Astrophysicist, author, space journalist, plutomaniac: Trevor Beattie meets Sarah Cruddas

Guest editor of The Drum and co-founder of BMB Trevor Beattie continues his series of interviews with fearless, bold individuals who represent a new generation of influencer.

You may have seen Sarah Cruddas. She has become the face of space on British TV. When she’s not extolling the virtues of Venus, she’s launching into fact-filled monologues in passionate support of human space exploration.

If enthusiasm alone could power a spaceship, Sarah Cruddas would be halfway to Alpha Centauri by now...

Trevor Beattie (TB): We are go for launch. See if you can answer the first three questions in three words or less. 3,2,1...

TB: Who are you?

Sarah Cruddas (SC): Space Guress.

TB: What are you?

SC: A SpaceJournalistBroadcasterAstrophysicistAuthor.

TB: Why are you?

SC: Because space matters.

TB: Is there life on Mars?

SC: That is the big question at the moment. The motto for scientists who look for life elsewhere is ‘follow the water’. We now have the strongest possible evidence that there is liquid water on Mars (albeit very salty!) Water is significant because it is one of the key ingredients for life – the others being energy and ‘stuff’ such as soil. It is possible that there could be some form of microbial life on Mars. In the past, we think Mars was much more similar to our own Earth; its atmosphere was thicker and it was warmer. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that life may have once existed on Mars. Life on Earth may have come from Mars!

TB: You have a boundless, infectious enthusiasm for all things space. Have you always had it and what influenced it?

SC: The exploration of space is the most significant thing we do as a species. It might not seem like it now, but believe me, it is. Truth is, I cannot remember a time when I wasn’t in awe of space. I remember looking up at the moon as a small child, it’s one of my first memories. Nobody I knew was interested in space, but for me it was the most fascinating thing in the world. I learned about the planets at a very young age at school. I loved that Venus was this scary greenhouse world. From then on I was hooked, simple as that.

At its most fundamental level, there is something almost religious and philosophical about space that I find comforting. The exploration and understanding of space is trying to resolve the almost impossible questions of ‘why are we here?’ and ‘why do we exist?’ There is a lot we just don’t know yet.

TB: The Apollo moon landings had a profound effect on a generation. Will we ever experience that feeling again?

SC: The reason behind the moon landings was politics. Simple as that. Both the Soviets and the Americans wanted to showcase that they could do a ‘big thing’ well. The moon ended up being that ‘big thing’. We haven’t been back to the moon in more than 43 years and only seven of the Moonwalkers are alive, the youngest aged 80.

We will soon live in a world with no Moonwalkers. We could have sent humans to Mars in the 1980s or 90s but we didn’t because the timing wasn’t right. The money and the interest wasn’t quite there.

Today, that is changing. Private companies are looking towards space, there is this ‘buzz’ and excitement again. We won’t ever see another Apollo, but we will see humans travelling deeper into space, to the moon and onwards to Mars.

It is our destiny. But let’s never forget the Moonwalkers and the first generation of space explorers. We will forever be standing on their shoulders.

TB: Are you pure science fact or can you handle science fiction?

SC: Science fiction should be re-named science prediction. If you can think it, it will probably happen. And all the things you can’t think of will probably happen as well. Our world today is a world of fiction, beyond the imaginations of those who lived 100 years ago. So yes, sci-fi is good with me. Though I am still waiting for my Barbarella suit…

TB: Is creativity the enemy of science?

SC: Creativity is the essence of science. Without mavericks thinking differently, and going against the status quo, we wouldn’t have the world we live in today.

Aristotle, Kepler, Einstein are some of the many many examples of scientists who went against the conventional thinking of their times. Da Vinci envisioned helicopters half a millennium before their existence. He was both creative and scientist.

The incredible pictures of Earth rising over our moon, showing our planet as this pale blue marble against the backdrop of space inspired a generation of scientists and artists. It was science that enabled those pictures to be created, but the result was an incredible piece of art. Creativity and science aren’t enemies. They’re best friends.

TB: Pluto: Planet or not?

SC: Pluto doesn’t care what we call it.

TB: Glenn or Gagarin?

SC: Gagarin. Glenn was the first American to orbit the Earth. Both are heroes, but Gagarin was the first human ever to leave the cradle of the Earth. Nothing will ever beat that.

TB: Neil or Buzz?

SC: Mike. Remember Mike? Michael Collins was the one who orbited the moon alone, while those two made history walking on the surface.

He is also the only person in all of humanity not to be in this picture (above). He took it. We need to remember people like Mike.

TB: The Martian or Moon?

SC: 2001: A Space Odyssey. It inspired today’s science fiction filmmakers.

TB: What is a Black Hole?

SC: It’s best not to ask. Just don’t go near one. Like a Friday afternoon meeting, you will NEVER escape.

TB: The Gap has recently shamed itself by illustrating its retro 1969 range with a window display featuring images of the Space Shuttle (which first flew in the 1980s). Is there any hope for advertising?

SC: Of course there is. Advertising reflects the time we live in. It can be an incredible platform to tell stories and a wonderful time-capsule for the thinking of the time. Look at all the great space ads from the 1960s. I love them. Space is becoming exciting again. Just do yourselves a favour and check your facts. Scientists love facts. And I think your clients would appreciate accuracy.

TB: What do you think of adland’s depiction of your field of expertise?

SC: Sometimes it makes me cringe. Sometimes it makes me smile. But so what? Anything that puts space on the mainstream agenda is good with me (just try and get your space facts correct!)

But if you are going to do a space-based campaign, why not get to know the people who make space exploration possible? Not all scientists talk jargon and they might just inspire you.

TB: What advice would you offer someone setting out in media today and hoping to make a name for themselves?

SC: We are living in an era where we will know within the next 50 years whether there is life elsewhere in our universe. Humans will walk on Mars this century. We’ll soon be mining asteroids. And space travel will open up to the masses. Why would you want to work in the media?

TB: Who or what have been your biggest influences?

SC: I am in awe of anyone who is pioneering our exploration of space. Humans were built to go over the hill and explore. Space is the next hill.

Do yourself a favour and look up these people (they are massive inspirations to me): Dr Piers Sellers, Wally Funk, Dr Jonathan Clark, Alan Stern, Judith Resnik, Gene Cernan, Valentina Tereshkova and Gus Grissom.

If I had to pick one, it would be Gus Grissom. He was the second American in space. He is everything I aspire to be. Tenacious and passionate, he never gave up and wasn’t afraid to take risks.

Many believed he was ear-marked to become the first man on the moon. Instead, as commander of Apollo 1, he was killed along with his two crew mates in a fire during a test on the launch pad on 27 January 1967. But because of the lessons learned from his death, no astronaut died exploring the moon.

Sometimes you don’t have to succeed to change the world.

TB: Who would you most like to influence?

SC: Everyone. Though especially those who don’t know or care about space. The Apollo generation built the world we live in today. We are living in the first Space Age.

There is still a lot of misunderstanding about how much space has given us. It’s important that we explain why space matters. That’s my job. I am not too worried about the next generation. They will walk on Mars.

TB: If I gave you a (return) ticket to space, would you go? And if so, where to..?

SC: Europa. Europa is a moon of Jupiter. A world with a frozen surface, but beneath which lurks a gigantic ocean. It’s entirely possible that some form of alien life exists in that ocean. And looking back, I’d be able to see Earth as a tiny pale blue dot, no bigger than a star. One day human eyes will see this.

Illustration of Sarah by Dean Russell.

You can find Sarah Cruddas on Twitter @sarahcruddas or at www.sarahcruddas.com. ‘Find Out! Solar System’ by Sarah Cruddas is published by Dorling Kindersley and available from July.

This piece was first published in The Drum's 20 April issue, guest-edited by Trevor Beattie.

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