On Tuesday, April 22 the Intrepid Museum hosted The Future of Space, an evening panel discussion, in a sold-out Lutnick Theater inside the Museum. Ira Flatow, the host of public radio’s Science Friday program, moderated a panel featuring NASA astronaut Mike Massimino; Bobak Ferdowsi, an engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL); and Will Pomerantz, VP of special projects at Virgin Galactic.
Museum President Susan Marenoff-Zausner introduced the panel and several well-known guests in the audience, including Greg Olsen and Richard Garriott, private citizens who have both traveled to space. Flatow then kicked off the panel asking about Mars research and how each panelist sees the future of space exploration unfolding.
"My students are just as excited about space travel and they still have that great interest in space travel and the future," said Massimino, who has worked at NASA since 1996 and is currently teaching at Columbia University. "Students see the space program as more than just NASA. One of my students is going to be in intern at the Kennedy Space Center, one at Virgin Galactic, another at Ames Research Center, one at JPL."
As a member of the Engineering Operations Team on the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity Project at JPL, Ferdowsi had a unique perspective on the work happening on Mars: "The moment we put Curiosity (rover) on Mars—I was thinking this is an amazing moment for humans."
"The more we learn, we see these amazing places 'close to home' that have this possibility of life," he added. "Ultimately, we want to put geologists in the field, doing their job. There's nothing like having a person [on Mars]."
Pomerantz, who brought his perspective from the private sector, said, "We're in one of the most dynamic times in terms of space flight." He gave a detailed description of a trip on Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo, which the company hopes will make its first trips to space this year. Virgin Galactic has already sold 701 tickets to space, each costing $250,000. The hour-and-a-half trip will have about five minutes of weightlessness, with a view of the blackness of space and the curvature of earth.
A full-scale replica of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo will be on display on the Museum’s flight deck from April 10-23, 2014.
Massimino, a veteran of two spaceflights, gave his perspective of what is like to be in space: "The experience of actually going is incredible. And the view is what I remember the most. It's just beautiful. No matter how long you're up there, it's not enough time."
Panelists answered questions from the audience, including advice for those who want to get into space exploration as a career, how the current situation with Russia will impact the United States’ space program and what’s next when it comes to Mars research.
Some fun news? The panelists agreed with a nine-year-old visitor to the panel that he’d see a human on Mars in his lifetime. Ferdowsi even predicted it would happen in the 2030s.
The Intrepid Museum plans to continue these evening panel discussions throughout the year, and more information will be posted soon.