INTERVIEW: JPL’s Dr Randii Wessen Consults On Disney’s Miles From Tomorrowland
Official Bio: Dr. Randii Wessen, Lead Study Architect for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Innovation Foundry’s A-Team, is the lead series consultant. Wessen’s extensive career with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has spanned over three decades. Since 1984, he has worked with several JPL programs including as the Systems Engineer for the search for Earth-like planets, and the Telecommunications & Mission Systems Manager for the Deep Space Network serving Mars missions.
I spoke to Dr. Wessen about consulting on the series, Miles From Tomorrowland which airs on Disney Junior and will have its finale episode premiere on March 11th on the Disney Junior app and on Disney Channel March 18th.
Tony Tellado: I grew watching the Gemini and Apollo missions as a kid and am really glad that Disney is incorporating science into Miles From Tomorrowland. Take me through the process as to how you consult on the series.
Randi Wessen: Basically there’s an evolution. There’s a paragraph, a page write up, a twnety page script and then a simple kind of animation.Each point in the process, I’m doing three things: Trying to see if the science is right even though I recognize that some stuff I’m going to have to ignore. Going faster than the speed of light was what we need to do for interstellar travel. I’m not going to correct that. First and foremost, it’s about the story. Next I have to figure out what technology and engineering will be in the future that they are highlighting in the story. Does that make sense ? My simple rule there is a definition I got from my buddy William Cosman who worked here (JPL) for the definition of impossible. Impossible is that which violates a natural law. Can we go faster than speed of light ? That’s impossible. Can the human body live to be 200 years old ? Sure.As long as it doesn’t violate a natural law, I’ll let it go forward. The third thing I do is to look for opportunties to add science especially if it’s fun science.I’m not trying to make an educational show, I’m trying to make a show that educates.I call it inadvertant learning.
So when you’re near a black hole and you fall in, there is a science term used when you get stretched because of the gravitational differential, that the graviational pull is so much stronger at your feet than your head because of the length of your body. When you fall to a black hole, the term that astrophysicists use is spaghettification. And I go, Disney is going to love this.So I said why don’t we call it spaghettification. All the physicists will know and it’s real and the kids will think it’s funny as all get out.
When they’re going to Pluto, Miles will say that’s the planet Pluto. But then Loretta will go Pluto is not a planet. Miles will ask why and she’ll go you have to have three things to be a planet. You have to go around the sun, You have to be round and you have to kick stuff out of your orbit. That’s a real definition. That’s what we use in the community. Anytime I can stuff in real stuff, I’m going to.
Tony Tellado: I have noticed that there is an interest from younger folks in science almost like a renaissance.
Randii Wessen: I don’t know if it’s going through a renaissance but I know that education evolved. I remember when I was in school I was solving linear systems of equations in high school. My kids were doing that in junior high. Wow, this stuff gets pushed earlier and earlier. They try to keep kids current with their education.There is a renaissance in the sense that everyone is concerned about science education.
Tony Tellado: What is really encouraging to me is a movie like The Martian which really psyched a lot of people about science. I really loved that he approached his problems in a scientific way.
Randii Wessen: I will also tell you is that one of the things that is really neat is that entertainment inspires science.There is quote by Robert Goddard that says that “The dreams of yesterday are the hopes of today and the realities of tomorrow.” Because of The Martian, Jim Green who the planetary science division director, he actually in the same month, the film came out, helf the first science conference at the Johnson Space Center to identify where the first human crew would land on Mars.
Special thanks to the Lipping Group and Disney Jr.
PODCAST: JPL’s Randii Wessen
He consults on the Disney Junior series, Miles From Tomorrowland. But we also talk about one of my favorite subjects, space exploration. Great to talk to someone who is passionate about his work and space. Special thanks to The Lipping Group.
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