Mars is calling – should we really answer? (Part one)
What is the role of autistic thinking in the quest to explore Mars? A fictional story…
What is the role of autistic thinking in the quest to explore Mars?
We need to challenge our business as usual approach and implement systemic changes to attain goals like reaching mars or attenuate climate change. This is where autistic outside-the-box thinking comes in and can shine.
One of our autistic consultants with an engineering background (energy) expresses his respective thoughts, ideas, and suggestions using a storytelling approach. The result is a Sci-Fi screenplay-style series, however, closer to reality than to fiction.
Enjoy neurodivergent thinking — creative, informative, and entertaining — with a pinch of salt and humor.
In a prestigious meeting room of Arab architecture
Narrator writes: In the not-so-distant future, in Ras Al Khaimah, United Arab Emirates
Omar: Ladies and Gentlemen, Welcome. We are here today for setting up a think tank on the next big thing we do in space. Our contribution to Mars 2117. We need some out of the box thinkers that crank out ideas nobody else is even capable of considering.
Fatima thinks: Somehow reminds me of a boy nicknamed „Dr. Spock“.
Omar: Yes Fatima, you think of somebody in particular?
Omar: Yes, you do.
Fatima: But he is a totally weird guy.
Omar: Why not? That’s exactly what we need now. Tell me more about him.
Fatima: As a small child, he suddenly refused to wear his agal. He did not want to be crowned with a thing that serves for tying up and beating camels.
Mohammed: So, he has a special relation to animals?
Fatima: Yes. Towards animals, he can be the way he is. He does not have to make up or pretend anything. But later, he accepted to wear the agal again. He took it as a symbol for taming his mind that is jumping around like a wild camel.
Mohammed: Very spiritual.
Adeeba: How did he do in maths?
Fatima: Not very well. He was slow on calculations. But once he surprised his maths teacher by applying Gauss’s summation trick before it was taught at school.
Mohammed: Gauss’s summation trick?
Fatima: Yes, in fact the maths teacher replicated Gauss’s historic situation: He told his pupils to sum up all integer numbers from 1 to 99. And guess what…
Adeeba: He did it the same way Gauss did: 99*(99+1)/2
Fatima: Exactly. His schoolmates nicknamed him „Dr. Spock“.
Omar: That’s the guy we need: a logical out of the box thinking Vulcan, even more sophisticated: with a doctor title…
Fatima: He had barely any friends. Just two Sci-Fi fans that were some grades higher.
Mohammed: What does he do now?
Fatima: He is jobless.
Fatima: He organized a protest against the coal fired power plant project in Dubai. When his classmates started nicknaming him „Dr. Greta“, school became unbearable for him and he dropped out of school.
Omar: We absolutely must avoid that such bullying happens to him again in our team. He needs to feel safe and confident. We have to create a good environment for him.
Adeeba: What happened to the two Sci-Fi fans?
Fatima: They are now working at Airbus. They also volunteer at Copenhagen Suborbitals, an amateur space program.
Omar: See, we are losing our talents. They are going abroad because we can’t offer them the right jobs in the UAE. We need to change that.
Adeeba: That’s what Mars 2117 is good for.
Mohammed: You really think the Sci-Fi fans will come back?
Adeeba: If we offer them a fancier job, why not? We need at least one of them.
Omar: Indeed. Dr. Spock has to feel confident in our environment. Meeting his old friends will help a lot.
Fatima: Dr. Spock is meanwhile diagnosed to be on the autism spectrum. Knowing that will guide us a lot for setting up the right environment for him.
Adeeba: That explains his unusual behavior and his problems at school.
Banu: But he probably won’t integrate into the larger team. And his interactions with teammates will be too intellectual.
Adeeba: Who cares? He is going to work in the think tank, not as a project leader.
Banu: You really think that a man with a mental disability could do the job?
Adeeba: Just think of Stephen Hawking. He could neither hold a pencil nor touch a keyboard with his fingers, but he wrote some books. He held conferences without being able to speak.
Banu: But Hawking had a physical disability, not a mental one.
Omar: We have to think in terms of the abilities, not of the disabilities of people. Otherwise, we disable them.
Narrator writes: A couple of years later, at Cayman Orbit headquarters
Sir Brad Richardson: Congrats, ladies and gentlemen, this successful satellite launch was exactly what we needed.
Ted: It was a small satellite though.
Stan: But we are the only ones doing it with horizontal takeoff. All others do vertical takeoff.
Sir Brad Richardson: As you know, the whole space industry is after Mars.
Stan: Yes. We need the capability of launching bigger payloads.
Ted: Obviously, we need one team working on the atmospheric carrier plane and the other on the stratosphere-to-orbit transfer rocket.
all but Doris: ???
Doris: I just got a press release from a new player in the space industry. They are located in the United Arab Emirates, more precisely Ras Al Khaimah. They’ve got a totally weird business model. They launched a product called „Orbit as a Service“.
Stan: Sounds like an IT guy wanting to host a launch service on his cloud server.
Sir Brad Richardson: Maybe they invented a flying carpet.
Sir Brad Richardson: Is it a private or public company?
Doris: A private one. They get some funding from the Mars 2117 project.
Stan: Mars 2117? That’s UAE’s plan to build a city on Mars within 100 years.
Ted: How remarkable! They are investing in something that yields a return two to three generations later.
Stan: Ambitious indeed although SpaceZ announced a tighter timeline.
Sir Brad Richardson: We have the watches, they have the time. But now, let’s come back to „Orbit as a Service“.
Doris: Their company is called RAKe, Ras Al Khaimah Espace.
Stan: Gotta watch the movie „Moonraker“ again 😉
Doris: The reason why they call it „Orbit as a Service“ is that they manufacture and own the upper rocket stage which exits the atmosphere. That means that neither the launch service provider nor the payload owner has to pay for that part of the rocket. They charge the stratosphere to orbit transfer for a price far below the costs. They do the same with the payload fairing. Both are usually dumped back into the atmosphere but RAKe also keeps them as an asset in orbit.
Stan: But don’t Red Destination and SpaceZ do better returning all rocket stages back to Earth, ready for reuse?
Doris: Not quite. RAKe’s approach is different. They consider that space is the place.
Sir Brad Richardson: Lovely slogan. But what does it mean?
Doris: One kg of aluminum is worth a few dollars on Earth. But getting it to orbit costs some thousands of dollars. So, the same kg of aluminum in orbit equals several thousand dollars to them. Since an empty upper stage weighs about 1 metric ton, it has an added value of several million dollars once in orbit. Its transport into orbit is a by-product of a launch for which somebody else pays the bill. So, creating that added value costs them next to nothing.
Stan: But an empty rocket stage is not of much use.
Doris: For them, it’s a building block for future spaceships, refined aluminum in space ready for recycling. And an empty fuel tank also comes in handy for storing breathable gases for manned missions. The rocket engine can be reused as a crucible, heat shield, counterweight etc. Once they have enough empty rocket stages in orbit, they plan to land them on the Moon.
Ted: Aww, I hope they are not going to litter up Earth orbit or the Moon…
Doris: Not at all. They have very concrete plans on what to do with all that material.
Sir Brad Richardson: OK, let’s come back to business. So, you are essentially saying that their business model takes into account the added value of having recyclable and reusable materials in orbit?
Doris: Exactly, and they discount a part of this added value from the price of their launch service. Since they own all empty rocket stages and payload fairings in orbit, they can do with them what they want.
Stan: By dissociating cost and price, they will wipe out all other competitors in the space industry unless they do the same…
Doris: No. They only make and own the upper stage.
Ted: So, one entire rocket has multiple owners?
Doris: Yes. The main purpose of the lower rocket stages is to gain altitude; the purpose of the upper stage is to gain speed. The rocket engines of the different stages are not the same either. They have to be optimized for varying ambient pressure at different altitudes. That’s why rockets are usually multistage. Up to now, all rocket stages had the same owner. But RAKe is changing that.
Sir Brad Richardson: A good way to focus on their core business.
Stan: That means that if I want to launch a satellite into orbit, I hire Red Destination or SpaceZ for pushing RAKe’s rocket stage with my payload into the stratosphere and RAKe does the rest?
Ted: Not quite… Instead of Red Destination or SpaceZ, you also can hire Cayman Orbit.
Sir Brad Richardson: Yesss!
Ted: So, our job is only to get RAKe’s upper rocket stage with the payload into the stratosphere and that’s it.
Sir Brad Richardson: I like that idea. If we collaborate with RAKe, we can focus on just one of the big puzzle pieces.
Narrator writes: In the next episode: What on Earth is RAKe going to do on the Moon?