This Week in Space 98 Transcript

Please be advised this transcript is AI-generated and may not be word for word. Time codes refer to the approximate times in the ad-supported version of the show.

00:00 - Rod Pyle (Host)
On this episode of this Week in Space, we talk to NASA Deputy Administrator, pam Melroy about her career at NASA, her time as an astronaut, the delays to the Artemis Lunar Landing Program and much more. Join us. This is this Week in Space, episode number 98, recorded on February 16th 2024. Inside NASA, with Pam Melroy. This episode of this Week in Space is brought to you by RocketMoney. If I asked you how many subscriptions you have, would you be able to list them all and how much you're paying for them? If you would have asked me this question before I started using RocketMoney, I would have said yes, but let me tell you I would have been so wrong. You've heard Leo Laporte talk about using RocketMoney. He made a political donation. It meant it to be a one-time thing, but it turned out it was a recurring charge. But he wouldn't have known about it without RocketMoney.

RocketMoney is a personal finance app that finds and cancels your unwanted subscriptions, monitors your spending and helps lower your bills. RocketMoney has more than 5 million users and has helped save its members an average of $720 a year, with more than $500 million in canceled subscriptions. You can see all of your subscriptions in one place and if you see something you don't want. You can cancel it with a single tap. You never have to get on the phone with customer service. Stop wasting money on things you don't use. Cancel your unwanted subscriptions by going to That's Hello and welcome to another episode this week in space the From the Heights of Space to the Top Brass of NASA edition. I'm Rod Pyle, editor-in-chief of Ad Astra Magazine. It's my enduring pleasure to be joined, as always, by the inexorable Tarek Malik, editor-in-chief of spacecom. How are you, pal?

01:55 - Tariq Malik (Host)
I'm doing well, doing well. Excited about today's episode, very excited about our episode yeah, me too.

01:59 - Rod Pyle (Host)
Because today we're going to be joined by NASA Deputy Administrator, pam Melroy, which is a real treat. Now, pam did join us briefly a few episodes back with a quick photo bomb, but this will actually be a full sit-down interview and we're just quivering in our captain's chairs.

02:16 - Tariq Malik (Host)
Colonel. Colonel US Air Force Colonel retired Pam Melroy, space Shuttle Commander.

02:21 - Pam Melroy (Guest)
Well, I was getting there.

02:23 - Tariq Malik (Host)
Very exciting stuff.

02:25 - Pam Melroy (Guest)
So I'm just sorry. I'm excited Pam.

02:26 - Rod Pyle (Host)
Melroy has a long history involvement in aviation, starting with the Air Force in the 1980s, including 200 combat flying hours. In 1994, she was selected as an astronaut, piloting two Space Shuttle missions and commanding a third, and was sent to the construction of the International Space Station. She became Deputy Administrator of NASA which is truly scaling the heights in 2020 and remains in that slot today, and she'll be with us in just a few minutes. But a reminder first Twit needs your help. We want to keep our show in the air and Twit available to all. You can help for just $7 a month by joining Club Twit. We'd really appreciate it and we'll always do our best for you to say thank you. And now it's time for my trademark dad's space joke. They're never bad. Never so, tarek. Yes, rod. Why couldn't the astronaut book a room on the moon? Why?

03:20 - Tariq Malik (Host)
Why? I need to know, Because it was full. Of course I love it. Okay, I think the full moon's coming up too pretty, let's try another one.

03:29 - Rod Pyle (Host)
It's kind of a lame one. Hey, tarek, yes, rod, why don't astronauts use Tinder? Why not? Because matches just don't work in space.

03:40 - Tariq Malik (Host)
That's good, that's actually better. Huh, yeah, yeah and very timely, very timely, because the NASA fire experiment is just and to be in a good joke.

03:47 - Rod Pyle (Host)
Yeah, as always, we invite you to join the lame space joke squad and send us your best or worst space joke. We always appreciate your input. Don't make me do it, because if I do it, you end up with the two jokes like you just heard. Don't forget to do us a solid. Make sure to like, subscribe and all that cool podcast stuff for us. After all, it's free. We love you. Show us, you love us back. And now on to headlines. Yes, yes, so yeah.

04:15 - Tariq Malik (Host)
We got good ones this week. Here we go A lot of good ones.

04:17 - Rod Pyle (Host)
Yeah. So the one that's got us all scratching our heads is kind of mixed messaging we're getting in the media, both popular and otherwise, about the Russian doomsday machine in orbit, which is not that at all. So give us the download on this way.

04:34 - Tariq Malik (Host)
Yeah, this is one I know it's not just a Tarek story when people who are not even Like in my realm, people that are Like my friends, call me to ask me about something. But yeah, this week we got confirmation that Russia is building a new anti-satellite weapon, that it may involve nuclear something of somehow. We're not sure what that means, but this is a really weird one because earlier this week a member of the House called on the White House to declassify the knowledge about this program because they wanted to be discussing it in Congress and they had special meetings and whatnot, and it caused a big I don't want to say like a storm or like an uproar.

05:27 - Rod Pyle (Host)
As Bugs Bunny would say, a furory.

05:33 - Tariq Malik (Host)
A furory, yeah, and in the capital, where they were, just everyone was abuzz with what is this? In fact, someone reached out to me to say they were really freaked out about it, like what is it, what could it be? And it was confirmed to the point that it can be, because it's still a classified apparently like super classified fact that we know it, that Russia is building an anti-satellite program. It's not, apparently, in space at this moment, so it's a capability that they don't have right now. In fact, a White House spokesman said yesterday that there is no immediate threat to everyone on Earth or to it, but from what we can infer, it is some sort of anti-satellite weapon that would knock out other satellites in space, so things like your GPS, your communications network, that sort of stuff, stuff that we rely on every day. There is supposedly and of course I can't confirm this because we didn't have the confirmation Some kind of nuclear angle.

Maybe it's nuclear powered, maybe it's something else.

We don't know and we're going to have to see where this develops.

But it's very interesting because if it's an actual weapon to be deployed in space, that does run counter to the 1967 outer space, a peaceful uses of outer space treaty, which then calls into question if that's even valid or if people can be held accountable to that at all, and the countries that sign on to it, and so we'll have to see what the next steps is.

In all of these discussions but it's a really weird one, this whole situation, rod and we've seen a rise in anti-satellite tests, not just with Russia, but China has done one, india has done one. Recently there's a rise for hypersonic missiles and missile defense, so this seems to be something else that we have to keep an eye on. But and I'll end with this, in the White House briefing yesterday, as we're recording this, it did come up very clearly that they said that there is a risk these types of anti-satellite weapons can pose a risk, not just the satellites in orbit, but to any astronauts that are in orbit as well, because they need the same systems to work. So I was surprised to hear the mention of astronauts in that briefing, but it's there, and so that is like another measure of how important it is to keep track and figure out what's going on with this stuff.

07:55 - Rod Pyle (Host)
Well, it was kind of frustrating and a little scary about this is, you know, we're kind of led at least by the press accounts I've been reading to believe this is some kind of kinetic weapon. But then there was of course the mention of some kind of nuclear aspect. So if this is a limited yield electromagnetic pulse weapon, I mean, can you do that in orbit without affecting ground systems? And if you do affect ground systems, how big a deal is it? And of course this has been, you know, the subject to tons and tons of end of times fiction and so forth, and I don't want to go there, but it is a question people are asking and I guess we're not going to know till we know, right yeah.

08:33 - Tariq Malik (Host)
Yeah Well, let's hope we don't have to find out you know the hard way where these are actually being demonstrated in space, because you knock out some satellites. There's a lot of satellites up there, and you know, while we say there's a lot of space, eventually, you know, as we saw with cosmos and iridium, they can hit each other and cause lots and lots of damage and debris, and just you know it'll affect how we access space in the future. So I'm trying not to think of worst case scenarios for all this. Right now. What we know is that there's a weapon that's being developed that's not in space, it's not like in practically use. Right now we don't know the specifics of it. A lot of it is classified. The fact that we even know it is supposedly classified, like how we know it and whatnot, and so we'll have to just see what gets to classified in the near future, what gets revealed and what the US might develop to address this kind of a thing.

09:27 - Rod Pyle (Host)
Well or has already developed, and this is complete spit bombing on my part. It has nothing to do with their interview with Pam Elroy later. It has nothing to do with anything I've read with NASA, but what country currently has the control over the most steerable active space assets? It's the US, because any Starlink satellite can be steered wherever you want to take it within a certain orbital band. Just saying, and you know they were their Connecticut nature, all right. But moving on the more positive things out there small but they're big enough. You know, something besides the kitchen table could put a real dent in your, your satellite. Private Moonlander lifts off intuitive machines is on the way.

10:10 - Tariq Malik (Host)
That's right. That's right. This is a big success for this week a SpaceX. Spacex had a triple, a triple play within 23 hours. They launched three different missions and this was the first of those three. They launched the Odysseus Novice Moonlander on the I am one mission for intuitive machines. That's a private company that is building these private spacecraft to take payloads for NASA as well as for other customers to the moon. Launched the wee hours on Valentine's Day and actually, no, it launched on the day after Valentine's Day. So, um, but.

But it seems like it's doing well and this is part of a hundred and eighteen million dollar contract that intuitive machines has with NASA as part of the commercial lunar payload services Program, which is this whole partnership with companies to build commercial landers that the NASA either teams up with to get some space on or or or buys the whole thing outright to land a rover, a payload package, etc. For this mission. They're gonna study plume interactions between the thrusters so they can understand what that works. There's some experiments for NASA as well, as there's a Jeff Coombs art installation on on this one too. That's gonna stay on the moon forever as part of that, that, that network, and it's really exciting because it all it seems to go perfectly and if everything continues to go well, it they will land, we're hearing like in the afternoon of February 22nd. So not very long to get to the moon, only about a about a just over a week or so to get there.

As opposed to some of the Recent ones and you know we talked about the astrobotic launch of peregrine, which unfortunately did not manage to land on the moon this one is also aimed at the South Pole. It's gonna land in a crater that NASA's already flagged in that region, again as part of the agency's goal to get astronauts there in the next two years all right, and another mission we're gonna talk about which has been a tremendous success, but Maybe nearing an end.

12:20 - Rod Pyle (Host)
But but I can't look at this as a downer because of how astonishing it's been, and that's Voyager 1. And Before we hear your take on this, I just want to remind people this has been flying for 45 plus years. It's a machine that was designed with late 60s technology, flown in the late 70s and since that time and Since leaving the solar system, let's just remember this thing is still running. You know it records data on real-to-real tape With a big tape player like your your grandfather had in his old Chevy, like an eight track, and it's just astonishing that this I mean just the fact that that tape has managed to maintain Its integrity, being dragged back and forth over a magnetic handle these years, along with everything else you have to do, plus maintaining thrusters and guidance systems and Internal temperatures, and all this stuff with a little couple pellets of plutonium that are generating what's left of the amount of heat that they can, because they're nearing their half-life. It's just incredible.

13:26 - Tariq Malik (Host)
Yeah, yeah, and just for for perspective, voyager 1 launched on on September 5th 1977, so I'm like a few months older, if anyone wants to do the math then then Voyager 1, and, and now here it is, out in interstellar space and what? What happened? At the end, actually, of last year in NASA sent an alert to say that that Voyager 1 has, you know, has has a problem. Basically it has the computer issue with its flight data system. It's not, it had to, it had a backup system, but the backup went offline in 1981, so decades ago. It's been running on this, this primary one, since then, and and and the, the system is not kind of talking correctly with another, another vital system, its telemetry modulation needed, this thing called a TMU, and, and so they can't send any science or engineering data back to Earth, and actually had a hiccup in December and they had to reestablish contact With, with, with the, the spacecraft, and so NASA still hasn't been able to regain full Functionality with the spacecraft and they're hoping that they can.

But but this it just might be An issue where, you know, the, the spacecraft is 47 years old and maybe it can't bounce back from this when it's, it's so far away, it takes forever. You know it's like a hundred and it's just 149. Let's see. Hmm, I'm trying to do the math because it's a hundred and sixty two. A use astronomical units from our planet, and one astronomical unit is the distance between the Earth and the Sun. So I don't see you two times. That that's how far.

15:10 - Rod Pyle (Host)
Yeah, it's gonna say it's a lot more than a couple of a you yeah.

15:14 - Tariq Malik (Host)
So so you know the NASA is working on it, you know it's not dead, which I think is the important takeaway. And if you're gonna be really sad about Voyager one, voyager two is still going strong, launched in the same year and actually launched before Voyager one, and and and it's it's, it's off on a different part of, I believe, interstellar space doing its own thing. So they will at least have that and and be able to try to see how long they can keep that one going. But I tell you, voyager one has been one of those success stories that you, just you, just you, you, you, you should surprise it's still going. And then you're surprised, you know when it's when it goes offline, if it, if it's gonna do, but we're gonna knock on wood that that the folks at NASA and that JPL can Turn this one around and get it talking to the right systems again.

16:05 - Rod Pyle (Host)
Well, and what a success story. And I'll just remind people, I bring this up every time we talk about Voyager. But you know, this program has been, besides being an incredible icon of longevity and reliability, it's operating on a few million dollars a year, let well, less than ten million dollars, I believe, or maybe maybe closer to 18, but it's a couple of us of old Sun workstations on a couple of banquet tables tucked away in a corner. Jpl this isn't the big thing at Michigan Troll. It does take this time for the D space network, but once that those command strings go back and forth and we're talking about something that's 15.2 Billion, with a B miles away right now. Yeah, so you know you're sending your flinging signals way out to the ether and looking for this flickering Handful of watts signal being transmitted back when it when it is, but it's being run on an absolute shoe string and has been for a couple of decades. So this is. It's something that will certainly mourn, but it is Fulfilled. That's its destiny many times over. Yeah, all right.

Well, we will be back in just a few seconds with NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy for this very special edition. Stay with us, don't go anywhere. And we're here today talking with Pam Melroy, deputy Administrator of NASA. Pam, it's a real honor to have you back with us, since you did join us also briefly a couple of months ago when we had our Phoenix photo bomb session, which I really enjoyed. But mainly, I just want to say Thank you for taking time out of what I know was a really, really busy schedule. We appreciate it a lot, oh.

17:41 - Pam Melroy (Guest)
I'm very happy to talk to you both, rod and Turek. I'm happy to be here and that was really fun photo bombing.

17:49 - Rod Pyle (Host)
And I got to thank Greg Autry for setting that up, because I I suspect it was his idea, wasn't it?

17:55 - Pam Melroy (Guest)
It totally was Greg's idea.

17:56 - Rod Pyle (Host)
Uh-huh. Okay, I got to pay him back for that one of these days. So I just would like to start with a really broad, general question, because I think a lot of people really don't know what a deputy deputy administrator does. It NASA? We have a general idea of what the administrator does because we see him or her quite a bit on camera, but it being a deputy administrator is is kind of different and, I suspect, a lot more operational, is it not? I?

18:27 - Pam Melroy (Guest)
Think that's probably a good way of putting it. I could Laughingly say I do all the things that that he doesn't want to do, and that's certainly part of it. But I think really I kind of have one foot both in the you know political world. I am a political appointee so I have to I have those responsibilities of coordinating with the White House Certainly do a lot with my interagency partners. I think that's important. But I'm also more down and in and looking at the execution of the priorities that the administrator has and Helping to make sure that those activities are going along the way they need to be, and I would, I would.

19:12 - Tariq Malik (Host)
I would assume, pam, that your experience flying in space brings a lot to the, to the table. When you're looking at all the day-to-day work, the, the big missions to, I mean, it seems like there's always something happening now, not just that NASA, but in space that you have to Arrangling and keep on top.

19:33 - Pam Melroy (Guest)
That's true, and you know what's really interesting about it. I certainly didn't set out to do this, but NASA is more than human spaceflight. Of course, it's the science mission directorate, it's aeronautics and it's space technology development. So what's interesting about that is I Actually have a master's degree in planetary science and undergraduate in physics and and astronomy, and I was a test pilot. So there's it's. It's really fun. I have a special place in my heart for every single part of the portfolio. I'm so interested in it and and just you know that's really the best part of my job is to Hear from all these people who are doing these amazing things every day. They teach me so much.

20:20 - Tariq Malik (Host)
You know and I just had one quick follow-up to that about the space bug because you know I did follow your career you know through the Air Force Reserve. You know on on Intonasa there, but were you bitten by the space bug prior to that or did it catch you? You know through your, your work as a test pilot, your work studying planetary science, that sort of thing.

20:44 - Pam Melroy (Guest)
Yeah, I was definitely one of those people who was bitten by the Apollo bug and I would say that that was true of a lot of astronauts but also a lot of test pilots, scientists and engineers that I met. Really, it just kind of unleashed this whole tidal wave of kids interested in STEM and in Exploration and in aviation, which is pretty cool, because I'm hoping Artemis does the same thing.

21:10 - Rod Pyle (Host)
I Don't think you're old enough to have been bitten by Apollo bug, at least not as directly as I was, because oh, absolutely within, within about a year of the moon landing.

21:25 - Pam Melroy (Guest)
So I was just about to turn eight On the first moon landing, and so I would say, certainly by the time I was ten years old. It was the second thing you learned about me after my name.

21:42 - Tariq Malik (Host)
Peggy Whitson says is the? Peggy Whitson told me that eight is the formative year. That's the year that if it's gonna get you, it's gonna get you. Well, I was right. I was so yeah.

21:56 - Rod Pyle (Host)
I Look at NASA administrators and deputies over the years and, just talking about administrators for a minute, what we've tended to see is politicians and then Engineers and then possibly astronaut engineers, and it seems like you kind of need to have all three in one person, but that's hard to find. I mean, in you we have a person who understands planetary science and, I'm sure, engineering, because you are a test pilot and being an astronaut. But what makes a perfect deputy administrator beyond you, of course?

22:33 - Pam Melroy (Guest)
Yeah, actually, I think you're really pulling on something that's really important, which is that what you really need is an ideal team, and I think from the very beginning, the administrator basically said look, this is what I'm good at.

I need someone who's good at these other things. And there was trust and a relationship between us. In fact, the really interesting part about that was especially when we had Bob Cabana as our associate administrator is, after about four or five months, it kind of dawned on me that we had all fallen very quickly into something that was really natural for us, which is to behave like a crew, and in a crew, people have different job assignments, but they support each other and there's so much respect for the expertise that each of the individuals brings. And so I think, really, what you're looking for is not so much trying to get the whole package in one person Because, I agree with you, I think that would be really hard, but I think we have a strong package in tandem with each other, and that's really the way to solve the problem, but it's critical that you work together as a team to make that efficient and make it work.

23:50 - Tariq Malik (Host)
You know, pam, one of the big questions that Rod and I had that we wanted to ask you today is kind of where you see the priorities of US human spaceflight taking us. We've seen a lot of things going on of course, the recent Artemis-1 flight which was amazing to see that SLS get off the pad on that flight and of course the ongoing work for Artemis-2. So I'm curious if there is a hierarchy that you kind of hue to for what you see as like the primary priorities for NASA in human spaceflight. Is it the moon first and then orbit? Is it a mix of all of those things? I know there was a talk earlier this week in Congress about the future of the ISS as it winds down and the subsequent stations to come there. So I'm just curious how do you approach that from an operational standpoint about where we need to go together and how to get there?

24:55 - Pam Melroy (Guest)
Yeah, it's actually really just fascinating work, and the philosophy that I bring to it is that you actually have to start mentally at the destination, paint the picture of what it is you're trying to achieve. What would good look like, what is it that you're actually trying to do? And then what happens then is then that's called architecting from the right, and then you flow backwards and say, okay, what are the things that we need as a part of that vision? What do we have to achieve to achieve that vision? And the challenge always is, of course, because you're dealing with everything that you're doing today. We continue to execute operationally everything we're doing today. So you have to recognize you're also executing from the left and the challenge is really focusing on the future and how you are going to transition from where you are today to where you're trying to get to.

So the key insight really about what we're trying to do is that this is not about the Moon, it's not about Mars. It's actually about a sustained human presence and responsible exploration throughout the solar system. This is what I believe the American people want from us. I mean, how many times have you heard it? Well, why did we go to the Moon and then we didn't go anywhere else and look at the proliferation of science fiction out there and it's like when do we make this giant leap that humans are going to go off the planet, and in a persistent way and a sustained way? And it is an awesome vision.

But all of a sudden a lot of things become clear. I mean, we learned from station logistics. People need supplies to support them. So all of a sudden you start flowing that down and it really became clear that if we don't practice this on the Moon, it's going to be way hard to do it at the next destination. And so ideally, we're going to practice this on the Moon and kind of polish up what we consider a blueprint, like okay, this is what you need, this is what you need, this is what you need. We learned a lot from building the space station, which we would like to transfer those lessons learned to Leo to commercial destinations. They're not going to look like ISS. We have stuff on ISS we use every day, like a thousand times a day, like we wish we had more of it or more capability, and stuff we don't use at all. So the idea is to practice, to learn. Let's go do a demo on Mars, and let's start thinking about where the next destination is after that and from that.

27:41 - Tariq Malik (Host)
I guess from that description is the priority then, because you mentioned it's not the Moon or Mars, like in terms of a specific end goal. It sounds as if you're saying it's the capability to be able to do what we might want to do later on, that you're looking to get to Things like you know, having those deep space exploration vehicles suits all of the systems. That partnership with commercial Is that kind of the idea. Yeah, that you mean that? Yeah, I just want to make sure that I understood that right.

28:12 - Pam Melroy (Guest)
Yeah, we're looking at like this, that, like I need this cat and that dog. It's really about what do we need to do science throughout the solar system with humans? And you know, a key part of that is actually going to be human machine teaming as well. So we're going to. I mean, this is a cross agency strategy because we have to do tech development. We also have to understand a new way of doing science for our science mission directorate that actually puts humans in the loop in the decision making process at the front line.

28:49 - Rod Pyle (Host)
All right. Well, we're going to be back with my next burning question after this quick break, so stay with us. So, pam, we recently had an announcement from NASA that there would be what was termed as a delay to the remaining Artemis missions, especially Artemis III, the first landing. But from my viewpoint in the bleachers being a journalist and not a NASA official this really just kind of puts us back on the original timetable that was accelerated by the Trump administration, if I'm reading my cues correctly. So when we recently heard about Artemis II and Artemis III, they were out about where they've returned to. So it feels like we've kind of returned to that and this is less of a delay and kind of more of a return to an achievable schedule, especially considering some of the major challenges that have to be overcome before you can do a human landing.

29:45 - Pam Melroy (Guest)
Not quite. I think NASA was looking at 28 to 30. They were thinking that was achievable. I think we can beat that. I do think we can beat that. But we also have to realistically acknowledge even those assumptions are based on perfect success of every mission and while Artemis I was a success by any measure, there was a lot of learning. That happened and I think that's a more realistic set of expectations is that you're going to find things on the way. These are test flights and no test flight ever goes perfectly. You hope for lessons learned that allow you to go fly as quickly as possible, but you have to tackle what you know, because you're developing a capability that we want to use for a decade or more so an operational capability. So you got to tackle that stuff right up front before you put another, certainly put a crew on board.

30:47 - Tariq Malik (Host)
And that crew is training right now for Artemis too. I mean, we saw, I think, some water training earlier. I think we've got a look inside the capsule. What are you hoping to see in terms of improvements in either the vehicle or that training that the extra time is going to get you, nasa and the team overall?

31:09 - Pam Melroy (Guest)
Well, we definitely have some analysis we're still working through. I think we're very close on closing on what the issues are around, what we saw more charring than we expected, that our models showed us for the heat shield but in addition to that we've discovered some electronics issues that are going to require to pull some electronics out and put it back in and of course, the crew module is going to be built from the inside out so those become in the critical path going forward and that's really what we needed the extra time for. I think the crew was actually grateful for this. I reflect on my own personal experience on one of the first ISS assembly missions and I can tell you I was on three assembly missions and the training for each one of them was very different and it was better every time.

On the third assembly flight ISS 3A that was the one that I was on some of the procedures that we had we were making up as we went along because the ops had not yet the maturity wasn't there until the hardware got on orbit and really the integration was happening real time and we had a lot of issues. I spent a lot of time looking at the software on station, looking at known bugs and other features and training around that, and so I think the crew is really helping to write the procedures as they go so they can absolutely use that extra time. It's sort of the first time the crew meets the hardware really face to face and all of a sudden you find out all kinds of things. They not work perfectly the way they were planned.

32:55 - Rod Pyle (Host)
Well, and this brings up a really good point of and you talked about this earlier, about this being kind of the experimental steps and a lot of ways we have to take for moving on to Mars and beyond. So, looking at so we've got the SLS, we've got the Orion capsule both have worked brilliantly so far. Then we've got these two lunar landers under development, for now anyway, maybe more later, and a lot of other technology, EVA suits and so forth. But I think one thing that is still kind of unclear to a lot of folks, at least in general public, is sort of what the big picture is. When does the base or the semi-permanent habitat on the surface get placed? When does Gateway come into play and what's the big picture in terms of long-term lunar exploration? Could you just address that in a nutshell?

33:44 - Pam Melroy (Guest)
Yeah, I mean it's possible to go online. We have an architecture concept which we update every year as we learn new things, but also as we bring new international partners on who are developing elements and putting those pieces in play. I would say we are right at the cusp of all the conversations that you're talking about. We're talking about pressurized and unpressurized rovers, because mobility is a key aspect of being able to do science. It's one of my favorite statistics it took 25 years for all the rovers on Mars to finally exceed the distance traveled during Apollo on the moon, and so those rovers really are important because they broaden the horizon of the science that you can get done. You can have a much greater diversity in terms of samples and just sort of understanding some place as a whole planet. So those things are really, really important and those are definitely in, I will say, full play right now.

And we are having discussions about habitats and I think when we analyze the habitat situation, it's actually not clear whether we need one place that you always go to. I think we think, in the end, that's probably the right thing to do, because then you can concentrate the infrastructure, like the power grid and so forth. But even if you look at communications, if you're going to be sending rovers out everywhere, do you need a puptense? And what about the comms situation? Do you want a 5G network on the moon? Is everything being bounced up to orbit? How is that working? So I would say a huge part that is happening inside the agency right now and with our international partners, and it sounds great to just. Well, when are you going to build a moon base? It's just really about getting to the point of, well, what are the real requirements for this? And that's what we're in the middle of, that requirements development.

35:50 - Rod Pyle (Host)
Well, and it's just. I just have to say from the peanut gallery, it is so exciting to see those of us who have written or read a lot about the Apollo program know that there is planning for a semi-permanent base and planning for heavy cargo versions of the lunar module that would be able to keep people there longer, and all that. But we were operating right on the bleeding edge of that technology and it's amazing it worked as well as it did. But now you've got so much more potential. We're just as non-passengers, passive watchers. We're so excited to see this. I can see that Tarek is burning to ask you a question and he will, as soon as we come back for this break, stay with us.

36:28 - Tariq Malik (Host)
Well, pam, you know we've been talking a lot about human spaceflight and of course you know, as like the spaceship person at spacecom, I get very excited about that.

But this week, this week has been really exciting too Actually I should say the last few weeks because you've got some NASA payloads already headed to the moon on the Intuitive Machines 1, the Odysseus, which is a really pretty name for a moon lander that just launched this week, and of course we saw the first private moon lander from the US AstroBotics Paragon, launched last month with its own, I would say, its own successes and, of course, its own learning curve that came from that one.

But it seems like that part of it, that commercial partnership with NASA, is really heating up, which we've seen, that payoff with the commercial crew and the commercial cargo services with SpaceX and Northrop Grumman, but this seems like a new regime that is now coming to bear fruit. We've got several different payloads on the IM-1 mission going to the South Pole to land in a crater which we know is a target for Artemis III. I'm just kind of curious what the feeling is like now at NASA to kind of be at this point where you're seeing these commercial partnerships really starting to pay off, and what does that mean for the model for the future of uncrewed operations on the moon?

37:55 - Pam Melroy (Guest)
Yeah, I think what you're seeing is actually a convergence. There's just no question that this is a whole of agency strategy for exploration into the solar system, and so the clips kudos to Astrobotic. They were incredibly responsible. But what we really loved is that they were very transparent about what was going on. I think that's really important culturally, as we go forward, with lots of people landing on the moon, to be able to share that information. So there was definitely learning that happened there, but they really handled themselves incredibly professionally and responsibly, and we all learned from that, and we're talking with them about next steps, super excited about intuitive machines.

We're keeping our fingers crossed. It's very hard to do this. As you know. A lot of people have failed.

I think it's important to know, though, that intuitive machines lander Odysseus has both science and technology payloads, but also exploration enabling payloads, and the one that I think of as being critically important is the one that set of cameras looking at the plume surface interaction. We don't know a lot about that, and that's a really big deal, because if you find out when you land, your plume goes very long distances. That helps us understand about non-interference with other landers and other activities going on. I mean that's going to be critical information going forward. So they are a part, they are just the vanguard, and I think it's exactly what we see on Mars. Right, we have the robotic explorers that are giving us the information and helping to prepare for when we're doing a full-up science investigation with humans involved. So this really is a reflection of that.

As far as the commercial aspect of it, I think this makes perfect sense. What we saw on Leo was that communications and transportation are well-understood business models and that's where you see them, starting right with those kinds of business models. But then we start to see other things, like you know what's happening with communications to the ground, direct to your cell phone. So I think what you're going to see is the next steps that will happen on the moon are going to be around those infrastructure capabilities, and then there's clearly a model for services that you can build on. So stay tuned. I don't think the tech is there quite for those yet, but that's what the next step would likely be.

40:34 - Rod Pyle (Host)
So we've worked through a very small percentage of the questions that we had. We're going to have to just go without getting a few answered, but I did want to shift gears for a second to you. I mean, you had a very different spaceflight career, but a magnificent one nonetheless. Was there a particular moment during either in space or on the ground, where you're preparing to go, anything to do with your career, with flight? It was really your uh-huh this is where it all comes together moment for you, something that really got you right there.

41:08 - Pam Melroy (Guest)
Yeah, wow, I need to count almost. Going to space is such an amazing experience. One of the things that it gives you is a perspective on the space industry where everything comes together. We tend to have a fairly siloed industry, like I'm a launch person or I build satellites or I know all about communications, and when you're in space on a spacecraft you're intimately involved with all of those things and so you see how they come together. At the end and I think that's what really happened on my first spaceflight I just began to understand how all those pieces come together and how interrelated and reliant we are.

But I think there's also personal moments. Certainly on my last flight, when we had an emergency, which I referred to in the last podcast, what I really saw was the critical nature of the building of culture, basically eats planning for lunch. We didn't plan for every contingency and we hit a contingency that no one had really thought about. But the important thing was that the team had developed a culture of methodical problem solving cooperatively, and they were experts in their area and that cooperative relationship with each other and with the ground enabled us to solve that problem. I mean, if you thought I solved it, I can tell you I didn't. I stood back writing on my notes like, well, let's make sure we answer all these questions. I didn't have to say word. The teams on the ground and my astronaut crew asked all those questions and solved all those problems, and so, as a leader, it's like one of the proudest moments of your life. You're like they didn't need me today because they had the culture to solve the problem themselves.

43:08 - Tariq Malik (Host)
And for you listeners who may have forgotten, that contingency that Pam is mentioning is during the STS 120 mission. We had a torn solar wing that space walkers had to go out and stitch up, and it was pretty exciting to see and to watch in real time. I can say I know that time is tight, pam, and I did want to ask about the promise I had, not just for astronauts, but for female astronauts and scientists in the future. You are, of course, one of the few female space shuttle pilots, space shuttle commanders as well, and it seems like with more and more spacecraft coming on, those opportunities are going to grow in the future. Nasa plans to land the first woman on the moon with Artemis III and, if you can touch on how things are different now, what people should keep in mind, what young women should keep in mind in terms of setting those goals and how to achieve them with them. I think my daughter would really love to hear that too, and I wanted to make sure that she hears what you have to say there.

44:11 - Pam Melroy (Guest)
Well, I think I will say certainly at times in my career especially being sort of at the front end of women going into military pilot, certainly being a test pilot, being a pilot astronaut there are people who are uncomfortable with you being there and you're not necessarily made to feel welcome immediately and that's not a great feeling. But having said that, what I found was that if I kept my eye on the ball, which is I want to be a space shuttle commander and I think I can do this and I'm going to go do it when you have something that you're really aspiring to, it reminds you that those are just, you know, those things come and go and certainly after a relatively short period of time, usually you just become part of the crew and part of the team and you know, frankly, in some cases the exception to the role and that's okay. We're in such a different place right now. There's plenty of role models out there.

I had a pilot say to me once I've never flown with a woman pilot. So I had to say that's okay. I've flown with lots of guys. I'll show you how it's done. I love that we don't have that problem anymore. We are integrating women at all levels in what we do and you know, really the key thing is the warmth, the camaraderie, the teamwork. It's really like a family, and families have men and women. So I think we've got a model going forward.

45:44 - Rod Pyle (Host)
Well, pam, this has been fantastic. Again, we really appreciate you taking time to join us today. It's been very special. Your Twitter slash X handle is at astro underscore, pam. That's astro underscore, pam. Do you have any other places you'd like to direct people to to follow you?

46:02 - Pam Melroy (Guest)
Well, I'm also pretty active on LinkedIn. I like to put some longer pieces there, particularly around technology that excites me and I'm really enthusiastic about. Thanks for asking.

46:14 - Rod Pyle (Host)
Thank you and we look forward to seeing more of you in the future.

46:18 - Pam Melroy (Guest)
Yeah, Thank you so much and thank you.

46:21 - Rod Pyle (Host)
Mark, where can we keep an eye on your stellar achievements?

46:25 - Tariq Malik (Host)
Well, as always, you can find me at spacecom and on the X. Are we calling it that? Pam called it that.

46:31 - Rod Pyle (Host)
That's what I was. She said she's an important person. We're not, so I guess so.

46:36 - Tariq Malik (Host)
We'll go. We'll go with that at Tart Jay Malek. And, of course, this weekend you will find me following closely on pins and needles as we follow the Odysseus moon lander on the way to the moon Landing is February 22nd, it's like less than a week from now, so stay tuned.

46:52 - Rod Pyle (Host)
All right, and you can always find me crouching over at pilebookscom and my creaky website or an ad, astramagazinecom, which is not creaky, and if you want something in print or a digital magazine form, it's your your best source for what's happening in space. Don't forget to drop us a line at twist at twittv. That's T W I S. At twittv. We always welcome your comments, suggestions and ideas and we respond to each and every email and I really appreciate people sending in commentary and ideas and we do listen and we do roll them into the show. And don't forget to check out spacecom the websites and the name, and the national space society and SS dot org, where we'd love you to become a member. Both are good places to satisfy your spaceflight cravings.

New episodes of this podcast publish every Friday on your favorite pod catcher, so make sure to subscribe. Tell your friends, give us thumbs up, remember to subscribe Reviews likes, five stars, extra cookies, whatever they ask for, because we love you and we want you to love us back. You can also head to our website at twittv slash T W I S. Finally, don't forget you can get all the great programming on the twit network and free on club twit, as well as some extras that are only available there for just $7 a month. You've heard Leo talk about the tough times facing podcasters. We're no exception, so this is your chance to step up and be counted. You can also follow the twit tech podcast network at twit on Twitter, slash X, and on Facebook and twittv on Instagram. Thank you very much and we will see you all next time. Bye, bye, everybody.


All Transcripts posts