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Transcript: Space4U podcast, Anita Greenberg

Written by: Space Foundation Editorial Team

Hi there. This is Rich Cooper with the Space Foundation. And this is the Space4U podcast the Space Foundation’s new podcast to tell the stories of the amazing people who make today’s adventure in space possible. I’m joined today with Dr. Anita Greenberg, the chief operating officer and vice president for academics with OPEX global out of Georgetown, Texas, I need is not only an educator by training, but it’s also an accomplished software developer and an experienced entrepreneur.

 

She’s part of that new generation of space industry members that are bringing new ideas, energy approaches, and creativity to the greater space community. I need to also works as the chief academic officer at, at the fathom Academy, which works to improve the training and safety for our first responders.

 

Anita, thank you for joining us for the space for you podcast, but I want to begin here by allowing you to tell us a little bit more about OPEX global and what it does. Thanks Rich. So OPEX global is a commercial astronaut training facility. We opened last October. Our focus is sort of a new breed of workers for the new commercial space race that we’re in the middle of.

 

We have a neutral buoyancy tank that we use to help train the astronauts, and we have developed our own curriculum that will allow. Astronauts to be trained more quickly than they’re trained. Now. Now, when you talk about commercial astronauts or commercial astronaut training, Who are these people? Yeah.

 

So commercial astronauts are people who are doing all the logistical work. All of the construction work, all of the maintenance that has to be done as we move forward, whether it’s with ISS or gateway or anything that’s going to be happening on the moon’s surface itself, we have is sort of elite, scientifically focused astronauts.

 

And they are right now doing all the maintenance and all the logistics. And you know, what we are focused on doing is working. In a complimentary way, uh, in order to make sure that we can get things constructed and maintained as effectively and efficiently as possible. It sounds like preparing, uh, those future construction crews, whether it be for additional pieces to the existing space station or future space stations, you literally would be training people to go up and do just that type of work.

 

Yeah. They may already be experts in. Whether it’s welding or plumbing or nursing, or, you know, they may already be experts in those fields. And what we would be training them to do is doing those things that they are experts in, but in space, So where does an idea for a company like this come about so far for us, our CEO is the one who came up with the idea.

 

He saw the commercial space companies and what they were doing, developing rockets and, and creating a sort of space tourism industry that we have now, but nobody was really focused on training and all of those companies are gonna need people to help maintain what it is they’re building and doing. So that’s really where the idea came from.

 

So. Is this something that Barton and you have worked with before and training workers to do this type of work, but now you’re taking it to the, a much higher level, literally putting them in zero G. Is this something that you’ve got a heritage in? Uh, My expert, my PhD is in instructional design. So my expertise is in instructional design.

 

I’ve always been in love with space, but this is not something that we have done before. We have a retired astronauts on our board that has been hugely helpful. And most of what happens in training right now in the neutral buoyancy tent in a neutral buoyancy tank. Is based on the army and Navy dive manuals.

 

And we’re very fortunate to have director or director of dive operations is a retired army diver or retired commercial diver. And his co-director helped rewrite the curriculum for the army dive manual. So we’re very fortunate to have subject matter experts who have two expertise. In the tank too, to help us with our, with our training.

 

So you’ve got the master divers and you have access to these former astronauts, but you yourself, aren’t a former astronaut. I haven’t been to space. So, so I have to ask. So when, when you’re training people to do something that you’ve not done, how do you do that? Yeah, so as I said, I mean, we use the subject matter experts that we have, and then the idea is to bring in.

 

Those retired astronauts to sort of go through some beta testing for us. And, and the hope really is by using the subject matter experts that we have, including myself, who’s that who is the instructional design expert in my job in the past has always been to, I may not be an expert in what the field is, but I understand what it takes to teach it and to train people properly.

 

And so if I can use a subject matter experts that I have around me, Um, I can design the training the way it needs to be designed. So when you talk about this training, though, how much is classroom sitting in front of a whiteboard or a screen and, and understanding the terms. How much is classroom. And then how much is what I will literally call hands-on getting in a tank and doing something like this.

 

So the, the goal right now is, uh, we have, right now we have three semesters of core training that everybody’s going to have to go through the first semester will be almost all classroom, except at the tail end of it. When people are, when the trainees are introduced to a surface supply dive, because that’s what they’re, that’s how they’re going to be diving in the neutral buoyancy tank using surface supply.

 

And so once that semester is over, it’s basically hands-on from there out. We want to be able to get them in the tank, in our tank as quickly as possible. And we want to make sure that they have as much hands on training as they can possibly have. Whether it’s a specific project that they’ve been hired to do, or whether it’s a sort of more general, what Novavax is calling a kind of space, Jack, that we’re trying, that, that we’re going to be training.

 

Once you get past those three semesters, there’s some specialization that you can do. But those first three core semesters are really to create the sort of general space check that we’ve been, that we’re pushing towards. I can only imagine the graduation ceremony after three semesters of this, that the cap and gown is really gotta be something for that.

 

But you talked about this. The tank NASA has long held NASA as long, had what they call the wet F where they’re training their astronauts. And it is this monster Olympic size pool. Describe your tank so that our listeners understand how your people are being trained to do this. Our tanks are much, much smaller.

 

They are the prototype tank that OPEX built is, uh, 20 feet deep. And about 15 feet wide. It’s just an, if you can imagine a water tank, right. That you see driving down the highway, that’s essentially what it looks like just on the ground instead of up on. On stilts, right. And what it is painted black inside so that when the trainee is inside, they really do get that feeling that they’re in space.

 

We have also been able to project. The earth rotating on the bottom so that you get that over earth effect that astronauts always talk about, you know, it’s a, it’s a big, first step, right. To step out of the international space station into nothing. Uh, and so if we’re able to prepare our space jacks for that feeling and sort of what to expect, that’s really why that projection system.

 

Has been set up. The wonderful thing about our tanks is how quickly they can be set up because they are above ground. You know, in, in a matter of three months, we can have one up and ready to go. This sounds like something that Hollywood would have all over it to do, uh, for all the respective different space movies that we have.

 

Yeah, that this would be something that they would be interested, even the whole entertainment value. You have the, I think it’s called eye flight. The, uh, the skydiving experience. I understand you’re looking at the training aspect of this, but it seems this also has a sort of public wonder and public enjoyment out of it too.

 

And, you know, we understand that this, this idea of a space shack is the that’s the long road for us. And so we are considering how do we, you know, in the short term, right, how do we bring revenue in? And one of the, one of the ways that we want to do that is to really create an entertainment version of this.

 

You know, I went to space camp. I applied to the air force Academy into the Naval Academy specifically because, and to Purdue specifically, because I wanted to be an astronaut. Once the military took a look at my knees and my asthma. They said, thank you. But no. Uh, and so, you know, I tried other routes to get there.

 

It never quite happened, but that fascination with space has always been there. And I think it’s there for a lot of people. And so, um, one of the things that we’re really interested in doing is setting up a safe entertainment version of this. Where you can really feel what in the neutral buoyancy tank, in our neutral buoyancy take it.

 

You can really feel what it’s like in that zero G situation. So we now have two commercial crews that have been identified that Boeing has theirs. SpaceX has theirs. Has there been any engagement with OPEX global and these particular commercial crews? So I know that the space X crew is being trained at the MBL.

 

So the answer to that is no. We have not engaged space X at all. The Boeing crew. I know less about frankly, we are under NDA with a few companies, which is really, as far as I can go right now to talk about training people. But one of the things that we want to do is really recruit from everywhere. So the situation becomes as long as you are Patty, now we certified as long as you can pass, you know, a criminal background check, as long as you can pass a.

 

Uh, flight physical. Um, and a dive physical, then we are happy to train you. So you talked about the three semesters that you, that your training has, and you just talked about certification. Obviously, if someone goes to be a pilot, there’s a series of training protocols that they go through in order for them to get a license, do you envision there being a similar type of process to be a worker in space to go out and do these things?

 

Yeah, and I mean, Oprah effects, his real goal is to sort of become the standard when this kind of training. And I am at the beginnings of exploring that. So I don’t want to sort of speak out of turn right. In terms of what we’re able to do and not do, but you know, my goal, um, especially as an academic person is to make sure.

 

That we have the accreditation that we need and that we are able to give the certifications that we need to be able to give for, for, for people to then be able to utilize the training. You know, we never obviously want to get into a situation where they go through our training and then our toe told you don’t have, you know, you didn’t check this one box.

 

So that’s what my focus is right now in the very short term is just to make sure all those boxes are checked for us. You talked about the having access to the app, the former astronauts who have been to space and can certainly give you a description of what that experience is like as you were developing these training situations and scenarios and.

 

Literally apparatus, what did they tell you as you were doing as you were doing right? What did they tell you? You were doing wrong? I mean, is there, is this a system that is constantly having to be tuned based upon people and their different space experiences to get it right? I think that we learned a huge amount in the sixties.

 

Um, and in the seventies, when the, when, you know, at the onset of the space race, and a lot of the modifications that have occurred at that time, there’s always leaps. And with technology moving forward and things like that. But most of what happens at the MBL is based on the army and Navy dive manuals.

 

And so we are able to, we’re able to use the same manuals in order to create the same type of training. The difference that, you know, the big difference with us is again, because we are, you know, ideally our first candidates are going to come from the commercial dive world. Because they already have so much of the dive training and that will just make our training even more efficient as we move through the beta testing for our training, a lot of those kinks will be shaken out.

 

A lot of those things will be shaken out. I know just based on my experience with developing curriculum, how much, how many modifications there are going to be as we move Howard, you can’t go to space or work in space without. Excuse me without a space suit. And certainly his workers are being trained to do lots of different things.

 

They have to, there are certain pieces of equipment, whether you’re a first responder or you’re working in a industrial facility, whatever that might be. Do you guys have your own space suit? We are under NDA with a company, uh, to begin development on that. Our idea is our ultimate goal is to be able to train a space check and have them show up at a job site.

 

With their own suit with their own life support system, and essentially be able to plug in to whatever the system is it’s being used. So it will not be a situation where companies who hire our space checks will have to develop their own suits. Or sort of purchase a suit for our workers. That that’s our ultimate goal, but also the reason why we are so interested in developing our own suit is because as you mentioned, different roles, right?

 

Different workers will have different roles. And that may mean a different type of suit depending on what it, what it is that they have to do. So I have to ask though, is as far as the space suit, What makes a good space suit. That’s certainly one that protects you. Right. But the spacesuits have changed quite a bit.

 

In fact, there’s a, quite a dramatic change that’s going on right now, even with the commercial crews. What makes a good space suit today? Yeah. I am not an expert in space suits. So for our workers, I would really like to see one that has a lot of freedom of movement. I know that one of the issues with space suits now is the type of fatigue.

 

That the astronauts get in their hands because of the pressure suits, uh, have to deal with. Um, and so trying to solve some of those problems, um, with the company we’re interested in working with is really one of the things that we want to, we want to be able to do. I mean, as workers, the idea is for them to be able to be outside and working for long periods of time.

 

So simple things like, you know, your hands get tired, so tired where you can’t hold your tools anymore. Um, those are the things that we’re going to be focused on. What are the qualities and skills of the people that you see being the space workers that they need to have? I mean, are there, have you talked about the fatigue that they may get in their hands or their limbs and certainly they need to be in good physical condition.

 

What are some of the other, I will say physical as well as educational attributes that these workers need to have with the direction that the industry is going in. We see. A situation where companies will be hiring us for specific projects. So we will need workers that have different specializations, right?

 

Based on the workers, based on the needs of the company. And then as the industry continues to grow and continues to grow, we will be able to train sort of more general space jacks, you know, that have that do sort of more general. Have more general responsibilities. And so I think that at the beginning, the characteristics of a worker are going to be very much reliant on what it is they’re, they’re going to be doing once they’re up there.

 

But as we go through beta testing, looking at places like commercial, dive, you know, looking at industries like that, again, people who we know are not claustrophobic, who already understand surface supply and what that means. Are extraordinarily comfortable under water, even in emergency situations. I mean those two from a training standpoint, those are the types of people that we’re looking for to train first, because they are used to, you know, if you think about a commercial dive situation, it is very much like being in space.

 

The pressure is what is the difference, but, you know, commercial divers are. Relying on a life support system in the dark for long periods of time cold, right by themselves. And, you know, astronauts have some of the same you’re there. Their job sites are very similar. You talked about the space camp experience that you had as a kid.

 

Yeah. Uh, and I can’t help, but think that, you know, the space camp experience certainly exposes young people to mission planning and operations, et cetera. Can I, as a, can I as just a regular person? Go to effects global and sign up for training and try to get this experience. I mean, this would be a, for lack of a better phrase.

 

This would be the fantasy baseball camp for space people to be able to do a spacewalk like this. Can I, as a regular person? Sign up for this training and get this experience not yet, but in the, in the near future, I really, I see that happening. You know, we need to make sure that it’s absolutely safe.

 

Obviously we need to make sure that we can create an experience for people that will be memorable and exciting. And so those are the things that we’re looking at now, how to develop that. I mean, getting into the suit and getting into the tank and sort of. You know, experiencing that neutral buoyancy is great, but for me, that’s kind of one step.

 

So what else can we do? And how else can we add on to that in order to make the experience as memorable as possible? The safety issue is also a huge, huge issue. You know, you can go down to the Caribbean and you can scuba dive. Even if you’re not certified, they put you through a training, you know, a small training.

 

Um, and then you got out on the boat and you’re allowed to do that. My belief is that we can set up the same type of situation with a surface supply. But again, you know, you can say you’re not claustrophobic and you can say, you’re totally comfortable. That helmet is heavy and it is tight. And I have seen many, many people say I’m totally fine.

 

And then put that helmet on and they’re like, Nope, I’m done. So we really want to make sure that the experience is as wonderful as it can be. Right before we, before we begin to. To offer a typical safety. Uh, you you’ve stressed that in, in the conversation we’ve had here, safety is critical to everyone, remission.

 

Uh, how do you, who certifies the safety, uh, or the safeness of a procedure like this? Uh, you know, I know NASA, NASA has made a big deal, uh, appropriately enough to, for a safety culture, uh, to be there. But this is something that’s being done, uh, by the commercial enterprise and the private sector. Who do you look to to help you certify that?

 

Yeah. You know, NASA has really set the standard for safety protocols. And so that’s something that we’re working on, really trying to figure out what that means for us. Once again, you know, we’ve looked at the commercial dive industry to help us. What are their safety protocols are? We are looking at NASA safety protocols and I’m actually hoping to talk to the FAA to see if there is some sort of certification.

 

That we can get, just to make sure that we are continuing to be as safe as possible. I have no problem with people coming to the facility, accrediting it, tell us what we need to do. You know, none of that bothers me. I think it’s an integral part of what we’re trying to do. Yeah. So a company like yours is entirely new.

 

You’re building off of the dye protocols, the NASA protocols, but. You’re a private company. You’ve got to raise capital to do this. What has it been like to acquire support financial backing, to do an enterprise like this? What have you heard from the people who have become supporters of this company? How do, how have they reacted to this concept?

 

Because this really is. Pioneering. Yeah, we’ve been very fortunate. Um, we are funded and, and we’re a very, very lean company and we are able to be that lean partially because what we are doing is training. We’re not building rockets, so we don’t need huge manufacturing sites. And what I’ve tried to develop is this idea of the open effects is space checks as always has always been the ultimate goal.

 

But what are some things that we can do in the near term to try to raise some revenue and frankly get our name out there. And so working with educational institutes, working with medical institutes for, to do research, uh, if they, you need to use the neutral buoyancy tank, that’s one way to do it. And our entertainment path that we’re moving down is another way to do it.

 

You have, those are all things that will allow us to, to not only. Test how we have things set up and continue to make it better. Um, but it will also allow us, it, it will frankly allow us to sustain ourselves until we get to a point where this idea of a space Jack becomes it’s more common. Do you have competition in this area?

 

Not yet. We seem to be really ahead of the curve on this. Um, it does not mean that competition is not coming. It just means that right now we still seem to be. Kind of ahead of the pack in terms of, uh, in terms of this kind of training, most people I know all want to go to space all want that experience, whether it’s a spacewalk or just floating and zero G, but with what OPEX is looking to do here, I’m going to give you the opportunity here to have that magic wand and, uh, tell me the customer that you want.

 

Who’s the customer that you want coming in to open doors and being that commercial astronaut. Yeah, I think it’s different for each of those three, the three things that I just mentioned, the kind of educational medical research that kind of tourism or entertainment and the kind of space X space, Jack idea, right?

 

Those are three different customers. Uh, the medical and university research, obviously our universities and, you know, medical schools that are looking to do. Uh, research and need a neutral buoyancy tank from the entertainment standpoint. It’s exactly what you’re talking about. It’s me, it’s people who went to space camp and actually seriously considered being an astronaut or who have always been fascinated with space, but for whatever reason, you know, either because of their bad knees or, or, you know, just because they decided not to join the military.

 

Um, or don’t have a PhD in microbiology. Those are the people who can really, really find a lot of joy, frankly, in, uh, in the, uh, in the entertainment version of what we’re trying to do for this bass Jack version. We’re really looking for people who are experts. Yeah. You talk about vocational education and you talk about the trades, right?

 

There’s a huge push right now. We desperately need in this country, people who are focused on the trades, right. They’re focused on. Whether they’re they are master electricians or expert plumbers. We need those people and we are going to need those people in commercial space as well. So, I’m having visions of space Teamsters with local, you know, one, one zero seven, you know, on there.

 

I have no problem with that. It doesn’t bother me at all. I can see the lunch pails and everything right now in orbit provided they’ve got a good tether on it. Right, right, right. So that’s, I mean, but those, those are really, they’re the ideal candidates for what, for what we’re looking for. Okay. Where’s hope affects in five years.

 

I think in five years, we’re going to be at the very beginning of space, Jack training. I think that the way the speed at which the industry is moving, I think that in five years we will have, uh, we will be working with companies for specific jobs, but we will not yet be training general space jacks, you know, give me another 10 years and then we’ll be doing general space check training.

 

Well, that was my next question. Where are you? In 10 years. Okay. But I just, based on the speed, you know, based on the speed of the industry and, and sort of what’s happening in the industry, um, I see, I see things continuing to speed up, but I still think it’s going to take a little while for us to end up with, you know, luxury hotels in low earth orbit.

 

One of the things that, uh, the space community has tried to do quite prolifically is bring the lessons learned from space and apply them here on earth and make life on earth. Better. You work with fathom. Which provides assistance to first responders. What have some of the experiences based upon the Oprah effects and the space training that you’ve done, how have some of those experiences contributed to the training and support you’ve done with first responders?

 

Yeah, the, the fathom Academy is really interesting. It’s a Swift water training facility and indoor so far training facility. So we are focused solely on Swift water training right now, Swiftwater training. For firefighters and other first responders happens in rivers. And what we’ve done is we’ve created a situation where.

 

Um, they can come in and we can turn the speed of the water up or down. We can have them practice night ops, um, and it becomes a situation where they are safe. And that is really the connection for one of the connections for me has been the safety, right? The safety that has to occur. And the importance of the training for first responders and how safe they have to be.

 

You really want to get to a point with this specifically with this type of technical training, where they are it’s muscle memory, right? So that they can focus on the variables as opposed to how to tie a knot. And on the OPEX side, I see the same thing. You know, safety is paramount. Uh, and so we are, you know, setting up a training that will make sure that people are safe enough in space so that they are able to focus on the work that they are doing.

 

Final couple of questions, who, your space hero, fictional or real yeah. Space hero. The teacher that went up with challenger and I cannot remember I now thank you. I watched the challenger go up in fourth grade, you know? As most children did right across the country. And it was so cool. She was like a regular person who was able to do this.

 

And like a year later I was at space camp. So she really, I think she really has sort of affected how I feel about space and she’s an educator and that’s what my background is. And so that just makes it even better. That’s great. Yeah. Thank you. That’s it for this episode of space for you. Very grateful to Anita Greenberg of OPEX global sitting down with us here today.

 

Thank you for sharing your time. Thank you for sharing the experience that you’ve got there. This is going to wrap up this episode of space for you. Keep your eyes and ears open for more episodes. That’ll be posted on our social media outlets as well as. spacefoundation.org. And on all of those outlets, you will find ways that we in the space foundation work to inspire, educate, connect, and advocate for the space community because at the Space Foundation we always have space for you. Thank you for listening.


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Space4U Podcast: Anita Greenberg, Commercial Astronaut Trainer