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The Quest For Wonder Special Features – Episode 6

After a hard day’s questing for Wonder with his puppet pal Professor Brian Cox, puppet Robin is left with a few questions.  So after each episode he’s taking time to video chat with one of our Cosmic Genome scientists.

The Quest For Wonder Episode 6 Subscriber Exclusive

Space with Commander Chris Hadfield

Robin - Hello, Astronaut Chris Hadfield. Now, by all accounts it seems that going to the moon was pretty hard in the sixties.  Would it be as hard today?

Chris - It would be easier to go to the moon today because we know the moon better: we have better computers, we’ve been there and back, we’re not guessing on everything.  We didn’t even know if we landed on the moon whether we’d just sink down into the dust the first time we went.  We know a lot more.  It’s still not easy, but it’d be easier now than it was 50 years ago.

Robin - Why haven’t we gone back to the moon?

Chris - The reason we went to the moon a long time ago was to see if we could.  To prove that we could; to sort of go and do the initial exploration.  When we go back it will be to live there.  And that takes time.  From just going and doing a quick visit to when you actually start moving some place it’s a whole different effort.  And that’s why we’ve made better rockets, we’ve built a space station, we’ve been living on the space station, and the next logical place to go and start living will be the moon.  We’ll get there, it’s just not a race.

Robin - Are we going to go to Mars soon?

Chris - Mars is much, much, much further away than the moon!  The moon you can get to in three days.  Mars it takes, like, six months to get there!  So it’s a much harder thing to do.  And once we fire our engines to go to Mars, we can’t turn around.  We can’t be back for a year.  Just because of how rockets work and how far away Mars is, so, eventually, yeah, of course, we’ll go to Mars, just like we’ve gone everywhere else, but we have to invent things first.  We have to invent better engines, we have to test lots of things.  We may be able to send some quick probes to Mars, maybe with people on board, but for us to start moving to Mars, that’s still a long way in the future.  It’s hard to predict how quickly we’ll invent things that will allow us to live on Mars.

Robin - When we went to the moon, even the model one, we had to wear helmets and everything.  And I get the feeling that staying alive in space - or even going into space - is pretty difficult.

Chris - There are two really important things that keep us alive here on Earth.  One is air.  We need to breathe every few seconds; we need air around us.  The second thing is water; we need to be able to drink water.  And we need water, pretty much at least every other day, absolute minimum.  Without that, our bodies won’t work.  And then eventually we need food, but air and water, those are the really critical things.  As soon as you get away from the Earth and get out into space, there is no more air.  You can’t even take one breath.  So that’s why you have to wear a helmet and an oxygen tank or something that’s giving you air so you continue to breathe, otherwise you’d be dead in just a few minutes.  And next you need water, and there’s not a lot of water floating around in space either, so you need to bring tanks of water with you.  So that makes it hard.  Every spaceship you look at is like a bubble of air, moving along, with people inside, with tanks of water inside, and some food as well.  But maybe there’s water on the moon!  It seems like there’s ice on the surface of the moon and maybe if we can build a place with a dome where we can keep the air inside and we can get water from the surface of the moon, maybe that’ll let us live on the moon too.  It’s not going to be easy but most times when you explore something you don’t do it because it’s easy.

Robin - So could we really live on the moon?  Should we live on the moon?  Can I live on the moon soon?

Chris - Why do we live anywhere or why do we go explore anywhere?  Normally it’s because we live some place for a while and then somebody says, ‘Hey, that’d be an interesting place over there!’  So we go look for a minute and we say, ‘This isn’t an interesting place’ and we stay where we are.  But if we go there and we go, ‘You know, this might be an interesting place for some of us to live’, then some of us go and live there.  And that’s how we spread over the whole world.  Some of the world we just went to recently.  New Zealand, we just got there 800 years ago.  Antartica, just 100 years ago.  And the moon, just 50 years ago.  So we’re just sort of branching out, so eventually we will start living on the moon.  When?  I don’t know.  My guess is in the next 20 years or so we’ll have people living on the moon, just like we have people living in Antartica.

Robin - We live in an age where it’s just normal, everyday business that about six people live in space.  What are they doing up there?

Chris - Above our heads, way above our heads, it looks like a star, moving across the sky, is a big spaceship.  The International Space Station.  It’s got six people onboard.  There’ve been six people there for the last 15 years, with crews rotating out.  Well, what are they doing up there?  Well, one of the things they’re doing is testing to see if we can live in space.  What do we need?  Because if we’re going to go all the way to the moon, or all the way to Mars, or even further, we have to check and test everything.  So that’s one of the things they’re doing.  Another is, from onboard the spaceship you can do stuff that you can’t do on Earth.  Like, you can see the whole world every 90 minutes.  You go around the world 16 times a day so it’s a great place to understand our world better.  You float weightless when you’re on a spaceship as if there’s no gravity at all.  So if you let go of your spoon in space, it just floats there in front of you.  So you can do all sorts of scientific experiments up there where there’s no gravity.  So the space station is like a huge laboratory of experiments.  And then it’s also a great place to look at the universe because there’s no air in the way.  There’s nothing in the way.  The stars don’t twinkle from a spaceship, they’re perfect little points of light.  So the space station is kind of a like a big observatory, a big laboratory and a big place to test spaceships and to test people.  It’s our first permanent step away from planet Earth.

Robin - Do you think we can all go on holiday to space soon because, well, to be honest, I’ve been on pretty much all the rides at Chessington World of Adventures?

Chris - Right now we’re building spaceships that if you launch them, they come up off of the Earth, they go up very, very high, they float for several minutes and then they fall back down again.  A lot of people think that would be a fun ride.  Get on a rocketship, blast off, float weightless for several minutes then come back down and land, maybe under a parachute or maybe on wings and land on a runway.  So that would be kind of a fun ride, like at your fair, for, like, a quick little vacation.  And I think some people would pay to do that.  But if you want to stay in space for a long time we still haven’t built a place where you can buy a ticket.  But people are working on it!  And I don’t think it will be very long before you can go into a travel agent, give them some money, make a reservation, go to a spaceport, get on a spaceship and go up and stay somewhere in space orbiting the world for a week or something, and then come back.  It’s going to be expensive for a while, but eventually it’ll be something that we can do.

Robin - Is space really the final frontier?

Chris - Space is so much fun!  To leave the Earth, be weightless, it’s like you have a superpower.  It’s like, suddenly you’re someone who can fly!  You can push off with your finger and fly or tumble, you can push off with your toe and soar across the room and when you look out the window the whole world is pouring by, and when you look the other way you’re in the universe, where everything else is.  So, yeah, when you’re standing here on the surface of the world looking up, space is the final frontier.


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Watch all episodes of The Quest For Wonder here.