The following is a conversation with Natalia Bailey, a rocket scientist and spacecraft propulsion engineer, previously MIT and now the founder and CEO of Acción Systems, specializing in efficient space propulsion engines for satellites and spacecraft. So these are not the engines that get us from the ground on Earth outer space, but rather the engines that move us around in space once we get out there. Quick mention of our sponsors. Monck Park, low carb snacks for stigmatic mushroom coffee Blankest and APTA summarizes books and sun basket meal delivery service.
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Amid the meetings and the papers and the career rat race and all the awards, let's not let ourselves lose that childlike wonder, sadly, where on earth for only a very short time. So let's have fun solving some of the biggest puzzles in the universe while we're here. If you enjoy this thing, subscribe on YouTube, review an Apple podcast, follow on Spotify, supporta on Pichon, or connect with me on Twitter. Allex Friedemann, as usual.
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So what do you think? Do you think there's a life out there? Intelligent life, intelligent life, that's trickier. I think looking at, you know, the the likelihood of a self replicating organism, given how much time the universe has existed and how many stars with planets, I think it's likely that there's other life, intelligent life. I'm hopeful. You know, I'm a little discouraged that we haven't yet been in touch, allegedly.
I mean, in our dimensions, Tanya, it's also possible that they have been in touch and we just haven't we're too dumb to realize they're communicating with us in whichever is it's this Carl Sagan idea that they may be communicating at a time scale that's totally different, like their signals are in a totally different timescale or in a like a totally different kind of medium of communication.
It could be it could be our own. It could be the birth of like human beings like that. The whatever the magic that makes us who we are, the collective intelligence thing that could be aliens themselves, that could be the medium of communication, like the nature of our consciousness and intelligence itself as the medium of communication and like being able to ask the questions themselves.
I've never thought of it that way.
Like actually asking the question whether aliens exist might be the very medium by which they communicate. It's like they send questions.
So some, like collective emergent behavior is if the signal is the signal.
Yeah. So interesting. Yeah.
Because maybe that's how we would communicate. If you think about if four way, way, way smarter, like a thousand years from now, we somehow survive, like how do we actually communicate in a way that's like if we broadcast the signal. You know, and then it could somehow, like, percolate throughout the universe like that signal having an impact, diverse multiverse, of course, that would have a signal, an effect on the most, possibly the most, the highest number of possible civilizations.
What would that signal be? It might not be like sending a few, like stupid little hollow world messages. It might be something more impactful, what it's almost like. Impactful in a way where they don't have to have the capability to hear it, it's like forces the message to have an impact, right?
My train of thought has never gone gone there, but I like it. And also somewhere in there, I think it's implied that something travels faster than the speed of light, which I'm also really hopeful for. You're hopeful.
Are you excited by the possibility that there's intelligent life out there? Sort of you work on on the engineering side of things? It's this very kind of focused pursuit of moving things through space efficiently. Hmm.
But, you know, if you zoom out, one of the cool things that this enables us to do is find a good, even intelligent life, just life on Mars, on Europa or something like that that excite you. That scare you. Oh, it's very exciting.
I mean, it's the whole reason I went into the field I'm in is to contribute to building the body of knowledge that we have as a species. So very exciting.
Do you think there's life on Mars? Like, no longer. Well, already living, but currently living, but also no longer living like that, we might be able to find life as some people suspect, basic microbial life.
I'm not so sure about in our own solar system. And and I do think it might be hard to untangle if we somehow contaminated other things as well. So I'm not sure about this close to home.
That would be really exciting. Yes, I think. Do you think about the Drake equation? Much of that was what.
Yeah. What got me into all of this. Yeah. Yeah.
Because one of the questions is how hard is it for life to start on a habitable planet if you have a lot of the basic conditions, not exactly like Earth, but basic earth like conditions, how hard is it for life to start and if you find life on Mars or find life on Europa? That means it's way easier. That's a good thing to confirm that if you have a habitable planet. And there's going to be life and that like immediately that's that will be super exciting because that means there's like trillions of planets.
Basic life out there, though of all the planets in our solar system, Earth is clearly the most habitable. So I would not be discouraged if we didn't find it on another planet. And our solar system and again, that life could look very different, it's habitable for earth like light, but it could be totally different.
I still think that trees are quite possibly more intelligent than humans, but their intelligence is carried out over a timescale that we're just not able to appreciate, like they might be running the entirety of human civilization. And we're just, like, too dumb to realize that they're the smart ones.
Maybe that's the alien message than the trees.
The trees. Uh, yeah. It's not in the monolith. In the Utah desert. In the trees, right.
Yeah. So let's go to space exploration. How do you think we get humans to Mars?
I think space back then and Elon Musk will be the ones that get the first human setting foot on Mars and probably not that long from now from us having this conversation, you know, maybe will inflate his timeline a little bit. But I tend to believe the goals he sets.
So I think that will happen relatively soon as far as, you know, when and what it will take to get humans living there in a more permanent way. You know, I have a glib answer, which is, you know, when we can invent a time machine to go back to the early Cold War and instead of uniting around sending people to the moon, we pick Mars as the destination.
So really, you know, I say that because there's nothing. Truly, scientifically or technologically impossible about doing that soon it's more politically and financially and and the obstacles, I think, to that.
Well, I wonder of when you colonised with, you know, more than I say, five people on Mars, you have to start thinking about the kind of like rules you have on Mars.
And speaking of the Cold War, who gets to own the land? You know, you start planting flags, you start to make decisions. And like SpaceX says, this is probably a little bit trolly, but they have this nice paragraph in their contracts where it's like it talks about that, like human governments on Earth or Earth, governments have no jurisdiction on Mars, like the rules, the Martians get to define their own rules.
And it sounds very much like like the founding fathers for this country.
That's the kind of language it's interesting that that's that that's in there and it makes you think.
Perhaps that needs to be leverage, that you have to be very clever about leveraging that to create a little bit of a Cold War feeling, it seems like we're we humans need a little bit of a competition. Do you think that's necessary to succeed in. To get the necessary investment or can the pure pursuit of science be enough?
No, I think we're seeing right now the pure pursuit of science. I mean, that results in pretty tiny budgets for exploration. There has to be some disaster, impending doom to get us onto another planet in a permanent way. I don't know. Financially, I just don't know if the private sector can support that. And but I don't you know, I don't wish that there is some catastrophe coming our way that that spurs us to do that.
Yes. I'm not sure what the business model is for colonizing Mars. Yeah, exactly.
Yeah. Like there is for we'll talk about satellites. There's probably a lot of business models around satellites, but there's not enough short term business. I guess that's how business works.
Like you should have you should have a path to making money in the next 10 years.
Well, and maybe even more broadly and looping back to something we said earlier, I don't know that getting humans off this planet and, you know, spreading like bacteria is what we're supposed to be doing in the first place. So maybe we can go, but should we?
And I'm probably not an unusual person for thinking that in my industry because humans want to explore. But I almost wonder, you know, are we putting unnecessary obstacles like we're very finicky biological things in the way of some more robotic or, you know, more silicon based exploration? And, yeah, do we need to colonize and spread? I'm not sure.
What do you think is the role of A.I. in space? Do you in your work?
Again, we'll talk about it, but do you see more and more of the space vehicles, spacecraft being run by artificial intelligence systems, more than just like the flight control, but like the management?
Yeah, I don't have a lot of color to the dreams I have about way in the future. And and I but I do think that removing you know, it's hard for humans to even make a trip to Mars, much less go anywhere farther than that. And I think we'll have more of this. Again, I'm probably unusual in having these thoughts, but perhaps be able to to generate more knowledge and understand more if we stop trying to send humans.
And instead, you know, I don't know if we're talking about A.I. in a truly artificial intelligence way or A.I. as we kind of use it today, but maybe sending a petri dish or two of like stem cells and some robotic handlers instead, if we still need to send our DNA because we're really stuck on that. But if not, you know, maybe not even that Petri dish. So I see I think what I'm saying is I see a much bigger role in the future of A.I. for space exploration.
It's kind of sad to think that.
I mean, I'm sure we'll eventually send a spacecraft with efficient propulsion like some of the stuff you work on out. That travel is just really far with some robots on it and with some with some DNA in a petri dish. And then a human civilization destroys itself and then they'll just be this floating spacecraft that eventually get somewhere or not. That's a sad thought like this lonely spacecraft just kind of traveling into space and humans are all dead.
Well, it depends on what the what the goal is. Right.
And another way to look at it is you've preserved it like a little time capsule of knowledge DNA. You know, that we've that will outlive us all. Yeah.
How I sleep at night.
So you also mentioned that you wanted to be an astronaut. Yes. So even though you said you're unusual and thinking like it's nice here on Earth. And then we might want to be sending robots up there. You wanted to be a human that goes out there. Would you like to one day travel to Mars?
You know, if that's if it becomes sort of more open to civilian travel and that kind of thing, like, ah, you like vacation wise, like if you talk if we're talking vacations, would you like to vacation on Earth to vacation on Mars?
I wish that I had a better answer, but no, I wanted to be an astronaut because I.
First of all, I like working in labs and doing experiments, and I wanted to go to like the coolest lab, the ISIS, and do some experiments there that's being decommissioned, which is sad. But, you know, there will be others, I'm sure that ISIS is being decommissioned. Yes, I think by a 20 25, it's not going to be in use anymore. But I think there are other there are private companies that are going to be putting up stations and things.
So it's primarily like a research lab, essentially. Yes. Research lab in space. That's a cool way to say. It's like the coolest possible research lab.
That's where I wanted to go. And now, though, my, you know, risk profile has changed a little bit of three little ones, and I won't. I won't be in the first thousand people to go to Mars, let's put it that way. Yeah, Earth is kind of nice. We have our troubles, but overall, it's pretty nice. Again, it's the Netflix. OK, let's talk rockets. How does a rocket engine work or any kind of engine that can get us to space or float around in space?
The basic principle is conservation of momentum.
So you throw stuff out the back of the engine and and that pushes the rocket and the spacecraft in the other direction. So there are two main types of of rocket propulsion. The one people are more familiar with is chemical because it's loud and there's fire and that's what's used for launch and is more televised. So in those types of systems, you usually have a fuel on an oxidizer and they react and combust and release stored chemical energy and and that energy heats, heats the resultant gas and that's funneled out the back through a nozzle, directed out the back.
And then that momentum exchange pushes the spacecraft forward.
So an interesting difference in liquid and solid fuel in this context, they're both lumped in the same.
So chemical just means that the release of energy from from those bonds, essentially. So a solid fuel works the same way.
And the other main category is electric propulsion. So instead of chemical energy or using electrical energy, usually from, you know, batteries or solar panels, and in this case, the stuff you're pushing out the back would be charged particles. So instead of combustion and heat, you you end up with charged particles and you force them out the back of the spacecraft using either an electrostatic field or electromagnetic. And but it's the same momentum exchange and same idea stuff out the back and everything else goes forward.
So those are the big two categories. What?
What's the difference maybe in like the challenges of each they use cases of each and how they're used today, the physics of each week and where they're used or that kind of stuff? Anything interesting about the two categories that distinguishes them besides the chemical one being the big sexy flames and. Yeah, fire. Fire.
Yeah, chemical is very well understood. You know, in its simplest form, it's like a firework. So it's been around since four hundred B.C. or something like that, so that even the big engines are quite well understood. I think, you know, one of the. One of the last gaps there is probably what exactly are the products of combustion, our modeling abilities kind of fall apart there because it's hot and gases are moving and you end up kind of, you know, having to venture into.
Lots of different interdisciplinary fields of science to try to solve that, and that's quite complex, but we have pretty good models for some of the more like emergent behaviors of that system anyways. But that's, I think, one of the last. Unsolved pieces and really the then kind of what people care about there is is making it more fuel efficient. So the chemical stuff, you can get a lot of instantaneous thrust, but it's not very fuel efficient. It's much more fuel efficient to go with the electric type of propulsion.
So that's where people spend a lot of their time, is trying to make that more efficient in terms of thrust per unit of fuel. And then there's always considerations like heating and cooling. It's very hot, which is good if it heats the gases, but, you know, bad if it melts the rocket and and things like that.
So there's always a lot of work on heating and cooling and the engine cycles and things like that.
And then on electric propulsion, I find it like much more refreshingly poorly understood.
Well, that's more mysteries. Yeah, I think so. One of the classes I took in college spent we spent 90 percent of the class on chemical propulsion and then the last 10 percent on electric. And the professor said, like, we only sort of understand how it works, but it works kind of.
And like, that's that's interesting. Yeah.
And, you know, even an iron engine, which is probably one of the most straightforward because it's it has just and it's just an electrostatic engine, but it has this really awesome combination of like quantum mechanics and material science and fluid dynamics and electrostatic then and it's just very intriguing to me.
First of all, can you actually zoom out even more like because you mentioned. Yes. And engine is a subset of electric. So like maybe is there a categories of electric engines and then we can zoom in on ion propulsion. Yes.
So sure, there's the two most kind of conventional type that have been around since the 60s are ion engines and thrusters and ion engines are a little bit simpler because they don't use a magnetic field for generating thrust. And then there are also. Some other types of plasma engines, but that don't fit into those two categories, so just kind of other plasma, like a Vandermeer engine, which we could get into, and then those are probably the main three categories that would be fun to talk about.
And then, of course, the category of engine that I work on, which is has a lot of similarities to an iron engine, but could be considered its own class called a colloid thruster. Keloid cool.
OK, so what is the propulsion, I imagine.
OK, so in an iron engine you have an ionization chamber and you inject the propellant into that chamber and this is usually a neutral gas like xenon or argon. So you inject that into the chamber and you also inject a stream of really hot high energy electrons and everything's just moving around very randomly in there. And the whole goal is to have one of those electrons collide with one of those neutral atoms and turn it into an iron. So kick off a secondary electron and now you have plasma.
OK, and now you have and now you have a charged xenon or argon ion and more electrons and so on.
And then some fraction of those ions will happen to make it to this downstream electric field that we set up between two grids with holes in them.
And in terms of area, the same amount of those ions also makes runs into the walls and lose their charge. And that's where some of the inefficiencies come in.
But the very lucky few make it to those holes in that grid.
And there are two grids, actually, and you apply a voltage differential between them and that sets up an electric field and a charged particle in an electric field create the force. And so those ions are accelerated out the back of the engine. And the reaction force is is what pushes the spacecraft forward.
If you're, you know, following along and tallying these charges. Now, we've just sent a positive beam of ions out the back of the spacecraft. And and for our purposes here, the spacecraft is neutral. So eventually those ions will come back and hit the spacecraft because it's a positive beam.
So you also have to have an external cathode producer of electrons outside the engine that pumps electrons into that beam and neutralizes that. So now it's net neutral everywhere and it won't come back to the spacecraft. So that's that's an iron engine.
What temperature are we talking about here? So in terms of like the chemical based engines, those are super hot. You mentioned plasma here.
How hot is this thing get? I mean, is that an interesting thing to talk about?
In a sense that is that an interesting distinction or is the heat? I mean, it's all going to be hot now.
So it's important, especially for some of these smaller satellites people are into launching these days.
So the it's important because you have the plasma, but also those high energy electrons are hot. And if you have a lot of those that are going into the walls, you do have to care about the temperature.
So I am having trouble remembering off the top of my head, I think they're at like one hundred electron volts in terms of the electron energy. And then I'd have to remember how to convert that into Kelvin.
Can you stick your hand in it? No, no, you're not recommended. OK, so what's colloid engine.
So the same rocket people that came up with with these ideas for electric propulsion probably in the middle of of last century, also realized that there's one more place to get charged particles from if you're going to be using electric propulsion so you can take a gas and you can ionize it. But there are also some liquids, particularly ionic liquids, which is what we use that you also can use as a source of ions. And if you have ions and you put them in a field, you generate a force.
So they recognize that. But part of being able to leverage that technique is being able to kind of manipulate those liquids on a scale of nanometres or or, you know, very few microns. So, you know, the diameter of a human hair or something like that. And in the 50s, there was no way to do that. So they wrote about it in some books and then it kind of died for a little bit. And then with silicon meme's.
Processors and and when foundries started becoming more ubiquitous and my advisor started it, MIT kind of put those ideas back together and was like, hey, actually there's now a way to build this and bring this other technique to life. And so the way that the way that you actually get the the ions out of those liquids is you put the liquid in a and again, a strong electric field and the electric field stresses the liquid and you keep increasing the field and eventually the liquid will assume a conical shape.
It's the it's when the electric field pressure that's pulling on it. Exactly balances the liquid on restoring force, which is its surface tension.
So you have this balance and the liquid assumes a cone when it's perfectly balanced like that. And at the tip of a cone, the radius of curvature goes to zero right at the tip and the radius sorry, the electric field right at the tip of a sharp object would go to infinity because it goes as one over the radius and one over the radius squared.
And instead of the electric field going to infinity and maybe like generating a wormhole or something, a jet of ions instead starts issuing from the tip of of that liquid. So the field becomes strong enough there that you can pull ions out of the liquid was the liquid we talk about.
So there's a bunch of different ones you can do it with with different types of liquids. It depends on, you know, how easily you can free ions from their neighbors. And if it has enough surface tension so that you can build up a high enough electric field. But what we use are called ionic liquids, and they're really just positive. They're they're very similar to salts, but they happen to be liquid over a really wide range of temperatures.
This sounds like really cool. OK, so how big is the biggest economy? What what's the size of this colony?
If you have a cone that's emitting pure ions, the. I can't remember the radius or diameter, but that admission is happening from of that cone is something like 20 nanometers.
Oh, I imagine something slightly bigger puzzle like this is. So this is tiny. Tiny. Yes. Hence the only being able to do it recently. Yeah, that's right.
So this is all controlled by a computer, I guess like or like how do you control how do you create a cone that generates on the scale of nanometres. Exactly.
So the kind of main trick to making this work is that physically we manufacture hundreds or thousands of sharp structures and then supply the liquid to the tip. So that does a few things. It makes sure that we know where the ion beams are forming so we can put holes in the grid above them to let them actually leave instead of hitting us.
But it also reduces the actual field. We have the voltage we have to apply to create that field because the field will be much stronger if we can already give the liquid a tip to form on.
And those tips we form have radii of curvature on the order of probably like single microns. So we are working out a little bit larger scale. But once we create that support and the electric field can be focused at that tip, then the tiny little cone can form.
So there's something there's an already like a hard material that like gives you the base for the cone and the pouring like liquid over it from the bottom.
Yeah, it's porous. So we actually supply it from the back of the chip and then the liquid forms on top. Yeah. On that structure. Yeah. And then you somehow make it like super sharp liquid so the ions can move.
And then we've applied that field to get those ions in that same field then accelerates them.
That's awesome. And there's like a bunch of these. Yeah.
I should have, I should have brought something so we could just pretend to have some nanometre cones and actually, you know, kind of about the scale we build. We call them thruster chips and it's just a convenient form factor and it's a square centimeter and on each square centimeter today we have about five hundred of the actual physical.
We call them Omidyar's those physical cones.
And we're working on increasing that by a factor of four in the coming months, in size or in number and the density, the number of emitters within the same square centimeter chip.
So that thing, because I think I've seen pictures of you with like a tiny thing. Yeah. And that must be. OK, so that's an engine.
So that is. Kind of the ionization chamber and thrusts producing part of it, what's not shown, you know, in that picture is the propellant tank. So we can keep supplying more and more of the liquid to those emission sites. And then we also provide a power electronics system that talks to the spacecraft and turns our device on and off. So that's the cool engine.
That's the core of the code.
And it's the way I've been talking about it. It's more of eye on electro spray.
Colloid tends to mean like liquid droplets coming off of the jet. But if you make smaller and smaller cones, you get pure ions. So we're kind of like a subset of keloid.
Yes. What aspects of this? You said that it's been full of mysteries from the physics perspective. What aspects of this are understood and what are still full of mystery?
Yeah, recently we've been understanding the kind of instabilities and unstable regimes of, you know, how much liquid do you supply and and what field do you apply and why is it flickering on and off or why does it have these weird behaviors? So that's in the past, just a couple of years that's become much more understood. I think the two areas that come to mind as far as not as well understood are the boundary between, you know, you have we actually use kind of big molecular ions.
And if you're looking at the molecular scale, you have some ions that you've extracted and they're in this electric field, one iron, you know, it's a big molecule. It's getting energy from the electric field. And some of that energy is going into the bonds and making it vibrate and doing weird things to it. Sometimes it breaks them apart and then zooming out to the whole beam. The beam has some behaviors as this beam of ions and there's a big gap between what are those?
What how do you connect those and how do we understand that better so that we can understand the beam performance of of the engine.
Is there a theory question as an engineering question theory? Definitely. We're Acción is a startup and we're more in the business of building and testing and observing and characterizing.
And we're not really diving much into that theory right now because zooming out a little bit on the physics, apologize for the way too big of a question. But to you from either us, you mentioned Acción, as you know, more sort of an engineering endeavor. Right. But from a perspective of physics in general, science in general or the side of engineering, what do you think is the most to you, like beautiful and captivating and inspiring idea in the space?
In this space, and then I'm going to zoom out a little bit more, but in this space, I keep putting up against material science questions. So I over the past 10 years, I feel like every problem or interesting. Thing I want to work on, if you dig deep enough, you end up in material science land, which I find kind of exciting, and it makes me want to dig in more there. And I was just, you know, even for our technology, when we have to move the propellant from the tank to the tip of the emitters, we rely a lot on capillary action.
And you're getting into wetting and surface energy at a scale of like, you know.
Yeah, I mean, it's if you look further, it's quantum to. But it all is. Capillary action at the quantum level. Yeah, so I would I guess so comes back to me, you know, material science, there's so much we don't understand at these sizes and I, I find that inspiring and exciting. And then more broadly, you know, I remember when I learned that the same equation that describes flow over an airfoil is used to price options, the Black-Scholes equation.
And and it's, you know, just a partial differential equation. But that kind of connectedness of the universe, you know, oh, I don't want to use options, pricing in the universe and the same, but you know what I mean.
This connectedness I find really magical. Yeah.
The patterns that mathematics seems to echo in a bunch of different places. Yes. Yeah. There's just weirdness. It's like it really makes you think I think we're definitely living a simulation. Like whoever programmed their conclusion is using a is using like shortcuts to program it like they did. And this is copying basis in both the different parts.
Yeah. Think of something new or just paste from over there. They won't notice.
My conclusion from that was I'm going to go interview for finance job. So I had like a little detour.
That's the that's the backup option. So in terms of using colet engines, what's what's an interesting difference between propulsion of a rocket from Earth when you're standing in the ground to orbit and then the kind of propulsion necessary for once you get out the orbiter to like deep space to to move around?
Yes. The reason you can't use an engine like mine to get off the ground is, you know, the thrust it generates is instantaneous. Thrust is very small. But if you if you have the time and can accumulate that acceleration, you can still reach speeds that are very interesting for exploration and even for missions with humans on them. Um, an interesting. Direction, I think we need to go as far as humans exploring space is the power supplies for electric propulsion are are limiting us in that, you know, solar panels are really inefficient and bulky and batteries.
I don't know when anybody's ever going to improve battery technology. You know, a lot of people that work on that.
And nuclear power, we could have a lot more powerful electric propulsion system, so they would be extremely fuel efficient, but more instantaneous threats to do more interesting missions if we could start launching more nuclear systems.
But it's like this is something that's powered, nuclear powered the right way to say, yeah, but is it a small enough container that could be launched?
Yeah. So, um, I mean, as a world, we do launch spacecraft with nuclear power systems on board. But size is is one consideration. It hasn't been a big focus. So the reactors and the heaters and everything are bulky. And so they're really only suitable for some of the much bigger interplanetary stuff. So that's one issue. But then it's a whole, like rat's nest of political stuff as well.
I heard I think you can describe for somebody, but I think I think it was you described the IV tall, like electrical vertical takeoff and landing vehicles, basically saying Rocket's obviously you guys interested in electric vehicles.
Right. But he said that rockets can't in the near term, it doesn't make sense for them to be electrical.
Uh, what do you see? A world with the rockets that we use to get into orbit are also electric bass.
It's possible you can produce the thrust levels you need, but you need this a much bigger power supply. And I think that would be nuclear. And the only way people have been able to launch them at all is that they're in a, you know, one hundred times redundancy safe mode while they're being launched and they're not turned on until they're farther off. So if you were to actually try to use it on launch, I think a lot of people would still have an issue with that.
But someday, it's an interesting concept. Nuclear. It seems like people, like everybody that works on nuclear power has shown how safe it is as a source. That's right.
And and yet we seem to be mean based on the history. It's an excellent HBO series, Russian with Chernobyl. It seems like we have our risk estimation about this particular power source is drastically inaccurate. But that's that's a fascinating idea, that we would use nuclear as a source for our vehicles and not just in outer space.
That's cool. I'm going to look into that. That's interesting.
Well, just last year, Trump eased up a little bit on the regulations and NASA and hopefully others are starting to pick up on the development. So now is a good time to look into it because there's actually some movement.
Is that a hope for you to to explore different energy sources that the entirety of the vehicle uses something like, uh, like the entirety of the propulsion systems for all aspects of the vehicle's life?
Travel is the same or electric.
Is it possible for it to be the same, like the quality engine being used for everything you could and you would have to do it in the same way we do different stages of rockets now where once you've used up and an engine or a stage, you let it go because there's really no point in holding onto it. So I wouldn't necessarily want to use the the same engine for the whole thing, but the same technology I think would be interesting. OK, so it's possible.
All right. But yeah, in terms of the power source, the power source, that's really interesting. But for the current power sources and its current use cases, what's the use case for electric like the, uh, the colloid engine? Can you talk about where they're used today?
Sure. So chemical engines are still used quite a bit once you're in orbit. But that's also where you might choose instead to use an electric system and what people do with them. And and this includes, you know, the ion engines and how thrusters and our engine is basically any maneuvering you need to do once you're dropped off.
There's even if your only goal was to just stay in your orbit and not move for the life of your mission, you need propulsion to accomplish that because the Earth's gravity field changes as you go around in orbit and pulls you out of your little box. There are other perturbations that that can throw you off a bit. And then, you know, most people want to do things a little bit more interesting, like maneuver to avoid being hit by space debris or perhaps lower their orbit to take a higher resolution image of something and then return at the end of your mission.
You're supposed to responsibly get.
Right of your satellite weather that's burning it up, but if you're in Geo, you want to push it higher into a graveyard orbit, what's your what's what's so low Earth orbit and then geosynchronous orbit or geostationary orbit?
And there's a graveyard. Yeah. So those satellites are at like 40 thousand kilometers. So if they were to try to push their satellites back down, to burn up in the atmosphere, they would need, you know, even more propulsion than they've had for the whole lifetime of their mission. So instead, they push them higher where it'll take, you know, a million years for it to naturally deorbit. So we're also cluttering that higher bit up as well.
But it's not as pressing as as Leo, which is low Earth orbit, where more of these commercial missions are going now.
Well, so how hard is the collision avoidance problem there?
He says some debris and stuff like how much propulsion is needed and how much is the life of a satellite is just like, oh, crap, try trying to avoid like I think one of the recent, you know, rules of thumb I heard was per year, some of these small satellites are doing like three collision avoidance maneuvers.
So that's. That's right. Yeah. Zero. And it yeah, it takes a lot of planning and people on the ground and you know, none of that really I don't think right now is autonomous. Oh that's not good.
Yeah. And then we have a lot of folks taking advantage of, you know, Moore's Law on cheaper spacecraft. So they're launching them up without the ability to maneuver themselves. Well, I don't know. Just don't hit me.
And three times a year that could be become affordable if it's like. If it gets hit, maybe it won't be damaged kind of thing, that kind of logic affordable in that instead of launching one satellite, they'll launch 20 small ones. Yeah. So if one gets taken out, that's OK. But the problem is that, you know, one good sized satellite getting hit, that's like a ballistic event that turns into ten thousand pieces of debris. That then are the things that go and hit the other satellites.
You see a world where, like in your son's in your own work and just in the space industry in general, do you see that people are moving towards bigger satellites or smaller satellites? Is there going to be a mix like what's and what are we talk? What does it mean for satellite to be big and small? What's so big?
The space industry prior to, I don't know, nineteen ninety. You know, I guess the bulk of the majority of satellites were the size of a school bus and it cost a couple billion dollars.
And now, you know, our first launches were on satellite the size of shoeboxes that were built by high school students. So that's a very different, you know, to give you the two ends of the spectrum, big satellites will I think they're here to stay, at least as far as I can see, into the future for things like broadcasting. You want to be able to, you know, broadcast to as many people as possible there. You also can't just go to small satellites and say Moore's Law for things like optics.
So if you have an an aperture on your satellite, you know that just that doesn't follow Moore's Law. That's that's different. So it's always going to be the size that it will be, you know, unless there's some new physics that comes out that I'm not aware of.
But if you need a resolution and you're at an altitude that kind of sets you're the size of your telescope, but because of Moore's Law, we are able to do a lot more with smaller packages. And and with that comes more affordability and opening up access to space to more and more people.
Well, what's the smallest satellite you've seen go up there like? Well, what are the smallest that shoeboxes?
Yeah. So I think, you know, the smallest the smallest common form factor can fit a softball inside. Wow. That's 10 centimeters on each side. But then there are some companies working on, you know, fractions of that even, and they're doing things like Iot type applications. So it's very low bandwidth type things. But they're finding some niches for those.
Do you mean like there's a business, there's a thing to do with them? Yes. What do you do with a small satellite like that?
You can, you know, track a ship going across the ocean is like if you need it, if you just pinging something, you know, you can handle that that amount of data and latencies.
And so you have to have propulsion on that. You have to have a little engine.
No, those are just, you know, letting fall out of the sky.
OK, yeah, but what so what kind of satellites would you equip it engine on anything that's bigger than probably about 20 kilograms.
Anything that needs to stay up for more than a year or anything. Somebody spent more than like 100K to build our kind of the ways I would think about it.
That's a lot of use cases where it was a small set like was actually very big.
I think it's like 700 kilograms or maybe a thousand kilograms down to 200 kilograms, or people have their own definitions of how they break them up. But small SAT is still quite large. And then it's kind of also applied as a blanket term for anything that's not a school bus sized satellite. We need to get our jargon straight industry.
So what do you see? Do you see a possible future where, you know, there's a few thousand satellites up there now, a couple thousand of them functioning? Do you see a future where there's like millions of satellites up in orbit or forget millions, tens of thousands, which it seems like were the natural trajectory of the way things are going now is going tens of thousands?
Yes. The two, you know, buckets of applications. One is imaging and the other is communication. So imaging, I think that will plateau because one satellite or one constellation can take an image or a video and sell it to, you know, infinity customers. But if you're providing communications like broadband Internet or satellite cell or something like that. Satellite phone, you know, you're you're limited by your transponders and and so on, so to serve more people, you actually need more satellites and and perhaps at the rate, you know, our data consumption and things are going these days.
Yeah, I can see tens of thousands of satellites.
You a ridiculous question. Yes.
So I've recently watched this documentary on Netflix about flat Earth is that, you know, that people that believe in a flat earth as something and as somebody who develops propulsion systems for satellites and for spacecraft, what's to use the most convincing evidence that the Earth is round? Probably some of the. Photos taken from the moon, photos on the moon. OK, so it's not from the sun, from the satellite space.
Yeah, I think seeing though that perspective. I maybe I'm just I'm answering to personally, because I really love those photos. They're beautiful.
Yeah, I really like the ones that show the moon and the lunar lander and they're taken a little bit farther back. So you see Earth. And first you're like, wow, that's tiny and we're insignificant. And that's kind of sad. But then you see this really cool thing that we landed on another, you know, planetary body. And you're like, oh, OK.
You actually see. I don't know. Yeah. I'll send you any of that picture cause I love the pictures or videos of just Earth from more from orbit and so on. Right. Those that's really that's like a perspective shifter. That's the pale blue dot. Right. Is probably the tiny.
Yeah. And does that, you know, juxtaposition of the insignificance. But you're in this really cool thing.
Yeah. That be cool. I can't I personally love the idea of humans stepping on Mars. I'm such a sucker for the romantic notion of that and being able to take pictures from Mars.
So you would go. I have uh.
I uh. Yeah, I would be. What did you say?
You said you wouldn't be in the first thousand four thousand.
Which is funny because to me that's that's brave to be in the first million. I think when a Declaration of Independence was signed in the United States, that was like two million people. So I would like to show up when they're signing those documents. OK, so maybe the two million.
That's interesting way to think about it, because, like, then we're like participating a citizenry in defining the direction.
So it's not the technical risk. You just don't want to show up somewhere that like America before.
Yeah, because it's OK. I, from a psychological perspective, is just going to be a stressful mess. And as people have studied. Right, it's like it's people most likely the process of colonization like looks like basically a present, like you're in a very tight, enclosed space with people. And it's just a really stressful environment. You know, how do you select the kind of people that will go and then there will be drama? There's always drama in.
And I just want to show up and there's some rules. But I mean, you know, it depends.
So I'm not worried about the health and the technical difficulty.
Yeah, I'm more worried about the psychological difficulties and also just not being able to tweet like, where are you going? How are you? There's no Netflix. So, yeah, maybe than the first million, but the first hundred thousand. It's exciting to define the direction of a new like how often do we not just have a revolution to redefine our government? As you know, smaller countries are still doing to this day. People literally start of scratch.
There's just our financial system. It could be like based on cryptocurrency. You could think about like, how do you know we have we have now the technology that can enable pure democracy, for example, if we choose to do that. Yeah. As opposed to representative democracy, all those kinds of things.
So we talked about two different forms of propulsion, which are super exciting. So the chemical based, that's doing pretty well. And then the electric bass is are there types of propulsion that might sound like science fiction right now, but are actually within the reach of science in the next 10, 20, 30, 50 years that you kind of think about or maybe even within the space of even just like like even ion engines?
Is there like breakthroughs that might 10x the thing like really improve it?
So, you know, the real game changer would be propellant, less propulsion. And so every couple of years you see a new now a startup or a researcher comes up with some contraption for producing thrust that didn't require. You know, we've been talking about conservation of momentum, mass times, velocity out the back.
Yes, that's what exactly.
And you have to, you know, carry that up with you or find it on an asteroid or harvest it from somewhere if you didn't bring it with you. So not having to do that would be, you know, one of the ultimate game changers. And and I you know, unless there are new types of physics, I don't know how we do it, but it comes up often. So it's something I do think about. And, you know, the one I think it's called the Kazmir Effect.
If you can if you have two plates and the space between them is on the order of these, like the wavelength of these ephemeral vacuum particles that pop into and out of existence or. Something I may be confusing multiple types of propellent forces, but that that could be real and could be something that that we use eventually will be the power source. Yeah, the most recent engine like this that has was just debunked this year, I think in in March or something was called the M Drive.
And supposedly you used a power source so, you know, batteries or solar panels to generate microwaves into this resonant cavity. And people claimed it produced a threat. So they they went straight from this really loose concept to building a device and testing it. And they said, we've measured thrust. And sure, on their thrust balance, they saw thrust and different researchers built it and tested it and got the same measurements. And so it was looking actually pretty good.
No one could explain how it worked. But what they said was that this inside the cavity, the microwaves themselves didn't change, but the speed of light changed inside the cavity.
So relative to that, you know, their momentum was conserved and.
I don't, you know, whatever, but finally, someone I think at NASA built the device, tested it, got the same thrust, then unhooked it, flipped it backwards and turned it on, but got the same thrust in the same direction again. And so they're like, this is just an interaction with the test set up or the chamber or something like that. So forded again. But, you know, it would be so wonderful for everybody if we could figure out how to do it.
But I don't know.
That's an interesting twist on it, because that's more about efficient travel, long distance travel. Right. That's not necessarily about speed. That's more about enabling.
So hook that up to the nuclear power supply. There you go. OK, yeah. But still, in terms of speed, in terms of trying to so there's recently as already I think, been debunked or close to being debunked. But the signal, a weird signal from our nearby friends, nearby exoplanets from Proxima Centauri, uh, a signal that's four point two light years away. So, you know, the the thought is can be kind of cool if there's life out there early in life, but it'd be really cool if we could fly out there and check.
And so what kind of propulsion and did you think about what kind of propulsion allowed us to travel close to the speed of light or, you know, half the speed of light, all those kinds of things that would allow us to get to Proxima Centauri in a reasonable in a lifetime? You know, there's the project break through star shot. Yeah, that's looking at sending those tiny little chipsets celebrating really fast.
Yeah, using a laser, so launching them and then while they're still relatively close to the earth, you know, blasting them with them, I forget what even what power level you needed to to accelerate them fast enough to get there in crazy sounding.
But a lot of people say that's a legitimate like it's crazy sounding, but they can actually pull it off.
Yeah, I love that project because there are a lot of different aspects.
You know, there's the laser, there's how do you then get enough power when you're there to send a signal back?
No part of that project is possible right now, but I think it's really exciting.
But do you see like a human like a spacecraft with a human on it? So it's like a heavy one being like us inventing new propulsion systems entirely, like, do you ever see that in there on the radar of propulsion systems like that? Or are they completely out there in the impossible?
Well, we're going to quickly leave the realm of what I can describe with any credibility. But I think I think because of special relativity, if we try to accelerate the mass to close to the speed of light, it becomes infinitely heavy. And then we just don't we'd have to, like, harness a lot of sun to do that.
Or, you know, it's just that that math doesn't quite work out. But, you know, in in my child's childlike heart, I believe that, you know, we're missing something, whether it's dark matter or other dimensions.
And if you can just have them and matter in a black hole and then ride that around and somehow, you know, turn that into some mess with gravity somehow.
Yeah, I feel like we're missing lots of things in this puzzle and that, you know, I want to hear something.
Yeah, right. Well, I can speak with confidence as a descendant of apes that we don't know what the hell we're doing.
And so there is we're like really confident, like physicists are really confident that we've got most of the picture down.
But it feels like, oh, boy, it feels like that that we might not even be getting started on some of the essential things that that would allow us to engineer systems that would allow us to travel to space much, much faster.
Yeah. And there's even things that are much more commonplace that we can't explain. But we've started to take for granted, like quantum tunneling, you know, things like, oh, the electron was here with this energy and now it's here with this energy and it's just tunneling. But so, you know, we're missing a lot of the picture. So, yeah, I don't know. And to, you know, use your same question from earlier, I don't know if you and I will see it, but yeah, someday you.
You're the co-founder of just like we've been talking about, actually, on systems. Yeah. This is, would you say Space Propulsion Company? Yes. Broadly speaking. So how do you big question. How do you build a rocket company from like a propulsion company from one person, from two people to 10 people plus and actually, you know, take it to a successful product? Yeah, well, I think the early stage is quite. I'm not supposed to use the word easy when you work in rocket science, but straightforward when you're working on something you know, sexy like an iron engine, it's more straightforward to raise money and and get people to come work for you because the vision's really exciting.
And actually, that's something I would say is very important throughout is a really exciting vision, because when everything, you know, goes to crap, you need that to get people getting themselves out of bed in the morning and thinking of the the higher purpose there.
And, you know, another thing along the way that I think is key and in building any company is the right early employees that also have their own networks and can bring in a lot of people that, you know, really make the.
This the whole greater than than just the some of the early team, and how do you build that? Like, how do you find people? It's like asking like how do you make friends? But is there is it is it luck? Is there a system like how in terms of the people you've connected with, the people you built the company with? Is there some thread, some commonality, some pattern that you find it to be to hold for what makes a great team?
I think, you know, personally, a thread for me has been my network and. Being able to draw on that a lot, but also giving back to it as much as possible and like an unsolicited sort of way, like making connections between people that, you know, maybe didn't ask, but that I think could be really fruitful and even, you know, weirder than that is just really getting, you know, having weird, uncomfortable conversations with people like at a conference and getting over the small talk quickly and getting to know them quickly and having a relationship that stands out and then being able to call on them later because of that.
And I think that's it. That's been because I'm introverted and I, you know, want to poke my eyes out instead of go and do small talk. And so I huddle in a corner with one person and, you know, we talk about aliens or things like that.
And so, you know, that's all to say that, you know, having a strong network I think is really important, but a genuine one and lets the other ways to build a rocket company, kind of making sure you're paying attention to the sweeping trends of the industry. So everybody just cares about cost and being able to get out ahead of that and even more than we ever thought we'd need to as far as what we needed to price our systems at.
You know, people for since the start of the the U.S. space industry, they've been paying 20, 25 million in adjusted dollars for an iron engine. And seeing that now people are going to want to pay 10K for an eye on engine and just staying out ahead of that and those kinds of things. So, you know, being out in the industry and talking to as many people as possible.
So there's a drive. I mean, know SpaceX really push that frustrating for me. So SpaceX really pushed this. Mm hmm. Uh, yeah.
The application of, I guess, capitalism, of driving the price down, of basically forcing people to ask the question, can this can this be done cheaper? This can lead to.
Like big problems, I would say, in the following sense, I see this in the car industry, for example, that people have it's such a small margin for profit, like they've driven the cost of everything down so much that there's literally no room for innovation taking risks. So like cars, which is funny because not until Tesla really, which is one of the in a long, long time one of the first successful new car companies that's constantly innovating.
Every other car company is really pouring in terms of their technological innovation. They innovate and design and style and so on. The that people fall in love with the look and so on. But it's not really innovation, the terms of the technology. And it's really boringly the same thing. And they are really afraid of taking risks. And that's a big problem for rocket space, too, is like if you're cutting down costs, you can't afford to innovate, to try out new things.
And then, yeah, that's definitely true with ion engines. Right. But what? So how do you compete in this in the space do, by the way, see SpaceX as a competitor? And what do you say in general about the competition in the space? Is it really difficult as a as a business to compete here?
No, I I don't see SpaceX as a competitor and I see them as one day, not too long from now, a customer hopefully. Um, I mean, to compete against that, I think you just have to do things in an unconventional way. So bringing silicon MEMS manufacturing to propulsion, you know, NASA doesn't make ion engines using a batch mass producible technique. They have, you know, one guy that's been making their eye on engines for 20 years, like bespoke pieces of jewelry.
So bringing things to what you're trying to innovate to to make them, you know, in our case, more cost effective was was really key.
I like the idea of somebody putting out ion engines on like Etsy. Yeah. My advisor at MIT would, you know, the thruster chip I was holding up, he would wear one as a lapel pin.
But in general, just on the topic of Space X, you know, 20/20 has seen some difficult things for human civilization. And there's been a lot of first of all, it's an election year. There's been a lot of drama and division about that. There's been riots of all different. Um. Reasons, racial division, there's been obviously a virus that's testing the very fabric of our society, but there's been really I for of these super positive things, which inspiring things, which is SpaceX and NASA doing the first commercial.
Human flight, launching humans to space and did it twice successfully. What is that?
Did you get to watch that launch? Did you what does it make you feel? How do you think this is the first days for a new era of space exploration? Yeah, I did watch it, we played it outside on a big screen space, and I was a little you know, they kept saying Bob and Doug, Bob and Doug and, you know, astronauts usually are treated with a little bit more fanfare.
So it felt very casual. But maybe that was a good a good thing like this is the era of commercial crewed missions.
And it was a little bit more, um, what is it what's his name? Chris Hadfield. Like playing guitar?
Yeah, it's more it's a different flavor to it of. Yeah, exactly. More like fun, playful celebrity type. Yes, exactly.
Astronaut versus the other R of the magical sort of habré elements of the single human representing us in space. Yes. Yeah.
I think that's all for the better though. It's so cool that it's such a commonplace thing now that we said, you know, I can't believe that sometimes I'll have to.
You know, you don't even realize that astronauts are coming and going all the time, you know, splashing back down and it's just so common now, but that's quite magical. I think so. Yes, we did watch that. I love, love, love that.
We finally have that capability again to send people to the space station. And it's just really exciting to see the private sector stepping up to fill in where the government has pulled back in the US and I think pulled back way too soon as far as exploration and science goes, probably pulled back at the right time for commercial things.
And I'm getting that started. But I'm really happy that it's even possible to do that with private money.
And and companies do like the kind of the model of competition of NASA funding. I guess that's how it works, is like they're providing quite a bit of money from the government.
And then then private companies compete to be to be the delivery vehicles for whichever the the government missions like NASA missions.
Yes, I think for this type of mission is a little bit kind of straddles commercial and and science. So I think it's good. But I do in general feel like we've pulled back too much on, you know, NASA's role in the science and exploration part. And I think our pace is too slow there, you know, for my liking, I suppose.
What do you mean on the science? OK, so did you have I mean, on the cost thing, do you feel like NASA was a little too bureaucratic in a sense, like too slow, too heavy cost wise in their effort, like when they were running things purely without any commercial involvement?
So I suppose it's more that I just want the government to fund. I say, and and maybe NASA's not the best organization to to do it rapidly. But I think that. You know, again, depending on the goals were just kind of at the very starting point of space exploration and science and and understanding, so we should be spending more money there and and not less. And other countries are starting to spend more and more and I think will fall will fall behind because of that.
So you have quite a bit of experience. First of all, starting compare yourself.
But also I saw maybe you can correct me, but you have a quite, quite a bit of knowledge of just in general the startup experience of building companies that you've interacted with people.
Is there is there advice that you can give to somebody to find a co-founder who wants to launch and grow a new company and do something big and impactful in this world?
Yes, I would say. You know, like I mentioned earlier, but make sure. The vision is something that, you know, will get you out of bed in the morning and and will get and that you can rally other people around you to to achieve, because I see a lot of folks that sort of cared about something or saw a window of opportunity to do something. And, you know, startups are hard and more often than not, just being opportunistic isn't going to be enough to make it through all the really crappy things that are going to happen.
But the vision just helps you psychologically to carry through the hardships that you and the team.
Yeah, you and the team. Yeah, exactly. To kind of younger people interested in getting into entrepreneurship, I would say, you know, stay as close to like first principles and fundamentals as you can for as long as you can, because really understanding the problems, you know, if it's something scientific or hardware related or even if it's not, but having a deep understanding of of the problem and the customers and what people care about and how to move something forward is more important than taking all of the entrepreneurship classes in undergrad.
So being able to think deeply. Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Yeah.
Well, have you been surprised about how much like pivoting is involved, like basically rethinking what you thought initially would be the right direction to go, or is there something deeply enough that you can stick in the same direction for long enough so our, you know, our guiding star hasn't changed at all.
So that's been pretty consistent. But we within that, we flip flop on so many things all the time. And, you know, to give you an example, it's do you stop and build the first product that's well suited to maybe a smaller, less exciting segment of the market? Or do you stay head down and focus on, you know, the big swing and trying to hit it out of the park right away? And we've flip flopped between that.
And there's not a blanket answer and there are a lot of factors, but that's a hard one. And I think one one other piece for the aspiring founder, um, spending a lot of time and effort on the culture and people piece is so important and is always an afterthought and something that. I haven't really seen, like the founders or executives that companies purposefully carve out time and and acknowledge that, yes, this is going to take a lot of my time and resources.
And then but you see them after the fact trying to repair the, you know, bro culture or whatever else is broken at the company. And I think that is starting to change. But just to be aware of it from the beginning is important. Right?
I guess it should be part of the vision of what kind of place you want to create or what kind of. Like human beings. Yeah, exactly like you can't wait five, 10 years and then just slap an H.R. person on to trying to fix it, like it has to be thoughtful from the beginning.
And don't get me started on HRR. People don't leave HRR to HRR people, but I'll just leave it at that. You didn't say I said OK. Yeah.
Acorah's actual HRR is really important because it is so, so, so culture. Yeah.
And then I also was surprised, like I thought you could say here will be our culture and our values and that it was kind of distinct from who I and my co-founder were as people.
And I think, no, that's not how that works.
We just kind of like ooze out our behaviors and then the company grows around that. So you have to do a lot of, like, introspection and self work to not end up with a shitty culture.
It's kind of a it's a it's a relationship, but it's supposed to relationship to people's relationship with many people.
Yeah. And you you communicate so much indirectly by who you are. You have to be. Yes. You have to live it. Yeah. Uh, as somebody I think about this a lot because. Generally, I'm full of love and all those kinds of things, but like I also get, like, really passionate. And when I see somebody in the context of work, especially when I see somebody who I know can do a much better job and they don't do a great job, I can lose my shit in a way that's like Steve Jobs in.
And you have to think about exactly the right way to lose your shirt if you're going to or if at all, you have to really think through that because it sends a big signal. You know, sometimes it's OK if you do deliberately, if you're going to do it deliberately, if you're going to say, like, I'm going to be the kind of person that allows this and pays the cost of it, but you can't just think it's not going to have a cost.
Yes, this is like the first thing I worked on with my leadership coach was to how not to just snap people when they were being an idiot.
And first, I got really good at apologizing.
That was the first step because it was going to take longer because brilliant behavior.
And she I've got I'm actually a lot better at it now.
And it started with things she's like every time you walk through a doorway, I think, you know, calm and take breaths before responding.
And there are all sorts of these little things I did. And it was mostly just changing the habit.
Yeah, yeah. Boy, it's a long road, so people love it. When we talk about books, it's their books, maybe three or so technical fiction, philosophical that had an impact on your life. And you might recommend and for each is an idea or so that you take away from it. Yes, so I've been a voracious reader all my life, and I'm always reading like three or four or five books at a time, and now I use audible a lot to and, you know, podcasts and things like that.
So I think the first one that stands out to me is 10. It's a novel tender is the Night by Fitzgerald and I. I read it when I was much younger, but I went back and read it recently and it's not that good. So I'm not sure why it was like such an important place in my literary history.
But I love Fitzgerald as an author because he's very he's very like flowery prose that I can just picture what he's saying, but he does it in such a creative way. I remember that one in particular because, you know, I read a ton as a kid, too, but it kind of set me is like the beginning of my adult reading life and getting into classics. And I kind of I do feel like they seem intimidating, maybe.
And then I realized that they're all just like love stories.
So, yeah, isn't everything you know. Yeah.
It's really about even you know, I don't know, I, I was surprised that even like a lot of the Russian authors, you know, they're all just love stories, which humans are pretty simple. There's not much there's not much to work with.
And so so I think maybe that was it. It made like that whole world less intimidating to me and and cemented my love for reading.
People sort of just approach the classics like there's probably a little chick flick. Yeah. So it somehow boils down to so just relax and enjoy the ride.
And then what else. Changing gears quite a bit. The beginning of infinity, you know, by David Deutsch. So he's a physicist at Cambridge or Oxford. And so I was introduced like more formally to a lot of the ideas, like a lot of the things we've talked about.
He has a lot more like formalism and physics rigor around. And so I got introduced to, you know, more like jargon of how to think about some of these ideas, you know, like Meems and, you know, DNA is the ultimate meme, the concept of infinity and objective beauty. But he has a really strong grounding and in physics and then is a rigorous way of talking about this like big.
So that was very mind opening to me to read that. But it also, I think is probably part of why I ended up marrying my husband is related to that book. And then I've had some other really great connections with people because I had read it.
And so had they said, oh, you turn that that even that book into a long story, I didn't know. So it's good. It's good. It's good with a heart. Yeah, exactly.
And OK, the third series is it's just it's Harry Potter, of course, which somehow connects to I haven't read Harry Potter.
I'm really sorry. No, I forgive me.
Forgive me, but I've read Tolkien. But just Harry Potter just haven't gotten to it. But you're a company name. Izumo, I think. Connected. All right.
So I heard this my I always feel like I have to justify my fandom. The first three books came out when I was ten. So I went along this journey with Harry age wise, and I read them all like nine or ten times, all seven books. And I think anything that just keeps you reading is is what's important. And, you know, there I have lulls where I don't feel like reading anything.
So I'll reread a Harry Potter or a, you know, trashy detective novel or something. And and I don't really care. And that's why I mentioned Harry Potter, because it you know, whatever just keeps me reading, I think is important. And it was a big part of my life growing up. And then.
Yes, Acción, the official. Story of the naming of the company is that Acción is like a concatenation of accelerate and eion, but it actually came from Akiyo, the summoning charm. And then we just added an end and it was perfect. What's the sign that says one of the spells? Yeah, it, um, probably most notably, Harry uses it to summon his broom stick out of his dorm room when he's battling a dragon somewhere else.
So he says the spell on the broomstick comes to the summoning in that way. OK, there we go.
This is brilliant. So the big thing is that it's something that you carry with. It's like your safe place.
You return to the Harry Potter that, you know, I reread them. Still, whatever keeps me reading, I think is is the most important thing. I got it.
So, yeah, I'm actually the same way in terms of the habit of it. It's important. It's important. Just keep. Yeah, keep reading.
But I have found myself struggling a little bit to because I listen to a lot of audio books now I've struggled to then switch back to reading seriously. Uh, it's just every so many papers read, so many of the things it feels like if I'm going to sit down and have the time to actually focus on the reading I should be reading, like blog posts or papers are more condensed kind of things. Yeah, but there's huge value to just reading long form.
So, yeah. And you know, my husband was never that into fiction, but then someone told him or he heard, you know, you learn a lot of empathy through reading fiction. So you could think of it that way.
Oh yeah. That's kind of. Yeah, yeah. That and it's also fiction is a nice I'm like not less so with non-fiction. It's a chance to travel. I see it as traveling. Yeah, as you go to this other world and it's it's nice because it's much more efficient, you have to get on the plane, you know, the and you get to meet all kinds of new people. I think people say they love traveling and myself traveling to I just read fiction.
I told my three year old that that was why we read so much, because we, you know, see the places in our mind.
And I'm like, it's basically like we're watching a movie, you know, that's how it feels. And like, I prefer watching Frozen with popcorn with our response.
Well, the very good point. Yeah. But yeah, there is some power to the imagination. Right. That's not just like watching a movie because some something about my imagination, because it's it's the words in the world that's painted somehow mixing in with their own understanding, your own hopes and dreams, our fears. It like mixes up in there and the way we build up that world from just the page. Yeah.
You're you're really creating the world just with the prompts from that book, right? Yeah. Yeah. That's different than watching a movie. Yeah.
Which is why it hurts sometimes to watch the movie version and then you're like, that's not at all how I imagined it.
Well we kind of brought this up in terms of. The depending on what the goals are. Let me ask the big you're friends with Manlius, he's obsessed with this question. So let me ask the big ridiculous question about the meaning of life. Do you have you ever think about this one? Ever ponder the the reason we're here is the sons of apes and this spinning ball in the middle of nowhere.
Yeah, I don't I don't think one ends up in the field of space propulsion without thinking of these existential questions. Yeah. All the time.
Or Bill is a business. Yeah, I know.
Yeah. We've touched on a lot of the different pieces of this. I think so. I I have a bunch of thoughts. I do think that, you know, the goal isn't the meaning. Isn't any more just to be like a petri dish of bacteria that reproduces and, you know, where survival and reproduction are the main objectives, and maybe it's because now we're able to answer these ask those questions. That's maybe the turning point. And instead, I think it's really the the pursuit and generation of knowledge.
And and so if if we're taken out by an asteroid or something. I think that it will have been a meaningful endeavor if somehow our knowledge about the universe is preserved somehow and the next. Civilization isn't starting over again. So that's that's I always. And, yeah, I resonate with that. I always loved the mission of Google from the early days of making the world's sort of information knowledge searchable.
That was a love that idea. I was loved. I was donated, as people should to Wikipedia. Yeah. I just love Wikipedia. I feel like it's the, um, that's one of the greatest accomplishments of just humanity, all of us together, especially Wikipedia. And this opens like an open community way, putting together a different knowledge, just like and everything we've talked about today. I'm sure there's a Wikipedia page about ion engines, and I'm sure it's pretty good.
Yeah. Like, it's I don't know. That's that's incredible. And obviously that can be preserved pretty efficiently, at least Wikipedia.
And you'll be like human civilization is all like burning up in flames as there's this one USB drive slowly traveling Wikipedia on it.
Yeah, that's on from the beginning of our chat.
That one lonely spacecraft just means Wikipedia and then it will have been a civilization well spent.
And so pushing that knowledge along. Yeah. Through like one little discovery at a time is one of the core aspects of the meaning of it all. Yes.
And I also I haven't yet figured out what the. Connection, you know, an explanation I'm happy with yet for how it's connected, but. Evolving beyond just the survival piece to I think, like we touched on the the emotional aspect, something in there about cooperation and love. And so I in my day to day, that just boils down to, you know, the pursuit of knowledge or improving the human condition and being kind love and knowledge.
So I'm pretty at peace with that as the meaning right now makes it while you work on. Yeah, exactly. Scrap propulsion. Yes, exactly. Like literal rocket science. That's this is amazing conversation. You work on such an exciting engineering field and I think this is like what 20th 21st century will be remembered for is space exploration. So this is an exciting space that you're working on. So and thank you so much for spending your time with me today.
Thanks for having me. This is fun. Thanks for listening to this conversation with Natalia Bailey and thank you to our sponsors, Monk, PIAC, low carb snacks for Stigmatic Mushroom Coffee Blankest, an app that summarizes books and sun basket meal delivery service. So the choices, snacks, caffeine knowledge or delicious meal. Choose wisely, my friends, and if you wish, click the sponsored links below to get a discount to support this podcast. And now let me leave you with some words from Carl Sagan.
All civilizations become either spacefaring or extinct. Thank you for listening and hope to see you next time.