Patrick Jaecques from Astro Event Group, a free internet Journal (Ostend, Belgium), asked me for an interview. It was a quite nice experience answering those questions. After lenghty preparations this interview appeared in April 2010 issue of Guidestar.

Patrick writes:

The astronomical and space-oriented community is rather modest, despite the fact that they study the impressive vastness of the universe. Almost everyone knows each other or has at least heard of the other. Surely regarding this part of the country. Because what is happening across the language border is not that clear. That is why we want, in this section, to strengthen these ties. And even dare to go beyond our mutual borders and invite a foreign guest to even broaden our views...

This month we have, in our very first special edition, none other than Janek Kozicki. An architect with a passion for astronomy and space science who, some years ago, stunned some space agencies with his plans for a manned space station for Mars. High time for an interview with...

Janek Kozicki

Question: "If our research is correct, you where born on december 15th (1978) in Gdynia. An important port not far from Gdansk in Poland".

Gdansk, Gdynia and Sopot form a large tri-city cluster. Actually I think that it is the only three-city "city" on the World, though I never verified this.

Question: "Do you remember your childhood? When your friends at the playground announced aloud that they later would become a police officer, firemen, footballer or doctor. And how you, half hidden behind a tree, dreamed away of how it would be to explore the wonderful universe.".

The thing that I remember most, was that I was able to build a car with working suspension using LEGO technics. And I don't know what age I was at that time, but it was a great achievement for me. I think I wasn't attending school yet at that time, because I finished doing it around midday, and I asked my mother where my brother was (I wanted to show it to him), and he was in school. Also I remember my other brother making a celestial half-sphere out of rigid paper. It was an awesome sky map. Next he made a small refractor, which at my age I didn't understand much.

Other memories are more blurry, like wearing sight correcting glasses, or riding down the snow hill on a sled with my brother during the winter afternoon. Even less I remember early years of attending to school.

In fact I never knew what I wanted. I just mimicked other's kids plans. The usual things: a train conductor, a priest, a sailor, ... What I knew for sure is that I want to learn more about everything. And so I was learning first, then studying, and so on.

I dreamt of course about exploring the universe, and I was sharing this with other kids, and they enjoyed talking about this, though not many of them. I didn't care whether that's a serious talk or not. In fact, for kids everything is serious.

After I learnt enough, eventually I came to the conclusion that for mankind to survive we need to colonize the solar system and beyond. Starting from Mars. Since I was studying architecture at that time, it was pretty obvious for me, that the best thing that I could do to achieve this goal is to work on a design of a Martian Outpost. And so I made this master thesis about Martian Outpost, and I have found a great wife who shared my feelings. Later she did a PhD thesis about similar topic. The Mars colonization isn't however my personal ultimate goal. I love science more than Mars or architecture, and so I want to move on, and learn more.

Question: "This enthusiasm is certainly not unique to astronomers, but is still much more common than in other professions. Not?"

I believe that it is common among people who are aware of mankind's place in the universe. Such people naturally also tend to be interested in astronomy, but that's just a side effect. Yes, this is a dream of course, but doing mundane things is just ... boring. Better to dream.

Better to focus on something that really gives the purpose for life. This thing is different from person to person. For me it is advancing the mankind progress to the stars. I am simply doing this in a different way than another people chose to.

Question: "So when exactly did you get the astronomy bug?"

In 2001 I was back from my trip to Mongolia and you should know that the Gobi desert is a perfect place for star watching. I was so amazed by the view of stars, that when I came back I was 100% sure that I need to get some telescope. I wanted something that is easy to carry around, and cheap, so I bought an MTO11-CA. Not too bad, though actually I didn't carry it with me as much as I wanted: I didn't foresee that the tripod would be so heavy.

So next I bought something that is easier to carry around, a Fujinon FMT-SX 16x70. And I must tell you that I am much more satisfied with this binocular, than with my MTO11-CA. Now I'm thinking about getting an even lighter binocular e.g. A 10x50, so I could carry it with me on my day-to-day trips between home and the university. Sometimes the sky is so beautiful when I'm going back, and I can only look at it with my eyes...

Question: "So... do you have any favorite celestial objects?"

I don't think there are any. There are some that I remember, like M44 or M57. Or the Andromeda galaxy after which we chose the second name for our six year old daughter. Just like our other two daughters got their second names from the constellations: Bernice and Cassiopeia.

Though are those constellations my favourite? Not really, they just fit as a female name. Others don't. Would we have a boy, we would give him Orion or Hercules as a second name.

Question: "So... why did you start studying architecture?"

That might be disappointing how simple this answer is - it's the influence of my parents. I was tempted to study physics, but my mother is an architect and father is a constructor. And I wasn't feeling confident enough to go for physics. Also I am the youngest one out of six kids, and none of them chose architecture. My parents wanted me to continue their tradition, so since being a small kid I was trained to studying architecture. Attending art schools and so on.

In 1997 I applied to both faculties, the civil engineering and architecture. I didn't get accepted to study architecture, so I started studying civil engineering. I still remember the butterflies-in-my-stomach feeling when I saw my disappointed mother.

In 1998 I applied again to study architecture and this time I got accepted. And so it was my second faculty.

In 2002 I defended my master thesis on civil engineering, and it wasn't about Mars. In 2004 I defended another master thesis, on architecture, and it was about the Martian base.

I loved studying, and learning new things. It was quite a challenge to finish both faculties simultaneously, but I liked the excitement that accompanied this.

In the end I have never left the university to actually use my skills to work for the industry, and continuing my parent's business. I fell in love with science instead. Much to the disappointment of my parents. They accepted it, though, and I learnt a lesson to not exert influence on my kids. Will I be able to hold onto it, or do I want them to be scientists? Only time will tell how we'll behave.

Question: "And then there was the thesis: 'Portable architecture: a research outpost on Mars'".

Yes, I knew exactly that I wanted to do it. So I started looking for a promoter that would accept this. It took a bit of time, but I succeeded finding him. It's not frequent at the university that the student knows and decides what he wants to do for his master or PhD thesis. But it happens sometimes, and I think that it's the most interesting approach: doing what you want to do.

Currently I decided to follow my dreams and I started attending a third faculty: physics. A full five year course that I started last year. I do this while working at the university to feed my family. It isn't easy, and I have no idea if I will succeed doing that course. However I am sure that I want to try doing what I want to do. Without trying I would never know what would happen.

Question: "I agree that dreams are worth fighting for. But isn't it quite depressing to see that the plans to go to the Moon, our nearest neighbour, have been set on hold yet again."

Well, yes, of course that's depressing. I talked last year to a person who works at NASA and is closely affiliated with those projects. Also about the "feasibility studies" performed by them, which were to be given to government so that they could make an informed choice about whether to pursue the quest or not. Which is all just smoke-and-mirror strategy. It is obvious that NASA will recommend pursuing space science. And so that "informed" part of the choice is just a way of telling NASA: "we listen to you", and then doing whatever decision the government wants. That rant, is however, irrelevant.

Question: "So will a maned base on Mars ever be really feasible? What do you think?"

Yes, I strongly believe that eventually we will come to this. And I am sure that the strongest driving force here is competition between countries up to the point of "war". Define "war" however you like. Maybe that will be war for claiming the new territory? Minerals? All science done here is just a useful spin-off. The real driving force is a caveman "me-stronger" way of thinking. No matter how distinguished politics & science are. The caveman in the human always will win.

I have no idea how long it will take, maybe we will first be struck by a meteor, and either everyone will die, or time of recovery will be a few thousands of years. But eventually one nation or another will feel economically strong enough to perform this task, and announce "me-stronger" to everyone. My current bet is China.

I guess that some people don't like China, for their communist government and censorship and so on. However from the survival of humanity point of view, it doesn't matter who will survive, only so that someone will. And therefore I wouldn't mind if China placed their bush looking hieroglyphs on Mars to claim the terrain, as long as they would place a permanent Mars Base there. I would be equally happy if it was done by Russia or USA. For me it really doesn't matter who.

Question: "...So maybe tell us some more about your Mars base designs..."

Well, you should note that on my website there is just one design made by me, and about 7 or 9 different concepts proposed by my wife! I focused on a small outpost for 8 people, while my wife focused on architectural recommendations for designing a large Martian base.

Telling more, is like repeating the presentations or abstracts that I have already put online, so instead, you are welcome to browse my website.

Question: "Did the ESA, or other space agencies, show any interest in your Mars base designs?"

Yes, on COSPAR conference in 2008 I received about 15 cards from various people employed at NASA, ESA, JAXA, Rosavia Cosmos, Eads Astrium and other less known institutions. They all showed a support for my idea, and promised to help in one way or another if they are able to. So far I did not had an opportunity to really use their promises to full extend, but I feel a lot of support in the space science community, and I know that if ever I need a recommendation letter for some grant proposal to get funding, or such, I know where to look for. I wonder how this year's 2010 COSPAR conference will look like.

Question: "How will such a Mars base be powered? The Sun is further away than on Earth. Will they need to use nuclear power?"

Yes, either a radio-isotope generator or a small nuclear power plant as described in my current design. Such nuclear generators are already in use in Japan, and using one of them on a Mars base is one of the easiest parts of the whole task of getting the Base up There.

This generator or nuclear or isotope based can be either placed inside the Central Module, or it could drive away from the base (e.g. 50 or 200 meters) and be connected using a cable. This distance shouldn't be really necessary, since such energy source is very safe these days. However such possibility still exists to satisfy sceptics.

Question: "Would you go to Mars if this would be possible in your lifetime?"

I have kids. I would need to have their approval. And it could happen no sooner than after they reach the age of 18 or 20 years. Otherwise I would be creating orphans on Earth. You don't do that to people who you love so much. Also if they decided to go with me, they would be capable of making such decision, to full consciousness no sooner than at 18-20 years. So therefore I am going to Mars at 2030. But probably I would be too old by that time to be accepted in the mission.

It is obvious that the best solution is to send couples to Mars that have no children. It would reduce stress levels a lot, and also will allow sending people who are young enough to perform at their peak capacity. That's a rough estimate, a lot of other psychological and sociological factors need to be included to optimize such scenario.

Question: "Maybe as an engineer or consultant to oversee the construction of a Mars colony?"

Yes, I'd love doing that. But also I would want to continue my studies on different topics, which are related to my love for science - and that way of helping humanity to get to outer space - and aren't directly related to Mars itself.

Thank you for this interview ! For your time and the kind permission to use your great pictures in our FREE magazine. And we can only hope that your quest for knowledge may never end. And brings you joy and adventure!

I am very glad to participate, you are welcome!

modified php sources, courtesy of Andrzej Oszer Janek Kozicki, september 2009