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Ex-Astronaut Ed Lu On Deflecting Asteroids And Building The Private Space Business

Adelina Sun
Ed Lu spent over 200 days in space and now owns a company that identifies and re-directs asteroids.

The private space business is booming, and Texas is a primary launch pad. For this week’s Friday Conversation, KERA’s vice president of news, Rick Holter, sits down with Ed Lu – a longtime astronaut who now has his own space company.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has a test site in West Texas, and SpaceX just unveiled plans to build a spaceport near Brownsville.  This week, NASA awarded amultibillion-dollarcontract for Boeing and SpaceX to create the first American-made manned spacecraft since the shuttle was shelved in 2011.

Lu is the head of what's been dubbed the Sentinel mission, an effort to launch a private satellite that would track astronauts in the solar system that could someday threaten Earth.

Interview Highlights: Ed Lu…

…on this moment in the space business: “Things are changing very, very rapidly and I think for the better. I think what we’re finding is that private enterprise is being able to take over now some of the things that the government led programs, mostly by NASA, have only been able to do up until now.  I think this is going to be good for the nation and good for NASA because NASA can concentrate things on the very bleeding edge, the very edges of exploration while we can begin to shift some of these other activities toward the private sector.”

…on his new endeavor, ‘Sentinel’: “We’re going to be able to tell where every significant size object is in our solar system at any given time, out to the next century. And that turns out to be really important because there are about a million asteroids at our best estimate that could hit the earth. The interesting thing is that we’ve only discovered the orbits of less than one percent of those. And what Sentinel actually is, is an infrared space telescope. It’s infrared because that’s they way you find asteroids because asteroids are almost the color of charcoal, and space being black, it means you can’t see them very well using telescopes.”

…on what he misses about being in space: “I miss the view, I miss the weightlessness, but I’ve got plenty of important things to do down here. I feel like this is the most important mission that I’ve ever embarked on.”

Courtney Collins has been working as a broadcast journalist since graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2004. Before coming to KERA in 2011, Courtney worked as a reporter for NPR member station WAMU in Washington D.C. While there she covered daily news and reported for the station’s weekly news magazine, Metro Connection.
Rick Holter was KERA's vice president of news. He oversaw news coverage on all of KERA's platforms – radio, digital and television. Under his leadership, KERA News earned more than 200 local, regional and national awards, including the station's first two national Edward R. Murrow Awards. He and the KERA News staff were also part of NPR's Ebola-coverage team that won a George Foster Peabody Award, broadcasting's highest honor.