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In this nerds only whiteboard session, Sachs and Steltzner explore what it would take to send humanity to the asteroid Vesta and how they would take a rock sample in an extremely low gravity environment.



“With the food, yes. With astronauts holy shit. Yes, the soft cranky delicate human beings I'm, you know I spend most of my time with robots and they just don't give a shit. Yeah exactly robots are merciless.”
“Yeah, and so putting 'em in a big huge. Inside a bubble of water, it needs to be a lot of water. They're still going to get a high amount of radiation exposure, just. Even you know you need 10 metres or so of of water 10 metres.”
“I do ceramics to alleviate my stress of my day job. Being world famous artist, it's very stressful. There's a lot of details to maintain and stuff so drawing.”
“What is very interesting to me, much more interesting to me. Are these design questions where you've got... You're optimizing and you're optimizing on on sparse data. Sparse information. And you're making judgment calls and your risk balancing and your risk bouncing against known unknowns, an unknown unknowns, and you're trying to figure out what the right right thing to do is.”


00:02:01 Tom Sachs: So welcome to this special edition of office hours. I’m Tom Sachs and tonight we have a very special guest. Adam Steltzner, who’s chief engineer of Mars 2020 that’s at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. But he’s also chief engineer of Mars Sample Return campaign, which is a 3 mission or three ship mission to return a sample from Mars, and we’ll talk about that in depth in a few minutes.

00:02:39 Tom Sachs: Uh, so with. That I don’t know if Adam’s ready to sign in if he’s. Adam Steltzner, oops. You went away, Adam and I’m sorry guys. Got a lot of people requesting and I really only Adam can request Adam. Can you request again please? Uh. Shalom. Sirpau. All my peeps are here. Ah. Sorry, trying to find you. Fuck. Oh there we go. View request. Guys I’m only going to pick Adam, can you? Fuck. How do I do this? There we go. Waiting for Adam Steltzner. Hey there you go alright, thanks for being patient.

00:04:27 Tom Sachs: We are we are connected. So Adam, chief Engineer of Mars 2020, where are we going an why? And what’s the story? What do you? How many ships are going to Mars and when they landing and?

00:04:46 Adam Steltzner: Hey Tom cool good to see you man. Uh, we’re late. It’s we’re in it, man. We are thick in it. So Mars 2020. The Perseverance Rover is heading to Mars as we speak. She will. Impact the surface one way or another on the 18th of February around noon, and if we do it right, she’ll impact the surface gently in about a mile and then out 1 1/2 miles an hour like, uh, you know a brisk walk and and she will be then. If we Land her the right way, she will be the first leg in the Mars sample return campaign. So she will take samples of Martian material core into rocky materials and take core samples, seal them in. Agonizingly clean vessels for return to Earth by an additional 2 missions. the Mars. Sample return Lander and the Earth Return Orbiter, which is part of a huge effort that will launch in 26, not 2026, and bring the samples home around 2030.

00:06:10 Tom Sachs: So that means as a ship’s going to go down to the surface with enough fuel to get back up and running?

00:06:16 Adam Steltzner: Right, the sample return Lander takes goes to the surface with a little European Rover to take the samples that we’ve deposited. Um, or possibly we bring the samples to the rocket and, uh, launchpad and, uh, uh. A launch vehicle, a MAV a Mars ascent vehicle that will put the samples in the top of the Mars ascent vehicle and put him in orbit around Mars, and then another mission called the Earth Return Orbiter will snatch them out of orbit and bring them home and we’ll land them in the in Lake Bonneville at UTTR the Utah Test and Training range. Are in Utah in the United States.

00:07:05 Tom Sachs: Wait, did you say they hear you say a little European Rover?

00:07:10 Adam Steltzner: Yeah, yes I did say a little European robot. We have a two pronged way of making sure the samples get into the MAV. Either perseverance the US Rover that took the samples. Can bring them to the MAV or if if if, if perseverance has not persevered and is dead, it will have deposited the surface the samples on the surface of Mars and the European Fetch Rover. A small light Rover. This just made to come and pick the samples off the surface of Mars. And bring them to the Mars ascent vehicle that will connect the dots, or maybe both a little of both. We may have deposited what we call a cache of samples. Maybe the European Fetch Rover will bring some of those samples back and perseverance will bring some of the other samples back.

00:08:04 Tom Sachs: So just to be clear perseverance. Launched.

00:08:09 Adam Steltzner: July 30th July 30th in the middle of it, we’re still in the middle of it. In fact, we are so in the middle of it. Here we we do our work in Southern California in Pasadena, CA at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and it is deep here. Right now. COVID in the COVID Corona world, and we are you know we’re doing some serious thinking about how many human beings actually need to be on site for us to get this job done and to safely land her.

00:08:40 Tom Sachs: Well, Adam, I’m wondering if we shouldn’t take a minute and show the 7 minutes of terror video so people can see how.

00:08:50 Tom Sachs: Fucking crazy, what you guys came up with and this is I’m gonna show this video and if you want to learn more about it, I’d encourage you to buy Adams book the right kind of crazy which tells about Adams story from being a punk rocker too. Leading this incredible journey to Mars, and I also have seen a lot of trolls out there saying 10 years to get some rocks back. I’m dead, but.

00:09:22 Adam Steltzner: What can I say? It’s you know it’s not a instant gratification game here. Some things, take some time.

00:09:28 Tom Sachs: Yeah, but this is about the coolest thing I’ve ever seen, so I’m just gonna show you now this video starts. And Adam, you can narrate.

00:09:40 Adam Steltzner: I will I’ll let you know I will talk about it.

00:09:43 Tom Sachs: But this starts with the Rockets already lifted up at off of Earth.

00:09:50 Adam Steltzner: Yes, so this is coming this. This video is starting. This animation is starting somewhere around well like the afternoon of the 30th of January, June, July and This Is Us on our way to Mars. We have a solar array. It’s on a little disk that. To the back of the spacecraft called the cruise stage. It’s got a propulsion system. We do. We tweak the the the trajectory on the way to Mars and then when we get the most we throw away the cruise stage and that entry vehicle the the. Entry vehicle gets ready to impact the the atmosphere. We we are spun stabilized CG balanced on the way to Mars, but we make an imbalance that’s why we threw away those weights and we fly in a cantered angle through the atmosphere of Mars that cantered angle develops lift and then we steer that lift vector up and down sideways one side to the other. Through the Martian atmosphere to control our descent to the target site and reduce the uncertainty of where we are when we land, which is a big deal because you can only take good pictures of a small period. Small section of the surface of Mars. We’re getting ready rid of some more mass that created the imbalance. We’re opening up the parachute. We do that at about 1.7 times the speed of sound. Locally gives us about 12 GS of deceleration. We then throw away the heat shield we look at with the radar for the surface of Mars. We then figure out what our option is and at the right altitude about a couple of kilometres. For perseverance we let go. And we go on the powered flight. And so, now that you could see us. We’re on rockets. We’ve got a propulsion system attached to the back of the Rover. In this configuration, were called the powered descent vehicle. And then about 20, 22 meters above the surface of Mars, we will separate this two vehicles in a crazy fucking crazy thing called the Sky Crane maneuver boom. Here it is.

00:12:15 Adam Steltzner: I’m alternating between caffeine. And sedatives. So I’m sideways trajectory. So this is like a maneuver. We’re lowering the Rover below the descent stage. If you approach the surface of Mars, we touchdown in about 1 1/2 miles an hour. We separate and fly to the decent stage to a safe distance to impact the surface. And we leave the Rover. Ready to begin its mission. On the surface of Mars, wheels down landed. We did this for curiosity. In 2012 and will do it again for perseverance this year. I’m getting a weird sound thing, I don’t know if you hear that too, Tom. OK OK great.

00:13:09 Tom Sachs: Does that one sound? Is our echo in your end? Isn’t anyone? Does it sound?

00:13:13 Adam Steltzner: My end there’s an echo, but I don’t care. I mean, I can just ignore it.

00:13:18 Tom Sachs: Who’s saying there’s an echo? So are you wearing headphones?

00:13:23 Adam Steltzner: I am not.

00:13:26 Tom Sachs: Are there any other devices open?

00:13:28 Adam Steltzner: There are not. And initially I had no echo. It happened in the middle of the thing. I can stick some headphones in.

00:13:40 Adam Steltzner: Should I try?

00:13:45 Tom Sachs: I sound bad too?

00:13:51 Adam Steltzner: So now I’m wired and I’m still echoing.

00:13:57 Tom Sachs: I gotta get headphones I’ll be right back. Here, this air pods usually sounds so good.

00:14:07 Adam Steltzner: Yeah, you did earlier.

00:14:19 Tom Sachs: How do I sound now?

00:14:21 Adam Steltzner: You sound fine. I don’t hear my echo. I hear no echo.

00:14:26 Tom Sachs: OK, I think everyone sounds good. I’m quiet still.

00:14:30 Adam Steltzner: OK, still echoing? I’m not hearing echo echo echoing. I can still hear him.

00:14:45 Tom Sachs: OK where back, so did I know there’s been a lot of questions about the sneakers. And just to reminder that if you want to get involved with the Mars Yard testing, you have to send in a video of you and why? Just watch the video and do it. And Adam’s doing it. But I also the reason why I don’t really want to get so into it. But it’s worth noting that Adam. Is works in the Mars Yard at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory testing out this. The Rover and how the whole thing works. So those shoes were designed for him and tamaso and an Tommaso Rivellini an. And and Kevin hand Craig bane, and the team at at JPL. Which I’m the unofficial artist in residence of the entry descent landing team for Self appointed Forever and but that shoe was meant for them and you can read about the history of it. So there’s a reason that, like Adam, is the original wear tester for this, so that’s all we’re going to talk about the sneaker, but just. So we’re putting a face to the project.

00:16:01 Tom Sachs: So well, so we’ve got. We’ve got curiosity, we’ve got perseverance about to land. And then there are two more after that?

00:16:12 Adam Steltzner: Two more, one to pick him up, one to pick the samples up. That perseverance took. Put em in orbit and the other is supermodel orbit and bring em back to Earth. It’s a lot of fucking work man.

00:16:24 Tom Sachs: Yeah, yeah, it’s really really crazy. Well, maybe I think you know I advertise this as a for nerds only whiteboard discussion, so I want to take.

00:16:40 Adam Steltzner: I’ve got. bleep blerter beep. My Home Office whiteboard. I thought, you know I started. I started home officing without a whiteboard. I’ve got a whiteboard at my office in my, you know, JPL office, but it’s trying to make things happen without without a whiteboard. Was very very hard, so eventually I. Amazon was sort of the biggest thing I could get that would sort of fit here anyway, so it gets the job.

00:17:06 Tom Sachs: I wanted to invite everyone who isn’t a extreme nerd to stop watching now. Unlike previous episodes of office hours where we’ve made an effort to make it interesting for everyone, we now are officially not giving a fuck. We are going to indulge and geek out, so this is going to be really boring. And so this is the cut off. It’s been 19 minutes. Saying it’s gonna suck from here on in for everyone except for me and Adam. So hang up now or just hang with us and I think it’ll be interesting. I just the the question afor you Adam, I also should take this this moment to announce that in June that this space program my space program is going to for Vesta the the asteroid. In the asteroid belt, probably the 3rd or 4th largest asteroid in that belt, and we’re going to go there because we’ve run out of platinum and Palladium here on gold here on Earth, and we’re looking. We need some more precious rare Earth elements to make cell phones an we’re thinking an I talked to Kevin hand about this and he thinks that. Vesta’s a pretty good bet because it’s got I can’t remember the exact word, but he called the surface diverse. So you’re going to find it there.

00:18:45 Adam Steltzner: Geologically diverse with Brooke looks like a rocky metallic or so I think. There’s you know, stuff to be had there.

00:18:52 Tom Sachs: It’s a pretty good bet, but the question I have for you Doctor Stelzner is how the fuck are we going to get two people or whatever. Some people to land on it, walk around, use human eyes to dig around and make a best guess about. Yeah, you know what? What we’re looking and and bring and bring them and some rocks back, yeah?

00:19:18 Adam Steltzner: Not easy, but not impossible. Almost at nothing is impossible, so getting to Vesta. Vesta sits outside the Mars orbit, so we orbit the sun. Well, we call it one astronomical Unit, 1 Earth radius, earth orbital radius mean Oracle radius. Mars is about 50% farther away, 1 1/2. Um, astronomical units. An Vesta is about 2. A little bit, you know, two two an little bit so so twice as far away from the sun as as earth.

00:19:58 Adam Steltzner: Getting there. You know we have this in it. We we get the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in Pasadena’s put up a vehicle, a robot has has orbited Vesta and take some images. We got there using what’s called solar electric propulsion, which we probably would use in this case, too. It takes electricity from the sun. And and then makes it basically a big electromagnetic. Accelerator and accelerates tiny little atoms. Xenon atoms typically out the back end for low thrust, but constant thrust is heat, which is totally different. You know when I was going to school, we learned about basically ballistic trajectories, which for which you give a big smack of a rocket engine, and then let the orbits be determined by by central motion. And this is a whole mother can of wax called low thrust orbits, small, gentle thrust being provided continuously or near continuously through the trajectory and in the end, it allows you to get there a lot quicker. That’s how we went there before. Actually, our first deep space ion drive is what we call solar electric propulsion ion drive mission did. NASA did. Was Dawnd an it went first Vesta and then to Ceres? So that’s I think you know how we get humans there.

00:21:31 Tom Sachs: In some kind of way so you just go there really slowly.

00:21:37 Adam Steltzner: It looks like really slowly it ends up you know what is it? Slow to be fast. You know it’s like Tai Chi. It looks like it’s slow. It ends up being frequently. It’s the fastest way there, and and so we might do a a solar electric propulsion mission to Vesta. I would guess. Still, it’s going to be a long transit. I haven’t done any math on it, but my pluckus rectus. This would be something like 700 days 500 to 700 days to get out that far. Again, I don’t. I super don’t. I don’t know. Actually, if anybody who has a has an has a low thrust intuition built up because it. Every time you throw a ball on Earth, the trajectory of the ball is very much like the trajectory of all of the classic rockets. An you know it’s he’s all parabolic or conic section orbital things and a low thrust trajectory isn’t like that. It’s like a, you know, almost like a rocket. So at any rate.

00:22:51 Tom Sachs: Where is does it also go and revert? Does it break? Yeah, same way.

00:22:55 Adam Steltzner: Half of the way there you’re like powering and then you flip it around half the way there you slow it down.

00:23:01 Tom Sachs: And we’re not gonna do anything like a Mars breaking thing like use the gravity of the.

00:23:06 Adam Steltzner: Atmosphere yeah no, because we don’t have any atmosphere to speak of. Vesta really none. And. No, so you would go and do you just slow down to its orbital velocity or slow down to a slow relative velocity and be captured into it’s very small gravity field, but it is, you know it does exist. You can orbit it.

00:23:29 Tom Sachs: OK, so we’re going to take a rocket and come off of Earth with it, and then that we’re going to is that? We maybe need a. A kind of a big one. Maybe build a bigger one in Earth orbit a couple of times to get it to go all the way there with food.

00:23:48 Adam Steltzner: With the food, yes. With astronauts holy shit. Yes, the soft cranky delicate human beings I’m, you know I spend most of my time with robots and they just don’t give a shit. Yeah exactly robots are merciless.

00:24:11 Tom Sachs: Fucking toasters.

00:24:12 Adam Steltzner: So what it right yeah. So yes, a lot of food, a lot of water, a lot of you know drinking your urine and all that kind of stuff all the way to. I mean not it’s your filtered urine, but you know all of all of this classic human spaceflight stuff.

00:24:30 Tom Sachs: Like maybe a big water bag to protect the people from radioactivity?

00:24:36 Adam Steltzner: Absolutely radiation, is it gonna be a huge deal? It’s going to be the number one gig for these folks. Yeah, and so putting ‘em in a big huge. Inside a bubble of water, it needs to be a lot of water. They’re still going to get a high amount of radiation exposure, just. Even you know you need 10 metres or so of of water 10 metres.

00:24:58 Tom Sachs: 10 metres thick of water?

00:25:01 Adam Steltzner: Yes. To really bring it down to like Earth’s level, so it’s going to be above Earth’s level, you know it’s gonna. It’s a choice. Personal choice here.

00:25:12 Tom Sachs: But there are people that will do it. I bet you yeah a bit raise of hands here. See already someone. There are a lot of people want to do it, yeah. OK, so we build a rocket in orbit. We don’t really know how big that is, but it’s maybe a couple of five rockets together to go.

00:25:31 Adam Steltzner: You know. If we were able. If the if we get the SLS. The the the biggest rocket that they that that the US is planning to build a couple. Three of those maybe would have enough payload on orbit assembly.

00:25:48 Tom Sachs: What do you got on that white board that you put together?

00:25:52 Adam Steltzner: I’m just checking out some fun facts about the Vesta. Well, first I love Vestas.

00:26:02 Tom Sachs: He tilt it up a little bit, please little, thank you. Yeah yeah. Higher higher right so I can see the top. Yeah, yeah yeah yeah, thank you.

00:26:11 Adam Steltzner: So you know Vesta is like the God, the Virgin goddess of hearth and home? So it’s got. It’s got two symbols. Gauss who made up the first symbol is like this was how how he. That was like his fire pit kind of thing, and then evidently modern people use this thing. I’m good with either anyway, it spins pretty quickly for the size that it is. So an interesting deal is. The surface gravity is much less. So here on Earth we have about 9.81 meters a second meters per second squared of body force gravitational force accelerating us, pulling us down towards the planet. Weight call weight forces help you know how? How way do you feel we are also spinning around the circle? Because the Earth is is spinning. And to spin in that circle, we need some acceleration to pull us in. And that amount of acceleration we need is about .015 meters a second squared. So it’s very small fraction the fact that we are spinning like if the Earth were to stop spinning. Yeah, we wouldn’t feel really. We wouldn’t sense any difference in our weight. OK, but on Vista, if this tiny, tiny little gravitational pull of 1/4 meter 2nd and the rotational acceleration you’re needing to stay with the surface of the planet. Is about, well about half almost half of that so. Even though Vestas got, let’s see whatever that is. Let me see, take that to that to attempt. Let’s go 10. But you know if it’s got 1/50th of our gravity, it actually feels like it’s 1/100th of our gravity because of the spin that Vesta’s got. So man, it’s going to be tough for those astronauts to kick around on the surface of Vetsa. Not like the moon. The moon’s got 1/6 gravity, so you can sort of use the same muscles. But, you know, Vesta a it’s 1/100th effective gravity, and so that’s gonna be a challenge. It’s gonna be fun. You can, you know, bounce a lot long.

00:28:34 Tom Sachs: But it’s gonna be hard to drill. Drilling is gonna suck.

00:28:37 Adam Steltzner: Drilling is gonna suck.

00:28:40 Tom Sachs: Yeah, you’re not gonna have it. You should be able to lean into it with anything you’re gonna do with your whole body is gonna weigh 2 pounds.

00:28:47 Adam Steltzner: Yeah, literally my body will weight two pounds. You know your body probably weighs like one and one in a 1/4 pounds or one.

00:28:56 Tom Sachs: Plus the pliss.

00:28:59 Adam Steltzner: Yes, So what I would do? Personally, for me, the sample the surface of Vesta I would use reaction free, so I would. I’d use explosives. I love using explosives. I do like a recoilless rifle. I would explosively drive the sampling item into the surface and throw some mass off in the opposite direction. So the humans just need to stand clear. It’s like a bazooka or something, right? Position it over to say cha-boom and then you’ve picked up a sample dynamically. But yeah, totally, that’s what I would do.

00:29:40 Tom Sachs: OK. Great. Wow, well I think that’s what’s what’s gonna happen. I just um, everyone adds. I’m Tom Sachs we’re here with Adam Steltzner from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Adam is the chief engineer of Mars 2020 and the Mars Sample Return campaign. These next three big missions to go to Mars and bring a rock back. And we’re here talking about his mission to Mars and also my studios mission to Vesta. The asteroid in the asteroid belt where will be going in mid to late June. That will happen at Deichtorhallen. Hamburg, Germany and me and the whole studio team, and I know a lot of you guys here will come and meet us there and help out. And we’ll be working on on what it what it means to take a bunch of people to go to another world to bring some gold back so we can get more cell phones. Yeah, ‘cause we’re running low. We’re really running low on cell phones, yeah?

00:30:43 Adam Steltzner: So where Tom is the the unofficial artist in residence for the entry and descent landing team I am the unofficial engineer in residence for the Tom Sachs studio.

00:30:56 Tom Sachs: Well, yeah, more than unofficial. You actually really help help in a in a meaningful way. We Adam was engineered our Mars mission in 2012 at the Park Ave Armory. And also was elemental when we landed on Vesta the icy moon of Jupiter at YBCA, with perhaps the greatest Apollo 13 crisis moment.

00:31:28 Adam Steltzner: Honor total honor to be part of that.

00:31:30 Tom Sachs: We got lucky with that. That’s when we discovered that were performance artists somehow miraculously I’m gonna just take a minute. I’m gonna join you in little chichi Copa, I wasn’t going to but I just a little. Maybe can do a little plug for. Del Maguey mezcal just my favorite. This isn’t this is made in Oaxaca and by single a single village an I went Mary Fry and I went to Chi Chi Kappa and we where they made this and they don’t use like they don’t use electricity at all. Actually they have electricity for the radio but it’s all done with donkeys and fire.

00:32:19 Tom Sachs: That’s good, so Adam. What else is? Going on in your life.

00:32:24 Adam Steltzner: I just wanted to bring out my bottle.

00:32:25 Tom Sachs: Oh, there you go there you go. Cheers, cheers. RRrrrow. What else is going on in your in your life? Right now.

00:32:39 Adam Steltzner: Well, a whole lot of crazy. You know, working from you know this is my now home office little while parachute. Fun an.

00:32:54 Tom Sachs: Yes, ask questions. Sorry someone’s ask if we ask questions. Yeah, we’ll do questions in a minute.

00:32:58 Adam Steltzner: Yeah anyway that my my Hall of ancestors. I got all my like old people that I that made me up here on my. Anyway you know it’s. Adjusting to this. It’s not all bad right. It’s changed. US humans are machines of dealing with some of us. Humans are machines are dealing with with change an it’s not all bad, it’s you know it’s got sucks. I’ve got my I’ve got a lovely as you know Tom, a lovely set of kids. A 4 year old. 8 year old most notably and there in school. I mean actually an 18 year old. She’s sort of done, but. You know, so we got the whole. The house is alive with people going to school via, you know, a computer and an. And then I’m you know we all all of this huge group of people who are operating our spacecraft are doing it all from our own homes. That’s weird. That’s definitely weird. So, but you know we’re getting it done.

00:34:08 Tom Sachs: Well, I’m this is this 2020 is suck balls for everyone. But I gotta say, there’s been. There’s always a silver lining in in this time. For me, it’s been spending a bunch of months in the basement making my weird porno collages and spending time with my family. That’s pretty major. Also, Uber has been great because they’ll take packages without people ‘cause I didn’t used to do that…

00:34:42 Adam Steltzner: So you got Courier service essentially.

00:34:44 Tom Sachs: Again, and it’s a bargain compared to sending a person with a thing, and I’ve got a friend who is an Ivy League educated weed dealer and he is can now use Uber reliably for his deliveries and it’s like revolutionized his business.

00:35:01 Adam Steltzner: That’s pretty cool

00:35:03 Tom Sachs: And that’s important to people. Get what they need and this time God is so got some good questions coming up. I thought I should we yeah. And if you want to answer one, if you want to read otherwise I will.

00:35:15 Adam Steltzner: Yeah, you read ‘cause I because the way I got it I can barely see it.

00:35:21 Tom Sachs: What? What is the time frame for the final landing phase and what will that look like from home?

00:35:27 Adam Steltzner: From home, it’ll be pretty good before you guys, it’ll be pretty good, like watching you know for us it will seriously suck. We will be landing on the 18th of February that will be putting perseverance down on the surface of Mars on the 18th of February. We will be a skeleton crew. Will probably be about. We’re still figuring that out of order, twenty of us to 40 of us on site at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory will have N 95. Will be testing to go in, you know, will be trying to ‘cause we have got crazy case rates in the LA area right now. But the but the landing is compulsory for everybody. Maybe doesn’t realize it we are impacting surface of Mars. We actually just last week did what we call TCM three. So between Earth and Mars we schedule between. Let me back up a little bit between Earth and Mars. Trajectory change maneuvers. These are, you know, we throw the vehicle in the general direction of Mars, but. Intentionally missing it and then we do TCM trajectory change over one. We get closer two we get closer now three we just did and we will. Now it was good, clean and beautiful burn. We are now on a. Impact the surface of Mars trajectory. And so if we’re not ready. Will still impact the surface of Mars, will just make a smoking hole on the surface of Mars, and that’s not the plan. So anyway, that will happen from you’ll watch on Mars on on television. NASA TV will have it. The has all sorts of images up to the date postings of what’s going on. So you can watch from home and then they’ll be a few of us all mask up and and and tested out. In socially distance proximity to one another operating spacecraft, in the final motions.

00:37:39 Tom Sachs: Um, cool, here’s a here’s another question that I think we could both answer. What is it the thing about COVID? Or maybe I think? Or maybe it means the quarantine the question? What’s the thing about the quarantine and this time that you’d like to take with you after we get back to the old? The new normal?

00:37:58 Adam Steltzner: Right, so you know last year I I sometimes speak to corporate audiences about collaboration. You know, every single thing groups of people to do in your studio. Anywhere we do a thing, a beautiful thing. We do it in groups of people working together and I woke up to that in my day job and I talk to people about that. It’s sort of obvious, but. People still need hear it. I did that 33 times last year, in 2019. And that takes me, you know, whatever China, I don’t know you’re all over the place and I’m not so sure I’m gonna do that as often. I mean, for all of the hearing my kids fight and trying to do work while they’re running back and forth. The contact with my children and the realization of what I can get done, not physically present at the lab. Will stay with me and I think it will stay with a lot of other people and I think that will I mean. There’s some things you just need to be together to do. I mean whiteboard stuff. I want more whiteboard. I want people throwing ideas. I wanna be arguing and moving. But but I think that. I can’t imagine going back. All five days of a week into the office, so I’m more work from home, more connection with family will something that I take out? How about you?

00:39:28 Tom Sachs: Yeah, I think. Like for me it’s been spending more time doing ceramics in the basement and focusing on more humble stuff like. You know, getting back to my roots, I got very I do ceramics to alleviate my stress of my day job. Being world famous artist, it’s very stressful. There’s a lot of details to maintain and stuff so drawing. And ceramics is the part of my art that is like in a way, the most super. It’s soothing, it’s pure. It’s the most demanding. I can’t do anything else I can’t like. Even listen to music. I can’t do anything but that and it’s so in a way it’s like meditation.

00:40:15 Adam Steltzner: This is still porcelain work you’re doing? That’s crazy.

00:40:17 Tom Sachs: Yeah, like that.

00:40:20 Adam Steltzner: I love that.

00:40:21 Tom Sachs: And so something in. And then there’s an an exponential difficulty curve as it gets larger, right? So this is like a coffee Cup and this is a copita. And then Next up from a coffee Cup would be like a tea bowl.

00:40:34 Tom Sachs: An as they get larger, they get more difficult to manage because porcelain has all these really quirky things about it. Like it’s it’s. It’s very very fine and it’s it. It gets gummy and it collapses and it has to be just the right or else it’s it’s too dry and it cracks. It’s is very narrow latitude material so. But as it gets bigger, my hands. I think if I had bigger hands it be easier for me to make bigger things. But because my hands are like whatever medium size, I can make medium sized things easily. And then of course everything shrinks but that whole like presentness of mind is so. That you can’t fake it like I’ll do it. I’ll list the music, all the conversation they’ll look down. I think I made and it’s pretty mediocre, but if I’m just, you know, full on Zen focused, it’s it’s better, and until and there’s nothing that that is a greater thermometer, thermometer, or barometer measure of my focus than something that when you push into it. It leaves your fingerprints and then 50,000 years later.

00:41:45 Adam Steltzner: It’s still there.

00:41:46 Tom Sachs: Yeah Yeah.

00:41:47 Adam Steltzner: So when I was a kid I grew up, I grew up in in Marin County an. Um, two things I I had lots of friends who were the children of Zen students at the at the Zen Center. In San Francisco? And so I have some passing familiarity with with some of the Zen practices including sitting zazen, which is where you’re meditating. And it’s you’re mentioning for a long time. I don’t know, maybe 24 hours or lot many hours of sitting there meditating, and one of the natural things that happens is you fall asleep. And so there is a. Procter present with a with a bamboo cane. An if you start to slip or you brought in your your focus is re-established and so I can remember. So Marin County’s where mountain bikes were sort of started and I was there in that time when that was happening, and. And I can remember. One of the things I love and I still mountain bike today and I trailed on. I just railed on today and one of the things I love about that is the same kind of focus you referred to with working with porcelain, which is. You’re in it, you’re focused on it your whole awareness has to just everything else in the universe has to peel away and you have to be completely present with the trail. And if you Doze off for a moment. If you think about something, boom, you’re on your ass because you’ve got to be 100% present and that that commitment to being in the moment that focus is amazingly. Um? I don’t. It’s like tranquil, it’s.

00:43:46 Tom Sachs: Yeah, it’s free. It’s freeing for me and that’s always the thing about surfing is. It’s so hard to do so you and you just focus or an an there’s there’s endless activities so yeah, weightlifting is is not like a deadlift. Yeah, can you can fuck yourself up, you know. And it gets in a way easier as you do a heavier weight because you have to really focus more well, lighter weight. You can kind of be like. You know, thinking about other stuff? Yep, so here.

00:44:19 Tom Sachs: Well, what’s your favorite punk rock band? Two people asked.

00:44:24 Adam Steltzner: Oh wow.

00:44:27 Adam Steltzner: Oh, I don’t know. God, that’s like children.

00:44:30 Tom Sachs: I know that’s a tough one that is tough.

00:44:34 Adam Steltzner: Black Flag probably.

00:44:39 Tom Sachs: Yeah, I mean, I think that there’s you know there are like the the Titans you know, like Black Flag and minor threat and Bad Brains and Dead Kennedys. Yeah so it’s like you.

00:44:48 Adam Steltzner: Dead Kennedys. Thank you for Dead Kennedys. Yeah, you know, that’s hard to not say Dead Kennedys, because such great politics.

00:45:01 Tom Sachs: Yeah, I mean to me there a little bit like higher than the rest, just ‘cause. I think they were they.

00:45:08 Adam Steltzner: Were thinkers definitely noggin heads and what’s his head went on to do what he was like? Mayor or?

00:45:14 Tom Sachs: Jello Biafra for mayor.

00:45:16 Adam Steltzner: Yeah yeah yeah, no he didn’t make it, but he did make up. He got some like City Council job.

00:45:23 Tom Sachs: I contributed $50 to his campaign when I was in college, but other things are. Much just ‘cause. That guy really helped me with my own politics. There were so. There was so radical and it was like the Reagan era. It was scary. I mean nothing compared to to now, but I mean, if this guy made Reagan look like you know a movie star or something, but yeah, yeah, But anyway that. So that’s your answer. Yeah, but but yeah, but you know, yeah. Yeah, and they all rocked so in different ways.

00:46:03 Tom Sachs: OK, so let’s see. Ah. How important is an aerospace engineer? Is it to know Catla (catia)?

00:46:14 Adam Steltzner: I don’t know Catla (catia). What is Catla?

00:46:17 Tom Sachs: I don’t know what it is. I’m moving on to the next question.

00:46:22 Adam Steltzner: Not important.

00:46:25 Tom Sachs: There you go.

00:46:32 Tom Sachs: Woah.

00:46:36 Tom Sachs: Sorry

00:46:37 Adam Steltzner: No it’s OK.

00:46:39 Tom Sachs: People keep. Keep.

00:46:42 Adam Steltzner: It’s hard. It’s hard to pull em off the scroll, I can barely see the scroll.

00:46:49 Tom Sachs: Recoilless drilling techniques, love you both.

00:46:54 Adam Steltzner: I do Miss Madison a bit. I went to I got my finished my PhD in Madison, WI and it’s a great city. And the people of of the of the Midwest are very kind. Good souls and I miss that. I miss that more.

00:47:15 Tom Sachs: Do you still play klezmer?

00:47:17 Adam Steltzner: Oh wow, people are deep diving.

00:47:19 Tom Sachs: Yeah, they know who you are man, you’re famous.

00:47:22 Adam Steltzner: I don’t still play klezmer klezmer. That was a you know Chewbacca which was. The band I was in in in Madison is, you know, I have.

00:47:34 Tom Sachs: I thought it was the id vicious?

00:47:36 Adam Steltzner: No, we actually id Vicious was a band that opened for us and so I have a great poster that id vicious and and Chewbacca, but now we were Chewbacca, a Afro Cuban klezmer. Nonette and everybody was playing second instruments and anyway it was a blast. But that no, I do play now a little bit. I was playing some country music with this friend. Who’s the deputy project Engineer on Project scientist for? For 2020? Ken Williford. But you know that certainly got’s all screwed up by the by the by the covid.

00:48:24 Tom Sachs: Alright. Here’s a good one. What’s the? What’s the percentage of your? Your. How do you evaluate ideas to find the least offensive approach? How much is intuition and how much is math?

00:48:41 Adam Steltzner: Oh cool

00:48:43 Tom Sachs: Isn’t that a good one?

00:48:47 Adam Steltzner: Yeah, that’s a great one. Let’s… What’s… Yeah. God that’s rich. So, one there isn’t a single answer to that question because it depends on the design the question at hand, some of them are determined 100% by math. Right, those are, by the way, the least interesting, because I could write a computer program to do that right, and that’s not that good. What is very interesting to me, much more interesting to me. Are these design questions where you’ve got… You’re optimizing and you’re optimizing on on sparse data. Sparse information. And you’re making judgment calls and your risk balancing and your risk bouncing against known unknowns, an unknown unknowns, and you’re trying to figure out what the right right thing to do is. And you don’t do it by yourself. You’re doing it with teams of smart people and debate you really. I love to just get in there fisticuffs and. Argue and and and listen to different points of view and have my mind changed. I love that. That’s why. That actually is another great moment of awakening story right? It’s like this. When you discover that you are holding on tight with all your might to something that you’ve realized isn’t the right idea. That is it. ‘cause when you when you let go of this concept that you were holding, there is an ego loss you had invested and so your ego is crushed. And that’s liberating. It’s like it’s transforming. It’s like you’re letting go of you. It’s sort of a letting leaving yourself behind anyway. So, it is there’s no ratio of it. It depends on the subject. Depends on the question I am the most energized by the questions that don’t have a set answer. I was I I got into engineering for the questions that did have a set answer. I came out of music. I was like everything is big in the arts. I can’t even analyst. I want an answer and then I learned about how to get answers and I got good at getting answers and eventually I’m like. Answers are boring.

00:51:14 Tom Sachs: OK, so. Here’s a here’s a here’s a question. If you were to make a piece of art on zeor G flight. You know the vomit comet. How. What can you do to take advantage of that those conditions of weightlessness to affect change on a material?

00:51:44 Adam Steltzner: Yeah, So what? I what my first instinct it is really an instinctive impulse is to use surface tension and the ability for surface tension to over. To shine more than it would normally be able to shine in the presence of a gravity field. So I take a drop of water. I put it on a surface, it flattens out and the shape that the drop of water takes is a equilibrium between the the the the body forces. That are pulling it down the surface tension that’s keeping it intact and some interaction with the surface it is on. And so as soon as I get away from from a gravity field, I mean you know the. My instinct is to say exactly what I mean, do what exactly I do just said. The first thought about what it is is boring because I’ll just have lots of spheres, right? ‘cause I’ll I’ll make it. Uh, you know, spit out a thing of water and it will make a perfect round bubble because it’s unaffected by other body forces. But anyway, I. I’d futz around with that. That’s why I’d futz around with.

00:52:56 Tom Sachs: OK, that sounds interesting. One of my favorite questions and I’m thinking of saving it for the end. We are coming up on an hour but I we could keep going but And I think I know the answer, but I I love your answer and I use it as my own very often and that’s would you go to Mars?

00:53:19 Adam Steltzner: Oh, and and the answer for me is no. Because there’s lots of reasons. I mean, you know the truth of the matter is we evolved here, we humans. It’s like the right thing, and I’ve got a beautiful garden and a lovely family. And great mescal and some wicked single malt Copperworks Pacific Northwest Whiskey an I, you know, watch the Sunset, watch the garden Bloom hang out here. That’s more my gig. Mars is, you know where about where we, the family, about to go out into the desert and go camping. We like to go camping. I love to go camping. We like. I love people, but I also love not people. Nobody around, so we go off to the Mojave Desert, but the Mojave Desert is like a warm wet kiss compared to the surface of Mars. And so. I like I like this place.

00:54:26 Tom Sachs: Yep. Yeah, that’s I. Me too. Me too.

00:54:33 Tom Sachs: So what do you think? I mean? I, you know, I think it’s an hour an I think that’s that’s good. I’d be very happy to do this again with you anytime, and I want to thank you all for tuning in for all your questions and just a little reminder that they’ll. The rover will be landing on Mars.

00:55:07 Adam Steltzner: 18th of February mid day on. The Pacific so 3:00 PM ish for East Coast or wherever you are. We will, you know check for countown information for all the things that you you know, all the details NASA TV will have it running. You can also you know, looking on my Instagram I will be talking about it at a stelzner.

00:55:43 Tom Sachs: Uh, yeah. Follow Adam ‘cause it’s his his feeds good and there’s a lot more that’s coming. Right?

00:55:50 Adam Steltzner: Yes yeah yes yes yes yes yes yes. Tom is on my case ‘cause I don’t post enough.

00:55:56 Tom Sachs: Well, you’re so you’re so good though, and your world is so magic I mean, oh they if an if you can. When this whole thing gets back to that like the post Apocalypse. Like go. People sign up for the JPL tour. It’s a public thing. Anyone can do it. And it’s awesome. Yeah, public tour, that’s like you don’t need special access. You have to like sign up. It’s so unbelievable. Just like walking around the parking lot and you can see the Mars yard itself. Is there you. You can look into the class 10,000 clean room. I mean just and if you like that movie The Martian and all those shots of them like setting up. The the home version of it while they’re trying to recreate it? Yeah, it’s that shitty. Like JPL is that it’s that. An an it’s really it’s beautiful and these are like the smartest minds in the. On the planet basically all gathered in this spot and there in like the class 10,000 clean rooms got like buckets in it because it’s got like a leaky roof, right? It has high pressure, positive pressure room, but it still got water dripping and that’s like it’s very humbling. Right that that it can be like that, so I’d encourage you to do that. Also, my space program will be launching in in mid-June in Hamburg, Germany. So if you’re there for Art Basel…

00:57:27 Adam Steltzner: I’m gonna have Pfizer in this arm and Moderna in this armor. I’m gonna be there baby.

00:57:32 Tom Sachs: Yeah, and so that’ll be again, we’re developing that so it will be more things you can go to my Instagram page. The page that you’re on right now to learn more about that. And yes, you can will be doing space camp there. And maybe we’ll be doing some virtual stuff. Who knows where we’re going to be by June? Thank you, Adam. Thank you so much. This is great. Love you brother and look forward to continuing this.

00:57:52 Adam Steltzner: Alright, good, take care.