It is the destiny of humans to explore more and more beyond Moon and Mars. There is a great need in every individual to explore.
These were the inspiring words shared by Dr Mary Ellen Weber, who spent almost 19 days in space on two Space Shuttle missions as a Nasa astronaut, with a large gathering at the auditorium of Qatar National Library recently.
The special presentation titled ‘The Moon and Beyond’ was organised in collaboration with the US embassy in Doha in connection with the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. Dr Weber talked about her experiences in space and the future of exploring the final frontier.
She is a consultant in technology, innovation, strategic communications and high-risk operations, and serves on the Nasa Advisory Council Committee on Technology, Innovation and Engineering.
The former astronaut explained her experience of being in space and what it takes from individuals and Nasa to go to space. She also spoke about the International Space Station, the interest other nations are taking and they should take in going out in space.
Dr Weber spoke excitedly about Nasa’s plan to take man to the moon in 2024. “This next mission will put a woman on the moon. What we are going to have is a vehicle that will be orbiting around the moon all the time. It is going to be very flexible. So, we are not just going to the moon and coming back. We are actually going to be present at the moon. So, I am looking at young people wearing space suits. You now know where you are visiting next. That is the message.”
The ex-astronaut further said: “Going to the moon teaches us a lot. The shuttle taught us how to land at the moon and return to the planet, which is the most risky part. The space station is helping us in how to live in space for 365 days of the year. We work with the things that are far from the Earth. It also teaches us how to go to the Mars. It is very exciting and amazing time. I feel so lucky to have the experience that I have. But I am not going to get the chance to go to the moon or the Mars. However, all the young people in this room have.”
After her presentation, Dr Weber had a long question and answer session enabling the audience to throw probing queries.
In response to a question whether or not there is water on a far off planet, she said: “Now, we do know that there is water on the surface of the Mars and underneath the moon surface. It is amazing. These discoveries are coming in fast. Things are changing. Water is the building block of life. That is what we all are hoping to find.
“Mars is so far and we need advanced technologies to reach there and gather evidence before we populate the planet. I am not sure how soon we will be able to reach there. So far we do not know how to put man on Mars.”
When a young girl asked Dr Weber what made her an astronaut, she said: “When I was a little girl, there were no female astronauts. It was very clear then only men will go out there. I watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon but nobody asked me if I wanted to be an astronaut. It was only when I was in college, one day that I saw an advertisement in a newspaper and joined a parachute learning facility. I enjoyed it. One day, I called Nasa saying I wanted to be an astronaut. The sent me an application to fill in. If you want to be an astronaut, keep your eyes open and do not lose any opportunity.”
When she was asked what happens to astronauts when they come back to Earth, she said: “Every aspect of our body is used to gravity and even the sensors in the body tell you how much liquid you have. When you go in to space, all the liquid in your body gets low. Every astronaut has 30 percent less liquid in the body when he or she is in the space. It is nice because you become a lot thinner [smiles]. But it becomes a problem when you land on Earth. Three hours before we come home, we eat massive amount of salt and drink water. Some astronauts are in such bad shape that they would spend many days in hospital.”
A young boy asked Dr Weber: “What do you gain from going into space?” She replied: “We gain so much, knowledge is a wonderful great thing. Many new technologies have come from space programme. We got computers and phones after we went to space.
“I personally believe there is a great need in all of us to explore. I personally believe that. I believe that is our human destiny. Even if we do not get all of those great technologies, we are going to explore.”
When asked whether she was scared or excited before going to space, Dr Weber said: “You sort of put your fear or excitement aside. You focus on your job. My thing was clear. It was that what if I screwed up. That is the real fear. There is a lot of responsibility. You are excited about the experience. You also feel the weight of the responsibility.”
After the end of the presentation, Dr Weber spoke with Community about her experience being in Qatar. She said: “I have never been to Qatar before. I was not even sure what to expect. But I am just so appreciative that what an interesting place it is.
“One of the things that impresses me the most is the commitment to education and science that this country has made. I have been to universities here for the two days I am here. I can tell that Qatar is on the fast track to get better and better.”
Appreciating the interest and attention that the audience took in her presentation, she said: “There were so many questions. The thing that surprised me the most was the youngest people asking the most sophisticated, smart and intelligent questions. I see there are very special young people here.
“Interest in space travel is increasing. The space is changing so much. If you look in the last five years, dramatic changes are taking place. Things are actually becoming easier. Now we are able to use much smaller things to go to space. Everybody can now be involved. Students can design small satellites and that is happening in this country. I do think that if we are going to colonise the moon or go to Mars, it is going to take multiple nations and multiple cultures.”