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A graduate of MIT and Harvard, Su Meng says his company, Origin Space, will help humankind make the transition to living and working on the moon.
Gavin: Can you briefly introduce yourself and tell me a bit about Origin Space?
Su: I'm the founder and CEO of Origin Space, a commercial aerospace company whose long-term goal is to do space mining. We've tried to find resources outside of Earth, such as on asteroids, small bodies of rocks moving around the earth, and on the moon.
In the future, people may go to the moon for the long term and set up permanent stations there. They may even build villages with hundreds or thousands of people. So you have to really take advantage of the in situ resources on the lunar surface.
We try to build spacecraft to carry stuff from the earth’s surface to the moon. While doing that, we also build space telescopes, which can map the lunar surface, and the asteroids moving around the earth.
Gavin: It’s a bit like a sci-fi movie.
Su: When I was a PHD student at Harvard, people thought this might happen in 20 years or more. But I think people will take advantage of resources in space and build a space industry by the end of this decade.
Gavin: When you talk about space resources, do you mean metals, non-metals, water?
Su: Silicon, metals, and other resources will be important. But within this decade, our first priority is water. That’s because water is made of hydrogen and oxygen. These are propulsion fuels. We have to fuel our spacecraft before it can do anything, just like oil.
Gavin: How does digitalization feed that or fuel that exploration?
Su: By launching hundreds of satellites, we monitor the sky and find all the possible resources, and all the possible places where we will launch spacecraft later to get those resources out. We also have hundreds of satellites which monitor the earth just like a CCTV camera.
Gavin: Some SMEs hesitate to fully embrace digitalization. What's your message to them?
Su: I think it depends on the industry. But it’s certainly affecting aerospace. With computers, with AI and all these new tools, we have totally new ways to design a spacecraft. You don't have to test the satellite with vibration in the vacuum chambers hundreds of times. You collect measurement data, then do a lot of simulations, use the right software and you can do much more optimized design than before. So digitalization is really helping this field.
Gavin: So you're basically saying we should be excited by digitalization. This is the future and there's no point in resisting it.
Su: Exactly. It's more than exciting. You know, my Ph.D. advisor and postdoc supervisor are now AI experts. They basically moved from being astronomers to being AI scientists. My supervisor at MIT, Max Tegmark, even wrote a book, called Life 3.0. The subtitle is, “Being human in the age of artificial intelligence.”
When I was at MIT 10 years ago, and he maybe had just started writing this book, he mentioned that AI was going to change the world.
I felt like this was science fiction— it's not going to happen within my lifetime.
But now, it's like, I realize he was basically talking about OpenAI [Chat GPT] before it even existed. Yeah, it's amazing to see how things go.
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