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"Space exploration is the best investment in Humanity for our life on Earth"

Interview by Iris Magnan for Maddy Keynote 2019

"Tomorrow is being built today" & "Your day in 2084"

https://www.maddyness.com/2019/01/02/exploration-spatiale-investissement-humanite-terre

 

  • Where did this passion for Mars and space come from?

My passion for space goes back to my earliest childhood, I remember vividly wanting to travel there from the age of four, like a lot of children. But what was unique about this dream is that it never died, not even when I became an adult, which might have happened due to pure reason given the scarcity to date (which is about to change) of Space travellers (568), the lack of a mapped-out path and the improbability of achieving it. But the future is often unlikely, it’s formed out of our most wilful collective dreams and is never linear. Regarding Mars, which is clearly a key step in space exploration from the very beginning, when I realised twenty years ago that our generation was seeing a technological window opening that would allow us to learn how to live on another planet and thus potentially make a civilisational transition to maturity, this seemed like a sudden revelation which made the most sense and one which I wanted to contribute to fully.

 

  • What was your reaction to the announcement of the Mars One mission launch?

Like everyone who is passionate about space exploration and Mars in particular, I’ve been following the subject closely for a long time. I first heard about Mars One in 2012 before the media coverage the following year in the selection committee’s article about the similarities of the challenge to Shackleton’s Endurance expedition.

Of course, the idea of a ‘one-way ticket’ and the ‘reality TV’ model does urge to ponder after widely shared first reaction. I knew that officially, since the 1990s, there had been a consistent and fraught discussion about the ‘Mars to Stay’ or ‘Strive to Stay’ mission architectures, and societal ethics, which evolve according to the time period, involve more asking questions in advance than providing final answers. But even if one could defend the idea intellectually, there is still a world between considering a one-way trip and experiencing the true meaning of this once getting ready to leave in the rocket, which is obviously a major psychological challenge. The one-way proposition is, of course, not as simplistic as it sounds and I would share a more complex view of the subject, perhaps too long to develop upon here.

As for the media coverage of the adventure from the selection, through training, up to the mission itself, which is nowadays part of any space mission, it not only has a potential for valorisation, promotion but also inspiration around a positive uniting global event and the constructive values of any space programme, which the world needs, far from reality TV as we know it, which is not at all “real” but rather staged, or negative events that disillusion us today.

Nevertheless, as someone who is curious and passionate about the subject, I sought to understand what was interesting about the Mars One project, leaving behind any hasty judgement.

 

  • What does it mean to be the only French person among the 100 that are pre-selected for this mission?

Having to play the media game, something which I was very happy to set aside in the first two years of the selection. I was always acutely aware of the risk of being misunderstood and involving my family in the whole process. And I understood that the constraints of the media stream only allowed a cursory deconstruction of a superficial story and therefore focused on the longer and deeper mediums which give room for thought rather than judging or feeding sensationalism.

 

  • How did you prepare for the different stages of the selection? How do you plan on preparing for the upcoming ones?

First, by being authentic. We know that certain personality traits, coping strategies,

Stress and emotion management, in isolated, confined or extreme environments are psychologically protective. The best training of the true self here is life experience...

Then, the simulated analogue missions allow you to prepare yourself, identify promising crews and test what is relevant. That said, certain challenges of such a mission, like an unprecedented separation from our planet cannot be tested beforehand. There is therefore a residual gamble, that is the capacity of humans to adapt to the restrictions of ‘extra-terrestrial’ life, about which we can be optimistic, like I am definitely, or not.

Also, I wanted to avoid pure intellectualisation of the challenges, to maintain operational skills and go beyond the tried and tested. For example, I went on a mission in a war zone in northern Mali for several months as a flying doctor for the United Nations, to achieve, among other things, the necessary ‘desert experience’ because confronting situations in real life is in the end what updates what you can imagine.

 

  • If the voyage becomes a reality, what are you expecting? How will you prepare for this type of voyage?

How do you find and train crews that are likely to be able to meet the numerous challenges involved in such a voyage? This is why Mars One’s expertise is one of human resources, not space engineering which will be entrusted to complementary outsourcing expertise, with regular reconfiguration of the roadmap, with the intention to begin to prepare now.

The main challenge being the social psychology of the group, probably the first thing to do is to select crews not individuals, then train them over 10, 15 or 20 years in all the relevant areas (maintenance, operations, engineering, exobiology, planetology, medicine, etc.) by testing them regularly in isolated missions and putting the skills acquired into practice. The particularly long duration of the assignment suggest that the first groups selected will probably not be the operational crews if the programme comes to fruition, which also reverses the usual logic, as it is a pool of international crews in training for a very specific mission and not astronauts individually selected to lead a long and versatile career.

It should be noted that to widen the scope for problem resolution and to boost collective intelligence, diversity is key. It is crucial to ensure that the crew members are very different in education, culture and skills. Nonetheless, conflict is often born out of cultural misunderstandings, plenty of weeks of the year should be devoted to immersing oneself in the culture of one’s crew-mates. The journey to the voyage announcement is itself exciting!

 

  • What do your loved ones think of your eventual departure for another planet ?

Human nature is full of contradictions and methods of overcoming are often counter-intuitive... Paradoxically, being part of such a project, so meaningful but apparently exclusive, intensifies one’s presence to those one loves. I am very conscious of the fact that ‘everything is there’, I don’t chase happiness, it’s already all around me. I’m signing up simply to make sense of a certain view of the world, that will also unite each of my passions; for humanity, knowledge, exploration and discovery.

On that basis, I ensure that I am fully present as a father and this is what my three children really need, as well as allowing them to find their own way, unconditionally. If I had to leave tomorrow morning, during their childhood and adolescence, I would not, but the parental role is to change when children become adults to fly on their own.

As for the woman with whom I have my life for 24 years, she knows how faithful I am to my commitments, and she possesses all the intelligence, humour, wisdom and love that is certainly necessary for nurturing the importance of moments that are fully shared, taking a step back and viewing it from an inclusive angle. She also takes into account, I suppose, how optimistic I am…

In short, as in a cockpit, it is necessary to regularly go back and forth between the horizon of a future yet to be built, the time perspective, and the dashboard of the very tangible present moment . Being conscious and aligned within this partially configured timeline is something we should all explore.

 

  • What do you think is the benefit of missions like Mars One? How may programmes like Mars One have already been carried out? Why, do you think, are such projects so difficult to launch?

The approach proposed by Mars One is one of the key steps to an inhabited mission to Mars and not allowing the 30-year horizon to slide farther into the distance. One might wonder what is the urgency, cosmologically, of such an enterprise, but if the technological window has opened (we are closer to going to Mars than we were in the early 1960s to going to the Moon) it can close sooner than we think (the enlightened catastrophism of Hawkins, a massive extinction event triggered by humans in the "Anthropocene" era or precipitation of major environmental disaster, climate change, near-Earth asteroids etc.).

It is not responsible to leave to future generations, who will have enough challenges already, all the work that we could be doing now. And learning to live sustainably on a fairly inhospitable planet, is clearly work towards sustainable development on Earth (protection and management of planetary resources, renewable energy, recycling, autonomous habitats, telemedicine, etc.).

Space exploration is the best investment in humanity for our life on Earth, where the impact is already omnipresent. In fact, opening up our world to new perspectives and properties of the infinite really transforms the responses to all of our societal priorities that all too often stem from a world wrongly perceived as closed (limited resources inducing conflicts, competitions, widening inequalities, disunity, etc.). This transition would need to be accompanied by a genuine questioning and consequential actions from now on, without further delay, according to the prism that we would like to add to the collective fabric, that we hope to see tend towards this vertical dimension and this new perspective.

 

Space agencies have been preparing for the exploration of deep space particularly since the 1990s and long-term missions (Poliakov, One-Year Mission, etc.), some private initiatives (Mars Society, Mars Academy USA, for example) or hybrid (Hi-Seas NASA, Concordia ESA, Mars 500 Roscosmos-ESA, etc.) are conducting similar simulations in parallel. Beyond space missions and similar, much data in social psychology in austere environments has been collected from polar wintering, underwater analogs, special forces, etc. We always stand on the shoulders of giants.

 

  • You are a doctor qualified in aerospace medicine, do you think we will all be able to live on Mars in 2084? Could we modify our physical qualities and our genetics to be able to live better, and longer?

More complex than extremophile bacteria, the real multicellular ‘physiological’ champions of space adaptation are definitely Tardigrades which can live in space environment conditions (vacuum, radiation, pressure, temperature, etc.). We as humans are completely dependent, as on certain areas of the planet, on a life-support system to survive in such conditions. But it is precisely our relative immaturity as a species, which pushed us to develop technology, but also fiction, culture, cooperation, undoubtedly gives us the best chance of adaptation to another planet of conscious life such as we know it, and my optimism makes me think that not only will we be able to survive but also to live on another planet.

In the beginning, not everyone will be fit: the pioneers will certainly look more like ‘space monks’ or nomads of the desert than ‘space cowboys’, the pioneering Astronauts.

If the environment, and our history, has always been a continuous transformation of our physical characters through epigenetics dynamics, it appears that we are at a point of acceleration and the widening of the field of possibilities with NBIC technologies. Nonetheless, in my opinion, our asset is human in nature, not ‘trans-human’. The ‘enhanced’ man already exists in some respects, but, at the same time, transhumanism is born of a quite materialistic philosophy according to which properties emerge from the complexity -like the consciousness of a network of neurons and the strong artificial intelligence of the point of singularity of an exponential AI curve- from the search for technological resolution to an existential anxiety, and a performance society. I would rather tend to see ‘sigmoid’ curves with saturations and steps instead of exponentials, Gödel’s incompleteness instead of a deterministic complexity, and prefer a grown man to an enhanced man...

Anyway, as the years go by, we will certainly witness the same movement of democratisation of access to space that took place in the last century in aviation, of which space is a generic extension. A whole range of space experiences for the greatest number are emerging (zeroG flights, suborbital flights, orbital flights, hotels in orbit, to the future lunar and Martian villages mentioned). If the ticket price is still clearly prohibitive, this factor will become less of an issue over the decades thanks to the scaling up in the new space sector and the new deal by wilful ingenuity of some fast growing private companies (SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic). Do not think linearly any longer. This democratisation of space that is in progress today should be considered because it will contribute to revolutionising the world of tomorrow, not like a continued geo-anthropocentric present but a civilisational leap.

 

  • Sport, food meditation... What do you think will be the drivers of our well-being in 2084?

I see our well-being overall as full awareness of the alignment of four circles in what we do: ‘I take pleasure in what I do’, ‘I am skilled at what I do’, ‘I strive to do as a professional’ and also ‘I contribute in my own way to changing the world, towards the ideal I have of it’. It’s the Ikigaï of the Japanese concept, not far from entrepreneurial ‘purpose’, but with deeper introspection meaning.

Well-being is of course also underpinned by the perception of good health, and it is certain that the most relevant and natural pillars of health are nutrition, physical activity and modified states of consciousness.

Food has always been the first medicine and comes now in macronutrition, micronutrition, chrononutrition, functional nutrition and nutreomics. It will follow the evolution of medicine from the slightly reductive ‘evidence-based’ model, to a 4P (for preventive, predictive, personalized, participative), AI and Big Data-driven model that takes into account the complexity and correlation more than the causality. I foresee a fine customisation and a sophistication of nutrition that should not neglect the importance of pleasure, the conviviality of sharing meals and the act of cooking that said.

This unites all these modified states of consciousness that many cultures have not ceased to practice and many virtues: mindfulness meditation, self-hypnosis, heart coherence, binaural sound, lucid dreams, even the working siesta preceding some eureka moments...

Physical activity is indispensable and broader than sports activity or improving performance: it can also serve a meditative function (walking, running, alternative movements, martial arts etc.) and should as far as possible be complete and include functional, postural, cardio-tonic and endurance activities on a regular basis.
Artistic and creative activity is just as complementary.

These elements of well-being already exist in 2018 and have for a long time: history is often more useful than foresight to anticipate the future, and I think that we will find these pillars even more substantiated by 2084. However, again the future is often unlikely and the best way to predict it is probably to create it together!

  • Where did this passion for Mars and space come from?

My passion for space goes back to my earliest childhood, I remember vividly wanting to travel there from the age of four, like a lot of children. But what was unique about this dream is that it never died, not even when I became an adult, which might have happened due to pure reason given the scarcity to date (which is about to change) of Space travellers (568), the lack of a mapped-out path and the improbability of achieving it. But the future is often unlikely, it’s formed out of our most wilful collective dreams and is never linear. Regarding Mars, which is clearly a key step in space exploration from the very beginning, when I realised twenty years ago that our generation was seeing a technological window opening that would allow us to learn how to live on another planet and thus potentially make a civilisational transition to maturity, this seemed like a sudden revelation which made the most sense and one which I wanted to contribute to fully.

  • What was your reaction to the announcement of the Mars One mission launch?

Like everyone who is passionate about space exploration and Mars in particular, I’ve been following the subject closely for a long time. I first heard about Mars One in 2012 before the media coverage the following year in the selection committee’s article about the similarities of the challenge to Shackleton’s Endurance expedition.

Of course, the idea of a ‘one-way ticket’ and the ‘reality TV’ model does urge to ponder after widely shared first reaction. I knew that officially, since the 1990s, there had been a consistent and fraught discussion about the ‘Mars to Stay’ or ‘Strive to Stay’ mission architectures, and societal ethics, which evolve according to the time period, involve more asking questions in advance than providing final answers. But even if one could defend the idea intellectually, there is still a world between considering a one-way trip and experiencing the true meaning of this once getting ready to leave in the rocket, which is obviously a major psychological challenge. The one-way proposition is, of course, not as simplistic as it sounds and I would share a more complex view of the subject, perhaps too long to develop upon here.

As for the media coverage of the adventure from the selection, through training, up to the mission itself, which is nowadays part of any space mission, it not only has a potential for valorisation, promotion but also inspiration around a positive uniting global event and the constructive values of any space programme, which the world needs, far from reality TV as we know it, which is not at all “real” but rather staged, or negative events that disillusion us today.

Nevertheless, as someone who is curious and passionate about the subject, I sought to understand what was interesting about the Mars One project, leaving behind any hasty judgement.

  • What does it mean to be the only French person among the 100 that are pre-selected for this mission?

Having to play the media game, something which I was very happy to set aside in the first two years of the selection. I was always acutely aware of the risk of being misunderstood and involving my family in the whole process. And I understood that the constraints of the media stream only allowed a cursory deconstruction of a superficial story and therefore focused on the longer and deeper mediums which give room for thought rather than judging or feeding sensationalism.

  • How did you prepare for the different stages of the selection? How do you plan on preparing for the upcoming ones?

First, by being authentic. We know that certain personality traits, coping strategies,

Stress and emotion management, in isolated, confined or extreme environments are psychologically protective. The best training of the true self here is life experience...

Then, the simulated analogue missions allow you to prepare yourself, identify promising crews and test what is relevant. That said, certain challenges of such a mission, like an unprecedented separation from our planet cannot be tested beforehand. There is therefore a residual gamble, that is the capacity of humans to adapt to the restrictions of ‘extra-terrestrial’ life, about which we can be optimistic, like I am definitely, or not.

Also, I wanted to avoid pure intellectualisation of the challenges, to maintain operational skills and go beyond the tried and tested. For example, I went on a mission in a war zone in northern Mali for several months as a flying doctor for the United Nations, to achieve, among other things, the necessary ‘desert experience’ because confronting situations in real life is in the end what updates what you can imagine.

  • If the voyage becomes a reality, what are you expecting? How will you prepare for this type of voyage?

How do you find and train crews that are likely to be able to meet the numerous challenges involved in such a voyage? This is why Mars One’s expertise is one of human resources, not space engineering which will be entrusted to complementary outsourcing expertise, with regular reconfiguration of the roadmap, with the intention to begin to prepare now.

The main challenge being the social psychology of the group, probably the first thing to do is to select crews not individuals, then train them over 10, 15 or 20 years in all the relevant areas (maintenance, operations, engineering, exobiology, planetology, medicine, etc.) by testing them regularly in isolated missions and putting the skills acquired into practice. The particularly long duration of the assignment suggest that the first groups selected will probably not be the operational crews if the programme comes to fruition, which also reverses the usual logic, as it is a pool of international crews in training for a very specific mission and not astronauts individually selected to lead a long and versatile career.

It should be noted that to widen the scope for problem resolution and to boost collective intelligence, diversity is key. It is crucial to ensure that the crew members are very different in education, culture and skills. Nonetheless, conflict is often born out of cultural misunderstandings, plenty of weeks of the year should be devoted to immersing oneself in the culture of one’s crew-mates. The journey to the voyage announcement is itself exciting!

  • What do your loved ones think of your eventual departure for another planet ?

Human nature is full of contradictions and methods of overcoming are often counter-intuitive... Paradoxically, being part of such a project, so meaningful but apparently exclusive, intensifies one’s presence to those one loves. I am very conscious of the fact that ‘everything is there’, I don’t chase happiness, it’s already all around me. I’m signing up simply to make sense of a certain view of the world, that will also unite each of my passions; for humanity, knowledge, exploration and discovery.

On that basis, I ensure that I am fully present as a father and this is what my three children really need, as well as allowing them to find their own way, unconditionally. If I had to leave tomorrow morning, during their childhood and adolescence, I would not, but the parental role is to change when children become adults to fly on their own.

As for the woman with whom I have my life for 24 years, she knows how faithful I am to my commitments, and she possesses all the intelligence, humour, wisdom and love that is certainly necessary for nurturing the importance of moments that are fully shared, taking a step back and viewing it from an inclusive angle. She also takes into account, I suppose, how optimistic I am…

In short, as in a cockpit, it is necessary to regularly go back and forth between the horizon of a future yet to be built, the time perspective, and the dashboard of the very tangible present moment . Being conscious and aligned within this partially configured timeline is something we should all explore.

  • What do you think is the benefit of missions like Mars One? How may programmes like Mars One have already been carried out? Why, do you think, are such projects so difficult to launch?

The approach proposed by Mars One is one of the key steps to an inhabited mission to Mars and not allowing the 30-year horizon to slide farther into the distance. One might wonder what is the urgency, cosmologically, of such an enterprise, but if the technological window has opened (we are closer to going to Mars than we were in the early 1960s to going to the Moon) it can close sooner than we think (the enlightened catastrophism of Hawkins, a massive extinction event triggered by humans in the "Anthropocene" era or precipitation of major environmental disaster, climate change, near-Earth asteroids etc.).

It is not responsible to leave to future generations, who will have enough challenges already, all the work that we could be doing now. And learning to live sustainably on a fairly inhospitable planet, is clearly work towards sustainable development on Earth (protection and management of planetary resources, renewable energy, recycling, autonomous habitats, telemedicine, etc.).

Space exploration is the best investment in humanity for our life on Earth, where the impact is already omnipresent. In fact, opening up our world to new perspectives and properties of the infinite really transforms the responses to all of our societal priorities that all too often stem from a world wrongly perceived as closed (limited resources inducing conflicts, competitions, widening inequalities, disunity, etc.). This transition would need to be accompanied by a genuine questioning and consequential actions from now on, without further delay, according to the prism that we would like to add to the collective fabric, that we hope to see tend towards this vertical dimension and this new perspective.

Space agencies have been preparing for the exploration of deep space particularly since the 1990s and long-term missions (Poliakov, One-Year Mission, etc.), some private initiatives (Mars Society, Mars Academy USA, for example) or hybrid (Hi-Seas NASA, Concordia ESA, Mars 500 Roscosmos-ESA, etc.) are conducting similar simulations in parallel. Beyond space missions and similar, much data in social psychology in austere environments has been collected from polar wintering, underwater analogs, special forces, etc. We always stand on the shoulders of giants.

  • You are a doctor qualified in aerospace medicine, do you think we will all be able to live on Mars in 2084? Could we modify our physical qualities and our genetics to be able to live better, and longer?

More complex than extremophile bacteria, the real multicellular ‘physiological’ champions of space adaptation are definitely Tardigrades which can live in space environment conditions (vacuum, radiation, pressure, temperature, etc.). We as humans are completely dependent, as on certain areas of the planet, on a life-support system to survive in such conditions. But it is precisely our relative immaturity as a species, which pushed us to develop technology, but also fiction, culture, cooperation, undoubtedly gives us the best chance of adaptation to another planet of conscious life such as we know it, and my optimism makes me think that not only will we be able to survive but also to live on another planet.

In the beginning, not everyone will be fit: the pioneers will certainly look more like ‘space monks’ or nomads of the desert than ‘space cowboys’, the pioneering Astronauts.

If the environment, and our history, has always been a continuous transformation of our physical characters through epigenetics dynamics, it appears that we are at a point of acceleration and the widening of the field of possibilities with NBIC technologies. Nonetheless, in my opinion, our asset is human in nature, not ‘trans-human’. The ‘enhanced’ man already exists in some respects, but, at the same time, transhumanism is born of a quite materialistic philosophy according to which properties emerge from the complexity -like the consciousness of a network of neurons and the strong artificial intelligence of the point of singularity of an exponential AI curve- from the search for technological resolution to an existential anxiety, and a performance society. I would rather tend to see ‘sigmoid’ curves with saturations and steps instead of exponentials, Gödel’s incompleteness instead of a deterministic complexity, and prefer a grown man to an enhanced man...

Anyway, as the years go by, we will certainly witness the same movement of democratisation of access to space that took place in the last century in aviation, of which space is a generic extension. A whole range of space experiences for the greatest number are emerging (zeroG flights, suborbital flights, orbital flights, hotels in orbit, to the future lunar and Martian villages mentioned). If the ticket price is still clearly prohibitive, this factor will become less of an issue over the decades thanks to the scaling up in the new space sector and the new deal by wilful ingenuity of some fast growing private companies (SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic). Do not think linearly any longer. This democratisation of space that is in progress today should be considered because it will contribute to revolutionising the world of tomorrow, not like a continued geo-anthropocentric present but a civilisational leap.

  • Sport, food meditation... What do you think will be the drivers of our well-being in 2084?

I see our well-being overall as full awareness of the alignment of four circles in what we do: ‘I take pleasure in what I do’, ‘I am skilled at what I do’, ‘I strive to do as a professional’ and also ‘I contribute in my own way to changing the world, towards the ideal I have of it’. It’s the Ikigaï of the Japanese concept, not far from entrepreneurial ‘purpose’, but with deeper introspection meaning.

Well-being is of course also underpinned by the perception of good health, and it is certain that the most relevant and natural pillars of health are nutrition, physical activity and modified states of consciousness.

Food has always been the first medicine and comes now in macronutrition, micronutrition, chrononutrition, functional nutrition and nutreomics. It will follow the evolution of medicine from the slightly reductive ‘evidence-based’ model, to a 4P (for preventive, predictive, personalized, participative), AI and Big Data-driven model that takes into account the complexity and correlation more than the causality. I foresee a fine customisation and a sophistication of nutrition that should not neglect the importance of pleasure, the conviviality of sharing meals and the act of cooking that said.

This unites all these modified states of consciousness that many cultures have not ceased to practice and many virtues: mindfulness meditation, self-hypnosis, heart coherence, binaural sound, lucid dreams, even the working siesta preceding some eureka moments...

Physical activity is indispensable and broader than sports activity or improving performance: it can also serve a meditative function (walking, running, alternative movements, martial arts etc.) and should as far as possible be complete and include functional, postural, cardio-tonic and endurance activities on a regular basis.
Artistic and creative activity is just as complementary.

These elements of well-being already exist in 2018 and have for a long time: history is often more useful than foresight to anticipate the future, and I think that we will find these pillars even more substantiated by 2084. However, again the future is often unlikely and the best way to predict it is probably to create it together!

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