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Leland Melvin

A former wide receiver for the Detroit Lions, Leland Melvin is an engineer and NASA astronaut. He served on the space shuttle Atlantis as a mission specialist and was named[…]

Leland Melvin: So, for humans to live on Mars and not just make a lot of potatoes and live off the potatoes for a while it's just the habitat, the systems itself for a robust life support system that's going to keep you alive for this long period of time. I mean we go to the space station that's been up there since 2000 and its been working, but we have a day and a half trip to get something to the space station if something fails and we need a spare part. Mars is going to take six to eight months to get something there. So trying to build systems that are super redundant but also have ways to fix things like with 3-D printing. I mean that's another thing that we have on the space station but we haven't had to utilize it for making things that are critical that are in situ [ph] right there. And so I think that is one of the things a habitat that's bullet proof. The food aspects, you know, eating food that not only tastes good but it also has a nutritional value that you're going to get all the nutrients that you need to function and liver for this extended period of time. The Martian environment is very harsh with the thin atmosphere, 3/8ths G, solar radiation, all these things, building suits that can handle that when you're doing these excursions and going out and cleaning the solar panels and doing these things having robust systems that will keep you alive.

And then just water and food. I think I heard it's going to take 24,000 pounds of food for I think a colony of four or five to live up there so do you pre-position? Do you fly those and pre-position that there and hope that a dust storm or something doesn't wipe it out and know that it's still there? And then a shelf life of five years, whereas the shelf life for the food on the space station is 18 months, so a five year shelf life and every time an item of food sits there for another month, another month, another month it loses nutritional value, it loses flavor, it loses texture. So making sure that we have something that people are going to want to eat and will eat to stay healthy in this environment.

We as a race, the human race, are intrinsically curious and we are wired in our DNA is that we are explorers. We look up at the night sky we wonder what's up there, especially as children. And so this journey of exploring the things around us, whether they are close or far, that's what we do, that's what we do as humans. And I think all the things that we've done with exploration, whether it's walking on the moon or building an International Space Station, all these things help advance life back on earth. And so exploration leads us to a better life, heart pacemakers, smoke detectors, all these things that have come out of the space program. But it's also not just the technological things, but it's the part that brings us together as a humanity. I was in space on my first commission with African-American, Asian American, French, German, Russian, the first female commander, people we used to fight against are now breaking bread at 17,500 miles an hour going around the planet every 90 minutes seeing a sunrise and a sunset every 45 while breaking bread listening to Sade Smooth Operator. That was surreal. That blew my mind and it gave me this perspective shift when I look back at the planet like Ron Garan's book Orbital Perspective.

And so as we do this space station thing, as we maybe go back to the moon and build a habitat, but eventually we're going to be going to another planet. And Mars is our closest neighbor that we can get to; there are potential resources there; there's water at the poles; iron is in the soil that we can turn into other things, the perchlorates. So I think that as a race of people I think it's imperative that we continue to explore, but also that we visit this neighbor that might have been like our planet at one time before. So this can be a harbinger of maybe things to come that we need to understand what happened there and what's going to potentially happen here on earth. No matter what that timeframe is understanding that is very important.