat of the Danish program.
Testing is ongoing in a wide range of other conditions and environments: “I’ve spent about 100 hours in the suit, part of that has been underwater weighted to a chair. I sat there and we looked for leaks. Our suit has a lower leak rate than Gemini suits from the 1960s.”
The suit has also been tested in cold chambers and altitude chambers where it maintained a healthy blood oxygen level. It has also trekked across the Simpson Desert in Australia. One of the next steps is high altitude ballooning expeditions.
Smith says his processes replicate those of NASA in the 1960s – only without the big budget.
Like most pioneers, Smith and his team are learning more through their failures than their successes: “Most of the money – which is very little – that I’ve spent has been in finding out how not to do it.” He concluded his talk with a promise to the TEDx Brussels crowd, “Now I know how not to do it the next generation garment will be a third of the weight and a third of the bulk.”
For further information, please visit TEDx Brussels.
Filed Under: Aerospace + defense