« Return to show page
Transcript for Episode #253:
Moon base geekout
00:00 Michael Kennedy: This episode is a unique one. On this episode I've invited Richard Campbell, developer and podcaster who also dives deep into science and tech topics. We're going to dig into his Geek Out series and spend some time talking realistically about Moon bases and space travel. I think you're really going to enjoy this conversation, but I would love to hear either way if you like this minor diversion from the pure Python topics. Although we do talk some Python and some programming, we can do more like these in the future if you all enjoy listening to them as much as I enjoyed making them. This is Talk Python to Me, Episode 253, recorded February 14th, 2020. Welcome to Talk Python to Me, a weekly podcast on Python. The language, the libraries, the ecosystem, and the personalities. This is your host, Michael Kennedy. Follow me on Twitter where I'm @mkennedy. Keep up with the show and listen to past episodes at talkpython.fm, and follow the show on Twitter via @TalkPython. This episode is sponsored by Clubhouse and Linode. Please check out what they're offering during their segments, it really helps support the show. Richard, welcome to Talk Python to Me.
01:16 Richard Campbell: Nice to be here Michael, thanks so much for inviting me.
01:18 Michael Kennedy: It's really great to have you here. I'm super excited about our topic. There's a lot of things that we cover on Talk Python to Me that is Python plus some other really cool topic. Python plus Large Hadron Collider. Python plus philosophy and machine image recognition. Stuff like that, right?
01:40 Richard Campbell: You know the LHC makes total sense to me because Python's such a great language for mashing huge amounts of data. And the LHC spits out huge amounts of data. Like it is stunning.
01:51 Michael Kennedy: It's unbelievable. Yeah, there's like layers and layers. Almost like the CPUs have like, cache layers and stuff. There's like, that and like, huge infrastructure at the LHC. It's amazing that place.
02:04 Richard Campbell: Yeah. and it's interesting funny truth about the Geek Outs, not that I want to jump ahead here, is that first show we made that you could have been called a Geek Out, which at that time we did not call it that, was about a space antennae. Was a radio antennae where the main problem was so much data. And I was interested in the data problem, but later came to appreciate, hey, you know that's kind of a Geek Out. Long before the Geek Outs were Geek Outs.
02:32 Michael Kennedy: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. So this idea of a Geek Out, this is something that I have enjoyed for years and this is something that is very special that you have been doing, I don't even know how much work this is. I know it's a tremendous amount of work. And I'm super excited to get into it. But let's start at the beginning of this whole story here. Let's start with just how you got into programming.
02:52 Richard Campbell: I'm one of the original like, Generation Zero microcomputer programmers, right? And I was 10-years-old in 1977 when I wandered into a Radio Shack buying parts for an electronic rocket countdown timer.
03:05 Michael Kennedy: That's very appropriate for this topic.
03:07 Richard Campbell: Because I'm that kind of lazy too. Like even saying, five, four, three, two, one, too much work. I don't want to do that. So, I was building, my father's an electrical engineer. He told me to solder from a very early age, so, you know, building gizmos was never a big deal, so there I was in Radio Shack buying parts.
03:22 Michael Kennedy: Is this an Estes rocket, you could like push the button it would countdown?
03:25 Richard Campbell: You're correct. Because literally five, four, three, two, one.
03:29 Michael Kennedy: So you're in there and you saw this weird machine that you could talk to?
03:32 Richard Campbell: Yeah, well later on came to appreciate that. The TRS-80 Model One, which is a very basic microcomputer, only 4K of RAM in it. They put one in every store. So it was sort of sitting in the corner of the store somewhat neglected. And I just started playing with it and it had me immediately. For better or worse, I've just not done anything else. By the time I was 12, I was working in a TRS-80 repair shop, a computer repair shop. So my basic first job was repairing microcomputers.
04:01 Michael Kennedy: That's so awesome.
04:02 Richard Campbell: I just not, I haven't done anything else. Like I don't know anything else really. I've worked every level of microcomputers you can think of, from repairing them and programming them and selling them and building networks. I was NetWare certified back in the 2.0 days. Like, I just worked on the whole thing. There's no magic here, I've just been in it longer than most people.
04:22 Michael Kennedy: Yeah, what were some of your first programming languages?
04:24 Richard Campbell: Well of course the Tiny BASIC that was on a TRS-80 with its three error messages: what? How? And sorry. And, you know, learned Z80 assembly shortly after that because you've only got 4k of RAM and so, trying to get the most out of the machine was kind of a big deal right? And then as the hardware evolved, like I couldn't even afford a TRS-80 as a kid that young, so I bought the Chava for H&S when I was 12. They had a lot of S-100 bus parts come through and so sort of scavenged my way through an S-100 bus with an 8080 and so that started out, so programing an 8080 and then some of the Quick BASIC, running on CPM. And then, you know, the first real language, the one that made me money when I'm like 13 or 14 was the original dBase.
05:09 Michael Kennedy: Oh yeah, right on.
05:11 Richard Campbell: So and that, you know, for better or for worse, just sort of followed my nose one language to the next. Where were the opportunities, right? And making some money and really in the '80s, I made more money restoring old hardware, that was during the end of OPAC, when inflation was crazy, and so forth and lots of companies were going bankrupt and so, I had written software for a bailiff service and they were repossessing computers and damaging them in the process, not knowing what they were doing. And so, I would buy them at 10 cents on the dollar, repair them, and then sell them for 50 cents on the dollar.
05:47 Michael Kennedy: Yeah. That's a cool project as a young person.
05:49 Richard Campbell: Yeah. So as a teenager, like, I was doing all right, making decent money on good equipment and setting up software and customizing things and, you know, one thing just leads to another.
05:59 Michael Kennedy: Yeah. Super cool. What are you up to today? You've got a lot of irons in the fire. From, looking in from the outside.
06:05 Richard Campbell: I like working on a lot of different things. Like, that's my passion. Obviously, I've been doing, .NET Rocks now for 15 years. And I'm still the new guy and I'm the third co-host. RunAsRadio, I started back in 2007, so every Wednesday since April 2007. I make the DEVintersection conferences. So I've been involved in conferences since the '90s. This particular imprint, this particular brand we started in 2012, for a variety of reasons, and so all those things sort of hold together. They're kind of the same thing. They are what do technology people, developers, IT people, so forth, need to know 3 to 6 months from now?
06:43 Michael Kennedy: Right. Right. Right.
06:45 Richard Campbell: And it's just different ways of making things that, and I advise a lot of different companies. So I'm involved in the startup community, and I've help a bunch of businesses grow, had a few of my own along the way, and had some that, you know, been acquired; been the acquirer. Like, had gone through all those different permutations. The last sort of big wave of that was 2013/2014. And since then, I've been, you know, just playing with a few companies I think are cool and advising some others on directions and opportunities that are out there. It's an interesting way to work. There's always new things. I can't do the same thing two days in a row, Michael. I'm not that guy.
07:24 Michael Kennedy: Well, it sounds like you definitely have got it setup that way. I don't have that many irons, but I do have like that kind of mix and fluidity. And I don't know about you, but I think I might be partially broken if I had to go back to a job with a commute and people.
07:37 Richard Campbell: Oh yeah. No look, I wouldn't hire me. I'm very difficult to work with. I would not, yeah. No. I'm not employable anymore.
07:44 Michael Kennedy: Yeah. It's a great life. Yeah, your podcast, .NET Rocks I was actually on there not long ago, but I've known you since before then so, thanks for having me on there.
07:54 Richard Campbell: Well, you have that amazing mix of having an experience in .NET and also, you know, embraced Python in a big way. I thought your...
08:01 Michael Kennedy: Yeah, absolutely.
08:02 Richard Campbell: Your tone about, talking about Python, was very relatable to the average .NET developer. I really appreciated that show.
08:08 Michael Kennedy: Awesome. Yeah. Thank you. And then, RunAsRadio, tell people more what that show's about.
08:14 Richard Campbell: That's me exercising the IT side of my head 'cause I've always lived in both worlds. Never been afraid of hardware, care about networking, you know, those are all useful skills. And I just felt like, you know, back in 2007, the podcasts out there that spoke to the IT professional were pretty hostile to Microsoft. Now admittedly, you know, 2007 was not a great time for Microsoft. They had just come out of the Vista debacle and, you know, it was ugly right?
08:42 Michael Kennedy: Those were some dark times.
08:43 Richard Campbell: Oh it was a great time to start an IT podcast with Microsoft technology while Vista's out right? Like, woo! Good one. But, just having a coherent conversation about these are the stacks we're dealing with and you know, what works together and has success. And, I'm not saying on Microsoft only, I'm saying just not Microsoft hostile. Though, you know, for a long time, we talked about virtualization. Hyper-V was a joke. We talked about VMware 'cause that was the real product. You know, vSphere had that cloud architecture working long before Hyper-V ever figured it out.
09:15 Michael Kennedy: Yeah, although, there's a whole interesting conversation about virtualization and what it's done for creating the cloud and what not.
09:21 Richard Campbell: Yeah, absolutely.
09:22 Michael Kennedy: Let's move on to talking about this concept of the Geek Outs. Now, for this show, we're going to talk about space and the Moon because you're passionate about it, I'm passionate about it, and it's something you've been doing recently.
09:35 Richard Campbell: Sure.
09:36 Michael Kennedy: But, maybe this idea, you said earlier there was this antenna and you were studying how much data was coming off of it and you know, like this data problem is pretty interesting but actually, the science is as well. And so I've listened to many of your Geek Outs. For example, the one on supersonic air travel is super interesting. So maybe give us a quick overview, or high-level overview rather, of these Geek Outs and what you've been up to and how do you research these things? As people see, it's very deeply researched.
10:09 Richard Campbell: Well, I mean, it's research I do anyway, right? So, I'm someone who thinks a perfect Sunday morning is reading several scientific papers and just, to learn, to know what's going on and I take notes. And I always have, right? It's just sort of a normal thing for me to do. Just sort of organize my thoughts. I live in One Note for that sort of stuff. The Geek Outs are really, was ultimately Carl's idea. It goes back to 2011.
10:32 Michael Kennedy: Carl being your co-host of .NET Rocks?
10:33 Richard Campbell: Yes. And so, back in 2011 when the last Shuttle landed, when Atlas landed, we were on the phone together, and not recording, and I ranted about everything wrong with the Shuttle and just how frustrating it was. You know, this was sort of the noble end of this machine and after I wound down, and it must have been 20 minutes or so, and he said like: "Are you done?" And he said: "You know, we should have recorded that. I think people want to know that." and I'm like whatever. I don't think anything of it. And he says: "No, no. We should do a show on it". And I really disagreed with him. I thought we're a developer show, this is not relevant, we're going to be told to keep to our knitting. Anyway, I was wrong. We recorded the show and the main reaction was people asking questions basically asking for more. And so, it took a while to sort of come up with a format, like we played with that. But at the time, at .NET Rocks, we were making three shows a week. So the idea of taking one of those shows per month, you know we were doing 12 to 15 shows in a week, in a month. One of those and sort of going off the reservation. Let's go talk about whatever people are interested in. So I put up surveys and you know, took solicitations or ideas from the audience and they sort of sorted into this, a lot of alternative energy questions. What about solar? What about wind? What about nuclear? Lots of aerospace stuff. More space, space, space, space. And then sort of an other. So yeah, they're topics that came along. And we put out one a month and most, for me, it was finishing research. So you know, you're taking notes all the time but they never organize them. To actually go back and say is there something here? Is there a narrative? How do we tell the story of this particular technology? That is a different exercise. And so, the pressure of hey on Saturday, I have to talk for an hour with Carl. Carl being the everyman in a Geek Out, right? Asking the questions that everybody would ask. How do I get that organized properly? And different topics came up different ways. I didn't set out to make three shows on nuclear fusion. But as I organized the notes, I saw there were three distinct areas. There was the government-lead, you know, high-budget, the National Admission Group. And then there was another group, which was all the tech billionaires. Like, you can't be a cool tech billionaire if you don't have a fusion project.
12:48 Michael Kennedy: You need a rocket company and you need some kind of fusion project.
12:51 Richard Campbell: I, you know, I do own the domain name tech-billionaire-or-supervillain.com. I've been meaning to build this site where you just like, "Who's closest to being Dr. No?" And it's like a, "Do you have an island? Does your island have a volcano? Do you have a fusion power plant?" That, you know, doesn't work. "Can you fly yourself into space?" Eventually, you get a long enough list where you think you're like, "I think you're Dr. No."
13:16 Michael Kennedy: Yeah. That's great.
13:17 Richard Campbell: It's just another project that I have not gotten to. It's another thing to do but it was, the third one actually ended up being cold fusion. Not only explaining what happened but, also where some of the real science existed in that space. Which, that was a surprise for me. When I found what catalyzed that was finding the Mitsubishi papers where they showed there is a catalytic reaction with Palladium in heavy water that involves transmutations of elements by fusing different protons. That's miraculous. It doesn't make electricity but, it is a remarkable thing, right? It's an article of science and it's buried under all of this crazy conspiracy theory around world government suppressing energy generation. Like that's a thing.
14:06 Michael Kennedy: Yeah, absolutely. That's a little wacky.
14:08 Richard Campbell: And it's just, you know, I understand conspiracy theories. Because people want to believe that someone is actually in charge. That's the great thing about a conspiracy theory. Even if you're not party to the plan, at least there is a plan 'cause the reality that there is no plan, is terrifying.
14:24 Michael Kennedy: Yeah, it absolutely is. And it's, probably mostly the case. Lot of bouncing off of walls.
14:30 Richard Campbell: People are just trying to find their way. I would say, you know, obviously all the aerospace stuff is fun; all the energy stuff is fun. In the others category, I would bring up, Barbecue and Whiskey is just us getting drunk and talking. But they're good shows. I'm pleased with how they came out. The genetically modified food series is an interesting series. For no other reason, A. It was hugely demanded and it's extremely controversial. I got a remarkable amount of nasty email about them. And Monsanto called me. Which is an interesting day all by itself and so.
15:02 Michael Kennedy: Oh my gosh! Really? You've gotten some interesting calls from various shows.
15:05 Richard Campbell: So the third GMO show is actually a Radiolab-style edit of my multi-hour interview with a couple of scientists from Monsanto. And it's the only show, of the thousands of podcasts I've made over 15 or so years, that my wife routinely refers to.
15:26 Michael Kennedy: Wow.
15:27 Richard Campbell: When people want to bring up some of the crazy conspiracy around GMO she says: "Have you ever listened to this?" And hands that particular show out. And the other one that I'll mention from the others' category is the antibiotics show. For no other reason than it was, I would argue, it was the hardest work I've done directly to make a show. Where I had read a couple of interesting papers, especially in the Teixobactins area, of a new generation of antibiotics because there's this big concern that antibiotics are failing, and we are finding new ones, but it's hard. But to actually fill out my knowledge enough to be able to tell you why Teixobactins was so important, I crammed medical student training material into my head to be able to speak comprehensible about antibiotics. Which was hard work. Disturbingly enjoyable, right? Like to really, when's the last time you really sat down and crammed for an exam? Although in this case, the exam was a one hour conversation about antibiotics.
16:26 Michael Kennedy: Yeah, it was like an oral exam and the judge, the graders were your listeners.
16:31 Richard Campbell: And the funny thing, of course, is a bunch of folks that are actually in Biology fields, that were listeners, were like: "Finally, you're doing a topic I know something about so I can figure out if you're just making this stuff up". And I'm like: "Awesome! How'd I do?" And she's like: "Nailed it. And that really pisses me off." I try very hard. I'm not saying I get everything right, I try hard.
16:50 Michael Kennedy: Well, I think that that really sums up all these shows. They're not just interesting diversions from the developer side of things that you work on, but they're legitimate science and you've brought up a lot of really interesting things. I feel like they're massively well researched. So I love them. How many have you done?
17:09 Richard Campbell: There's about 80 of them now.
17:10 Michael Kennedy: 80, yeah so I'll link to them all in the show notes and we'll talk about that.
17:14 Richard Campbell: geekout.show is the shortcut like to just those.
17:18 Michael Kennedy: Right, geekout.show. Perfect. Cool.
17:21 Richard Campbell: And it's an easy way to go for no other reason than there's like 1700 .NET Rocks so, trying to skim the 80 out that are considered Geek Outs, like, goodluck.
17:31 Michael Kennedy: Yeah it's definitely not super easy. This portion of Talk Python to Me is sponsored by Clubhouse. Clubhouse is a fast and enjoyable project management platform that breaks down silos and brings teams together to ship value, not features. Great teams choose Clubhouse because they get flexible workflows, where they can easily customize workflow state for teams or projects of any size. Advanced filtering, quickly filtering by project or team to see how everything is progressing. And effective sprint planning. Setting their weekly priorities with iterations and then letting Clubhouse run the schedule. All of the core features are completely free for teams with up to ten users and as Talk Python listeners, you'll get two free months on any paid plan with unlimited users and access to the premium features. So get started today! Just click the Clubhouse link in your podcast player show notes or on the episode page. Alright well, let's take it and focus in on one of these topics that you've spent some time working on. And that's around the idea of a Moon base. So I don't know about you, but the Moon has just fascinated me. The Moon and the stars. I don't know if it's science fiction, if it's just growing up in a place where you can see the night sky very clearly and shooting stars and you could just look out there and go: "Wow, look at what is out at night!" You know I just love it. It inspires me.
18:54 Richard Campbell: Although we don't see near as much now with the amount of light pollution that's there but we're also children of Star Trek and, heaven help us, Space 1999. Which by the way, don't ever go back and watch that show. Your childhood memories of those shows are awesome and are way better than the reality. That show is terrible. I found a torrent of it. Don't do it.
19:18 Michael Kennedy: Yeah I tried to show the old James Bond shows to my daughters when they were like 13/14 and like: "Oh, we're going to start at the beginning and it's going to be so amazing. We'll watch all of them." and they're like these effects are so bad. We can't watch this show. And it's just like, you know, some of those things have to be experienced in the moment. You shouldn't go back to them.
19:34 Richard Campbell: Well and here we are in the post-Me Too world. Don't watch Roger Moore, you'll be shocked. It's just like, that is not acceptable!
19:42 Michael Kennedy: No. It is definitely, definitely not. You got to take it in context, I guess.
19:48 Richard Campbell: But again, its childhood memories are awesome. Don't ruin them. Right?
19:52 Michael Kennedy: Perfect.
19:52 Richard Campbell: Yeah, don't do back.
19:53 Michael Kennedy: For sure. So, you know, for me, it's probably a mix of science fiction and then just, I spent a decent amount of time looking up at the sky at night on warm summer evenings. What got you interested in space and then in particular, this idea of the Moon base?
20:07 Richard Campbell: I mean, again, we grew up in the generation where we just missed Apollo, you know. I was what? Five years old when the last Moon landing happened. So, you know, we don't know that. We were too little. We saw the Space Shuttle go up and go around the Earth over and over. Boldly go where many people have gone before. It was the Moon base particularly, I mean this just my Geek Out chain, so you're working through subjects but it was a European Space Agency paper in like, 2016 that I read where they were speaking very coherently about a research base on the South Pole of the Moon. So not, you know, pie in the sky, we've got to expand humanities horizons, and so forth. But the same way, it was very much the same style paper as deciding on putting another base in Antarctica. Which they still do you know, the Norwegians recently established the Troll facility in Antarctica. Their new base is being built there, there's research to be done there. It's not a nice place to go.
21:09 Michael Kennedy: And in some sense, it's kind of similar, right? It's so inhospitable.
21:13 Richard Campbell: Yes. And so very much that you go there for six months, or so, and then you want to come back right? It's not a place to vacation, it's a place to work. And there's specific kinds of research they wanted to do there. And they thought the economics started to make sense. And that was interesting to me, is it's no longer was as Apollo was, this sort of this is what we do to establish our dominance in society. Like the Space Race was in the '60s.
21:41 Michael Kennedy: The whole Space Race in the '60s was we're going to spend 20 times what we've been spending on space because it's a technological race right? That doesn't make as much sense anymore.
21:53 Richard Campbell: At the height of the Apollo program, five percent of the U.S. budget was being on space. That's just, it's just a tremendously huge number compared to what is being spent right now, which is slightly less then .5 percent.
22:08 Michael Kennedy: Yeah, oh wow.
22:10 Richard Campbell: The, a 5% expenditure is Manhattan Project money. it is literally Moon shot money. And so, of course it's going to end. 'Cause you're going to achieve the goal. The goal was the beat the Soviets at something in space. 'Cause America was coming from behind, right?
22:28 Michael Kennedy: Right.
22:28 Richard Campbell: The Soviets had gotten the first man in orbit. They had gotten to the Moon actually before. They did a lot of things first, right? They weren't able to build a large enough rocket that had reliable enough to actually get people to the Moon. The N1 rocket was close, it was barely powerful enough. It was such a race to build it and unfortunately, Korolev died, who was the lead-engineer on, lead-scientist on it. And so, they tried to fly that rocket four times. All four failed and then they stopped. And the Americans established it but you know, there was a strong case once in Apollo 8, went around the Moon, that a strong case to stop there. At that point, they'd beaten the Soviets, and the risk was so high. There were so many failure modes in landing the Moon, on the Moon that were unrecoverable. The bottom line was that Lunar Module had a bunch of single failure modes and it only had life support for two people for three days. And the minimum time to launch a rescue mission was three days. There was just no way to get those guys. It was impossible. And so, each time they tried it, they were taking huge risks and you know, take the hint! Everybody that flew Apollo, with the exception of one, were military test pilots. Like, if you think it was not a military mission, like, you're fooling yourself. And only on Apollo 17 do you have Harrison Schmitt, who was a geologist. The only scientist to walk on the Moon.
22:28 Michael Kennedy: Yeah, and there are some funny stories of him getting over exuberant and just going after the science almost to his own risk, or detriment.
22:28 Richard Campbell: Well, and this is a rewrite of this story. So, I mean, the original Moon base Geek Out I did back in 2017, and much like every other Geek Out, you know, they're fun, you get them done, you move on. But in this case, a few months later I got a phone call from NASA. Which, I mean it's not, I will say this, it's not the first time I got a call from NASA which is a ridiculous thing to say.
22:28 Michael Kennedy: That's awesome.
22:28 Richard Campbell: When we did the space telescopes Geek Out, NASA called and said: "Hey, would you like to see a space telescope? We've got the James Webb over here in Washington". I'm like: "Yeah. Yeah I would". And we went. And we did some other shows around that too. I actually got to interview an amazing fellow, who subsequently passed away, about building spacecraft. But, yeah this call was from Ames, which is a facility in California, and they did something different. It wasn't just like: "Hey do you want to come for a tour? We really like your podcast". It was: "Hey we really like your podcast, have you ever thought about doing a presentation on it?" I'm like: "No" but it was like: "Well, we'd love to see it" and like: "You want to see me do a presentation about the Moon? It's your stuff, right? Like I'm reading your stuff." Like: "We know." Okay.
22:28 Michael Kennedy: We love the way you tell the story.
22:28 Richard Campbell: It's just a good story, right? And so yeah, there's a picture, and if you've seen the slide deck or the video, there's a picture of driving into Ames and the big board in the entranceway in Ames has my name on it. As the, you know, Moon gateway to the solar system. Which is a good day, right?
22:28 Michael Kennedy: Bucket list item check.
22:28 Richard Campbell: I didn't know this was on my bucket list but it was now. Actually, I got to stay in the hotel as the Ames facility, which is like, basically only for NASA people and I managed to, you know, beg a second day just 'cause I couldn't get over that I was there. Like that was really a thing.
22:28 Michael Kennedy: That's beautiful.
22:28 Richard Campbell: Yeah and so, the fun part, that was enough. At that point, I'm already blown away, totally excited, that was amazing, let it go. But then, I mentioned it on the show, that all that craziness had happened and I think it was a conference in New Zealand, a conference called Code Mania, that reached out to me and said: "Oh we loved that story, do you think you could do it as a keynote for our conference as sort of an inspiration piece?" And I'm like: "Yeah, okay." But this was different. It was one thing, the presentation to NASA people is one thing. The presentation to tech people is another thing. And so, and then it ballooned, I got down a bunch of them and there's a few different videos, and I've rewritten a couple of times, like I now emphasis, the latest version of that where I emphasis Harrison Schmitt is really talking about what we would do on the Moon. Like what's the point? You're not just going there to go there.
22:28 Michael Kennedy: Right. We don't really have anything to prove anymore. If we could do it with 1960s technology, surely, we could do it again.
22:28 Richard Campbell: But you can do it with 1960s technology with a constant risk of death where you're literally rolling the dice each time you do it.
22:28 Michael Kennedy: I feel like, back in that era, people just accepted more risk and there's more tragedy.
22:28 Richard Campbell: They were also soldiers, right? That was their job. And they were on a mission. It may have been wrapped in a banner of science and stuff. It was a military mission. There are American military people at risk at this moment all over the world, right? They're are a very usual group of people. I have tremendous respect for them. They take tremendous chances.
22:28 Michael Kennedy: Yeah. It's true.
22:28 Richard Campbell: But if we're really going to get into scientists work on the Moon, scientists are good at math, they're not going to take that kind of risk.
22:28 Michael Kennedy: They can calculate the odds and they know what's going on.
22:28 Richard Campbell: Like, nope. Not going.
22:28 Michael Kennedy: I would bet though that there are some scientists that are so dedicated to what they could discover, they would take a lot of risk.
22:28 Richard Campbell: I tend to agree. And certainly, you know, and plus, also mitigate some of this risk as well. It doesn't make sense to do this camping trip approach to the Moon. You can't dash in, try and gather some rocks, and dash back out. Real science takes time. The challenge here, and I bring this up when we talk about Harrison Schmitt, is it doesn't matter how much you train a test pilot to look for rocks, the rock you're looking for is an exception. Which you actually need to know is what is normal in rocks and that is a lifetime of training as a geologist. But when you put a geologist in that place, they make real discoveries. 'Cause real discoveries are not "Eureka, I found it!" It's, "What the heck is that?", right?
22:28 Michael Kennedy: Yeah, one of those discoveries on the Moon was made by, what was the guy's name? The geologist?
22:28 Richard Campbell: Harrison Schmitt
22:28 Michael Kennedy: By Harrison Schmitt was about the volcanic behavior or features of the Moon, right?
22:28 Richard Campbell: Yeah, it was an un-shock piece of olivine. From the Moon, which to a geologist, is a huge deal. And to everybody else, it's just a bunch of syllables, right? But the point was, this rock only forms under high pressures and there's only two forms of pressure that matter, either volcanic activity inside of a body or meteoric impact. But they look different. So, not only a piece of olivine but it was not shocked, because meteoric impacts creates shock, which is a particular look to the stone. This one had been spat on to the surface of the Moon in a volcanic eruption so it was clear proof of eruption and clear proof of extensive volcanic activity on the Moon. So it spoke to a bunch of understanding about the Moons formation and it was just one rock. And from a guy that got three days to look for rocks on the Moon in an area, maybe two kilometers across.
22:28 Michael Kennedy: One of the things that you mentioned before was all the times that humans have the visited the Moon, they've visited something like the equivalent of the Sahara Desert. Right?
22:28 Richard Campbell: Right.
22:28 Michael Kennedy: So, how much do you really know?
22:28 Richard Campbell: We don't know very much, you know. Just a few days, in six locations, in a very narrow band of the Moon because of the limitations of the spacecraft and the technology at the time. And part of what came out of Apollo was this belief that the Moon wasn't worth it because of that limited amount of data. There just wasn't the resources there.
22:28 Michael Kennedy: It's like: "We went to the Sahara, there was not really many plants or not much water to work with so"
22:28 Richard Campbell: "Didn't find a Starbucks, don't bother." But subsequent spacecraft, right? The Lunar Prospector and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and these other spacecraft that had gone to the Moon since then and given us much more detail and understanding of it have demonstrated categorically, that there is water on the Moon. It's on the poles. We don't fully understand why there's water on the Moon, but we've been able to measure it to the tune of billions of tons. We don't exactly understand what form that water is in. Is it ice that is frozen hard like rock and needs to be chiseled out with high-powered tools? Is it dust? You know, we don't know the forms that it's in and that's part of research that still needs to be done because if we can extract water from the Moon, it gives us a possibility of decreasing the cost of operating there. And any technology we develop on the Moon to be able to do those things is useful elsewhere in the solar system.
22:28 Michael Kennedy: Yeah, absolutely. Well also, the Moon could be a gateway to further exploration. Right? If you could get water, you could somehow manufacture fuel, hydrogen or something. It's much easier to fly away from the Moon than it is from the Sun, I'm sorry, from the Earth.
22:28 Richard Campbell: Yes. So, we talk about the cost of travel in space in a term called Delta-V. Or the amount of energy, the amount of power you need to change your vector, to change your delta. And so, escaping the Earth, getting into low Earth orbit is roughly 12 to 13 kilometers per second of Delta-V and on the Moon it's 2.
22:28 Michael Kennedy: Wow. Yeah.
22:28 Richard Campbell: Once you're in low Earth orbit, the energy to get to the Moon, again, is 2 and the energy to get to Mars is 3. You know, this is Robert Heinlein's old line is: "Once you're in low Earth orbit, you're halfway to everywhere".
22:28 Michael Kennedy: Yeah, that's about true. As long as you've got time.
22:28 Richard Campbell: Well and so, the point being that if we can manufacture fuel on the Moon and figure out how to refuel spacecraft doing that, we can build bigger ships and go further and do more. As long as you're pulling things out of this pretty hefty gravity well on Earth, the costs are going to be high.
22:28 Michael Kennedy: Right, and you're burying up the entire delicate space machine every time.
22:28 Richard Campbell: Well, and that's part of the challenge of the rocket equation makes us be that efficient, right? That intense. That 98% of the vehicle will be consumed in the process of getting the 2% into orbit. We've made improvements on that, right? This is SpaceX's magic is the recovery of the first stage.
22:28 Michael Kennedy: That to me, really signifies a tremendous shift in how space is done. You know? 'Cause you see the Saturn V go up and it gets destroyed. The Space Shuttle ride that but it was trying to be too many things, too many people and it became, it can't be used, right?
22:28 Richard Campbell: It was just too complicated. It was too fragile and so, the reason it wasn't reusable weekly is the amount of maintenance that it needed, right? It was tens-of-thousands of hours each time you flew a Shuttle to get it ready to fly again. It's all wages. It's people dismantling the vehicle and inspecting everything and repairing what needed to be repaired and resembling it. A jet airliner wouldn't be profitable if you had to dismantle it every time you flew it.
22:28 Michael Kennedy: That trip to Europe was super expensive, we threw away the 747 or the A380.
22:28 Richard Campbell: Well, you know, even if you didn't throw it away. If you just took it apart and out it back together again, a. It takes a month and b. You've got to pay all the people to do that. It takes, it's expensive. You're not actually fully discarding it, they were discarding relatively cheap pieces of it. But the labor of restoring the orbiter to flight status again was just too high. And it kept getting higher. As they learned more failure modes, if they understood the vehicle better, and as the vehicles aged, it got more expensive.
22:28 Michael Kennedy: Absolutely. So, one the angles that you've been thinking about here as, let me step back and ask a question and then we can go down that path. So, to me, it seems like, I don't know, basically, since I've been paying attention, that NASA bounces from focus to focus or project to project to project without really getting going. Not: "We're going to go set up a base here. We're going to fly to Mars and spend sometime there." You know, it seems like every time that there's new presidents or new administration or something, there's always like: "That was great, we're not doing that, what we're going to do it this".
22:28 Richard Campbell: It's not up to NASA, right? NASA does not set its own agenda. It has ideas. It makes proposals but, you've got 2 forces acting there. You have the executive that nominally is deciding on missions and sort of putting emphasis on things.
22:28 Michael Kennedy: Right, they're kind of fickle. And then you have the politicians pouring sand and molasses into it to make sure that their people still get paid.
22:28 Richard Campbell: The Congress ultimately controls the purse. And so, the budget that goes to NASA is based on Congressional needs. And this, you know, this is where you get Space Launch System from. The Space Launch System...
22:28 Michael Kennedy: That's their latest huge rocket.
22:28 Richard Campbell: And it's not that late. The basic design of the Space Launch System came in the '90s, right? It was repurposed Space Shuttle hardware. Solid rocket boosters extended, same basic tank design, literally the same engines as the Shuttle. So it was, what if we, you know, the Space Shuttle itself weighs nearly 100 metric tons and we take it up and over and bring it back. What if we didn't use a Shuttle anymore, what if we used that 100 metric tons for lift, for actual usable payload? That's the essence of the SLS. It was called Constellation before that but the reality was that it didn't have a mission, right? You can't just build a rocket because you want to build a rocket. It needs a mission.
22:28 Michael Kennedy: It needs constraints and a goal you build around. Yeah.
22:28 Richard Campbell: So you keep proposing different missions that repurpose the hardware. Even NASA when they didn't have a mission said, well we should stop spending money on this new rocket. But then the Congress would step in and insist on funding it. Because Congress has, Congress members have constituents. Those constituents want to stay employed and when NASA was set up in the '60s, they did a very good job making suere there were offices in lots of different states that all collaborated to build this project, which meant Congressmen were affected by what happened with NASA and so, NASA kept getting funding for a rocket they didn't have a mission for, but only enough to keep everybody employed. They never bent any metal, they didn't actually make anything, but a crazy thing happened over the intervening 30 years, they kind of finished the plan with minimum funding to the point where it's like, all we've really got left to do now is bend the metal. We've kind of go this figured out.
22:28 Michael Kennedy: Right.
22:28 Richard Campbell: So it's a cool rocket, it's just a cool rocket if it was 1995. It looks a little obsolete in the face of SpaceX and Blue Origin and even the new Vulcan from ULA.
22:28 Michael Kennedy: This portion of Talk Python to Me is brought to you by Linode. Whether you're working on a personal project or managing your enterprises infrastructure, Linode has the pricing, support, and scale that you need to take your project to the next level. With 11 data centers worldwide, including their newest data center in Sydney, Australia. Enterprise-grade hardware, S3 compatible storage, and the next generation network, Linode delivers the performance you expect at a price you don't. Get started on Linode today with a $20 credit and you get access to native SSD storage, a 40 gigabit network, industry leading processors, their revamped cloud manager: cloud.linode.com, root access to your server, along with their newest API, and a Python CLI. Just visit talkpython.fm/linode when creating a new Linode account and you'll automatically get $20 credit for your next project. Oh and one last thing. They're hiring. Go to linode.com/careers to find out more. Let them know we sent you. Yeah, Blue Origin being the one from Bezos company?
22:28 Richard Campbell: Yeah, you know, Bezos' new Shepard is not a big deal rocket, right? It's toy. It's a technology demonstrator, possibly used for tourism. Although, I don't think any of these tourism rockets are ever going to go anywhere 'cause we're just so close to economically viable, orbital tourism that the suborbital stuff may not amount to anything. But he's bending metal right now on New Glenn. And New Glenn probably renders SLS obsolete. It's a 7 meter rocket with modern engines and a modern design, probably a reusable first age. Not that he's done it yet, we won't know until it works.
22:28 Michael Kennedy: But we know it's possible.
22:28 Richard Campbell: Yeah, we've definitely seen first stages land. The New Glenn first stage will be twice the size of the Falcon 9 first stage so, it's a beast but, yeah, once that rocket flies, you're going to look at SLS and go, does this make any sense?
22:28 Michael Kennedy: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. Well, so the direction I was going with my question is, you've talked about having a Moon base would add some political stability for organizations like NASA or other participants, right?
22:28 Richard Campbell: Well, one of the things NASA has learned to do, and this has really came about with the Space Station was, if you get international agreements to do something in space, you're creating things that persist from administration to administration and from Congress to Congress. So one of the reasons the International Space Station has been so successful is that you can't change on a whim. You have agreements in place. And that to me is what makes the Lunar Gateway makes so much sense. That they want to build a Space Station around the Moon. And they want it to be international. A. I think they want a do over. There's problems with the Space Station, they've learned some things, they'd like to build a new station with the new things they know.
22:28 Michael Kennedy: You know what some of the problems are?
22:28 Richard Campbell: Yeah, I mean, A. It's actually too big. It's so large. There's a non-trivial amount of time spent finding things. There are so many storage locations, it's easy to lose things. And so they've spent a lot of time looking for stuff. A new station will have a better storage management solution that is much more carefully organized so that you don't waste so much time looking for stuff. It can't do its own station keeping. Even though it's 400 kilometers up, it's low enough the atmosphere is still dragging on it and so it needs constant reboost. That means every time a Soyuzes, or a progress, or an H2, any of these different ships visit, one of the things they do is they give it a little push to get it higher in its orbit to persist its orbit. It can't be untended. You need people in it all the time. There's enough maintenance and fragility going on inside that vehicle that if it was left untended for just a few months, it's very likely it would break down.
22:28 Michael Kennedy: Wow.
22:28 Richard Campbell: And so, to build a new station, that is man-tended, that will function well on its own for certain periods of time, maybe six months at a go. Can do its own station keeping and is better organized, and all those things are checked off in the design for Lunar Gateway. It's a better design. Now, that's not a good enough reason to build a space station but, there's also particular things you can do. It is outside of the Van Allen belt. It's in orbit around the moon so, extended exposure to higher radiation levels so, understanding more about that radiation environment, how equipment stands up, and man-readied equipment can survive in those environments. The particular orbit that they picked, which is an unusual orbit. Orbits close to the North side of the Moon and then distant to the South side. It's called a near rectilinear halo orbit. And it has a bunch of advantages. One is that it is always in view of the Earth. It's also always in view of the Sun so you don't have the complexities with solar power that you have on the International Space Station where it spends 45 minutes in light, 45 minutes in dark. You just think about what that would do to a battery. You discharge it for 45 minutes and then you charge it again and then you discharge it for 45 minutes and then you charge it again. The way they would set up Lunar Gateway, it would just be in the sun all the time. And you have these 7 day orbit, this 1 week orbit where 6 of the days you have a good view of the South Pole so, there's a lot of science that could be done that way. It's easier to tela-operate robots from that position. You're about a second away when you're back on the Earth and you don't have a good view of the South Pole anyway. So, that particular orbit allows them to work remotely on the South Pole pretty efficiently.
22:28 Michael Kennedy: Right, and there's a lot of interesting things about that. First of all, speaking about the orbit, one of the big challenges is that the Moon doesn't have even gravity.
22:28 Richard Campbell: Yes.
22:28 Michael Kennedy: Consistent, smooth gravity like the Earth does.
22:28 Richard Campbell: Right.
22:28 Michael Kennedy: So a circular orbit gets wobbly or weird or something like that, right?
22:28 Richard Campbell: Well, there's variations of plus or minus 2%, due to these things called mass cons or mass concentrations. And that's enough to destabilize an orbit but, if you don't do station keeping, you eventually will lose control and plow into the Moon. Sooner or later. It cleans its own self up. The longest operating vehicle orbiting the Moon now is Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, at 10 years. But one of the reasons the LRO works so well is it has a particular orbit where most of the time, it's not that close to the Moon. It orbits away from the Moon and then I comes back in. But the orbit shifts so that it has these, all the photographs you've seen of the Moon, the pictures of the Apollo landing sites, that all came from LRO. And it's been carefully nursing its fuel.
22:28 Michael Kennedy: Right, like the footprint in the dust type of pictures or other crashed orbiters or landers that didn't quite make it.
22:28 Richard Campbell: Yes. All of those things come from LRO. And so, LRO has mapped something like 98% of the moon. The 2% being the continuously shaded areas that it can't actually see into. But, otherwise, you know, everything else plows into it. But this near rectilinear halo orbit, the same thing. It needs some station keeping, but very little. And this station keeping module they want for Lunar Gateway is a MAXR designed, ion-engine, hall-effect thruster. About 10 metric tons.
22:28 Michael Kennedy: That just seems like science fiction.
22:28 Richard Campbell: Totally is. And it's, you know, we've had hall-effect thrusters for quite awhile, for smaller satellites. This by far, would be the biggest one. And its already been ordered. Like, NASA has ordered two of them. The design is actually ten years old. It was originally developed for the astroid redirect mission. And now, its been repurposed into the station keeping for the Lunar Gateway. They're going to build them. Now whether or not they're going to actually build Lunar Gateway is another question entirely.
22:28 Michael Kennedy: Right, right. But they'll have these engines hanging around for something.
22:28 Richard Campbell: Yeah, they could make them into something, right? Congress has yet to fund any of this. What's being asked for, is not a huge amount of money in the scheme of things. It's about 5 billion a year. 30 billion over 6 years. That takes NASA's funding from .48% to .72% of the national budget. But that would be, in their proposal, that's enough for the 4 Artemis missions, the SLS missions, to build the Gateway, and to land humans back on the Moon by 2024.
22:28 Michael Kennedy: Well I think it would be super inspiring to do but, would it be maybe also practical, so one thing, you know, just thinking about all this stuff as we're talking and you know, other times as well, it's just it seems like there's obvious basic infrastructure that could be in place that would make future work, future explorations, future missions much cheaper. So for example, if there was some mechanism to shoot stuff up and stage it, almost like a warehouse type of place. Like the Space Station but maybe not that thing actually. Put supplies up there, click them together, and the shoot them off, you know, you could do some Falcons fly up there, reuse a lot of pieces and then send more stuff or, you know, having a base on the moon that could refuel things or having maybe a gravity driven sort of roundtrip set of buses almost or trucks just going around and around that you could just, hey we're going to hitch a ride, the next one comes in 2 days, type of thing. You know like, could stuff like that come out of this that would then make many things cheaper in the future? What do you think?
22:28 Richard Campbell: Yeah, understand that most of the rockets we have operating today, the most efficient ones we have, only have enough power to put things in the low Earth orbit. We work so hard to get rockets out of the Earth's gravity that we don't have a lot of excess capacity afterwards. And so, it's not simple to make a rocket more powerful to simply fly to the Moon. It's more complicated than that. But if we're going to stay, if we're going to spend extended periods of time on the Moon rather in orbit, in that Lunar Gateway, or on the surface it makes sense to start building tugs. Especially cargo tugs. So that same module I was talking about, the station keeping module for the Lunar Gateway, would also serve very well as a tug. So you use a Falcon 9, which pretty much uses itself up to get 20 metric tons to low Earth orbit, or even 10 metric tons to low Earth orbit. Where it's met by a tug, that then uses its hall-effect thrusters to fly the payload the rest of the way to the Moon. Now it's not going to fly to the Moon the way you think of in science fiction where it's like, point at the Moon, push a button, off we go. Its actually got, the hall-effect thrusters are very low thrust. Like so low thrust, the amount of thrust is equivalent to you holding two apples in your hand. Like the pressure that's on your hand when you're holding two apples, that's how much thrust we're talking about.
22:28 Michael Kennedy: Which shouldn't seem like much, but it's super consistent.
22:28 Richard Campbell: So the way that you actually go to the Moon with that kind of thrusters is you use what's called the Oberth effect. So when you're on the far side of the Earth from the Moon, you fire these thrusters for about 15 minutes and it raises your orbit towards the Moon a little bit. Then you go around in orbit and then when you get back to that far side again, you fire them again. So over a period of two weeks, you gradually raise your orbit until you're going to intersect the lunar gravity. You're going to go in the lunar orbit. And that point, when you go out there, you're going to get to the Moon. You're going to fly to the far side of the Moon and you're going to fire in the opposite direction and start pulling your orbit in so that you no longer fly behind the Earth anymore. Until gradually, over another week or so, you will reduce orbit into or just around the Moon. Now, so you're talking a month to move a payload to the Moon. What's the upside? The upside is you can do it over and over and over again. It's very little fuel. It's very efficient flying, but it takes a lot of time. It's not good for humans 'cause that whole time, humans are being exposed to radiation and needing to eat but for cargo, it's great.
22:28 Michael Kennedy: Yeah. Absolutely. Well, and if you had 30 of them going, all offset by a day, you could send stuff up daily it would just take a month to show up.
22:28 Richard Campbell: To actually get there. And so, now you get back to this is the other advantage of that Lunar Gateway is once you have the Gateway there, which is unique, at a one-off kind of thing you built, now you put another commercial license, a commercial contract the same way you have commercial resupply at the International Space Station, you now have commercial resupply to the Lunar Gateway. Which are much less expensive missions and they're actually incented to get cheaper. Now you're paying a flat rate per kilo for supply and the companies opportunity to make money is to get less expensive over time. You know, those first few missions that SpaceX flew to the space station didn't make them much money. But as they got better at it and more efficient at it, they started making more money off that contract.
22:28 Michael Kennedy: Well, and there was this piece of news recently about SpaceX and Boeing both sending folks up to the Space Station and the Boeing contract was like 60% more than what SpaceX was getting for the same thing, is something like that. Did I read that right?
22:28 Richard Campbell: Yeah, you're correct. And again, you know, normally Boeing and United Launch Alliance, which is the conglomerative Lockheed Martin and Boeing together that used to fly the shuttle and now flies Atlas V and Delta 4s, all of their contracts are what are called cost plus contracts. And this is kind of normal in the military and it's been normal for NASA as well. The cost plus contract essentially says, here is what we want you to achieve and we tolerate no failure, you're going to make sure it's perfect and if you get it done on time, we'll get this additional bonus. And if you meet these milestones, you'll get this bonus. The problem with that contract is you're not incented to improve. You're only incented to make sure it works. And so, and in fact, if you spend more money making sure it works, you're going to get that money. So you're actually advantage to sort of blow budgets, to some degree, and just to be absolutely certain. And so you tend to build a lot of bureaucracy, a lot of testing, and more testing and, you know, testing that may not even do much. But it increases certainty that the thing's going to fly successfully and you can't argue with like, the Atlas Vs flight success rate. It's 100%! But at a $25,000 a kilo to low Earth orbit price range, right? Where SpaceX is literally a tenth of that. These fixed cost contracts that NASAs had for a few years, the cost contracts, actually incent companies to get more efficient. Until SpaceX started working on Crew Dragon, no Falcon 9 flight was the same. They modified the rocket every time it flew, always making improvements. This is something that never happened in the Atlas Vs. They don't improve them because that's not how the contract is structured.
22:28 Michael Kennedy: Right. Right. There's no incentive for it, right?
22:28 Richard Campbell: And even Falcon 9 is no longer being modified. And the reason it's no longer being modified is that part of the Crew qualifications is that identical hardware flies multiple times with success. So in order to qualify to actually lift Crews to the Space Station under those rules, they can't change the rocket anymore. Now the good news is they kind of tweaked out the Falcon 9. Like Falcon 9 Full Thrust Rev 5 is as much as they're going to get out of that rocket design. There's not a lot left to do there anymore.
22:28 Michael Kennedy: Yeah, the Falcon 9 is pretty amazing. The Falcon Heavy really captured my imagination watching that go off.
22:28 Richard Campbell: Yeah, you're not alone. Everybody loved the Falcon Heavy.
22:28 Michael Kennedy: Oh my goodness.
22:28 Richard Campbell: It doesn't help that he flew a sports car.
22:28 Michael Kennedy: I know not everyone out there is listening is like, following all the SpaceX Rockets so maybe like, a quick description of this whole what it is and that whole event for everyone.
22:28 Richard Campbell: Well, Falcon Heavy was a proposal in the early stages of Falcon 9. When Falcon 9 was substantially smaller, right? They've used the same name over again but there's been five versions of the rocket and it's gotten bigger, taller, not wider. It's always been 3.7 meters across. Falcon Heavy was, hey let's drop three of them together, right? That'll work. That'll be cool. Which is a much harder problem than you actually think. But when Falcon 9 hadn't been tricked out as far as it has, it made more sense. But as they continued to improve Falcon 9, they got to a point where Falcon Heavy almost didn't make sense and Elon actually seriously considered never flying the Falcon Heavy. But he finally got to a point where they were close enough that they wanted to test it. It has re-usability benefits and so the original Falcon 9 flight in February of 2018, they needed a test payload. Now look, every other space company flies a block of concrete. But Elon's like, that's so boring. Fly my sports car. It's the same weight. And so they literally took one of the original Tesla Roadsters and that was the payload. And that wasn't enough, they also put an early spacesuit set up like a mannequin sitting in the seat, they put "Don't Panic" on the screen, they put a Lego car of the Tesla Roadster on the dashboard, and that was the payload.
22:28 Michael Kennedy: And They put the top down and a camera on it.
22:28 Richard Campbell: Many cameras on it. And they only had power for a couple of hours, right? And what they were really doing is, you know, they were doing a proper rocket test in the sense of, yeah, they flew it and then they burned the second stage as hard as they could to see how far it could actually fly and effectively put it into an orbit that goes beyond the orbit of Mars. But the footage was astonishing. The second stage, the outside boosters landed just like the videos, the CGIs they made of it. And it was incredibly inspiring. It was one of those few times that transcends national boundaries. It was one of those moments where all of humanity was like, look what we can do. Admittedly, what we could do with flying a red sports car into an orbit beyond Mars but, you know. Which is hilarious.
22:28 Michael Kennedy: If your a wild billionaire, that's not a bad demonstration.
22:28 Richard Campbell: If you think a couple of hundred years in the future, when they're writing the history, they're going to talk about this period of these crazy billionaires and the fact one of them flew his own sports car into space, ruining it. The paints going to have peeled off. The tires are going to be wrecked like, it's ridiculous but, for that moment it's like, things are different. The Falcon Heavy had got a problem. The problem is this thing called the Fineness ratio. The rocket's only 3.7 meters wide and there's a basic rule of rocketry that says, you really shouldn't be more than 15 times taller your width.
22:28 Michael Kennedy: And it's not easy to make it wider because it has to drive.
22:28 Richard Campbell: Well, it changes the rocket. If you're going to make it wider, you're making a different rocket. You can make a rocket taller, but only up to a certain point. And the Flacon 9 Full Thrust, the latest version, is 18 to 1. It is already past the safe ratio of the fineness ratio. The problem is you'd get these flexing moments, where you're going to bend the rocket and it'll tear itself apart. And so, it's very challenging to do anything with it and the issue is this, the payload fairing on a Falcon Heavy is 5 meters wide and it's 13 meters long. It's actually a relatively small payload fairing. There's not enough room in it. There's probably enough room to put a school bus in, which sounds like a lot of room but it's not a lot of room in space world. You've got this rocket with a tremendous amount of power, it can lift a lot of stuff but you can't get a big enough fairing on it for the bigger stuff. You couldn't lift space station components in that fairing. You need something bigger. And they can't make, you can make a fairing larger than the rocket but not when it's this long.
22:28 Michael Kennedy: It's already at the limit of its flexing.
22:28 Richard Campbell: Exactly right.
22:28 Michael Kennedy: Putting a thing on the front is just not going to make it easier.
22:28 Richard Campbell: No, it's going to likely tear the rocket apart. And so, that's why they've sort of moved away from Flacon Heavy. For certain payloads, for heavy, dense, smaller payloads, that want to go to the International Space Station in orbit, the fact that it can lift 7 metric tons to geostationary orbit, full reusable so that'd you get all the all three boosters back, is astonishing. That reduces the price to GTO tremendously. That's more interesting than the fact it could lift 50 metric tons full extended 'cause there's no 50 metric tons payload that'll fit in that little space.
22:28 Michael Kennedy: Are you shipping pure Uranium?
22:28 Richard Campbell: Yeah, you know, you're on it. We don't make anything that's that small, that's that heavy.
22:28 Michael Kennedy: Right. Well the other thing that SpaceX's working on that's farther out there in the science fiction side of things is that silver, giant rocket called Starship which is, meant to be 100% reusable and it's supposed to be the thing that takes people to Mars.
22:28 Richard Campbell: So what Elon's doing is he went from a small airliner to, I want to build a 747. If he pulls it off, it changes everything, like.
22:28 Michael Kennedy: Right, a DC-3 or a DC-9.
22:28 Richard Campbell: From a DC-3 to an A380. Like the logical thing for him to do now that you know it's a 3.7 meter constrain on the Falcon, now it's a problem. Is you should build a 7 meter rocket. Something twice the width, right? He's got the Raptor engine, which is his high-performance methane engine, that seems to be working, knocking out the last of the bugs on that. A 7 meter rocket, or maybe a 10 meter rocket but basically the same design. Bigger payload, bigger fairing, reusable first stage, non-reusable second stage. Nobody would doubt for a second that Elon could make that rocket. He's already done it with an orbital-class rocket, it's totally feasible. And the joke, of course, it that, Jeff Bezos is building that rocket. That's New Glenn. But Bezos we're not as convinced can build it because he's never built an orbital-class rocket before. The rocket he's producing, New Glenn, is exactly that. A 7 meter rocket with a first stage being reusable. Starship is the step beyond. It's going for 100% reuse ability. The booster stage, the first stage,
01:00:18 Michael Kennedy: It's even more reusable than the Space Shuttle.
01:00:21 Richard Campbell: Well, absolutely because everything is going to come back. There's no used up parts.
01:00:25 Michael Kennedy: There's not like, that giant tank.
01:00:27 Richard Campbell: What we don't know is, is how much maintenance it needs. Because SpaceX is privately held, he's never actually admitted how much work needs to be done to a first stage of a Falcon 9 after its returned. We know he's flown at least one of them at lease 4 times. Which is impressive.
01:00:46 Michael Kennedy: Yeah, it's got to be less than the Space Shuttle though 'cause you're not servicing an entire airplane effectively. It's just...
01:00:55 Richard Campbell: A pair of tanks and nine engines. So, and there is an issue with the engines which is that the Merlin engines run a Carol Ox so that's RP1, which is a kind of highly-refined kerosine and liquid oxygen. Great fuel but it's a hydrocarbon and so went it gets up to altitude, those hydrocarbons, they have a lot of soot in them and then tend to acid-etch the bells of the engines. So the question is to, how long will those Merlin engines will last? And this is different from long firings at sea-level. It's specifically at low pressures that you have problems with RP1 etching so, it's again, stuff he's never talked about publicly is how much damage are those engines actually taking going up to 60 kilometers or so, which is about as high as they get before they turn around and come back. Switching over to methane engines, we don't have that problem, right? So the new engines that are supposed to be a part of Starship and also New Glenn is using burning methane and liquid oxygen so the methyl-ox design burns a lot cleaner and doesn't have the same residues. It's better for reusable engines. It's more efficient, it's somewhat simpler on the pluming side, and it lends itself to a more expensive engine but a more reusable engine. So, we're only just starting to modify the way we make rockets based on the fact you might use them multiple times. You know, an example of this on the Falcon 9 with the grid-fins. The original grid-fins were made of aircraft-grade aluminum and they burned on reentry. They took a lot of damage. They were good for one flight, essentially. And then they were damaged enough you had to replace them. But once he realized he was going to get multiple flights out of these rockets, he started making titanium ones. Titanium ones are dramatically more expensive. Much more difficult to make but, if you're going to get 10 uses out of them, great. Makes total sense. They're actually even lighter than the aluminum ones. But, same thing with engine design. The Merlins were built as the most efficient, and they truly are the most efficient Carol Ox engines ever made. But we don't really know how they're going to behave over a dozen launches. And all of the impacts that has. And so, moving over to the Raptor engines and the Methyl-Ox design, lends itself to more re-usability in that area. But the big dumb booster part of Starship, the know they can build that. They're not even trying to build that right now. They're trying to build Starship because Starship is pushing impossible. Like this is nuts. 100 metric ton payload vehicle that can go up to orbital velocities and come back and not burn up and not need to be rebuilt.
01:03:35 Michael Kennedy: Yeah, that's incredible.
01:03:36 Richard Campbell: The big thing, if it works, is now you have a 100% reusable vehicle and you're starting to pay for fuel and maintenance instead of new components. And so where Flacon 9 is coming in under $2,000 a kilo, now we're talking under $20 a kilo. And that is regular people going to space, pricing.
01:03:56 Michael Kennedy: That would dramatically change things wouldn't it?
01:03:58 Richard Campbell: It would. Well, one of the craziest things to think about if you think about Starship if it works the way it's supposed to and it's as reliable as it should be, that means it's less than an hour on any point on Earth.
01:04:08 Michael Kennedy: It becomes a really fast airplane that just happens to go in space.
01:04:12 Richard Campbell: It takes the shortcut. It goes up above the atmosphere, moves halfway around the planet and comes back down again so. You know, you live in New York and you want to have lunch in Sydney? No problem. You'll be back for the afternoon.
01:04:25 Michael Kennedy: That's a whole new level of jet lag.
01:04:28 Richard Campbell: Well, I don't even know if you have time to get jet lag if you just turn around and fly back.
01:04:32 Michael Kennedy: Yeah, yeah true.
01:04:34 Richard Campbell: Who's going to adopt? Why would you stay overnight anywhere?
01:04:37 Michael Kennedy: It would just be a weird time to have dinner. I had breakfast and I felt like it was dinner and I went back and had lunch.
01:04:42 Richard Campbell: Those pricing you're basically talking if you can afford a first-class ticket, you can fly an hour anywhere on the planet. Now, there are some issues. It's awfully noisy, It's a big machine, you don't want it anywhere near town like, you thought the airport was out of town? Wait till you see this space port. It's way out of town. So you might spend longer getting to it than your flight. And maybe you can fit 100 people per flight so that's a lot of people flying from point to point. That's still a pretty expensive notion. But, that's the reality of 100% re-usable spacecraft is that's how big the change would be.
01:05:18 Michael Kennedy: Right. Right. Or you could bring a bunch of stuff up to those tugs you talked about. Keep it moving.
01:05:22 Richard Campbell: He's also talking about refueling so imagine you fly up in to orbit and a fuel tanker comes and refuels you enough that you just fly the whole vehicle to the Moon, land on the Moon on your tail, 'cause that's what you can do, take your 100 ton payload and distribute it on it. By the way, you know, that would be more mass than has ever been taken to the Moon so far. And then fly it back.
01:05:42 Michael Kennedy: Yeah. And if you have the water, you can probably pretty easily with solar power, generate methane.
01:05:48 Richard Campbell: Well methane, we need carbon and the Moon is somewhat carbon poor. So that's the tricky part about the methane. Like, you can do the liquid oxygen, liquid hydrogen is easy with water the problem is, liquid hydrogen is a terrible fuel. It's very efficient, but it's incredibly low density and it's intensely hard to store. Liquid oxygen is only a liquid between 6 degrees Kelvin and 20 degrees Kelvin. Water has a 100 degree temperature range where it's liquid, liquid hydrogen has a 14 degree range.
01:06:22 Michael Kennedy: And it's a hard degree to obtain, that low temperature.
01:06:25 Richard Campbell: It's extremely cold. And the substance, you know how helium leaks out of your balloon? Hydrogen is way worse. It's very, very tough to store.
01:06:35 Michael Kennedy: That size?
01:06:35 Richard Campbell: Yeah. There's also effects of hydrogen because it's essentially just a proton, there's this whole process called hydrogen embrittlement where these hydrogen atoms actually invade the metal that is containing them and alter it. It is a very difficult fuel to store. You can use it for a brief amount of time and it has some advantages, but we have not come up with storage solutions that work well. Methane is interesting in that space because it operates roughly at the same temperature as a liquid, as liquid oxygen. Liquid oxygen is much easier to handle. It's liquid over a larger range. It's substantially warmer. We have doers and cryogeneration systems that maintain it. And the same here works for methane as well with a couple of minor tweaks. So if we can get the carbon producing methane on the Moon makes a lot of sense. And we already know, you've read Robert Zubrin's "Case for Mars", plenty of carbon on Mars. So you want to use methane fuel on Mars as well. The same technologies would apply. Just a question of where you get the carbon from on the moon. I'm presuming that some of the mass concentrations, the same things that disrupt the gravity on the moon actually come from larger asteroid collisions. And that some of those larger asteroid conditions will be chondritic asteroids which are the most common kind which are made largely of carbon. So you could imagine we would...
01:07:58 Michael Kennedy: Right, so you can go find it.
01:07:59 Richard Campbell: We'd be mining deposits of carbon, mining deposits of ice and making and storing methane.
01:08:06 Michael Kennedy: Yeah, amazing. So we're getting pretty short on time. I just want to ask you one more question or talk about one more thing real quick on the Moon. You talked about this north-south elliptical orbit.
01:08:19 Richard Campbell: The halo orbit.
01:08:19 Michael Kennedy: Yeah. The other thing that's really interesting is that there's this huge city of Sydney size crater that the rim is always in the sun. It may have water in it, and that would be an incredible place to set down and start working.
01:08:38 Richard Campbell: You're talking about the Shackleton crater on the South Pole?
01:08:39 Michael Kennedy: Yes, exactly, yeah.
01:08:41 Richard Campbell: There are parts of the rim that are lit like 98% of the time. It's not 100% but it's close enough that you'd have a lot of solar. Although you need so many, just to get enough power you need a lot of solar panels. Even when you're in a vacuum, you're still only talking 1,300 watts per meter, per square meter of electricity coming from the sun at this distance. Then you have the conversion ratio of the solar panels itself, which these days are like 25 to 30%, all right? So realistically you're only getting about 300 to 400 watts per meter of solar panel. And you need kilowatts. Like you need huge solar panels, you have to get them up there. We also have the ingredients on the moon to manufacture solar panels. So at some point we could get to that there. But I don't think it's feasible for us to really work on the moon without building small nuclear power plants. And there are agencies including the Glenn Agency in NASA that have developed kilowatt compact Sterling engine and nuclear power plants that are really safe and stable. They're literally the kind where you would turn this thing on and it would make power for 20 years. And not much you can, almost no moving parts, like there's not much to do but just to operate it.
01:10:00 Michael Kennedy: That's amazing.
01:10:01 Richard Campbell: Well, the joke about nuclear power is that the Chernobyls and the Three Mile Islands and Fukushimas are all of the same essential issue which is that they are old, large designs that are hard to manage. You don't think about the 300 to 400 megawatt reactor designs. You don't think about hundreds of 60 megawatt reactors that the military have, both American, Russian, French, British that you never hear about because they just work. And because they're small enough that when they have a problem they can shut them off and they don't melt. They just shut off. And we don't even need that much power. We're talking about a megawatt. Compact reactors are very efficient, very safe, very stable. And they will work in the dark, they will work in the light. What's interesting about a reactor design like that is they're about 25% efficient in the sense that with a Sterling engine, they would make maybe about 100 kilowatts of electricity, but also 400 kilowatts of heat, right?
01:11:05 Michael Kennedy: And it's probably cold, you probably want a heater up there.
01:11:07 Richard Campbell: You're right. And, oh, you wanted to melt some ice too, didn't you? Gee.
01:11:12 Michael Kennedy: Right.
01:11:12 Richard Campbell: So here's this device that produces two things you need a lot of. And it's particularly safe in a vacuum. So maturing those technologies, I'm saying maturing because largely they're developed. They've been proven to work. They just have to scale them and mature them and lift them. With being the turning point for really building a long, sustainable base and being able to do that kind of mining and extraction and learning that would get us to a place where we would have continuous habitation on the moon. We've had humans in orbit around the Earth three to six of them now for more than 20 years. It's a milestone of civilization.
01:11:51 Michael Kennedy: Yeah, it absolutely is, that's incredible.
01:11:54 Richard Campbell: In our lifetime we're going to have two to four people continuously inhabiting the moon. We're going to change them out 'cause they'll go a little crazy. But every few months, a different group will go up there. And the Moon will become like Antarctica. It'd be a place mostly for scientists, mostly for science.
01:12:11 Michael Kennedy: Right, do a six-month stint on it and maybe come back.
01:12:14 Richard Campbell: Maybe shorter, right? We're dealing with radiation concerns. I think they're talking about 45 to 60 days and then you'll come back. So steady rotations going on there. But there is a little bit of tourism these days to Antarctica. You want to spend the money, if you're looking for the adventure of a lifetime, you can go to Antarctica. The Moon will get there. You get those first bases up there, you get some operations in place, sooner or later the tourists will come.
01:12:40 Michael Kennedy: Yeah, they definitely will. If they're willing to go pay a ton to just go float around in the Space Station or go low Earth orbit, like that's a whole another level.
01:12:48 Richard Campbell: Yeah, this is just the next step after that. The Richard Garriotts of the world who have that kind of money, of course they want it.
01:12:55 Michael Kennedy: Yeah, absolutely. Well, Richard, this is really interesting view, this whole thing going on with the Moon Base. I really hope it happens. I think it would be great just for the inspiration that it brings. Not even the science necessarily.
01:13:10 Richard Campbell: I've left out a part of this conversation that is significant. But I prefer, I hope it's not true. I hope that small increase in budget, the 0.48 to 0.72, is enough that Congress sees their way forward. But if America doesn't do it, the Chinese will. The Chinese space program is no fooling. They're pushing hard. They currently have a capability that America doesn't have. They have a satellite sitting in the Lagrangian point two of the far side of the moon that allows them to communicate with their rover on the far side of the moon. America can't do that. They have not put that satellite up. They could but they haven't.
01:13:44 Michael Kennedy: Right.
01:13:47 Richard Campbell: And so China's actually well placed. If they want to push to establish a base on the moon as well. And I guess there's the question of whether that is an incentive. I hope it's not the incentive. But it could be the incentive for continuing to drive this forward.
01:14:01 Michael Kennedy: Yeah, well it's a little bit of history repeating itself. Maybe a little bit. Alright, well, super interesting. One thing I do wanted to throw out at the end of this conversation is this album by this, I guess you call them a band? They definitely make music and it's very good, called Public Service Broadcasting. Are you familiar with this, Richard?
01:14:21 Richard Campbell: I am.
01:14:21 Michael Kennedy: Yeah, so they've created an album called The Race for Space, and it's a musical album. But like a lot of the undercurrents, what would be kind of almost the base line is the actual radio communication from the Apollo race for space. And it's super interesting. It's really a cool way to have sort of music plus this history plus just this whole space thing going. So check that out, I'll link to it in the show notes.
01:14:49 Richard Campbell: Love it.
01:14:49 Michael Kennedy: Yeah, it's cool, right?
01:14:50 Richard Campbell: Yeah, and it also reminds us that one of the side effects of NASA in the way they were set up is that absolutely everything that they make, they make available to the public, to the world public not just Americans, right? Every image that the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter takes is published. In fact it was an Indian software programmer that found the Vikram Lander remains. He looked for it through the LRO objects. He plowed the publications. NASA didn't find it, he found it first. They agreed that he found it, but he actually was the one who searched their data. The reason we have all those audio recordings of all the Apollo stuff is that it was published within 24 hours of it being recorded.
01:15:32 Michael Kennedy: Wow, that's cool.
01:15:32 Richard Campbell: It always has been. And it's public domain. You can do with it what you will. They don't protect the logo of NASA or any of those things. It's part of it being a quote/unquote "public service". The same time when the Chinese found something unusual in a crater on the far side of the moon, they didn't release it. They just said they found something unusual. When the Indian, the ISRU, realized their Vikram Lander was lost, they didn't publish the pictures they found. NASA did. And I think we take it for granted, we've forgotten. NASA publishes absolutely everything. Every piece of data they've collected from every space craft ever is available in public archive.
01:16:08 Michael Kennedy: That's a really great service actually.
01:16:09 Richard Campbell: Yeah, and it's not necessary but it is. It is true, like we wonder if we're the good guys sometimes. You know what I mean? Like this is a tough time in society where we're trying to figure out what's important and what isn't. We do this thing where we give away some of the most advanced science ever made. And we always have. And we just forget how important that actually is. And now that there's others keeping secrets about that same kind of information and NASA continues to share it, but let's not forget that being honest and being public and being visible to everything you do is actually part of being a constructive society.
01:16:43 Michael Kennedy: Yeah. That's a great point, and it's definitely more obvious in the contrast to the other ones.
01:16:50 Richard Campbell: Yeah, it's more visible now than it's ever been.
01:16:52 Michael Kennedy: Yeah. Alright, well, before we call it a show, I want to just give you a quick chance to just the tell the folks about this book that you're working on. It's really interesting. This is a book around the .NET space. I would love to see the equivalent book written for the Python space, and I don't have the time or ability to do it myself. But tell folks real quick about this project you're working on. It's almost out, right?
01:17:13 Richard Campbell: Almost is a gray phrase.
01:17:16 Michael Kennedy: It's been almost for five, how many years now?
01:17:19 Richard Campbell: Yeah, it's been a couple of years.
01:17:20 Michael Kennedy: Been dragging on it.
01:17:20 Richard Campbell: With a couple of years of doing research on to the origins and sort of the story of .NET. .NET went through a pretty dark time a few years ago. And as Microsoft sort of turned the corner and focused on Cloud and de-emphasized Windows and cared more about Open Source, .NET's kind of hip again, doing well, number of users going up and people enjoying C# and using it different ways is growing. And so it seemed like a good time to sort of take a look back and see where we came from. And I've got about 100 hours of interviews done now and I'm assembling this narrative of the role that .NET played in changing Microsoft. It was a tool that was built to facilitate the building of software by enterprise developers working on Windows. That's its origin. And then along the way Windows had some serious issues and .NET was sometimes blamed for that. And it finally hit a point where there was a realization that Microsoft wasn't about Windows, that Microsoft is actually about Cloud and that .NET could help facilitate its move to the Cloud. And this combination of open source and .NET have been one of the leaders of making Microsoft into a Cloud company. And the story that I'm finding as I study the history of .NET is that it's part of the transformation of the company. Folks are asking me like, "Why is Microsoft suddenly a hip place again?" They were IBM, they were the fuddy-duddy technology company. Now they're kind of cool, like, what happened? And they completely changed. They transformed themselves and .NET was part of that transformation.
01:18:55 Michael Kennedy: That's cool. I think the book will tell an interesting slice of the tech history. And Python's going through a lot of changes now with retirement.
01:19:03 Richard Campbell: Finally.
01:19:06 Michael Kennedy: Actual obsolescence of Python too. And it might be time for an interesting lookback as well in that space, I think it would be. But, again, I wish I had time to do it. Alright, well, final quick question for you. If you're going to write some code, what editor do you use these days?
01:19:19 Richard Campbell: VS Code. If I'm not working strictly in .NET. I mean Studio is always on my machine. I dabble in Python every so often. And writing Python in VS Code is very pleasant.
01:19:42 Richard Campbell: What that says to me is people are frustrated with other editors working in Python.
01:19:47 Michael Kennedy: Right, yeah.
01:19:48 Richard Campbell: That they need a better choice. But now I'm glad that that's true. These new tools they've been making were not just for the incumbent users of Microsoft technology. They're for everyone. And you're seeing a larger group of people starting to embrace them.
01:20:00 Michael Kennedy: Yeah, super cool. It's definitely a good one. Alright, final call to action. People are excited about this episode's topic, the Moon Base, or probably more generally I think they should check out the Geek Out shows. What do they do?
01:20:15 Richard Campbell: geekout.show is the shortcut URL that'll take you to a filtered list of the 80 or so Geek Outs that exist. While I'm head down on the book, I have not been making as many Geek Outs. Like I put 'em out once in a while, they are a lot of work. But we've also covered some fairly big chunks of data now. So I'm wondering if some of those subjects need to be revisited like a lot of the alternative energy thing. Solar has evolved, wind's evolved. So I love folks to go and poke on those shows that are a few years old now and tell me, "Hey, you've missed out on X." or "These things have changed." And then maybe get me jazzed to do an update.
01:20:51 Michael Kennedy: There's so much exciting news about those, and I really enjoyed listening to these. They're very similar to what we talked about on the show, right? The core part of it in the middle at least. So if that was interesting to you, check out these shows 'cause I think you've done a lot of great work and I'm happy to share them with everyone. I'm sure people will enjoy it.
01:21:07 Richard Campbell: Thank you, Michael.
01:21:07 Michael Kennedy: You're welcome and thanks for being on the show.
01:21:09 Richard Campbell: My pleasure.
01:21:09 Michael Kennedy: Bye. This has been another episode of talk Python to Me. Our guest on this episode was Richard Campbell. And it's been brought to you by Clubhouse and Linode. Clubhouse is a fast and enjoyable project management platform that breaks down silos and brings teams together to ship value not features. Fall in love with project planning, visit talkpython.fm/clubhouse. Start your next Python project on Linode's state of the art cloud service. Just visit talkpython.fm/linode, L-I-N-O-D-E, you'll automatically get a $20 credit when you create a new account. Want to level up your Python? If you're just getting started, try my Python Jumpstart by Building 10 Apps course. Or if you're looking for something more advanced, check out our new Async course that digs into all the different types of async programming you can do in Python. And of course, if you're interested in more than one of these, be sure to check out our Everything Bundle. It's like a subscription that never expires. Be sure to subscribe to the show, open your favorite pod catcher and search for Python. We should be right at the top. You can also find the iTunes feed at /itunes, the Google Play feed at /play, and the direct RSS feed at /rss on talkpython.fm. This is your host, Michael Kennedy. Thanks so much for listening, I really appreciate it. Now get out there and write some Python code.