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Interview with Stanley Love

Posted on Oct 17, 2017


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Stanley Love is a planetary scientist with a PhD in astronomy from the University of Washington. In one word, he’s an astronaut and dreamed about being one since he was a child. He been with NASA since 1998 and among other things has participated as crew aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis, logging more than 300 hours in space. In this exclusive Green Interview, Love speaks with Silver Donald Cameron about what it’s like to see the Earth from the endless darkness of outer space and what the possibilities are for inhabiting other planets, if we wreck this one.

Planet B? Oceans of Boiling Lava, and Spacecraft Systems

In this exclusive Green Interview, Love discusses Mars and Venus, the two planets closest to the Earth. Is Mars habitable? Are we headed towards Venus? Love also discusses the complexity of having to replicate the Earth’s life support systems for spacecraft.

In this exclusive interview with Stanley Love we discuss:

Planet B?

According to Love, there is clear evidence that at one time Mars had running water on the surface and a warmer atmosphere. “Right now it’s a frozen desert,” and in that environment you’d be unconscious in seven seconds and brain dead from lack of oxygen in three minutes. “It’s very clear that there was a temperate environment, not necessarily with an oxygen atmosphere, but with an atmosphere thick enough and warm enough for liquid water to exist,” he says. But heating Mars up to the point where it might be habitable—where the water would start to melt—would be a nearly impossible task: “You would have to paint Mars completely jet black and capture every single photon of sunlight that fell on the planet for a 100 years. People have studied this in detail and the amount of energy required is just colossal.”

Oceans of Boiling Lava

Love says the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is what makes the Earth habitable. But adding too much CO2 is “exactly like throwing another blanket on the bed, it’s going to get warmer, period, end of sentence.” Love explains how the complexity of the Earth’s systems makes it very difficult to know for sure how much warmer it’s going to get, but he says that if the Earth continues on this path, it’s headed in the direction of Venus, where there is an ocean of lava under a very thick, hot atmosphere. “Nobody wants that,” he says. “It’s a long way down that highway from where we are right now and let’s be clear it’s not imminent and the Earth has been much hotter than it is today in the past—there have been jungles at the poles in the past and it didn’t go to Venus— but you can make, in my opinion, a cogent case that we should not even be driving in that direction.”

Spacecraft Systems

According to Love, it was what he learned in his training that really cemented his appreciation of the Earth. “The thing that added to my awareness was learning about the systems that keep us alive on spacecraft…learning how to replicate what the Earth does for us for free at great expense and low reliability on the space station.” He says we take the Earth’s systems for granted: “We have always been able to get oxygen here on Earth and you didn’t have to go to special lengths to get it. We have always had our carbon dioxide recycled for us and also all our waste gets turned back into food and the water vapor we exhale gets turned into rain and drinking water again, and the Earth does all this for us for free. When we go into space we have to do all that ourselves and it’s complicated.”

Love explains that out in space all this has to be replicated with machinery that is not always reliable. “I’m a part of this system, I’m a product of this system, I can live nowhere else except this system, except by going to heroic means with machinery that I’ll have to maintain and that if that machinery breaks I need to come home right away.”

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