Actor Morgan Freeman grilled NASA astronauts on the International Space Station about how their work can get humans to Mars someday.
"So you guys are out there, floating around, tossing that microphone back and forth there cleverly," Freeman said during a webcast Friday (July 18) featuring the station's Expedition 41 NASA astronauts Reid Wiseman and Steve Swanson. Before Freeman could finish his question, Wiseman did a backflip.
"Showoff," Freeman retorted as the audience at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California laughed. "All right, one of my bucket list things is going to be to get up there with you so I can just try that." [The Boldest Mars Missions of All Time]
Swanson thinks that the International Space Station is a good place to practice for an eventual trip to Mars. Astronauts can learn more about how to make life support systems work for three years continuously, and even how to survive the radiation blast of a trip to the Red Planet.
"You can see what works and what doesn't work on this vehicle," Swanson said to Freeman, who was participating as part of NASA's "Next Giant Leap" event honoring the 45th anniversary of Apollo 11.
'It's not made of green cheese'
Freeman admitted that his interest in science was not in the field itself, but more how it attaches itself to science fiction. For example, how the atomic submarine of Jules Vernes' "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea" became real fascinated Freeman.
"My involvement here is to me, one of the mysteries of my life because it's only through show business that I wind up having this relationship with the JPL," said Freeman, who is also the narrator of the newer Science Channel science documentary series "Through the Wormhole."
Speaking to an audience mostly comprised of NASA interns, Freeman was one of the few people in the room who remembered watching Apollo 11's historic moonwalk on July 20, 1969. He was on the couch in his apartment in New York City at the time, he said.
"We learned one thing there that was very, very instructive for a lot of us: It's not made of green cheese," Freeman intoned seriously to audience laughter.
"[It is] such a momentous event," he added. "To have actually done that, and come back, is proof positive that whatever we can imagine, we can do."
Voyage to Jupiter's moons
Freeman also wanted to know what the Expedition 41 astronauts thought of building a Mars spacecraft in space, rather than on Earth.
"Certainly, if we can build a heavy-lift vehicle that could launch up a lot of parts and a lot of mass, and then assemble this in low-Earth orbit outside of our atmosphere, I think that would be a great way to start," Wiseman said.
Freeman pressed the astronauts, asking how long it would take to build. Swanson replied that it depends on funding.
"I think we've spent a lot of money doing the wrong things. We can do different things," Freeman responded.
After the astronauts signed off, Freeman took questions from the audience, among them concerning where he would like to go in the universe.
Freeman said he would visit Jupiter's moons, adding that he would like to spend time "looking around tagging things" in the asteroid belt on the way. But even a trip into low-Earth orbit would be a treat.
"I think that would probably be the adventure of a lifetime for an average person," he said.