Man in an astronaut suit peers inot a dark night sky.

Here’s the Role of Data and Technology in Deep Space Travel

Telescopes and satellites have enabled humans to explore deep space: from newly formed stars and galaxies to black holes. Now, data could help people search new depths of the sky’s other 93 billion light years.

To learn more, we interviewed a trio of individuals working on deep space research:

  • Dr. Stéphane Grès – Researcher, Deep Space Predictive and the Association de Recherche en Technologie en Systémique Et Méthodologie in Paris, France
  • Alires Almon – Founder and Principal Investigator at Deep Space Predictive
  • Jason Batt – Partner and Lead Researcher, Deep Space Predictive

Interview with Dr. Stéphane Grés, Jason Batt, and Alires Alimon

What Technologies Will Need to be Developed and Utilized to Enable Humans to Survive In Deep Space?

STÉPHANE: It seems necessary to move away from seeing technology simply as a tool to be used by people. We must pay attention to what the technology does to us. In this sense and in relation to space exploration, the source of objectivity is no longer the subject already constituted. Instead, it is the evolution of the human-technology pair and more particularly the human-life (and survival) system pair.

“From an operational point of view, the development of systems of engineering, biotechnology, and cognitive sciences represents the major challenges,” Stéphane Grés describes.

More fundamentally, a positive vision of society as a whole seems necessary in today’s environment. In order to develop these technologies, we must have an open culture and society that integrates science into the way we live and want to live in space.

ALIRES: Some of these new technologies include engineering systems that are developed with human-centered design principles. They must include the diversity of users into the work and systems that are developed. For example, recently, the aeronautics and space administration of the United States had an incident with a planned EVA (Extra Vehicle Activity) where a female astronaut could not go on the walk because the general space suit used did not fit her1.

It is not always the high-level technology that gets in our way; it is the application of the basic technology to a diverse user group that gets in the way.

JASON: Of the technologies that need to be developed, the expected are advances in life-support, propulsion, heat and radiation mitigation, and communication acceleration. The technologies that we see missing in most roadmaps are those dealing with the psychological and interpersonal challenges that arise in crews. We need to be able to monitor psychological conditions2 such as happiness, comradery, and other teamwork-based indicators. These are technologies that aren’t present and yet, for the success of the long-term deep space missions, just as critical as many of the more obvious technologies.

Of These, Which are Data-Dependent Technologies?

STÉPHANE: What is important is not the raw data, but the validated or qualified know-how they represent. The quality of the data is the result of a historical process with hypotheses and orientations that we must trace and memorize with their context. The requirement of space exploration is as much human as it is technological. The information paradigm in which we are in today tends to distance human experience and the presence in the world as a condition for its transformation.

For data-driven companies, it is necessary to show the link between the quality of the data capture device, whether human and/or artificial and its influence on the model’s performance with its ability to predict more or less efficiently. We could be a kind of guarantor of the quality of the device by know-how at the level of its construction mode and a commitment to give back a reliable and validated model to their author-producer.

From our point of view, what is important is the coordination of a group of recognized practitioners who constitute a prototype model according to their intuitions (guided by what they want to predict), which has scientific and economic value for them and our research group. There are two types of challenges. First is the global human health aspect that needs a holistic approach combined with the accelerated degeneration of the human body in space. Second is the need to obtain validated models by stable specialties in relation to what we can observe (degeneration of bones, muscles, blood flow modification, etc.) Often it is a question of opinions with models not demonstrated as robust, which is not sufficient for the level of requirements for long-term human inhabited exploration. The best is data already collected in orbit crossed with other experiments.

JASON: The last few years have seen a rapid expansion of multiple nations entering space. The satellites in orbit of Earth have increased significantly in the last decade3.

“We have hit the point where the amount of data generated is starting to surpass the capacity and computing power of individual computers,” explains Jason Batt.

One approach, an online, scientific experiment to search for extraterrestrial intelligence, is to open source that data. But, that solution poses its own problems, the first being how the pure volume of data is piped down. In some cases, data generated is held by non-collaborating nations and stored locally by government entities. One path, which is not new to space, is the privatization of data4. This path requires an equal amount of policy innovation as it does technological innovation.

A powerful example of the sheer amount of data being talked about is the radio telescope project between South Africa and Australia. When finally developed, it will provide over a million square meters of collecting area5 in two sites in Australia and Africa. It’s anticipated that the actual machines needed to process the raw data will be nearly ten times the size of today’s largest computers5. A brand-new high-speed network will need to be developed just to keep up with it.

Our entries into actual deep space will only compound this challenge. However, the difficulty will be augmented as the transfer of data grows exponentially more limiting the further from Earth we travel. We risk having mass stores of unprocessed data slowly trickling their content toward Earth.

On Earth, We Have Digital Archives that Represent Most of Human Knowledge. How Will We Build and Archive Knowledge in Space?

STÉPHANE: Digital technology facilitates the combination and duplication of information, but what remains fundamental is the gesture and meaning that is created in the author‐reader relationship. In space, the plurality of media could be absolutely necessary to face all unknown dangers and help guarantee the survival of human knowledge and its diversity. Holographic memory is one breakthrough for the future of information storage6, but we must remember simultaneously what Plato said when writing was invented: “If men learn this, it will implant forgetfulness in their souls. They will cease to exercise memory because they rely on that which is written, calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks.” We must continue to develop human intuition and critical thinking.

ALIRES: Deep space explorers will likely have a well-developed digital information environment.  They can learn, assess, and recall/retrieve information in a digital context.

“A holographic storage system could increase the ability to understand items in a more contextual manner, due to the larger data set and presentation stored.” – Alires Alimon on potential data storage systems in space

A holographic storage system could increase the ability to understand items in a more contextual manner, due to the larger data set and presentation stored.

The communication between Earth and these astronauts will depend on the distance traveled and content they are trying to share. As explorers journey further way, the greater the challenge of engaging in timely communications. There will have to be a shift in cultural context and understanding of the information that is shared.  The further the astronauts travel, the longer the information will take to get back to earth.  If the information is just for the historical record, then the distance is not an issue. But, if the information shared is for action, timeframe must be considered. By the time information gets back to earth, it may be outdated and not relevant or useful. The same can be said for information being sent back to these travelers.

How Can We Use Data to Determine How Much Food and Water Will be Needed for a Deep Space Mission?

STÉPHANE: The data can help as long as it is in line with the user’s individual needs. The food should be modified according to the person’s preferences and the demands of the environment (gravity, season, etc.). In the case of a holistic approach, artificial intelligence systems can help to solve this complex problem because they include many parameters that are not typically aligned in data assessment.

JASON: The challenge is not just the raw volume needed but balancing that against limited capacity. The longer the journey, the greater the food requirement but likely the less space available. The shelf life of food is another challenge. Standard preservation options aren’t as easily accessible in space. Longer missions, to Mars or the outer planets, could require shelf life exceeding five years. Our current food industry could fall short of keeping foods edible in that length of time.

The other obstacle is vitamin and mineral degradation. In space, radiation is always a challenge. Combine that knowledge with the deterioration of vitamins in food and the quality of food over the course of long missions becomes a greater issue. Before we even tackle amounts of food and water, we have many other data points to resolve: length of preservation, vitamin loss rate, and more. This is an expansion of science into a field in a unique, new way.

To Promote Human Wellness in Deep Space, What Will be the Role of Data and Holistic Healthcare?

STÉPHANE: Holistic medicine has an important role to play for future long‐duration human crewed flights. What I think is most important is not to consider astronauts as objects or subjects of experience. They will constitute their own experiences to best regulate their body and mind. In this transformation, it is essential to develop the intelligence of the body.

ALIRES: Crew members can be taught how to use their own inner resources, through meditation and other mind-developing exercises, to self-regulate their emotions and general health. Data is constantly gathered about the individual. It is through this training of the body and mind that allows them to utilize that information for focused training and assessment. The key is to have the human self-regulate when they are provided information from a data-rich environment.

STÉPHANE: Simply put, the key is to use data to drive the adaptive relationship between people and their environment.

What Else is Big Data Being Used to Explore? Learn More Below

FORWARD-LOOKING STATEMENTS: This article contains forward-looking statements, including statements relating to expectations for storage products, the market for storage products, product development efforts, and the capacities, capabilities and applications of Western Digital products. These forward-looking statements are subject to risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially from those expressed in the forward-looking statements, including development challenges or delays, supply chain and logistics issues, changes in markets, demand, global economic conditions and other risks and uncertainties listed in Western Digital Corporation’s most recent quarterly and annual reports filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, to which your attention is directed. Readers are cautioned not to place undue reliance on these forward-looking statements and we undertake no obligation to update these forward-looking statements to reflect subsequent events or circumstances.


  1. Spacesuit shortage behind scrapping of all-women space walk.
  2. Deep Space Predictive.
  3. How many satellites orbiting the Earth in 2019?
  4. What Data Privatization Is and Why It Matters to You.
  5. SKA Technology.
  6. Holographic Memory Film Thinner Than Human Hair Could Store 1,000 DVDs.

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