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Space Café Israel by Meidad Pariente: Alice Miller – Spiritualism, Engineering, and following your heart

By Meidad Pariente

Alice Miller; Credit: Haya Gold

In the Eighth episode of Space Café Israel, Meidad Pariente is in conversation with Alice Miller

Can you share something personal that isn’t written in your LinkedIn profile?

Wow. Usually, what you don’t want people to know you don’t write on your LinkedIn page. But I think one thing which is very, very dear to me, which is a very big part of my life, is lying under the stars. And I think that in my life, I’ve spent months and maybe even years just lying under the starry nights and looking up. I have been very fortunate to be married to an Indian person, and we’ve been living in the Indian Himalayas for many years. We built a resort in the Indian Himalayas, and we spent many, many nights just lying down, gazing at the Milky Way, just looking at the beauty of it of this universe that we’re part of. I think my kids know the Milky Way, as well as city people know the shopping mall next to their house. When Beetlejuice was losing its brightness four or five years ago, my young daughter was about eight years old. She said to me, “Look, Mom, something’s happened to Beetlejuice.” I said to her it must be the dust, clouds or something that makes it look that way, and then it turns out that she actually noticed that Beetlejuice became less bright. So we really just love the night sky. My family has no choice but to do.

Let’s talk about your current role. What is Helios all about? And what are your responsibilities as VP Space at Helios?

Helios is an Israeli startup. It’s been here for about five years. We’re nearly 30 people now. I joined when we were six people. Helios has developed technology to produce oxygen from regolith (the moon’s soil). It turns out there is about 40% oxygen in the regolith, and our technology knows how to extract oxygen from it. Now, the big question, of course, is, what do you need to extract oxygen for? and the obvious answer is for breathing, but that is not the correct answer. In this case, yes, we need to breathe on the moon. But actually, rockets going to the moon are propelled with liquid propellant, which is methane and oxygen or hydrogen and oxygen. So the major part of the rocket (propellants – m.p) is oxygen. For people to be able to leave Earth and carry on flying back, or toward Mars or other places, we will have to use very large quantities of oxygen. If we can produce oxygen on the moon and supply it to anybody who needs this oxygen on the way, it will be a very large step for human beings to reach other planets. So this is what Helios is doing. And I’m VP Space, and I love it because it is so broad. I’m making it possible for us to actually put a pilot plant on the moon, not a pilot plant, even a working facility on the moon in 2032. So to do that, there are many things we have to do today to make this happen, we have to experiment on the moon, and we have to make partnerships. You know, I’m sure anybody in the space industry knows there’s nothing you can do on the moon alone. If we manage to produce oxygen out of regolith, there’s nothing we can do with it unless we have somebody who liquidized it, stores it, and supplies it to a customer, or unless we have somebody with a bulldozer or whatever, picking up the regolith and putting it onto a conveyor belt that will feed our system. There are many, many players in this value chain. And now we’re building a consortium of many players around Europe and the US to achieve this goal. It’s a fantastic thing that you actually can’t do it on your own, because you have to have all of these collaborations with many different people from around the world. That’s one of the fantastic things in space. So I fly to conferences around the world. I find grants and make these consortiums, we’re working on contracts with a company that’s going to supply us the ability to reach the moon with our demonstration payloads, and I’m in charge of all of that.

Spiritualism is Release, release, release. Elon Musk says that the first question you need to ask yourself before you solve an engineering problem is do you even need the system? Our thoughts rule us, and I really believe that meditation rooms in houses are going to be something important. We are going to come back to a world with starships flying to Mars. The starships going to Mars are going to have a quiet space inside. 

Can you tell us about the application Helios came up with for the steel industry and why you consider it a revolution?

We produce oxygen out of regolith, and then you get byproducts, which are metals and some slack. When we were doing our experiments here, we understood that there is no way anybody is going to invest any money in technology, which is going to give a return on investment in 20 years. We have to find some way to fund our adventure to the moon. What one of the genius engineers here Yossef Gofer, And Jonathan himself said (Jonathan Geifman the CEO – m.p), you know, we’re producing oxygen and getting iron as a byproduct, maybe we can produce iron, and get oxygen as a byproduct in a reverse process? I don’t know if you know, but about 10% of the CO2 emissions on earth come from the steel industry. In order to produce steel today, you take coal and you take iron ore, the carbon reduces the oxygen in the iron ore, and you get CO2 and pure iron. So for every tonne of iron or steel, we release a lot of carbon dioxide. Helios process releases only oxygen, and we will be able to save 10% of CO2 emissions and fund our way. I think that this is fantastic. We have five of the biggest mining companies are in the process of finalizing pilot plants (using our technology – m.p). One in the US, one in, hopefully, India, Japan, and Germany. We’re really moving along because the steel industry really appreciates the ingenuity of our technology, and the amazing benefits it can bring to Earth. it’s really comforting to know that we’re paving our way to the moon with a “green steel road”. This whole space adventure, the only right has to exist is if it brings back benefit to Earth. We have to find a way to benefit our environment and our communities back on Earth, while we’re running to space. We need this for two reasons. One reason is, there’s no way you can fund an operation that’s going to the moon and has to build some kind of an ecosystem there in 30 years’ time, so that is one reason we need some kind of terrestrial application to funding our way to the moon. The other side of it is, and there’s no other reason for me to be here, but to do good for our life on Earth, for this beautiful planet, for my family, and for my friends. We really believe that what we’re doing is going to help bring a better future to our earth over here. We have found that our technology can maybe even swap technologies for the production of nickel and all kinds of other metals that exist in the first row of the periodic table. We’ve done proof of concepts for quite a few of them already, including silicone. Hopefully, these technologies will bring benefits back to Earth.

Meidat Pariente and Alice Miller in the Space Cafe Israel; Credits: SpaceWatch.Global

Let’s talk a little bit about spiritualism and engineering. From your perspective, talking about leading with your heart, are spiritualism and engineering? Do you see a connection between the two parts of yourself and your personal life?

Well, there’s no such thing. You cannot separate spiritualism from anything, you know, how the hell did this computer get here? and the moon, we’re talking about the moon, everybody talks about the moon as if \it’s just there, you know what I mean? It is mind-blowing; everything is mind-blowing. Even engineering itself is mind-blowing, it’s just the universe had to invent these animals called human beings so that these human beings could invent a vacuum chamber. It’s all part of it, you know what I mean? It’s quite obvious, it’s not separate, nothing is separate from anything. I have a spiritual teacher, I’ve been moving through life with for many, many years, her name is Shantimyi. She says that Spiritualism is release, release, release, just release. Everything released, that is spiritualism. You hear Elon Musk, talking about engineering, saying the first question you need to ask yourself before you solve an engineering problem is “do you even need the system?”. I see 100% connection between everything, it is all part of it. I don’t see any disconnect, and I love it. I love engineering, I must say, I love nature, I love meditating. I love many things. And I don’t see anything that has a disconnect anywhere. Especially when people are involved. I’ve such fabulous people here at Helios you know, each one of them, and every person in this company is fantastic, fabulous, mind-blowing, and a lesson. A full lesson in spiritualism continuously. I see it in engineering, I see it in people. It’s part of well, where we are, who we are, how we live. I can’t see in any way.

Shoutout time: which Israeli new space company do you think the audience should pay attention to?

Tehiru Space is a fascinating company by Aaron Prat, he’s the founder of this company. It’s a launching company, which will launch small rockets to Low Earth Orbit with 300-500 kg payload capacity, rapidly reusable, small rockets. I have a feeling that this company is going to be something very special. Right now, there having quite the same difficulties in receiving support from the Israeli government for putting up their infrastructure, we (Helios – m.p) are trying to put up a pilot plant here in Israel, where we can demonstrate and develop the industrial scale of our technology. And finding land is tough for us. I think Tehiru is looking to Europe and the US like we do,  just because we cannot get the support we want here in Israel. But I think this company is something extremely special, very professional, with a beautiful vision.

What do you think the Israeli space industry will look like in 2050?

Well, I’m sure I can’t because nobody can really predict what’s going to happen. I remember I participated once, when I was an officer in the IAF, in a consortium, thinking about the future 20 years ahead, and we wrote this document. A few years back, I looked at this document and saw that nothing that we thought actually happened and everything that happened we didn’t even think was going to happen. We have a serious problem in Israel of very, very low funding for anything related to space. So anything that happens here (in Israel – m.p), it will have to be lots of ingenuity of commercial companies. I was just looking at the US, you know that NASA’s budget is about 0.4% of the total American budget (Federal budget – m.p). I was looking at the Israeli budget is 600 billion Shekels. 0.4% of 600 billion is 2.4 billion Shakels. If we get that kind of investment here. We will see something totally different from what we’re seeing today! It’s very hard to predict what will happen in the future. I think the only thing we can do is do our best, especially when you’re talking about the lunar economy. I like what Yossi Yamin From Space Pharma says (about the government role – m.p). It’s like you’re developing a new car. You don’t think about the roads that the car has to go drive on, you assume the government is going to supply roads. We (space entrepreneurs – m.p) have to think about not only what we will do on the moon but how to fund this $1 million per kg cost to reach the moon. We need governments to come in and help us build roads, metaphorically, into space so that we can do what we need to do up there.

Alice Miller, like many, wanted to become an astronaut. Becoming a pilot was the first step. Once she realized women could not become pilots in the Israeli Air Force, she petitioned the high court and won the case (1995). She did not become a pilot but opened the doors for hundreds and thousands of women. 

After spending a decade as an Aerospace Engineer in the Israeli Air Force, Alice turned to the private sector in various areas. She founded a natural swim pond company, founded a reusable energy startup, constructed a resort in the Indian Himalayas, initiated an Israeli – Palestinian municipal waste project, and she even founded a company taking people to star gazing…

And now, Alice is VP Space in Helios, an Israeli startup, turning lab-scale technology into a full-blown lunar industry.

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