Space Exploration Without Limits – Jeremy Hansen (Canadian Astronaut)

Below we document what Canadian Space Agency Astronaut Jeremy Hansen says about exploring the universe in her recent TED talk.

Humans explored the moon before I was born but I still recall the childhood moment when this photo, shattered a limitation that changed my life forever. The next time I looked at the moon I knew they were human blueprints right where I was looking I also knew I wanted to explore I wanted to leave this planet and look back upon it, now this early astronaut torture was a good start when you say. I have to credit my parents I mean they really nailed this family trip. But I didn’t stop there I made the necessary modifications to my tree house I control column for a piece of wood all circuit breakers for switches dials made from cardboard and popsicle sticks it even had a panoramic view of the stars planets and moon.

Sketched fairly poorly across the rough uneven surface of the ply wood wall but it was a great tree house and my friends and I went on many great missions in my childhood innocence I was free to explore space without limits but as with all of us as life for on limits crept in, limits that start to stifle the pursuit of excellence. Limits that hold you back but now as I embrace my challenge in my dream of exploring space, the real privilege for me is the perspective I’m gaining and it is this perspective I would like to share with you because it frees me from limitation. My fellow explorers we are all on a great journey of exploration and I have to tell you it’s getting pretty interesting in fact, I would hazard to say that science is giving science fiction a run for its money these days the things we are learning can free you from self-imposed limitation and open up endless possibilities.

But I’m getting ahead of myself but let me start here the first thing we need is explorers of course is a ship will this do, this of course is a great ship one of the best we’ve ever imagined but I’m talking about something much grander. I’m talking about Spaceship Earth our mission aboard this ship intrigues me. First there is the journey of the shift and the adventures of its crew that’s far in second operating the ship is a real challenge because we’ve ended up on the ship without operating instructions or technical drawings and third our destination and our destiny remain a mystery. Now so far we’ve determined the ship is made of rock.

It’s covered largely by water and it’s surrounded by the tiniest bubble of air that keeps us alive and it’s hurdling through space around our closest star the Sun along with eight other planets and I hope you don’t mind me saying eight other planets but I am just not willing to let go of Pluto. Our Earth has an amazing magnetic shield in addition to protecting us from violent solar storms and letting the sun’s life critical energy in, it provides some of the most spectacular light shows for our ships and have been in this and our ship as the most ingenious air and water recycling system ever designed and it makes our ship a home for millions of unique species of life, now granted our ship has suffered some wear and tear over the years largely due to us the seven billion human inhabitants aboard now and to make matters worse it is completely vulnerable to collisions of passing asteroids and there are no escape pods this ship is it for now at least. Yes our ship has some limits but from my perspective our problem is not the issues that our ship has.

Our problem is the limitations that we place on ourselves, we are seven billion strong yet we limit ourselves with the thought the restriction that were separated by geography, culture and language and there are examples of great suffering. Aboard this ship, suffering that stems from our failure to respect and value one another but there is reason for great hope our worldwide communication system is online now. It enables collaboration like never before and were already harnessing this cooperation, we have come together to build the most incredible orbiting laboratory in history, the International Space Station for over fourteen years humans have been living working and learning together in low earth orbit from countries all around the world. Canada’s contribution is Canadarm2 and its two handed psychic Dexter and they work together as a station’s robotic candy men and while they look really great on the back of our new Canadian five dollar bill they represent much more. Cooperation it cultivates excellence, what started out as a partnership for Canada to explore space became an opportunity to develop a whirl box expertise that is now world renown and that’s the point.

Cooperation drives excellence we can accomplish more together than we can individually. Training to fly in space. I’ll be tremendously fun with my international partners has taught me to see through the perceived limitations of language and culture in space Canadian astronauts work side by side with colleagues from around the world Europe, Japan, Russia, United States and surely this is just the beginning. We work hard to understand each other we share information. In fact we stick our very lives on the success of this international cooperation the seven billion of us can work together and when we do there is no limit to what we can accomplish, now I said there were two limitations that we place on ourselves the first one is we’re still learning to work together. But the second the second limitation are the limits we place on ourselves, we have a habit of limiting ourselves or succumbing to limits others place on us.

When I was in my tree house I was exploring space and my imagination had no limits but in real life I was placing limits on myself, when it came to the contributions that I would make for the ship’s progress for the benefit of the ship I had doubts, doubts that the proverbial they had already thought of it or they would do a better job but working in the space program has taught me to leave such limits behind the reality is there is no they, there’s only us in fact our team is composed of individuals who are determined to make a contribution and united by a common goal and we set some big goals, we set goals so big that they demand excellence from each member of our team. They demand a contribution from each member of the team and this is the point. This applies to all of us on our great ship when my family sets out with our backpacks on a backpacking trip.

There’s an expectation that we each carry our own weight to make the journey a success, when astronauts climb aboard a rocket on a great journey of exploration. There’s an understanding that they will each make a contribution and by doing so they will achieve more than they could individually they expect excellence, my fellow explorers we are on a great journey of exploration and it demands that you make a contribution and you have a passion inside of you, you have a passion that drives your contribution and we need that passion and that contribution because that will drive innovation to solve our problems. Imagine if we didn’t innovate and explore and imagine for a moment the limits we would still have.

Up until twenty five hundred years ago we believe the world was flat. It took another thousand years for us to free ourselves from the limitation that everything including the Sun revolved around us. From that point for the Scientific Revolution was abandoning limits at an ever increasing pace but even still until a hundred years ago we were limited to the ground till we learned to fly, in this part the new generation of exploration but more importantly perspective. But no sooner had we made it in the air we set a new limit the sound barrier and imaginary barrier humans would never cross and outdated limit I routinely disregard in a C.F. eighteen fighter jet and for me flying faster than the speed of sound has become a constant reminder of the benefits of pushing the limits and with each shattered limit comes an even grander perspective, in perspective inspires the Apollo program gave us this picture of our home from the furthest point of human exploration to date.

Venturing out further into our solar system with the Cassini probe we see ourselves from the perspective of Saturn and we start to get a sense for our fragile existence in the cosmos and this the most distant photo we have a verse taken by the Voyager one probe from six point four billion kilometers away the pale blue dot hanging in the cold vacuum of space that’s amazing perspective and we can’t yet fly outside our own galaxy and turn around and take a picture of the Milky Way but we can look at other similar galaxies like this one. Andromeda and if this were our galaxy the Milky Way Our address would be out here in the suburbs. Just one tiny star amongst hundreds of billions of other stars. Amazing the Hubble Space Telescope recently peer deeper into our universe than ever before by observing a dark patch of our night sky.

Equivalent to what you would see by looking through a soda straw in the one dark patch of our sky we found over ten thousand galaxies. Images like this are leading us to estimate that our universe is now composed of over one hundred billion galaxies each containing over one hundred billion stars. That’s incredible but it means nothing to you, try this. This confirms that there are more stars in the universe than there are likely grains of sand on this planet, now wrap your mind around that some amazing perspective and that’s harsh perspective today it’s just going to get better in two thousand and eighteen NASA is launching the successor to the Hubble telescope the James Webb Space Telescope this is yet another example of international cooperation driving innovation.

Canada will provide the Web’s Guidance Sensor to keep the telescope on targeting and also one of the science instruments but by placing the James Webb Space Telescope one point five million kilometers from Earth in the cold darkness of space this telescope will observe objects thousands of times fainter than arc telescopes today just imagine the things we’re going to see and by looking out into that other galaxies are already learning amazing things affect sciences recently declared that our universe is made of five percent matter twenty five percent dark matter and seventy percent dark energy that’s one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen or said now the five percent matter I understand I mean it’s kind of what I thought the hundred percent was, I am made of matter, you’re made of matter, this room is made of matter the air the earth the sun every star every black hole everything we’ve ever observed is matter and yet science is telling us now that’s only five percent of the story. Now the twenty five percent dark matter.

This is where it gets a little crazy, we’ve never observed it but science infers is its existence because it’s required to account for the gravitational pull that holds our galaxies together but if that assumption is correct then dark matter is pervasive it’s everywhere it’s here it’s in this rooms passing through you. Me right now, yet undetectable I know what you’re thinking. This is not the first time we heard of dark matter.

First time was over thirty years ago when Obi Wan Kenobi explain the force to Luke when he said it surrounds us it penetrates us it binds the galaxy together. I know why you’re smiling too. I’m not the only one who checked to see if they were a Jet I night after watching Star Wars as a kid but trying to move objects with the force but just maybe we weren’t crazy after all and even if dark matter is in our beloved force maybe dark energy is again another substance we’ve never observed it but we infer its existence based on The Factor. Our universe is expanding and accelerating and something is driving that we don’t know what it is so we called it dark energy.

Now ask yourself this question. Have you been living in yourself to the things you can sense, what other things there we limiting ourselves that just don’t apply? Reading about quantum theory. Encourages me and inspires me to think with an open mind. Quantum experiments are promising revolutionary breakthroughs in computing power and secure communications but if you stop to ponder what else it might be telling us. Noble Prize recipient Niels Bohr stated anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it and I might add I don’t understand it and I’m still shocked.

Quantum entanglement experiments are being done that seemingly show an instantaneous reaction between two untangled particles which would seemingly violate the current inner galactic speed limit of the speed of light in these experiments you take two particles, you entangle them by having them interact and then you subsequently separate them by any distance doesn’t matter let’s say a hundred kilometers but in theory it could be Earth and the other particles on Mars and subsequently when you observe one particle the other instantaneously react crazy and no one can explain this in fact Einstein called it spooky action at a distance.

Could this enable communication instantaneous communication of our vast distances in the future maybe could it lead us to traveling faster than the speed of light is that our work drive for our ships could we explore their solar systems or other galaxies, it was my daughter who reminded me that science demands we consider all possibilities. One morning she observed her brother enter his bedroom just as she entered hers. He immediately turned around and went to my room my daughter missed that transition she grab something from her room and followed me to my room where she was shocked to find her brother, she exclaimed an absolute amazement. Devon your two places at once.

I wouldn’t allow myself to consider that possibility but she could what else are we limiting our for ourselves from that is why we must explore often to achieve specific objectives but ultimately knowing there is more to be discovered in the things we didn’t know to look for. History and science have shown us that all we can be certain of is that our current understanding isn’t perfect and this is freedom to explore with renewed vigor. This is inspiration to harness your passion and make a contribution as for me I’m trading my tree house for a real rocket as I embraced the challenges of exploration with the Canadian Space Agency.

Your role will become obvious. Let your passion lead you we require your contribution if we are to understand and change the world around us we need to start with ourselves. I urge each of you to think big dream bigger and explore without limits because my fellow space explorers you each, you each have great value and you are unlimited.