A big step for the Glasgow student helping NASA get to the moon



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It was in 1969 that Neil Armstrong gave his famous "small step for man", which put an end to the US race to the moon.

Now, nearly half a century later, NASA has promised to return its astronauts to the lunar surface by the end of the 2020s, in preparation for a trip to distant Mars.

But to reach the next frontier, 34 million miles away, the world's most important space agency enlisted the help of a philosophy student at the University of Glasgow to make that happen.

HeraldScotland:

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, pictured on the Moon by Neil Armstrong Pic: NASA

A new doctoral program will see a student develop the philosophical understanding of the risk needed to send men and women back to the moon, and this time stay there.

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The program, which is currently in the final stages of receiving support from UK government research funding bodies, will partner with NASA to analyze how its security reports are built and the philosophy of causation that underpins them.

Dr. Neil McDonnell, who will oversee the new PhD in the Philosophy of Security Engineering, was invited to visit the space agency last year to see what he could contribute to his latest projects.

He said: "Causality is something that philosophers care a lot because there is nothing in the world that you can see under a microscope that is called & quot; causation & quot ;.

"So the question we have to ask is: are we always right when we say that throwing stones causes the window to break? There is a concept of causation that we need to analyze and understand correctly."

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"Until recently, NASA had barely made a peep or attempt to travel to the moon since 1972, and one of the reasons they did not try this was because there was a resolution in the United States that said you could not send astronauts. into space, unless there was no risk. "
He added, "Well, of course there's never any risk."

HeraldScotland:

Dr. Neil McDonnell

Famous disasters such as the explosion of the Challenger Space Shuttle in 1986 were released for safe takeoff before components failed.

The security cases are always presented for new expeditions and can be explored later to understand what went wrong.

Dr. McDonnell added, "We know they are using very old-fashioned cause and logic theories, so what we need to do is understand what they are using now, and what current theories of philosophy are better than the old ones. thing."

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The University of Glasgow student will spend up to six months at NASA's research center in Langley, Va., Reviewing previous mission safety reports as well as time in Scotland exploring the metaphysics and epistemology needed to combine complex aerospace engineering and the study of philosophy.

The student will then use philosophy to better understand why rockets sometimes go wrong, and will do what Dr. McDonnell calls a "useful and serious" contribution to NASA's risky venture to establish a permanent basis on the Moon.

HeraldScotland:

President Donald Trump authorized the new Exploitation Campaign in December 2017, which he said was a chance to "bring back to earth new knowledge and opportunities."

The first phase will involve placing humans in the lunar orbit by 2023 and landing on the surface by the end of the 2020s.

The move comes amid fierce competition from Russia, China and India in space exploration as well as the private sector.

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