In episode 14 of Knights Do That, we speak with Phil Metzger ’00MS’05PhD, a planetary scientist and UCF alum with nearly 30 years of experience at NASA. During this episode, Phil shares stories from his time working on the space shuttle missions, his controversial research on whether Pluto is a planet or not, and what the future of space exploration will look like.

Produced by UCF, the podcast highlights students, faculty, staff, administrators and alumni who do incredible things on campus, in the community and around the globe.

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Transcript

Phil Metzger: The future is amazing. If I could look into the future and tell you what I see this is it; I see civilization reaching beyond planet Earth. So we’re no longer just doing exploration in space.We’re actually doing the economic activities of life beyond planet Earth, and that’s going to happen in this century. We’re already in the process of starting that and it’s accelerating. It’s really exciting to be a part of making that happen right now. This is the generation of graduates from UCF, and from other schools, this is the generation that is going to make all that happen during their careers. Right now, I understand UCF puts more graduates into aerospace engineering than any other university in the United States. So we’re going to continue pumping students into this, and those aerospace engineering students and business students and every other field is going to have a lot to work on in space.

Alex Cumming: There’s just so much we don’t know about space. So that’s why today I’m bringing you a very interesting and insightful episode where I discussed space exploration with planetary scientists and UCF alum Phil Metzger. Phil share some really incredible stories and experiences from his nearly 30 years of work at NASA explains his research as to why Pluto is indeed a planet, and shares what the future of space exploration will look like.

Let’s launch right into the episode.

You’re a planetary scientist with the Florida Space Institute at UCF. Can you share with us how you got into that position that you’re in today?

Phil Metzger: Yeah. So I started as an engineer at NASA and worked on the Space Shuttle Program and then later the Space Station Program working on the navigation and the communication systems. And while I was working I really wanted to go back to school and get a Ph.D. in physics or in some field of physics. It turned out to be planetary science. So I was going to school at UCF while I was working at the Kennedy Space Center. I did that for many years, driving back and forth from the coast to the campus and finally got into a full year of graduate school where I was on campus for a full year and eventually graduated. Then co-founded a lab at NASA to work on planetary surface technologies; mining the moon, and asteroids, and Mars; and using the surfaces of those planets to build things, landing pads, and habitats; learning how to work with the materials on those planets.

Eventually I left NASA to come and be faculty here at UCF. So I’m part of the Florida Space Institute, still doing the same sort of work I was doing at NASA towards the end of that career.

Alex Cumming: To commute from all the way from the Space Coast to here — I mean, there is such a great back and forth of students, I assume traveling out there and learning and getting ideas.

Phil Metzger: Yeah. It was a lot of driving for some years, but I loved it. I loved going to school here. Great professors. They were flexible with me to help make it work. Like some of the professors would put my papers in a box and I would drop by in the evening and pick up my papers out of the hallway. That went on for years before I finally said, “I’ve just got to take a year off of work and finish.”

Alex Cumming: Were you drawn back to UCF because of the programs available to get your Ph.D. and its proximity to the Space Coast?

Phil Metzger: Yeah. UCF was founded to be near the Space Coast to support the workers in the Space Program. My father went to the school when it was Florida Technological University. It was a family heritage, I guess. There was a great planetary science program here, great physics program. And it just worked out.

Alex Cumming: At the time when your father and the Florida Technological University, was he also involved in aspects of working on the Space Coast as well? Because that’s like the primary focus of what the school was back then, correct?

Phil Metzger: He was, yeah. He worked on the Apollo Program. He was a technician and worked on the ground systems in the VAB and then out of the launchpads and helped to do the Apollo Missions. He’s got a certificate, he’s deceased now, but he had a certificate that thanked him for his role in Apollo 11. He was so proud of that certificate. So I grew up going to open house events and watching all the rocket launches. All the kids in my neighborhood were the same. Everybody’s parents worked on the Space Program, or we had connections. And so we all grew up just assuming we would all work in the Space Program because that’s what grownups do. I was originally going to do other things, but somehow I made my way back to the Space Program and came back to the Space Coast.

Alex Cumming: That’s awesome to hear that there was such a culture of space education going on there. My mom also went to UCF. She was in education and now I’m in theater, little bit of a disconnect there between the generational UCF for myself at least.

So while you were at NASA, you convinced them to develop guidelines for protecting the historic sites on the moon. Can you describe those sites?

Phil Metzger: So on the moon, we’ve got a number of Apollo landing sites. We’ve also got surveyor spacecraft that we landed on the moon during the 1960s. There are also crash sites on the moon where the boosters from the Apollo rockets have crashed, actually the asset module, which is part of the lunar module. Those brought the crews back up to the spacecraft in orbit around the moon to come back home and then those spacecraft crashed into the moon. So there were a number of crash sites, as well as the landing sites. And these are all deemed archeological, anthropological, historical interest. Very unique sites. These are the first places where humanity has explored and walked on another planet. And I am calling the moon a planet because in planetary science, we do that. But that is the first place for humans walked on another world. So, anthropologists have told me that these are the most important anthropological sites in our human sphere — now I’m sure other anthropologists will disagree with that.

But I was working on how rocket exhaust blows soil so we could protect the gas stations that we plan to build on the moon. And one day, I got a call from one of the companies, Astrobotic Technologies, and they said, “We want to go visit the Apollo site with our lander, how can we land near it without sandblasting it?” And I realized, wow, that is a really important question because they are going to seriously damaged this historic site. But when I took the issue up to my management at NASA, they told me, “Don’t touch this because we don’t own the moon. We can’t write rules for the moon. If we try to take it to the United Nations, we don’t know what the UN will say, and we don’t want to touch it. So you are not allowed to try to create rules to protect the Apollo sites.”

So a couple of years later, I was freaking out over this because the clock was ticking and I realized what we really need is voluntary guidelines. Maybe that’s the best we can get for now. But if we can at least publish voluntary guidelines, then these companies will know how to visit the sites without damaging them.

And so through a series of offense, I was able to get NASA headquarters’ attention and they agreed to do it. So we eventually developed these guidelines.

Alex Cumming: Can you emphasize the importance of why we should protect these sites?

Phil Metzger: They represent a unique period in the history of the world, it was the Cold War. The United States and the Soviet Union were terrified that each other was going to drop nuclear bombs. And we were afraid of weaponizing space. We wanted there to be treaties. We wanted there to be some sort of international agreements on how do we treat space? But the United States was negotiating from position of weakness because the Soviets had rockets and could fly spacecraft and we couldn’t. And so they decided the way to address this was by having a civilian space program and we’re going to try to beat the Soviets to prove to them that they need to bargain with us. And we’re going to do a civilian space program so it’s non-threatening, so we’re not going to be putting weapons in space.

And that was what it was all about from the Cold War perspective. And it really worked because during the Gemini Program we had made so much progress that the Soviets came to the bargaining table and we got the Outer Space Treaty signed. So now we’ve got this treaty. We’ve agreed. We’re not going to weaponize space, but the treaty was a 1960s treaty and space has advanced so much farther that the treaty doesn’t address all the issues.

And now it’s coming up again, how are we going to handle the new situation? So can we put blast zones on the moon? If we do that, are we claiming territory because we’re not allowed to claim territory? So there’s a whole lot of new issues coming up. But they originally came out of that Cold War era where the world was terrified. Like every day when I was in high school, if an airplane flew over, growing up next to the space center, my friends and I thought it was going to drop nuclear bombs on us because we all knew that as soon as the bombs fell, they were going to bomb the space center first.

And so I really grew up in that culture of fear expecting nuclear war at any time. And so the Apollo program is a unique historical point in history representing that among many other things.

Alex Cumming: Wow. That’s so interesting. I, personally, I had no idea about the way that we’re going to have to rework these treaties that even though it’s only been 60-something years or even now just in that short period of human history have become antiquated by how fast things move.

Phil Metzger: Yeah. There are a lot of people that want to mine in space. If we’re going to do things in space beyond planet Earth, we need to use the resources that are in space. But that raises all kinds of questions that the Outer Space Treaty doesn’t address. So, there’s a lot of discussion internationally right now.

What do we do with the Outer Space Treaty? Do we update it? Can we work around it? Can we work within what it gives us? It’s a hot issue.

Alex Cumming: I imagine, NASA is under the branch of the government, so do you find that you have to reach out to people who work in the government who probably don’t have as well of an understanding as the scientists coming up?

Phil Metzger: There’s a surprising amount of understanding about these issues. People in the state department, people in the military, people in NASA, the government is quite aware that things are happening in space. And I think people have become educated over the last decade.

When I talked to people from Washington D.C., who are in any branch of the government or in Congress, they really understand these issues about what are we going to do with the moon?

Alex Cumming: Well, there’s the Space Force now, which is a recent military addition. I’m not certain exactly how it’s perceived nationwide, but to live in a time where you can see the groundwork of a branch of the military based around space exploration, it’s so interesting to think about and how that develops.

Phil Metzger: Yeah. Well the general idea is we want to make sure that we have good international policy about space. And in order to help affect international policy, we have to be a player. So we need to have a strong space program. We need to be present in space so that we can affect the direction the world chooses to go.

Alex Cumming: When you see UCF being referred to as Space U and you see that all these young people and the football game that just happened, you see this absolute just adoration of space and what it means to UCF, does that get you inspired for this upcoming generation of young people and how they’re going to develop space exploration?

Phil Metzger: It absolutely does. When I go speaking I always talk about how we can use space to solve global problems, like climate change, and how we can actually use space to solve problems about global development and making sure people all over the world have the benefit of developed economies, while at the same time not burdening the planet’s environment anymore.

So in order to solve a planetary problem, we have to have a position of being extraplanetary. And so I’ll go and talk about this. And after the talk, I’ll typically get surrounded by young people who say they thought they had to choose between solving the world’s problems or doing cool space robots. And now they realize they don’t have to choose one or the other. They can do both. And that gets them really excited.

Alex Cumming: I love that. I love that idea. You don’t have to pick between the either. I have friends who are very involved in the study of space and other planets, and I have friends who were very involved in the study of the environment. And firsthand I’ve seen how they kind of get torn between the two of I want to develop the future, but I don’t want to leave behind the planet that we have. So to know that there’s a healthy overlap that they help one another.

Phil Metzger: Yeah. It’s a stretch for people to grasp it. We’re talking about how do we put industry off the planet into space? And it is a stretch because how are you going to do manufacturing in the Earth? You’re going to have trucks driving up and down to space bringing all the manufactured goods. But we’ve been working on these concepts for decades and we really believe that by the end of the century, we should be able to put at least a half of our industrial footprint off the planet by the end of the century.And so even if it’s only a half, that’s going to be really helpful to our planet. So there are actual strategies and most of the people I know in the Space Program are really pro-Earth and they really want to use space to benefit the planet. There’s a lot of very idealistic people doing space.

Alex Cumming: Do you find that a lot of young people have this, they like mythologize this grand idea of space and space travel, and then when they get into it they’re maybe spending more time behind a computer screen than they’d like to get involved with?

Phil Metzger: That’s probably true. So I spent a lot of time writing code. I do FORTRAN code cause I’m an old timer, but I spent a lot of time writing code to model the physics heat transfer in the lunar soil. And it’s not really that glamorous to write equations of how heat spreads out through dirt. But I always have it in my mind that the reason I’m trying to model how propagates heat is because we’re trying to extract ice from the lunar soil. Because we’re going to turn the ice into rocket fuel. And by making rocket fuel in space, we’ve changed the economics so that it now becomes possible to do much more in space than we could ever do before. So although I’m behind a computer screen doing this boring task, that vision has always motivating me and keeping me working and keeping me excited.

Alex Cumming: I had no idea. You could make rocket fuel from ice.

Phil Metzger: Yeah. Well it’s just add electricity to electrolyze it and you split it into hydrogen and oxygen. And then you burn the hydrogen and the oxygen together to get thrust.

Alex Cumming: In my acting classes, they didn’t teach me that. And I think that’s the one thing I’m missing.

I want to emphasize that UCF’s tie to the space industry is no secret. We know UCF loves space. I love space as most all UCF student. Twenty-nine percent of Kennedy Space Center employees are UCF alumni, and we have two alumni who are astronauts. What’s your favorite part about UCF’s relation to space?

Phil Metzger: Oh, it’s hard to just say one thing. I think I love the faculty in the planetary science department, it’s in the physics department. I love that group of faculty because they’re so creative working on so many diverse ideas and they all love space.

Alex Cumming: It’s just so cool to know that you see these alumni who have left the planet and explored. As somebody who doesn’t have this incredible grasp on the defining details of space travel, it’s just so cool to know and to think about when you see some of the richest people in the world, we’re talking to Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk types, and it seems that at the forefront of their mind is space. What does that make you think?

Phil Metzger: Well I think like everybody, they want to look back on their lives and know that they’ve done something important, something they can feel good about. And the reason I think they have gravitated towards space is because technology has now reached the point that we can actually do amazing new things in space that we could never do before. And they see that and they think, well, I can use my resources to make a big difference in that field. Jeff Bezos wants to do lunar industry and put industry in free space, you know, not on a planetary body around the Earth, in order to save the Earth, to move industry off the planet. Elon wants to put human settlements on Mars to make human civilization multiplanetary. They’re very complimentary objectives. And I’m glad that they both have their own idea of what to do and that they are complimentary because by having more people trying different things, I think we’re more likely to have success. And also, I’m more of a save the Earth kind of person. And so I’m more into put industry around the Earth rather than settling Mars so much. However, they dovetail so nicely. The industry that you need to support humans living on Mars, it’s 95% the same that you’re going to need to work on the moon or in free space working with raw regolith to extract elements and do the mining and manufacturing.

And then also people who want to go back and forth to Mars, they’re going to need to fill up their rockets. They’re going to need rocket fuel, and CisLunar Industries will economically interact with Martian settlement. So I think it all works together in a grand big picture.

Alex Cumming: I’m glad to hear that coming from yourself. I know a lot of people in my life have had this sort of question of, going back to you saying that space travel and saving the Earth can co-exist, is that they’re under this impression that they’re leaving Earth, leaving Earth to go to colonize Mars, leaving Earth to exist on the moon and in the cosmos, leaving the Earth in its wake — which it’s good to hear from somebody who’s far more versed in it than I am that’s not the idea.

In your time and all those years you worked at NASA and as a student studying the stars, did you ever think that the individual privatization of space would be a reality in your lifetime?

Phil Metzger: It was not something that ever crossed my mind until somewhere in the 1990s. Before then it was always the government who did space because it took so much money. It took so much technological prowess that only large government agencies could participate in that field. We started to notice things had changed around in the ’90s when NASA could no longer develop the technologies faster than the commercial market was developing them.

Like, for example, one time we had this heat shield delivered to the Kennedy Space Center and it had to have this perfect shape. So NASA developed a laser scanner to measure the shape of that heat shield. But they delivered their laser scanner, it costs them $10 million to develop the laser scanner. It was super advanced new high-tech, but when they went to measure the heat shield with it the technicians at the space center said, “Why are you using that? We’ve got this one that we bought commercially, which is far more accurate, and it only costs $100,000.” So that’s the kind of thing that’s been going on in the world of tech. These single use applications can no longer keep up with the technology engine of the commercial market. And that has been revolutionizing the landscape of space.

So now people have started to realize we can build rockets and we can do it with not that much funding. And we can actually put people in space. So access to space is being revolutionized, and now people have started to envision business models. How can we make this self-sustaining? What are things we can do in space to sustain this effort so that then we can go farther and farther and actually put industry in space and save the Earth and settle Mars and do all the other great things.

Alex Cumming: Industry and space. That is a phrase that seldom has crossed my mind. But then we spoke about claiming territory on the moon so if we are commercializing in space are we going to have to implement our capitalist economic ideas into the economy that goes into space?

Phil Metzger: Well I don’t have any easy answers for this. This is a great question. And there are people working this all the time. I have friends who are policy people and people that are attorneys, politicians. There are a lot of people arguing about these issues. It’s going to have to be worked internationally. It’s going to have to involve the United Nations. And in some way or another we’re going to figure it out as we go along. But I think we can be optimistic about it. I think that space not only has all these challenges that we need to solve, but as we find ways for making space more participatory and more inclusive, then we’re bringing in all the greater creativity of our whole globe. And that is what I think is really going to drive space forward make it happen in this century, as we make it more inclusive and more participatory for everybody.

Alex Cumming: I liked that the creativity and inclusivity of the world because space is not just American, Russian, Chinese, Canadian endeavor, it’s the world. And it makes me think that in the past centaury I’d say probably the man and the American mythos that sort of embodied the idea of space travel is probably JFK with his great, famous speeches about within the decade of the ’60s to travel to the stars. And you said that it’s gone from sort of the government and the overarching to sort of the individual company. And there hasn’t been a president I can think, maybe except for the previous one, who has placed such an emphasis on the importance of space travel and how for the American future it is a great piece of it. And now we’re going to these American companies, SpaceX and Amazon are the two that we’ve been talking about, that are really reinvigorating the idea that space travel is within our reach and we are going to do it within our lines.

Phil Metzger: Yeah. So there are other themes that we have to consider too. There’s a robot revolution going on. So robotics are threatening to take everybody’s jobs away, even people in creative fields. What if robots can write or AI can write poetry better than humans? At what point —

Alex Cumming: Then I’m out of a job.

Phil Metzger: Yeah. At what point are we all going to be put out of a job? But I like to point out that space is limitless. There’s literally billions of times more resources accessible in our solar system than there are on the Earth. And this provides a sphere for us to expand into so that we can end the zero-sum game that causes us to fight over resources here on the Earth. And we can leverage this automation of robotics to access those millions and billions of times greater possibilities in the solar system and create a much more vibrant civilization. So we’re going to have to face these issues, whether we go to space or not, because of the changes of technology. But by adding space into the picture, we’ve opened up the possibilities so much more greatly that I think we can see a lot of optimistic roads ahead.

Alex Cumming: Thinking about robots and our technology, the Mars rover, we know that technically, if we’re going to, an American robot has touched down and has already made contact on Mars. Does that make you feel some kind of way?

Phil Metzger: Well, people joke around and they say we’ve discovered a planet that’s entirely inhabited by robots and that’s Mars because there’s like seven or eight or something robots driving around and flying around Mars right now. Only robots live there as far as we know. But yeah, it’s really cool. Another thing that’s really cool is that it used to cost something like $200 billion to do one of these flagship missions to another planet. And it’s getting to the point where you can do it for a $100 million, like the group in Israel almost landed on the moon. They got within like a hundred meters of the surface before they lost control and fell the last bit. But that mission was only a $100 million. So the prices coming so low that we’re able to see more groups starting to put robots on other planets now.

Alex Cumming: I hadn’t even thought about it that way. So I want to move into a controversial topic because the robot revolution isn’t controversial. You made quite the waves a couple of years ago when you insisted through your research that Pluto is indeed a planet and I want talk about that. Can you give us an insight onto what your research was for that?

Phil Metzger: Sure. And this is really timely because we have a new paper that just got accepted at the journal about four days ago and it’s going to be even, I think, bigger than the last one. So, we’ve we spent about five years researching this topic and we finally put our big paper out there. But yeah, we started out by addressing this issue. Like, why would an object not be a planet simply because it is in a swarm of other objects? Like they say, “Well, we used to think the asteroids were planets, but then we discovered they are in a swarm. And obviously things in a swarm can’t be a planet. So therefore they aren’t planets. And now we used to think Pluto was alone, but now we see it’s in a swarm. And so by analogy to the asteroids, therefore Pluto should not be a planet.”

That was the argument people were using back in 2006. And so we thought, well let’s address that. I mean it’s begging the question, why should something not be a planet because it’s in a swarm, but is it really true that that was why asteroids became non-planets? It doesn’t make any sense as an argument. Why would scientists use that as an argument? It’s just a question begging argument. So did they really make a question begging argument in the mid-1800s as they tell us they did?

We did the research and we found out, no, they absolutely did not. That’s not what happened. In the mid-1800s. They started to discover lots of asteroids and they realized they’re all in a swarm and scientists kept calling them planets and we would write textbooks. There are three types of primary planets. A primary planet is a planet that orbits the sun directly. So they would say there are three types of primary planets. They’re the terrestrial planets, like the Earth and Mars and Venus. There are the giant planets, like Jupiter, Uranus, Neptune, Saturn. But there’s also the small planets which exist in a band between Mars and Jupiter. So they were listed as one of the three types of planets along with the other two types. And this continued all the way into the 1950s. It was actually relatively recent that scientists stopped considering asteroids to be planets. So we did research to find out then why did they stop calling them planets? It had nothing to do with them being in a swarm.

You know, in the 1950s, we knew there were thousands and probably millions. And they would say there are hundreds of thousands of planets in this band and they’re planets. So why then did we make the switch? And it turns out that there were some key papers written by Gerard Kuiper, he was possibly the leading planetary scientist of his day. And he wrote a series of seminal papers where he argued that planets conformed by multiple processes. We used to think they could only form by disc instability, where the gas that’s orbiting the sun in a disc has gravitational instability causing it to break up into clumps and these little round balls of gas then condense into liquid and then eventually they harden into solid. And so they thought all planets are spherical and they all formed this way. But Kuyper argued no, some of them could form from the bottom up from dust specks and dust specks collect other suspects and become gravel. And the gravel collects other gravel and becomes a rock and rocks collect other rocks and becomes a boulder. And eventually you’ve got a planet. And so he said that process also takes place and the objects that are formed are not round, they’re lumpy. And so he proposed that because there are two processes.We should say that the round ones that are, like the Earth, planets because originally that was what a planet was. It was — and all the objects that are other Earths, geological bodies like the Earth are the planets. So he said, “Let’s say all the round ones that formed by disc instability or the planets, the ones that formed by accretion from the bottom up, are non-planets.” Well later, we realized that accretion can actually go all the way up to become a round body. And so now we’ve changed it and said even if it’s formed by accretion but it got large enough to become round, it ends up having the same geology, all of these complex geological process, as the objects that formed the other way from the top down. So we’ve said it’s the end size that matters because that determines if it’s a living active geologically, active body versus a dead lumpy rock, like an asteroid. So that was what actually happened in the literature. But unfortunately the story has been lost and this false story has taken its place.

We call this historic presentism. It’s the presentism fallacy where people take a modern perspective and they assume that people in the past had the same view and they reinterpret history with that untested assumption. So people would say, well, obviously people in the 1800s wouldn’t think a small lumpy object is a planet because we know that’s not a planet. So they must have stopped considering them planets back when they were like about 15 of them. And so they created this false story about them becoming non-planets in the 1800.

Alex Cumming: That’s — yeah. I like the term lumpy, for the lumpy description of it. Wow. The idea of presentism, I didn’t even thought about that and all those different things. To think that arguments from modern day or 15-something years ago —

Phil Metzger: Yeah. Well, can I tell you about the new paper? Because it gets even better

Alex Cumming: Fire away.

Phil Metzger: Okay. So our new paper, our old paper disgust asteroids, our new paper discusses moons. Now here’s the story that you get told all the time. This is in every textbook. They will say before the Copernican revolution, there were seven planets. The sun was a planet. The moon was a planet and there were five other planets, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. The Earth was not a planet, but they will always say at the Copernican revolution the sun stopped being a planet, the moon stopped being a planet because it orbits the Earth and the Earth became a planet, but that’s not what happened. Okay. There’s absolutely no question in the historical records. What actually happened was the moon stayed a planet and all moons were considered planets, and being a planet had nothing to do with what an object orbits. And so all the way until the 1920s, everybody said large moons or planets. And that may seem like an unimportant little detail, but it’s actually very important because we know that planets can change orbits, like Triton the largest moon of Neptune was captured. It was a primary planet, like Pluto, and it got captured and became a satellite. So whatever orbit they’re in right now is a human perspective bias. We’re looking at it the way it is right now, rather than looking at fundamentally what these objects are. But unfortunately this idea that to be a planet you have to orbit a star directly, it actually came from astrology in the 1800s. And so we were able to track how it developed in astrology and then how scientists accidentally fell into that belief in the 1920s. And then again, historical presentism has covered over the history.

And so now we’re told a false story about how it developed. So what we’re arguing is that the useful concept of a planet, the one that scientists doing planetary science actually prefer doing, considers that any large geologically active body, including moons like Titan or Triton or Europa, these are planets. They’re secondary planets. They’re satellites. They are satellites, but it’s a satellite that’s large as a planet that is satellite of another planet

Alex Cumming: Your work is being argued against by ideas from the 1800s and just how that evolved over history, I can imagine that’s probably a little frustrating.

Phil Metzger: Well, we’ve had a lot of fun with this. Like nowadays when I go to the store, if I see the Farmer’s Almanac, I’m like, oh, an almanac, and I’ll grab it off the shelf. And I’ll go to the list of planets that we’ll see, because they always have a list of planets. And so I’ve got almanacs from the 1700s and I’ve been collecting almanacs now. Every time I go to a used bookstore, if they’ve got some old almanacs, I’m like,””Oh, I’ve got to get that.” It’s interesting to see how the list of planets in popular culture and astrology differed from the scientific concept. And that’s where the split really came from.

Alex Cumming: Wow.

Hey there, Knights Giving Tuesday is almost here and we know that there are many groups in causes that you can choose to support on this global day of giving. And we hope that UCF is one of them to learn more and help us reach our goal. Visit ucf.edu/givingtuesday.

Why do you think that the idea of Pluto being a planet or not is so hotly contested with the public, even just general individuals? People who maybe went to school 15-something years ago, they’ll still believe that Pluto’s not a planet because they haven’t been updated on modern science. Why is it so controversial?

Phil Metzger: Well I think a lot of people just love Pluto. I love Pluto. The big irony of the flyby of Pluto a few years ago was that Pluto turned out to be so darn interesting. It’s probably the second most interesting planet in our whole solar system. Only the Earth is more interesting than Pluto. There’s just so much geology. There’s active glaciers flowing down mountain sides into the valleys on Pluto. There is convection in the eyes causing all these fascinating patterns of pits and cracks. There’s mountains as tall as the Rocky Mountains, and these mountains are made out of water. It’s water that’s as hard as rock. So water is hard as granite. The ice is made out of nitrogen. There’s also organic material on Pluto. We can see this brown rust or orange colored material, which is organic molecules, the stuff that life is made out of. There’s probably a liquid ocean under the surface of Pluto, which is still liquid, which is remarkable. So apparently there’s more radioactive material in Pluto than we thought, keeping it warm so that the ocean can stay liquid. And you could go on and on about how fascinating Pluto is.

So it’s really ironic that people were saying it shouldn’t be a planet because it’s in a swarm, but then it turns out it’s the most planetey planet of all the planets. So of course we love that, you know. That was just too good to be true. And I was at the flyby with my daughter. Alan Stern, the head of the mission asked me to come up and out of my family only my daughter could come with me. She’s now studying physics. But we were standing there waiting for the first picture of Pluto to come back and they told us the night before, “OK, the radio signal is now crossing the orbit of Uranus and it’s going to be so many hours.” And the next day we come in, “OK, the radio signal just past Mars. So we’re like 20 minutes away.” And then, “OK, the radio signal is halfway to the Earth from Mars and we’re waiting for the radio signal to arrive.”

And then it came in and they started saying, “OK, we’ve got signal locked. OK, we’ve got. symbol locked on the symbols in that radio wave. OK, now we’ve got data lock. We’ve done the pseudorandom code deconvolution and we’re getting actual data out of it. And now we’re actually seeing the data from the different systems.”

They were calling this out as it was happening in real time. And then they went through all the spacecraft systems. Everybody’s looking at their own data. So the propulsion system looks good. Comps looks good. Instrumentation looks good. And then they finally go to the person who’s in charge of looking at all the data. And that person says we see all the flags are set that tells us we have the proper amount of data that we expected. And then everybody just erupted and [was] cheering because they’ve actually captured a full buffer of data. Then the next morning we came back, and they said, “We’re going to reveal the picture. This is the picture we got back from Pluto.””

And they put it up there and it was that big, beautiful picture with the pink heart on it. And everybody was crying in the room. It was like a couple of hundred people in the room and everybody was just crying because it was so beautiful. Nobody had any idea. In fact, let me tell you this. Alan Stern used to be the director of the Florida Space Institute here at UCF and before I was hired, he actually hired me to come work here. And so he was coming back visiting and we all went out to lunch and I was in the back seat of the car with him and he said, “Hey, you can’t tell anybody this, but I’m going to show you we got a picture back from the mission.” The mission was almost to Pluto, it wasn’t quite there yet. And he showed me the picture and it was a little white sphere with a gray smudge on it. And he was so excited that there was a smudge on it because it proved that there was some geology on Pluto. And so then when we got this picture back and it’s, whoa, this is more than we could have ever imagined, more than we could have hoped for. In fact, I talked to one of the heads of the Planetary Science Program at NASA at dinner one night and he said, “Yeah, we were all terrified that it was going to be a white cue ball of just snow and nothing else. And after 10 years and all these millions and millions of dollars, we just get a white cue ball.” So when we got those pictures back and it turned out to be so amazing, it was better than we could have hoped for.

Alex Cumming: That’s outstanding. I know exactly the photo you’re talking about. I’ve seen it as a casual spectator on the internet and you’re right it is. It’s such a sight to behold. It is so beautiful. That’s an awesome story. That’s so cool.

Did he have it like on his phone or did he have like, like what, like a Polaroid, just kind of like slid it over to you?

Phil Metzger: Yeah. He showed me on his phone. He goes, “You know you can’t tell anybody this.”

Alex Cumming: But what would you say? Would you say there’s a little dot?

Phil Metzger: Yeah. I was a little underwhelmed, you know, I’m like, “Oh, nice. It’s got a smudge on it, nice.”

Alex Cumming: But then when you saw the actual photo, you were like, “Oh, that white smudge is actually —”

Phil Metzger: Yeah, it’s amazing complex geology. And that’s what we’re arguing, is from Galileo. The way that Galileo redefined planets was that they are other Earths and he made that decision based on seeing mountains on the moon. He was the first person that we know to point a telescope to the moon, at least the first to publish it. And he said, “Look, it’s got mountains and that means it’s got geology like the Earth. That means it’s not made out of unchanging ether. It follows Earth, physics, geophysics, or geology and because of that we know that there’s not a separate physics for the heavens. The heavens follow the same Earthly physics that the Earth follows. And therefore, the Earth is in the heavens too. And therefore, the Earth moves.” If the planets are the same as the Earth and the Earth is the same as the planets, he made this argument based on the moon, which is a satellite. But the key argument that pushed the Copernican revolution forward was the planethood of the moon, comparing it to the Earth.

So the essence of planethood, according to Galileo, was complex geology. And now we know that planets are the special things in the cosmos where complexity naturally emerges all the mass in the galaxy comprises something like 0.5% of the energy of the galaxy or of the cosmos. And that 0.5% is half of that is in the interstellar meteor, intergalactic meteor. And the other half is in the galaxy, right? Of that, most of it is stars and gas clouds. And a tiny, tiny fraction of that tiny fraction is planets. But those planets represent the great flourishing of complexity throughout the cosmos. And because they are just this amazing, special thing where you put enough mass together, it retains heat, it melts, it begins convecting. And then suddenly all these processes occur. You get mountains, you get minerals, you get crystals, you get fluids outgassing, yet lakes and oceans and rivers and atmospheres. You get convection cells. And you get storms. And you get jet streams. And then you have chemistry happening. And lightening storms. And chemical reprocessing. And complex organic material. And here on Earth, at least we’ve got life and we’ve got civilizations and we’ve got technology. And this happens on planets.

So this tiny, tiny little fraction of the cosmos is the great flourishing of complexity and that’s essentially what Galileo saw. When he looked in his telescope. He said, “Whoa, the moon is one of these Earth.” And he leapt to the idea that that’s what all the planets are. And so all the planets became known as other Earths. And so we’re saying that’s the essence of what a planet is. It’s so important to see this, that it needs a taxonomical category. And historically, since Galileo, that term has always been planet. So we’re arguing that that’s what it should be. Planets are complex other Earths, regardless what they happen to be orbiting right now during human observation.

Alex Cumming: So this paper, all this information that I thank you for sharing with me, it’s awesome. You think that this is going to stir the waters? This is going to get some feathers ruffled?

Phil Metzger: What we’re trying to do is tell planetary scientists don’t be cowed by people telling you that you can’t call Titan a planet. Planetary scientists call Titan a planet all the time. We review the literature and we found out planetary scientists call large moons planets. Naturally we call Pluto a planet. We found hundreds of examples, just in a cursory review of the modern literature since 2006, since the IAU voted to say Pluto’s not a planet.

And to say, Titan is not a planet, planetary scientists are continuing to call them planets. And the reason we do that is because it’s useful. It’s useful to have a category to describe this amazing phenomenon in the cosmos. And so we’re doing it. And so we wrote the paper to tell planetary scientists don’t feel ashamed of that. This is actually the historic meaning of the word, and we should call these planets because that’s the most useful definition of a planet. It’s the scientifically useful and it’s the scientific, historical definition of a planet.

Alex Cumming: It’s bringing history into the present and using the present to reflect on history. How cool.

So with that, I want to transition and ask you this, in the wealth of your career and all that you’ve done and accomplished, what are some of your greatest accomplishments? What are the things that stick out to you?

Phil Metzger: It’s been an amazing ride.

Alex Cumming: Don’t hold back.

Phil Metzger: It was, it was better. It was a great experience working in space. So I’ve, been able to fly in reduce gravity. I’ve flown 450 parabolas of reduced gravity on airplanes, similar to the “Vomit Comet” on NASA research flights. So I’ve got to float around in zero G and I’ve got to experience Martian gravity, lunar gravity, testing various technologies.

And by the way, students here at UCF are doing that too. And anybody who wants to do that, all you got to do is invent a technology that needs to be tested in low gravity and then propose it to NASA and you can get funding and go do it too. And students here at UCF are doing that

Alex Cumming: It’s that easy?

Phil Metzger: Yeah. So Dr. Addie Dove has been leading trips in airplanes with students. Dr. Josh Colwell has been doing it. So, this is available. But that’s been an amazing experience. I got to do some field tests in Hawaii where we took a bunch of robots and we went to the top of Mauna Kea, which — well, not quite the top. We went to about 8,300 meters and we set up a simulated lunar industrial site where robots were mining and extracting oxygen out of the volcanic dust and turning it into rocket fuel. And then we fired a rocket using that stuff that we got out of dust. So we called it dust to thrust. That was an amazing experience. And really that experience is what changed my ideas about space because a native Hawaiian priest from the native Hawaiian religion came up and did a ceremony to bless the robots because we weren’t allowed to be there without that blessing because it was considered a holy mountain. And that got me thinking about the way that Mauna Kea played a role to ancient Hawaiians. The reason they, the people, were able to cross the Atlantic and find islands was because the volcanoes stuck up high and changed the circulation patterns that made clouds and those clouds also caused rain and it allowed things to grow on those islands. And so they were able to cross this vast ocean and find this place where they could live. And in the same way, we were using that volcano to develop robots, to cross that vast ocean of space so that we could go to an island up there in space and put life on those other islands up there. And I got to thinking about that and I started realizing you know, we’re so high up on this volcano that nothing up here much can live. There’s not enough liquid water at this high. But we’re doing the technology that will enable artificial life, you know, machines that build other machines to be able to extract the water they need and the other elements they need and have robots build robots, which will make it possible for us to go onward into space.

So that was an amazing experience, which really changed my views and got me even more excited. Co-founding the Swamp Works was an amazing experience. I wanted to work on the moon and stuff. And we didn’t have a job description at that time to do that. And so some other friends with me decided we were just going to make it happen. And so we, started pulling strings and just started working on the stuff we wanted to do. You know, they call it being an intrepreneur. So an entrepreneur tries to start a company, but an intrepreneur tries to start a new enterprise within an existing group. So we were intrepreneurs. And we finally convinced NASA to let us found this lab. It was a long story, and a lot of amazing things, a lot of friends along the way, and a lot of challenges along. But we ended up getting into this large high bay, which was the same high bay where they trained the Apollo astronauts. And we got to establish this facility, working on robots to do mining and manufacturing in space.

So that was a great experience. I got to be on the Shuttle Launch Team. At the time that was pretty scary for me. It was a period in my life where I had a lot of fear and I was terrified every launch. And I was kind of glad when I left that behind, but still the experience of being on a launch team, there’s nothing like it. You wake up at like midnight to go into work, so you can be on the console starting at 2 a.m. And then you’re on the console through the night as the countdown is proceeding. And there’s this electricity in the air. Everybody’s tense, everybody’s murmuring and talking in quiet tones. And then you get down to that final moment, the final count, and it’s so much release of stress when it goes up in the, and there’s no problem on the asset and you get to main engine cutoff. Those experiences I’ll never forget. I used to also have to go out to the launchpad sometimes and crawl around on the launchpad to solve problems during the countdown. And so you’re out there on the count on the pad at night with all the bright spotlights on you. There’s really nothing like that. Being on an active launchpad during the countdown.

I don’t know, if I keep thinking I’ll come up with more ideas.

Alex Cumming: Do. That’s —

Phil Metzger: Things that happened.

Alex Cumming: Those are all so killer. You know, some people when they want to, I guess relax or de-stress, they think about how small we are in the grand scheme of the cosmos. Does that just get you more stressed? Because you’re like, “Oh, we got to go there. We’ve got to go there. We got to do this. We got to cross that.” The stress and the magnitude of sitting there and the 10, 9, 8 holding onto something, someone just waiting, and then just knowing that you got to be a part of that and to make sure that those individuals, when they’re up there in the stars, that you help get them up there.

Phil Metzger: Yeah. You mentioned we have two astronauts that are alumni of UCF and I know Nicole Stott, she’s one of the two alumni. Yeah. And the thing about being on that launch team is that we know the astronauts. In NASA, it’s like a family. It’s not just a cliche statement. It’s really true that everybody really deeply cares about the crew. And so knowing that people you’ve met, people you’ve worked with are onboard that gigantic stored energy machine and they’re just waiting for you. You don’t actually push a button, but waiting for that final computer command to ignite the engines, it is really stressful. And you know, we had two accidents during the Shuttle Program. We lost the Challenger on launch and we lost the Columbia on entry. Those were two terribly difficult times. I was there for both of those. And they were both really dark difficult times. In fact, had left the Shuttle Program and went to the Space Station Program. And then after we had gotten the station significantly built, I moved to working in a physics lab and this was around the time that we were trying to found the Swamp Works.

And so I was in the physics lab when the second accident happened. This is when I really met Nicole Stott because she and I were on a team together to analyze the videos of the accident. There were a lot of amateur photographers in the west part of the United States taking videos and photographs of the entry and they can see little flashes of light. And I thought, you know what, even though it’s just a flash of light, there’s a lot of physics in that. I think we can get data from that to figure out what happened. And it turns out we were able to. A lot of this was solved by Dr. Bob Youngquist of NASA. So our team was able to show largely through Bob’s work that the right wing had ripped apart and the tiles were shredding causing these flashes. And we were able to calculate the speed that the object was rotating as it was falling away from the shuttle. And we actually calculated where it landed. We know where it is, but we’ve never recovered it. And I did the math to calculate that it didn’t burn up on entry. So we know where this object is out in the desert somewhere. That was a dark time, but Nicole was on that team with us. We had an astronaut on every team. And so she was the astronaut working with us, helping to understand these flash events that occurred. I used to occasionally have to take a break from that work and just walk the hallways and cry. I was literally crying, walking up and down the hallways and I would get composure again. And I would go back to working on this, trying to do the math, to calculate what were these flashes of light and can we figure out why we lost this vehicle? And then working with Nicole, she was at Houston, working on the phone with her.

So that was a hard time. That was at the time I was still working on my Ph.D. too.

Alex Cumming: What a rare experience in your line of work to have to analyze the details that went into what happened to your coworkers and your cohort. I imagine that must have been, as you said, very difficult to go through.

Phil Metzger: Most of my friends actually went to Texas and were walking around through the brush, looking for pieces of the shuttle and collecting it. So I didn’t do that because I was on this analytical team, but I think it was even harder for the ones who went out there.

Alex Cumming: In retrospect, do you think that the work to power through what you were feeling, knowing that going forward, this will save lives and that this will make the future of space travel safer and better and more — I’m not going to say available — but easier to understand what went wrong in those events?

Phil Metzger: Yeah. You’ve got to use an experience like that to look forward to the future. How are we going to solve this so it doesn’t happen again? And we did learn a lot from that experience. We eventually retired the space shuttle shortly after that. We realized we couldn’t have another accident and the vehicle, it was flawed. It wasn’t a great architecture for a spacecraft. But it was an amazing flying machine. It was an amazing program. It served us well but it was the right decision to retire it. And I think in the Constellation Program and the work that SpaceX is doing, the work that Blue Origin and other companies are doing, we’re not going to go back to that kind of an architecture because the inherent weakness in that design.

Alex Cumming: Yeah. And it’s good to know going forward to learn from the past. It sounds like the past just keeps coming back and whether it’s the 1800s and Copernicus and Galileo or 30-some-odd years ago and the experiences that happened then.

So I want to move into this question, which I assume you’ll like quite a bit, what is the future of space exploration? What do you see and how does UCF fit into that?

Phil Metzger: The future is amazing. If I could look into the future tell you what I see this is it. I see civilization reaching beyond planet Earth. So we’re no longer just doing exploration in space, we’re actually doing the economic activities of life beyond planet Earth. And that’s going to happen in this century. We’re already in the process of starting that and it’s accelerating. So I really believe by the end of the century, there’s going to be a lot of economic activity, which is not geocentric. It’s going to be opening up new possibilities.

For example, if we had industry in space that could build anything, which we will have by the end of the century, then you could build giant telescopes that are larger than what you can launch on a rocket, and I’m sure we’re going to do this. We’re going to build spacecraft telescopes that are in orbit around the sun as the same distance of the Earth, but all the way around the sun. And a telescope that large will be capable of photographing an automobile driving on another planet a hundred light years away. So let me just tell you if there are any other civilizations out there on other stars within a hundred light years and if they’re just 50 years ahead of us or a hundred years ahead of us, they are looking at us right now. They may be looking at the light that left the Earth a hundred years ago and they’re seeing Model T cars driving around and they’re calculating, okay the people in that planet are just about now flying into space because they are a hundred years ahead of what we’re looking at because of the speed of light delay.

So we’re going to be doing that. We’re going to be looking at the surfaces of other planets in detail, around other stars. I think there’s going to be a revolution in economics where we’re going to bring in an age of post-scarcity. When you have a trillion times greater resources and you have all the automated labor to work with that resources that you need, then there’s no reason for us to have a scarcity mindset anymore. There’s no reason to cut corners in the economics in ways that hurt the planet anymore. So I think we’ll be solving the problems with our planet’s environment. I think this post-scarcity economic milieu is going to open up the opportunity for people to flourish in all areas. If people want to spend their life writing poetry, then there’s no reason why this post-scarcity civilization can’t support them to just do poetry their whole life. So I think the arts and culture will be able to flourish like never before. The sciences are going to flourish. We’re going to have research stations on every planetary body in our entire solar system with a transportation network, taking people all around throughout the solar system.

Computers are going to continue to make great advances and it’s impossible to predict. What’s going to happen in that direction, but I think it’s going to be an amazing time. It’s really exciting to be a part of making that happen right now. This is the generation of graduates from UCF and from other schools. This is the generation that is going to make all that happen during their careers. So I think right now I understand UCF puts more graduates into aerospace engineering than any other university in the United States. So we’re going to continue pumping students into this and those aerospace engineering students and business students and every other field is going to have a lot to work on inspace. It’ll be an exciting time.

Alex Cumming: It sounds like the future is that UCF, more so than it already is, it’s going to be synonymous with space, space exploration, Space U, that’s why they call us that. And if what you’re saying, just my own thinking there, economics are eventually going to have to catch up with space travel. It sounds like if we develop into this post-scarcity era, as you said, there might be some changes, when of course more robots and job availability, capitalism might have to make some adjustments there.

Phil Metzger: Well, right now I’m working on a project. It’s unfunded research. I’m doing in my own time. I’m trying to work on industrial ecology for space. Industrial ecology, just like biological ecology is the study of how different actors, different organisms if you wish, interact in a network of metabolic relationships. So here on the Earth, you might study how the ducks and the plankton and the fish all interact, but in space, space ecology, industrial ecology, we’re trying to figure out how do you make metal on the moon? And then how do you make plastic on the moon? And which do you do first and how much of the machines that make plastic can you make out of the soil when you’ve made the metal? And what is the path to develop that industry to get there quickly and economically right now? So that’s an industrial engineering problem and a business problem.

So space isn’t just about rocket science space is going to be about all the different fields.

Alex Cumming: Everything that you’ve said here, I think it’s so important for young people who may hold this pessimism for the future. From an economic standpoint and a environmental standpoint, I think it’s important that they hear that the future, that space travel, will help us it’ll cure these ailments that we are so worried about here in 2021. But in the future, in the next 30, 40 years, when people say that that’s the point of no return that maybe when we’re just getting started in relieving some of the scarcity that we face here on Earth.

Phil Metzger: Well, we do you know how to put probably half of our footprint and industrial footprint into space by the end of the century. We already know that we can do this and it isn’t going require any new physics. I mean, we have to do a lot of physics to study, to develop the technology along the way, but we’re not going to be violating physics to do this. It’s fundamentally an economic problem.

How do we create steppingstones of activities that lead one to another until we get to that point? But we know we can do it and that’s why I’m very optimistic about it.

Alex Cumming: So for the future generation, I want to ask, what advice would you give to somebody who wants to do what you do?

Phil Metzger: Well, so it’s a little bit trite to say this, but you really do need to follow your passions. When we created the Swamp Works at the Kennedy Space Center, nobody came to us and said, “Hey, we want you to establish a thing, to do these kinds of technologies.” It was our idea and we were intrepreneurs making it happen, so it was our passion to do that. And we found a way and it was not easy and it took a long time. But we made it happen as a team. I think that’s one of the clues is find your passion and then find your team, people who share that passion. Have good friends, develop really good friends. Networking is super important. When students ask specifically in the aerospace field, how can I advance my career? I tell them, well, one of the most important things is go join a student club, something like rocketry or robotics or something, join something like the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space. We have a chapter here at UCF. Join something like that and network get to know other people and then go to the conferences and get to know workers who are already established in their careers.

Networking is really important. But having a team of friends who are like-minded, who can share the energy with you and you can creatively work together. Developing the ideas that you can execute together. That’s super important. Of course, the education. I went back to school after I’d been working for NASA for like, I don’t know how many years, long time. And then I went back to school at UCF and I got a master’s and a Ph.D. Because I knew that I needed that education to be able to do the things that I wanted to do in my career. So get the education. And also I want to say this to be a good person. A lot, a lot of people, you run into jerks in their career and I don’t know why people choose to be jerks. I think they think that they’re getting something out of it. But in my experience, be a good person, be a team player, be somebody that other people can trust. That’s always worked out for me. If you can overcome your personal demons, get help and try to be a good person and be a team player because it really requires friends and relationships to have success in your career

Alex Cumming: It sounds like UCF has all that good people. Good networking, great professors, clubs.

Phil Metzger: It’s certainly been good for me. Yes. It’s been great

Alex Cumming: For me too. I love it here. And I’ll conclude, I want to ask you, what’s one thing that you’re still hoping to do on a personal level and a professional level?

Phil Metzger: Well, I’m not sure I can tell. I mean, I know but I’m not sure I’m allowed to say

Alex Cumming: Just go on your phone, you can show us any of that.

Phil Metzger: Yeah, no, I’m working on some ideas for a space activities, but I have signed some non-disclosure agreements.

Alex Cumming: You’ve given a lot away already, so I don’t know what you’re holding back with.

Phil Metzger: Yeah. So I can’t really say what some of the things I’m working on right now. Here at UCF, we work with all the space companies and so we work with SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, United Launch Alliance, Boeing you know, name the company, we work with it. And so we sign a lot of non-disclosure agreements. We develop a lot of technology. I just got asked to sign a new patent today for something we invented here at UCF for space. So a lot of what we’re doing, we’re not going to tell you about until after the company we’re working with is ready to make it public. So really can’t answer that last question. I can’t tell you what I’m doing right now, but there is something exciting that I’m working on.

Alex Cumming: Wow. I’m so excited to hear it. It sounds like in your field, there’s never a dull day.

Phil Metzger: Every day is different. Such a wide variety of things that we get to work on. Experiments, analyzing data from the moon, computer simulations, theories, every day is different.

Alex Cumming: I love to hear it. So for the audience, if they wanted to find you, where should they look?

Phil Metzger: Well, you can find me on Twitter. I’m @drphiltill, P H I L T I L L. You can also go to the Florida Space Institute website and find the personnel page. And I have a page there. So that’s fsi.ucf.edu. That’s Florida Space Institute. And my email address is there, if any students want to contact me.

Alex Cumming: Well, I want to say thank you so, so much for coming on. I love this conversation and I’m more optimistic about the future in space travel than ever before. So thank you so much for joining me, but it’s been fun.

Hey everybody. Thanks for listening. I’ll see you on the next episode of Knights Do That, where I’ll be speaking with the president and co-founder of Limbitless Solutions, Albert Manero ‘12 ‘14MS ‘16PhD to learn more about the impactful work he and his team does to create affordable and innovative bionic arms for kids with limb differences.

Albert Manero: For us, the moment that we get really excited by is when the child realizes that they’re taking the arm home. And there’s always this like little look where they look to their parents to make sure it’s real. And then they get this beaming smile. And when you watch that and you watch the family interactions, that makes all the rest of the development and the business part and the research part all worth it. And it is a rare opportunity to be able to see something from a research lab, directly connect with your community. In here in Central Florida, that’s a gift. You don’t always get that immediate feedback. And I think that for Limbitless being able to work directly with our community and see that translation has been the most rewarding part of a whole program.

Alex Cumming: If you’re doing something cool, whether that’s at UCF or somewhere you took UCF that we should know about, send us an [email protected], and maybe we’ll see you on an episode in the future. Go Knights and Charge On.