tv Chris Impey Discusses Beyond CSPAN August 22, 2017 8:07am-8:26am EDT
week on c-span2. >> booktv is on twitter and facebook and we want to hear from you. tweet us twitter.com/booktv or post a comment on our facebook page facebook.com/booktv. booktv continues talks on space exploration, astronomy professor chris impey talked about his book "beyond: our future in space," a look at the next generation of space exploration. >> we want to introduce you to chris impey. what do you do at the university of arizona? >> associate dean of the college of science and professor of astronomy. >> how long have you been here? >> guest: 30 years. >> host: what does that entail being what you are? >> guest: i keep a little piece, i teach online classes, over 100,000 cute my arm in teaching
online but i do budget and try to improve outreach for the college and various things. science literacy is a big concern of mine for science students and the general public and every student we teach. >> host: when did you get interested in astronomy? >> guest: a little late. little kids, a telescope traded up for bigger and bigger ones but i grew up in the big city so no stars. i got into physics which is the gateway drug for astronomy. then you realize i can apply civics to -- physics to the universe. you look outwards and i did it. >> host: what is the connection between university of arizona and astronomy? >> guest: the astronomy department on our way to making the world's biggest telescope under the football stadium. it is a big business, astronomy and optics and related
industries are worth a quarter of $1 billion a year. employs a lot of people, we have space missions, epic telescopes and research, a buzzing play for astronomy. >> host: before we get into your book "beyond: our future in space" can you go back to the football field, spinning mirrors, what was that about? >> guest: telescope building seemed to reach a limit, palomar was built in the second world war and it wasn't exceeded for decades. the russians exceeded it with the fixed rate in the 70s, a crappy mirror and still is. there was an optical, expensive and heavy and hard to move around and keep accurate in shape so one of my colleagues, recently retired, invented this way of making mirrors large, thin and very accurate and the way you do it, the trick is to
put the glass in an oven and spin the oven while liquid takes the shape of a parabola and let it cool and take it out and you have a mirror that is really large, bigger than any mirror made in the us for half a century and not as expensive. >> host: what is the connection to the football field? >> guest: at the time, the only place where there was a big enough space to do this, you need a lot of vertical space, horizontal space and have to avoid game days. >> host: spinning mirrors on the football field. >> guest: under the angle in the big triangular space. the university had available space. >> host: why does it matter how big a telescope is to see? >> guest: when you think 5 m should be big enough, 10 m should be big enough, we are trying for 22 m.
it is because gathering more light lets you see farther away. we are trying to look back towards the big bang, get as close to that as possible. you need bigger and bigger glass and bigger mirrors make sharper images. to see detailed you also want a bigger mirror. everything is driving you in the direction of bigger glass, bigger mirrors. >> host: where are these physical telescopes? >> guest: we have our own telescopes on 5 mountaintops around tucson and southern arizona is a good place for observing that. we have two, 61/2 m telescopes in chile and a 221/2 m we are building, the darkest, driest, best place to observe in the world. >> host: you wrote in your book "beyond: our future in space" that our dna tells the story of the profound human urge to explore. what does that mean? >> guest: animals, whales, birds that my great large distances,
travel the planet in search of food, we are the only creatures in the history of the planet that have traveled out of curiosity. when humans spreads out of africa and migrated across the climate in some cases in a startlingly quick few thousand years to go from the bearing strait to patagonia, a few hundred generations. there were plenty of food sources so it was curiosity. we spread across the planet out of the urge, the desire to explore and we have explored the whole planet and there has even been a gene identified double the explorer gene which correlates with risk-taking behavior, adhd, things that might associate with being an explorer. when you have explored the earth you have to go up and out. >> host: 1969, we landed on the
moon. is that like looking at a horseless carriage today were that pretty fancy? >> guest: it is an amazing achievement even in hindsight. there has been tension between the fact that in gallup and other polls 7% to 10% of americans don't think we did it. they think it was a hoax. setting aside that so many americans were not alive when it happens, close to half a century, cultural memory. it is fading from view. on the other hand, it is the most stunning technical achievement humans have ever achieved, hundreds of thousands of scientists and engineers, thousands of companies, enormous amount of money, with computers that were so primitive, 100 times less powerful than your cell phone computer to get to the moon, an extraordinary achievement but it was so long ago. of the 19 how does nasa fit in with all the different aspects
of potential space exploration? >> guest: nasa is still critical because it is the government space agency. they had a hard time. there budget sword during apollo and then retrenched quickly after the vietnam war was starting up and we couldn't afford spending that much on nasa. equally discouraging for space acolytes, nasa's budget has done down as a fraction of the federal budget by a factor of two in the last 20 years, nasa has to do more with less and things are expensive and the technologies are challenging so nasa is a very important player but there are all these new players, 3 dozen private space companies and a few of them are funded by billionaires and have other investors. in the aggregate these private space enterprises clearly rival nasa's budget and will -- >> host: are they cooperating with each other or off on their own? >> guest: an interesting
situation. with nasa, there is some frustration with nasa that things are moving so slowly, the space shuttle with obsolete technology by the time it was retired, the space shuttle -- the space station is not loved university, private companies want to do their own thing. elon musk wants to reinvent rockets from the ground up and thinks he can do better. there is definitely rivalry. recently there is cooperation too. private space companies don't have a good business model yet. orbital sciences and space x and several others have multibillion-dollar contracts with nasa to send astronauts into orbit and that money is important to them and important to nasa because nasa can put an american in space and hasn't been able to for six years which is a little embarrassing. there is rivalry and cooperation. nasa is trying to be more nimble, encourage
entrepreneurial outfits not at a level of space x but student groups and small startups to do miniaturization, put microsatellites up, that is a booming area, cube sets, nasa is trying to learn, roll with the times and be more entrepreneurial and there are partnerships. >> host: you mention the university of arizona has its own space program. >> we have been contacted by nasa twice to do everything except the launch itself for a space probe, first the phoenix lander that went to the martian polar region and most currently osiris rex which will grab a little bit of an asteroid and bring it back. >> host: in "beyond: our future in space" you write about the importance of asteroids. what is that? >> guest: if you want to get glitter in your eye, they are valuable, 500 m asteroid, half a kilometer, not that big that
happens to be coming near the earth, you can capture it by altering its orbit, probably $2 trillion worth of precious metals and current market price and the same amount of rare earth which are valuable in the semi conductor industry and so on so these are huge mineral resources out there and available. there is this little practical problem of how you tether them into a safe orbit that is -- and harvest that mother load at an economical level without destroying the market because you have so much of it. that is not discouraging people. there are people who think maybe not 5 years, maybe ten years, 15 years from now there will be viable asteroid mining. >> host: was it time to retire the spatial? >> guest: absolutely. the space shuttle never live up to its promises, space truck going up once a week, never went up more than once a month in its history. the tiles were a problem. two orbiters out of five were lost catastrophically with all
on board, devastating to the space program. it was long overdue to retire. >> host: is it important the international space station continues orbit? >> guest: i think so but not for the pure scientific reason. the truth is scientists have not flocked to it. companies have not flocked to do microgravity research on drugs unless heavily subsidized. it has not been a magnet for the economic and research activity people hope. but what it has been is a demonstration that we can live and work in space. there are 17 countries involved in the space station including our superpower rivals russia and china. it is an emblem of cooperation and living in space and learning how to do it. until you do it like that all the practical stuff, electrical and plumbing is not very glamorous. it is important in that regard but very expensive, $120 billion and counting at this point.
>> host: george w. bush called for a return to the moon, is that important in your view? >> guest: the idea of the moon, some of the visionaries, it seems very disappointing to just set our sights on the nearest body half a century after but the moon is a very good, as the space station, a good place to live and learn how to work in space, half a day's drive vertically up, not too far. the moon is a good place to learn how to live in a dome in a self-sufficient colony because you could use the lunar soil which is extremely sterile, you can get a leader of water out of a ton of soil and you can turn the water into rocket fuel, oxygen to breathe, you can use it for plant you grow, so if we want to learn how to live beyond the earth the moon is the best place to do it and also a place to serve as a staging post for the rest of the solar system.
>> host: chris impey, in your book "beyond: our future in space," where would you like to see us go? >> guest: the outer solar system, take longer, more ambitious but some of the moons of jupiter and saturn are so interesting. we have a europa clipper going to this water world around jupiter, could well be the next place where we could find life beyond the earth and some of the other moons in the outer solar system are fascinating places where there could be biology. it is a more expensive proposition to get out there. >> host: let's go to the audience which is their life, in your view, beyond earth? >> guest: yes. beyond earth includes a few hundred billion stars in our own galaxy and billions of galaxies in the universe was i can't say for sure but i am almost certain. work on xo planets, including
the trappist system, shows there are tens of billions of earthlike planets in habitable situations just in our own galaxy. the are they are all sterile, given billions of years including billions of years before the earth formed, that nothing has happened with biology when it did happen here are very low. i believe there is life out there. >> host: what is the pipedream you have when it comes to space exploration? >> guest: for myself that i get to go. it is beyond my means. i am not going to be an astronaut. i would like to experience earth orbit which i have talked to enough astronauts to be jealous of the experience. my pipe dream for the whole activity is we figure out a way to get beyond the solar system, to the stars. unknown systems that are tens of thousands of times greater than going to jupiter or saturn. we will need some cryonic technology or suspended animation, we will need new
fuels, propulsion technologies. we need to do r&d. heading to the stars would be an extraordinary thing. >> host: is everyone doing that? >> guest: nasa as i mentioned is resuscitated some of their more visionary ideas like star shot which was announced last year, trying to send nano bots to the nearest star system. nasa is hosting conferences on interstellar drives and propulsion systems which decades ago they halted and now they are doing it again. the medical research on how humans could be taken into a wake state is continuing, life extension and our own medical reasons. the balls are all moving forward. >> host: what is it about you 100,000 students take your courses online? >> 100,000 is a lot but not outrageous because you are tapping the whole world.
these are in 170 countries. my course is about the cutting edge of astronomy so rather than marching through the suspect the way i textbook would, i give them the good stuff. i talk about xo planets and how to make huge mirrors and big telescopes, how we measure black holes, the cutting edge of cosmology. i try to give them the research cutting-edge topics. without the math which is fairly painless. we have a lot of good online discussions was a lot of fun teaching online. of the 19 your book "beyond: our future in space"'s trade title, it's not an academic title. is that purposeful? >> guest: absolutely. i have written textbooks and a lot of indigestible technical articles in my career. i enjoy writing popular books. to explain it to a general audience is a challenge and let you know your subject that her. i have written about cosmology a few times, those are exotic abstract concepts, it challenges you to know your subject well, to explain it to anyone.
i like the challenge of a popular science book and science is important, now more than ever. i am extra motivated to communicate to the public. >> host: we have been talking on booktv with chris impey. his book is called "beyond: our future in space". professor of astronomy at the university of arizona. >> on c-span2 booktv and primetime hits the road tonight starting at 8:00 eastern. we feature programs from our local content vehicles. some of the places we visit our hyde park, new york, cape fear in wilmington, north carolina, the edgar allen poe museum in richmond and charlottesville, virginia. booktv in primetime all this week on c-span2. >> c-span, where history unfolds
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