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Experts Weigh-In On Inspiration4, Future Of Commercial Spaceflight

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>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Welcome to Noon Edition on WFIU. I'm your host Bob Zaltsberg. Hosting today with WFIU News Bureau Chief Sara Wittmeyer. Today, we're going to be talking about space flight? And we're going to be talking about the most recent launch of inspiration for and the future and implications of commercial space flight and other issues related to space. In July, billionaires Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos took an early lead in the commercial space race. But Space X has now launched for private citizens into orbit for almost three days. The historic launch could change the future of private space exploration altogether. And we have three guests with us today, three great guests, I must might add. Laura Forczyk is owner of the space consulting firm Astralytica. Carolin Frueh is an associate professor in the Purdue University's School of Aeronautics and Astronautics. And Mike Neufeld - I'm sorry, Mike - is senior space history curator for the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. You have questions or comments, you can send them to us at Twitter. We're on Twitter @NoonEdition. You can also send them to us at Thank you so much for joining us. That was a very long introduction. And now we're going to get right down to it. Laura Forczyk, I wanted to ask you first about the significance of the most recent flight. I know you look at big picture things when it comes to space. How significant is this? 

>>LAURA FORCZYK: This is a great movement in the commercial space industry. Previously we had only seen either private astronauts or spaceflight participants fly up with government hardware. So back in the 2000s, there were seven people who flew up with the Russians who paid their own way. And then earlier this summer, we saw suborbital space flight happening where there was private individuals flying with commercial entities. And now this is the next step, which is commercial companies flying private individuals to orbit, which is really exciting. It's a brand-new industry. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: I want to ask that same question to Michael Neufeld from the Smithsonian. Michael. 

>>MIKE NEUFELD: Good afternoon. You know, I think it's an interesting turning point. It will be both the suborbital and orbital commercial space tourism. The question is, is it going to be possible to democratize this more? Because obviously at this point it's still much, a pretty much a bailiwick of those who can really afford hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars in expenses. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: All right, I want to go to Carolin Frueh. And I know Carolin, you're not an expert in the most recent launch but you certainly have been paying close attention to a lot of things that involve space. So how significant does this launch seem to you? 

>>CAROLIN FREUH: I think it's very significant, and I think we're seeing that this is the logical consequence of the commoner commercialization of space that we have seen taking place in the past year or so. I think we will see more of that in the future. And of course, from my perspective, these also impacts the space environment and how we want to use space in a sustainable way if we're seeing more commercial satellites and also more human spaceflight from a commercial sector. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: All right, you've given us lots of things to - we can pursue a lot of different angles on this today. Laura, I want to go back to you. What are the people doing? I mean, they're not astronauts. But what are the people in the spacecraft doing now? What's this mission all about? 

>>LAURA FORCZYK: Well, by most definitions, they are astronauts. And that's really exciting. They've trained for about half a year. They're planning to do medical research. So all of them are partaking in taking their own data, their biometrics. There is one member of the crew who is an actual P.A. so she's going to be doing medical testing as well as other research that they haven't disclosed yet. And we don't know exactly what they're doing up there right now. We know they're doing outreach. They've spoken to children at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. So that medical P.A, she is a survivor of cancer, childhood cancer. And so she has that real connection to St. Jude as well as the whole mission inspiration for has been dedicated to fundraising for St. Jude. So it's really giving back to the children to say you, too, can survive cancer and become an astronaut someday and I'm looking forward to seeing what else they've done. I imagine that we'll hear more after the mission is over. And there's a Netflix documentary that is currently ongoing and they'll be airing that last episode in a couple of weeks. I'm looking forward to seeing it. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: I wanted to ask you, before I let you go here, about your company. When did you found it and what all do you do? 

>>LAURA FORCZYK: We founded Astralytical five years ago to really support the space industry - space industry, space policy and space science. And so our clients involve, you know, commercial companies, startups, government agencies, nonprofits, educational institutes - really anybody who's doing anything in space. And it's been really exciting this past year to see it a surgence in activity in space and commercial space in the United States in particular. There's a lot of interest and a lot of investor money going into commercial space right now, not just the human spaceflight side but also, you know, different ways that we can make space sustainable, making different, you know, profitable businesses out of space and just bringing space data down to Earth to make it benefit humanity. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Michael Neufeld, you've been - I know you've done lots of lots of programs on the idea of manned or peopled spaceflight over the last 50 years or so. I don't - you haven't been doing programs for that long, but we've had people in space for a little longer than that. In terms of this - does this give you any pause - I mean, to not have people who make it their career to be trained as astronauts - does it give you any pause to start having flights where, as Laura said, you can consider these these folks astronauts but they don't have the same training that were previously required to be on these flights? 

>>MIKE NEUFELD: Yeah. Well and I think, you know, in terms of the suborbital missions, those really require only fairly minimal preparation. You need to had probably time in a centrifuge to understand the G forces going up and coming down, but that's not too hard. But I - you know, I watched the Netflix documentary and it became clear that I was concerned about how this mission would fly only automated without professional astronauts. But it turns out the guy who funds this trip flies a MiG 29 - he's a jet fighter pilot, at least on - privately. He owns one. And his - the second person's, Sian Proctor, she also had a pilot's license, although much lower level. So they actually got a bunch of training. It sort of alleviated my concern about, OK, what if you - something really goes wrong and who's going to bring this spacecraft down to Earth again? 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: So I want to go back to Carolin Freuh now because you've mentioned the idea of the space environment - and I know, you know, another news story that we had in the last few weeks was about some space debris that was predicted to fall into the Earth's atmosphere. And I would think that, you know, as much - as many satellites and as many things as we've put in the space, that there could be, you know, issues with that. So can you talk about that in the big picture? 

>>CAROLIN FREUH: Sure. I mean, I think what we have to be aware of - there's a lot of space debris already out there. From the satellites we kind of track and the U.S. Space Force regularly tracks - I mean, only about 3% of those objects, which are around 20,000, 30,000-ish are operational satellites and the other ones are all debris objects. Not all of them are large, some of them are small, but some of them are just dead satellites and things. So the - we think about space kind of as this vast resource and I think what we have to get in mind is it's already pretty crowded. And we have seen a significant uptick in launches ever since the CubeSat came out - kind of smaller satellites which made kind of bring satellites or operating satellites in space much more economically feasible and kind of fueled a lot of the commercial spaceflight we're seeing nowadays - kicked that off. So while many of the newer players are kind of more aware of that - we need mitigation measures, that we have to re-enter after end of life at least within 25 years. So the recommendation - they also put, aggressively, many satellites into space and so we really have to be careful how we are navigating that resource and how we are dealing with the new stuff that comes in - the new satellites, but also the ones that are already there and the debris that's already there. So that makes a very challenging task and we will see a lot more of that in the future as we - yeah, as we cannot just stuff more things into space and get away with it. 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: Do we need to do something to start addressing a problem with space junk before this idea of commercial space flight really takes off? 

>>CAROLIN FREUH: I think the players of the commercial spaceflight are already aware of the issue. But as always, it's a tradeoff - right? - between your - what you wanted to achieve and then how much funding can you allocate and conservation of - end of life and space debris. But if you're just going ahead without that consideration, I think the space faring will come to a very short halt at some point because we just have clogged it up. So there are already measures in place - as I said, the 25-year rule to to orbit after the end of life. The missions are designed, but we need to be better about how to design them to reduce space debris in the mission phase already. And, yeah, this is something that has to be baked into your mission design, otherwise, yeah, we don't have a good path into the future. 

>>MIKE NEUFELD: If I may say something here, you know, this topic brings up the fact - the reality that 90% plus of what we do in space has nothing to do with sending humans there. And in fact, all of these systems in which everyday life depends now, like G.P.S., like communications satellites, like weather satellites - they're all up there and we have to be concerned about this proliferation, at least in low Earth orbit, of junk. So as professor Freuh said, we have to be interested in making sure that these small satellites and all these constellations of communication satellites in particular are designed to come down or to, you know, fire a rocket and lower themselves into an orbit in which they rapidly burn up. Otherwise, we're really going to have a problem in the low Earth orbit area. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Michael, I'm really glad you brought that up. You know, I'm of a certain age, so I can remember when Alan Shepard went into space. I was, you know, an elementary school kid. And so I've been watching what's happened with space. And since we started putting people in space all those years ago, those are the launches that people are just fascinated with because people are fascinated with space in general and with spaceflight in particular. And I guess I wanted to ask you and then get the same - get an answer from the other two about, you know, what - you can expand on what you just said. I mean, spaceflight is one thing and obviously it's important and it's exciting and it's what gets a lot of the big headlines, but the work that's done in space - talk about the importance of that just overall to our day-to-day living. 

>>MIKE NEUFELD: Right. I mean, it's a point I made - I wrote a short book for M.I.T. Press called "Spaceflight: A Concise History," and the chapter I have is the global space infrastructure. And it's really about the fact that we've constructed this massive infrastructure in orbit around the earth to support life on Earth, and that's the great majority of launches and the great majority of things sent into space. The media and - is - and the general public seem to only want to talk about human spaceflight while barely mentioning this except, of course, we just brought up the space drone problem. But we barely mention the fact that we have become so dependent on these systems. I mean, on the civilian side, already mentioned G.P.S.. Of course, there are also several other navigation satellite systems now - a Russian one, a European one. But, you know, all of our devices - just about everything now uses location services from satellite. Were we - we take for granted world communications, especially television is very dependent on satellites for world communications. And now, you know, with - SpaceX launching Starlink, they're trying to create low Earth orbit constellations of satellites for internet access anywhere on the globe. And we may very well become dependent on that. Weather satellites - I mean, everybody wants to make sure that, when they look at there whether, they want to know - hurricane warnings. Our understanding of global climate, the global weather and our warning of storms is very dependent on these global weather satellite systems, both low Earth orbit and out in the 24-hour orbit and geostationary. And then, finally, the military is totally dependent on satellite systems. And not only G.P.S. and military communications, but it has, you know, its own weather satellites and then we've got missile early warning. You know, do we want to do without missile early warning? And finally also reconnaissance. And the reconnaissance of the whole globe through satellites made not having a nuclear war possible because neither side could hide its strategic missile in aircraft systems when you had global coverage by reconnaissance satellites. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: I want to let our other guests address this too, but I want to give our contact information. You can send us your comments or your questions and we will relay them to our panelists - You can also follow us on Twitter at @noonedition and send us questions there. Laura, I wanted you to address that next and then Carolin. But Laura, from your standpoint and with your company, you're doing a lot of things that don't have to do with space - with manned spaceflight or putting people into space. Same question to you about the focus on people in space versus the importance of everything that goes on in space. 

>>LAURA FORCZYK: I second what the other two guests said. There's a push right now to understand that space is a critical infrastructure. It is something that we take for granted in our modern society. It really truly is just like our electrical grid and our water system, it really is integrated into every part of what we do in modern life. It touches pretty much every industry in ways that we don't even think of because we take it for granted. And so there's a lot going on right now to both track the satellites and space debris that's up there, which is a very difficult thing to do because this is unpredictable movements of tumbling and we just don't have a means of tracking them right now very well. There's new technology that is now being put on some satellites to track them better. There's also better ways to maybe capture debris. And, you know, there's the test going on right now by some companies that are trying to make money either being able to capture space debris in terms of, like, the natural space junk or the pieces that have broken off of satellites and also a push to satellite service. So think of satellites as an asset, and some assets are very expensive up there. And if you can extend the lifetime of some of those very expensive satellites or bring them into a safety orbit so that they're not staying up there for, in some cases, centuries, then that can really open up a better sustainability of our environment. And we really need to think about this as environmentalism. It's simply environmentalism in Earth orbit rather than environmentalism on Earth's surface or in Earth's oceans. And it's an extension of what we already do, we just need to figure out how to fund it, whether it's a government funding it or whether it's an international, you know, collaboration or whether it's some way to make a profit from it from companies maybe recycling the material, which right now has legal barriers but could be a solution in the future. And we have seen this impact human spaceflight already. In the past couple of years, we've seen more and more instances where the International Space Station has had to maneuver because of a possible conjunction with something in space that wasn't supposed to be hitting the International Space Station that is now getting too close. So the astronauts on board the ISS have to take actions, they have to get in a specialized location in case of emergencies and they have to fire thrusters and it wastes time and fuel and it puts lives in danger. And so the previous NASA administrator has actually spoken out against space debris and the creation of more space debris through something called kinetic impact - some anti-satellite weaponry. So this is the kind of thing to think of is banning these kinds of missiles or weapons that can create more space debris as well as fixing the problem that we already started of picking up what's already up there. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Carolin at Purdue, I know, you know, you study this and you talk about this and Purdue has, you know, such a robust program with - I mean, and astronauts are, obviously, a big part of it - with such a robust program in studying space, so I want you to talk about this issue too. 

>>CAROLIN FREUH: Yeah. I mean, I second everything Michael and Laura said. I think what we have to have in mind is, when we put humans into space, the stakes are just higher, right? If I have a piece of space debris taking out a satellite, I mean, that's a big loss and if it's, like, a weather satellite or a G.P.S. satellite, that really hurts the infrastructure but, of course, that's very different than having people exposed. And the thing we have to keep in mind is that those pieces are incredibly fast, right? So even a small piece, like of a quarter inch or something, as it's traveling several kilometers per second - it's kind of faster than coming out of a gun or something. So, for example, if the ISS - when the ISS astronauts make their spacewalks, I mean, yeah, they try to be in a place where they're better protected against the space debris kind of behind the main direction it's expected to come from in order to not just be pierced by a piece and that's the end of it. So these are the things we have to keep in mind, that the stakes are just higher when we have people in space. And, of course, part of my work is to work on tracking the object better, finding out better where they are, where they're going to be. On the other hand, it has this fascination of having people in space. I think from a scientific perspective, like, robots can do many things and they are easier to get to places, like if you're thinking about the Mars rovers and these things. I mean, they're capable of conducting some of the very important experiments and - as they don't need air and water and food, they are kind of easier to get there and we do not necessarily have to bring them back either, but it's still not the same. The fascination is really, yeah, that we want to have humans in space. That has such a different impact to it. And I think that's why this - humans in space - the launch now has created so much bigger waves than, I don't know, sending another robot or something. 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: Just a quick follow-up Carolin - you mentioned some of the small pieces, but how big can some of these pieces be? 

>>CAROLIN FREUH: They're all sizes. I mean, the space debris per definition is anything that humans have brought into space - human-made materials that are no longer functional or are not in an expectation of resuming any function in the future. So that includes a whole satellite, right? As soon as the satellite is not operational anymore, it becomes space debris, and that can be as big as a bus, right? And - but we also have explosion events, especially upper stages, which are also fairly big. The last one stays in space. But they tend to - if you leave the fuel in there, then it - as it heats up and cools down as it's in the sun and then in the shadow, we have been observing that they self-explode sometimes. So you also get a lot of kind of smaller pieces. But they're really all sizes from kind of the bus size to - down to a centimeter, millimeter size. 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: OK. OK. Mike, I want to shift gears a bit because, you know, I guess when I was younger, you all always heard about NASA going into space and now it feels like it's always SpaceX. When did we really have this shift to having private companies? And I guess just a follow up to that, what do you think this means for the future of space exploration? 

>>MIKE NEUFELD: Well, you know, clearly, it's part of a longer shift that's been taking place since at least the '80s and the '90s towards more and more commercial use of space. I mean, ultimately, it means, of course, that space is being used a lot more for a lot of important things and it doesn't only need to be supported by government. You know, in terms of government, I should point out that NASA is only part of it because the military has always had a very large space program and continues to have a very large space program. But as we've gone on, some things are starting to make money. And, you know, communication satellites - that was the first - really, for a long time, the only technology in which you could make money building communications satellites and putting them in 24-hour orbits. That was the way it was generally done. But more recently we've seen Earth-orbiting imagery - you know, sort of like Digital Globe and Planet - other companies are taking imagery and selling it. I mean, in fact, a large part of their business model is taking government money because they're selling those images also to our intelligence agencies, but they are selling images to private customers, even human rights groups sometimes have used satellite imagery to see what's going on in Darfur or China or some other place. So commercial space is really here to stay. It has been for a while. Commercial launches - you know, the companies launching satellites - that's been here for some time. But we're just kind of on a cusp of maybe having commercial human spaceflight actually work and carry more people into space. 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: What sort of opportunities, I guess, and then problems could this pose when we're having these commercial companies doing it whereas before, like you said, it was the government and, you know, NASA and the military. 

>>MIKE NEUFELD: You know, I think that we basically hit on a core problem in our discussion, which is, you know, space junk - just proliferating the number of satellites without taking care to make sure that a lot of that debris gets removed or - in that - or we remove the satellites before they become dead and blow up or something like that. That's the main concern. I mean, we're opening up a new market. And I guess we also have to think a little bit about the climate aspects of this. I mean, on the one side, Earth observation - Earth science through satellite is absolutely central to understanding the - climate change. But on the other hand, we want to make sure that our - all of our watching activity is not creating a lot more greenhouse gases for the atmosphere. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: We're listening to - we're talking with three experts on space today. That was Mike Neufeld, who's senior space history curator for the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. We also have Laura Forczyk, the owner of space - the space consulting firm Astralytica, and Carolion Freuh, associate professor in Purdue University's school of aeronautics and astronautics. If you have questions or comments about what's going on with the most recent space flight - or we're really getting into the bigger picture about space and its importance and what's going to be happening there - please contact us - or @noonedition. So, Laura, I don't know if it was you, but one of our panelists talked about the democratization of these space flights because, right now, it's billionaires who are doing them. I mean, do you - what do you foresee in terms of this being affordable for people to start going into space at some point? I mean, it will still be probably pretty wealthy people, but people being able to go into space on sort of that tourism mission? And we've already talked about some of the concerns about that, but what do you - when do you see something like that actually happening? 

>>LAURA FORCZYK: Well the billionaires get all the attention, but it isn't only billionaires who are flying. Right now we have four people on dragging - orbiting the Earth and only one is a billionaire. The other three were selected. And yes, the billionaire purchased the flight, but it's one of those things where you can, in some way or another, find yourself in space not necessarily through a government selection process. So NASA is particularly selective and other government agencies - you know, most of them don't have their own way of selecting astronauts and some of them do, and those are even more selective because there's so few spots. But here you have sort of an open opportunity for just about anybody to be able to fly in space. We saw on this mission Hayley Arceneaux who's - who has the first prosthesis - her leg has a - she had bone cancer, so her leg has a prosthesis. So she's the first person to fly in space with that kind of disability. And so that opens it up to new possibilities of really anybody of any background. There are agencies out there - organizations that are trying to fund missions for just about anyone to enter a contest and be able to fly. I'm thinking specifically of things like - the Discovery Channel is going to host a TV series - kind of a reality show to select one. There's also called - one called Space Hero that wants to do something similar - a reality TV show to select an astronauts go to the International Space Station. And then there's groups like - I'm blanking on their names right now, but there's other groups that are trying to fund ways that anybody can go to space. Even suborbitally, we saw this summer in July the Blue Origin mission - Jeff Bezos - it's his company, right? So he went and he chose his brother. But he also flew two other individuals, one was not a billionaire himself but his father purchased the ticket, and the other was not a billionaire, it was aviator Wally Funk, who was actually a pioneer in aviation and had been wanting to go to space - trying to go to space for six decades and finally got her chance to go. And another avenue in science. So we saw in the Virgin Galactic flight this past July, there was somebody doing science onboard, and that's another avenue where either NASA is going to be picking people who are not NASA's astronauts to go do science. One of my colleagues is the first one chosen to do a future flight on Virgin Galactic - as a NASA selectee, but not as a NASA astronaut, to go on Virgin Galactic to do science. I have another friend of mine who's chosen by a university to fly on a future Virgin Galactic flight to do science. So that's a real avenue as well is science organizations, universities, nonprofits being able to fly their people - their employees or their representatives to go to space. And it's one of those areas that no one can predict the future, but the hope is that, just like in the aviation industry, it started very expensive - about a century ago, it was extremely expensive and limiting to fly in - to - in an aircraft. And now just about anybody can afford to go. So no one knows the future. I can't predict when you and I are going to be able to afford it. But I'm very hopeful that the price will come down not in the near-term, but as it becomes more mature and as this technology becomes more accessible to the wider population - that it's a technology that starts out high, just like so many other technologies, and then comes down. I want to go Sunday, but if I can't, maybe my kids can. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Yeah, I was going to ask you about that, Laura, because I know that our producer gave me some background information on you that says you've been to U.S. Space Camp six times and that you've done several Earth-bound simulations of going to space. What fascinates you so much about going into space? 

>>LAURA FORCZYK: Well, like so many other people, I found my love of space from childhood, and science fiction in particular, and I never let go of that. And it's one of those things where - I don't know if it's human nature in general or it's just cultural - that I want to explore. I want to break those barriers. I want to go where - and for me, it's the moon. I want to get to the moon. I was not alive during the Apollo era, so I'm really excited about NASA's Artemus program, which is returning humans to the moon probably, you know, sometime in the next few years - they say 2024, it's probably more like 2025 - '26 - but doesn't matter to me the exact date, I'm really excited to just even see that - to see humanity stretching our bounds and going beyond. I mean, this is our home planet and it'll always be our home planet, but we don't need to necessarily stay here. We can go explore what else is out there. And for me, personally, to experience that even just on a suborbital flight would be monumental. It would be life-changing. And I'm really looking forward to someday being able to do that hopefully, if I'm very, very fortunate. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: One of our listeners sent in a question or comment, says should there be - should we expect to see ads on the sides of spaceships or on the spacesuits that people going into space are wearing? And I guess I would expand on that and say that, you know, we've been talking about a lot of things today that are just fascinating to me, but I see some contradictions. You know, that we're - on the one hand, it's really exciting to have - to democratize this and have people going into space and the human spaceflight is so exciting. But on the other hand, there's so much more to, you know, the importance of space. So would seeing - you know, seeing ads and having companies purchasing ads on the sides of rockets and whatnot - would that be a - something we're going to see and would that be a good idea? And Michael, let me go to you first. 

>>MIKE NEUFELD: It's not even a new idea, it's already been done. In fact, there was a time when the Russians were so desperate post-Cold War that they put advertising - they had advertising done in the Mir space station, logos on rockets are nothing new actually. I suppose inspiration for our wearing space suits with various things on them could be considered, you know, SpaceX branding and whatever. So, yeah, it's not even a new thing. In fact, the Russians are about to launch, on their next Soyuz flight to the space station, a film director and a actress and they're going to film scenes for a movie in the Russian part of the space station. So all of that's already here. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: So, Carolin, is that a good thing? 

>>CAROLIN FREUH: As everything, it has two sides of it. If you want the democratization of space and you want to make it cheaper, well then I think ads are the way to go in that sense, right? It's bringing down the cost. And I would agree with Michael that what we're seeing at the moment is SpaceX ads at its finest in a very subtle way in a sense. So and - so in that sense it can be a good thing. On the other hand while everybody thinks advertising is annoying (laughter) so it's not necessarily a good thing. What I think what we will see advertising on the rockets on launch or something, I don't think we'll see it on the outside of the spacecraft much because yeah - just yeah. We don't get good pictures of that from afar - right? - because it's so far away. So I think you're not going to want to see. But yeah, on the suits and stuff I can certainly imagine that very well. 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: So Carolin you might be the best person to answer this question we got. How does the Outer Space Peace Treaty affect - how does that apply to private groups? 

>>CAROLIN FREUH: Yeah. That is actually a very good question. And that's something kind of on what we discussed earlier. And what is moving relative to or what is changing relative to having commercial space flight. Yeah. We are not really up to speed on all the policy issues, right? I mean, because space doesn't belong to anybody. And then you have the certain governing bodies from the U.N. - the U.N. (unintelligible). And you have the International Astronautical Federation. But none of them has kind of a legislative arm in that sense, right? It's the nations have to pick that up and then write that into international law. And I think that that's a place where we are really lagging, the commercial developments that are rapid relative to the legislative frameworks that are not properly in place at the moment. 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: I should have asked you Carolin could you just explain briefly what the outer space - I apologize - peace treaty is? 

>>CAROLIN FREUH: I think actually Laura would be better to... 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: (Laughter) Laura, can you take that? 

>>LAURA FORCZYK: (Laughter) Sure. I'm not a lawyer. But the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 was signed by all of the major space players and several other countries. I forget quite how many - like 80 some maybe? - have signed and ratified. And it is a collection of norms of behavior that we want to promote. For example space is only going to be used for peaceful purposes. It bans weapons of mass destruction but not necessarily weapons. It talks about for example ownership. And so that's an area of controversy right now. Nobody can own space. No one can claim sovereignty of space. But does that mean that private companies can't mine materials on the moon or asteroids or Mars and then sell it? The United States says yes. Companies can absolutely do that and several other countries have said yes. Some countries say no. It's a global commons or whatever the term may be. And so there's - like Carolin was saying there's some areas that the legislation that the policy has not caught up because private players were not envisioned in 1967 to be serious. And so all private companies are under their own countries. So the country is responsible for what the company does. So for example SpaceX is a U.S. company. So the United States is responsible for what SpaceX does. U.S. citizens on board the National Space Station, or dragon, the United States is responsible for them. But you know how does that play out in reality? We haven't seen that in practice much. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: We have about 10 minutes to go. So if you have a question or a comment send them to us at or send them to us on Twitter at Noon Edition. I want to talk about Space Force because that was something that happened during the Trump administration and you know was met with some skepticism from some. But listening to all of you talk today it seems like a very viable and needed idea. I don't know who wants to take this first but Michael how about you? 


>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Space for us, what's its mission and how important is it? 

>>MIKE NEUFELD: Yeah, I know. When that whole thing happened I was kind of sort of bothered by how empty-headed both right and left took (unintelligible) discussion of it was. In fact Space Force, you know there are people who argued it was premature to cut it out of the Air Force and make it an independent service. That's kind of moot now. But in fact basically it's the space part of the Air Force. It's technically still part of the Department of the Air Force. And sort of like the Marine Corps is part of the Navy department, the Space Force is part of the Air Force Department. And so at this point we've largely just taken the Air Force with what the Air Force has been doing in space which is a lot for decades and call it a separate service. And the question now is whether any elements of the Army and Navy that are doing the space work might also be transferred into the Space Force. But it has nothing to do with this point at least with you know guys in fighters firing laser cannons in space which was kind of the image a lot of people had of what the Space Force was about. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Yeah. Laura, did - I think you mentioned... 

>>LAURA FORCZYK: Yeah. I echo... 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Yeah. Go ahead. 

>>LAURA FORCZYK: Sorry. I echo what Michael just said. I mean it's something that actually has been going on for quite some time. For three decades for example Space Command which is now under Space Force has been tracking space debris for the world. I think it was made political because of the people in power wanting to make it a rallying cry. But I agree that it's not science fiction. It's just one of those things that we do in the background. And I think it's appropriate this time that we you know make it its own entity. I don't know the name Space Force. I preferred the original name Space Corps but that's not my decision. But it was nonpartisan before it was made partisan (laughter). And so I'm looking forward to seeing it become nonpartisan again. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Are we going to see a - some sort of a space station as part of this democratization of space? Will people be - will it be you know in the next - I don't know - decade or so where people will be able to either use the space station that's there and stop there on their - on a trip? Or I mean I'm just trying to trying to separate the you know the sort of scientific - or the science fiction kind of things from what's really potentially going to happen. 

>>LAURA FORCZYK: Yes. So I'm really glad you brought this up because this is the next wave of what really truly is happening. The International Space Station has been up there for over two decades. It has a finite life. We don't yet know when we're going to end the International Space Station. Current administration wants to keep it to at least 2030 but the funding hasn't been agreed yet. But we can imagine at least you know until 2030 the International Space Station will be there. But there have been agreements already signed with a private company called Axiom Space to build segments on the International Space Station called Axiom Station that will break off and become their own space station, a free-flying space station by a private company, after the International Space Station retires. And there are other companies that want to do this as well. Nanoracks, Boeing, I mean, there's a whole line of companies, Sierra Space, that have plans to do either human space stations or you know robotic automated space stations or outposts or whatever you want to call them. And it really truly is the future because the only government space station that United States wants to build in the future is Gateway which is around the moon. Russia still wants to build a government space station. China is building their new space station right now. But the United States wants to transition from government to private. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: One other follow up that I have about just the democratization portion of this is you know some - so much good has happened with our spaceflight. Some - but there have been some very high profile disasters like the Challenger and Columbia. And I'm just wondering if there is - and I don't want to - I certainly don't want to think this into you know into existence. But if there is some sort of significant event negative event what could that do to you know the progress that we seem to be having on making it more possible for more humans to go into space? 

>>MIKE NEUFELD: Well I... 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Yeah Mike. 

>>MIKE NEUFELD: Sorry. I would say all previous deaths have not actually changed anything. Obviously there would be a setback of a year or two, two years off and where - he is - the US would stop flying. But it hasn't stopped people from flying in space. And I think the real question will become with the commercial spaceflight. It would be much harder obviously for a company to keep flying tourists if the tourists you know are killed in an accident. So it's very important that they try to avoid having accidents for money reasons if nothing else. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Carolin did you want to add something? 

>>CAROLIN FREUH: Yeah. I mean I'm sure that the stakes are high when we bring the humans into space. And the security levels or the measures that are taken to make that secure are high. Yeah, to protect the people and also for liability issues I would think the overall thrust that will continue would - could kind of bring things down or put a dent in the industry is kind of large solar eruptions where we have kind of frying up some of the electronics of the satellites. That is a real scenario could also impact the earth. Other thing is kind of a real big collision which clogs up space with a lot of space debris for quite some time until it either naturally comes down or kind of maybe has an active removal mission. So I think those are scenarios that they're not kind of super likely to happen tomorrow or something. But I think we have to keep that in the back of our heads, that that could put a dent in the industry because I don't know if we have a lot of - even if we only have a lot of small debris pieces in a certain well-liked region of space, then we need more shielding on these things. And that just makes the spacecraft heavier and then it makes it more costly and then we're losing a bit of the business edge on some of the things. So those would be scenarios that put a dent in that. But I would agree that the overall thrust will continue. We will see more people going into space no matter what. 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: Are other countries sending private citizens to space like we are? Mike, maybe you chime in on that. 

>>MIKE NEUFELD: Yeah. I mean in - I think Carolin perhaps mentioned or or one of us mentioned that the Russians launched seven tourists - at least seven tourists into space in the early 2000s on Soyuz flights. And they are - now that the U.S. is no longer dependent on the Soyuz to get to the space station, there are seats open, which means they're going to start launching - people will pay them on tourist flights. And I know there's commercial spaceflight companies in China, whether how much of that comes of that is a little unclear at this point. So definitely there will be other countries who are - and other companies and not based in the US who are trying to enter the market. 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: Does that mean at all that we'll see fewer astronauts from NASA going or are the two really unrelated do you think? 

>>MIKE NEUFELD: I mean you know NASA astronauts are going to the space station now and as you know as we mentioned it may continue with - Laura mentioned it was going to continue maybe at least for this decade. And we have a program to send astronauts to the moon. So I think the public is probably almost not conscious of this program at all. But starting apparently hopefully in 2023 we're going to start sending astronauts to the moon, NASA astronauts. So low earth orbit may be transitioning towards more commercial. But anything beyond that is still going to be the government bailiwick because it's going to be very - much too expensive for commercial tourism particularly anytime soon. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: We only have about three minutes to wrap this up. It's been a great conversation today. But I want to give each of you the opportunity to tell our audience what you're most excited about in terms of the exploration of space going forward. Let's start with Carolin. 

>>CAROLIN FREUH: I think I'm most excited about that the research part is kind of leaving the near Earth realm to a certain extent and it's looking further out. I mean Laura has mentioned that we're kind of more missions to the moon to L2 and to Mars and kind of have more of a space station maybe on the moon or a permanent president - presence of humans further out in space, which has a lot of new possibilities and also new challenges. So I'm excited to see that and to be a part of that from the research side. 


>>LAURA FORCZYK: I feel like there's been so much promise for so long that just hasn't happened. Maybe the older generations especially can really feel that, that you know you thought you'd have flying cars and whatever. And now it's feels like it's finally happening right? I - my generation - and I'm a millennial. And we have not seen people touch foot on another planetary surface. We've always just been going around the planet which is really cool. I love the space station. But there's something different about really going beyond. And I'm looking forward to seeing both how far we can go in our solar system and what we might find you know on the various moons of Jupiter and Saturn and maybe even getting out there to the Kuiper Belt Objects. I'm really excited about how far humanity can go. But I'm also excited to see the diversity of both humanity going up as different people all around the world not just - you know not just the right stuff kind of white male fighter pilot that we saw in the 1960s and '70s but the real true diversity of humanity and what we choose to do when we go out there. We've got all these science fiction stories telling us the possibilities. What will we actually choose to do when we have commercial space stations or bases on other planets? I'm really looking forward to seeing that and I think it really truly will happen in my lifetime. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Michael last minute. 

>>MIKE NEUFELD: Yeah. I mean I'm - I like everything that the previous speaker said. I'm very interested in exploring the moon with humans again. I'd like to see that happen in my lifetime. I personally am very excited by the robotic exploration of the planets. I'm very interested in that and seeing more expansion into more exotic locations in the outer solar system. And finally as someone who always wanted to go into space I'm kind of excited by this suborbital space tourism in particular seeming like a real possibility. Although I think at this point my doctor would say don't do it. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: (Laughter) Thank you to Mike Neufeld, senior space history curator for the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. And thank you to Laura Forczyk, the owner of space consulting firm Astralytical, and Carolin Freuh an associate professor at Purdue University School of aeronautics and astronautics. For cohost Sara Wittmeyer, producers Holden Abshier and Bente Bouthier and engineer John Bailey, I'm Bob Zaltsberg. Thank you for listening to Noon Edition. 

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Rocket Launch

A rocket launches from the NASA Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (Pixabay)

Noon Edition airs on Fridays at noon on WFIU.   

This week marked another milestone in human spaceflight. Inspiration4 launched Wednesday night from Cape Canaveral, Fla., with the first group of entirely private citizens to orbit Earth.

The crew is riding in SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Resilience capsule but will not dock at the International Space Station during its mission. As a result, a domed window replaced the capsule’s docking hatch.

In addition to being the first crew in space without a trained astronaut, Inspiration4 features the first Black female pilot of a spaceflight and the youngest American citizen to fly in space.

Shift4 Payments CEO Jared Isaacman paid for the flight in hopes of raising $200 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

The flight will last about three days before splashing down off the coast of Florida on September 19.

This week on Noon Edition, we're talking with three guests about what Inspiration4 means for the future of commercial spaceflight.

You can follow us on Twitter@NoonEditionor send us questions for the show at   

Note-This week, our guests and hosts will participate remotely to avoid risk of spreading infection.    


Laura Forczyk, owner of space consulting firm Astralytical.

Carolin Freuh, associate professor in Purdue University’s School of aeronautics and astronautics.

Mike Neufeld, senior space history curator for the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

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