Saturday, November 30, 2019

redefining normality through technology and exploration

I strongly believe that being normal is just being adapted to an environment. It is being mediocre, average. In space as in other extreme environments like deep ocean, glaciers, salt deserts or caves we cannot survive without aids: sometimes those are technology, sometimes just tools that help us survive and even thrive. Technology can also win disabilities, and make us superhuman. Astronauts on earth.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

first Life

All that effort and now what supposedly is the very tip of that evolutionary effort, the bearer of the brains who can decipher the code and reveal of its mysteries and secrets is thoroughly preoccupied with fashion, make-up, silicon implants, sport cars, football games, economic growth ... there shall be a very british sense of humour behind it all, don't you think ?

David Attenborough's First Life

Thursday, December 29, 2016

disrupting conventions

Structure is important. Obvious. Without structure and categorisation it's hard to comprehend the world around us and extrapolate from observations. And yet!
We are lazy beings. When we find a pattern that suits us, we make a convention and stick to it. It becomes our law, our religion. Anything is wither within or without. And we judge.
Personally, I strive for 100%, I believe in n=1, and if a method is not described it does not mean the results are negligible. I believe inventions are just good observations, and plagiarism of the portion of the universe that we are able to perceive is the only chance we have to be creative.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

a day down into CAVES

Join me in a day down into CAVES. Helmet on, buckle up ... and don't forget your headlamp!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

equally curious

We're all diversely something: as a woman I am diversely a man, as a European I am diversely an African, as an engineer I am diversely a philosopher.

And those considered most able amongst us are the most disable: Astronauts are unable to walk in space, and unable to survive outside a vehicle without a space suit.

As a speleologist ,you understand your disabilities: in a cave men are unable to see without artificial light, unable to progress safely without artificial rigging, a harness and a helmet, unable to walk comfortably without proper shoes, unable to eat without food carried from outside and mostly unable to drink without a water canteen.

The concept of being able to do something is very unnaturally an acquired pretentious effect of social habits. What we are all equally able to be is curious. And that's what makes us explorers.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

life, universes and everything

Of course the answer is 42. Which makes sense. Nothing else really does make sense when we talk about life in the Universe. This Universe, or one of the possible Multiverses.
Let's be clear: I'm no specialist. An online course on astrobiology does not qualify me to speak about extremophiles, or discuss about where and how to find them within our solar system.
Yet, I like to think about the existence of sentient beings other than ourselves and our fellows in the animal kingdom as an obvious fact of ... life.
But sentient beings does not mean "things" that see in the visible spectrum of light, or even that see at all. In caves animals loose the ability to see, since they do not need to see a light that does not exist. And I assume that beings which would have evolved on the Moon, if that would have been the case, would not have used air waves to communicate, since air is not an option on the Moon.
Now, those are of course simplified cases, but considering how quickly our body adapts to different conditions, say, microgravity, by loosing fluids or calcium, or reducing muscle mass, we can only assume that beings growing in a different world would adapt to the physical parameters of that world. Therefore developing a need to use the most appropriate senses for that world.
Now, there is a chance that some of those beings may have developed some ways to sense portions of their environment that we share: like x- or gamma- rays. Unless they went for a more local adaptation, and then who knows, what beings living in the core of stars may be able to sense.
For them, beings like us, living in the cold of a planet surface would be real extremophiles, don't you think?

Sunday, April 6, 2014

visiting other worlds

Leaving aside the very well known fact that we are all spacefarers, being tied to a planet that makes revolutions around a star, which itself goes around an arm of a galaxy, I've just discovered that our own planet is hiding worlds that we do not know. And I am not talking about the worlds we can find in microscopes, the little particles and energy beams that make up the void that shapes us.
I am talking about worlds that we humans can experience with our senses. But not understand. Yet. New worlds, hidden from the eye of most humans for millions of year, and shaped by the forces of nature: chemistry, physics, but also biology.
I like to say "I've been to the house of gods, and I've seen things that you humans cannot even imagine". 
But how do I describe that world? My soul is still impregnated with the overwhelming sensations of its colours, its shapes, its sounds, its silence, its contrasts, its peacefulness ... and I have no words. I want to share the pictures, which I yet do not have, and the infinite awe that engulfed me. I'm in need of a poet, an artist, a musician, which is not in me. 
Privileged: that is what I can easily say. I feel privileged to have been amongst the 20 people who have ever left their footprints in that place. Carefully placed footprints, trying to always step on the previous ones, realizing to be an elephant in a christal shop, wanting to be able to fly over the thousands of speleothemes, all new to science. Those formations will help rewrite the science of speleology.
My mind is flying back there ... meeting my fellow explorers ... 

Friday, April 4, 2014

listening to yourself: what a weird experience

Today I found myself on the web. It's not as paradoxical as meeting yourself in time travel, but still it feels weird, especially when you did not really know you had been recorded for a radio interview.
In 2010, during a very challenging personal time, I was contacted by a journalist who had found my name in association with an article on astronaut survival training. She wanted to inject me into an IEEE special edition on Dream Jobs. It sounded interesting, so I decided to go along. I had a very interesting day long conversation with an exceptional person: a professional journalist and editor, extremely smart and competent, asking challenging and clever questions. She recorded all our conversations, and told me that I would be contacted for a radio interview, but then that appointment did not materialise. I had my first photo shooting session instead, in a very uncomfortable and unrealistical space suit dummy.
It's been a nice surprise to find the recordings of our day together today. I had been speaking to her the whole day, relaxed and sincere, so for the first time I actually enjoy listening to myself.
If you care to listen to it, advance to minute 20
The IEEE article can be found here:

Friday, January 24, 2014

estraterrestri sotto terra

(estratto dal mio articolo su Montagne 360 di Novembre 2013)

Per prepararsi ad andare in luoghi sconosciuti, ci si allena in luoghi sconosciuti. 
Si parla molto di esplorazione spaziale, ma per il momento ci si limita ad esplorare se stessi nello spazio attorno alla terra. Eppure adattarsi a vivere nello spazio richiede curiosità, rispetto per le difficoltà con le quali ci si confronterà, per le persone che hanno preparato le spedizioni, per i compagni che parlano una lingua diversa e che decidono, comunicano, interagiscono secondo canoni propri della cultura nella quali sono stati immersi negli anni passati della loro vita. 
Nello spazio ci si muove usando longe, corde di sicurezza, si devono evitare gli ostacoli, bisogna stare lontani da zone vietate, ci si muove in 3D, con una visione limitata dai 60 gradi di visibilità permessi dall' elmetto, a volte ci si muove al buio, e bisogna sapersi orientare per riuscire a trovare l' ingresso. Nello spazio le giornate non sono scandite dal ritmo del sorgere e tramontare del sole ogni 24 ore, ma ogni 90 minuti. Il tempo nello spazio e' quello degli orologi sincronizzati con la terra. Nello spazio si vive di luce artificiale. I colori sono artificiali. Gli odori sono naturali, ma molto umani. I rumori sono quelli dell' elettronica di bordo, ripetitivi, e un po' noiosi.  
E questo e' lo spazio attorno alla terra.
Se si pensa a viaggi su pianeti lontani o asteroidi, il tempo, lo spazio, i colori, i profumi, la musica della voce di un bimbo sono ricordi lontani, sintetizzati in sistemi di realtà virtuale, limitati dalla capacita dei dischi di bordo e dalla fantasia di chi li ha creati.
E la terra, gli amici, la sicurezza della propria casa sono riflessioni lontane, ricreate in simulazioni interiori. La realtà e' quella di una piccola società di persone con le quali si e' partiti da una terra amata, lontana, che forse un giorno si tornerà a rivivere.
Nessun ambiente, o situazione, ricrea tutto questo meglio della grotta. Esplorare l' ignoto, dover ritrovare l' uscita, dipendere dai sistemi di illuminazione artificiali, muoversi in 3D, su corde, con longe, non avere luci, colori, profumi, suoni, altri che quelli dei compagni, coi quali si compartono le difficoltà, i successi, il cibo, le risorse, e dei quali ci si deve fidare, ciecamente. E come lo spazio, la grotta affascina, intimorisce, incute rispetto, offre paure, crea unione.
Ma la grotta e' un ambiente. E va capito, studiato, esplorato, fotografato, topografato. Le conoscenze acquisite vanno compartite con tutti quelli che non hanno la capacita' l'eta' o la voglia di immergervisi. Imparare ad esplorare significa imparare a conoscere e a divulgare. Con curiosità, rispetto, umiltà, e con gli amici.

Friday, January 17, 2014

space analogues

Analogue means in some ways comparable. But comparable to what? Human Spaceflight is nowadays confined to Low Earth Orbit, and it will be, for a few more years, to the Solar System. But there is no comparison between LEO, an Asteroid and Mars or the Moon, or even Libration Points in terms of atmosphere, gravity, soil composition, distance from Earth, mission duration, and therefore habitats, communication, equipment, operations.
So, first answer the question: Analogue to WHAT?
And then, it so highly depends on what one wants from the analogue: planetary science? Therefore (geo)logical analogy is required. Or maybe testing of equipment? Therefore environmental analogy is important. You want to test an operational concept? Then you also need some level of situational analogy. Human research? Depending on what you study, you need some combination of environmental, situational, operational analogy. And the level of realism needs to be a known assumption, to be seriously considered in the interpretation of results. Training? You need a REALISTIC combination of environmental, situational, operational analogy. And that's not easy to achieve, especially considering how little experience we have of the target.