Elon Musk, the CEO of SpaceX, recently said: “If humanity doesn’t land on Mars in my lifetime, I would be very disappointed.”
And he wouldn’t be the only one. Here, at Nokia Conversations, we’d also love to see man take his first bold step on the red planet, too. While, at first glance, space travel and smartphones might not seem to have huge amounts in common, there’s actually a lot of synergy between these two areas of human endeavour. So much so, that we even have our very own rocket man within Nokia’s ranks.
Lasse Lindqvist, Director of Marketing Strategy, studied at MIT where he worked with NASA engineers on space suits. Now he’s part of a Finnish team, Space Veggies, which has just won a NASA competition to design a greenhouse for Mars. We hooked up with him and his crew to find out more about their amazing concept to make the red planet a tiny bit greener.
1. Space Veggies won the Deployable Greenhouse challenge in NASA’s International Space Apps Challenge 2013. Can you tell us what Space Veggies is about, how you came up with your winning concept and what were the main challenges?
Space Veggies is about challenge and especially the great challenges of space exploration and happy living.
Our winning concept has its roots in the many forms of sustainability. If mankind wants to live outside Earth one day, we have to be able to reach a much higher level of resource sustainability in our new habitats than we have here on Earth. Also, we need to make sure living there is mentally sustainable, i.e. people don’t go nuts!
Resource wise, this means 100% recycling of everything from the air we inhale and exhale to the food we eat, water we drink, etc. Mentally, on the other hand, it means the citizens of colonies need to have life around them, not just tin cans. Combining these two without creating a package too heavy was our main insight and also our main challenge. As for the teamwork, we were able to put together an amazing interdisciplinary group of people with varying talents and shared excitement.
2. This is the first success of the Finnish space community Spaceship. What exactly is Spaceship and how has Finland’s technology tradition, boosted by companies such as Nokia, helped contribute to it?
“Spaceship is a community and now also an official association. Our aim is to grow the Finnish space community and industry from the bottom up. One of the biggest things we’ll do in the near future is the local event of NASA’s Space Apps Challenge. Our long-term goal is to build a successful incubator for space related companies.
The Finnish technology tradition is of course a strong background force in this. Many of the people involved have lived in the middle of technology and also been involved in startups and tech companies or communities. The tradition just makes doing things like this more natural – and hopefully understandable!”
3. One of the members of your team, Lasse Lindqvist, works at Nokia and Nokia have sponsored your efforts. How much synergy is there between mobile technology and space technology?
“Simply: a lot. Especially if you look at it from the point of view of “connecting people”. One of the biggest sacrifices of the first Martians, for example, will be that they’ll leave most of their loved ones behind. Being able to communicate with them would be essential. The more ways you could communicate the better. And then there’s the power of sharing. Next time someone sets foot on the Moon, an asteroid or Mars, it will be a truly global connected experience, even more than the broadcast in 1969.”
“Also, mobile technology has to address similar challenges as space technology. Packing hi-tech in a small space and light frame, making the most of very small amounts of energy and designing sophisticated user interfaces are great examples. Another interesting synergy comes from the concept of phones as tools for space exploration. With smartphones, almost all of us now carry around a very capable sensing, computing and communicating device. As an example, another Finnish team Meteorienteers designed an app to use mobile phones to track falling meteorites. And actually NASA has been experimenting with phones in space to determine whether a consumer-grade smartphone can be used as the main flight avionics of a capable, yet very inexpensive, satellite.
In short: phones contain a lot of tech that is used even today in space exploration and on the other hand, there are heavy synergies in development also.”
4. Since 1995, dozens of Finnish companies have contributed their expertise to the European Space Agency’s probes and satellites, including the 2003 Mars Express spacecraft. How do you think Finnish know-how, such as yours, can help in the future?
“There’s a lot Finnish companies can do and these tech companies are a good example of it. But space is still often regarded only as an engineering challenge even though it’s far more than just that: It’s a design challenge, a societal challenge, an economical challenge. There’s literally a universe of challenges to be solved. And tackling these challenges can bring high rewards here on Earth already long before we’re laying seeds in the Martian soil.
If we look at our concept, there are lots of areas in which Finnish companies could play a part: for example processing of bio-waste into oils, soil, fabrics, etc. (Think about composting units, for example!) Finland has some unique know-how in this sector and if we talk about recycling 100% of everything, Finnish know-how could and should be used to solve these problems. This is also one of those problems where a solution developed for use on Earth could be upgraded to be used in space and after that used more efficiently on Earth – an example of the power of aiming higher!”
5. As part of your prize, you’ve been invited to watch NASA’s MAVEN mission launch next week. Nokia has armed your team with Nokia Lumia 1020s to capture the event. What do you think will be the most exciting part of the experience, both photographically and personally?
“Photographically we expect a lot from the launch and Florida scenery! Personally the most interesting thing is to meet the people who designed and judged the challenge and the other teams that participated. In the end, learning from people and their insights is the coolest thing on this planet. The phones will definitely help us capture those insights and share them to the world.
…Except maybe for the planet itself, which we’d would love to photograph from the orbit. Would you buy us tickets up there if we promise to take couple of shots with the phones?”
It’s exciting to know that Nokia expertise and technology really is out of this world. And, if there’s anything we’d love more than taking smartphone photos on earth, it’s taking smartphones photos in space. Alas, until we have our very own Nokia rocket, that’s probably not going to be an option. Still, we can always dream. Question is, if you were hanging in orbit with a Nokia Lumia 1020, what would you take a picture of?
Image credit: NASA/Pat Rawlings, SAIC