Occupying Space: Our Quest to Mars

What happens when humans begin to inhabit space? In this episode, we’re taking the giant, multifaceted concept of space and bringing it down to a human level. Our guests are Kay Radzik and Chris Carberry. Chris co-founded and runs Explore Mars, an organization whose mission works toward landing humans on the surface of Mars within the next two decades. Kay is an architect here on Earth, on the Steering Committee for the Mars Society, and was one of the Mars 100 selected as part of the Mars One mission. We explore the work being done to get people to Mars, the impacts it could have here on Earth, and how human factors, public perception, and policy influence our quest for the red planet.

Want to learn more? Here’s Explore Mars’ 2018 Humans to Mars Report.

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Experience This Podcast is created and produced by Action! by Design. Action! by Design is a citizen-centered design company that helps people build better products, launch impactful campaigns, and elevate their brand.

The show is hosted by Joshua Croke and produced by Mariel Cariker.

Episode Transcription

KAY RADZIK: It would not make sense to not, push the interplanetary settlement agenda only good comes out of an endeavor like that. We only learn when we push ourselves.

JOSHUA CROKE: To many, outer space is this fascinating mystery and something that seems just out of reach. In this first episode, we’re looking big picture: humans in space. How do our lives and experiences change when space is an option as a place to settle — especially if going to another planet means you can never come back to your home on Earth.

This is Experience This Podcast, I’m Joshua Croke.

KAY RADZIK: This is a really cool story, and it really changed my life. I mean, I had never experienced what it’s like to be this little spec in the cosmos.

JOSHUA CROKE: This is Kay Radzik. She’s telling a story of a time she traveled to Nauru in Micronesia.

KAY RADZIK: I was so poor, I couldn’t afford a hotel, so I just slept on the beach. And so that first night I walked out there, and it’s so dark out there, it is so freakishly dark, and there are so many stars, you can actually see the milky way.

JOSHUA CROKE: Kay is an architect living in Reno, Nevada.

KAY RADZIK: And I’m noticing that I can actually see the stars move. And I felt like I was looking through like the windshield of this big vehicle, traveling through space.

JOSHUA CROKE: Kay is also a member of a group looking to travel to Mars, settle on the planet... and never return home to Earth.

KAY RADZIK: And it was such a moment for me because it really made me feel like I was really traveling in space, which, if you look at it, that’s what we are. We’re on a round, orb shaped, spacecraft. And I was just like, “Oh my gosh. I have to travel to the stars.”

JOSHUA CROKE: Kay is a member of the Mars 100, a group of people interested in traveling to Mars, chosen by the Mars One mission. Mars One captured the attention of the world when it released its initial plans in 2012 to create a permanent settlement on Mars. According to the organization, over two-hundred thousand people from around the world applied to be part of this mission. Kay was chosen as part of the final 100 people, with the goal of selecting a final 24 to take part in an extensive training program to go to Mars. The astronauts would train and travel to Mars in groups of four.

KAY RADZIK: Humans have always lived in small groups and I look at those who have shown an interest, 200,000 people have shown an interest. The one thing we have in common, all of us, is the fact that we’re, you know, curious by nature, but we’re adaptable.

JOSHUA CROKE: As part of Mars One’s plans, the settlers would spend their days on Mars helping to construct and grow the settlement, maintain the technological systems on the planet for longevity, and research if there is life on Mars. Kay says her role as an architect and her interests fit in perfectly with the mindset and skills needed to live on Mars.

KAY RADZIK: I am the project architect for a design build construction company honestly I really found a good niche there because I really like making things. Call myself a placemaker and I’ve always been into the more hands-on aspect of the building industry. I love getting my elbows deep and getting down and dirty and building things, so when the opportunity came to work for the construction company I jumped on it. I feel at home just making things get built.

JOSHUA CROKE: While Kay is excited about the possibility of being one of the first people to live on Mars, she says if she went, she would miss parts of her life on Earth. While Mars One says the settlers would have leisure time where they can do “most of the indoor activities that people can do on Earth,” like reading, writing, and painting, Kay says she’ll miss some of her hobbies that wouldn’t be able to come with her.

KAY RADZIK: I play the guitar and I sing, so somebody’s gotta, you know, invent a space guitar, something really small and light because you know we have to make you know, weight choices.

JOSHUA CROKE: For many people, the biggest sacrifice of a one-way mission would be leaving behind loved ones. Kay says she’ll miss her family — her parents and sisters — plus her adopted family.

KAY RADZIK: I’m going to miss dogs. I love my dogs. They’re good girls, I have two border collies and they’re my BFFS.

JOSHUA CROKE: But Kay says she’s ready to take the leap, and despite what she’d miss on Earth, she’s ready to move on and make history.

KAY RADZIK: The initial settlers are like the pioneers. And those who follow them are going to need those initial settlers as a resource to learn how to live there.

JOSHUA CROKE: In February 2019, news went public that Mars One Ventures, the business entity behind Mars One, declared bankruptcy. When we had this conversation with Kay in January 2019, the Mars One mission was still on, despite some cracks in the foundation. In 2014, MIT declared the mission technically infeasible. The first launch date kept being pushed back, originally from 2024, to 2026, and then to 2031. We did contact Mars One about an interview for this episode, but they declined to speak to us. As we were thinking about human settlement on Mars, we started discussing other issues and challenges that must be considered surrounding this type of mission, and the many different people and organizations working to address those challenges.

CHRIS CARBERRY: I’d always been interested in space, but when I was in college and early in my career I didn’t think there was a way for me to contribute to the space community.

JOSHUA CROKE: This is Chris Carberry, Executive Director and Co-Founder of Explore Mars.

CHRIS CARBERRY: Over time, I started getting back interested, started reading books on space exploration as well and realized that, particularly in the mid to late 90s, that while we had plenty of great engineers and scientists, the thing that’s been holding us back primarily has been policy.

JOSHUA CROKE: Explore Mars is a non-profit focused on space policy and the steps required to get humans to Mars. They also run the Humans to Mars Summit, the biggest conference in the world focused on the future challenges and progress of human exploration of Mars. Chris says a mission to Mars is still very much on the table for the future of space exploration — although it’s taken more time than some people originally thought.

CHRIS CARBERRY: Back in the early 2000s people were saying, oh we’re going to have thousands of people in space by 2010, there will be space hotels etc. Well, it turned out to be much more challenging than everybody anticipated. Shockingly.

JOSHUA CROKE: We did ask Chris about Mars One, and while he says he didn't see that specific mission leading the way to Mars, Mars One did play a role in generating support and showing public interest in space exploration.

CHRIS CARBERRY: I think they served a very important role in building excitement, generating interest.

JOSHUA CROKE: Kay believes that people who want to settle in space have to be “mini-magivers,” and to be interested in this type of life-changing journey, one must be adaptable, compassionate and forward-thinking. She says the coolest part of a Mars One-type mission, is not just that she would get to train and go, but that she could help pave the path for a new way of life.

KAY RADZIK: I will also be teaching others to follow me. That is the main thing that I really enjoy about this whole mission, is that you’re not just going, you are training people to follow you.

JOSHUA CROKE: The concept of leaving Earth and never coming back can be frightening, but Kay doesn't let it get to her. In fact, it's actually part of what drew her to this mission in the first place.

KAY RADZIK: You know, it kind of all made sense to me because, one, it’s never been done. Two, the only way to make it affordable is to be one way. To me it’s an accepted part of discovery and exploration.

JOSHUA CROKE: So we asked Chris, why do you think people would agree to go on a one way mission, and never return? Chris says those who want to go to Mars have a similar curiosity and goals as early settlers to different continents on Earth.

CHRIS CARBERRY: They want to do something larger than themselves. They want to be able to have this type of exciting life, to push the boundaries, be part of that and make their lives into something bigger than it is here on Earth.

JOSHUA CROKE: But Chris is skeptical of these one way missions, which have not just been proposed by Mars One, but also by SpaceX, the private space transportation company founded by Elon Musk. Chris says before humans can make one way missions, much more research has to be done.

CHRIS CARBERRY: We don’t even know if we can live on Mars. I’m pretty sure we can, but we need to be able to send people there to do the basic testing first, can we plant things on Mars? Can we really extract the resources? Is there anything else in the environment that’s going to kill us?

JOSHUA CROKE: When it comes to inhabiting a new planet, people are understandably curious. There are a lot of considerations and decisions to be made on top of just determining how to support basic survival. Some of the questions on the Mars One FAQ included: “What governmental system and social structure will be implemented on Mars?” And “What’s Mars One’s view regarding religion on Mars?” Even though these questions sound like something out of science fiction, Chris says these questions, and many, many others, need to be answered.

CHRIS CARBERRY: How do we prevent ourselves from contaminating another planet or contaminating life on another planet like Mars? Or backwards contamination, if there’s life on Mars, microbial, how do we prevent it from coming back with us and potentially becoming an invasive species or something. Or worse.

JOSHUA CROKE: While the Mars One mission may not be making its journey by 2031, similar missions with the eventual goal of inhabiting the solar system don’t seem to be too far off. Kay says she’s fascinated by the idea of resource utilization in space and how to live on limited means.

KAY RADZIK: I think that there is so much we can learn by living in a closed-loop environment that I think it, it would open up doors to saving the planet because if we live within our means, we can show that we don’t have to rape, pillage, and plunder our Earth environment in order to survive and grow as a species. If anything, if we never get to the planets, at least we can learn to live within our means, and I think that’s a really cool and exciting thing.

JOSHUA CROKE: Kay grows a lot of her own food here on Earth and says, if she were to go to Mars, she would miss her garden. But she believes that these hobbies and passions are what will motivate early settlers to make these important advances that pave a path forward for future generations.

KAY RADZIK: On the first settlement, I don’t think a working greenhouse is going to to be up and running for a long time. So I think it’s really important to keep that into perspective and to realize that it’s not going to be this lush outpost So I’ve come to accept that, you know, the freeze-dried stuff is going to be something that I have no problem with. It’ll just make the work to get a greenhouse up and running much quicker.

JOSHUA CROKE: Chris says people can help space exploration in areas totally outside of launching activities that include learning how to grow food in space. And, a lot of those innovations could benefit the little blue planet we call home.

CHRIS CARBERRY: We’re going to need to learn how to grow food efficiently on Mars or on the moon or anywhere else. So, what methods might we use on Mars that could grow efficient crops and what in these processes we develop — how can these benefit earth? Many of the pieces along the way, if you pick small pieces of, whether it be, the life support systems, agriculture, many other things, you can see definite markets here on Earth and definite benefits here on earth as well.

JOSHUA CROKE: So, would it benefit society to establish a vision to Mars for emerging generations that could not only help us with the goal of settlement on the red planet but also with the education of our youth? Introducing a "Humans to Mars" curriculum in the classroom could provide exciting, project-based learning pathways across disciplines. For example, agriculture includes biology as well as economics and other specialties. STEM studies such as engineering and manufacturing can help students answer questions like, how do you build agricultural systems on a Martian surface? Through project-based learning, students all over the world can learn about space right in their classrooms in real-world, rather, real-planetary, terms. Already, there are schools who have students building their own cubesats, which are miniature satellites in Earth’s low orbit used for research. Chris says he’s really excited about the opportunities these programs provide for young people, and how citizen-science positively impacts space research.

CHRIS CARBERRY: When I was in high school we never would’ve dreamed to have been able to have our space program, but now with cubesats and other programs like that anybody, you know, even high school students and middle school students and others can participate.

JOSHUA CROKE: By establishing space-forward education on Earth, who’s to say that this type of education can’t evolve into interplanetary education when humans settle on Mars?

KAY RADZIK: In the broad picture you have to remember that space is so big, it is so big, that the constellations we see on Earth are pretty much the same on Mars. That’s how big space is. It’d be really, really cool to have schools on Mars where humans can learn concurrently with students on Earth about the cosmos, because they’re going to be looking at the same stars and the same sun, just from a different point of view. But the learning and the growth will be the same.

JOSHUA CROKE: As we talk about education, it's also important to look at how the public's perception and understanding of these missions has an impact on their execution. Does the science and feasibility of these missions align with what most people think? How does public perception influence resource allocation and funding for this work? Explore Mars conducted a poll in 2013 to see how the public viewed space exploration on Mars. The first question in the poll was, “What percentage of the federal budget do you think NASA takes up?” The poll provided a sliding scale between zero and six percent.

CHRIS CARBERRY: The average answer was 2.5 percent of the federal budget. Then we told them, it was less than half of one percent of the federal budget.  

JOSHUA CROKE: Chris says this misinformation, as well as some of the hesitation he hears from the public about funding space travel, comes from the idea that government money spent on space exploration could be better spent solving other important issues.

CHRIS CARBERRY: People tend to think, “Oh well, I love space exploration but if I have to decide between social security and Mars or feeding the poor or Mars. I don’t know if I can justifiably support Mars.”

JOSHUA CROKE: According to Chris, space exploration won’t put the US in debt, or take away from other important government resources. In fact, he says space exploration will actually help the economy.

CHRIS CARBERRY: I think it’s clear that when you have a strong goal, when the country, particularly in the United States, we know we have this ambitious goal, that translates throughout the economy and our national morale. And that really does impact the economy. And when you’re also investing in these technologies that not only impacts these businesses but it trickles down.

JOSHUA CROKE: Chris says he wants to help raise positive public perception for human missions to Mars by dispelling the “trillion dollar myth,” an idea that’s floated around for years that a mission to Mars would cost a trillion dollars.

CHRIS CARBERRY: We haven’t come close to spending a trillion dollars on NASA from 1958, in its founding, up to present.

JOSHUA CROKE: Explore Mars delivers a Humans to Mars report to every member of congress annually — a snapshot of where the industry is each year in mission architecture design, science, policy, public perception and human factors. Chris says they release this report because even policy makers or people in the space community are often uninformed and make decisions based on poor intel.

CHRIS CARBERRY: We realized we needed a report, a short one, that’s easy to go through that policy makers and stakeholders can take a look at and say, “Oh, this is what has happened in the last year with regards to mission architecture design. Oh, these are the most important science updates.” So we try to give that snapshot across the board to give everybody a really strong perspective.

JOSHUA CROKE: Kay says she views space travel and settlement as the logical next phase for humanity.

KAY RADZIK: It would not make sense to not push the interplanetary settlement agenda. Only good comes out of an endeavour like that. We only learn when we push ourselves. If we remain on this planet we will get complacent, and stagnant. And I think we as a species really need to break out, because we’re just going to implode by not allowing ourselves to reach out.

JOSHUA CROKE: Despite questions of funding, and perception, and feasibility, Chris is very hopeful that all this research could lead to humans traveling to Mars sometime in the next 10 to 20 years.

CHRIS CARBERRY: I really hope this will be the future, where you will have these one way missions and they won’t be any less pioneers, they just won’t be the first on the surface of mars.

JOSHUA CROKE: Mars One or not, Kay is a committed advocate for humans on Mars. She’s on the steering committee for the Mars Society; a volunteer-driven space-advocacy non-profit, focused on the human exploration and settlement on Mars. She’s on the management team of the Mars Desert Research Station, a facility in Utah that simulates conditions on Mars so scientists can do field studies and human factors research here on Earth. In June 2019, she’ll judge the Mars Society University Rover Challenge, which asks students to build and design the next generation of Mars rovers. Hearing from Chris and Kay raised this question for me: Could these goals of inhabiting space bring us closer together as a global community, and ultimately impact our ability to solve the challenges of our world by looking outside it?

JOSHUA CROKE: Like Chris, Kay is optimistic of space travel in our future, and the benefits this travel could bring to Earth. She says we can learn from our past to make the best of this new world.

KAY RADZIK: We also have the benefit of learning from our history and starting fresh, and going back in time where we only had rocks and caves  and limited resources. So I look at this whole endeavour of reaching out and settling on other planets as an exciting phase of humanity.

JOSHUA CROKE: Experience This Podcast is created and produced by Action! by Design. Action! by Design is a citizen-centered design company that helps people build better products, launch impactful campaigns, and elevate their brand. The show is hosted by me, Joshua Croke, founder of Action! By Design. Our producer is Mariel Cariker. Additional mixing by Giuliano D’Orazio. Music for this episode was created by Rob Flax. Special thanks to Jon Morse, Allie Richards and Dylan Horn. You can find us on social media at x-p this pod. And to learn more about our organization, and about the podcast, including fun facts about things like the meaning behind our show artwork, visit our website at action by design dot co. If you want to read more of Explore Mars’ research, a link to the 2018 Humans to Mars report is in our show notes. If you liked this episode, please consider leaving a review and telling your friends because it really helps the show. We also released our second episode of the season, part one of a two-part series about power and perception in society. Part two is coming next week. Thanks so much for listening.

KAY RADZIK: I liked Intersteller because of the music. It was very heartswell. You know, Hans Zimmer, you can’t say no to him. I love all space movies. Guardians of the Galaxy? Come on. How can you not like that? I mean really?