Dr. Jatila van der Veen – short bio and introduction to a talk about Space Voyagers

A bit about me: I have been involved with astronomy and cosmology research and education for 30 years. I was one of the founding members of the Remote Access Astronomy Project (RAAP) at UCSB, one of the first robotic telescopes for education in the early 1990s. As part of this group I developed image processing labs for students and taught workshops for teachers on how to use our software and telescope. I was the Education and Public Outreach for the NASA collaborators on the international Planck Mission for nine years, and developed (with very talented grad students!) outreach and educational materials  to teach about the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB). Our best and accomplishment was a simulation to visualize and sonify the power spectrum of the small-scale fluctuations in the CMB that are influenced by adjusting the three main cosmological parameters, namely the percentages of normal (baryonic) matter, dark matter, and dark energy.

In the last few years I have been working with a group at UCSB working on lunar surface operations, in particular dust mitigation. As NASA prepares to send the first crew back to the Moon in 2024-25, one of the biggest challenges is how to reduce the dangers of the lunar regolith – the surface dust, churned up by billions of years of bombardment by large and microscopic meteorites. This surface dust is highly toxic, and is electrostatically charged due to constant exposure to ionizing radiation. As such, it sticks to all surfaces, and is toxic if carried into shelters and breathed in by humans.

I also worked for a couple of years on a project to propel small, 10-gram or less, wafer-sized satellites (wafersats) out of the Solar System using coherent beams of directed energy. The destination is our nearest neighbor, the Alpha Centauri System, around 4.2 light years away. One of our ideas was to send tiny critters – the nematode C. elegans and the tardigrades H. dujardini, both of which have been extensively studied on the space shuttle and International Space Station – out of the solar system on these wafersats. We are currently not working on this project, as it is extremely long term, in favor of working on nearer-term projects of getting power to the Moon, but I have been asked to talk to you today about this project.

I will discuss what these millimeter-or-less-sized critters offer in terms of learning about how to survive long trips in interstellar space, how we envision sending them in their dehydrated states, waking them up, and sending back data on their behavior during the 16-year journey to Alpha Centauri, traveling at 25% of the speed of light.