Bolden going where no man has gone before with plans for Nasa Mars mission

Fri, Jul 13, 2012, 01:00

SPACE EXPLORATION:THE HEAD of Nasa, Charles Bolden, promised the gathering of school children there could be no stupid questions when it came to the subject of space exploration. There weren’t any.

“When will we go to Mars?”

“What is the Big Bang?”

“Will the discovery of the Higgs boson aid space travel?”

“Could we use anti-matter to power a spacecraft?”

The questions came thick and fast for a man who says he works for the best organisation in the world.

Some 400 first and second class students turned up yesterday morning in the atrium of Matheson Ormsby Prentice’s Dublin offices to hear a man described as a “real-life Captain America” talk about his past and the future of space exploration.

Bolden (65) was appointed by President Barack Obama as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration administrator in 2009 with the goal of preparing the organisation for a manned mission to Mars in the mid 2030s. He is the first African-American to hold the position.

Part-autobiography, part-inspirational pep talk, the former Vietnam War pilot and space shuttle commander spoke of a time growing up in the Deep South when there were no astronauts and there was segregation between blacks and whites.

Being an astronaut was beyond his “wildest dreams”, even when a colleague told him to apply for the astronaut corps in 1980. He persisted and became the commander on four space shuttle missions.

He urged the students to study hard especially maths and science, work hard and not to be afraid of failure.

In response to a girl who asked what she had to do to be Ireland’s first astronaut, he told her to study science, technology, engineering and medicine and then write to the director general of the European Space Agency, Jean-Jacques Dordain.

“Tell him that you talked to this guy Bolden who is an American and he said to write to you,” he said.

The best advice he ever received was from a fourth-grader who told him: “We’ll never know if we don’t go”.

Bolden said if young people did not take risks they would not always achieve their dreams.

Later in Trinity College, Dublin he appeared emotional when speaking of the seven astronauts who lost their lives in the Challenger disaster in 1986 when the shuttle blew up on a mission directly after his own.

“I lost seven dear friends,” he said. “I thought for about a nano-second if this was really what I wanted to do.

“Then I realised that failure is a necessary part of doing great things.”

Elaborating on the possibility of a manned mission to Mars, he said it will have to be an international collaboration, unlike the Apollo moon missions which were an all-American affair.

“One, they are expensive and two, no nation has all the expertise that is needed,” he said.

Future space exploration will also involve the private sector, which he pointed out has already sent cargo vessels to the International Space Station.

The key to a successful Mars mission will be a new propulsion system, as the current eight-month journey is “way too slow” for human travel, he said.

Bolden also delivered a talk in the Convention Centre Dublin as part of the Euroscience Open Forum.