My first week in outer space!

Monday 23 June 2014

“Stall, Stall, Stall!” There was urgency in the voice that was coming through my headphones. I pushed the rudder down, gave it a little bit of throttle – beneath me the last metres of runway were passing by… But all too late! With a kaboom my Boeing 747 hit the concrete of San Francisco airport. “Not that bad…. but also not optimal!” Marc’s words were not really consoling. Marc is our instructor at the MS flight simulator and successfully landing a 747 is a prerequisite to get a chance at the real NASA flight simulator. Based on the quality of my landing I still have a long way to go…. The last few days have been a truly amazing experience. What happens when you put a bunch of very smart people (well, everybody other than me) into a secluded campus, give them food, drinks (there is way too much beer here) and (most important!) exposure to the latest knowledge, tools and technologies and inspire them to change the world? Well, you get tons of super cool ideas! Last night my group discussed about making beer in powder format, creating a cure for HIV, using viruses to power fuel cells and solar panel paint. The keyword so far is exponential, the power of doubling. If you take 30 linear steps you maybe walk 30 metres. If you take 30 exponential steps you end up with a distance more than 26 times around the earth. In Computing the phenomenon of exponential growth is called Moore’s law: that the power of processors has doubled every 18 months. Todays smartphones have more computing power than the supercomputers of the 70s. But we can observe a similar trend in DNA sequencing and the price of solar panels. SU defines exponential technologies around Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Artificial Intelligence and Robotics and the first weeks are all spent to make a deep dive into them…. truly fascinating! We are 80 people from 35 countries, the majority coming from South America and Europe– Its a mix of extremely different backgrounds – nuclear scientists, physicists, doctors and entrepreneurs. All inspired and motivated to make a difference in this world. Throughout the program we are asked to come up with viable ideas and prototypes that will impact and improve the life of at least one billion people within the next ten years – and we are going at it in Warp speed (which btw might be possible to achieve). Sleep is optional and so far discussions go very late into the night (every night:( I am almost suspecting that the classrooms are oxygen enriched the air (like they do in casinos). If there is any time between all these brainstorms, its best spent in the Innovation Lab – gadget wonderland (where also aforementioned flight simulator is located). There are drones, Oculus googles, 3D printers, Beams, Raspberry Pies and lots, lots more…. more on that next time. But enough said – here are some (truly random) facts/ideas and quotes from the first week (sorry my brain is on its day off and currently only on 50% operating capacity):

  • We are on track to put humans on Mars (or one of its moons) by 2030.
  • Nanobots will allow us to hold our breath for an hour, which would mean one could walk to the hospital in case of a heart attack (but it might still be a while until these are becoming reality)
  • Can a gene be patented? Still to be discussed..
  • Be aware of grey Gu !!! yes, thats really bad.
  • With the right amount of teamwork one can build a metre high tower from a piece of string, twenty spaghetti, a marshmellow and some tape
  • there are no burgers at MacMoon: it is a research lab thats located in an old MacDonalds on the NASA campus, where a bunch of geeks try to reboot a satellite from the 1960.. they rebuilt all the technology
  • Paul Saffo (Prof of forecasting at Stanford): “When we reach the Singularity, there are two options – the super smart machines will either, if we are lucky treat us as pets , or if we are unlucky – as food.”

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