Fueled By Death Cast Ep. 106 - DONALD PETTIT
NASA ASTRONAUT—DONALD PETTIT
"In a frontier, the answers are not in the back of the book. In a frontier, you have to figure things out for yourself, and this makes an environment that's rich in discovery. So that's what fuels me—it's going into a frontier. Going into a wilderness. " —Don Pettit, active NASA astronaut, inventor of the Zero-G coffee cup
ABOUT DON PETTIT:
Don Pettit is an active NASA astronaut and is a veteran of two long-duration stays on the International Space Station. During his time in space, Don invented the Zero-G coffee cup which, for the first time in space, allowed astronauts to drink liquids the same way as they do on Earth. This invention has since been patented and gained the first-ever patent for an invention in space. As an active astronaut, Don talks about his duties on Earth as he hopes to fly into space again one day and his thoughts on the future of space exploration.
Jeff: Don, I can't thank you enough for taking time to talk with us on the show. It's an honor to have you on the show as an active NASA astronaut. And I wanna start right off, right away with talking about this Zero-G coffee cup. Because here at Death Wish Coffee, obviously we're interested in everything about that kind of stuff. But you constructed this in space, like where did this idea even come from? To make this Zero-G coffee cup?
Don Pettit: Oh okay, this idea has two essential roots.
Don Pettit: Two essential roots: One is this is how we drink our coffee in space. We have a pouch—
Don Pettit: And it's got instant coffee in it. And this is one of the best that we could have. It's called Kona coffee, parentheses black.
Don Pettit: And what we do is we inject hot water in here.
Don Pettit: Not too hot because they don't want us to burn ourselves. And then you fix one of these nifty little straws onto the pouch, and then you suck all of your beverages through a straw from a bag.
Don Pettit: This is the engineering ... the engineering solution to being in a weightless environment where standard cups like this just don't work.
Don Pettit: 'Cause you can't drink your fluid from a cup like this. It just sits in the bottom, and you could hold it over your head and you know it won't come out. It doesn't ... and then if you move it around too much, it'll slosh and come out and make a mess. So this standard cup doesn't work. The drink bag or the juice bag works really well, and this is the standard engineering solution to being in space. So that's the first part of why I made the cup.
Jeff: Cool. I wanted to just give you a little thing too. I've got it on the wall back here. Hold on.
Dustin: Yeah, we have a couple of those here around the office.
Don Pettit: Oh yes, yeah. I've seen those.
Jeff: That's what we got to send up to the space station, which was cool so ...
Don Pettit: So that's the first part—is the necessity of invention; you're drinking all your fluids through a straw from a bag.
Dustin: You kind of get sick of that?
Don Pettit: Well, yeah, and then a lot of the effects of drinking come from the smell. And when you are drinking coffee from a bag through a straw, you can't smell it. Pick a number between 40 and 60% of the effect of coffee ... the immediate effect is from the smell. And you know, so there's a huge decrease in the quality of enjoying your coffee, and, of course, the caffeine and needing to get jazzed—all of that is still there. But in terms of the smell impact of your coffee, that's almost zero in a weightless environment 'cause you're drinking everything from a straw—through a straw from a bag.
Jeff: Right, right.
Dustin: How does smell work in space? I mean, is it different?
Don Pettit: Well, because fluid shifts and your face kind of puffs up a little bit like the chipmunks. Because of that, your ability to breathe through your nose a little bit congested. And then the vapors don't rise—
Don Pettit: So if you have a bowl of soup, which you don't really have a bowl of soup for the same reason you can't have a cup of coffee—the vapors. You know, the warm vapors rise ,and where do they rise into? They rise into your nose. It's almost like your nose was strategically placed above your mouth so that it could smell the food you're eating, right? [crosstalk] And so none of that works the way that we are used to being creatures of planet Earth.
Jeff: Yeah. So now ... so you wanted to have this experience outside of drinking from a bag. Is that kind of where the Zero-G cup came from?
Don Pettit: Yeah, so that's what was going on in my brain. And the question is, how do you do that? 'Cause you gotta remember, we've been flying in space for 50 years, and the only way to get your beverages, both Russian and US, and European and everybody that's gone into space; it's sucking through a straw from a bag. And this is where the second part of the invention was essential.
That had to do with surface chemistry. Things that I had learned in college at my surface chemistry classes, where I was sitting in the back of the room and my professor probably thought I was sleeping. And maybe I really was sleeping, but something subliminally soaked into my brain. And so there I was on station, wanting to have something other than a bag. Then I remembered some of my surface chemistry, and that's how I came up with this.
Dustin: Wow, how weird.
Don Pettit: So this is the first generation Zero-G coffee cup. And I made this on space station. I made this from a piece of plastic that I was able to snag from some of our procedures, and then the tape. This is special tape, it's Kapton tape. And Kapton is a fire-retardant material where normal cellophane tape won't meet our fire codes, so we use Kapton tape. I made this shape very specifically because of surface tension and contact wedding angle geometries needed to make the cup.
Jeff: Wow, how much like ... how many iterations did you have to go through for it to actually work? Did you figure it out right away? Or did you have to keep—
Don Pettit: Yeah, I figured it out right away. And so notice, this has a cross section to like an airplane wing—
Jeff: Yeah. [crosstalk]
Dustin: Is that where you got the idea?
Don Pettit: And I think we may have some pictures here. Can we slide in those pictures?
Dustin: Oh, yeah.
Don Pettit: So there's a picture of me with this cup, and actually I made like six of these. So this may not be that exact cup. But you could see ... and look at that wacky, wonky surface profile—
Don Pettit: That's because of this acute angle. And having an angle like this is essential for the operation of this cup. And it drives what we call channel flow. And can we switch that next picture in? [Ah] so this shows ... this shows the channel flow. So here's my cup like this—
Don Pettit: And you could see in the real cup, a surface tension giving this sort of a hemispherical profile. And then because of this acute angle, in this cross section, it looks like an airplane wing. The fluid climbs up that angle and parks itself right next to the lip. And that way you can throw your lips over this lip, and you can sip the coffee or the tea or whatever, and it just keeps flowing until the coffee cup is empty.
Jeff: That's so cool. What was it like the first time being able to sip coffee in space? Was the sensation incredible?
Don Pettit: Yeah, it was amazing. Now, I've got a movie here that—let me just venture off in the new territory. I've got to jump in front of the camera and gonna start this movie. And let's see if you guys could see it here.
Don Pettit: There it is, so there you could see—
Jeff: Oh, so cool.
Don Pettit: You could see how the liquid, the tea, is just climbing up the side, and there's the end view where you could see that acute angle. And there's Steve Bowen and I sitting in the space station, and we're sipping our coffee. See, orientation makes no difference. You can hold it over the top of your head. And you can drink these things to dryness.
Don Pettit: And so now for the first time, we, as a crew, can actually have a celebration and a toast with our coffee and tea in a way that commensurate with everybody on the ground.
Jeff: Wow, that is just so cool.
Don Pettit: But I wanted you to kind of see what this cup allows you do to in a weightless environment. Imagine now, you have a kind of a day at work in space. Maybe you did a spacewalk. Maybe you flew the robotic arm and you snagged the first commercial vehicle coming up. And again—no pressure on you. The future of commercial space relies on your ability to fly the arm, right?
Dustin: No big deal.
Don Pettit: Right? And after you do this as a crew, you want to have a little celebration in a way that commensurate with how everybody celebrates on the ground. And so you get ... everybody gets a bag of coffee out, and you float around and go squish.
You know, celebrating with bags of coffee just doesn't have the same pizzazz as being able to sip your coffee or tea from an open container and kind of go "click" or "chink" or whatever with your crew mates. And then everybody can take a sip. And you also get the full effect of the smell going in your nose. And so being able to have this communion with your crew after these very special and kind of intense days on orbit is something that we've never been able to do before, and now we can.
Jeff: That's so, so cool.
Dustin: Do you think this helped alleviate homesickness a little bit?
Don Pettit: You know, I don't know. It's just one more of all these little details that you could do on orbit. And when I first went to station, we had email, but we only had one drop a day. And so I could write an email to my family, and it might be a day before they get the email. And then they write a reply and then it would be another day before it'd come back. And so it'd be like three days to complete just one set of questions about why the car wouldn't start or something like that, events that were going on at home. And now we've got near continuous email. So you could send an email, and within minutes you could get a reply from whoever you send it to on the ground. So I just throw this out as an example, that all these little augmentations in a frontier environment that make living there closer to what we're doing, what we're used to at home, can help the whole sort of space raw feeling and help you through your day. [crosstalk]
Jeff: You mentioned to me when we first spoke actually, that the Zero-G coffee cup now—you've got a patent for, it correct?
Don Pettit: Actually, we've got two patents, and a partner in crime with me on this is a fellow by the name of Mark Weislogal from Portland State University. And he and a bunch of his students took the initial design; this was actually invented on orbit and it's patented, and this is the first example of something that was invented on orbit that led to a patent. Everything else has been invented on earth, built on earth, and flown in space and subsequently patented. This is the opposite. This was thought of and invented in space for use in space and then subsequently patented.
Dustin: Do you think maybe that you wouldn't have been able to invent something like that on earth because you just weren't able to test it correctly?
Don Pettit: You know, I think there's a lot of mindset from place utility of being there. 'Cause you have a lot of our experiments—these are experiments designed by people on the ground: professors, very smart people. But they've never been in space, and they can only conceptualize and look at the mathematical equations and say, "Okay, if "g" goes to zero, what happens to this effect through the mathematics of the equation that describes the phenomenon?
Being there, you see and feel and experience things differently. And you can make observations that somebody would have never have thought about making. So making a cup like this, if I were to try to write a proposal to say, "Hey, I wanna make an open container cup. I'm not exactly sure how I'm gonna design it, but I'm gonna, you know, ... give me a bunch of money and let me do the research." I'd probably be laughed out of the room. But because I was there, and I could, I was able to make this cup. Now working with Mark Weislogel, he and his students—
Jeff: [crosstalk] Oh, wow—
Don Pettit: Developed this second-generation cup. This is a 3D printed version of the cup.
Don Pettit: And this cup has a very unusual shape. It's defined through the mathematics of fluid physics applied in weightlessness. Where this cup was just used by intuition and knowing a few design equations and making sure that the angle was correct. This cup, its shape, its form, its figure is strictly defined by the mathematics of fluid physics. There is no artistic design in this. This was simply from a math and fluid physics. But you have this amazing artistic object.
Jeff: Yeah, so cool. And those are currently on the space station today?
Don Pettit: Yeah, we have these on space station now.
Jeff: That's so cool.
Don Pettit: Now, not to be outdone. I took this, and in my garage I used to do slip casting of porcelain. My mother taught me how to do that. So I slip cast these cups now out of porcelain. And I even got to put the NASA logo on it.
Jeff: That is gorgeous.
Don Pettit: I have a real cool logo inside—it's a big zero with a little G inside of it.
Jeff: That is so cool.
Don Pettit: So now I can make these cups, and they're made out of porcelain. We have to be careful with these on orbit. They have to be covered in Kapton tape and kept in a bag just because they're fragile and they could make shards floating around. You don't want that. So the 3D laser printed plastic coffee cups are the standard use. Anyway, these work really well. And just to show, and this is a demitage size. So I'm going to take my normal earth cup, and I'm gonna pour some coffee in this.
Dustin: Don, is there anywhere people can buy these?
Don Pettit: Mark Weislogel through Portland State, he has some ceramic versions. Since I'm still an active astronaut, even though I make these I can't sell 'em—
Dustin: [crosstalk] That makes sense.
Don Pettit: I can give 'em away, but you know this whole no financial gain outside of what your NASA salary is, that's one of the stipulations for being able to walk to a rocket and get blasted off into space. So I make these, and I can give 'em away, but I can't sell 'em. So now I've got some coffee in here, this is a demitage size. And you drink it right from where these little lips are. It works well down here. It also works well in a weightless environment.
Jeff: Oh, my gosh, that is so, so cool. I'm just blown away by it.
Dustin: Now you must have other ideas rolling around in your brain that you just need to test out while you're up there. Do you have other things that you're working on?
Don Pettit: Oh yeah, I've got a whole suite of science experiments, observations, or demonstrations, whatever you want to call 'em. And they have been put on the web, on NASA websites, and they're called Saturday Morning Science.
Don Pettit: And then APS, the American Physical Society, hosted a number of my experiments from my last flight, and they call it "Physics Off the Sphere." So if you check either one of those places through your favorite search engine, you'll come to a number of these educational scientific videos. For example, I flew yo-yos, and the physics of a yo-yo involves ... there's one, yeah. So the physics of a yo-yo involves alternating kinetic and potential energy, but you get in an environment, in a weightless environment, and there's no potential energy. So it all has to be kinetic energy in the form of either angular momentum or linear momentum. There's a lot of really cool physics behind something as whimsical as doing a demonstration with yo-yos.
Jeff: And I'll put a couple clips from that video actually in this episode because not only did you [inaudible] the space station inventing a zero-G coffee cup, you invented quite a lot of yo-yo tricks that can only be done in space as well.
Don Pettit: So imagine a yo-yo trick where you throw the sleeper out, and you let it crawl across the carpet or something. That's called walking the dog, and it's one of my favorite tricks. But in weightlessness, you could throw a sleeper out, and you could have it go across the ceiling. And so I call that the fly walk.
Jeff: That's so cool. So cool. We love on this show we do a science segment every single week. We love science. We actually talk about what NASA's doing and what different things from space exploration is happening almost every single week. And I love that you were doing these Saturday morning science segments up on the space station too, which is so great. Did you— outside of the stuff that you invented—was there any experiment that you were really jazzed about working on, either when you were there in Expedition 6 or 30 and 31? Was there one that you really loved?
Don Pettit: There's, you know, most of the experiments on space station are programmatic in nature. They're well planned. They're well thought out, they're vetted through the ground. And they result in scientific peer reviewed publications. And there's a whole suite of topics from fluid physics, to crystallization, to life sciences, to human physiological experiments. And probably, the human physiological experiments are the most useful in terms of helping people on earth because we're humans, and to learn about human physiology in an environment where human beings are not innately meant to go. You could learn things about our body, and an example is the bone decalcification. And we have an empirical solution for that now, which is exercising really hard and that'll keep your bones healthy. And this is akin to sailors going on oceanic expeditions in the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries and succumbing to scurvy. Scurvy was this mysterious disease, which nowadays, the solution for scurvy is trivial—it's vitamins. But nobody had even discovered vitamins; the word "vitamin" didn't even get coined until about 1915. So people were dying from mysterious diseases. Sailors would go off on these ocean voyages, and they learned an empirical solution.
A guy by the name of James Lind, a British Naval surgeon, figured out if you suck on citrus, you won't get scurvy. And thereafter, scurvy was no longer an issue for sailors—or it shouldn't have been. But they didn't understand vitamins and diet for about another 100 years. So we're reliving this on station right now with bone density. You go into space, your bones start to decalcify; that's not good if you wanna come back to earth. And so we exercise really, really hard, and now your bones don't decalcify. So that's the equivalent of sucking on citrus. And we're still doing the fundamental research to figure out why biochemically your bones decalcify and how can we keep that from happening. And once we understand the basic biochemistry of that, that's gonna help everybody on the planet that doesn't have an opportunity to go into space. So it's the same story, different venue in terms of discovery and human physiology in using environments where we weren't innately meant to be, and we learn these things, literally, from the souls of those explorers that go there.
Jeff: So, so cool.
Dustin: So you have to do a lot of exercise to keep that bone density up. Is that both in space and back on Earth?
Don Pettit: Well, you want to stay in shape on Earth. So we exercise maybe three to four times a week. I exercised this morning, went to the gym for about an hour and a half. And I do that three, four times a week. Sometimes only two times a week if my schedule's busy, and I just do that 'cause I like physical exercise, and I like maintaining the fitness in my body. On orbit it's a necessity if you want to maintain your bone density, and there are other aspects; cardiovascular fitness helps keep at bay a number of other cardiovascular detriments that happen when you go into a weightless environment. So there is a suite of goodness that comes from doing hardcore exercise. Both cardio and weightlifting in a weightless environment.
Dustin: Wow. So how much of keeping in shape now do you think is for the potential that you might go back out into space in the future?
Don Pettit: Well I'm still an active astronaut. I'm hoping to fly again. And I fundamentally believe that the stronger you are, the better you can cope with contingencies in space environment. And say you're sitting on a launchpad, and you have to do a pad abort, that big orange pumpkin suit we wore on the shuttle with all the accoutrements that went with it, weighs about 80 pounds. You may have to carry an incapacitated crew member out. And they're wearing 80 pounds of gear on top of whatever they're normal body weight is. So the stronger you are, I fundamentally believe the better your chances of surviving some kind of a contingency. That's both on the ground, before your rocket engines get lit, and then once you are in space and you are doing your mission.
Jeff: Wow, that's so cool. And like, so you know, you're hoping to go back up into space, and I wanted to kind of ask the question: as an active astronaut, you know the laymen talks about an astronaut—we always think of the people in space. But there's so many astronauts that are working hard on Earth as well. What does it mean to be an active astronaut on Earth? What do you do that you can talk about obviously?
Don Pettit: Well, okay. I could talk about everything I do because NASA is not a DOD kind of organization. We're a civilian organization, and everything we do is practically put out on the internet as quickly as things happen. I'm in between flight assignments. I'm still active, so I'm in the queue of people that flight assignments can come from. And I spend about 30 hours a week just doing training to maintain the skills associated with being an astronaut. And that's just our maintenance skill training. And that includes doing MBO runs where you get in a big white space suit, you go under water. And it includes flying the T-38's for space flight readiness training. It includes doing sims, and a lot of times the sims—they'll start at 6:30 or 7 in the morning and they'll go til 4:30 or 5 in the afternoon. And then we do leg work to help other astronauts on their missions. We'll be capcoms, so we'll be at mission control and talking to the astronauts on orbit. So if you ... and then we have all kinds of medical tests and other evaluations that we go through. And some of these evaluations, like last week I had a two-day evaluation here. So it took full days from 7 AM til around 5 PM for just doing evaluation. And this is looking at the layout and the hardware for the gateway orbital complex, which we're currently in the process of designing. Think of it as the space station around the moon.
Don Pettit: And I spent two days working on that last week. Two full days. So you add all of this stuff up and it's about 30 hours a week just for our normal training. And then we have ground jobs where we help out other astronauts doing techno legwork for them. And that probably takes another 20 hours a week.
Jeff: Wow. So you're super busy, all the time. That's awesome.
Don Pettit: But that's life in the fast lane, and I wouldn't want it any other way.
Jeff: That's so cool. And you mentioned this earlier, I wanted to ask you about this. So I believe it was the second time you were on the ISS— Expedition 30 and 31 in May of 2012. You were the first person to capture a dragon capsule. A non-NASA-created spacecraft. How did that go? Did it go without a hitch? You said you didn't wanna be nervous about it. Was it really nerve-racking to get it up there?
Don Pettit: Catching the first commercial spacecraft with a robotic arm. I spent a heap of time practicing, because I wasn't going to have the future of commercial space get muffed up because of my inabilities to fly the robotic arm. So I spent a lot of time practicing, in all different scenarios.
There were some questions for the SpaceX vehicle in terms of what its dead bands were for its [inaudible] pitch and roll. So it could have been a bucking bronco that I would've had to have flown the robotic arm trying to lasso this thing. And it turns out it was ... it turned out to be a cream puff. The SpaceX engineers even know their dead band requirements were wider than any other vehicle than we captured on space station today. Their vehicle was extremely stable, and they didn't need the wide dead bands basically because their reaction control system, coupled with their ability to stabilize the spacecraft, was really, really good. And so capturing the first dragon turned out to be a real easy thing to do. And I didn't need all of that training. But I was prepared to capture a bucking bronco. It turned out that way.
Dustin: That's awesome. Now here we are in the future, and NASA just announced partners with nine different companies to build lunar landers for the return to the moon. What are your thoughts now on private companies working, developing space exploration vehicles with NASA?
Don Pettit: I think this is great. This is a step in the right direction. Everybody I've talked to at NASA and in office also believes that way. 'Cause this is adding robustness to the space program. If all you have is one entity and that entity is NASA and NASA will have one spacecraft, things move linearly but pretty slow. And if you have a malady in that one spacecraft, then that whole space program gets put on hold until you figure it out what went wrong.
If you have a whole ensemble of entities: commercial, governmental, other countries, and everybody's working on their aspect of the space program, that adds incredible robustness to it.
Jeff: Oh, my gosh yeah, I'm personally so happy that we're in this future now. Where we've got so many different entities working on space exploration. Because I think that's so important. If the exploration of space, the exploration of humans in space, I think is such an important thing for the betterment of humanity, and it's a very exciting time.
Dustin: And you would think—
Don Pettit: And now we can be drinking coffee out of containers, commensurate of how everybody on earth drinks their coffee when we are doing all these amazing things in a weightless environment.
Dustin: And we can all be drinking Death Wish Coffee.
Jeff: Yes, now there we go. There's the plug.
Don Pettit: Now I did want to mention one thing. Now this is the coffee cup, right? My slip cast porcelain version, to first order this is just a coffee cup. But Mark Weislogel, working with NASA, is coming up with a different version of this cup. And here it is.
Jeff: What? It's so tiny.
Don Pettit: So we're making ... this is not a nano demitage cup. But what we're doing is we're making cups that only hold a milliliter. Maybe even half a milliliter, and we can 3D print these things in an array block with maybe 250 to 300 of these cups all put together in an array. And now for genomics and other biological processes that we are doing experimenting on station. These processes require an open kind of test tube environment, where you have micro pipettes, and your pipepetting fluid from one microtubule into another microtubule. And we found that the hemispherical profile can complicate things. When you have the fluid profile in a little nano demitage ... particularly if you're using a machine, you have a block of like 250 of these and you've got some pipetting ... micropipetting machine that's just going between these different cells and removing 20 microliters from one cell going over and putting 20 microliters in another cell. And how do you do that with a standard cylindrical kind of container? We're finding that the shape of this coffee cup can augment these kinds of scientific investigations on space station.
Jeff: That's gonna actually like help different experiments get that much better because you have that ability now.
Don Pettit: You have the ability to pipette small quantities. We're talking microliters, like 20 to 200 microliters of reagents from one sample into another sample. Then you gotta remove another hundred microliters and take that and put it into another container. Then you bake it and you shake it or you do something with it, and the shape of this container is going to aid in doing the transfer of these microliter quantities ... just like in these little coffee cups.
But it'll be like a half a milliliter coffee cup. And you'll have a block of 150, 250, 300 of 'em all in one kind of block, and you just sit there and pipette stuff. Or you could set up a robot. We don't have the robot yet; but you could set up a robot so it would robotically be pipetting things in a microgravity environment. So that's the next wave for application for this coffee cup design.
Dustin: Yeah. Who'd have thunk it?
Jeff: So the one question we get to on this show with every guest that we have—and I'm so curious to hear your answer, is what fuels you? What fuels you to keep you know going with science, keep going as an astronaut? What fuels Don Pettit to just keep going?
Don Pettit: What fuels Don Pettit is the frontier. Frontiers are places that are outside your normal living environment. There aren't sidewalks with lines painted on the street that you have to walk between the lines when you go into a frontier. In a frontier the answers are not in the back of the book. In a frontier you have to figure things out for yourself, and this makes an environment that's rich in discovery. So that's what fuels me. It's going into a frontier. Going into a wilderness.
Jeff: I'm inspired. Yeah, that's very inspiring, I mean yeah. Wow, that's ... I'm so inspired by the state of space exploration, what NASA's doing, what we are being able to achieve, and the future looks very bright. And it's very, very exciting.
Don Pettit: I do think the future for space exploration will be bright, and it'll be bright for millennia because there's a lot of space out there to explore.
Jeff: There is.
Don Pettit: A lot of good for humanity will come from exploring space.
Jeff: Definitely. I gotta ask, speaking of how vast space is, I gotta ask. Do you believe we are alone in the universe?
Don Pettit: It depends on what you mean, are there gonna be little green men in flying saucers coming down saying take me to your leader? I've not seen any credible evidence of that. In terms of bacteria, microbial life forms, there's a good chance there could be a microbial life forms on Mars.
We have some martian meteorite samples that look like they had fossil microorganisms within the meteorite. That's still highly debatable. But it's one data point. And then one of the most pragmatic aspects is the methane cycling releases on Mars, which we know occurs now during the Martian summertime. There are inorganic ways to generate methane, but by far, the most promising way to generate methane is through biological activity. Maybe the periodic, the cyclic methane clouds that occur during the summertime on Mars, maybe these things are driven by microbial activity. We don't know yet, we won't know until we get there. But for sure, we will find out.
Jeff: Yeah, it's so exciting. Everything we're learning about Mars lately.
Dustin: And that's just the planet next door.
Dustin: There's a whole entire universe of possibilities.
Don Pettit: And distance is something that's rather sobering. If you find an XO planet and say you know it's 200 light years away. And say you got a radio signal from that planet and you say wow—there's intelligent people there. So we send a radio signal back and say hello? This is planet earth, we're here. So it takes a hundred years for that signal to get there. And it takes a hundred years for them to send a signal back to us, say got your message. The distances are literally astronomical, and with our current understanding of physics, actually interacting in any meaningful way with life forms on these XO planets is gonna be challenging.
Jeff: Yeah. Like you were saying, like I'm so much more interested in finding maybe traces of bacterial life. Like on Mars or Europa or something. And I just have to say too, congratulations to everybody at NASA for Insight landing on Mars. That was so exciting and amazing, the eighth time in human history we have something landing on that planet, and it's only the beginning.
Dustin: And the pictures look awesome already coming from there.
Don Pettit: That was an amazing bit of work that JPL folks were able to do.
Don Pettit: In closing, I would like to say one thing. I'm holding my slip cast porcelain zero-G cup here. In 400 years, nobody will even know that they exist then. Entropy will have erased any effect that I even walked or floated around earth. But I predict that in 400 years, in 500 years, human beings living and working in space will be toasting and enjoying beverages out of cups based on my design.
Jeff: Oh my gosh.
Dustin: That's incredible.
Jeff: That's incredible. I believe it too.
Don Pettit: So I don't know whether its good or bad. But it looks like my mark on the world is a coffee cup.
Dustin: Well, you should name the coffee cup after yourself, right? That's how that works?
Jeff: That's how that works, that's how people remember you.
Dustin: We're all drinking out of Don Pettit's in the future.
Jeff: Yeah. Oh man. Don, I can't thank you enough for taking time to talk with us today on the show. It was an absolute amazing pleasure to talk with you.
Don Pettit: It's fun to talk about things that fuel me and invention. Like this coffee cup is something I have a passion for. And being in a frontier, there's plenty of directions to go where you can make new observations and make new discoveries.
Jeff: For sure, for sure. Excellent. Thanks again.
Dustin: Don, seriously thank you for taking the time. We know you're a busy man and a very important man. Even just this conversation has changed my life, and I can't wait for other people to hear this conversation, 'cause I'm sure you're changing lives all over the world and all over the universe.
Don Pettit: Now that idea of being an important person, you need to tell that to my 18-year-old teenage boys.
Dustin: That's our next interview.
Don Pettit: Maybe in another five or six years I'll figure out that mom and dad got smart again. But—
Dustin: That's usually how that works, right?
Jeff: Yeah, I remember being 18.
Dustin: It was usually around like 24, 25, I was like [aw] I'm the jerk.
Don Pettit: Hey, it's all good. They're great kids, they're doing everything that 18-year-olds should do. And maybe a few things 18-year-olds should not do.
Dustin: That's awesome though.
Jeff: They got a good dad. That's good.
Don Pettit: Hey, well it's been a pleasure. You folks take care, and it's time for me to run off to a Russian language class. Ad I'll be drinking a cup of coffee to keep me awake in that class.
Jeff: Awesome. Well, thanks again, good luck with the rest of your day and we'll be talking soon.
Dustin: Cheers, Don.
Don Pettit: Okay, bye now.