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Interstellar research group holds 7th annual symposium


The seventh annual National Interstellar Symposium was presented by the Interstellar Research Group and hosted by the University of Arizona at Marriott University Park from Friday September 24 through Monday September 27.

This event featured numerous presentations with a range of out-of-this-world topics, from black hole bomb beams to the effects of space on physiological processes in the body to the process of creating dynamic propulsion methods for rockets.

Each day’s agenda was divided into plenary sessions, moderated by speakers and other participants, with breaks and visits to places like Biosphere 2, the Tree Ring Research Lab and the Richard F Caris Mirror Lab.

The plenary sessions allowed audience members to hear the work of qualified professionals and ask questions. IRG plans these symposia and invites speakers with the aim of inspiring and igniting further conversations about the space and where its future may take us.


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There were over 50 speakers at the event, some more familiar with the university than others. Kai Staats, the director of the space analog for the moon and Mars at Biosphere 2, is an example of one who was very close to home.

Staats gave several speeches at the Symposium. His first seminar was titled “The Challenge of Closed Loop and Bioregenerative Vital Support for Long-Term Space Exploration,” In this talk, Staats and other professionals commented on the difficulties encountered during the project.

On Monday, Staats explained in detail his work in the session “SAM: construction of a high fidelity Martian habitat analogue hermetically sealed to Biosphere 2.” His descriptions of lung at Biosphere 2, which is a 3,000 pound dish of concrete and steel completely suspended by air, as well as the group’s experimentation with pressure suits to remain completely isolated from the outside world, showed how Biosphere 2 hope to prepare us to live off Earth.

“Biosphere 2 represents what we might be doing on a planet 150 to 200 years from now,” Staats said in response to one of the viewer’s questions.

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Also on Monday, Dr. Mark Shelhamer, who has worked with NASA to study sensorimotor adaptation to spaceflight and who serves as an advisor to those interested in commercial spaceflight, delivered a keynote titled “Challenges for the crew and the aircrew. health and performance of missions in enterprises beyond Earth. “

Shelhamer spoke about the physical and mental challenges of transporting people through space, such as the effects of isolation on the mind and the increased risks of developing kidney stones due to the breakdown of bones and muscles in weightlessness.

“There were still less than 600 people who went into space [and] every one of them is an experience, ”Shelhamer said of how difficult it can be to report on every incident that may arise during a mission.

The many layers of protection in place to protect the personal information of all astronauts, such as HIPAA, ensures that any discovery made during a space flight on specific individuals makes Shelhamer’s quest to search for them even more difficult. effects of space on people. cannot be published. On a lighter note, however, Shelhamer is hopeful that the next generation can find ways to answer the questions they have.

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“At my age, you have to force yourself to think, ‘This is really cool’, but [in college] you’re not at this stage-actually-this stage, “Shelhamer said.

Another speaker, Troy Howe focuses his research on how to get into space. Howe is the President of Howe Industries, which he founded in 2015 at the age of 32 and holds a PhD in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Idaho. His team received grants and was hired by NASA to determine what source of energy can push a rocket to Mars.

While chemical rockets are good for short-term missions, Howe says nuclear thermal or nuclear plasma propulsion are better alternatives for longer missions. Testing this, however, poses a challenge. You have to isolate the one thing they’re trying to test that day, and then expose it to the conditions it’s going to have to withstand.

Howe believes that the work done in space applies to the needs we see on Earth. For example, Howe and his team’s work on power generation could prove to be 5% more efficient than what is currently being used.

Plans for the Eighth IRG Interstellar Symposium are already underway thanks to their partnership with Andrew Higgins, professor of mechanical engineering at McGill University who gave the lecture “Dynamic Soaring as a Means to Exceed the Solar Wind Speed” at the Symposium.

In June 2023, the eighth Symposium will be held in Montreal, Quebec, Canada and will be hosted by McGill University. According to Higgins, the move was made so that IRG could reach audiences outside of the United States.

“Before we become interstellar, we have to become international,” Higgins said in his closing statement Monday.

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