The next frontier

Lecture 3 - How to survive in space

To the moon, Mars and beyond

In the third and final of the 2015 CHRISTMAS LECTURES, space doctor Kevin Fong explores the 'The next frontier' of human space travel. 

In a series finale, Kevin investigates how the next generation of astronauts will be propelled across the vast chasm of space to Mars and beyond, with explosive demonstrations, expert guests, and a live spacewalk from the ISS.

So, how will life be artificially sustained as we travel the millions of kilometres to the Red Planet and on into the cosmos? How will our food last for 3 years or more? And what is waiting what for us when we finally land? With earth shattering experiments, top space scientists and a spacewalk live from the ISS, Dr Kevin Fong reveals how we'll survive that voyage to space's next frontier’ and beyond...


Space & Time


Christmas Lecture
Dr Kevin Fong
London, UK
Filmed in:
The Theatre
Collections with this video:
How to survive in space

Licence: Copyright Royal Institution



This is where the adventure starts for me. 1975 and my parents take me downstairs to watch the Apollo Soyuz test project, the final mission of project Apollo. And its famous first hand shake between Russian and American astronauts.

40 years later when we see the fruits of that collaboration up there on the International Space Station. Tim Peake's mission. That platform is a platform for peaceful collaboration in science and exploration. And it is the jumping off point for new adventures. This lecture is all about the next frontier and that frontier is your frontier.



Thank you. And welcome to the 2015 Christmas Lectures. I'm Doctor Kevin Fong. I'm a medical doctor. And I used to work with NASA helping them protect astronauts as they went about the business of exploring space. This is the final lecture in our series. And in this lecture we have our sights firmly fixed on the future, and what it's going to take with the edge of all that science, technology, engineering has to offer us to protect astronauts as they go about trying to go further and deeper into space.

But first, let's go to Tim Peake and the space station, to the ISS, to look at the unexpectedly dramatic start to Tim's first few days aboard the station.

Up on the screen just there you can see Tim who's reading a checklist. On the other side of that door are his crew mates Tim Kopra and Scott Kelly who are in the airlock, in their suits, getting ready to go out the door on a space walk, which is pretty much the most dangerous thing that astronauts ever have to do.

Now we'll be seeing more of how that space walk turned out later on in this lecture.

But first let's have a look at how much of space we've already visited. Now let's make a constellation of everywhere we've been to explore. Now these are our lights of exploration. And this is the first light. In 1957, Sputnik. You're going to be Sputnik for me. Who's going to be Sputnik? Well done. All right.

So Sputnik in '57. And then in '61, the first human Yuri Gagarin goes into low earth orbit. And by the end of that decade famously we're on the moon. Six crews, 12 people to the surface of the moon. And in that same decade we go to our neighbours. Mariner 4 in 1964 takes the first photographs of the red planet of Mars. And then we go to our nearest neighbour, to Venus. And then we master the art of the slingshot. And we're going to Jupiter. And then off to Saturn and their moons. And suddenly nothing in the solar system is beyond our reach.

We're into Mercury. We're out to Pluto. And now we stand with Voyager, the most distant man-made object from the Earth at 50 billion miles from Earth. And this is the constellation of exploration in space today. But wait. Where we've been with humans? Everyone who doesn't have a human mission, turn off your lights now.

And what are we left with? We're left with low earth orbit and the moon. And there's a reason for that. Rocket science is hard enough before you start trying to include people as part of the payload. But with everything that we've learned in the history of human space exploration, we're ready to go again. And particularly with the lessons we've learned from the mission that Tim Peake is now involved in aboard the ISS. We are going back to the moon. We're going to go off to Mars, and perhaps even more exotic destinations.

And this time we're going with people. But where might we go? Well, we could start with the moon. There is unfinished business there. And to explain what their business might be, and why humans should go there, I'd like to welcome our very first guest. Planetary Scientist Doctor Katie Joy.


Katie, I'm more of a Mars man myself. So convince me that we need to send humans back to the moon. Because we've been there. We've been there 6 times. 12 people.

We have. We might have been there, but we've certainly not done that. So we've sampled the near side of the moon from just six places. All that moon rock came back. It's located over at NASA. But scientists around the world are still studying it to try and understand the moon's past. And also to understand the moon's place in the solar system. So we need to go back and we need to get more to really understand it. There's a lot more still to do.

But really-- because, I mean there needs to be something really, really valuable up there to make it worth going. What is it that we would learn from the moon that would be so vital to us here on Earth?

So we can actually study the moon to understand our own origin. So the origin of Earth itself. But what's really exciting is the idea that there may actually be early Earth material on the moon. So samples, geological rocks from when life first started on Earth. Now these are not well preserved on Earth because we have active plate tectonics. We have oceans. We have atmospheres that destroys these ancient rocks. But who knows?

Big asteroids and comets were striking the Earth. And they may be able to chip little bits off. That can travel through space and maybe they're just landing on the moon ready for us to go and find.

Do you know what I think we're going to need? I think we're going to need a volunteer. Who would like to volunteer to help us explain this? All right. Let's go up here and duck under there, and we'll have you. Yeah. Come on.


Go and stand here and face the front. What's your name?


Joseph. Joseph, you're going to help me. You're going to need these. All right, Katie. I've no idea what we're going to do here. But you tell me.

OK. Well, we're going to pretend this but this is the early Earth. And this is examples of ancient rock sitting on the early Earth. We're going to pretend that these guys-- here we go. We have some pretend asteroids. They look like iron meteorites to me. And we're going to hurl them at the Earth's surface. So here we go, Joseph.

All right. Now that a meteorite.

Got goggles on. This sounds sort of dangerous. Come on then.

We're going to try throwing some into the box. And the objective is to kick some soil out and have it try and hit the moon. So let's see--

So surface of the Earth, moon. You've got to get some rocks on to the moon to convince me we need to go there. Go for it.


Oh, Alex. You're going to need some goggles for this one cause of this is overwhelmingly, overwhelmingly dangerous throwing stuff into that. OK. Here we go, Joseph. Give it your best shot.

OK. We're not doing a grand job. So we're sort of throwing at speeds of a couple of metres a second. So what we need is to ramp it up a little bit.

I told him he needed goggles. I look a bit stupid now, don't I? Why isn't this working? Why can't you get the rocks off Earth, onto the moon here? So when asteroids and comets hit the Earth, they're travelling at hyper velocity impact. So we need to get material up about 11 kilometres a second being spooled off.

I think I have a hyper-velocity impact simulator specially built. This is our hyper-velocity impact simulator. It's very high tech. And Joseph, you're going to help me fire it off. OK, Alex. You ready for this? OK.

So-- our asteroid or comet is travelling closer and closer to the Earth. It's nearly getting ready to go. We're getting the right sort of speeds.

Let's count in. So three, two, one. Go!


Joseph, come right here.

Sorry about that, Alex. You need a new set of clothes, as well as that. So there's rock all over the moon all of a sudden. And that's, I guess, what we're looking for. Joseph, thank you very much for helping us. Ladies and gentlemen, Joseph. Thank you.


Now, Katie you have brought some of the moon will you tonight. Show me that.

So I have some small chips of Apollo samples that were brought back by the astronauts. And we actually have a beautiful thin section of lunar rock under the microscope that you can see here. So this amazing sample-- it looks like a stain glass window when we shine light through it. And this is actually a lava flow. Here we go. We've got it on the screen.

So you guys can see some spectacular colours. All these different colours represent different minerals. And these formed in a lava flow that erupted from a volcano about 3.2 billion years ago. Just amazing.

And this is a piece of rock brought back by the Apollo astronauts nearly 50 years ago now.


And you studied that as part of your PhD, didn't you?

Yes. So we study rocks like this to understand the moon's volcanic past. This one came from the Apollo 12 mission. So the second mission that went to the moon. But rocks like these may be really good traps for preserving some of these amazing archives of meteorites, and maybe Earth samples are being delivered to the lunar surface. But they're incredibly beautiful to look at, as well.

Absolutely beautiful. It's amazing that so long after the end of project Apollo they're still teaching us valuable lessons. Sounds like a job for a planetary geologist like you on the moon. Would you go to the moon?

So we did get one geologist on the moon on the last mission. And I would love to be a future geologist. I might try applying again next time. We'll see what happens.

Yeah. You applied to be an astronaut, didn't you?

I did. We'll keep trying. Maybe somebody else in this room can have that opportunity to do it.

Katie, fantastic. So you have convinced me that we've got to send people back to the moon.

Thank you very much.

Katie Joy, thank you.


Thank you. It is incredible, really, that we were able to go to the moon. Not just because we left behind on Earth when we went to the moon everything we take for granted in terms of life support here on Earth, but because we also left behind our protection from radiation-- the protection we get from the Earth's magnetic field.

Now, right now, Tim Peake is on a space station very carefully monitoring his own levels of radiation using a clever detector called the [? Timepix ?] detector. And to explain a little bit more to you about this, I am going to need a volunteer. All right. So let's go on a bit of a space mission. Let's have you.



Well, what's your name?


Celeste. Celeste, put some gloves on. We've got some bizarre stuff to show you here. Celeste, have you ever seen one of these things before? Do you know what this is?


No? This is a Geiger tube. Anyone else ever seen one of these before? Yeah. Yeah, Yeah. OK. And it measures radiation. OK. So we're going to turn it on.


There you go. Now, Celeste, point that the audience. See how radioactive they are. This is a Geiger tube. It tells how radioactive things are. The more radioactive they are, the more clicks you get off of this. It measures the ionisation as radiation comes in the front. No? No radioactive people? How about over there? No? OK.

Let's point that up to the sky. No real radiation. Hm. Well that's because we're under a blanket of atmosphere and the Earth's magnetic field. So to show you some radiation, we had to point something radioactive. And here at the Royal Institution, Charlotte our curator has some very exotic sources of radiation. Go on. Point it at this book. Charlotte, what is this book?

This is a night book from William Crookes from 1903. Ah, William Crookes. I remember he was the bloke who made the very first medical x-- so this is not good, is it? Medical x-ray tubes.

Yes, indeed.

That's very, very radioactive. I might take that. All right. Now this book, this was the page where he was talking about messing around with some radium salts?

Yes. Radium Bromine.

That's radioactive stuff. I think he was messing around when he was writing this page. Now which is the worst bit on this book?

Down the crease.






That's not good at all.

[DEVICE BEEPS] OK. So It's very, very, very radioactive. Where do you keep this book, Charlotte.

In the RI archives. Yes. But, what--

In a metal box.

In a metal box. OK. Now it's OK. So long as we don't lick or lick the book. OK? So do not eat or lick the book.

Now all that does is us how much radiation, Celeste. So to do something rather more interesting, we'd like to know the sorts of radiation, and how many particles. We're going to use the detector that is on Tim Peake's mission. This is the Timepix detector. You're going to help me start it. So you're going to go around the front there. And let's see how Mr. Crooke's book does.

OK. I'm going to take off the cover now over that page. So every spot is a particle. The bigger the spot, the higher the energy. Here we go. Now let's have a look as what we see. The book has suddenly-- oh, here we go. Here we go. And so all those dots that you can see there are all particles of radiation, all photons of energy, coming through that detector. And I don't think you can see it quite as well as we can see it here. But Celeste, that's a lot of particles. isn't it?

Charlotte, I don't want to stand near this book anymore. So I think you should take it away. And Celeste, I think your mum would be really happy if I sent you back your seat, as well. Thank you very much, Celeste.


So lesson one is don't eat radioactive things. But we have some data from the space station from the detectors that Tim Peake is using. And this is it. And to help us understand what we're looking at, I'd like to welcome my guest, solar physicist, Professor Lucy Greene.


Lucy. Great to see you.

Lucy, what is that? It looks very worrying. That detector tells us sort of not just how much radiation, but the type. So what type of radiation is doing that?

So this detector's able to pick up electrons, protons, and also heavy atomic nuclei that come streaking in from all over our galaxy, travelling at almost the speed of light.

Sounds slightly nasty. We don't have to worry about those so much here on Earth. You've got something here to explain that to me.

That's right. So this is a set up called a Planeterrella. And it's a really nice way to demonstrate both the fact that the Earth has a magnetic field which guides electrically charged particles, and also the effect of electrically charged particles on the Earth's atmosphere. And what's happening in here is that electrons, charged particles, are being accelerated through an invisible magnetic field. And you can see that's around that small sphere glowing lights. And that's equivalent to the Northern Lights, and the Southern Lights, the Aurora.

It's very, very beautiful even here. But there is a beautiful way of seeing this. And that's to be in Space and I think we've got some video of the Northern Lights as seen from space. Look at that. That green glow in the top. That's the Northern Lights, isn't it. And this is from space station looking down. It's such a fantastic view.

The astronauts have the best view of the Northern Lights. I'm so envious of what they get to see. You see the thin atmosphere. You see the green glowing oxygen. But for us, it's incredibly important. Because it acts as a blanket to block out the effects of those galactic charged particles that we saw earlier on.

So we can protect ourselves from the most harmful radiation by sitting inside our blanket of magnetic fields. So are we all write to keep going on exploring?

Well, there are difficulties that we have to overcome-- really severe difficulties. So we've talked about particles coming from the galaxy. And we've talked about the fact that the Earth has a magnetic field and an atmosphere. There is some protection from these galactic particles that we get from the Sun, as well. And we see that the number varies across the solar cycle. The Sun's magnetic field extends out and surrounds the Earth. And it deflects the galactic cosmic rays from us.

But the Sun is both off friend and our foe. And the Sun itself is an amazing particle accelerator. And it's able to produce events where particles like electrons and protons get accelerated almost to the speeds of light, as well. And they shower down on the Earth. So whereas is the particles coming from the galaxy have very, very high energies, they form a sort of background radiation. The Sun is capable of these very strong, high flux bursts. And they can be very, very dangerous for astronauts.

And I'll give you a bit of information about the normal flow of particles in the solar wind. So the Sun all the time has a flow that takes a few days-- maybe four days to get from the Sun through 150 million kilometres of space to us. When an energetic particle event happens, they get here within half an hour. And the storm can go on for days. And then there are so many of them pouring down onto the astronauts, once you're above the Earth's atmosphere and at the edges of the Earth's magnetic field, you have very little protection. In fact, the particles are so energetic they don't even see our magnetic field. They just come rushing in.

And so if you're an astronaut outside the protection of the magnetic field in one of these solar flares-- solar particle events happens, what happens to you?

So you would be irradiated. And you could have a mild effect. You could get radiation sickness, disorientation. But it could be fatal.

And Tim Peake's crew has just gone out on a space walk. Would this sort of a thing have been a risk for them if they were outside their vehicle in that space walk?

It would have been. So they would not have been allowed to go out on a space walk had there been a solar particle event happening. They are so dangerous. They would have to have been inside the space station, and also gone to an area where they get more shielded. Because to stop them, what you want is material that the particles could run into, collide with, and then not reach your body.

But this sounds like a disaster because we want to go exploring the rest of the solar system. That sounds to me like we should just stay at home and cower underneath the Earth's magnetic field, and our atmosphere if we can.

It's a huge challenge. And I think it's the main challenge to overcome, if we do want to successfully move out towards Mars. We've got to keep humans safe.

It doesn't sound like we can. We can't build a spaceship out of lead. What would we do about shielding, Lucy?

So some people thinking about using the water that you would need.

Water is a good shield.

That would be a good shield. And in fact, it turns out that having a material that has light particles in it like hydrogen is quite a good approach. So water-- OK, weighs quite a lot, but it would make a good shield if you had it running through the walls of your spacecraft.

Lucy, thank you so much. Thank you, Lucy Greene. Thank you.


Now there's not just measuring the radiation environment inside the space station. They're having a look at what effects that has on life outside the space station, and particularly with this particular facility here. Now this is the exposed facility. And it's a British led experiment on the space station right now with Tim Peake. This is being taken up and then bolted on to the outside of the space station. And it's pretty cool.

Inside you have layers. And it's outside the space station. And they were exposing the contents of this to radiation. Now inside there are fungi. There are bacteria. There's even some seeds. And they've layered it so that one layer is the same as Mars in terms of radiation environment. One layer is the moon. And one is just the vacuum of unprotected space. And you think that everything should die up there. But some of the stuff does reasonably well.

And there is one creature in particular that is just incredible in radiation. And we've got some right here, if they haven't run away. Now let's have a look. These our tardigrades. This is a super tough creature. You don't think-- you think you'd do well against this creature. But you wouldn't. Because you can boil it, and it's, "eh." And you can freeze it down to nearly absolute zero, apparently. And it doesn't care. You can subjected to huge pressure, and it doesn't care. You can send into space without a space suit. To be fair, it's very hard to make a space suit for these things.

And most amazingly of all, you can subject it to huge doses of ionising radiation and it kind of likes it. That is a tardigrade. They're also called water bears. Some people think they're a bit cute. I think they're just kind of weird, really. But they're super tough.

Now the tardigrade can survive doses of radiation that none of us can. And radiation is super bad for you. It can damage your cells at the molecular level and cause all sorts of problems with your DNA, and your DNA's ability to replicate and produce healthy new cells. So how does the tardigrade manage to survive when we would do really, really badly? And for that I am going to need not one, not two, not three, but four volunteers.

Let's go here. And let's have you. OK. Come on. OK And-- OK. Off the front row. OK. How about you. Good. And one more from over here. How about you? OK. Come. Let's go. OK.


OK. Over this side OK. So you are going to be team tardigrade. This is a tardigrade DNA double helix. And you are going to be team human, which you would think would be good, but just wait. This is a human DNA double helix. You are the repair mechanisms for this DNA. And in a minute we're going to expose them to some radiation. And you're going to try and repair them. But we should get out of the way of the radiation because we're about irradiate this whole field. So come on. Follow me. Quick, let's get out the way. Come on, come, come, come. Let's go.

Now the rest of you, while we've cleared the areas, should prepare your radioactive particles. And so-- everyone ready?


OK. Three, two, one. Irradiate!



OK. Come on, come on. OK. There was a creative damaged there. And then there's a solar particle event. OK. So I think you might need some help with these. So we'll get some people on to help you. I hope you remember what they looked like before. Because I want you to build exactly the same DNA helix. So repairers, team tardigrade, are you ready?


Ah, wow.


Team human, are you ready?



They brought it. They brought their game. OK. Three, two, one. Repair! So right now they are trying to repair the damage that was done by your-- frankly, not very good at radiation. And they're trying to build the towers that existed beforehand. Now team tardigrade here doing all right, I suppose. And team human, they're nearly there. So team tardigrade-- basically, hurry up.

Are we nearly there?

Well done. All right. Well done, guys. All right.


Come and stand here.

Now that's it. Come and stand here. All right. Now let's see how you did. Now in a minute we're going to look at the screens and see before and after. OK. So-- OK. So right up on the screen, this is the human tower before and after. And you haven't done bad, actually. A silver row, and then the green row, and the blue row. And then-- hold on. Blue and green. Yellow and green. Oh, dear. And then it goes completely wrong.

And you really haven't done very well. That is not a good repair job, people. So, too quick, I think. OK. Let's have a look at team tardigrade before and after. So two silvers, two greens, two blues, two blues, two greens, two, yellows two-- you're perfect all the way up to the top. That's amazing. Well done. Team tardigrade wins.


But you did have a bit of help, didn't you? And not just from John. Because team tardigrade-- I'm sorry to tell you, team human, had a little guide to how to put their tower together. And you know what? That's the trick. That's how tardigrades do it. Tardigrades have a superior repair mechanism. So when they get hit by radiation, they can repair their DNA better, and much more effectively than humans. So tardigrades win, at least in a radiation field. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much. Go back to your seats. Thank you.


And radiation is a huge problem if you want to carry on journeying deeper and deeper into space. And particularly if you want to go to my favourite destination. And that is the planet Mars.

Now as far as we've ever been from Earth is the moon at 250,000 miles. That's about the distance that you can get a car to drive before the engine falls out the bottom. But Mars sits out there huge distances. It is the fourth planet from the Sun. To get there you need to travel for hundreds of millions of miles. The time for a mission to Mars is at the very least about a year and a half. And maybe up to three years. So you're talking about 1,000 days in space, which is crazy.

And then you start to think, well what am I going to pack? Well, packing for space is hard. And to help me show you that I am going to need a volunteer. . OK OK. All right. Let's have you.


Oh, come down. What is your name?




Ashta. Ashta, this is your suitcase. I've packed it for you. OK? For a weekend on Mars. All right? And this is pretty good. So what do you think you need for a weekend away?


Some clothes? Yeah. A space suit would be good. We'll start with a space. Well, let's-- so come around here. Just stand here. Perfect. So space suits. Well, space suits. We cac-- space clothes. Space clothes is close enough. So let's have some of that. All right.

So we've got some space clothes. OK. You're going to have two pairs of pants. It's a weekend. Let's get to pairs of pants. OK, I think they're in there. All right. So you've got clothes. What else do you need? You probably need to take some food, don't you? Yeah. So, Ashta, here's some food for you. Let's find the food in here. Yeah, here's your food. So we've got some space food for you. This is sausage casserole. You a fan of sausage casserole?

Bit of flour. And-- oh, what's that one there? A bit of toffee pudding. Toffee pudding. You up for that? OK. All right. And what else have we got? So you've got to take your water with you. Now if you were an adult astronaut, you need to take about three litres a day. So we'll get three litres of water out. So six litres for the whole day.

And it's not just your water, is that? You've got to take your oxygen. So here's some life support for you. All right. Let's just get about there. And it's not just your oxygen. You need a towel, don't you? To dry yourself off. This is a very nice towel, actually. Look. It's got a good message for people who are in space. All right. And what else would you want? Some reading material, Ashta.

Cuddly toys.


And a wash kit. And that is for two days in space. OK. So multiply that by 500 for 1,000 days in space. And multiply that by a crew of six, and we're in trouble aren't we? We'll never build a spaceship big enough. You're dropping it all, and I've packed that very carefully for you. We're not-- we're not ever getting into space like-- are we? No.

Ashta, we're going to have to think again. Thank you very much, Astha.


It's not going to work, is it? We can't pack like that from Mars. Because the spaceship would be so big we'd never get it off the ground, let alone get it hundreds of million miles into space. So how are you going to do it? And the answer is, you're going to get better at reusing everything. And I really, really, really mean everything.

Now for this next one I am going to need a volunteer. So-- Now this is a glass of my finest urine. So I need a volunteer to drink this urine.


OK. OK. Let's listen. When someone says, I need a volunteer to drink urine, you do not volunteer for that. OK? That's the most important lesson I'm going to give you today. There are hands is still up. Really it is not socially acceptable ever, ever to drink urine. OK? There's a reason you have kidneys. And that's because the stuff in your urine-- the stuff that your kidneys takes out, the potassium, the sodium, that urea, the creatinine, the phosphates. That 5% of the urine is really, really bad stuff, which is more you put it on the outside of you. OK?

So when someone says, do you want to drink my urine? You say, no. There is only one acceptable way to drink urine. And that is if you have some special treatment. OK? And so this is a special bag that recycles urine. OK? And what it does-- it's a bag within a bag. And I think I'm probably going to need another glass here. But there's a bag within a bag. And the bag inside is actually a semi-permeable membrane. And you put-- you pee into this red port here. The urine goes into the bag. And then the bag on the inside will allow water to go through, but not all the nasty stuff.

Now to encourage the water across, this green port you put a syrup. And the syrup has a very high osmotic pressure. Lots of molecules that draw the water across. And you get clean water with all the nasty stuff left outside. This, very helpfully, if you can see that there-- has a port that says dirty water in. Sports syrup in, clean drink out. So do not drink out of the red port.

This is one I made earlier because osmosis takes a while. And we're going to pour in here now. Now here's the thing, because you've got some syrup in there, it kind of looks a little bit like pea even after it's been reprocessed. And to be honest-- do you don't have a smell of that? It smells like--

Smells quite a lot like urine.

Yeah. So it smells quite a lot like pee. Do you want to smell?

So it looks a bit like pee. And it still smells a bit like pee. But this is perfectly safe to drink now because osmosis has treated it. And--


To be honest, it really does still taste like pee. All right.


Now Tim has a much better way of recycling his pee. He does recycle it up there. Tim Peake and his crew have a really quite cool mechanism which not only recycles their urine, but also their sweat, and the vapour they breathe out of their mouths. And they're recycling up to 98% of their body water. That's was really horrible. That stuff is just so horrible. That is how you recycle urine.

But what if you had a way of recycling water, that was also a way of recycling your atmosphere, that was also a source of food? And I have one of those right here on the shelf. It's calls a plant. And that's what you'd like to do. You'd like to take bunch of plants with you into space. But that turns out to be really, really hard because you're in a spaceship. And there's no natural light. And there's no soil because there's an infection risk from the soil. So how do you grow plants in space? I don't know. But I know a man who says he can.

And let's welcome Alistair from the Royal Horticultural Society.


Alistair, I'm just going to put this down. Now, what's this?

So this is a closed loop system that will feed us. Basically it produces the food for you to eat.

So this is grow your own space food. Is that right?

Yeah. Yeah.

And you can do something with that to make something that I would want to eat?

Yeah. Yeah. It would be a bit smaller, but yeah.

I'm not convinced but you tell me that I will be. So to show me I'm going to need a volunteer. All right. Let's have you. OK, good. All right.


What's your name?


Finley, you're going to go over here to Christian who's going to help you over there. Apparently you're going to put something together that we can grow over here in space, apparently. All right. Convince me of this, because I'm just not buying it. So what have we got?

This is a system that you can grow in space. How is that possible? We've got no sunlight in space.

So the light here, you've got red and blue lights. Now plants photosynthesize at the red and blue lights. So it optimises the amount of chlorophyll a and b in relation to efficiency. You also have some green lights in there. You've got a water system here which is a closed water system, because this is near zero gravity. Water would be floating out of this at the moment, which is why they're completely closed in those system.

And so this is a system that could be grown in space. And I think the guys who have tried to do that-- I think we got some video of that up here on the screen. So this is some weird space plants. What colour are those plants?

Yeah. So this is the veggie plant that are purple plants.

Why are they purple?

Well that's in relation to the anthocyanins that they have in it. So it's the chemistry within those. Anthocyanins, those are the things that make leaves turn a different colour in autumn.

That's right. Yeah.


And you can see that it's a collapsible system. So this is called a veggie system. And it will leap-- sort of come up.

And what plants have we got here? What have we got? I mean. I've heard of five a day. But this is ridiculous. What's this?

OK. So we've got rice here.


We've got wheat here.


We've got basil.


And we've got soya here.


And we've got tomato here. So there's a number of crops here that we would probably want to take up to space.

I could see how you could grow this all in space. But what food are you going to make with that?


Finley, what's going on? We're trying to grow space food here. And you're just mucking around in the kitchen. What's going on?

Hopefully a pizza.

Hopefully a-- you can make a pizza with all that. Oh, yeah. You can make cheese out of soy. Space pizza. Christian, let's see some space pizza in your special space age oven. Ladies and gentlemens, space pizza.


I think you need a bit more basil on there. Finley, come and grab some of this. And there you go. Go and sprinkle that on off of our hydroponic system. All right. Who's the hungriest camera man. It always looks like Joe. Joe. Let's feed Joe. Brilliant. All right. Let's make sure that Joe can-- you just carry on with that, job, while we go on to the programme. All right. OK.

Alistair, Finley, thank you so much. Great to see you. Thank you.


OK. So even if we master the art of bringing our life support with us in some sort of form that we can regenerate, we've still got some other problems. And that's part of the mission of Tim Peake's crew aboard the international space station. So let's go back to that emergency space walk that Tim's crew had to do at the start of his mission.

Astronaut Dan Tani is going to talk us through what is possibly the most dangerous thing that any astronauts ever has to do. Dan. why are they having to do this space walk? Because this wasn't expected. This wasn't in the plans for Tim. He was expecting to get up on to the space station almost immediately have to help supervise a space walk.

Absolutely. They were doing a routine move of the-- what's called the mobile transporter. And the mobile transporter is like this trolley that goes back and forth.

Yeah. We can see it.

Let's talk about that. And so they were doing a routine manoeuvre from one work state to another. And unexpectedly it got stuck. It had to released from one work site. And it got stuck between before it could get to the other work site. And they don't know why.

And that's a big deal, because they depend very heavily on that arm.

It's a very big deal because two of the supply ships that bring cargo to the space station-- the food, and the experiments, and sometimes oxygen, and critical things are grappled by that arm. And right now that arm is completely useless. It's not hooked up to the space station. And so they need to get that arm-- the mobile transporter locked into place so that the arm can be operated.

They're going out the lock there. I think their just going out for a walk

Yeah. Here they go. Yeah. If they are unsuccessful at performing this EVA, it will put a halt to everything on the space station. They have got to fix this mobile transporter. It's-- they cannot continue operating the space station with the mobile transporter in this position. This is a helmet camera. We can see their perspective of what they're doing.

I'm going to start heading that direction.

All right. Sounds good.

So they're navigating their way to their destination. And that's what they're doing now. Right? Hand over hand, working their way around this structure, out that air lock.


And out towards the seater cart-- this transporter we've been hearing about.

Right. The space station is so large. There are six there are labels out here with arrows that say airlock so that you know how to get home. We'll see those because the last thing you want is to be so disoriented, like I'm not sure where I'm going. And so we have basically how to get home arrows out there.

Is it easy to get lost on the outside of the space station?

It's very, surprisingly easy to lose your orientation, and not be sure. Am I on top? Am I on bottom? Am I behind? Especially if it's dark and all you see are a couple of hand rails.

Right. And that's a good point to make because right now they're in sunlight. So if they time the walk to start with an ISS sunrise and then about 45 minutes before the sun goes down again. And then this view will go dark and only be illuminated by their helmet lights.

And there are a few extra lights on the space station. Yes.

But let's have a listen to the downlink, if we can hear it.

Pedal on the starboard seater cart will initiate the release of the brake handle, which is believed on the starboard seater cart to be the suspect that is preventing the movement of the mobile transporter.

It's started moving forward now.

OK, we copy that.

So they are at their destination now

Yep. They're working it. What they want to do is make sure that the brake is the problem and there is no other problem.


OK. Copy that. Then you can go ahead and translate up to face one. And you're looking for hand rail 2323, which is in bay 02 for your green hook.

So that's a very specific instruction, isn't it? So just not the hand rail, a numbered hand rail. And telling him where he's going to find that. Now how useful is that information to you when you're walking?

Oh, it's real-- it's critical. What they're instructing him to do is go to that hand rail and take his safety tether and attach it to that rail. Because in the whole choreography, they don't want to cross their tethers, or get it caught up in anything else.

So right now, what? Tim Peake is still in vehicle. I guess he's probably monitoring their progress.

Oh, yeah. He's certainly monitoring what's going on, making sure that he understands where everybody is. But he has to be acutely aware of what's happening on the outside so that if anything happens he's ready to jump into action and receive them in the air lock again.

And it sounds like they might just be about to get this cart moving.

Done everything they need to do in this seater cart. And it sounds like they're given the go and getting out of the way so that the cart can move.

So they're going to get out of the way so that mission control can move that cart automatically from the ground. So there's an instruction going to be issued for mission control and get that cart moving. And we're gong to see in the next couple of minutes.

OK, I'm ready for motion whenever Tim and you guys are.

And I'm ready for motion, too, Scott.

OK, we're putting in the last command.

I see motion.

And we do see motion on the mobile transporter.

We see motion down here, as well. That's good.

I see it, as well.

It's inching towards it's destination. Very slowly.

OK guys. Good news. It appears to have reached the work site centre. So we go to continue.

It's a big success. They couldn't be happier with how things went on the space walk.


OK. I'm going to tell you to stop there for a second.


Right when you get to that bin.

OK. Will do.

That's taking a picture of Tim Kopra. That's what he's doing. He saw him. He saw that picture. So he's set up a picture, I'm sure.

All right. So enough time for selfies. Yeah.

Right. Yeah. Yeah.

I think they're doing pretty well. That is remarkable. So the crews have gone out the airlock. They've got onto the bit of the space station that was broken, They have got that break off. They've moved into place. Tiny fingers crossed to make sure that couples into the power so they can move it again. And--

But I think that they have literally saved this mission. I think that's a around of applause.

I believe they have.


So exciting stuff. Only 15 people have ever flown for more than 200 consecutive days in space. Two of them are in orbit right now. One of them is Scott Kelly, the guy on the right i this picture. And he's trying to work out the effects of space on the human body to prepare us for that next great leap into space. And he's pretty good in space. You can see he's very comfortable. He's all there. But he is still trying to find out how to survive for longer and longer. That's the goal of this one year mission.

Now right there you can see them on the space gym. He has to spend a couple of hours a day on that just to preserve his muscles and his bone, and trying to preserve his heart. Because otherwise he comes back like a big, fat couch potato. And the problems that you have because of weightlessness you can avoid if you do with gravity what we do with our light, our heat, now sources of power, our drink, and our food. And that is take gravity with you. Now that's not a sci-fi as it sounds. That's easier said than done.

All you need to do is to make use of a bit of circular motion, a bit of centripetal acceleration, and a bit of centrifugal force. We've got four astronauts on this mission. Are you nervous? No? You really, really should be. This didn't go well in rehearsals. Here we go. OK. There we go on our space mission mission. Oh my gosh. OK. Oh!



So that was another partial success, I think. But you get the point. If you can spin something fast enough and hard enough, you can create-- it's no artificial gravity, really, actually. This is acceleration. The acceleration and gravity, Einstein told us, are equivalent. So this is gravity, really, in a sense when we spin the vehicle.

But here's the problem. To get a lot of gravity if your circle is small, you need to spin very, very fast. And the only way of producing adequate gravity and not spinning fast, And not making yourself horribly, horribly dizzy. Is to spin something big.

Now bizarrely NASA have done those experiments. We look up on the screen. We can see some experiments. And when we get this mess cleaned up, we can see some-- I think this is from the 1960s. This is NASA trying to work out how big a radius, and how fast you can spin people, to get them to tolerate rotational vehicles so that you can create artificial gravity. Now this guy's been suspended by the crane above him on his side. And he's walking around this rotating structure. And what they found when they did lots of these experiments is that everyone gets dizzy at a point.

But some people-- there are some rates of rotation that everyone can manage to cope with. And that rate of rotation is four revolutions per minute. No matter how bad you are on a fairground ride, after a certain amount of time you can all manage four revolutions per minute. OK. So if that's your limiting factor, if you have to spin the vehicle at four revolutions per minute, and you want to make one g of load in that vehicle, then how big does your vehicle need to be? And I'm going to save you the maths here. Because the answer is a vehicle with a rotating radius of about 62.5 metres.

Now how big is that? It is actually exactly the same sizs-- almost exactly the same size as the London Eye. Now who's ever ridden in the London Eye? OK. It does not go around four times a minute. If you're on it and it goes around four times a minute, try and get off. Because it's going wrong.

But we can make it turn at four revolutions a minute. And that's what it looks like going around at four revolutions per minutes. All the people on it that day wanted their money back. But if this was your space vehicle going through space turning at that sort of rate, then the people in the pods wouldn't be standing on the floors. They'd be on the edges being able to stand up, because there'd be one g of load. One g is the force of gravity we have here on Earth. That's great.

But that London Eye is as big across as the space station is long. And it takes a lot of effort to build that. Took 15 years to build space station. And sending vehicles like that to Mars is a huge, huge engineering challenge. So what other option do you have?

Well when I worked with NASA in 2007, I was part of an experiment to answer that question. And we thought, what if you could get a centrifuge that you could fit inside an ordinary vehicle? So inside a module that looks rather like that. So as big as that you could send up into space on an ordinary rocket. And you could spin something quite fast to generate artificial gravity.

And you can do that. You can get a centrifuge that would almost fit on the floor here. And I think we've come up with some footage of that. This is the short radius centrifuge in Houston. That is my former mentor at NASA, now the director for-- life sciences director at the Johnson Space Centre. He's got his eyes closed because I don't think he really likes being on it very much.

Now you say, that's going to be rubbish flying to Mars spinning on that all day. But here's the kicker. You don't have to spin on it all day. If you spin really fast, if you spin fast enough to give you more than one g of load, then you can give gravity like you would give the dose of a drug. And you can take that gravity dose twice a day for one hour in the morning, and on hour in the afternoon. And that is enough to provide quite a lot of protection.

The absence of gravity which has been your enemy all along isn't a problem. Actually when gravity returns. It is your enemy. And to get safely onto the surface of Mars, you need to be able to stop. And there's one thing that rocket scientists will tell you. And that is that the hardest two things in all of rocket science are starting and stopping again

And so what I thought we should bring on an expert in stopping when you get to Mars. So it's my great, great pleasure to welcome our very special guest. An engineer from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena and one of the lead engineers on the Mars Curiosity Rover, Doctor Anita Sengupta.


Now, Anita-- come and give us a hand here. You got-- yeah, you two. Come give us a hand. Stretch this out. What have you got here?

This is a diskette band parachute. And it's specially used on Mars. And the reason for that is on Mars when you enter the atmosphere, you're coming in at very, very fast speeds. And specifically, when you deploy the parachute you're coming in at supersonic speeds. And do as a result--

I'm experiencing all sorts of dynamic instabilities here.

So it's a little bit twisted there.

Have we got a working version of this?

We do, actually. So we have one which is a sub-scale version that represents about 3% of the scale that we used on Mars, which we can show you now.

OK. All right. So we're going to count in/ And then we're going to release the parachute. OK. Ready everyone together. Three, two, one.

And there it goes.



So that is very impressive.

It is. And it's very lightweight. And so what's so unique about these paraphrases is they weigh almost nothing, but they're incredibly strong. And so for reference, the parachute that we use for Curiosity, it weighed only about 100 pounds. But it actually had to withstand a total load on it of about 65,000 pounds of force.

Well, I love that. And it's a very interesting design. But I still don't get what's the fuss with stopping at Mars. We stop at Earth all the time. You've got some video here, actually, of what it was like to stop at Mars. You were one of the lead engineers for this, the Mars Curiosity Rover, which was fantastic. This is the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. This thing coming into Mars atmosphere. Tell us what's happening.

So at this point we're at hypersonic flow. We've slowed down to around 1,000 miles an hour. And then the parachute deploys at mach two, two times the speed of sound. Around 100 miles an hour. It continues to slow down to subsonic speeds. At that point it's actually reached terminal velocity. So you can't go any slower. So you basically cut the parachute away. Then the Rover is in free fall descending towards the surface.

At this point it turns on a total of eight main landing engines. Eight rockets firing towards the ground to slow it down even further. And so it gets it down to around 200 miles an hour. As you approach the surface, we start something very unique, which is called the sky crane manoeuvre. This is the first time we've ever done this on Mars. What we do is we start to lower the Rover on a series of three tethers. And the reason why we do this is we actually make the Rover the actual landing platform. And it allows us to have those big, powerful engines firing towards the ground, but a safer distance away from the Rover, and away from the surface.

Those three tether is then cut away. That little rocket ship flies off 45 degrees to the side, crash lands. Its mission is over. And now the Rover is safely on the surface of Mars.

Wow. That's amazing.


That is hands down the coolest landing I have ever seen. But this parachute, why does it have the gap?

It has the gap because it's experiences something called a supersonic instability. So what you saw as it descended towards the ceiling was actually in subsonic flow. So in subsonic flow the parachute is relatively stable. But in supersonic flow things look entirely different. And so we have a video that we can show you which actually has the parachute deploying at 2.7 mach, which is almost three times the speed of sound. And what you can see is that it collapses and inflates like a jellyfish.

And so we don't want to do that. But unfortunately on Mars that's what it does. And when that happens, you can actually cause the parachute to produce less aerodynamic drag, which is what slows you down. It could actually damage the parachute and make it fall apart. And so we're really concerned about this with the Curiosity Rover because it was the largest parachute we'd ever built. And it also was deploying at the highest mach number that we've ever deployed at

That is incredible. So the gap allows it not to fall apart as it opens. This is absolutely fantastic. Anita I'm going to give your a parachute back, because I think you might want to use it again. Anita Sangupta, everybody.

Thank you.


So we can get there in one piece. We can stop using one of Anita's incredible systems. And then we're there. And up on the screen now you can see a picture of one of the places in Mars that I would like to visit. This is the very beautiful dappled centre of Victoria Crater. That crater-- it's a real picture, is 780 metres across. It's been visited by the automatic rovers that have been really the pathfinder missions for our future human exploration. And we've peered into that crater.

In its walls are sedimentary rocks, layers and layers of rock that tell us about the history of Mars. There is still so much left to explore. But we remain confident. So much so that we've begun to think about the way we would get home from Mars.

Now there's a way of lightening your packing load here by using what you've got all around you on Mars. And that's carbon dioxide. Mars' atmosphere is about 99% carbon dioxide. And you can use that. It brings you some very important things, carbon and oxygen. And if you bring a little bit of hydrogen along with you-- and it turns out that's quite easy to do. Then you can make some useful materials with something called a sabatier reaction.

Now in a sabatier reaction you combine hydrogen and carbon dioxide. And the product is methane and oxygen. And that is enough to make some rocket fuel. Now you don't usually think of methane as being something that can propel people and objects into space. So I'm going to show you.

Andy. Goggle time. And I think front row goggle time. Good All right.

I know you think of methane as being a bit of a comedy gas that cow farts out. But actually it can propel rockets, Now Andy's going to like this one. Because there's a trick to it. And he says it has a more-- he technically described earlier on as a more flame-y flame. So-- this is methane.



We are on our way home. And there's just time for Tim to say a final goodbye.

So it's been great talking to everybody at the Royal Institute Christmas Lectures from the International Space Station. I'm sorry I couldn't be with you in person. But I certainly think that I've got the most privileged position to be here on board at the moment and looking down on the beautiful planet Earth. So to everybody back there, goodbye.

Thank you all for sharing in Tim's adventure. But what you've seen here has been the adventure of our lives. These are the people who make not just Tim's mission happen, but all of science happen. This has been our adventure. And it will be yours, and yours, and yours, and yours, and yours. This is the adventure of your generation. And it's time you started it.

Thank you.



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