Reading School - Alexander Kumar

Talking to Reading School, October 2013 – here is an extremely well-written summary by Year 13 student, Sahil Chandra

White Mars: Lessons from Antarctica
How can we produce the “perfect astronaut” — someone who, through honed selection and directed training, can operate under any degree of isolation, stress and sensory deprivation, both effectively at individual tasks and as a sociable, skilled and appropriate crew member, for a manned mission to Mars? This is the question faced by Dr. Alexander Kumar.

On Monday October 14th ,as part of Reading School’s Inspire Lecture Series, Dr. Kumar delivered a truly eye opening presentation to students, parents and staff in Big school about his fascinating work. Dr. Kumar kicked off his presentation by describing some of his incredible adventures and experiences. This is a man who hugged a lion so perfectly that it smiled and once wrestled a 13 foot crocodile while wearing a pair of highly questionable red Crocs. You can’t make this stuff up.

He went on to describe how he and a 13 man team spent a year living and working in an inland Antarctic research station named Concordia or Planet Concordia as he preferred. Where they conducted research for the European Space Agency’s human spaceflight programme. This research will be used to help understand how far human physiology and psychology can be pushed when faced with intense conditions. Antarctica is larger than China and India combined but in high winter has 400 inhabitants, there is a reason for that.

He and his team endured over 3 months of complete 24-hour darkness, alongside the world’s coldest temperatures (dropping down below minus 90 degrees Celsius). It is too cold for planes to land safely between February and November. If they took their goggles and gloves off while outside, within 30 seconds their eye’s would begin to freeze and crack and the cells in their hand’s would quickly die. As would they.
His crew survived in complete isolation with no means of escape for 9 months – simulating life on the surface of another planet.

Dr. Kumar insists that living on Planet Concordia and was breath taking, I’m not sure if the pun was intended. He says that the peace and beauty of Antarctica was amazing and within a month of returning home from his research he accepted an offer to return by joining the Shackleton Epic team, under-taking one of several re-creations of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s famous escape from Antarctica as part of television series for the Discovery Channel.

I think I can safely speak for everyone when I say that Monday’s Inspire Lecture really was inspiring.

Sahil Chandra, Year 13