July 14, 2021

Deepening Your Discovery Around Outer Space and Our Skies | Dr. Moriba Jah

Deepening Your Discovery Around Outer Space and Our Skies | Dr. Moriba Jah

Have you ever thought of Deepening your discovery of Millions of Awe-Inspiring 🌠 Stars?
With today’s God-Like tech why not!
Let’s extend the conversation to protection 🛰️, conservation, sustainability of near 🌎 Earth orbit.
Are you aware of space commerce and the competing global interests in space the impact of your quality of life?
Have you considered the carrying capacity of near 🌎 Earth orbit?

Have you looked up at the 🌠 sky in the early morning or after sunset?  Do so soon!

Beyond Earth, we have congestion in space in near-Earth orbit. Dr. Moriba Jah speaks to his research and mission to an open, 👁️ transparent, crowdsourced space traffic and environment monitoring and awareness system.  He makes a call to action for #spaceSustainability.  You, too, can step up as a #spaceHero.

Why is this important for YOU to know?

Space Collisions Millions of small metal objects orbiting the 🌎 Earth-like:

  •  There are 26k+ 🛰️ satellites  
  •  23,0000 orbital 🌌 debris larger than iPad 
  •  8,000 metric tons of space debris in our near 🌠space 

What Intrigued Me? 

  • The lack of space situational Awareness around the complicated issues of orbital carrying capacity, orbiting objects like mega-constellations of satellites, and debris in the near-earth space environment.  Have you consider the risks to your life today.

What Inspired Me? 

  • The AstriaGraph tracking orbital objects evidencing the need for Space Traffic Management.

Check out the ASTRIAGraph 

What Challenged Me?

  • The Tragedy of the near 🌎 Earth Commons 🚩

YOU too can be a #SpaceHero.

Call to ACTION: Space Sustainability and Advocacy vs Space of Strategy of Hope

If orbital debris is a concern for you then supporting ‘Eyes on the Sky’ and challenging the Space Strategy of Hope regarding #spaceJunk and #orbitalDebris.

Why not contribute to a future where you will flourish!  

About the Guest

Dr. Moriba Jah, a professor at the University of Texas, Austin's Department of Aerospace Engineering & Engineering Mechanics.  He is a specialist in orbital mechanics. The creator of the AstriaGraph. 

About the Show 

Podcast Host: Life & Leadership: A Conscious Journey with Michelle St Jane

A podcast for Global and Re-Emerging Leadership creating community/tribe, a circle of influence, transcendency of compassionate leadership in the world and wider universe. A unique destination for learning about Leadership + Conscious Stewardship + Legacy.

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Intro: You're listening to Life and Leadership: A Conscious Journey. The podcast that shares wisdom and strength. Join your host, Dr. Michelle St Jane's weekly conversation on how to have a positive impact on people, the planet, and the wider world. If you want to live a life of intention, to be proactive with your time, and bring your vision for the future to live one today at a time, you’re in the right place at the right time. Let's get started. 

Michelle St Jane: [00:00:00] Dr. Moriba Jah, a specialist in orbital mechanics, an associate professor in the area of aerospace engineering and engineering mechanics at the University of Texas at Austin. Welcome, Moriba.

Moriba Jah: [00:00:54] Good to be here.  

Michelle St Jane: [00:00:55] So why the University in Austin? What is it that they will contribute to this conversation?

Moriba Jah: [00:01:00] One of the main reasons why I chose UT to come to and lead this call is transdisciplinary research and space, safety, security, and sustainability is because I realized that these problems that we have in space they're wicked problems. They're wicked problems in that they're complex systems.

There's a growing number of participants, making decisions in the absence of knowing the decisions of others, but are kind of dependent on the decisions that they make. We don't fully understand causal relationships in space and all these things. I said, “well, it's not just going to be an astrodynamicist that solves this.”

Cause it's not just about orbits, it's also about culture. It's about the social science aspect of it. Also about the law, the policy, environmental system. Cleanability. The solution has to come from across disciplinary boundaries and fuses all these things together to come up with a holistic answer and that's transdisciplinarity.

I looked at UT and I said, “these people have an awesome aerospace engineering department, but they have, you know, the LBJ school of policy. They have a law school. They have the stress center for international security and law. They have environmental sciences.”

I saw all these disciplines. I realized that that needed to be combined to arrive at a transdisciplinary solution. That's it made a lot of sense. Being here as an academic also gives me some freedom to pursue my intellectual curiosity and these sorts of challenging areas. And it allows me to interact with colleagues from other countries where maybe government to government. It's very difficult to have conversations, but as a professor, as a scientist, I can talk to colleagues and countries, again that at the government level, that might be a stretch or challenge.

The other thing too is that the solutions that I'm trying to find aren't pigeonholed into having to look and be dressed up a certain way. I have the freedom to explore the art of the possible. And then in that space, try to identify what from the art of the possible can be migrated into a state of practice.

Michelle St Jane: [00:03:01] I love how you think.  I wished I could have talked to you last century. I decided to go to law school, then chose a brand new law school because they were teaching us law in the context of society. I'm hearing you have the same collaborative and cooperative strategies.

Not thinking well, losing sight of the fact that this is a wicked problem is critical. In fact, back in 1993, when I was at law school focused on heading into an international business career, I had an opportunity to do a thesis on outer space and the internet, because these were untraveled new planes. In fact, my university, in Hamilton New Zealand in 1989, was where the first internet connection was made.  I was thinking about and attracted to those things back then. The reason I was thinking about them was that as a child I wanted to be an intergalactic Explorer.  I remember sitting in front of a black and white TV watching Neil Armstrong and his crew land on the moon.

Just thinking I could do that way before women had any chance of being astronauts or in this area. Of course, they were women hoping to make that happen in the background. 

I celebrate your presence here Moriba. I really do so thank you because I think we don't want to lose track of what universities contribute to space sustainability. You so wisely say, you know, there's an opportunity for transparency, which can't always be there and diplomacy.

Let’s touch on your journey. You've had an amazing array of opportunities. Can you share with the listeners where you've been? 

Moriba Jah: [00:04:41] Well, in terms of my specific work in space, you know, after high school, I enlisted in the US Air Force as a security policeman stationed at Malmstrom air force base in Montana. My job was to guard the nuclear missiles. 

I grew up. In Venezuela in Caracas. Caracas is a major city, millions of people, lots of light at night. On a good night in Caracas, you might be able to see the moon, but you can't really see a whole lot of stars because of all the nightlights.

When I got to Montana, working my night shifts, the first thing that was awesome was it was the first time in my life that I had been in a place with skies that were so dark I’d see stars that I’d never imagined. I always knew there are lots of stars. I'd never really been able to quantify that in my mind's eye. Now with my naked eye, I could see the Milky way and these sorts of things. I could see the center of our galaxy. That was inspiring. 

Then the thing that I noticed, depending on the night, if it was closer to dawn or dusk, I could see dots of light moving across the sky. Doing a little bit of detective work, I found out that these dots of light weren't planes. They weren't meteors. They were actually things that humans had put into earth's orbit.  I was like, wow, with my naked eye, I can see an object that man is responsible for orbiting the earth. That is really awesome.

I need to know and understand more about that. That motivated me to pursue my education in aerospace engineering. 

Michelle St Jane: [00:06:27] Oh, I totally agree. I was born, grew up, and lived in New Zealand until I was a teenager before I started my global travels. Recently 4,300 square kilometers of New Zealand, in the South Island, was recognized as an international back sky reserve, labeled one of the best stargazing sites on earth.

 I grew up with these stars all around without the light pollution, which we'll touch on in a moment, because I know that's going to come up. 

What is the problem in your area of expertise? 

What you're working on? 

Tell us about this because I do not hear very many people talking about this.

As I want to be an intergalactic Explorer, an explorer of dark sky reserves. Later my career has touched on this as well. 

Moriba Jah: [00:07:16] So it dawned on me, not that long ago, that we have a lost ecosystem, a lost Pleiad. If we see the earth and all its ecosystems, land, ocean air, I can call these grouping of ecosystems.

Like the Pleiades, just like the Greek goddesses and constellation. Much like with the Pleiades is there's this concept of the lost Pleiad. I would say that with earth ecosystems, there is a lost ecosystem that is becoming more and more apparent with time. 

Near earth space, the last ecosystem, the lost Pleiad, much like when you look at a sky where there are no clouds, it's a bright, sunny day with clear skies. Your eyes can't tell what the wind currents are. Cause you need to see something actually being influenced by it in order to infer that, like as soon as you have one cloud or you have a bird flying.  I can tell that there's a breeze, this, that, or the other. 

I think that you know, a hundred years ago, when we looked at our night sky, there wasn't a single satellite in orbit that humans had put up. When you looked at the night sky, you could see the Milky way, the planets. Now you don't just see that. 

Now we have these, like clouds, like birds or whatever in the air, above us in near space now we can see the rubbish, just like you can look at the ocean.

I can see what the ocean currents are because of the plastics. Unfortunately, but it tells you what the ocean currents are looking like. Now we can see what these orbital currents are around the earth because we have an ecosystem that has mostly been comprised of anthropogenic space objects, things that humans either put up there or are responsible for.

Just like any other ecosystem, this last Pleiad is a finite resource. We only put satellites in very specific orbital highways, just like we have very specific shipping lanes in the ocean. That it's a finite resource, it needs to be managed holistically by humanity. We don't have a system to do that. 

The Outer Space treaty, the main legal instrument for how to behave in space, is very broadly interpreted. Everybody is free to do any kind of whatever they want, as long as they don't cause harmful interference, who knows what that means!

people legally are launching as many satellites as they can. They're making decisions about how to behave up there. But those decisions are mutually exclusive from the decisions that other people are making. Nobody's really sharing what their basis for decision-making is. 

Most of the stuff up there doesn't come back. It stays up there pretty much forever. We have this finite resource that, for lack of a better term, has an orbital carrying capacity that is being saturated. Once saturation is reached in terms of the orbital carrying capacity, those orbits will become unusable for humanity's benefit to provide services and capabilities every day like banking, position, navigation, timing, weather, climate change, kind of monitoring.

All these things are basically harm's way. There's no guarantee that these things are going to work from one moment to the next. What's the point? 

Michelle St Jane: [00:10:17] Very eloquently put. There are no traffic lights. The commercial sector is, at will at this point, not doing any kind of space traffic management. Normally safety is certainly a high priority issue.

I had the opportunity to work in and around the launching of satellites and rockets in the 1990s and that was one of the first things that came to me. I would say to any executive I could have a conversation about “what are we doing about polluting the space.” They were like, “why what's the problem?”

Well, here we are coming on 30 years later, we have capacity being saturated. We are very dependent now in terms of how we can do our observations and what progress we can make around active debris removal.

 In fact, debris has been one of the major platforms that I've been very concerned about. I moved away from that industry because I felt like it was very much lacking in the stewardship of that space. That's the word I would use now. I didn't have that lingo then. At that time that I was doing my law degree. I was fascinated by space.  I figured if I couldn't get on a mission, then why not get on financing these missions for the betterment of the planet and for the cosmos. There might be some contribution we can make.  At that point. 30 years ago, I had a thumbs down on the contribution I felt that we could make. It was those satellites and rockets and all that stuff that was going up. It has given us this God-like technology today, but we haven't evolved.

In the words of EO Wilson:

“We have God-like technology, paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions.”

Law is one of the very oldest medieval institutions. We have a lot to answer for, but this conversation doesn't seem to be out there.  I really appreciate the fact that you're out there doing this. 

Moriba, can you explain about tag and track?

Moriba Jah: [00:11:59] Right. The thing is most of the population of anthropogenic space objects in near-earth space, we can only track things down to about the size of a cell phone all the way up to the space station.  But not objects that are smaller and they can do a lot of harm.

So things that are like one centimeter and below, are really not trackable. These things are like random bullets. The thing is, out of these 26,000 objects, that we do track, maybe about 3,300 of those are working satellites. Everything else is rubbish and it is not really transmitting its identity.

The question is whenever you detect these objects on the earth, how do you know the identity of the object? We have to piece together these things together by aggregating massive quantities of disparate sources of information, and somehow try to fuse all these things to try to then infer and solve that identity crisis for these objects.

Detecting objects of themselves is not really what we want, it's needed, but it's insufficient. We need to then ascribe, or associate the identity of the objects to these detections, so that we can kind of keep track and monitor and understand the population. 

Michelle St Jane: [00:13:09] Oh, excellent. Where do we go from here? What are your hopes in terms of at least identifying the problem and making it visible? 

Moriba Jah: [00:13:20] Well, first we need to raise awareness. We have “Eyes on the Sky” eyesontheskies.org  A project to trying to raising of awareness. Basically, trying to remind humanity that, spaces is where we come from. We're Stardust. For now, space seems to be dominated by the billionaires and all this other stuff that needs to change.

I think the most important thing is for humanity to recognize near-earth space as this lost Pleiad and say, “okay, it is a finite resource.” Because of that, it's also in need of environmental protection

Then let's extend environmental protection narratives to include near-earth space. I think at that point we can then develop these sustainability metrics, like the orbital carrying capacity, like a space traffic footprint, like a carbon footprint analog to understand the burden that any given object poses on anything else. 

Once we have that, we can then provide some very transparent information, like evidence of the population and how people are behaving, and how these objects are behaving. I think that'll shed light on how we jointly manage this ecosystem in a way that helps, I guess, maximize its usability for humanity.

Michelle St Jane: [00:14:30] Moriba, can we just touch on light pollution? Another one of my heartfelt concerns. Can you explain what Malmstrom is and why we should care?

Moriba Jah: [00:14:37] Absolutely. There are two things? Most people understand the light pollution as on the ground, lots of lights that kind of make it such that it's difficult to see the dark skies. There's also the light pollution from these anthropogenic space objects.

Basically. It's the way that I got interested in space. I was able to actually see a human-made object, orbiting the earth back in 1989 when that happened. You know, much fewer objects orbiting than now. When people look, go to a dark sky now, especially with astronomical instruments, we want to look at things that are very far, very dim signals.

They have to contend with all these anthropogenic objects, reflecting sunlight in the direction of their telescopes. These are nuisance parameters. Now, these is basically undesired signals that they have to somewhat find their way through to get to the actual science that they want to be able to achieve.

Michelle St Jane: [00:15:36] Yes. I saw when Elon Musk sent out one of his first sky satellites by trains, it was flagged for the rest of the world by the UK astronomers who realized that was going to mess things up. There were, was it 60 satellites that went up. There's a number of things that can be a problem for that. Isn't it? 

What are the latest things happening? 

How many are the next? 

Moriba Jah: [00:16:05] As I said, there's kind of this new space race. Trying to get as many satellites on-orbit as quickly as possible because even though there are no deeds for orbital space. Kind of a first come first served. In terms of physics, two things can't occupy the same space at the same time or bad things happen.

I think people are trying to capitalize on profit-making from space-based capabilities and all these things, trying to get there first. I think that there's this race going on. Unless we can jointly manage this resource, I think that race could end up being detrimental to humanity in, longterm.

Michelle St Jane: [00:16:43] Yes, and if it's underwritten by the values of the sacred money market, there's more than the environmental and social impacts for the earth, but the whole cosmos as I identified back in 1993-1994. I was really upset. I tried to have these conversations. I don't actually feel like anyone was really listening.

I really appreciate your presence being out there, what you're sharing a way to map space pollution.  

Moriba Jah: [00:17:19] What we have done is trying to develop something like a space traffic application here in the United States. An application for regular traffic is called the participatory sensing network in that people can contribute information like “Oh, there's a vehicle accident. There's something in the road. There's maybe an officer hiding behind this Bush, that sort of stuff.”

We want to create something like that for space traffic. Where it's open to all of humanity and anybody can contribute information to it. Like a crowdsourcing citizen science. Basically make space transparent, predictable, and develop a body of evidence that can hold people accountable. It's called Astriagraph 

Michelle St Jane: [00:18:03] The Astriagraph creates an amazing visual of what's happening and really brings it home to people. 

In terms of some last words, what would be your dream outcome for this decade?  

Moriba Jah: [00:18:22]  I want to bring this back to what motivated me to become a space environmentalist.  I lived in Maui for several years. I saw the ecological deterioration on the islands. Very sad to see the number of plastics and all this other stuff in the landfills. Just amazing to me how an island that was so remote and isolated didn't have best practices in terms of recycling and all these things.

Some years later I went to Alaska and I saw something very similar and a very big disparity between natives and everybody else. Same thing in Hawaii. 

I had kind of an inner shift of a very kind of intimate relationship with the universe so to speak. In my mind's eye, I saw humanity over history, abandoning its intergenerational contract of being stewards and custodians of life to becoming owners of things. How that sense of ownership has not been overall positive for humanity or life. 

I saw that there were pockets of specific people, indigenous people, the Maori Aborigines,  who over millennia have developed a balance with their environment. What's called traditional ecological knowledge. Basically being inspired by these indigenous people that have developed these ecologically sustainable practices. 

I was asked, what I'd be willing to do everything within my capability to remind humanity of this intergenerational contract of stewardship and custodianship and to hear the voices of our ancients, these indigenous peoples across the globe, who understand that all things are interconnected.

Honor the interconnectedness.

Celebrate the diversity.

Believe that action is best when it's born from a place of compassion. 

That's what I want. That's my goal. That's my GuideStar. That's my compass. I want to apply all these things for space sustainability

Michelle St Jane: [00:20:28] Count me in on your team. Moriba, thank you. Any last words as we wrap up? 

Moriba Jah: [00:20:35] One thing to just say is that sometimes it takes courage to move in the right direction.  I'm going to define courage as the absence of paralysis and the presence of fear

 I'm not fearless.

I have anxiety, I fear many things, but I don't let it paralyze me.  

I challenge everybody to be courageous. 

Michelle St Jane: [00:20:54] appreciate your words of wisdom and I'm on your team. I really, really am grateful and appreciate you Moriba. 

Moriba Jah: [00:21:01]  Thank you.

Outro:  Dr. Michelle St Jane is a conscious steward of meaningful leadership in the world and the wider cosmos. Tune in every Thursday for real talk around life, leadership, and your conscious journey. Be ready to create and cultivate your dreams and wholehearted desires. Your support is valued. Please follow, subscribe, leave a review and a rating. More importantly, share with your connections.

Reach out.  I am interested to hear from you. Do you have a topic you'd like to explore? It would be great to have your feedback.

Dr. Michelle St Jane

Podcast Host: Life & Leadership: A Conscious Journey 

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Dr. Moriba Jah Profile Photo

Dr. Moriba Jah

Associate Professor, Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, The University of Texas at Austin

Moriba is the Expert / Producer of the team for Eyes on the Sky, creating a transmedia story. He is a space environmentalist and an activist, associate professor of aerospace engineering, director for computational astronautical sciences and technologies. Moriba is a specialist in orbital mechanics. He created the Astraea graph, which checks over 26,000 satellites and objects in orbit around the earth.