Coral Interviews— John Paterson

With 25+ years in aerospace, John brings a shared passion for the moon and expertise in systems test engineering

Suzi Bianco
Oct 5, 2018 · 7 min read

Space Decentral is currently developing the Coral Program, a long term project with the goal of developing the technology necessary for 3D printing habitats on the lunar surface, using in-situ resources.

John Paterson inside the Apollo 17 Command Module. Source: Photo from John’s archives.

We are beginning a series of interviews with the Coral team, and today I invite you to get to know John Paterson, one of our most assiduous members. I haven’t met John in person, but after eight weeks of online meetings, I’m able to recognize his voice and demeanor among all the other people chiming in. John is one of the NASA veterans on the team, and has had a very fulfilling aerospace career. Read on to find out why.

John: I was raised in Northern California and am a Systems Test Engineer. I’ve been fortunate enough to have over 25 years in Aerospace and Defense. I started as a prototype machinist at NASA Ames while in school. Below is a photo of a motorized model depicting a lunar mining device, which I built for the University of Wisconsin as a paid side project.

John’s motorized model depicting a lunar mining device. Source: Photo from John’s archives.

John: I was very young but remember Apollo. I also saw 2001: A Space Odyssey and remember the grandeur and scale it depicted on the moon. I was also lucky enough to have an older brother explain fact vs fiction. That set the stage. I think many of us that are Boomers that are involved in space today share the same sentiment. I have tried to relay the mood of the time at STEM events to students.

John: I ran into Marc Cohen, one of the founders at the ISDC conference in May. We both worked in the same building at NASA Ames. I hadn’t seen him in 20 years. When we caught up he introduced me to Patrick Donovan and asked if I could help him with finding and using Lunar Soil Simulant. We talked about what is now Coral, and that lead to being asked to participate in the group project (Coral) about a month later. It was sort of a natural evolution of discussion. What I remember was Patrick’s enthusiasm that a collective wanted to create a project related to lunar manufacturing.

John: I thought that if nothing else this would be a good social opportunity to talk about space related matters, particularly Lunar related. It would also be a good networking opportunity as well as to have a good reason to expand technical knowledge of methods utilizing Lunar Regolith. It’s a great applied thought exercise.

John: I like the fact that I don’t know what the spinoffs might be in terms of what might be discovered in addition to what we are already planning. The potential networking is neat too. I’m reading news announcements (mostly on Twitter) about firms like Relativity Space and RedWorks Construction Technologies that help with understanding the state of the art.

John: One of the things I’ve learned is that you never really know where a new project and a new group of people might go. I’d like to see it lead to some unique research warranting venture capital. An MOA with a university or NASA to use their facilities for unique experiments to produce equipment would also be great. Much higher on the wish-list spectrum would be a startup company that doesn’t yet exist that might somehow recruit or use the academic research and planning that is in progress. There are an estimated 2,700 billionaires and 3.3 million millionaires. For every Bezos and Musk there may be 10–20 who are wanting to financially contribute to a commercial space enterprise, or alternatively a large crowd can make smaller contributions that amount to an actionable budget. Those types of enterprise may well be discovered by decentralized collaborations, and now is the time to strike. No one has seen this level of interest and activity in space commercialization. Opportunities are there in the making, but they have to be discovered.

John: The progress has been surprisingly good, in fact very good for a group of people in different locations, most who have never met in person. I have seen more dysfunction in industry than I have seen here. My impediments are mostly of the overhead variety of no peripherals on my computer yet making videocons awkward. I think the progress is good and it has people thinking and acting when they can.

John: I think it’s fine as everyone has an aspect of it they are interested in or specialize in. It takes patience to listen though. The moderators are good at the discussion not going too far off track, and completing (tabling with research actions) a subject before going to the next.

John: Not really. I have led efforts involving multiple contractors and subsystem people to develop plans and procedures for tests with people in the room and on a telecon, but nothing as broad-based as this.

John: My domain is best suited towards defining and doing any testing that requires lunar regolith simulants. I also would like to learn enough to select and modify a printhead that is optimized (if possible) to work with crushed basalt in a vacuum environment. However, if I have advice to give in other discussions and decisions from a systems engineering aspect I will chime in.

John: Things may prove challenging when the time comes to compete for fundraising or agreements with universities. Individually we have good credibility and track records, but the credibility of a co-op group may be viewed differently unless entering some other type of competition. The other challenge that we have no control over is how future history will be played out. The cancellation of the Lunar XPRIZE competition, for example, has slowed things up for non-NASA potential payloads and we have yet to see if it will be revamped or another effort similar will start. A billionaire may emerge and decide to fund the building of the first pressurized Lunar shelter using local regolith for shielding (possibly as a contribution to the International Lunar Village concept). It’s the uncertainty that is likely to slow us down, ie where will the Launcher and Lander be sourced from?

John: Being part of a team with a common goal where enthusiasm and creative ideas are recognized. A good Idea can come from anywhere. Allowing room for an unknown yet positive spinoff or outcome is also inspiring.

John: I think that the right people might not need much convincing, particularly if they want to learn outside their interest area. My ‘elevator speech’ would include “you never know where this might lead”. It’s also good social interaction with very bright people.

When I asked John to tell me anything else that our readers might be interested in, he shared the following video, which is a great compilation of his aerospace career.

So now you know a little more about John Paterson, our resident Systems Test Engineer and general advisor to the team. Feel free to follow him on Twitter — @johnpat007 — to be on the know about aerospace news and other interesting topics!

This interview series is an ongoing effort to introduce members of Space Decentral to the greater community, and periodically we will release a new and unique story. To find out more about Space Decentral, please visit the Space Decentral blog and read our other articles.

Space Decentral is a decentralized autonomous space agency that leverages blockchain technology to reinvigorate the push for space exploration with global citizens in control. Space Decentral promotes collaborative design of space missions, sharing research for peer review, crowdsourcing science, and crowdfunding worthy projects that accelerate human progress.

Space Decentral

Space Decentral is a decentralized autonomous space agency…

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