Hi everyone, my name is Charlie Camarda. I have worked for NASA for over 40 years. I started as a researcher in thermal structures designing structures and thermal protection systems for hypersonic vehicles, like the Space Shuttle, at NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. I was selected to be an Astronaut in 1996 and flew the Return-to-Flight (RTF) missionof Space Shuttle (STS-114) immediately following the Columbia Tragedy. After my mission, I became the Director of Engineering at Johnson Space Center and am currently the Senior Advisor for Enginering Development at NASA Langley. The Columbia tragedy and the engineering research we conducted to determine the cause of the accident and to develop the technology for our flight and all successive missions was what led to the Epic Challenge Program we developed and the Innovative Conceptual Engineering Design (ICED) methodology we use to create great groups of students and researchers around the world to conceive innovative solutions to very complex problems. I am currently in Finland with Arcusys Inc. where we are beginning the development of a virtual platform or "Collaboratory" to integrate teams of students with subject matter experts from around the world to solve these exciting "Epic Challenges." Rhe new epic challenge we will be working on this current year with students from Finland and the US is: "Sustaining Humans on Mars using In-Situ Resorces Utilization (ISRU) to the max!

On long term we're getting students to work on Epic Challenges like Sustainable Habitation of Mars as part of their studies. Students are working all around the world on virtual collaboration platform applying modern pedagogies and gaming. Questions are being answered by Dr. Charles Camarda, an astronaut, engineer from NASA is leading Epic Challenges and Janne Hietala, CCO of Arcusys leading the technical side of the virtual platform development. Janne is helping Charlie on this IAmA.

Our Proof: https://twitter.com/janne_hietala/status/607790190954991616

Now answering questions. This is an repost as previous one got removed.

Edit: We're wrapping up. Thank you everyone and it was a great experience to do the IamA. Hopefully we will see Charlie back in Finland soon again.

Comments: 56 • Responses: 22  • Date: 

DeltaSierra1218 karma

What advice would you offer an engineer interested in space? What can an early career engineer do to distinguish himself/herself from other applicants?

janne-at-arcusys12 karma

Charlie: What I recommend to students or early career employees looking to distinguish themselves and be hired by either NASA or another aerospace company is to try to get as much real world experience as possible. One way for students is by applying for and conducting internships within the organization they would like to work. Some universities offer Co-Op programs where the students can work for one semester each year with say NASA and each one of those tours they would work in a different branch of the organization. Their last work assignment they can choose where they would like to work. The thing that helped me get hired by NASA was the fact that I was able to have a 2-3 month internship with NASA LaRC the summer between my junior and senior years at Brooklyn Polytech.

The Epic Challenge program we are currently running would enable students to acquire necessary skills and have those skills be evaluated by NASA and industry as part of their Capstone program

DeltaSierra125 karma

What about those already in the workforce? I am an engineer working for an aerospace company, what can I do to separate myself and make my application standout? I don't have the freedom for a co-op or internship, but I do have the ability for an advanced degree or for mentoring. Would either/both help?

janne-at-arcusys9 karma

Janne: This is something we hope to accomplish with the virtual platform. While you're already working, you could use spare time to go through further education and classes towards credentials, which you might need in order for your application to stand out. For example here in Finland we have structural unemployment. In Nokia's wake there is a lot of IT / Tech people unemployed who need further training in order to get a job in the industry.

Notningamaster9 karma


janne-at-arcusys10 karma

We definitely hit a very large vulture during takeoff right when we cleared the tower (we were traveling at approximately 100 mph) and it had fallen over the other side of the vehicle and struck the forward windows we may have been the first Return to Launch Sight (RTLS) abort in the history of the Shuttle program. A maneuver which is very, very dangerous.

We also lost a very large piece of foam from the Protuberance Air Loads (PAL) Ramp, however, this did not strike our vehicle. If it did it would have caused significant damage which we may or may not have been able to repair depending on its size. We did design a repair kit for the wing leading edges, however, if the damage was too severe we may or may not have been able to effect a suitable repair.

Another anomaly which we experienced was two small "gapfillers" were protruding from the bottom of the vehicle near the nose. We had to conduct an emergency spacewalk (EVA) to remove the protruding gapfillers. If we did not, the flow would have caused vortices which would have impinged on our wing leading edges during entry and would have caused catastrophic damage. If the good engineers at NASA LaRC (Scott Berry, Peter Gnoffo, and Tom Hirvath) did not make the correct call we would not have survived entry and the US Space Program would most likely have been cancelled!

janne-at-arcusys3 karma

Janne: here is an post flight video on STS-114

Acode907 karma

For someone like me who is really interested in space exploration and related fields, but who doesn't have much of a scientific background to back it up (And maybe a little too old to start; 24), could you suggest any other avenues or ventures in related fields that may be worth getting involved in?

janne-at-arcusys11 karma

Janne: We want to open the virtual environment in the future for anyone interested in the space exploration. I think there is a lot of people (ie. in Reddit r/space or r/KerbalSpaceProgram ) that are excited about space exploration and related fields, but don't have good outlets how to participate, or learn more. Platform will contain lessons from top subject matter experts which you're able to take. On the first step it's going to be available only for selected students from post grad, undergrad and high school level.

Acode906 karma

I hope you're eventually able to roll it out to a broader range of participants, it sounds like it would be quite interesting. I'm currently a Grad student in an Audio/acoustics related field, so i don't see much of a chance of moving into a space/aerospace related field with my current career path. I wish you good luck with it.

janne-at-arcusys5 karma

Janne: I think in future we will need wide array of multi-discipline teams and skills from different industries working on these sub-problems for epic challenges. I am from IT / Tech and essentially trying to figure out parts which we need to do the education and problems solving for sustainable habitation of Mars.

Acode906 karma

What is your ultimate vision for a Martian habitat? For the moment, i would assume the best outcome would be a permanent research station, similar in nature to those in Antarctica (just more advanced), or are you looking more into the possibility of colonisation?

janne-at-arcusys6 karma

Charlie: Some of the current research indicates that we may be able to evolve to an architecture where we can sustain a growing colony which could permanently inhabit/colonize the planet of Mars (see, for example: Serious In-Situ Resource Utilization for Enabling sustained Human Presence on Mars . We would of course, proceed in stages, a phased approach, where we would evolve to a permanent colony as the needed technology is matured to support and sustain that colony safely.

Acode905 karma

It would be really cool if this happened in my lifetime. It seems like space related industries are finally getting off the ground (no pun intended), so it could happen. Hopefully they will one day be in need of an audio engineer on Mars.

janne-at-arcusys4 karma

Janne: There's is a lot of stuff for audio/acoustics engineer to do in space exploration. There was a entire acoustics lab at NASA Langley Research Center solving problems related to acoustics.

johnkphotos4 karma

How do you feel about the increased presence of private industries, specifically SpaceX in the space industry?

janne-at-arcusys8 karma

Charlie: I think it is fantastic that commercial companies are creating opportunity for investors to create markets for space which will serve to increase the number of people who travel in space, a diversity of ideas to overcome some to the challenges (e.g., Space-X exploring reusable boosters, and entrepreneurs exploring ways to market space to help offset the costs of space travel. In the early 70's we had dozens of aeronautics/aerospace companies which all contributed to a diverse market and creativity which helped the United States maintain leadership in this sector and helped our economy. It is all good for the future of space exploration!

dalenacio3 karma

Alright, I have several questions for you.

  1. These last few years, Space has been gaining a lot of popularity in pop culture. We've had Gravity in 2013, Interstellar in 2014 and the Martian is coming out in 2015. What are your opinions of this phenomenon?

  2. Speaking of The Martian, have you read the book or watched the trailer? if you have, what are your opinions of how space, and more specifically a mission to Mars, are portrayed? I know the movie is all about using a hell of a lot of ISRU, so I'd be interested in your thoughts on the matter.

  3. Finally, apart from dong it "because it's there", what reasons do we currently have to want to go to Mars (and justify what is essentially a very high-risk mission to send people there with very little chance of coming back)?

janne-at-arcusys7 karma

Charlie: To quote a good friend of mine who is presenting a very new look at a Mars campaign strategy, Bob Moses, it appears Mars has tremendous resources which we can use to generate fuel, water, oxygen, food and other consumables which can make Mars the "Walmart" of the solar system. We could potentially produce products more cheaply on the surface of Mars and transport them to low Earth orbit that to produce those same products and lift them into low Earth Orbit. this is truly a game changing/paradigm shifting concept.

Kaistu3 karma

When you are looking at sky, do you ever think "I have created alot of new ways to travel safely to space for new generations" or it is mostly like "What a beautiful thing space it, was great to be there."?

Glad to see you are visiting Finland, if you were at Oulu i would loved to have some chattity-chat with you about everything.

janne-at-arcusys4 karma

Charlie: The answer to the first question, is that when I look at the sky I think how beautiful it is and what a wonderful creation it is.

I am enjoying myself and this is my first trip to Finland. I have met the most wonderful people, wonderful team of engineers and researchers that hopefully are able to help to change future of education forever. I had chance to visit beautiful landscape at Koli and experience the traditional Finnish sauna and cabin by the lake. We got some good ideas out there.

janne-at-arcusys2 karma

Janne: this is Koli /r/earthporn

imaginarywheel2 karma

What's your theory on the UFO phenomenon? Have you or your coworkers ever experienced one directly?

janne-at-arcusys1 karma

Charlie: Almost all that I know of have been debunked or have a reasonable explanation.

DickFeely2 karma

I imagine that the technical challenges are epic, but what is being done to address the social challenges of keeping a group cohesive on Mars? Is it considered a lifetime commitment? Are there any historical expeditions that can serve as a good model?

janne-at-arcusys3 karma

Charlie: This is excellent approach to solving this issue. I think we need to research into history, other areas and other industries how we are going to solve this epic challenge. I think we need artist, psychologists, social scientist etc.

jLionhart2 karma

What creative solutions do you have for overcoming the high radiation exposures on a mars mission? Just getting to mars could mean lethal doses of radiation to the crew. You can't take tons of lead into orbit for shielding. Does that mean using nuclear propolsion to get there much more quickly? Once on mars do you plan on colonies to live under the surface to shield high radiation levels?

janne-at-arcusys2 karma

Charlie: Those are all potential solutions. Living underground and only surfacing for necessity, similar to how we currently perform EVAs (spacewalks) on the International Space Station (ISS) is one possible solution to mitigate the damaging effects of space radiation. While large amounts of elements like lead may serve as a shield to protect future astronauts, the paradigm shift would be to manufacture such shields in space with material from either asteroids or possibly Mars.

Nuclear rockets, ion propulsion and other higher Isp methods for propulsion which minimize the transit time to Mars definitely help!

AdvertisingFilmmaker1 karma

Hello Charlie,

Thank you for doing this AMA!

What skills are needed to become an astronaut? How was going into space? What was the most incredible thing you experiened while in space?

Thank you for reading (and hopefully answering!) my questions.

P.S It's been a childhood dream to talk to an astronaut, so I am very excited! :)

janne-at-arcusys4 karma

Charlie: the astronaut of the future will not be a specialist in any one field but will be someone that is proficient in many fields: math, science, various engineering disciplines; can operate and repair complex equipment; is a critical and innovative thinker who works well on a team, etc. the most incredible thing I experienced was the joy of working with my crew-mates and hundreds of engineers, scientists, trainers, etc. that worked closely with us to perform flawlessly some extremely challenging assignments!

nonamebecausewhynot1 karma

Hello, I hope it's not too late for a question. I am a young french canadian. My dream is (I know it could seem crazy) to go in space. I would like to know, if I study to became an engineer in aerospace can I apply for being astronaut? My family think i've got a chance to get accepted, I'm 16 years old and I just graduate from high-school, I speak french, english, russian, and I get really good results in physics/maths. Thank you.

janne-at-arcusys2 karma

Charlie: You are well on your way to meeting the qualifications/requirements for future astronauts. Keep up the good work and study hard but remember to choose a profession/career which you are passionate about and which aligns with the requirements/qualifications which the various space programs are looking for in the future. The probably of being selected is quite low at the present time (this may change in the future and more commercial endeavors are initiated) and it is important you are passionate in the field you choose to ensure your continued happiness and success in the event you are not selected.

I found I was happiest when I was working as a research engineer and helping NASA to solve tough, "Epic", challenges. After flying only one mission, STS-114, I returned to my engineering roots as the Director of Engineering at NASA Johnson Space Center and am totally enjoying my current interests in helping to revolutionize education. I find I am happiest when I am creative and can exercise the right side of my brain!

Dongbeihu1 karma

China has built up a solid space industry and has a number of long term visions for space exploration, including robotic missions to Mars, a space station and so on. Despite the hype, fear-mongering and current legislative barriers, do you think we will see China and US working together in space exploration, possibly towards crewed missions to Mars? Or do you think competition will more likely be a driver for sending people Mars?

janne-at-arcusys2 karma

Charlie: I prefer a hybrid approach which requires both collaboration and competition to accelerate/enhance performance, however, the ratio of collaboration to competition is very high in my methodology. It totally makes sense for us to seek ways to collaborate with all nations around the world for all the right reasons: social, economic, technical, etc.

MrOctopus161 karma

I am interested in pursuing degrees in Mathematics, what kind of things could I be involved with if I wanted work for a company like NASA?

janne-at-arcusys1 karma

Charlie: Math is needed to solve every one of the challenges NASA faces, pick any one!

thejacob51 karma

Hi, thanks for doing this AMA.

I have always wondered, how do astronauts mentally prepare for living in a space ship/ISS? Wouldn't it be extremely frightening knowing that a few layers of metal is all that keeps the temporary habitat intact, and except for that structure you are surrounded by essentially nothing. I think fear would drive me nuts.

janne-at-arcusys1 karma

Charlie: Did you ever fly in an airplane or ride in a car? We all face similar fears in everything we do. We understand the risks and we manage them so we can experience the joy of life and all that it brings. I was claustrophobic, afraid of heights, and could barely swim to save my life. I had to overcome those fears to realize my dreams and experience the joys associated with those dreams. It was worth it for me but more importantly for my daughter. I did not want her to be constrained from realizing her dreams in life because of fear. Humans are an amazing creation as is the human mind!

fliteworks1 karma

What it feels like to land on the shuttle compared to a regular airliner? Which one you think will land on Mars first: manned commercial or manned government mission?

janne-at-arcusys1 karma

Charlie: just because of the enormity of the task, I believe it will take multiple nations to join together to plan a successful human mission to Mars which will be sustainable and safe.

smoothoperatorct1 karma

SI'm no scientist but could you sustain life on mars by living inside the planet? Like inside out? Sort of like ants?

janne-at-arcusys1 karma

Charlie: absolutely and this is one idea we are currently considering