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Are you a fan of astronomy, space exploration or even science fiction? Would you like to see humanity push further out into the cosmos? Actor Robert Picardo says to support The Planetary Society and advocate for space!
OUT OF THIS WORLD | Earth, Space and Everything In-Between - a daily journey through weather, space and science with meteorologist/science writer Scott Sutherland

Actor Robert Picardo calls on us to advocate for space!

Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist/Science Writer

Monday, April 3, 2017, 5:25 PM - Are you a fan of astronomy, space exploration or even science fiction? Would you like to see humanity push further out into the cosmos? Actor Robert Picardo says to support The Planetary Society and advocate for space!

Fans will recognize actor Robert Picardo for his role as The Doctor on Star Trek: Voyager, Richard Woosley in the Stargate SG1 and Stargate Atlantis scifi series, or from any number of other television and movie roles he's played over the years. 

When I met with him at Toronto ComiCon, however, we spoke about his other passion, The Planetary Society, the world's largest non-government, non-profit space advocacy group, which he serves as a member on their Board of Directors.

As he mentioned there, astrophysicist Carl Sagan appeared on The Tonight Show in 1976, to present Johnny Carson, and the world, with his concept for a solar sail.

On May 20, 2015, The Planetary Society launched their first solar sail - LightSail-1 - into orbit, piggy-backed on the launch of the NASA/NOAA DSCOVR satellite. The spacecraft circled Earth for the next three weeks, as the mission suffered few setbacks, and the sail finally deployed on June 9. What the team learned during that flight was invaluable for the upcoming LightSail-2 mission, which should be launching later in 2017, aboard SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket.

Science fiction has played a large part in Robert Picardo's career, but how did he become involved with the Planetary Society and take on one of the most important roles in the organization?

His last point is one we should focus on here. You don't need to be a scientist to get involved. Anyone can be interested in space exploration and anyone can get involved with the Planetary Society, and it takes interest from many people, from all backgrounds and walks of life, to bring all these amazing missions to life and to support humanity's exploration of the cosmos.

The Planetary Society has been involved with SETI - the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence - since its very start, and these days, the group supports many different space exploration missions and projects, which makes it hard to choose a favourite. However, we still talked a bit about some of the ones we really liked:

Now, it appears as though we made a tiny mistake as we were chatting. Did you notice it?

MarsDial, on Opportunity, on Jan. 13, 2005.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Bill Nye, the CEO of The Planetary Society, helped to design MarsDial - the sundial that was mounted on the Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity. This sundial was special, and was used for more than just telling what time of the Martian day it was. The base of the sundial had several features - four colour tabs (blue, green, red and yellow), mirrors to catch the sky, and concentric grey circles in the middle, which are shaped the same way as the orbits of the inner planets, with a small dot on the two outermost ones to denote Earth (blue) and Mars (red). In combination, these features were used to colour-calibrate the images taken by the rovers' PanCams, the cameras located on top of the rover's mast.

We said in the interview that Curiosity - NASA's latest rover to explore the surface of Mars - does not have a sundial.

Hearing that, you may have said to yourself "Wait, yes it does..." and, technically, you would be correct.

Curiosity does have a sundial, however, it does not have ITS OWN sundial. When it came to adding that part of the rover, the team didn't design one especially for it, because, as Robert Picardo said, "we had already done that."

The team simply grabbed the spare MarsDial from the MER mission, and installed that on Curiosity, instead.

As for the space vacuum cleaner he mentions, that really is, exactly what it sounds like. Right now, the usual way for rovers and landers to sample material from the surface of another planet is to use a scoop, at the end of a robotic arm. PlanetVac is an instrument that can replace the need for a complex robotic arm, by moving material into an analyzer or sample return container using pressurized gas.

For other Planetary Society projects, check out their website, plus you can see some of the details of the Red Rover missions here, and check out our coverage of the CanMars mission, run by the Centre for Planetary Science and Exploration (CPSX) at the University of Western Ontario.

Of the many space exploration missions coming up in the years ahead, what is Robert Picardo looking forward to, the most?

So, plenty has been done already, there are many great missions operating currently, and there are also many great ones to come, but what can we do to help promote space exploration, and ensure that we continue to expand our reach into the cosmos?

One way, most certainly, is to become a member of The Planetary Society, and then to volunteer and get involved with space events in your area. These are always fun and a great way to connect with other people who are passionate about space exploration.

There's another simple, but powerful answer, though:

So, advocate for space!

Let your elected officials know that space programs are important to you, and also, use your vote to support candidates who agree about the importance of space exploration.

What's coming up soon, from The Planetary Society?

Watch out for events surrounding Yuri's Night, which celebrates the first human to orbit the Earth, Yuri Gagarin, on April 12, 1961, and the first launch of the Space Shuttle, 20 years later, on April 12, 1981.

The March for Science is on Saturday, April 22 - Earth Day 2017 - and will take place across hundreds of different cities around the world. The Planetary Society is partnering with March for Science (with Bill Nye serving as honorary co-chair of the March), and so far there are marches planned for Toronto and Hamilton, ON. Check with your local volunteer coordinator (link below) to see if The Planetary Society is participating in the March happening in your area.

Also, the Canadian premiere of the Bill Nye: Science Guy documentary will be at the HotDocs Festival, in Toronto, in the first week of May.

Check with your local volunteer coordinators for other events and opportunities, and come back here for more updates in the future!

Editor's Note: in the video interview, it is mentioned that Robert Picardo and Bill Nye met at the 20th anniversary of NASA, at American University, in 1998, when it was, in fact, the 40th anniversary of NASA. We apologize for any confusion this may have caused.

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