Season Two | Episode 11
We Mean Business: Pioneering the New Space Economy, Part II
Thank you to our guest on this episode of Lockheed Martin Space Makers for his time and expertise:
Rob Chambers from Lockheed Martin
To dig deeper into some of the topics referenced in today’s episode, please follow these links:
Beyond Apollo: Taking One Giant Leap
Intelligent Life:: How AI is Advancing the Future of Space
[00:00:00] Host: Welcome to Lockheed Martin Space Makers, the podcast that takes you out of this world for an inside look at some of our most challenging and innovative missions. My name is Ben, and I'll be your host.
[00:00:14] In season two, we explore Lockheed Martin's bold new vision of a future we call "Space 2050." We partnered with our Advanced Technology Center to bring you an inside look at the innovations and technologies we are developing to make that future a reality. Because getting there is just the beginning.
[00:00:35] We're back with our interview with Rob Chambers. We learned how self-repairing rovers will increase our mobility on the Moon and Mars. How a communication satellite on the dark side of the Moon called Parsec™ will connect humans like never before and how learning from failure helps us solve the toughest challenges that come with bringing big business to space. If you haven't heard the first part of this interview, I highly encourage you to check it out.
[00:01:06] Let's jump back into our interview with Natalya and Rob Chambers and get an "inside" look at what happens when you add humans to the mix and how they will live and work in deep space.
[00:01:20] Natalya: And that was one of our big questions for this episode is, what makes us unique? And you just put it in a nutshell, and so we put the lunar rover up there. We put Parsec™ up there. And we are-
[00:01:29] Rob Chambers: Yes.
[00:01:29] Natalya: ... we are moving around, and we are communicating. And then we put humans up there. What does that look like to you? Humans join the mix. Now, you talk about need for imagination. You talk about the dangers that face humans in space. That's a whole new level of science that we don't even know what we don't know about. How do you feel in your role when you think about that?
[00:01:51] Rob Chambers: Having humans up there actually makes the job so much easier. I was once at a conference and, someone said, "If you had a magic wand, what would you wish for?" And I said, "Well, brains in jars."
[00:02:00] Natalya: [laughs]
[00:02:00] Rob Chambers: And got a couple of looks from some of the industry leaders. And I said, "Look, here's the deal. There is nothing like a human brain. I've been doing software development for 100 years, I think. And I believe strongly in the power of computer software, AI, machine learning. But nothing equates to the human mind."
[00:02:18] And so when we put in these autonomous systems, or we put in protections against the unknown unknowns, and we're trying to have this imagination of what could go wrong and put the hoops in there and hardware and software, having a human there to react is transformation in terms of what they can bring to the table.
[00:02:37] So from the standpoint of the systems, it's actually, in my opinion, easier to develop a system that's going to have crew on board than one that's completely autonomous, because you can trust the crew to help figure it out in real time.
[00:02:49] Natalya: Is it fair to say that humans, of course, they're...you open yourself up to human error when you add humans to the mix.
[00:02:53] Rob Chambers: Mm-hmm [affirmative].
[00:02:54] Natalya: However, nothing, no system or process or code can accommodate human error-
[00:03:00] Rob Chambers: Right.
[00:03:01] Natalya: ... like the human mind.
[00:03:02] Rob Chambers: Yes. The unknown unknowns, you know, if it's unknown to a computer, I mean, you just, you'll get whatever you get out of the software. The humans will quickly adapt especially the kinds of humans that are going into space now, who are these astounding, incredible examples of humanity that have everything from military to medical to science to psychological skills that allow them to respond to the unexpected. And as a software developer, the unexpected [laughs] we don't deal well with the unexpected. I wish we did, with our software.
[00:03:30] So part of the thing I'm excited about is when humans get there, we switch from how do we get there and how do we move around, to what we're going to do. As engineers and at Lockheed Martin, we sometimes fall into the trap of being very excited about the things we build, because they're fantastic. They're things that no one else on this planet or off the planet could build.
[00:03:52] But we always, always, always think about who we're working for and the mission that we're accomplishing. And when we think about the crew being there now, we get to talk about, what are they going to accomplish? Why have humans there?
[00:04:04] Certainly it's easier if humans are there, to have a successful mission, because of their versatility. But there's nobody else that can do science like a human in the loop, being able to close that scientific method from hours or days to moments where they can experiment, they can grab something, they can run a test, in situ, as we say.
[00:04:25] Natalya: Do you envision a point in the next 50 years where there will be humans on the lunar surface in colonies that are lending all of this talent and ability to all of the technology that we're developing now? Do you really see that as something that could be envisioned in the next half century?
[00:04:40] Rob Chambers: Oh, absolutely. Without a doubt. The, there are some things that have occurred fundamentally over the last 50-ish years that have, and I like to use the word transformational, because I feel like we're living in a transformational time, but computing power, manufacturing, particularly local manufacturing from regolith. You know, melting regolith, creating metal and actually fabricating is, it's really straightforward. There's no, no technology, no incredible breakthroughs. It's just mechanical engineering at this point.
[00:05:09] Natalya: But don't you have to move it around to do that and-
[00:05:13] Rob Chambers: Yes. So that's why you've got to have a mobility system. You know, we talk about our LMV, and everyone just sees it with the seats. But when you put the grinder on the front and the backhoe on the back, in the end, it looks just like construction here on Earth. [laughs] I mean it's the same physics. We're going to be able to build those systems without reliance on Earth. And those technologies, whether it's fission power, fusion power, in space manufacturing and assembly, and just sheer incredible leaps we've made from an avionics and software perspective, those were the piece parts required in order to become independent of Earth. And that's going to be within the next 50 years.
[00:05:50] Natalya: And would it be something that potentially could be sparked, a tipping point might be reached, for example, by water? All of a sudden, the ability to manufacture water becomes much more. There's a quantum leap in that ability.
[00:06:02] Rob Chambers: Absolutely. When we move from just the widgets required, and they're really important widgets, right, Parsec™ from a communications, LMV from a mobility perspective, and you move into, okay, how do we create a self-sustaining system, the first thing you need to do is to have power like we talked about, and then water. And getting that water from regolith, we don't know the specifics, so we need some ground truth. And that'll be the first useful thing that we get from the LMV, will be, okay, here's water, and here's how hard it is to get.
[00:06:33] Natalya: Yeah because we don't know that yet, right?
[00:06:37] Rob Chambers: We don't know that yet. We have a lot of theories, and we've got a lot of data, but we need what we call ground truth. We need ground truth in the dark areas of the Moon, the permanently shadowed craters, because that's where we think the water is just piled up as ice. But once you have that, and you can crack that water, you get propellant in the form of hydrogen and oxygen. You can replenish your fuel cells. You can obviously breathe the oxygen. You can drink the water. It is truly the oil, if you will, of exploration.
[00:07:05] Natalya: I was going to say gold rush, but I'm going to say Moon rush, so that-
[00:07:09] Rob Chambers: It is the Moon rush.
[00:07:10] Natalya: You, you have that, and you get a Moon rush, right?
[00:07:12] Rob Chambers: Yeah.
[00:07:13] Natalya: And so more humans get to the Moon. So going way out here, clearly not way out, though, you're saying it could happen, and it could happen-
[00:07:21] Rob Chambers: Oh, yes.
[00:07:21] Natalya: ... more quickly than we think?
[00:07:23] Rob Chambers: Yeah. Our discussions with NASA, as the, as a thought leader from a government perspective, they want to have the first water extraction system pilot plant by the end of this decade, by the end of the '20s. Now, that wouldn't be huge, large scale. It wouldn't be able to feed all of Kenosha, Wisconsin-
[00:07:41] Natalya: [laughs]
[00:07:41] Rob Chambers: With that first pilot station. But if you think about it, over the next eight years, to have a water production plant on the Moon, the one thing we do well as humans is scale. Once someone has done something once, then you've proven it's not impossible. You know how it always, it's always impossible 'til it's not. Once you have something, then we're going to figure out how to do it faster, cheaper, easier.
[00:08:06] Natalya: It's kind of like the first iPhone came out. And I remember this, because all of a sudden, everyone had one right? And, and-
[00:08:12] Rob Chambers: Yes.
[00:08:13] Natalya: ... how did that happen?
[00:08:13] Rob Chambers: And you didn't know you needed it until you had it.
[00:08:16] Natalya: Right. So you're saying we're going to we should expect to see that happening up, up on the Moon.
[00:08:20] Rob Chambers: Absolutely.
[00:08:21] Natalya: And-
[00:08:21] Rob Chambers: Without question.
[00:08:22] Natalya: ... soon, and it's water. And, and I'm going to throw it open to say, well, then you have humans, and you have manufacturing facilities. You're going to need hospitals.
[00:08:30] Rob Chambers: Yes.
[00:08:31] Natalya: You're going to need medical treatment-
[00:08:32] Rob Chambers: We're going to need-
[00:08:33] Natalya: ... capabilities.
[00:08:33] Rob Chambers: ... artists, and we're going to need poets, and we're going to need everything that makes us human. It'll be interesting to see which are the first pets. You know, but there's a lot of animals that have gone up into space. And to my knowledge none of 'em have had adverse reactions. So I think the sky is kind of the limit. I'd want a bird, because I just think that would be-
[00:08:49] Natalya: [laughs]
[00:08:50] Rob Chambers: ... awesome seeing them fly in zero gravity.
[00:08:52] Natalya: Or try to fly.
[00:08:53] Rob Chambers: Well inside, not on the lunar surface.
[00:08:54] Natalya: In their little space. [laughs]
[00:08:55] Rob Chambers: Yeah. In their little spacesuits. Yeah. Right. Right.
[00:08:57] Natalya: There could be an Ansel, you said artists, there could be an Ansel Adams that goes up there who, he cataloged the great photographs of the west.
[00:09:03] Rob Chambers: Yes.
[00:09:03] Natalya: There could be someone that could become the Ansel Adams of the Moon.
[00:09:06] Rob Chambers: Right.
[00:09:07] Natalya: So you have just really painted a picture of quite a vibrant Moon life but we haven't even chatted about Mars.
[00:09:13] Rob Chambers: Oh, my gosh. The end isn't even Mars, by the way. So sometimes, people say, "The end game or the goal is Mars." And to me, the goal is, you know, the edge of the known universe, which near as we can tell is going to not end in a big crunch. Right? So it's ever expanding. But for me in my lifetime, I want to get us onto the surface of Mars. So Mars is, will be called the horizon goal.
[00:09:42] The systems at the Moon... And there's a lot of talk about why go to the Moon? We've done that before. We're going to get stuck there. And the answer, quite simply, is the Moon has incredible resources that will allow us to move onto Mars in a way that's sustainable.
[00:09:58] Yeah. We could go to Mars in the next few years. From a Lockheed Martin perspective, we've got the, a vision or a concept called Mars Base Camp. And we showed few years ago, that within about a decade, you could have a Mars orbital mission with humans safely, high value, and so forth.
[00:10:15] But what you really want to do, and what we want to do from a Lockheed Martin perspective, and I think most of our colleagues do, is to develop an Earth Moon economy that then turns into a Earth, Moon, Mars economy, including trade routes.
[00:10:28] Natalya: What does Mars bring to the mix of that economy that the Moon doesn't already bring?
[00:10:32] Rob Chambers: First and foremost, atmosphere. So Mars is much easier to live in. It is much more temperate from that perspective, and it also is a great source of both oxygen and methane, which can actually be a useful fuel from an energy perspective. It's got more protection from a radiation perspective.
[00:10:52] And we're pretty confident that the movies got this part right, where we can actually grow food, in the Martian soil with additions. Might be able to do some of that in the, on the Moon as well, but that has to all be in confined locations. Right?
[00:11:05] Natalya: Mm-hmm [affirmative].
[00:11:05] Rob Chambers: So the ability to spread out, be more protected from a radiation perspective, and easier to live and accommodate on Mars. The other thing Mars brings is the potential for life. The greatest question that I can think of is, are we alone in the universe as an intelligent species?
[00:11:23] And either answer would be pretty Earth shattering if I may mix metaphors. So if we're alone, then we've got a lot of responsibility. If we're not alone [laughs] we've got a lot of responsibility.
[00:11:34] And so to me the reason we arc towards Mars is that's an easier place to live, and it's got some fundamental questions that we need to answer and that we can answer with humans much easier and faster than we can with our robotic probes.
[00:11:50] Natalya: You mentioned something that lurks in the background of all of this, and that is a question I think everyone considers unanswered. That is, are we alone? And as you said, either answer has profound implications.
[00:12:03] We also, though, know we're not alone on Earth. We're blazing a trail to the Moon and Mars with Orion. We are figuring out how to extract minerals and make water. You're saying that the timeframe for that to happen, five to 10 years for some form of-
[00:12:19] Rob Chambers: Mm-hmm [affirmative].
[00:12:19] Natalya: ... manufacturing facility to be on the Moon.
[00:12:21] Rob Chambers: Yeah.
[00:12:22] Natalya: What are the implications, the geopolitical implications, for those capabilities being stood up there? What types of concerns are there for tensions to exist in terms of resources, people, different global entities aiming to be the key provider of those resources? What does that, how does that work that way into your thinking?
[00:12:43] Rob Chambers: You know, it's interesting that we've got some very positive examples that when you leave the Earth, you transcend some of the politics that affect us. So the international space station has been this bastion of international collaboration, regardless of conflicts going on, on the Earth.
[00:13:03] If you think all the way back to Apollo-Soyuz, I once met the commander, the Russian or the Soviet commander of that mission, who referred to it as the Soyuz-Apollo mission-
[00:13:10] Natalya: Oh.
[00:13:10] Rob Chambers: ... which I thought-
[00:13:11] Natalya: Yeah.
[00:13:11] Rob Chambers: ... was pretty funny, because I-
[00:13:12] Natalya: [laughs]
[00:13:12] Rob Chambers: ... grew up in America, and it was-
[00:13:13] Natalya: Perspective.
[00:13:13] Rob Chambers: ... obviously the Apollo-Soyuz mission. So those are things that give me hope. The challenge will be, as we get out there, there are no rules. There's the Outer Space Treaty. There are some things, but they're grossly inadequate to say, "Can an individual stake a claim to part of the Moon? And who gives them that right? Can a nation stake a claim?"
[00:13:35] If we go and grab that water, is that Lockheed Martin's water? Is that America's water? Is that the Earthlings' water? Does it belong to the United Nations? You know, who owns that, those resources?
[00:13:45] And we just haven't, as a species, had to deal with those yet. Fortunately, there are a lot of folks thinking about that. And so, for example, the Artemis Accords that NASA came out with is a fantastic idea to start documenting not just agreements, but working on behavioral norms. You know, what is acceptable? And we're going to have to organically work through that.
[00:14:06] There's an organization called the Moon Village Association who's thinking about real psychological and sociological aspects of permanent bases on the Moon, which would apply to Mars as well.
[00:14:19] Natalya: Mm-hmm [affirmative].
[00:14:19] Rob Chambers: And what are the frameworks that we're, that we haven't even thought of yet? So a lot of smart people, smarter than me, that are looking at these. In the end, it's just like any other thing we address here on Earth. Just communicate.
[00:14:35] Natalya: Well, is it fair to say that when you approach your work, you understand these are major challenges and questions? They're being addressed, but the first thing we have to do is get up there-
[00:14:44] Rob Chambers: Yes. [laughs]
[00:14:44] Natalya: ... and establish that economy before any of this is addressed.
[00:14:46] Rob Chambers: You know, so many of us meet, both various industries, you know. We're always competitors. Right? But we sit down and talk. You know, what's the right way for this to evolve? What are the right interfaces? You guys want 28 volts or 120 volts or 75 volt? Those are arguments that'll probably never be solved. But how do we get intercompatibility and interoperability from the get go?
[00:15:08] And I think all of the international partners I've talked to and all the industry partners that I work with, in the end, we're all in this together, and we have to figure out how to work together with the technologies and the infrastructure that can then reduce that barrier of entry and allow others to come in and do their part.
[00:15:25] Natalya: And along with that, there's one common concern, and that is sustainability.
[00:15:31] Rob Chambers: Yes.
[00:15:31] Natalya: And that's common. Right?
[00:15:32] Rob Chambers: Yeah.
[00:15:32] Natalya: Humankind is self-protective by nature, so potentially, there's conflict, but there's also common ground. Can you talk a little bit about the challenges of sustainability? And I'm talking things such as space junk.
[00:15:46] Rob Chambers: Mm-hmm [affirmative].
[00:15:46] Natalya: How do we go up there and do what you're talking about? How do we get hardware up there along with the software without junking up space even more?
[00:15:53] Rob Chambers: Sustainability is one of those words that the more you unpeel it like an onion, the more layers there are. So a lot of people talk about sustainability just being affordable. And then we get into sustainability as reusability, which is one way of making things affordable.
[00:16:10] But the thing about that reusability gets into the appropriate and wise, responsible use of space. And so if you're throwing systems away on every flight and potentially letting them crash into the Moon, for example you're kind of polluting the area that you're looking to expand to.
[00:16:27] And that really gets into, what are the architectures? What are the types of fuel you're using? In the end, as my son would say in Boy Scouts, "Are you leaving nothing but footprints?" That's the mindset that more and more of us are talking about, the renewable fuels. Don't use fossil fuels.
[00:16:43] Can we use cryo-hydrogen and oxygen, which can be found everywhere and burns cleanly? Can we look at the use of nuclear fission and ultimately fusion with the low enriched uranium that we have today that will transform life here on Earth, but can we use that and avoid large arrays of solar arrays, large…
[00:17:04] Natalya: Mm-hmm [affirmative].
[00:17:04] Rob Chambers: ... fields of solar arrays? What are the right tools for the job that ultimately ensure that we're in the end, leaving nothing but footprints? When we look at the low Earth orbit environment, where there are, I've lost track-
[00:17:17] Natalya: Trillions, maybe.
[00:17:17] Rob Chambers: Yeah. [laughs] Way too many pieces, everything from paint flecks all the way up to-
[00:17:22] Natalya: Wrenches.
[00:17:23] Rob Chambers: ... uh, cube sats that are, you know, dying due to, for example, a solar flare. Right?
[00:17:26] Natalya: Mm-hmm [affirmative].
[00:17:27] Rob Chambers: Or just dying because they're only good for a couple, three years. There hasn't been a resurgence or even the first-time emergence of what the behavioral norm should be for that. As producers of geostationary spacecraft, we have to think about, how do we dispose of our spacecraft? Get 'em out of the geo ring, out of the orbit, in a way that is safe, will not create any other harm for anybody else. And that's really what dictates when we have to retire spacecraft, because we have to, we can't just let 'em tumble out of control in geosynchronous orbit.
[00:18:00] There are a lot of folks putting up a large number of systems in LEO that have no plan. Ultimately, they'll reenter 10, 20, 30, 40 years, let's say. That's a long time. And in the meantime, they are 75,000 mile an hour risks to the rest of the systems that are going up. What I haven't seen yet is insurance. In the end of the day, finances often drive what we do. Right?
[00:18:24] Natalya: Yeah.
[00:18:24] Rob Chambers: And insurance hasn't yet reached a point where it makes sense to mitigate this debris. But that, the time is coming for that...
[00:18:33] Natalya: the tipping point is coming.
[00:18:34] Rob Chambers: The tipping point. That's right.
[00:18:35] Natalya: So you mentioned you had a son.
[00:18:35] Rob Chambers: Mm-hmm [affirmative].
[00:18:38] Natalya: And you mentioned Eagle Scouts. And you do your work, and your son grows up, and maybe he has a son, and he's an Eagle Scout. What does life on the lunar surface look like around that time?
[00:18:48] Rob Chambers: I wish that I could jump forward in time to see it, because it's going to be awesome. It's just going to be awesome. We talk a lot about the lunar economy and that's one of my pet peeves. And unless there's a rich alien on the far side-
[00:18:59] Natalya: [laughs]
[00:18:59] Rob Chambers: ... it's not a lunar economy. It's an Earth - Moon economy. So I fully expect to see true trade routes with some goods and services going back and forth from Earth to the Moon but we'll have figured out what at the Moon Earthlings will pay for. And if you talk to Jack Schmitt, he says, "Look, it's going to be helium-3 for fusion." And he's probably right. Water that we bring back and use for transportation in Earth orbit is another one that George Sowers and Colorado School of Mines talks a lot about. I don't know. But whatever it is Earthlings will pay for. Heck, it could be artwork that's done-
[00:19:131] Natalya: Mm-hmm [affirmative].
[00:19:31] Rob Chambers: ... on the Moon in 1/6 gravity. Who knows? But whatever it is, that will be something Earthlings cannot live without. It'll be the next iPhone. Like, you had no idea you needed it until we have it. At the same time, we'll be sending not just people and pets from Earth to the Moon, but we'll also be sending some of the last things that you can't do, on the Moon. So we'll be able to build structures, mechanisms, fuel, water, grow plants.
[00:19:56] It'll probably be, I don't know, 50 years. I don't know that we'll have figured out how to make real high performance circuit cards and chips at that point. We'll make circuit cards, but I think we'll still be getting chips, computer chips from Earth, along with steak and some other things, versus the 3D printed steak we'll have on the Moon.
[00:20:13] But with the exception of those trade routes, it will be a self- sustaining system that itself will be tied out to Mars. I think as the moon grows, so will Mars. The resources we need at the Moon, which is easy to get in and out of compared to Earth, that will propel our Martian economy as well. So it's really going to be a Earth, Moon, Mars economy.
[00:20:37] Natalya: Shuttles between the-
[00:20:38] Rob Chambers: Shuttles between them.
[00:20:39] Natalya: ... Moon and Mars possibly?
[00:20:40] Rob Chambers: Yeah. Cyclers. And maybe even some near Earth asteroids. That's the one I haven't quite figured out yet.
[00:20:46] Natalya: What's that?
[00:20:48] Rob Chambers: Well, so there's asteroid belt on the far side of Mars, but there's a lot of what they call near Earth asteroids, which are-
[00:20:55] Natalya: Mm-hmm [affirmative].
[00:20:56] Rob Chambers: ... still asteroids just like the others, but they're in sort of temporary, funny orbits, kind of wandering around Earth and Mars, because they were captured, interestingly. Those are huge deposits of precious metals, whether it's titanium, rare Earth metals, things that have real value here on Earth. That gets into an interesting question of, is it worth going and harvesting it?
[00:21:15] And so I'm confident that I know what I think, but I'm going to say it this way. I'm confident I know what m- the Moon is going to look like, and I'm pretty confident I know what the Mars is going to look like 50 years from now. I don't know whether we'll be getting stuff off of asteroids in 50 years. That's the open piece in my mind yet.
[00:21:34] Natalya: But they could be game changers if we could-
[00:21:36] Rob Chambers: Fundamental. I mean, some of those cyclers going back and forth could be hollowed out asteroids.
[00:21:38] Natalya: [laughs]
[00:21:39] Rob Chambers: That's probably not within 50 years, but you know, it's the logical progression.
[00:21:46] Natalya: So Rob, we spoke about space sustainability, and one of the things I think is very, has a high profile as a challenge for humankind, is space junk. We hear a lot of things about, how do we approach this problem? I think there is a conference every year that addresses it specifically.
[00:22:02] Rob Chambers: Mm-hmm [affirmative].
[00:22:02] Natalya: Everything from space nets to aerogels that just sweep through and sweep it all up and take care of it.
[00:22:10] Rob Chambers: The space Roombas. You know, it's interesting, we're moving from discussions of, is it going to be a problem, we've moved, I think we have moved forward and said, "Yes, and it's getting worse as time goes on."
[00:22:21] And there's also, as the, as our listeners are, I'm sure, no doubt aware, every time two pieces of space junk collide, you get many, many more pieces of space junk. And each one of these has a potential of being very high energy, because they're all coming from different directions and different orbits. And so the fact that we might have, I don't know, 17,000 now, could easily be 42,000 even if you didn't put up anything new.
[00:22:44 So we've moved into the realm of, yes, this is something we've got to struggle with. There's been a lot of focus for the last several years monitoring, tracking. You know, we're all familiar with what NORAD's role there is.
[00:22:55] Space station has had to maneuver. Space shuttle had to maneuver a lot. Pretty much once a week, you'll see somebody that had to maneuver. That's just going to get harder and harder. It's like playing Frogger or something. At some point [laughs] you're going to have to reduce the number of cars trying to run over you.
[00:23:11] And so there's some interesting ideas from nets that have been proven for large systems, to gels that can be put onto spacecraft that can at least absorb.
[00:23:22] We actually have, on every spacecraft we build, particularly the crude spacecraft, something called MMOD, micrometeorite and orbital debris. And that is just, the technology there is to break those little pieces up in multiple layers before it finally, gets into the area you want to protect. But some of those are just, I don't know, workarounds.
[00:23:41] Natalya: Mm-hmm [affirmative].
[00:23:41] Rob Chambers: What we need to figure out is how to remove these systems in a way that doesn't create more pieces, and at the same time is statistically large enough in terms of the number of things you, get rid of. You'll never get rid of everything. There's no question. But it is a statistics game, so-
[00:23:59] Natalya: Such a, you know, 40%, 50% would make an exponential difference. Is that correct?
[00:24:03] Rob Chambers: Correct. Exactly. And the trick is, everyone's in different orbits, and it's really expensive to go from one orbital plane to the next. So how do you do it in a way, it's not just like, put the Roomba on your carpet and let it go, you know. You need thousands of Roombas in thousands of different houses.
[00:24:18] Natalya: [laughs]
[00:24:18] Rob Chambers: I don't know. The analogy kind of fails me here. And so what we need is really clever ideas that are economical at scale that someone can come up with. So whether it's electromagnetics or lasers or gels or good old fashioned nets there's a market there. And at some point, insurance will become expensive enough to be a tipping point that there's a big, big business case there.
[00:24:38] Natalya: Has there been anything you've heard? You just mentioned gels and nets, and any one of those struck you as the most plausible?
[00:24:44] Rob Chambers: I view myself as a fairly clever person. I don't have a good answer. It's going to be from somebody solving a problem completely unrelated to space, and we'll suddenly realize, "That's it. We could put that on the front of every spacecraft. We could hurl those out on every launch and very quickly, you know, mitigate this problem." We need ideas out there.
[00:25:05] Natalya: Looking for ideas everywhere.
[00:25:06] Rob Chambers: Looking for ideas.
[00:25:07] Natalya: That's good to know.
[00:25:07] Rob Chambers: Yes.
[00:25:09] Natalya: We'll put that out there and see what comes back.
[00:25:09] Rob Chambers: Yes.
[00:25:11] Natalya: So with all these things, you have your hand in a lot of different programs, and you are moving things forward on lots of different levels. What keeps you up at night? What's the biggest problem, the biggest challenge? Is there anything that you view as insurmountable or dangerous that we cannot, as humanity, overcome with the science we're working here at Lockheed Martin, and all over the globe, to get to space, not just get there, but make a new space economy?
[00:25:39] Rob Chambers: You know, from a technological perspective, I sleep really well. [laughs]
[00:25:42] Natalya: [laughs]
[00:25:43] Rob Chambers: Work for the best aerospace company on the planet, or off the planet. The team I work with can solve any problem. Some days, I'm just kind of blown away by what they're able to do.
[00:25:52] The thing that keeps me up at night is because I personally want to see humans get to Mars orbit and then onto the surface of Mars. And that's not the end game, but it's certainly a very measurable way point, if you will.
[00:26:04] And what I worry is just having the intestinal fortitude as a human species to do it, and to do it together. Every time we turn around, you know, the problem is, there are tens of thousands of ways to do anything. As engineers, we like to think through every single one of them. As a species, as a country, and then as a species, we are always looking at, maybe there's a different architectural approach.
[00:26:26] And every time we stop as a species and we think through, "Maybe we should do it differently. Maybe we should use fuel depots instead of a large rocket. Maybe we should switch from hydrogen to methane or some other fuel source," it causes us to pause. And each of those pauses can be a decade in length. You know, this sometimes-
[00:26:47] Natalya: You're talking about time...it's a nonrenewable resource.
[00:26:49] Rob Chambers: Exactly. Money can buy everything except time. And so the sense of urgency, the sense of, okay, this is good enough. And I don't mean from a safety perspective. I mean from, okay, it's not as efficient, but that's fine. But making progress is... I just worry that we'll just keep analyzing ourselves and never get off the planet.
[00:27:07] Natalya: I'm going to throw out two analogies. One is don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
[00:27:13] Rob Chambers: Yes.
[00:27:14] Natalya: And the other one I heard from leaders at Space last week about, you can aim, aim, aim, aim, and fire, or you can aim, fire, aim, fire. And when you aim and fire, aim and fire, you may make more mistakes, but you get more data back.
[00:27:27] Rob Chambers: Yeah. You do.
[00:27:27] Natalya: And then you make better decisions.
[00:27:28] Rob Chambers: That's right. I can't agree more. The culture of failing fast and failing forward is one that it can be scary because it's different, and you have to make sure you don't lose what you know. Failing forward doesn't mean being reckless. It means understanding and bounding your risks, and then being willing to take risks, and again, not with human life, but rather with, yeah, potentially you're not going to get as much science from that instrument.
[00:27:53] Natalya: Mm-hmm [affirmative].
[00:27:53] Rob Chambers: And you know, I'll tell you that from a Lockheed Martin perspective, we have never missed a launch window for our interplanetary spacecraft. That is a great motivator, that the planets literally have to be aligned, or else you miss your launch window. And we've got a incredible track record for success.
[00:28:10] You just need that intestinal fortitude, that thing that's driving you forward. You better fire then, because if you're still aiming [laughs] you know, the whatever it is you're shooting, you know, time's up and you've missed it, so-
[00:28:22] Natalya: Another millennia could go by.
[00:28:24] Rob Chambers: Yes.
[00:28:24] Natalya: And we still wouldn't be on Mars.
[00:28:25] Rob Chambers: Right.
[00:28:26] Natalya: So then my final question to you is, I asked you what keeps you up at night. What gets you excited about the future of space?
[00:28:32] Rob Chambers: What gets me up in the morning, huh? The incredible opportunities we have today, you couldn't even have predicted them back in the '60s. People in the '60s were, or now, say, you know, George Jetson and all those visions, and some of those were interesting.
[00:28:48] But the truth is, the capabilities we have today could not even be imagined in the '60s. And I say that to say there is therefore nothing we can't do. We could have a, I mean, we could be in Mars orbit in 10 years if we chose to do that.
[00:29:03] So to me, the excitement is just the potential and the fact we're making use of that potential. It's a great time to be an engineer, great time to be a scientist or a doctor or a psychologist or an artist, because we're about to go make history.
[00:29:18] Natalya: It is exciting and, and we thank you so much for coming here and sharing your vision with us and-
[00:29:23] Rob Chambers: My pleasure.
[00:29:23] Natalya: ... love to have you back soon and,
[00:29:26] Rob Chambers: awesome. I'll call from, uh-
[00:29:26] Natalya: You'll call from Mars?
[00:29:27] Rob Chambers: ... I'll call from the Moon.
[00:29:27] Natalya: [laughs]
[00:29:28] Rob Chambers: Yeah. Via Parsec™.
[00:28:29] Natalya: I can't wait for Parsec™. We're all excited about that, too.
[00:29:32] Rob Chambers: Yes.
[00:29:33] Natalya: Just want to say thank you for coming today. I've been sitting here talking with Rob Chambers with Lockheed Martin Space about our interplanetary space programs and the future that we're seeing through the vision of our engineers and scientists at Lockheed Martin.
[00:29:45] Rob Chambers: Thank you.
[00:29:54] Natalya: You've just heard how humans will soon live and work in space, but the future is still decidedly Earth-based. How will the future of space help us address climate change, food scarcity, and revolutionize how we manage our health? In our next episode, we'll examine how space is already helping provide solutions to some of humanity's most vexing Earth-based problems and ask: what does "Space-on Main Street" look like?
[00:30:19] Host: You've been listening to Rob Chambers and he is a Space Maker. Whether you're a software engineer, systems, engineer, finance, or HR professional, we need space makers like you to make the seemingly impossible missions a reality. Please visit this episode’s show notes to learn more about what you just heard in this episode or the careers available at Lockheed Martin. If you enjoyed this show, please like and subscribe so others can find us and follow along for more out of this world stories. To learn more about our missions, products and people, follow our new Twitter handle @LMSpace and visit lockheedmartin.com/space. Join us on the next episode as we introduce you to more space makers.
[00:31:10] Space Makers is a production of Lockheed Martin Space.
It's executive produced by Pavan Desai.
Senior producer is Natalya Oleksik.
Senior producer, writer, and host is Ben Dinsmore.
Sound design and audio mastered by Julian Giraldo.
Graphic design by Tim Roesch.
Marketing and recruiting by Joe Portnoy, Shannon Myers, Mallory Richardson, and Stephanie Dixon.
A huge thanks to all the communication professionals at Lockheed Martin who helped make these stories possible.
Thanks for joining us and see you next time.