Transcript: Space4U podcast, Jason Reimuller
Written by: Space Foundation Editorial Team
Hello, this is Andrew de Naray with the Space Foundation, and you’re listening to the Space4U podcast. Space4U is designed to tell the stories of the people making today’s space exploration more accessible to all. Our guest today is Dr. Jason Reimuller. Jason is the executive director of the International Institute for Astronautical Sciences, known henceforth by the acronym IIAS and co-investigator of NASA’s PMC turbo experiment. Jason also works as a commercial research pilot and flight test engineer with atmospheric remote sensing company GATS Inc. He is a National Association of Underwater Instructors Scuba Divemaster, and has authored the book Spacecraft Egress and Rescue Operations.
He served for six years as a system engineer and project manager for NASA’s Constellation program, leading studies on launch aborts, launch commit criteria, landing conditions, post landing, and emergency crew egress trades, and propulsion options. Additionally, Jason has led several flight research campaigns to study noctilucent cloud time evolution, structure, and dynamics in Northern Canada.
Jason has been a commissioned officer in the U.S. Air Force. He holds a PhD in aerospace engineering sciences from the University of Colorado Boulder, a master of science degree in physics from San Francisco State University, another master of science in Aviation Systems from the University of Tennessee, and yet another master of science degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Colorado, Boulder, as well as a bachelor of science in aerospace engineering from Florida Tech.
Jason is also the executive director of Project PoSSUM, which is a 501c3 astronautics research and education program within the IIAS, studying our upper atmosphere and its role in our changing global climate. All incoming PoSSUM candidates are trained at Florida Tech or Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University to receive the skills required for astronautics research programs available to graduates.
PoSSUM has many different features. The educational portions of which include advanced PoSSUM academy for undergraduate students and the PoSSUM scientist astronaut program for applicants who already hold a Bachelor of Science. All graduates may pursue credentials through the IIAS to specialize in aeronomy, bio astronautics, spacesuit evaluation, science education, spaceflight operations, or flight test engineering.
PoSSUM also manages three outreach programs to serve underrepresented minorities in STEM, which are called the PoSSUM 13, Out Astronaut, and Space for All Nations. And we’ll get into all those features here shortly. Jason, thank you so much for joining us today. And thanks for the great introduction, Andrew. Aeronomy is defined as science that deals with the physics and chemistry of the upper atmosphere of planets.
Jason, briefly, how much would you say that we truly understand about our planet’s upper atmosphere? I would say we know very little about our upper atmosphere. In fact, I always joke that our upper mesosphere, which is our, I mean, just by the name alone mesosphere is Greek for middle sphere. I mean, it’s not troposphere, it’s not our changing sphere where our weather is.
It’s not the stratosphere where, you know, our jet streams and our layers it’s not the thermosphere above it or all the high energy particles of the Sun absorb. In between just the middle sphere. And just shows how little we’ve actually known about this region of our atmosphere. And just recently we’re discovering that this is probably the most dynamic place on our entire planet.
You know, what has seemed to be just this rarefied layer of air is actually incredibly dynamic. It’s where all this solar energy, the momentum from the Sun is interacting with all the energy from the Earth, energy that’s being convected up, you know, forms of waves called gravity waves, and they rise up and many break up in the mesosphere and they trigger all sorts of secondary waves and all these interactions and most complex patterns of instability and dynamics, turbulence that you could see, probably anywhere in the solar system.
And that is, uh, what we’ve discovered recently over the last 10 years, and partly with some of our research with a NASA PMC turbo mission, which is a, it was a particular balloon to study uh, noctilucent clouds and that is the biggest observable, uh, in the visible spectrum.
Uh, something that people can see if they are in the summer at high latitudes, uh, they may be able to see these really amazing cloud layers. They’re blue, they’re polarized, and they look like they shine at night. Hence the name noctilucent clouds. And for those listeners, not very familiar with noctilucent cloud dynamics and there’s bound to be a few.
Uh, could you, uh, kind of give a low-level explanation on what they are, and I guess more specifically, how they’re indicators for what’s going on in the atmosphere. Sure. Like the name says noctilucent for night-shining clouds, these are the, by far, the highest clouds known. They are, they formally be 10 times higher than the highest clouds typically observed because they were up by the top of our mesosphere.
So about 83 kilometers, where most of the clouds that we see are just a few kilometers high. So they’re so high that they, you know, they reflect light long after the Sun is set. Well, why do we care about these clouds? Why are they important? We’ve been observing these clouds here since over the, mostly over the last century and especially in the last 40 or 50 years, their presence has been increasing.
And we think that their increasing presence, their increasing intensity the length of the season that they’re coming to lower latitudes, is because we’re introducing colder temperatures and more water vapor into the upper atmosphere. And we think for one that that’s tied to the two biggest man-made drivers of climate change, CO2 and methane that we’re introducing in our lower atmosphere uh, we believe is being coupled with our upper atmosphere and that the CO2, uh, creates a net cooling effect in the upper atmosphere. And that methane disassociates into water vapor. So we believe that the increasing presence of these clouds are indicative to the man-made drivers of global climate.
Uh, but there are a lot of other reasons to study them, too. Just how little we know about these for one, it’s a good way to understand the atmosphere as a whole very small changes in our atmosphere can represent themselves greatly in the upper atmosphere. But in understanding low-density atmospheres elsewhere.
Like if we want to understand the atmosphere say on Mars, uh, this is a great way to look at an analog environment here on our own planet. And then a reentry vehicle designs. You know, there was, um, you know, the space shuttles, a great example for one, space shuttle never allowed reentry through a known noctilucent cloud.
Uh, would that have hurt the shuttle? You know, we just didn’t know. So we had this operational constraint on the space shuttle that may or may not have been warranted. And kind of going back to what you said there outside of helping us understand our own climate, how does a better understanding of aeronomy on Earth better prepare us for travel to other plans.
Well, I think, you know, for the comparative planetologist, and I’m not, I’m not a planetary scientist here myself, but you know, when you look at a low-density atmosphere on Mars, our mesosphere is a good analog to that. So if we want to weigh, you know, a laboratory to experimentally study, how vehicles design, you know, there, there have been almost no vehicles have designed to actually operate in the mesosphere that the only one that comes to mind is the X-15.
You know, that was a completely experimental hypersonic rocket craft. So other than that, we’ve just been going through and coming back through vehicles that haven’t really been designed to operate there. If we want to, you know, to, to understand the dynamics and environments in a way that we could perhaps consider when we’re designing vehicles to operate in the atmosphere or transit the atmosphere of Mars, uh, you know, an increased understanding of our own mesosphere is a, is a good thing to have.
Jason, what personally got you interested in space? I, I don’t know a life other than space. Yeah. You know, one of the, one of my favorite stories for those that have read Catch 22, I grew up with my grandfather very closely. Uh, and he was a career general in the Air Force. He was a aviator. And, uh, one of the bombardiers that served under him in the war was Joseph Heller who wrote Catch 22.
Well, he based all of the characters in this book on real life characters that he had served with in the war? Well, uh, infamously, my grandfather was portrayed as the, probably the chief antagonist Colonel Cathcart. So, um, Colonel Cathcart’s grandson, but that’s the way I grew up and everything that I’ve known was going to, you know, And, flighy, growing up in a house full of books and just a science curiosity, and, and I think, uh, you know, the Apollo astronauts of course, and printed strongly.
And, and so my whole life has been somehow around human spaceflight, but then understanding later what that means in a broader construct and the importance of human spaceflight and the roles of the astronaut, uh, in society, sciences that encompass that I think, uh, all kinds of spun out from that early childhood fascination of, uh, I think what grandfather seeded in me and what I was, uh, seeing and witnessing through Apollo and later through the shuttle programs.
And were you immediately drawn to climate science or how did that happen? I don’t say immediately. I think it was, you know, an extension of my interest in space and growing to understand, you know, obviously growing to be concerned about our environment, like everybody else.
Um, but then realizing that when I got into aeronomy, it was basically an opportunity when I came to the University of Colorado, I came in with a background in flight test engineering and physics, and they were, uh, the university was contributing to a NASA satellite mission called AIM. That was to look at these noctilucent clouds. And I, it piqued my interest.
No, I didn’t know anything about them at the time, but I knew, Hey, this is something that was near space environment that you could see from polar regions. And that maybe, um, my skills as a pilot or a, you know, an an, or an engineer like that could help, uh, study then. So my interest was piqued. And then I, I started to learn more about the connections of our atmosphere and especially our upper atmosphere to climate change.
Of course, there’s this moral imperative. I think that falls on all of us to contribute in some ways to addressing this. It doesn’t have to be as a scientist. It doesn’t have to be in a lot of ways, but to understand how we’re affecting our climate, how we’re going to adapt with new technologies, new ways of understanding, new ways of living.
Um, it was, it was always something that I felt was important. And so that natural interest in the space environment, uh, started to realize how important aerospace is to really being able to understand the problem in a way that we can react and adapt to it. Let’s talk about a project, PoSSUM. It really seems like sort of a big umbrella sort of, and there are just so many wonderful parts of the project.
Could you break down the PoSSUM acronym for us and how each letter applies to your mission? So certainly like anything aerospace, certainly everything NASA. It’s a, it’s a geeky acronym. PoSSUM really kind of outgrew its brand. Um, so the, uh, the initial program started in 2012 from a flight opportunity from NASA.
Uh, PoSSUM stands for polar suborbital science in the upper mesosphere. So the intent of the program was to understand turbulence, instabilities, dynamics to characterize the upper atmosphere in a way that was newly, that would be newly possible with the onset of this commercial suborbital spacecraft.
So augmenting what we know from ground and airborne observations, the airborne observations, where the focus of my own doctoral dissertation, space observations say from the AIM satellite, and then the balloon missions we’ve been able to do with PMC Turbo, but now there’s another piece of the puzzle that we could add to this that can really start to look at the small-scale features of turbulence and instability.
That really helps us understand the big picture, you know, really things that we can’t see from the ground. Can’t see from space. This was a really unique opportunity to have a dedicated science mission on, on some of the spacecraft in a way that requires a trained operator, uh, and someone that really understood the science and engineering in a way that we didn’t see any other experiment really doing.
So PoSSUM started as a research project, and then we realized that this was an incredible opportunity for the entire aeronomy community. Here was an opportunity to launch a flagship education and outreach program. What’s more inspiring and exciting than an astronaut. And hey, most people don’t even know the word aeronomy.
They don’t even know about noctilucent clouds. They don’t know about a lot of these things that we feel are very important. Uh, so. We’re failing in our duty as aeronomers to, to close the deal. We can publish in forums. We’re doing good science, but if people aren’t knowing, you know, that the day-to-day people that you know, the people around the world understanding what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, why, why they should care about it, then we’re not fully engaged as a science community.
So that was something that we realized as an incredible opportunity is to engage people to do this research, to find ways to educate and to train people, to do science missions. So PoSSUM started from that, grew to be a inclusive citizen science organization. And there were so many things that were integral to this mission that formed other tiers of research that it quickly became a lot more than aeronomy.
And so we introduced the International Institute of Astronautical Sciences as an institute that’s under the accreditation process now to really, um, seize on this opportunity to engage people into science and to use that kind of inspirational power of astronautics in a way that really democratizes the access to space and gets people interested, inspired, engaged in science, you know, as soon as we can.
That’s great. Uh, and can you kind of give us your definition of citizen scientist? That’s something we’re really trying to, I wouldn’t say radically change, but to expand. I think that there’s a perception of a citizen scientist as just a interested amateur, that number crunches for that, that scientist in the ivory tower and proverbial scientists in the ivory tower.
We believe this definition should, uh, expand, uh, some more. How can we find ways where people that may not have gone through the traditional hierarchal roles can still create, fund publish, communicate novel professional peer reviewed science? And, you know, we find that there’s other avenues that we want to tap into.
Uh, there’s other avenues besides typical public funding of science, how can we tap into private sources to do science? One of the things that influenced me at this time, I had received a call, it was 2013 or 14, and it was from a production group and they had, uh, a budget. It was a quarter million dollars and they were to do some production for fabric softener for a company.
And they talked, they were looking for, uh, a real astronaut and a real fill-in. And somehow they got my name and I told him, well, you know, you’re not going to find a NASA astronaut to peddle a commercial venture. Well, they, they talk to people and they’re like, well, we want you and we want your mom. So like, okay. So, so we went and we realized that we, you know, we had this very low fidelity mock-up spacesuit and, you know, the, the production was good, but I was just amazed at the amount of money that would go into that, where there were so many scientists clawing over each other for scraps to try to do, you know, real research, like how can this TV commercial?
And I thought, well, for quarter million dollars we could have done a great production that would have published science. We could have used real spacesuits and we could still peddled their fabric softener. Why can’t we market our scientists that are out there on the limb. And I know many out there on mountains and polar regions in the atmosphere with incredible human stories.
Why can’t these be our heroes, at least as much as our actors and our athletes and our entertainers. Um, how can we really tap into that human element of science and what better way than an astronaut, but an astronaut has always been historically tied to the governments that sponsor them. And this is changing.
How can we turn people into those heroes that people want to brand with, that people want to market with in a way that then reflects on society, a more inclusive value for, for science. And, uh, who should enroll in PoSSUM? You know, are there prerequisites, you’d recommend for people who are entering. Uh, we, we try to invest ourselves in people we think, you know, hate the use the cliche, the right stuff, but people that really are really passionate about science and space.
Uh, so we have two programs. We have a program that’s designed for undergraduates called the PoSSUM Academy. And then we have the PoSSUM Scientist Astronaut Qualification program, and we try to actually make them as similar as possible. But the result is opening the doors for people to enroll in and participate in our graduate programs, through the Astronautics Institute.
So that the way we focus the Institute is there’s currently six tiers of concentrations. And so when you graduate from the program, you understand how to do, we’ll use the noctilucent cloud tomography experiment, uh, and fundamentally that teaches people how to think of scientific mission planning as a systemic problem.
But at the same time, people are gaining the skills that they’ll be able to apply then to work in some of our citizen scientist campaigns. So when they get involved with a tier there’s some preparatory courses, but how, how do we get people up to speed quickly? So not only can they take the course and learn from the course, but they are empowered with the ability to introduce their own research interests, their own outreach interests.
However they want to add to the campaigns we do. So every year we do a microgravity campaign in Canada in partnership with the National Research Council. We, uh, not only test spacesuits and qualify spacesuits in microgravity and in high-G, but we often bring on 20 other experiments on board that can be from partner institutions, student experiments within our own program, or that support our outreach efforts.
We built a gravity offset laboratory in the lunar yard at the Canadian Space Agency headquarters, where we do the first stage of our EVA spacesuit testing. And so this is a final frontier design that Ted Southern and Nikolay Moiseev are the principles there. And we’ve been working together with them for seven years.
So. That’s been a part of our bioastronautics tier, we do with a Survival Systems USA testing spacesuits in post-landing environments, egress environments, uh, you’re parachuting into the water. We have a full-scale mock-up of NASA’s Orion spacecraft, and then we’re setting up to do the first underwater evaluations of the EVA space suit prototype there.
So these are full, you know research tiers and bioastronautics focused around a lot around the spacesuits themselves, but a lot of the technologies and the sciences that the company that we, uh, introduced some new topics and in spaceflight operations and flight test engineering, and then aeronomy.
We’ve done some unique campaigns with aircraft and balloons that are very involving of students. We’ve had, you know, even some of our younger students flying on research sorties from aircraft and you know, your high-altitude remote areas in a unpressurized airplane, you know, 23 or 24,000 feet. NASA funded instruments, chasing clouds, and you can barely even see the horizon sometimes these are so remote.
You know, these are particular opportunities and you say, well, that might be crazy to take 18 year old student up like that. But, you know, that’s the way we look at things. You know, we look at our whole method of education as being very matrixed in that you have subject matter experts, but they’re also working with other people, other younger students.
And we try to even take the youngest most inexperienced student and get them to think that here are opportunities for you to, to be a PI, to propose, to lead, to publish your own research. And this is a community that will support that. When did the first class graduate? We had our first course, February, 2015, and that was kind of a pilot course.
And we’ve had a consistently courses, uh, every spring and every fall, of course, this last year, we’ve, uh, we’ve continued to bring in and as we can, you know, and to engage people virtually we’ve, uh, we’re certainly a snowballing forward, but we try to set the bar high and be selective and pick the people that we know want to invest ourselves in.
And grow the, uh, the program accordingly, you know, the, the program is very much a reflection of its members now. So it is, uh, you know, when people come in, there’s so many opportunities, but there’s also a community that that’s open to embracing research interests or outreach interests, or education interests of our members.
What are some of the simulators that you use to teach the programs like one description on your site said the students learn to fly suborbital missions as both the pilot and scientist astronaut, what kind of technology provides these similar. Sure. Now these are, uh, simulators that we’ve developed. You know, we build the hardware, the software is custom, you know, the hardware accommodates the spacesuits in our instruments.
We have a, a mock-up of the cockpit of the Spaceship 2, uh, with, uh, Virgin Galactic. This is something that we’ve done, uh, with publicly available information, our own understanding of the atmosphere of spaceflight operations. Um, does not involve any proprietary information from the company. And we also have software that’s being released this year, the same way for the, uh, orbital flight mechanics.
We have a couple other projects in the hopper to give people more of a broad understanding of a spaceflight operations is simulation, but the, the simulation that everyone goes through as they come into our program is a suborbital profile. And so they get to, uh, do, uh, noctilucent cloud, understand a noctilucent cloud tomography mission.
So we have models that represent the mesosphere, the, where you can see the clouds take off for, from an airdrop and you pitch up. And as you come down, you’re working closely with the pilot. So you’re using these skills you’re learning an effective communication and crew resource management to get the kind of imagery that’ll be the most useful from a science perspective.
So that’s ultimately what we build people up to do and that full simulation, whether in the spacesuit and they’re working with the cameras, they’ve learned how to, to work with, and they’re in that full simulation. They they’ve gone through some analogs before we get them into spacesuits.
We have to, you know, give them hypoxia awareness training. Uh, we give them some understanding of the physiological effects through some carefully designed aerobatic profiles with aircraft, methods of working in aircraft with instruments, for remote sensing of objects too. So it’s a very hands-on program, but all of these, you know, in a really in the field and you’re away from that academic environment, you know, when we were doing, um, you know, campaigns say in north Canada, it’s for real, like you are in that environment and you rely on your crew members to make sure that there’s oxygen, that nobody’s getting hypoxic.
Everyone’s thinking ahead at the plane, working with the instruments. So it’s a very close analog to what people learn there. You know, when we do a microgravity campaign, everyone has a safety-critical role for that person in the test. Uh, so you know, everyone from, you know, the test director to the five other people, supporting that person to make sure that everyone’s safe.
So this why we’re so selective, so we can trust each other, uh, you know, that we’re, that we’re building safe programs, but we have to make sure that, you know, everybody is aware of the responsibilities that they incur when we do a, uh, a campaign, uh, like we do. So switching gears a bit, there’s been a lot of talk that with the Presidential transition taking place that NASA’s focus will likely shift a bit more towards Earth observation, uh, with regard to climate science, rather than being laser focused on Moon to Mars.
Uh, what are your thoughts on that? And do you expect it to benefit the studies conducted by possible grads? I don’t think it’s a radical change. You know, despite, the sharp divisions, uh, politically in the country, uh, you know, you go to space ultimately to understand Earth, you know, and a lot of what we know about Earth comes from spaceborne platforms and, you know, deed, when you go to the Moon, It has.
So that’s always say that, keep looking back at Earth. Um, there’s a truth to that. I don’t think we should abandon our ambitions to go to the Moon and Mars, but if we forsake, uh, looking back at the Earth and then we’re doing it a disservice, in my opinion. So I think, uh, you know, everything should be, you know, focused around the science, science return and what that means to humanity as a whole.
So. You know, our history has been fantastic, the International Space Station, you know, that kind of international collaboration and the benefits we get back from that, you know, creating that as we go forward as a long-term vision and something we should, you know, make sure survives, you know, through these, through these political changes, but, you know, climate, you know, understanding our climate from a space platform.
Yeah. Is certainly something that I think will be very welcome. I know we’ve been, uh, contacted in a couple of ways. There’s been some interest already in some of our works from the transition team, and we’ve been talking with them in ways and we, uh, really welcome, uh, the opportunities that Biden administration will provide.
I mentioned in the intro there that you’re a co-investigator of NASA’s PMC Turbo balloon mission. And I saw that in 2018 instrumentation devised by PoSSUM flew as a part of that mission. Could you tell us a bit about that? Sure. The principal investigator at PMC Turbo has been a chief scientist of aeronomy from the start. Dave Fritz is, uh, you know, as a, as a genius at what he does and, and understanding and modeling the mesosphere he’s worked from aircraft and other PMC Turbo balloon is, is really been, uh, really increased our knowledge enormously.
So far we are anticipating a second campaign around Antartica this time. So yeah, that the entire program kind of came from, you know, the roots that also grew PoSSUM. Now specifically, uh, our expertise within the hardware and in demonstrating the hardware, and the camera systems. And we’ve been, uh, up to that mission testing that hardware and incorporating that into, um, airborne missions as well and ground observations. So finding better ways to take what we observe from a high-altitude balloon platform. And to see if we’re also able to observe similar structures from lower-cost repeatable platforms like on aircraft or, or ground observations.
And, uh, space medicine obviously will be a big factor in the longer space missions planned in the coming years. Um, can you explain, uh, PoSSUM’s involvement with regard to your space medicine group? Sure. Space medicine cross cuts through everything we do. You know, when you’re dealing with a spacesuit, you know, we’re publishing things on human factors and human performance.
You know, even now there’s things that come up every single time that we need, uh, since there’s a human in the loop and everything that we do, we need to make sure we have enough professional input from that. And the kind of research that’s being done that can be done. But ultimately the safety of uh, of our members as they do. So space medicine is not just an educational program, but an advisory panel and the panel that introduces new topics of research, uh, in, in what we do.
So, uh, Dr. Sonya Pandya is the, uh, the chair of the lead of that program. And a very international and a very competent group with, uh, with our space medicine working group. And then, uh, other facets of project PoSSUM, uh, promote diversity in space projects. And I think these are all really great. So I’d like to kind of go through each and just get a few details about specifically how these programs support each segment of individuals.
So let’s start with the PoSSUM 13, which advocates for women seeking space careers. Sure a little over two years ago, we started outreach programs reaching out to underrepresented minorities in STEM. And these were released at all at the same time, uh, because there is, uh, a space for all message. And that if, you know, if people, for some reason aren’t being represented, that works against us all. To do these things that are really great to be able to really understand the shared environment that we live in or, or even move on and habitate the Moon or, or go to Mars, frankly, we’ve got to hit on all cylinders and if people don’t feel represented, uh, if they don’t feel that there is a culture and a community that’s supportive of them, that they’re ultimately not going to be involved.
So this is something that we really want to, to highlight in our program is that, uh, you know, this inspirational power of what we do working in the field of astronautics. Uh, so PoSSUM 13 is a program designed to represent young women. Uh, this came about in 2018, formally. We had the, the name is a nod to the Mercury 13, which were 13 women that were trained a parallel to the Mercury 7 astronauts and had, uh, committed their lives to aerospace explorations.
Uh, so realized in this program that we had some very charismatic and powerful, uh, females, not just researchers, but also, uh, science communicators. And so this was a, uh, a wonderful opportunity. The program grew from a contest that we have that, uh, we work with the NRC Canada for, to involve student teams on these, our student teams around the Americas to design experiments that we would fly, uh, with our microgravity campaign.
Now, these are a female led teams. That are advised by the PoSSUM 13 ambassadors that are selected annually for two-year terms. And this was our, our first major program. There are a number of other programs that are being done by the organization, but, uh, our first contest, the three finalists, one finalist team, uh, came from Mexico, one from Guatemala, and then the winning team was, uh, a group of Colombianas and the team leader with her mom came up to Ottawa.
And incorporated her experiment and the other two finalists into our flight manifest and was able to fly as a, as a trained crew member in one of our research sorties. So that’s fantastic for that contest to go. She went back to Columbia and she’s literally talked throughout high schools throughout the entire country.
And so that that’s powerful, that’s transformative. Uh, and it happened to be, and this was not something that was planned until the last day, we realized we could make one change that wouldn’t affect too much. And she flew on an entire female crew on the a, and that was something that was not planned. And we just realized like, Hey, why don’t we do this?
And everything was right. So. We were able to find contests that provide mentorship and get people visible and represent. Cause I I’ve been, I go to Guatemala about once a year and I know that the universities are like, we can’t attract, uh, we can’t attract women here. It’s it’s difficult. And the, you know, the reason is many don’t think that it is a career path that’s open.
So this is an opportunity to do something that is very public and very inspiring. And that changes that perception. And then there’s the Out Astronaut Project, which promotes LGBTQ+ inclusivity. Yeah. So this is something that, um, you know, that I feel passionate about when I talk about Out Astronaut, I, uh, you know, it’s, it’s hard for me not to, um, to think about, uh, so I’ve been a rugby player for about 30 years of my life.
One of the legacies that I, I always reflect to is, uh, back in 1999, I helped start the San Francisco Fog with, uh, Mark Bingham, who, uh, two years later, mark Bingham was one of the four people that took down Flight 93 on September 11th. So he was one of our co-founders, um, what we had started at that time.
And I Mark and I had played for, for quite a while already before then, what we had started was the first open and inclusive rugby team for gay athletes. And we found since we lost Mark that what went from a culture that, you know, a sports culture that hadn’t been that welcoming inclusive, um, across the board with all, all sports.
Um, we found that within 15 years, the tournament that bears his name now has become the biggest tournament in the world in terms of participation, you know, 70, 80 teams coming together from around the world played principally by gay men. And this is something that now rugby has become one of the most outwardly inclusive sports in, in the country, in terms of the way it embraces diversity of, of its member, of his players.
And. You see in 15 years, how much change can be done if a community feels represented and you look in science and you start reading the statistics and the studies, and there’s a common study that showed that 40% of LGBTQ people leave the field, uh, within their, their undergraduate years, because they don’t feel that that representation.
So. You look at why is this, you know, where are these high-profile people? Oh, there’s never been an out astronaut. At least someone that was selected, at the time of selection was open and visible. There are several people have come out post-mortem like Sally Ride or, uh, after retirement. Um, or forced out in the case of Ann McClain, what does that say about a culture?
So this is a program that’s trying to change that to increase representation, you know, seeing personally how that plays out in sport. Uh, we want to see that play out in the science and it can, if people come out visibly tell their stories, people feel represented. And so that’s what Out Astronaut does, is it, there’s a contest, in fact, yeah.
There’s a contest open now. Uh, people propose a social mission statement and also a proposal of an experiment that can be included in an existing IIAS campaign. Yeah. So I’m going to share a word about that and if there’s, uh, you know, any, uh, listeners that are LGBTQ identified, it’s at outastronaut.org.
That’s excellent. Yeah, it’s changing that mentality. And like you said, make people feel represented and welcomed, and then finally, there’s Space for All Nations, which is outreach to students in an emerging space nations, correct? Yes. So this is the frontier on this as a, it’s amazing what, uh, you know, the potential of this organization.
Now we realize I can, again we’re an organization with members from 43 different countries, many come from countries without a history in human space exploration, or even some, some even from space at all. So the intent of the program is to foster to support people that are working with institutions within these countries, to be able to include research that we do here through PoSSUM, through IIAS in the U.S. and Canada, and to encourage and support what they’re developing and their own countries.
And there are a number of spinoffs to this, some focus on education and outreach, others focus in developing national facilities that are of, uh, international interest. So finding what people have been able to do in their countries, it’s a, it’s a program that not only represents and engages them in what we do, but also builds bridges with these other people that are championing these efforts in their own countries as well.
Very cool. And then, uh, just one final question, Jason, do you personally have an interest in being involved in future space missions as either a passenger or a researcher? And if so, what would you like to do and where would you want him to go? Sure, no, you know, that’s a really good question. Like a lot, a lot of people I grew up with the passion of, of, you know, I tried to be selected as an astronaut myself, uh, with NASA several times, um, made a couple of the hurdles, but never quite made it there.
You know, I, I, I really believe now, you know, I look at the, the reasons, you know when you’re a kid, it’s like, it’s just exciting to go to space and that gets you into it. And as you grow up, you realize what the broader social impacts mean. What’s the significance, why the importance of that? What does a science that it enables?
What does that mean for, for humanity as a whole, and then realizing the, kind of the unique opportunities that present, you know, individuals that, you know, have the opportunities to, to train and to go on a space mission. So that role role’s changed, you know, as I see, you know, my role, I, you know, my role is one to serve this community.
I say, I like to herd the cats and tell the stories, you know, to try to make sure that we’re on track, that people are representative of what we do. Grows and is credible and that creates the right community. But I also really believe, and I’ve seen this play out that as you serve others, you create opportunities for yourself as well, as a product of that.
So, yes, I would certainly welcome the opportunity, but creating a community and opportunities for people really to do the science, uh, to do things beyond tourism. That’s what we want to change. Like there is this cultural allure of the astronaut historically, um, and the astronaut has the ability to inspire, the astronaut is an ambassador to STEM.
The astronaut has these global perspectives and works internationally and the astronauts is meritocratous. That astronaut has succeeded on the values of their merit that hasn’t been provided from other means up through selection is a, is a culmination of a lifetime of preparing the skills and expertise that a government would entrust for this mission.
So when you look at these, the nature of. You know, who’s regarded as a hero. You know, heroes are people that don’t just have skills and capabilities, but are people that have a broader vision in this moral direction imperative, like how do you create communities of people that are not just, you know, like people would pay to be guided up a mountain instead?
How do you create someone? Really the scientific explorer, you know, that whole lifetime mission, the whole course of preparation. Now with the spaceflight, you know, isn’t this profound snap overview effect. That’s just the validation of an entire life of curiosity. So that’s whwhatour Institute really tries to build is not just provide someone the opportunity to see the world from a high altitude, but to preserve this, this role of the astronaut, historically, that it’s not seen as a joy rides for billionaires thing, that people that go to space that will continue to have these backgrounds to be socially transformative, and that can bring back things that have much more benefit that the impacts of the footprints that they have by consuming the resources to go to space.
So, you know, would I go as a tourist, as much as I love space, I’d have to say no, but if I had the opportunity, you know, like the opportunity to fly with the Canadian Air Force that came along quickly, and that, that came from a, you know, it’s hard.
Like I say, you know, as you serve others, you just find the opportunities in life. So, you know, if those opportunities were to present to do science, I felt was meaningful. Absolutely. But you know, my first role in this, in this organization is to serve, uh, serve our community and serve the community and to make sure that what we’re all doing is as preserving that historic role and the imperative of what astronauts have been.
Love it. Great answer. Um, well, Jason, thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us today. We really admire all that Project PoSSUM is doing. And, uh, of course we hope that we can all get post-COVID here and get your programs resumed normal. Thanks for your interest and your support. And, um, hopefully we’ll see you in the program sometime.
And that concludes this episode of the Space Foundation’s Space4U podcast. You can subscribe to this podcast and leave us a review on Podbean, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and Spotify. Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. And of course our website spacefoundation.org, where you can also learn about the various ways you can support the Space Foundation.
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