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The Future Unleashed - Adam Camilletti on the future of space exploration

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Halley Cohen

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Photo of Adam Camilletti wearing a pale pink shirt against a black background. The podcast logo is in the top left corner.

In the fourth episode of the video and audio podcast series, Helen O'Hara welcomes Dr Adam Camilletti, physicist and engineer at Airbus Defence and Space, as he delves into the dynamic and evolving landscape of space exploration. He provides insight into the new space race, driven by ambitious missions from countries like the USA and China, and the increasing involvement of private companies. He highlights the critical issue of planetary protection, emphasising the need to avoid contaminating other worlds with Earth-based microorganisms as we explore new frontiers like Mars.

The conversation addresses the growing problem of space debris and the importance of international cooperation and regulation to ensure responsible use of space. Dr Camilletti also explores exciting prospects such as lunar mining and the potential for new scientific discoveries. He also underscores the significance of global collaborations in advancing space missions and ensuring that space remains a shared and protected resource for future generations.

On Mars and space ethics

“You have to be very careful taking anything biological to Mars, even the spacecraft we send to Mars have to be sterile. A lot of money is spent on sterilising them so you don't transfer terrestrial microorganisms to Mars, and they start competing with Martian organisms. Or you take the terrestrial organisms to Mars and accidentally think they're Martian ones and think you've discovered Martian life.

“If we're talking about putting humans on Mars, that's extremely tricky to do. Humans are essentially quite dirty. We carry a whole range of microorganisms with us. How do you stop damaging the Martian ecosystem, if one exists, if you're trying to put humans there? I don't think anybody has an answer to that at the moment, but it's being looked into.

“We have a whole field of space ethics to really get into before we can get to Mars.”

On a rekindled space race

“I think the moon is a very hot topic at the moment with Artemis, which is the NASA-led program to put humans back on the moon. They've already done one mission, Artemis 1, which was sort of a trial run demonstrating the technology. They flew a spacecraft around the moon and then returned it.

“Sometime after September 2026, they'll look to return people to the moon, which will be absolutely incredible. I think part of that is driven by a perception of the strategic importance to not let China or anybody else get to the moon first.

“So there definitely is that sense of a rekindled space race, but this time it's not USA and USSR, it's more USA and partners, because Europe's involved in Artemis as well. And then on the other side, perhaps there is China.”

Lincoln in three words - welcoming, inspiring, fascinating

“FIrstly welcoming. When I came to Oxford as a graduate student, I really wanted to choose one of the smaller colleges, because I wanted to go somewhere that was friendly and wasn't overwhelming. I'm really glad I chose Lincoln because it really lived up to that. You really feel part of that community.

“Next is inspiring. You read about the history of Lincoln and the people who've been at Lincoln. That does buoy you up because you think, wow I'm following in the footsteps of these people who have achieved amazing things. I'm generally a bit of a cynic, but that actually does have an effect.

“Fascinating. If you look back at the history of all the characters that have been here, the history of the founding of the college is itself interesting. The characters who've been here, the Lincoln imp, the history behind that.

“Then some of the, let's say less academically achieving characters who've been here, the famous ones like Doctor Seuss, he's a great one. You think wow, how did he end up at Lincoln? What was the story behind that? John Le Carré is another one. All these really fascinating characters. If you've been here, you could just spend your whole time at college learning about the college. I just found all that really intriguing. Really fascinating.”

The Future Unleashed is made possible through the generosity of Dr Sara Althari (2014), an alumna of Lincoln College, who developed this series with the College. You can find out more about Dr Althari here.

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Where next?

  • The Future Unleashed – alumna Lynn Shepherd discusses the future of the novelRead more
  • The Future Unleashed – David Walcott on the future of global healthRead more
  • Alumna Emily Mortimer discusses the Future of EntertainmentRead more