From know it all to space explorer

Justin Fauteux

Andrew Rader has a degree in aerospace engineering, hosts “Star Wars dinner parties” and readily admits to being a sci-fi nut. But according to some, he’s “not geeky enough.”

Rader, who until recently resided in Cam- bridge, spent last June filming as one of ten contestants on the Discovery Channel’s Canada’s Greatest Know It All, which began airing in January and concluded March 11. As of press time, Rader was in the final three. However, this wasn’t the PhD’s first crack at reality television. “I applied for Beauty and the Geek about five years ago and I almost got on but at the last minute, they said I wasn’t geeky enough,” said Rader. “But I liked this show a lot better. I actually don’t like reality television that much, but this one seemed like a really good engineering and science-based show.”

Originally from Ottawa, Rader attended Carleton University for his bachelor’s and masters degrees before earning a PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he recently started teaching and doing research. In 2009, he moved to Cambridge to work at Com Dev International designing satellites.

On Canada’s Greatest Know It All, Rader and his fellow contestants took part in a variety of challenges, most of which were engineering-based. “There were some trivia elements, but it’s certainly not Jeopardy,” said Rader. “It’s a very active game, it’s a competition that has you running around, building things and solving problems on the spot. There’s also a big element of stress. They make a big effort to stress you out and put you out of your element.”

However, for the most part during the competition, Rader found himself very much in his element — or at least close to it. “There were a couple of challenges that were just totally up my alley. The geog- raphy challenges in particular,” he said. “Other than those, I actually wasn’t the best at anything. I tended not to be the worst either.”

While Rader got a chance to show off his nerdy knowledge on Canada’s Greatest Know It All, his future aspirations aim a little higher: “My mission in life is to get humans to Mars,” he said matter of factly.

Rader has done extensive research on space travel, specifically on how to keep humans alive on long space voyages. Namely, a potential mission to Mars, something he believes is vital to the future of human kind. “We really need a separate branch of hu- man civilization to guarantee our survival in the long run. It’s kind of risky to all be stuck on a single planet,” said Rader, adding that studying how humans could survive on Mars can also have a lot of benefits back here on Earth. While many dismiss the idea of humans living on Mars as science fiction, Rader says that’s far from the case. “If you look into it, we could do a mission to Mars with 1960s technology,” he said.

Rader explained that the reason a mission to Mars is so oft-dismissed is because no politician wants to take that kind of risk: “[U.S. President Barack] Obama would never say ‘let’s go to Mars,’ because if it failed, he’d look like an idiot.”

However, Rader added that private companies have begun to get into the world of space travel, which could open a lot of possibilities. Possibilities such as multi- millionaire Dennis Tito’s Mars flyby, which aims to send a couple on a flight past Mars by 2018 or Mars One, which hopes to create the first human settlement on Mars by 2023. “Private companies are much better risk takers than the govern- ment is,” he said.

Rader concluded by saying his ultimate goal is to be part of the Mars One settle- ment, the application process for which is opening soon. However, in the short term, he’s got his sights set on the AXE Apollo Space Academy, which will send contest winners 103 kilometres into space.

To help send Andrew to space visit or visit his Facebook page (