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Rex Ridenoure  –  aerospace mission architect
Click for larger image " I love to take a half–baked good idea and refine it well enough so others can finish the details and make it real."
How were you motivated to choose your particular field?
  I grew up first in Phoenix and then from age 10 through high school in central Nebraska, far removed from anything close to aerospace or engineering. My family role models on both sides were ranchers and horseracing people. But since I was about eight, aerospace–related concepts grabbed me: airplane models, the moon through a telescope, flying, rockets and launches, lunar landings, spacesuits, Skylab, space–related movies, etc. I enjoyed biology, chemistry, physics and math.

By the time I left high school, however, I didn't really know what an engineer was and never quite figured out what to do with all of this interest. No amateur rockets, no extra reading – just a general appreciation that space was exciting. I was quite captivated watching the Apollo astronauts working on the Moon, for example. Fortunately, my undergraduate advisors could see the pattern well, and I have made a career of it. I basically got into this by simply following my gut feel and appreciating what created excitement in my mind. "Follow your bliss", as noted historian and anthropologist Joseph Campbell put it.

  Click for larger image
What can you share about your creative process?
    My special knack or skill is that I can appreciate a fundamentally good idea or concept that still needs a lot of work and can often figure out how to mature it enough so that others can successfully implement it. I love to take a half–baked good idea and refine it well enough so others can finish the details and make it real. This function is becoming known as "system architecting"; the architect for a building does essentially the same thing. I like to know a little bit about everything, which comes in handy when trying to understand complex systems with many elements and outside influences. Learning the basic context and trends of a new subject area thrill me. (I suggest the weekly publication Science News for good source of broad information.) What's really enjoyable is coming up with that "Aha!" match between all of the pieces of an emerging system which make the idea work.

I guess I have a good nose for defining what's missing with the half–baked idea and can often define the needed elements and combine them in such away to enable the idea to move forward. A big part of the recipe for doing this involves appreciating elegance and simplicity. Often, the best ideas come from those who are both smart and lazy. If you're smart about it, elegance follows; and if you're lazy, you won't allow things to get too complicated. To complete the job, you must be aware of what you know and what you don't know, must always keep the Big Picture in mind, have a solid network of acquaintances who can help lead you to answers, and be persistent in tracking down needed information.

What ideas do you have for a future human community on Mars?
  I firmly believe that the only way a significant, enduring human community on Mars (vs. a research outpost) will exist is if it makes business sense. In other words, it will have to pay for itself somehow. This means that the community must supply valuable services and products: science and research services, technical products (e.g., Mars–produced propellant), technical services (e.g., Mars spacecraft maintenance and repair), tourism accommodations, communications and data networking services, shipping and receiving facilities, etc. If all of this doesn't pay in a reasonable period of time (say over a decade or two), it won't happen. With this bottom line in mind, it is clear to me that the Mars community must have several key features:

•  Most activities done inside one or more dome structures, under typical Earth–like working conditions
•  Maximum use of available Mars resources
•  Extensive Mars–based farming and food production
•  Nearly all equipment (computers, electronics, air conditioning, etc.) would be reliable, commercial catalog items, and most services would be provided by Earth–based analogs. So, yes, there should be a McDonald's and Hilton Hotel there.
•  Affordable Earth–to–Mars–to–Earth transportation (the weak link right now)

To me, Mars communities will look more like high–tech pioneering towns of the Old West rather than glitzy corporate research buildings or Earth–orbiting space stations. The closest example of this on Earth today is perhaps an established sea–based oil–drilling platform, or perhaps a large cargo ship. At the very best, they might have the amenities of a second–rate cruise ship of today. Whether at Mars or the Moon or somewhere else, I look at such communities and facilities as aggregations of many corporate subsidiaries and not government research labs.

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