The Matrix: MEME 3.04

MEME 3.04

In this issue of MEME:

"I think that what you are seeing is the transformation of the space program, form a program that worked on the sprint to one that is going on the marathon."

--Dan Goldin, in MEME 3.04

An exclusive interview with Dan Goldin, NASA Director

A few weeks ago, I spoke with Dan Goldin, NASA's Director. Under Mr. Goldin's term, NASA has seen an extraordinary turn in its fortunes, from a bloated, strangely antiquated organization, to a nimble, provocative institution, an institution which, as Mr. Goldin is known for saying, now follows a "faster, better, cheaper" mantra. We may not realize this, but space travel is poised to enter a new period-- one of long duration space missions, where voyages are measured in months and years, rather than days and weeks. In this new climate, of permanently inhabited space stations and possible missions to Mars, the way NASA works as an agency is bound to change-- from a place where people are trained to go on "camping trips" in space, to a place where people "live" in space. What does that mean, to "live" in space? And how can human beings be prepared for the isolation, stress, and confinement of living away from Earth for long periods of time? These used to be academic questions, but Mr. Goldin's recent successes with steering NASA towards a series of cheap probes to Mars has opened the door to the next question: can NASA do it with people? Can they get us to the Red Planet "faster, better, cheaper"? That's the subject of this interview. Without further delay, let's begin.

David Bennahum: Thanks for taking the time to speak with me today Mr. Goldin. I've been hearing a lot more, lately, about how NASA might send people to Mars, sometime in the early part of the next century. The trip is supposed to take three years-- six months going out, 400 days on the Martian surface, and six months coming home. That's going to put the crew under enormous psychological stress. They will be isolated and on their own, in a hostile environment, with no hope of a quick return to Earth if something goes wrong. So I am interested in the human aspects of going to Mars-- how the ship you would design and the crew you would select might be very different from the traditional kinds of missions we've flown until now. I also want to know how serious NASA is, or isn't, about going to Mars, and trying to put that in perspective in terms of the research that you're doing now. Is this going to Mars something that's really part of a plan? Is there a plan to go to Mars? Or is this research on long-term space flight just something that is happening, and it may or may not lead to someone going to Mars eventually?

Dan Goldin: I got it. A lot of the questions you are asking are going to get answered on the International Space Station. And Mir. Just to digress for a moment, we have learned a tremendous amount from Mir, and one of the things that is very clear is that we better do a better job on the psychological health of the astronauts. So the stresses that build up on Tsybleyev-- you know when he got