Welcome to the T-Minus Overview Radio Show featuring conversations with experts from the space industry about New Mexico.
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Aliens, UAPs, and government oversight- Oh my! US Space Force to open European headquarters. EutelSat HOTBIRD satellites now in service. And more.
Germany’s Ramstein Air Base will be the headquarters of a new US Space Force service component for Europe and Africa. The UK Space Agency has awarded Scotland-based AstroAgency and UAE based AzurX, 75,000 pounds each to develop advanced space technologies to tackle natural disasters and reduce greenhouse emissions in the Gulf. EutelSat says its HOTBIRD 13F and HOTBIRD 13G satellites have now entered into full commercial service.
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Our guest is Dr. Shawna Pandya is a Canadian physician, scientist-astronaut candidate with the International Institute for Astronautical Sciences (IIAS).
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>> Maria Varmazis: So did you hear about the UFO expert showing the desiccated bodies of two supposed extraterrestrials to Mexico's Congress yesterday? They're non-human remains, y'all, and that could mean anything, and I mean anything. Like an animal or a vegetable, or I don't know, elementary school wheat paste art project. But that alone is enough to prove that aliens are real, right? Right? Well, not to cast aspersions, but -- actually yes. Yes, we are casting aspersions. Between this and the UAPs, [sighs].
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Today is September 14th, 2023. I'm Maria Varmazis, and this is "T-Minus."
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No, no, we're not talking about aliens or UAPs today. Promise. Instead we've got a roundup of contract and research news for you. Plus Virgin Galactic announces their next flight window. The FAA says, hold your horses on the Starship launch, at least until October. And our guest today is Canadian STEM superhero, Dr. Shawna Pandya. Dr. Pandya is a Canadian physician and scientist astronaut candidate with the International Institute for Astronautical Sciences. Stay with us.
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Onto our intel briefing for today. The US Air Force has said that Ramstein airbase will be the headquarters of a new Space Force service component for Europe and Africa. The ceremony to stand up US Space Forces Europe-Africa is expected on December 8th. The UK Space Agency has awarded Scotland-based Astro Agency and UAE-based AzurX 75,000 pounds each to develop advanced space technologies to tackle natural disasters, and reduce greenhouse emissions in the Gulf. The grant is part of the UK Space Agency's International Bilateral Fund that aims to boost international partnerships. Dubai-based AzurX is a space investment and advisory business, and plans to help organizations in the UAE and Bahrain connect with UK-based companies so they can team up on future space projects. The UK is also reviewing its approach to setting the amount of an operator's liability in licenses for orbital operations. The country's space agency has launched a government consultation on a range of issues relating to orbital liabilities and insurance in response to the June 2022 call for evidence. More details on that speculation and the national space strategy can be found in the link in our show notes over at space.n2k.com. Eutelsat says it's Hotbird 13F and Hotbird 13G satellites have now entered into full commercial service. The satellites aim to enhance the broadcast quality of around 900 television channels across Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. The satellites were built by Airbus Defense and Space, and are based on a new-generation Eurostar neo-telecommunications satellite platform, developed under a European space agency project with Airbus to foster innovation and competitiveness in the European space industry. With so much focus on finding water in the lunar South Pole lately, it's maybe easy to forget that beyond sustaining life on the moon potentially, there's a lot else that we can do with H2O. The European Space Agency however is countering that by introducing a new thruster, designed by the UK's Imperial College London to run on water as a propellant. The operation of this Iridium Catalyzed Electrolysis CubeSat Thruster, known as what else but ICE-Cube, is based on electrolysis. It's designed to maneuver the smallest class of satellites, and I'm sure we'll be seeing more water-based space developments in the near future. The University of Texas at Austin has received a $4 million grant to spearhead a study aimed at advancing the US Air Force's ability to understand and monitor activity in cislunar space. The project is named the Representations, Theory, and Algorithms for Autonomous Space Domain Awareness in the Cislunar Regime. Whew! It encompasses four key research goals. Number 1, developing new methods to describe how human-made objects move in space while accounting for uncertainty in the data. Number 2, designing systems that can independently sense and evaluate the space environment to ensure safety and security. Number 3, developing algorithms for making the best decisions when maneuvering through the challenging conditions of cislunar space, and Number 4, ensuring the reliability and accuracy of data in decision-making processes throughout the entire process. The study will also see collaboration from the University of Washington, Texas A and M University, and the University of Colorado-Boulder. Astra Space's board of directors has approved a reverse stock split of its Class A and Class B common stock at the ratio of 1 for 15. This reverse stock split is effective immediately after the close of the trading day on the NASDAQ capital market on September 13th, 2023. And the Class A common stock began trading on the NASDAQ on a reverse split-adjusted basis today under the ticker symbol ASTR. And the hope that all of this is that it will prevent Astra from being delisted on the Stock Exchange. Space tourism company Virgin Galactic has released the flight window for their next space mission. The next launch will see the first space flight participant from Pakistan. The window of opportunity for launch is October 5th from the company's faculty at Spaceport America in New Mexico. And speaking of space launch, we are all eagerly watching Boca Chica, but if the acting head of the FAA is anything to go by, and we think she is, then we shouldn't expect another Starship launch until next month. FAA administrator Polly Trottenberg told reporters, we're working well with them and have been in good discussions. Teams are working together, and I think we're optimistic some time next month. So stand down, Margaritaville, at least for another couple weeks. And for today's show, we also wanted to include a little PSA for you, our dear listeners. You might have heard from the news headlines or your cybersecurity colleagues that there has been a whopper of a cyberattack that has largely disabled MGM Resorts. Now we're not in the business of fear-mongering here. We just wanted to point out that the way the hackers got a foothold to start their attack was by looking up MGM employees on LinkedIn and using the publicly available info to impersonate them to MGM's IT help desk. Given how many folks in aerospace are very active on LinkedIn, we just thought it might be worth a mention. Maybe today's a good day to do a little quick audit of your profile and check what you're putting out publicly. Aerospace companies have certainly been in the crosshairs lately. Okay, end PSA.
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And that concludes our intelligence briefing for today. You'll find links for further reading of all the stories we've mentioned in our show notes and as always, we have a few extras for you. Is Earth outside its safe operating space for humanity? Are US allies keen to collaborate on new space programs? Should the learning period for US commercial space regulations be extended? Oh you can read about this and so much more at space.n2k.com. Hey "T-minus" crew, if your business is looking to grow your voice in the industry, expand the reach of your thought leadership, or recruit talent, "T-minus" can help. We'd like to hear from you. Just send us an email at email@example.com, or send us a note through our website so we can connect about building a program to meet your goals.
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Our interview guest today is Dr. Shawna Pandya, who is a Canadian physician and a scientist/astronaut candidate with the International Institute for Astronautical Sciences. I started off first by asking Shawna to explain her role in her own words.
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>> Shawna Pandya: What I do depends on the day. Everyday is like a box of medical chocolates, I like to say, or a box of space medical chocolates. You never know what you're going to get. So depending on the day, I'm a rural emergency room physician. I am an aquanaut; I'm an explorer; I'm the director of the International Institute for Astronautical Sciences' space medicine group, and a chief instructor of their space medicine course, and the VP of immersive medicine at Luxonic Technologies. I have skill sets in skydiving. I'm finishing up my piloting license, and I'm a fellow of the Explorers' Club.
>> Maria Varmazis: My goodness. I have to ask, your background is incredible. Would you mind walking my audience through your career? I mean I'm sure a Cliffs Notes version is not going to be easy, but [laughs] your story's amazing, so.
>> Shawna Pandya: Well, thank you so much for saying that. You know, I think like a lot of listeners out there, my story started with wanting to grow up to be an astronaut. It's -- you know, I was a kid growing up in the '90s when the second-ever Canadian selection happened. I watched Dr. Roberta Bondar become the first Canadian female astronaut in space. And you know, I was just starstruck, pun intended. I looked at her and I thought, I want to be like her. So it's like, okay. what are the similarities? She's Canadian, I'm Canadian. She's female, I'm female. She's a Girl Guide, I'm a Girl Guide, so now all I need to do is go be a neuroscientist, physician, and astronaut. Boom, done.
>> Maria Varmazis: [laughs] Easy, right?
>> Shawna Pandya: Yes, that made a lot of decisions easy. It meant choosing my major as honors neuroscience easy during undergrad. It meant that I knew I was going to study medicine from age, you know, 15, 14. My first ever job was as a physiotherapy assistant with my dad who's a physiotherapist at age 13, because I thought, okay, I know I'm going to be medical. Better start getting those healthcare skills right away. And then, you know, the craziest part about having these lofty goals and working towards them, even as a kid, as an adult what you get to do on a daily basis will exceed your expectations in ways you never dreamt possible.
>> Maria Varmazis: I can imagine every day, as you mentioned, is very different given -- you have so many fascinating intersecting skill sets that all require a great deal of expertise. So I can only imagine the opportunities being such an expert in so many things has opened, and different kinds of areas of research maybe that you've been doing and things that you've been working on. Our listeners may not know. So one area includes what we kind of crib as space medicine, right? Can you tell me a little bit about your expertise in that, and maybe what our listeners should know?
>> Shawna Pandya: My introduction to space medicine came when I did my master's at the International Space University. Because I had this interest in medicine, I knew I was already accepted to medical school. I knew I had this passion for space, and as part of the basic and broad introduction to all things space, including technology, policy, law, that included space medicine. And you know, when you hear those terms, they're so disparate. People wonder like, how is that a thing? Until you realize that space is trying to kill you.
>> Maria Varmazis: [laughs] Yes, yes. Yes, it's true.
>> Shawna Pandya: It sounds reductive, but you know, it's pretty easy to remember. And then when you think about the challenges and the hazards of the space flight opportunity, there's what we call the Big 5. There's radiation, there's isolation, confinement, distance from Earth, altered gravity environment, and everything else, which includes altered day/night cycles, so you're going through 16 sunrise/sunset cycles per 24 hours on the ISS. If you're at the lunar equator, your day/night cycle is 14 days of day, 14 days of night. If you're on the International Space Station, there's a threat of micromedia, right, intraorbital debris, and you have to trust the safety and the integrity of your -- the structure of your space craft to keep you safe. So then it starts to make sense that oh, there is actually a lot involved with keeping humans happy and healthy and surviving and thriving up in space. So as part of that master's program, beyond that introduction, I was lucky enough to do a three-month internship with the crew medical support office at the European Astronaut Center in Cologne, in Germany. That was the first time I realized that you can make this part of your career. Part of my thesis work there was creating a quick reference manual for a then-brand new delivery vehicle to the International Space Station. And my job was to parse thousands of pages of documentation to find answers to what are the sharp edges? What are the levels of noise and vibration? What are the hot surfaces there, so that the physicians and engineers, biomedical engineers, could find answers when they needed to to keep the astronauts safe.
>> Maria Varmazis: My imagination goes kind of wild when I think about not only the things that folks in space, crew in space, have to deal with, but also Heaven forbid if there's an emergency. How one deals with something like that, and especially as people are talking about long-term human space flight. The challenge for professionals like yourself, thinking about space medicine -- again, my mind just boggles. Like, how would one deal with such a thing? What are your thoughts on that?
>> Shawna Pandya: Yes, that's a great question, because now that I've, you know, raised everyone into a panic, and hopefully raised some heart rates out there as to how dangerous space is, let me dial that back a bit and say relax, there's a plan. There are people working on this. The amount of money that space agencies have invested into keeping astronauts healthy is not insignificant. And so the mainstay of space medicine is prevention. So to be a NASA astronaut, to be a Canadian Space Agency astronaut, you have to be the healthiest of the healthy. And some of it is part of a medical genetic lottery. If you were born color-blind, those are grounds for disqualification. If you had a previous disc rupture or herniated disc in your back, that could be grounds for disqualification. Iron deficiency anemia has been grounds for disqualification in previous Canadian Space Agency selections. So there's a whole host of reasons why you could have been disqualified. And the reason is it's not, you know, to be selective for the sake of being selective. It's because we want to prevent bad things from happening in space. The other part of that is looking at the history of what has happened in space flight. And luckily, it's not the life-threatening things. It's not the cardiac arrests. It's not the mass hemorrhages, it's the annoying things. It's getting motion sick. It's what we call space adaptation syndrome. That happens in the first 24 to 72 hours on the station, because there's this mismatch between what our eyes see, what our proprioceptors and our nerves perceive about where our body position is in space. What our inner ears perceive as up and down. And when there's a mismatch, that can make us really sick. And aside from the gross factor of throwing up in zero-G, you don't want to be in the middle of a critical operation like a space walk, because that poses a life-threatening risk of asphyxiation to throw up in a contained zero-G environment. So a lot of it is risk mitigation. And then when I talk about the annoying stuff, it's, you know, respiratory tract infections, skin irritations, skin infections, congestion because of the fluid shift. All your fluid shifts upwards. You feel as if you have a cold. You might get a headache from that. When you sleep, the conduction dynamics of how air would flow in a room in 1G are altered. So if you sleep, CO2, as you exhale, carbon dioxide will pocket in front of your face, and that can cause a CO2 headache. It's managing -- it's first of all, working to prevent the life-threatening stuff. And then it's also managing the annoying stuff that could lead to mission deleterious effects that could impact astronaut performance.
>> Maria Varmazis: Yes, quality of life issues. Of course. Especially if you're spending many, many months in space, if not potentially longer. So I'm very curious about innovations like technological innovations that may also be happening that can improve quality of life and also quality of outcomes in terms of space medicine.
>> Shawna Pandya: Yes. So I'm lucky enough to both work directly with commercial companies as well as serve as medical advisor to other space-space commercial companies, to work on exactly that. So one of my day-to-day jobs is as the VP of immersive medicine like Luxonic Technologies. And we work on leveraging vital reality, 360-video mixed reality, to be able to provide medical education, training, certification, as well as diagnostic imaging, especially in remote, austere, resource-limited environments, and that applies both to space as well as our most resource-limited environments on Earth, and in Canada we have a lot of space, but few people. So you can imagine we have a lot of remote and rural communities. And so one of our first products is called SieVRt. It is the world's first virtual reality-based digital twin of a radiology workflow in VR. And so now as a physician, as a radiologist, you don't need to have the entire set up of a radiology reading room. You can replicate that in VR. You can still have your high-resolution monitors, you can still adjust your lighting. You still have your same tools to manipulate images. But without all that space. And that's important, because when we talk about packing for space, we're constrained by mass, volume, power, ease-of-use, and shelf life. So the other advantage of this is you can also collaborate with experts who are located far away, remotely, in real time. And so we were able to test out the digital twin virtual reality radiology reading room on an underwater mission in 2019. So as crew medical officer, I popped into the VR suite, into SieVRt, and then reviewed simulated trauma imaging with the head of radiology in Saskatoon, Canada over 4,000 kilometers away. There was no time delay there. So we were able to review the imaging in real time.
>> Maria Varmazis: What an incredible innovation.
>> Shawna Pandya: Yes, I think that this is one of the most exciting times to be involved with space, with exploration, with human space flight. We're seeing, and as we've talked about, the challenges that arise with long duration or exploration-class missions as the international community looks to the moon, Mars, and beyond. And then we're also seeing the rise of commercial space flight, where anyone who can pay the ticket price can go to space, whether on a suborbital flight, orbital flight, and now cislunar commercial missions. And so the landscape of space is changing, and it means we need all comers. It means that we need the scientists, the physicians, the engineers and pilots, but we also need the storytellers. We need the policymakers, we need the athletes, the artists, the entrepreneurs. Because the domain of who gets to go to space is changing. And when you give humans a platform with which to empower themselves, humanity does amazing things. So let this be my call to action, that if you think you don't belong in space, but you're interested, you absolutely do belong in space. There's a role for you. And if there isn't, just make one for yourself, make space for yourself.
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>> Maria Varmazis: We'll be right back.
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Welcome back. And did you hear? Helios Aerospace is hiring. You can check out their job openings at welcometohelios.com if you're interested. But yes, you might already know, Helios is not a real company. It's actually all part of an advertisement for a show, and the whole thing is a hook for the beginning of Season 4 of Apple TV's For All Mankind, which now has a premier date of November 10th. Everybody who knows the response to Hi, Bob! says hooray [laughs]. And if you haven't succumbed to peer pressure to watch the series, or somehow haven't heard of it, let me heartily recommend it to you. The whole crux of the story is what if the US had lost the space race and the USSR had gotten to the moon first? What would have happened to the global space race in that world? What would space exploration look like through the 20th century, and now with the fourth season starting soon, the beginning of the 21st? And the show explores all of that through the experiences of NASA staff and astronauts. It's really gripping. I don't want to give anything away, plot-wise if you haven't seen it. But if you're skeptical that the series could be any good, the brains behind it is none other than Ron D. Moore, who wrote some of the most outstanding episodes of Star Trek Deep Space Nine and oh yes, Outlander and the Battlestar Galactica reboot. For All Mankind is a great drama, yes. Not a science documentary, but they've definitely gone through a lot of rigorous research on real technology and space history to build the show. I cannot recommend it enough. So yes. November 10th, mark your calendars for Season 4 of For All Mankind.
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That's it for "T-Minus" for September 14th, 2023. For additional resources from today's report, check out our show notes at space.n2k.com. We're privileged that n2k and podcasts like "T-Minus" are part of the daily routine of many of the most influential leaders and operators in the public and private sector. From the Fortune 500, to many of the world's preeminent intelligence and law enforcement agencies. This episode was produced by Alice Carruth, mixing by Elliot Peltzman and Trey Hester, with original music and sound design by Elliott Peltzman. Our executive producer is Brandon Karp. Our chief intelligence officer is Eric Tillman, and I'm Maria Varmazis. Thanks for listening. We'll see you tomorrow.
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