IRG 2021 Seminars

Seminars Offered at the 7th Interstellar Symposium

Tucson, Arizona — Friday, September 24, 2021

The Interstellar Research Group (IRG, formerly known as the Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop (TVIW)) is holding its 7th Interstellar Symposium from Friday, September 24 through Monday, September 27, 2021, in Tucson Arizona. This event is hosted by the University of Arizona.

As part of this event, four seminars will be offered on Friday with morning and afternoon sessions. The first two will start at 9:00 am and the other two will start at 1:30 pm. The IRG reception and social hour will be held that evening.

Seminars are 3-hour presentations on a single subject, presented by individual(s) familiar with the topic and providing an in depth look at that subject. Seminars are not included in the IRG Symposium costs and do not require Symposium membership to attend. Each Seminar costs $100 per person. Note for Registered Professional Engineers, Seminar attendance at each of these seminars counts for three professional development hours (PDH), or a total of six PDHs if you attend two

At present, we have the following seminars available. You may sign up for both a morning and afternoon session when you register for the Symposium, or you can add it later by editing your registration. If space is available, it will be possible to sign up at the door on Friday morning. If you are not attending the IRG 2021 Symposium it is possible to sign up early for the Seminar(s) by contacting Ken Roy at or by signing up at the door on the day of the seminar, if space is available.

Additional seminar topics may be added later, so check back occasionally.

Morning Session 9:00 AM to 12:00 Noon

Terraforming Planets: Why and How

The term, terraforming, was first used by Jack Williamson in a science-fiction short story (“Collision Orbit”) published in 1942. Since then, there have been a number of serious scientific books and papers published on this concept.

Terraforming is the process of deliberately modifying the atmosphere, climate, surface topography and ecology of a planet or moon, to be similar to that of Earth. This would then allow human habitation in an environment much like that of Earth.

This short course is intended for anyone who has wondered how humanity could colonize alien star systems. Settling on existing “habitable” planets may pose significant bio-compatibility and ethical issues. Terraforming sterile planets and moons into Earth-like environments avoids these issues. However, this prospect raises numerous technological, biological, and additional ethical questions. This short course will address many of these questions and will cover “traditional” terraforming approaches as well as the new concept of combining geoengineering with terraforming to create new Earths in very hostile and unlikely places.


Kenneth Roy is a retired professional engineer who is currently living in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. As a long-time hobby he has been working with the idea of colonization and terraforming of distant planets and moons. He invented the “Shell Worlds” concept as a way to terraform planets and large moons well outside the star’s Goldilocks’ zone. In 1997, he made the cover of the prestigious Proceeding of the U.S. Naval Institute for his forecast of anti-ship, space based, kinetic energy weapons. He has published papers in JBIS and Acta Astronautica on space settlements and geoengineering. Kenneth is a founding member of the Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop (TVIW) and remains active in that organization. He enjoys reading science fiction, history, alternative history, military history, and books on terraforming.

Astrobiology and the Search for Nearby Habitable Worlds

Powerful astronomical surveys are uncovering exotic new worlds within fifty lightyears from us. Many of these worlds are likely habitable and some may even be inhabited – but which ones? Astrobiology, an emerging multi-disciplinary science, explores the past, presence, and future of life in the Universe, also guiding our search for habitable and inhabited worlds. In our workshop Dr. Kaçar will provide an introduction to how the study of life and biological evolution informs astrobiology about extrasolar habitats and biosignatures. Dr. Apai will the review the search for the closest habitable worlds and methods to characterize them, including searches for signatures of life. Hands-on activities will support the presentations allowing participants to put in practice the concepts they learned.


Dr. Daniel Apai Daniel’s research focuses on exoplanets, with a particular emphasis on habitable planets and planetary systems. He leads large programs to understand the formation of habitable planetary systems EOS, search for giant and earth-like exoplanets Scorpion Survey, Project EDEN, and to characterize and map exoplanet and brown dwarf atmospheres Cloud Atlas and ACCESS.

He also leads Nautilus, a project that explores a radical novel space telescope architecture with the goal of characterizing hundreds of potentially earth-like exoplanets. Daniel’s blog on exoplanet exploration and his research group’s website can be found at

Dr. Betül Kaçar Professor Betül Kaçar is an astrobiologist exploring the origins of life on Earth and finding life on other planets in the Universe. She is an Assistant Professor at the University of Arizona in the Departments of Molecular & Cellular Biology as well as Astronomy and the Lunar & Planetary Laboratories. Betul is one of the Principal Investigators of the NASA Astrobiology Institute Reliving the Past node, is an associate member of the NASA Nexus for Exoplanet System Science designed to foster interdisciplinary collaboration in the search for life on exoplanets, and currently holds an Adjunct Professor position at Earth-Life Science Institute in Tokyo, Japan, which is dedicated to understanding the origins of life. Her research has gained national and international attention, and has been featured by CNN, BBC, NOVA Science, Discover Magazine, NPR Science Friday and Scientific American.

Afternoon Session 1:30 PM to 4:30 PM

Space Law:
An Overview, Past, Present, and Future

This course will cover the U.S. domestic regulatory environment, reviewing the legal authority and regulatory requirements of the Federal Aviation Administration, the Federal Communications Commission, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration over space transportation, satellite communications, and remote sensing from space.  The course will also review three trending issues in space law that arise out of the Outer Space Treaty and that may affect interstellar operations:  property rights, the regulation of new activities, and “planetary protection.” An interactive session at the end of the seminar will allow for an opportunity to comment and ask questions.


Laura Montgomery teaches space law at Catholic University’s Columbus School of Law. In her private practice she specializes in regulatory space law, with an emphasis on commercial space transportation and the Outer Space Treaties.

She has testified several times to the Space Subcommittee of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, and to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation’s Space Subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness on matters of regulation and international obligation. She has published articles on the Outer Space Treaty, human space flight, and launch safety, and writes and edits the space law blog

Ms. Montgomery spent over two decades with the Federal Aviation Administration supporting the FAA in its authorization and regulation of launch, reentry, and the operation of launch and reentry sites. She received her law degree from the University of Pennsylvania, and her undergraduate degree with honors from the University of Virginia. She also writes science fiction, which ranges from space opera to bourgeois, legal science fiction. Her author site is at

The Challenge of Closed-loop and Bioregenerative Life Support for Long Duration Space Exploration

Members of the Biosphere 2 team and the University of Arizona faculty will guide an engaging, informed, and relevant seminar on the intricate complexity and real-world challenges of sustaining human life in a sealed vessel for a long-duration mission.

The human drive to reach to the stars has outpaced our understanding of the full scale of biological systems that keep us alive here on Earth. When we aim our rockets to the nearest stars we will be forced to reconcile our relationship to our first home before we endeavor to venture to the next.

The fundamental question, “What is the minimum complexity required to sustain human life for a long-duration mission” will be discussed as a function of physico-mechanical and bioregeneration against the backdrop of research at the University of Arizona’s CEAC, Biosphere 2, SAM, and other analogs and experiments world-wide.

It is the intent of the speakers to leave a solid hour for interactive discussion throughout the program.


Kai Staats is leading the development of a Space Analog for the Moon and Mars (SAM) at Biosphere 2, a hermetically sealed habitat analog. Within this unique vessel teams will conduct research related to plant physiology and ecology, microbial community evolution, CO2 sequestration, water recycling, pressure regulation; human food studies, and with the use of a pressure suit, EVA, tool use, and rover studies, and more.

Kai is also the lead of the SIMOC [see-mok] project, a scalable, interactive software model of an off-world community. SIMOC is built on published data derived from Environmental Control and Life Support Systems (ECLSS) and closed ecosystem research at NASA and universities world-wide. The goal for the users to design a habitat that sustains human life with a combination of physico-chemical ECLSS and bioregenerative (living plant) systems, and is scalable to accommodate a growing community. Kai is a co-author of “World Ships: Feasibility and Rationale” as well as many other publications spanning a wide range of interests.

Trent Tresch works in bridging the gap between traditional aerospace and new-space innovation. Starting his career in aeronautics with ASET Dive into Space, he developed underwater Neutral Buoyancy education programs. While working on more in depth commercial astronautics trainings he began to build the next generation of accessible pressure suits and life support systems with Smith Aerospace Garments. These endeavors further led him to high altitude, manned balloon flight tests and oversight of pressure suit operations. He has co-authored and published in Purdue’s peer review journal, Human Performance in Extreme Environments, and presented on numerous occasions regarding low cost life support systems for exploration and training. Trent is a board member of the Caelus Foundation since the beginning of 2020. He currently resides in Arizona where he is co-developing SAM, the worlds highest fidelity hermetically sealed research habitat at the University of Arizona’s Biosphere 2.

John Adams has helped drive the evolution of Biosphere 2 through positions of progressive responsibility and oversight for two decades. Starting in 1995, after receiving his BS in Wildlife and Fishery Science at the University of Arizona and working on various biology research initiatives in Southern Arizona, Adams became Senior Research Specialist at Biosphere 2, leading the terrestrial research initiatives exploring the effect of elevated CO2 on the complex mesocosms of Biosphere 2.

In 2014, Adams advanced to his current leadership role of Biosphere 2 Deputy Director. In part, the promotion marked a return to his roots, engaging as a key member of the team that plans and directs all research and related activities inside Biosphere 2 and the surrounding campus.

For the past two years Adams has worked closely with SAM Research Director Kai Staats to develop, fund, and construct this unique, hi-fidelity Mars habitat analog and research center.

Dr. Joel Cuello is a professor of Biosystems Engineering at The University of Arizona. Joel designed, developed, and demonstrated the first NASA-sponsored, hybrid solar and electric lighting system for bioregenerative crop production and life support for the Moon and Mars. With 33 years of experience in research and education in controlled environment agriculture (CEA), innovations for the sustainable production of food and high-value bioproducts for both Earth and extraterrestrial applications, Joel has collaborated globally. He is actively engaged through his BioImagineering Lab, designing innovations ranging from microalgae photobioreactors to growing structures for vertical farms and space human habitats.

Joel served as a U.S. National Research Council Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Controlled Ecological Life Support System Division at NASA John F. Kennedy Space Center. Produce Grower magazine named Joel in 2018 as one of the Seven Leading People in Produce, “pushing the produce industry forward.”

Joel and his PhD student Sean Gellenbeck are working with the SAM team, and will join this discussion to lend their expertise in bioregenerative systems for long-duration human space exploration.

Sean Gellenbeck is currently a Ph.D. Student in Biosystems Engineering at the University of Arizona. His research interests include integrated bioregenerative life support systems (BLSS) for human space travel with a focus on modeling a fully integrated system and the inclusion of decomposers into the system architecture.

Sean holds a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering and an M.S. in Systems Engineering both from the University of Arizona. He currently works as a test engineer with Paragon Space Development Corporation testing various ISRU technologies and has previously worked as a systems engineer for the NASA OSIRIS-REx Asteroid Sample Return Mission and as a lab manager for the University of Arizona’s Prototype Mars Lunar Greenhouse (MLGH) Project. He has participated in multiple space research analog missions including a rotation at the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) and the Hawaii Space Exploration and Simulation (Hi-SEAS) facility. Sean plans to continue his research and in turn, affect substantial impacts on how food is produced on Earth. He hopes to one day set foot on the surface of Mars.

Professional Development Hours

A Note on Professional Development Hours (PDH), sometimes known as Professional Development Units (PDU). A PDH is defined as one contact hour of instruction. Each seminar will provide 3 PDHs. On request, IRG will provide attendees with a certificate verifying your attendance along with a description of the seminar’s subject and contents. Keep this certificate and the seminar description for your records. Ten valid PDHs are generally recognized as one Continuing Education Unit (CEU). CEUs are used to demonstrate continuing education necessary to renew a professional license. To be a valid PDH, the seminar subject must generally relate to the licensee’s professional practice. It is the responsibility of the licensee to ensure that their state board will accept a given PDH as relevant to the license being renewed. Any questions should be referred to the licensee’s State Board.

Various countries other than the US have similar requirements for some professional licenses. We’ll be happy to work with anyone from such a country who needs certification of their attendance for such a requirement. Please attend the seminars, put us in touch with the appropriate organization in your country and we will provide them the information we supply to the US state bodies.