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  • Writer's pictureMatt Russell

#176 - Virus Special - Cameron Edwards

This week we talk with Cameron Edwards the CEO of a new UK Rocket Startup Dragon Aerospace Systems LTD. But most of the podcast is about Space word of the Week: Virus

Can we figure out what going to happen on Mars?, No, we don’t know the vast majority of why pathogens cause disease down here on Earth, But it’s incredibly important. Microbes rule our world; we’re just playing in it.”

Cheryl Nickerson

Professor, Biodesign Center for Fundamental and Applied Microbiomics


Cameron Edwards is the founder and CEO of Dragon Aerospace Systems LTD. At 18 he set up the company with one vision in mind, to put Britain back into space.

In 2019 he won the Wales Technology awards which secured crucial funding for Dragon Aerospace. He has experience in computer programming, high-powered rocketry, and 3D printing


Happy Brithday to 1855 – Percival Lowell, American astronomer famous for canals on mars, but should be remembered for the Lowell Observatory and the effort madde to find Pluto. "the most influential popularizer of planetary science in America before Carl Sagan" his practice of building observatories at the position where they would best function has been adopted as a principle


Franklin: Rover mission delayed until 2022

This project has been underway since 2005, America Joined for a bit, then walked out, then Russia came in to fill the gap. Exomars Rover was supposed to Launch in 2011, then shifted to 2013 as the project became more ambitious, this inevitably slipped to 2016 but then again to 2018, delayed till June/July 2020, but now delayed till 2022 the next available launch window

The parachutes have been a problem but it seems there were plenty of other problems

  • Underperforming Electronics in the Russian Lander

  • European Flight Software

  • Dodgy Glue on the solar panels.

"We have made a difficult but well-weighted decision to postpone the launch to 2022. It is driven primarily by the need to maximise the robustness of all ExoMars systems," Dmitry Rogozin.

What about Coronavirus

"because people from different places of industry in Russia, in Italy and France cannot move easily as in the past. So, therefore, there is also an impact, but I would not like to say the coronavirus is the one and only reason - but... it has an impact on the mission, yes." Jan Wörner,

The UK is the second biggest partner in this endeavour.

Nasa's next Mars rover Perseverance is still on track as is China.

Coronavirus from Space.

Incredible images from Joshua Stevens, using modified ESA’s Copernicus Sentinel 5P data processed by the European Space Agency.

Copernicus Sentinel 5p’s Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument (TROPOMI) detected significant decreases in nitrogen dioxide (NO2) over China. gas emitted by motor vehicles, power plants, and industrial facilities.

Showing NO2 values across China in January pre quarantine and February, during the unprecedented and draconian quarantine

air quality researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center have never seen anything like it, although there was a similar effect during the economic crash of 2008.

Spaceword of the Week

VIRUS: A small infectious agent that is too small to be seen by light microscopy, and is able to multiply only within the living cells of a host.

virus: a submicroscopic infectious organism, now understood to be a non-cellular structure consisting of a core of DNA or RNA surrounded by a protein coat

How Small!

If Earth was a small Virus, the moon would be just a bit bigger than a plutonium Atom, The Sun the size of a bacteria, and mars would only be a grain of flour away!!!

We’ve only really known about Virus’ since the very late 19th Century, with Millions of tyes out there, and about 5000 types described in detail, and are the most numerous life on earth.

I say life but even that is debatable, more of a biological entity

A Virus outside of a Host

  • A miniscule particle, virion: a single individual particle of a virus (the viral equivalent of a cell)

Only with the invention of the Electron Microscope could we see them in 1930

The virion shell “capsid” protects the interior core that includes the genome, the complete genetic information (either DNA or RNA), and other proteins.

The virion binds to the surface of a specific host cell, its DNA or RNA is injected into the host cell and viral replication occurs, resulting in the spread of the infection to other host cells. Virions are produced in the cytoplasm of complex viral ‘factories,’ the virus.

In some virions, the capsid is further enveloped by a fatty membrane

Viruses have a Host Range - what host organism can be actually used,

Binding to Host receptor molecules on it’s cell walls, but also the biochemistry of the virus and the biochemistry of the host must be compatible.

Viruses from space

Back in 2003, the Lancet published a letter by Chandra Wickramasinghe the Sri Lankan-born British mathematician, who worked closely with Fred Hoyle and had written in 1979, with Hoyle, the seminal book Diseases from space.

In this letter, SARS–a clue to its origins?, he speculates that this coronavirus (SARS in this case) could be from space. However several letters to the Journal do a good job of breaking down these claims and on the whole showing them to be wanting.

Panspermia is certainly popular with a certain brand of scientist, Sagan and Crick not averse to the idea! And some of whom have even more impeccable credentials. I have to confess to be very unconvinced, but excited to be proved wrong on that.

In the Startrek Universe Picard discovers that a prior species had used directed Panspermia to seed many star systems and that is why the StarTrek universe is filled with Humanoid species (Klingon, Romulan, Vulcan etc)

How do Viruses behave in space?

Have you ever had Chickenpox? If so you have the Varicella Zoster Virus (VZV) these are never fully eliminated from your body, but your immune system keeps them in “jail” in the Spinal Cord nerve ganglions.

Occasionally these viruses escape Jail, but most of the time Immune system copes and gets them back in, but sometimes they escape, in the case of Chicken Pox in Adults this becomes Shingles.

What causes the major Jailbreak? - Probably Stress

Nasa has noticed these latent viruses do seem to escape Jail more often in Space than on Earth, this suggests that the Atronaunts Immune system is under stress from the space environment

  • Microgravity

  • Radiation

  • G Forces of Takeoff and Landing

  • Stress

It is obvious that in order for humans to venture to Mars and beyond this could be a critical problem. Vaccines would be ideal, but are not easy, out of the 8 herpes viruses, only Chicken Pox has a vaccination. Probably the best case it to monitor Virus reactivation and treat on a case by case day by day targeted treatments.

Dr Satish K. Mehta at NASA’s Johnson Space Center has developed a process for rapid viral detection systems, this research has tremendous clinical relevance for patients on Earth, spaceflight-developed processes for rapid viral detection in saliva have been employed in clinics and hospitals around the world.

What if the Crew do all get sick

Astronauts waiting for their flight, usually have to undergo a period of Quarantine. Wally Shirra famously had a bad-tempered cold on Apollo 7 and colds on Apollo 8 and 9 led to the policy.

The fact is Viral illness in space is a big deal, and can really be quite bad news.

Lack of Gravity also makes catching airborne particle type virus easier,

The U.S. segment of the ISS has HEPA [high-efficiency particulate air] air filters and regular wipe-down of surfaces as well as microbial monitoring

Very Hard to quarantine if you are stuck in a small space capsule.

Quarantine after space missions.

When the Apollo astronauts returned from the moon they were kept in a converted Airstream trailer for a few weeks, with Nixon waving in the window. This was soon dropped after Apollo 14 as it became obvious that the Moon was totally baron of any life or biological entities. But the late 60’s was a really interesting time for this as the war on infectious deceased was being won, but we were growing more paranoid about novel deceases, of which we had no vaccine or immunity too. Imagine the panic if a Virus started not in a wet market in China but a Space capsule.

However, the Quarantine wasn’t taken seriously!! According to the National Academies press article 2002 the quarantine program would have to be judged a failure.

Advice from our NHS Patreon.

Take home message at this time is: Wash hands frequently, don’t touch your face (no face stroking/nose picking/eye rubbing) avoid smoking, eat fresh food/lower carbs if you’re older (seems to affect diabetics more) and watch out if you are on a blood pressure medication with a name ending ‘pril’ or ‘sartan’ (night make things worse if you catch Covid). The aim is to SLOW it down so that the peak number of cases doesn’t exceed NHS capacity. We ARE working on it believe me. We are NOT waiting for the elected to tell us what to do - we are really working the problem hour by hour!

I’ll keep you posted - not the time to panic now, but having a couple of week’s food in the house (don’t go mad) in case you have to self isolate is a good idea!

In Italy the whole country is locked-down EXCEPT food shops and pharmacies so no need to hoard

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