We talk with DMNS Curator of Space Science Dr. Ka Chun Yu about Moon

Categories: Film

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The Sci-Fi Film Series is getting down to its final two weeks, and this Wednesday, they'll be showing one of our favorites, Moon, at 7 p.m. at the Denver FilmCenter/Colfax. The purpose of the series is pretty simple: show off some great science fiction movies and provide an intellectual introduction by scientists from the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. But they don't always get enough time to talk about the films in-depth, so we decided to catch the presenters ahead of time to get the gritty details on the films. You can read previous entries about 2001 and Alien, but now, we talk with DMNS Curator of Space Science's Dr. Ka Chun Yu about Moon.

Westword: One of the things that struck me as off about Moon was that they'd have just one (sort of, anyway) person working an entire base by himself. Would this be feasible, even with a quirky AI like Gerty?

Dr. Ka Chun Yu: In the future envisioned in Moon, it seems that artificial intelligence is advanced enough so that an entire moon base can be run by one person. But today, NASA is not going to risk a long-duration mission with a single-person crew. If your sole astronaut gets hurt or otherwise debilitated, your whole mission is jeopardized.

But planners have to worry also about the other extreme of multiple person crews. If you have a small band manning an outpost on the Moon or on a years-long mission to Mars, how do you keep everyone from getting at each others throats after they've been cooped up together for so long? Psychological screening will have to be used to select out individuals who can work together in such close quarters for extended periods of time.

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WW: Keeping people, in this case clones, in suspended animation is a pretty common way to pass time while in space, apparently -- is this something we'd need to perfect before space exploration or space outposts were created?

KCY: In science fiction, the main reason for using suspended animation is to reduce a crew's metabolism to minimize the use of food, air, and water on extremely long journeys in space. In real life, there are many other challenges in spaceflight that need to be dealt with before we need to worry about putting people into deep sleep.

For instance, there is no good way currently of protecting astronauts from cosmic rays on six- to nine-month trips to Mars unless you make the spacecraft much more enormous than we can practically build and launch. Without gravity to stress them in zero G, your bones begin to lose calcium. Interplanetary explorers could end up with osteoporosis and brittle bones that could put them at risk when they land.

We don't know whether it would be possible to put humans into suspended animation. But studying how animals hibernate would be a start. For instance, bears don't lose bone mass when hibernating, so research into the hibernation biochemistry of other animals could help us figure out how to induce hibernation in people.

WW: Is the moon a place where we could potentially harvest Helium-3 (the reason Sam Rockwell's character is on the moon is to run the machines and send He-3 back to Earth)? And would we have a use for it?

KCY: Helium-3 is one of the potential fuel sources for nuclear fusion, a potentially cleaner source of energy than nuclear fission, which is currently being investigated by many countries including the U.S. However fusion is still many decades away from being commercially feasible.

But even once fusion reactors are online, having a dependable fuel source is a problem. There is very little He-3 on Earth. Some is blown off the Sun and gets deposited onto the lunar surface via the solar wind. So it's conceivable the lunar surface will be mined for fuel to feed the reactors.

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