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Enabling Sustainable Planetary Surface Exploration

11/20/2012 11:59:00 PM

I had the distinct privilege of participating in the 2012 PISCES Forum last week on the Island of Hawaii.  Like the 2011 and 2010 meetings that I attended, this year's gathering focused on developing a research park in Hawaii devoted to planetary analog research in the context of sustainable space exploration.

Dr. Buzz Aldrin was among the delegates participating in this year's PISCES conference, where he gave a keynote presentation on colonizing Mars through a sustainable strategy based upon Aldrin cyclers. With only about 50 people at the conference, there were many opportunities to interact with him closely. We spoke about how his father contributed to the early days of rocketry, what architecture is best suited for establishing a permanent Mars settlement, and what it takes to be an astronaut. He encouraged me to keep pursuing my goal of being an astronaut. Having met Neil Armstrong earlier this year, I am profoundly humbled to have met both Apollo 11 moonwalkers.

Sharing some aloha spirit with astronaut Buzz Aldrin at the 2012 PISCES Forum.

For space exploration beyond low earth orbit to be economically viable, we must learn to utilize the abundant resources that exist on other planetary bodies. For example, by mining water on the Moon, we can extract not only oxygen and water for life support but also rocket fuel to enable deep space refueling. By processing regolith and using advanced construction techniques, we can construct necessary infrastructure like concrete and solar panels from local materials. The less mass we have to lift off the Earth, the cheaper space travel can become.

All of this takes research, development, and testing of robotic technologies in environments on Earth analogous to those found in space. Given its unique geology, geography, and climate, Hawaii offers one of the most ideal settings for this type of work. The very technologies we need to survive in space to ensure we have water, food, air, energy, radiation protection, and waste recovery are the very same technologies that can help us mitigate growing problems here on Earth. As the world's most isolated island group, Hawaii is keenly sensitive to these issues and needs to achieve greater self sufficiency using local resources. Thus, planetary analog work has direct application and benefit to Hawaii as well.

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Location: Waikoloa, Waikoloa Village, HI 96738, USA

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