Thirty years ago, Helen Sharman made history. The Sheffield-born chemist and food technologist became the first British astronaut and the first woman to visit the Russian Mir space station in May 1991. Earlier this week, Sharman launched the Zero Pressure Podcast to mark this milestone, supported by Imperial College London and aerospace and defence firm Saab.
The six-episode series will focus on how science and ground-breaking technologies can address some global challenges. As host, Sharman will speak to experts who work, or have focused, on cutting-edge scientific research.
The first episode features Sharman in conversation with Christer Fuglesang, who became the first Swedish astronaut in December 2006 when he flew as a mission specialist on the space shuttle Discovery to the International Space Station. Their dialogue focuses on some key questions. For one, security—both at an individual and a global level—from cyber and physical threats. Fuglesang’s views on the threat from near-Earth objects such as asteroids, and his thoughts on the proposed militarisation of space, offer interesting insights.
Questions such as “when will humans visit Mars?” are discussed. Fuglesang doesn’t believe this is imminent. “I think we will go to Mars in 15 years,” he says, adding that a return to the Moon is more likely in the next five years.
A good science podcast avoids too much jargon. The first, 43-minute episode passes with flying colours on this criterion: It’s both engaging and simple to understand.
While focusing on the ways in which space has benefited activities on Earth—navigation, flood warnings, lightning-quick communication—Sharman discusses in detail the possible hazards in space and the growing need for better space traffic management.
Space debris, for instance, is becoming a big concern. “Of course, over time there is the risk that some (functioning) satellites will get damaged…. First of all, you need more regulations. All space-faring nations and entities need to agree upon rules that we don’t make more of this space debris,” says Fuglesang.
The episode concludes on a futuristic note, discussing the shape space exploration may take by 2050. Fuglesang is certain that nearly three decades from now, we could have an established lunar research station with enough resources collected from the Moon to help people stay there. Commercial asteroid mining, with the help of robots, will be a real possibility by then too.
But will there be people staying on Mars in 2050? Fuglesang believes so: “I think humans will be travelling at least between the Moon, Mars and Earth regularly.”
You can listen to the Zero Pressure Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Pocket Casts and YouTube.
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