She arrives looking as glossy as one might anticipate, in black and long blond hair neatly coiffed. She is slim, certainly, but not neurotically so. Instead, her body looks as healthy as her beautiful and animated face. In addition, Sheyene herself has a fascinating and inspiring background and commitment to benefit others. Her voice is soft, but she herself is straightforward, unpretentious and candid to an almost disarming degree. She is not lovely looking, but simply lovely, full stop.
Sheyene is member of the International Political Science Association (IPSA) and to the committee on professional ethics, rights, and freedoms. In 2018, Sheyene was accepted to a master's degree program in Space Resource Utilization (ISRU), offered by NASA and was appointed as the Lead for Robotics Outreach; she serves an strategic advisor of the Next Generation Committee of the Robotics Society of Japan. During these most recent years, Sheyene has focused much of her energy on social issues such as technological literacy and the space revolution. The former actress and robotics founder candidly shares the challenges she'd faced in her life and expounds upon her plans to take her robotic workforce to space.
10 Questions for Sheyene Gerardi
1. Sheyene, where did you born?
Is your family with you? Are they here in our country? Do you have brothers or sisters? Why did you decide to leave the Venezuelan?I was born in Venezuela, but I have both Venezuelan and Italian citizenship. I'm only child and my immediate family, my parents, have died. I did not decide to leave Venezuela. I was forced to leave the country to receive medical treatment.
2. When were you first diagnosed with cancer?
I was in the middle of the recordings of "Camaleona," a soap opera of RCTV. I was exhausted and just had lost my parents. Suddenly I got sick, after a week of analysis, they said I had a very advanced Lymphoma (stage 4) and they could not do anything for me. I took a plane to the U.S. to get a second opinion. They too gave me about 3 months to live. I was lucky I found Dr. Humberto Caldera, who literally "saved my life." He personally put everything in order, so that I could receive the best treatment. And so began my victory march.
3. What kind of cancer?
And how was the treatment?It's called lymphoma, not Hodgkin, but it was a very rare type of cancer with only 60 cases reported and no survivors. I received chemotherapy for 3 years ... I feel like I broke a Guinness record. And far from feeling as a victim, I can say it was a great learning experience for me, I have much to be thankful for in life.
4. How has your life changed?
Well, as I said before I had lost what I loved most—my family—in a car accident. Being only child, this affected me so much. I was very sad, I felt I had no one, and I felt unprotected because my mother was always my best friend. When they left so unexpectedly, their unconditional love disappeared and suddenly my life felt empty. I simply had no wish to live. After a year I was so sick that doctors gave me just 12 weeks to live. I found myself in another country, alone, with no relatives… I needed a lot of help. I remember once I wasn’t going to get my chemotherapy because I couldn’t get the money out of my country to pay for it… It was a mother who lost her son this morning in that battle, and she decided to pay for my treatment. I’m a truly transformed person after all this.That was my biggest lesson, from feeling alone to feeling the love and care of people around me, that changed my life completely.
5. Without the help of that lovely woman who paid for your chemo you stated how you likely wouldn't be here to tell your story. Are you still in touch with that woman?
How did she come to offer you the help? She did it anonymously, I never got the chance to meet her, nor to say thank you. I wish I were eloquent enough to express the gratitude. I still wouldn’t know what words to use to describe the awe, respect, and appreciation for the decision she made. A decision that was courageous and selfless and made at an incredibly difficult time. This incredible act of kindness changed my perspective and purpose in life. I feel, a responsibility to honor this mom and try to use this phenomenal gift to its fullest; to use it not only to benefit my own life, but the lives of others.
6. Before aiming at the moon, Sheyene worked in developing mining robots for a terrestrial mining because
Most people don't know I have been involved in the mining industry since I was born; I have expanded operations to work on the development of technologies for autonomous mining as part of my family business in Venezuela. These mines smell of ammonium; every time I go I am always struggling to breathe, imagine the workers who spend hours everyday there. Half a million people get sick every year working in the mining sector. Robots can go deeper underground, to mine in extreme conditions that humans could not withstand, and of course robots can work 24 hours a day for continuous workflow. We’ve built our scalable architecture and low-code platform to stay ahead of rapid change; we have been collecting and analyzing data to identify how design parameters correlate to successful performance of the robots.
7. Combining artificial intelligence with human ethics?
Because space industry has such growth potential, my concern is that the establishment of industry in space will create an imbalance of economic, political, and even military power between owners of the industry and non-owners. In the case of technology, the extremely rapid scale-up and the extreme imbalance this produces could make it extremely difficult for social justice to be recovered once it is lost. It is vital to expand humanity’s participation to ensure a safe, healthy, and just planet.
8. Isn’t Mars too far away and Elon´s plans premature?
There are 25,000 known "Near Earth Asteroids" which are much closer the Asteroid Belt. In fact we visited two of them, Ryugu and Bennu, and we are bringing back samples from both. In the mining industry we call this "prospecting".Some asteroids are made of an iron-nickel-cobalt alloy. Others contain carbon. Combine those and you have a steel alloy. A solar furnace can heat the mix to the point you can cast or roll it to shape. So structural parts are about the easiest thing to do. The point of space mining is to allow access to materials for construction for space habitats, instead of shipping entire industries into space. Settlers on Earth always brought a starter set and bootstrapped the rest.
9. But the main question here is obviously funding
A lot is changing in the space industry every year and as machine learning advances and sophistication of robotic technology is refined even further. Reusable launch vehicles, 3D printing in space, and in-space refueling are just a few of the developments that have emerged. Making this cost-effective requires off-planet resources in addition to low launch costs.Some people assume the price of getting to orbit and back won't keep dropping, it will, and that the raw ore will be processed on Earth, it won't. In 1850 they would have assumed that aluminum had no chance of industrial application, since it was worth more than gold. The fact is that SpaceX's Falcon 9 has already reduced the cost to LEO to about $2720/kg, or 1/7 of what had previously been typical. Falcon Heavy dropped that to $1700/kg for large payloads. With the fully reusable Starship it's estimated that launch costs could drop to a small fraction of even that.
10. Shouldn't we solve our earthly problems first?
The more industry we can move off-planet, the more we can reduce pollution here, and lower temperatures here. Also space can help solve climate problems: Satellites beam radio waves to Earth, for example for TV. On a much larger scale they could beam power to Earth. The usefulness is that in space the sunlight is entirely predictable, and in the right orbits available up to 100% of the time. So it can fill in for the variable ground solar and wind. We already convert sunlight into beamed energy and send it down to Earth. Except we use it to carry information rather than raw power. To deliver power requires a massive increase in scale, but not inventing new technology. We have developed strategies for starting space industry and we can see there is a very feasible path forward. 3D bioprinters are now printing diseased human heart cells in space. The ability to manufacture cheap, nutritious 3D printed food, for instance, will not only help future astronauts explore deep space but could bring about substantial shifts towards the goal of eradicating global hunger. Imagine the possibilities that are in our future when we go down this path and how we can benefit planet earth. This is the closest thing to have super powers. –Sheyene says.