NASA chief technologist: 'Our destiny lies among the planets of our solar system'

Mason Peck discusses obstacles to Mars missions, warp drives and deadly asteroids

Image credit: Flickr/FLYINGSINGER

Mason Peck, NASA's chief technologist, chatted online Monday as part of Reddit's popular "Ask Me Anything" thread series. It's a long and interesting conversation, but if you're pressed for time, I've excerpted some highlights below: On the biggest technological obstacle to a manned Mars mission "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." On whether "warp drives" will become reality "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." On whether humans will ever be capable of interstellar travel "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." On the "next big thing" in space technology "I'm very excited by the prospect of citizen space, that is, individuals building their own space technology and launching it. Some incredible innovations come from the do-it-yourself or maker community, and I expect the renaissance in technology that makers represent will have a big impact on NASA's future. "NASA has many compelling technology projects underway. One of the more promising is inflatable aerodynamic decelerators, which will slow down spacecraft entering Mars atmosphere and will allow us to land twice as much mass as we are currently able." Our chances of long-term survival "I think our destiny lies among the planets of our solar system." On how other countries can help protect Earth from deadly asteroids "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." A global effort? Working with other nations? Does Alex Jones know about this sinister plot to enslave us all? Now read this:

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