NASA Director Speaks to Scholars About Moon Landing and Colonizing Mars

February 28, 2020

News

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Photo by Kylie Gutierrez-Jones // Michael Kirsch, Deputy Director of the NASA Engineering and Safety Center, visited ASK on Monday and revealed NASA’s plans to revisit the moon within the next few years.

// By Isaiah Padilla //

On Monday morning ASK Academy scholars were treated to a presentation from a NASA expert who spoke about NASA’s eventual plan to colonize Mars.

Michael Kirsch, the Deputy Director of the NASA Engineering and Safety Center, came on account of his nephew, who is an ASK scholar. His nephew often asks Kirsch questions concerning rockets because of his Physics class at the academy. His enthusiasm for aeronautics-related engineering combined with ASK’s reputation for STEM-heavy education led Kirsch to fly from Hampton, Virginia, to talk to ASK scholars about the near-future plans for rocketry and space exploration at NASA.

Much of Kirsch’s discussion revolved around the politics behind NASA’s space program and the logistics behind the numerous launches, failures, and programs that go into designing, testing, and launching a rocket. He said NASA has received criticism over its’ focus on revisiting the Moon as opposed to Mars.
Kirsch defended NASA’s decision to revisit the Moon by using the analogy, “Before you climb Mount Everest, you need to learn to set up your tent in the backyard.”

It will take a year each way to get to Mars, and NASA scientists want to be prepared for the trip. He said it’s important to first use the Moon as their backyard, then aim for the much more difficult trip to Mars.
“That way, if we forget our tent stakes, it’s only a two-day trip back, not a year-long trip,” he said.

Kirsch explained the political complexities of space exploration. With the last manned rocket launch to the Moon in 1972, it’s been 48 years since NASA has been able to really put effort and funding into that portion of the space program, due mostly to a perceived decreased need and multiple presidential transitions (and therefore shifts in where to go next).

“As it turns out,” Kirsch says, “When we have presidential transitions we often change destinations.”

Sophomore Serenity Hays said she had no idea until Kirsch’s presentation that space exploration was so political. “I didn’t know that when new presidents come in, they change it up on NASA. For all we know we could have gone to the moon several times by now,” she said. “I thought that was fascinating and I liked that he stressed how he really wants to get these programs going so that we can be the first to get to Mars.”

NASA is currently looking at putting another team of people on the Moon by 2024, Kirsch says. “They will be sent to the South Pole this time around in order to begin setting up a base camp and preparing to accommodate a true occupation of the Moon.”

Many people are familiar with the Apollo program which remained the primary space exploration in NASA for several decades; Now, NASA is working on a twin program to Apollo, this one named Artemis. In Greek mythology, Apollo was the god of the sun and rode his fiery chariot through the sky daily to provide heat and warmth for the humans below; Artemis was his twin sister and the goddess of the Moon.

“The first program was the Apollo program and now we have the sister to Apollo, twin sister no less, Artemis,” Kirsch said.

The moon’s South Pole has remained uncharted territory since manned lunar launches began, but is known to contain ice and other materials necessary for sustaining a base and eventually a colony. The Artemis astronauts would be the first people to reach the site and begin laying the groundwork for a lunar base.
Eventually, the technology and experience gained by the expedition will lead to the exploration and colonization of Mars.

Until recently, NASA was the main competitor on the market for anything to do with lunar rockets and space exploration in America; that changed with the introduction of companies such as the well-known SpaceX, led by Elon Musk, Blue Origin, funded by Jeff Bezos, and Boeing creating and developing their own rockets for manned launches into space. However, said Kirsch, SpaceX, while a popular up-and-coming company, has experienced several setbacks in their work, with minor mistakes leading to capsule explosions on the launch pad.

“Those weren’t planned explosions,” Kirsch notes. “Those were bad things that happened because we didn’t dot the i’s or cross the t’s. Somebody forgot to check their homework and so we’ve got to be extra careful and vigilant about that sort of thing.”

Kirsch graduated high school in Albuquerque, and got his Master’s from New Mexico State University. While he attended college, Kirsch joined NASA’s Cooperative Educational Program, which is the only way employees are able to get their foot in the door for a future career with NASA according to Kirsch.
“For those of you who are thinking about going off to college,” Kirsch added. “If you’re interested in that, the Jet Propulsion Laboratories in California hire a thousand students every summer.”

He said now more than ever, NASA is recruiting young, academically-minded students to help launch the Artemis program.

ASK scholars were excited about Kirsch’s visit and the prospect of another trip to the Moon and the continued space exploration programs.

Sophomore Timothy Bautista said, “It has inspired me to apply for the NASA internship, and pursue a career in aerospace-related fields.”

For those interested in applying to the NASA careers and internships, please visit https://www.nasa.gov/stem.

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