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Hey, guys, it's Mike Rowe, and this is the way I heard it, episode number 188. This one's called How Much for a round trip, how much for a round trip. The events in the story you're about to hear were not inspired by our recent visit to Mars, more likely the other way around. We start with Chapter ten from my book, which tells the true tale of an unsung hero who helped get the space race underway. She's a mostly unknown explorer who set the bar pretty high for all the men and women who followed her, slipping the surly bonds of Earth, as it were, and following her into the final frontier.


It's possible you've seen her statue or heard her name, but most people haven't. In fact, most people today have no idea of the sacrifice she made back when the space race was just heating up or the trip that took her to where no man had gone before. After that, I welcome back to the podcast, the only guest to rival the popularity of my own mother, the one and only Dr. Michelle Fola, who graced us with her charming presence and enormous brain last month to discuss the mysteries of how the universe works and agreed to return this week to answer a few of your questions about the significance of our latest trip to the Red Planet and what we might learn from the rover called Perseverence, currently conducting all sorts of mind bending science on the surface of Mars as we speak.


Just yesterday, in fact, I announced Michelle's appearance on the podcast over on my Facebook page and received no less than 100 questions from my insatiably curious fans. Michelle has graciously agreed to answer all of them. I'm kidding, of course, but she does answer more than a few. And the result is another fun conversation about the nature of risk and the cost of discovery and the many sacrifices that mankind routinely makes in the name of exploration. I call it how much for a round trip.


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Chapter ten, the orphan hero. She was an orphan living on the cold streets of a hard town, doing what she had to do to get by, unlike most runaways, she didn't bolt when they approached her. In fact, she greeted them with a curious smile and saw their government vehicle for what it was a warm place on a cold evening she got in. Now, it's hardly a secret orphans make great protagonists, Huck Finn and Harry Potter, Pip and Pollyanna Dorothy Gale, a dangerous Targaryen.


Those characters stick with us, but their adventures are entirely fictional while our protagonist is the real deal. Twenty minutes after they found her, she was enjoying a hearty meal and a warm bath, both of which she needed then for the first time in memory, she slumbered uninterrupted. When she awakened, she was escorted to a classroom where she joined a handful of other recruits in various stages of the program. Our protagonist was a natural, her instructors described her as focused and a quick study, but it wasn't her aptitude that caught their attention, it was her demeanor.


In every challenge, she remained unflappable, seemingly immune to the stress and fatigue that the program was designed to induce. Her instructors were impressed on Halloween, just one week after they found her alone and freezing on the mean streets of the city.


The decision was made. They woke her up before dawn and led her to a small room. It was poorly insulated and impossibly cramped. She was seated on a drab leather cushion and commanded to remain as still as possible.


Wires dangling from machines were attached to her skin, food and water were left within easy reach, our protagonist remained calm. She asked no questions and offered nothing but that same curious smile before the men locked the door behind them. Outside, the instructors gathered around a monitor and watched most recruits lasted 15 or 20 minutes before the claustrophobia became too much to bear. She was different, unfazed. She lay there for an hour, then another, then another. After that, gazing calmly at the gray metal roof a foot above her head, smiling that same curious smile.


A day passed, then another, finally, after three days locked inside the cold and gloomy enclosure, the wait was over.


Buttons were pressed, switches were flipped. The rumble of unfamiliar noises filled. The air objects around her began to behave strangely as the general theory of relativity became something more than a theory. The sound around her intensified, so did her speed. Within moments, she was hurtling through the troposphere, the stratosphere, the mesosphere, the thermosphere, entering space at 18000 miles per hour.


She was an orphan 4000 miles above the streets. She used to wander the first of her kind to orbit the Earth. Those of you who remember the very first days of the space race might recall the way the world held its breath praying for her safe return, our protagonist circled the Earth four times in zero gravity as the scientist far below monitored her vitals, duly recording every precious scrap of data until there was nothing left to record Sputnik to would carry her corpse another two thousand five hundred and sixty six orbits before plummeting to Earth, leaving no remains for a proper funeral.


Her name was like him, and though she was most certainly female, she was not a woman. She was a trusting terrier with a curious smile, a patient disposition and ears that bent in several directions at once. You see, the Soviets recruited their very first cosmonaut from the frigid streets of Moscow because they needed a hardy specimen, a cadet who could endure the cold of a poorly insulated capsule. In other words, they needed a dog with the right stuff.


Today, like a sacrifice is well known in Moscow. In fact, if you visit the icy capital of the former Soviet Union, you'll see her there back on the streets. She used to wander memorialized in bronze. She stands upon a rocket and looks toward the heavens, an eternal reminder to those on two legs that one small step for man was made possible by one giant leap by man's best friend. Full disclosure, that last story almost broke me, it was the first one I wrote for the way I heard it, and it generated more sad face to moggies and disappointed emails than any of the others.


It also inspired an angry voicemail from my mother. Michael, what the hell is wrong with you? No one wants to hear a story about a puppy who dies in outer space. Now I'm depressed, dammit. And using bad language. Call me back. Interesting, I've written lots of stories about man's inhumanity to man, but that was the one story that upset my mother, my girlfriend Sandy didn't take it well either. At the end of Likers sad tale, she threw her headphones across the room.


The Russians built her a statue. She said, who cares? Those godless bastard sent her into space for seven days with just one meal with a bunch of cold blooded scumbags. Sandy struggles sometimes to say how she really feels like when Michael Vick was convicted of running a dogfighting ring. That guy should be fed to the Tigers, she said. The Detroit Tigers. I asked now, just regular tigers. The NFL could sell tickets. They'd make a killing.


I don't have much sympathy for Michael Vick either, but it is striking people seem to feel more strongly about his dogs than they did about the homeless people. They had to step over on the way to their local sports bar where those people simply overwhelmed by the sheer volume of human suffering in the world. It's easy these days to turn on CNN, pick up the paper or scroll through your news feed and conclude that the world's gone to hell. Maybe it has, but is it really worse than it's ever been?


I don't think so. We're exposed to more bad news than ever before. And I think maybe we lack the bandwidth to process so much misery, as Joseph Stalin said. And he would have known, the death of one man is a tragedy. The death of one million is a statistic. Is that why the story of one little dog who died alone with her little heart racing way out in space cut so deeply? The truth is, I didn't sit down to write about like a just because I disapproved of the way she was treated, nor did I write about her to provoke my mother into a fit of profanity.


That was just a bonus I wrote about LICA because once upon a time she brought the whole world together. And if I'm being entirely honest, I wrote about her because she reminded me of another 15 pound terrier mix, specifically the one chewing on my slippers right now, the one Sandy plucked from a pound and mirin and brought to our apartment in San Francisco.


When he came to me nameless and friendless and tiny and cold, I did what I often do in moments of great uncertainty. I went to my Facebook page and asked people who like me to name him.


Those are the same people who have been programming every show I've worked on since 30 jobs, the same people who have suggested many of the subjects I've written about in this book.


I like them too, and I've come to believe that their collective opinion is perilous to ignore. So I posted a few photos of my new dependent and watched in Wonder as 87000 people wrote in with their suggestions. It was an amazing thing to behold. My little mutt had the whole Internet by the tail. After much consideration and some decidedly non-scientific methodologies, I selected the six most popular names I unfolded to peppered with six squares on it and wrote one name on each square.


Then I set up a camera and waited for my puppy to poop, assuring my Facebook followers that I'd name him according to whatever name he pooped upon. Coincidentally, or maybe not, the puppy pooped on Freddi, the name of my beloved high school teacher and mentor. What were the odds? One in six, I suppose. Looking back, though, it feels inevitable. Point is, in 1957, an orphan from the mean streets of Moscow went to space and the whole world watched, holding its breath, praying for her safe return.


Sixty years later, an orphan from the mean streets of Marin took a dump at 87000. People watched with bated breath to see where that dump would land. Yet only one is remembered today as a hero. Give me a break, Sandy saying like he's no hero. She didn't decide to be shot into space any more than Freddie decided to be videotaped crapping that statue was built by assholes with a guilty conscience, period. End of story. She's right, turning Lica into a hero was a fine way for the Russians to control the narrative.


I suppose I control Freddie's narrative, which is why there is no statue in his future. I don't think you'd want one anyway. He seems happy enough with his bone, my slippers and his own ghostwritten blog. There's even talk of a book deal. God help us. But if there were a statue, I know precisely what it would look like. Freddie and bronze the P pad in bronze and a pile of bronze poop partially covering his name. Now, that's a statue I could get behind.


Speaking of Freddie, there is still no statue here to honor his presence in my humble home, though it should be said that my presence here has become a source of great confusion for my dog. For the last 10 months, Freddie's been waiting for me to leave, which is what I used to do all the time before this godforsaken plague. But now, like millions of others, I'm running my business from my home office, which means I'm here all of the time and my dog is baffled.


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As promised, Dr. Michelle Thula is joining us once again to talk about, as you can tell, virtually everything. We were just free associating on the way Frankenstein came into being because she was quoting Byron and a way leads on to weigh on this podcast. And Michelle, I mentioned to you earlier, I went on my Facebook page not 24 hours ago where you're a huge hit. And I told the gang that you'd be coming by again to discuss all things celestial and to leave any questions they may have.


Currently there are thirteen hundred.


That's up from one hundred a couple of hours ago. It's like, oh my God, how am I gonna get around to all of those?


Well, look, people are curious, you know, and and I've got a ton of questions for you. I want to talk briefly about LICA of the story we just heard and the incredible cost, the the the price of, you know, slipping the surly bonds of Earth or whatever that other quote was. You know, it's it's expensive in so many different ways. And then I thought we'd just get to as many of these questions as I can, because I know you've been answering questions like a banshee for what, the last forty eight hours, but pretty much the same five questions.


You're doing all of these little short new shots right. Where each one is like five minutes long. And so we prepare suggested questions. They don't need to stick to them. I mean, there's always the possibility someone will say, you know, have you discovered the aliens on Mars yet or something? But but but part of this the same five questions over and over again.


So but to be clear, we have not yet discovered the aliens, right?


Not yet. That's why we're going. That's why we perseverence has all these great instruments that are more specifically designed to detect microbial life or the evidence of ancient microbial life. But but anyway, you know, it's funny. So we're talking about rovers and that that might be a good Segway to start your conversation about the dogs.


Yeah, obviously, that was my first thought and that's why I called you poor little Lica back there in the fifties, sent up there for the ride of a lifetime. And yeah, now we've got another dog name on a completely another part of the solar system. And it it might be a bit thin as far as connections go, but it but it did get me thinking, you know, can you draw a straight line from likers adventure and her tragic end and her sacrifice to the fact that Rover is now on Mars 60 years later?


Well. Well, sure.


I mean, the whole story of the space program, you know, is a continuous story. And it's true that we sort of had these two branches right now where it's either, you know, human space flight or its robotic space flight.


And I think part of that and I think I think we're like it comes into discussion. Is this just the idea of risk? Yeah. And, you know, so at first in the late 1950s, you know, they're wondering if the human body functions at all, you know, up above the atmosphere in zero gravity. So they start sending animals and that the Russian specialized in sending dogs and some mice. And I know that the United States sent lots of primates, squirrel monkeys, you know, chimpanzees, a whole range of them.


And yeah, I mean, these these these poor creatures. I mean, having no idea what was going on.


All of the surgery to implant medical devices that would monitor them inside. You know, I mean, unfortunately, one of our first primates are able died while they were trying to remove one of these sensors and all of that. I actually met Miss Baker. So so Baker was still alive, that little squirrel monkey. And I believe she was actually the oldest living squirrel monkey on record. She survived the flight and and then lived at the Alabama Space and Rocket Center.


And so I actually saw her when I went to the museum when I was about 13 years old.


Back up just a little. Miss, were Mrs. Baker was a squirrel monkey that went up when so Able and Baker were on a United States mission.


And I I don't actually remember the exact year, but it would have been in the early 1960s, late 1950s. And and, yes, she was still alive in 1983 when I was there. So and I'm going to probably get people saying she she wasn't actually a squirrel monkey. She was this type of monkey. But at any rate, she was a relatively small, long tailed monkey, Ringworld monkey. And and, yeah, she was still around in the 80s and old world monkey.


That's awesome. I'm not a sentimental type usually, but when I read Likers Story, it was really one of the first stories that I wrote for my podcast because I just thought the simple misdirect between a between a human and an animal would be an interesting way to introduce that idea of risk because humans simply weren't prepared to take it at that point. Right. So we we had to put something else in there. And we're living in a very different time.


Right. I mean, there was great sentiment and great hope that she would survive that mission back in the. But today, I wonder, with any kind of free publicity if the public would even stand for shooting a dog up past the troposphere for science purposes, you know, it's one of these things I believe I was reading about, like his mission.


And I believe in the case of likers mission, there really wasn't much chance that they were going to get her back. You know, she went up with, for example, I think one one serving of food and enough oxygen for something on the order of a couple of days. And so I think they kind of knew that was a one way trip. And I remember I remember one of the articles I read saying that a scientist had taken her home for a couple of days to be at his house with his family because they want to do something nice for her before she died.


But I mean, so a number of the dogs died. I mean, a lot of them died with the Soviet Union when the parachute didn't open correctly or know there was a problem with the rocket where the rocket exploded.


And a number of them also passed away from heat exhaustion because the capsules were too hot. And they think that's what happened to Laika.


So, like, it probably didn't live very long at all, you know, but but they did prove that the body does work. I mean, you know, things keep flowing through. You can keep water, you can keep food going through. You can breathe. You know, there was your lungs inflate. Fine. You know, all of that. They did they did discover. But, you know, it kind of there's a lot of things in life that you sort of you're sort of glad you don't know, but you feel guilty.


You don't know what I think about all of the animals that are probably still in medical testing.


And, you know, I mean, how many how many dogs, how many cats, you know, how many primates. It's it's it's really kind of awful. I. What do you do with that sense of guilt that, you know, there really is the sacrifice, this is going to do this?


You talk about it, right? I mean, I think you're absolutely right. In all cases, it's better not to have your head in the sand if you're if you're going to eat meat. I think it's wise to know where your meat comes from. I think it's wise to visit a slaughterhouse.


If you're going to eat fish, go to a slimline if you're going to wear makeup, see how the testing played out with the rabbits. If if we're going to celebrate a trip to Mars, let's understand the real cost of all of it. And I have a lot of questions pertaining to cost. But the first one just struck me as the sacrifice. You know, there are millions of people for whom no explanation will possibly justify like us trip. And I'm not going to try and change their minds.


But I do think it makes sense to step back and really look at this space race from the beginning and and try and understand what the cost really is so we can better appreciate whatever the ultimate benefits are. Absolutely.


And what are the ultimate benefits and what question are you most sick of answering over the last 48 hours?


Oh, well, you know, I think I there were two that towards the end of the day on Friday, I was getting a little punchy. Honestly, I'd been talking for a long time and I was so happy that the rover had landed safely. So I guess that on Thursday, anybody on Thursday. And and so when the rover landed, I had some champagne waiting. I'm at home. I'm not driving anywhere over 20 once I pop the champagne.


And I started drinking champagne by myself quickly because I had more interviews to get done. And so by the time I got to the next interviews, I was just a little punchy. And the two that I kind of nailed people on. But I just sort of I just sort of smack them down. I'm hoping that was OK, was the question. You know, is the space program really worth the money? That was one of them.


And then the other one was, you know, are we are we exploring Mars in the hopes that someday we'll be able to move there? If if we if we mess up this planet, we can go to a new one on Mars. And those those were the two ones that I just kind of jump down people's throat on.


Well, OK. So the marsh, this particular Mars rover, was about a two billion dollar mission, that two billion dollars was over 10 years. I mean, it's not like we packed two billion dollars into a suitcase and send it up on a fiery Roman candle in the space. But that's not what we're doing. We're you know, those are those are jobs. Your jobs, you know, that that support huge amounts of industry, not just NASA, but all of NASA's contractors, you know, not just the United States, but but other countries that actually had involvement in that.


And we've actually done a lot of research at NASA because, quite frankly, at NASA, you know, we're often asked to justify our existence. And I think we've shown I can if people are really interested, I can point you to the actual studies that show that any any dollar spent on the space program usually comes back at least two dollars to the community development technology development.


It's and and to be quite honest, people have a sense that we have a lot of money at NASA and the science program at NASA.


So this is all in this case, all of the the robotic spacecraft, everything from 50 ursine satellites to all the Mars rovers to the Hubble Space Telescope to things looking at black holes and the big bang, that the budget's a little less than six dollars billion a year. And we right now we're operating 109 nine.


It's always changing 108 to 111 operating missions.


And that's incredible. That that's incredibly efficient, you know, and that's where we're getting things like the weather satellites, you know, and satellites. Most farmers these days program there combines with Landsat data to understand exactly which part of their fields need more irrigation than other. Lansac can see that. So, you know, I mean, the the benefit to humanity is huge for what comes to be relatively short changed for the United States government.


And let me say Velcro, Velcro. I'm pretty sure Velcro existed before NASA. I think that's a myth. I think it's NASA. So we'll have to ask our studio audience out there. But I think Velcro existed before NASA, but would have been.


What about don't get me started on space pens either, though. The president used a pencil. Yeah. Yeah, well, it was scratch resistant lenses. Oh, sure. But I mean, how about. Look at this.


The the reason we started to miniaturize computers, I mean, before them, they were really happy to have things like UNIVAC that just took up a floor of a building. We wanted to send them into space, know we were in the space race with the Soviet Union. We wanted to have at least simple computers up there for the astronauts to guide their spacecraft. It said the United States up to lead the computer revolution. Right. I mean, you have all of the space development in the 60s and 70s and then entrepreneurs get a hold of that and run with it.


And, you know, the reason the United States began to dominate at that time economically, we had a lot to do with the way that we pioneered those those computers and then small computers and all of that.


Yeah, but, you know, there's there's all of the other things that I think. Yeah, sometimes people ask me, what's your favorite NASA spin off? And I have many I mean, they're being used to track polar bears and whale sharks and all kinds of cool stuff. But no kidding. I mean, I when people ask me that, my answer is actually grandchildren. Great grandchildren are a good spin to have. And in the in the mid 1980s, it was a NASA satellite that was just trying to study what gases make up our atmosphere.


It didn't actually have a specific goal. It was just what they call blue sky research and satellites up monitor the atmosphere. And they noticed that something weird was happening with the ozone levels.


And famously they thought it was their detector. They thought the detector was wrong and the ozone levels were just tanking in ways that nobody expected. And with working with other scientists, with ground based data and more space based data, they realized that we were we were destroying the ozone hole.


And, you know, nobody knew that was going to happen because nobody knew you could get those chemicals that high into the atmosphere. That did the conditions of Antarctica make it perfect for that? That's why it happens there.


But at any rate, we did some some climate simulations with our supercomputers. And if we had not discovered that and done something about it, wrote treaties about it by the year 2060, so that's only in 40 years from now, we would have largely depleted the ozone layer, which means that's very bad, right? Kind of the end of civilization. You couldn't have agriculture outside. People couldn't exist outside for any time. The oceans would have been chemically affected.


So, you know, I mean, we need to understand our environment, our larger space based environment.


But what do you say to people that are good right there? There are a lot of questions on my page right now from people who are basically asking the same thing in a slightly different way. But it but it has to do, I think, with the notion that it's a it's all a zero sum game, for instance. Why are we going to Mars when we don't even understand our own oceans, right. But NASA is studying the oceans, too.


And is that NASA or is that some other acronym?


Well, it's us, too. And we've got a whole department of oceanographers here at Goddard. I mean, when when when when when all of this quarantine is over, we'll bring you to Goddard were the largest earth science department in the world at Goddard Space Flight Center, the largest collection of of people that have expertise in the atmosphere and soil moisture and ocean currents and all of that. So, you know, I mean I mean, the largest part of our science budget right now is going to Earth science.


So backing up the thing you find yourself most often explaining is the question, is it worth it? Which kind of traps your ass, understandably? And what was the other one?


So, yeah, OK. The other one was, is Mars a place we can go if we screw everything up here on Earth?


Yeah, right.


So and the idea that will ever have lots of people going to Mars, you know, and I think that I mean, all of that is a wonderful science fiction scenario. But why do you think we haven't gone to Mars right now?


And this is something that brings back your discussion about risk, right?


Right now, we do not know how to get people there safely and return them safely. You know, it's not that the technology is is necessarily impossible for us. I mean, if you look at the setup they had in the movie The Martian, where you have this huge spacecraft with an artificial gravity spinning ring and it basically isn't in constant orbit between Earth and Mars. And then wherever you are, you take little rockets up and down to get on this kind of conveyor belt.


And that's really cool. That would cost trillions and trillions of dollars. And nobody has suggested that kind of a budget. And maybe we shouldn't invest that much money on Mars exploration right now. But, you know, at the level that it is, there's just no way. I mean, we got tremendously excited on Thursday when we landed something safely the size of a car. And it's incredible. It's wonderful. But think about sending people there, right?


I mean I mean, think about the scale difference habitats, rocket fuel to get back off, rockets to get back off, you know, how would they possibly live?


And, you know, I'm sure you can find people. I know that, you know, they're always kind of I'm going to say it scam's like, you know, the Mars One company that said, well, we're going to take you on a one way trip to Mars. You're not going to come back. And people like volunteering and people were volunteering to be Alika. And, you know, there are it's cool that our species has such wonderful exploration instincts.


But don't you wonder I mean, it's so romantic and it's so expected, I think, for anybody who has a real sense of curiosity and adventure to answer that question in the affirmative. Right. Would you go to Mars if you had the chance? I know a lot of people who would say you better believe it. Me? No frickin way. No, absolutely not. Not going to happen. I might go to the space station.


I might you know, we're we're really pretty good at that now. We're pretty pretty good. I'm going to I'm knocking on wood. You're pretty good at getting people safely up and down from there. I think it would be incredible to stand on the moon, but I'm not sure I could. I could take that. But to Mars. No, no, absolutely not. You know, I mean, it's a long trip. You have to stay there.


Mars and Earth are. We talked about the different planets where you can't just hop off any time you want. You know, you've got to wait until they're on the right side of the sun from each other. So, you know, you can't just go there and come back immediately.


Before we jump in to these questions, just explain, if you can, a little bit about the math, because it's a bit I'm. I don't know a lot about math, but I know these planets are both orbiting around the sun at different speeds and the trajectories and the azimuth and the how in the hell I mean, what what does the equation look like that actually gets that thing off of Earth and lands precisely where it landed?


It's just mind boggling.


So, I mean I mean, that's something you can look up. I mean, the from the from the founder of rocketry. Right. I mean, Robert Robert Goddard was talking about how you would get into orbit around the moon in his case, although he actually wanted to go to Mars. But the moon seemed to be a more realistic goal to to advocate for.


The main thing to realize, of course, is that nothing is a straight line in space that we you and I are already orbiting around the sun at about 67000 miles an hour. So we're not really aware of it.


I mean, this was the whole thing that Galileo had trouble convincing people of is, you know, right now you just around the sun and you and I are actually going about half a million miles an hour around the center of the Milky Way galaxy with the sun. So you already had this intrinsic velocity, this intrinsic energy. You are orbiting at that at that speed right now to get to Mars, you need to increase your speed a little bit. But you can't just go from one planet to another in a straight line because everything is moving in circles at different rates.


So you need to pick the right arc that will get you see, you need to know where Mars is going to be in the future. And and, yes, we can do that. That that's that's called calculus.


And, you know, I had an astronaut tell me one time I ask him, can you explain, you know, how the lunar lander hooks up to the capsule? And, you know, I mean, that that that equation, he said it's really pretty simple.


You go on one side of the house where I can't see you and I'll stand on the outside of the other side of the house. And you have a golf ball and I have a baby and we're going to count to three and we're just going to throw them over the roof. The trick is to make them hit. Yeah, right.


But they see there are things you can control about that in space that you can't. I mean, because, I mean, an earth hitting a golf ball would be dependent on whether a good gust of wind got you or not.


And of course, in the vacuum of space, while there are it's funny.


I mean, there are winds that the sun has a wind of high energy particles and that does very slightly change the path of things in space. But for the most part, you know, there's nothing out there. So if you give something to push, it's going to keep going in the same place that you got it to. And whenever they say things like, you know, getting a spacecraft to Pluto is like making a hole in one over the course of the entire United States with one swing and all that, you are allowed to correct yourself along the way.


There there are there are small rockets to correct the path a little by little. So so so while it is incredible and it is really impressive, it so much more is controllable than people understand. You're not dealing with all of the different random things. How strong is your arm versus his arm? How can you throw exactly the same way each time in in space? You can because you can measure those things.


Interesting, Dorothy Brown and by the way, thirteen hundred questions, this is just a random sample, but I was actually reading some of them.


I've got some I like to say, oh, OK, great.


Maybe we go back and forth. But Dorothy Brown first said, Mike, the perseverence rover was named by a Boy Scout who won a national contest as a distinguished Eagle Scout yourself. I thought perhaps you would appreciate that. Alex Mather.


Yes, he named it. Yes. Beautiful essay. Boy, I wish I had it in front of me because it was a short essay and it was a really, really lovely essay about how he was he was sort of riffing off all the names of the the different rovers Curiosity. You know, there's a spirit and opportunity, you know, and and all of these things. But he said that the the thing that really makes us a species of explorers that keeps us going is perseverance.


And that's the real, real clue to this, you know, as a species. And this year especially. Right. I mean, so many times when things got really hard. Yeah. You're trying to work under covid conditions. I mean, they both launched Mars Mars perseverence during the pandemic and landed it. We kept coming back at NASA to his essay and and that idea that we are a species of explorers and it takes perseverance.


And how does it work? Is it a contest? How many? Yeah, it was a national contest.


So there was you could do a couple of things. It was not a contest. All you could send your name in and they sent a little microchip with millions of names. So my name is on Mars, you know. But but then there was a nationwide essay for four students to name the rover. And the person that chose it was Alex Mather and the person that chose ingenuity. I'm trying to remember her name.


Oh, and and she she's a little bit older than Alex. I think she was a rising high school senior. And and both those students were at the launch. And we we had NASA intend to maintain contact with them. Well, you know, it's funny.


I don't know if you knew this or if Alex knew this, but there was a there was a famous ship called the Perseverance British Ship back in the late seventeen hundreds that made history for all kinds of interesting reasons. But there's also a crab boat up in the crab fleet in the Bering Sea that we've had cameras on for Deadliest Catch called the Perseverence. So it's a it's a great word for sure.


And as long as we don't name Rovers, the Indefatigable and things like that, because, I mean, where do we get Sojourner? Sojourner Truth? It was a yeah, that was a tribute to Sojourner Truth, who, of course, led the path for so many people to escape enslavement. And and so, you know, so the the entire mission was called the Pathfinder mission to Mars.


And then the rover was called Sojourner because Sojourner helped so many people find the path.


Hundreds of questions like this one, this one from a Mojo Lautz ball. Incredibly amazing names on my Facebook page as well. Michelle Mogil writes, The image you included in your post is that an artist's rendering? If not, how could they have possibly gotten that shot?


OK, so I'm pretty sure that you had an artist's rendering in your post. I wasn't looking too much at it because, I mean, wouldn't you love it if there were cameras on Mars to catch this all? But I.


So you probably already saw that we've already released one image of the lander actually being lowered from this this frickin skycrane. Yeah. And there will be more coming soon, like tomorrow. So that's going to be really, really fun. So I know that there weren't any cameras around where it was landing, but there was a camera on the spacecraft to watch it go down. And the other thing that we've now done three times blows my mind is that our our orbiting satellites have actually been able to capture the parachute opening, that there's such good resolution that this is not a parachute that's the size of a city or anything.


It's a big it's a parachute. And, you know, in the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter was able to actually see the parachute open and see that thing go down.


Where is the best place for people to go to look at actual photos and just get as much info as they can as quickly and as easily as possible? Yeah.


So go to the main website. You know, I mean, the main website for NASA is NASA dot gov. You know, there is I think there's this Mars NASA dot gov is a you know, is a website just dedicated to to Mars. I have to say, we're getting better at these Web sites. I just just today I was reminding myself of all the instruments that that is on perseverance. And I really liked the website was clear. It was engaging.


It had quotes from the people who built them and pictures of them and all of that. And so I just love it. I mean, go and spend a weekend at that site.


I spent an hour looking at the diagram of the rover and just the explanations of what all the gizmos and gadgets do and that that all by itself, how much does that thing cost again doing over over ten years?


Two billion dollars. Yeah. It's just amazing. It's a hell of a ride. Michelle Bonner Clark wants to know, will the samples found help with dating when Mars lost its atmosphere and if it was a long, slow loss or sudden and catastrophic?


Well, so I'm I'm sure that there will be some atmospheric studies that we do with those with those samples. I think I think honestly, the the samples are more going to be analyzed for the presence of either current microbial life or past microbial life. The we have another spacecraft around Mars called MAVEN and that the Mars atmosphere and volatile evolution Explorer and MAVEN is actually dipping in and out of Mars atmosphere. It's on the sort of elliptical orbit and it comes in quite close and actually goes through bits of Mars's atmosphere that comes back out again.


And we're studying how Mars is actually still losing its atmosphere today. It's actually losing tons of atmosphere every hour. And that's that's pretty incredible. And it's not a real mystery as to why it happened. So we we don't think that it was necessarily a big catastrophe. We do think that Mars has evidence of giant impacts via the northern hemisphere of Mars, especially is missing a lot of the crust. The southern part is almost as of a big thing. Hit it.


But this this this loss of atmosphere is really very well linked to the solar wind. There's this particle wind coming from the sun. And it's also the reason why Mars is red, because Mars is red, because everything on the surface is rusted, it's oxidized.


You need oxygen to rust something. And people often think that oxygen must be a sign of life because we breathe oxygen. But no, it it turns out that that's actually a consequence of losing the water vapor in your atmosphere. So with Mars, it doesn't have the same mass the Earth does with it. So the gases get higher off the surface and it doesn't have a protective magnetic field the way the earth does. We can talk about that later. Everybody should sing the praises of our magnetic field.


That's why you're here, right?


That and because there'd be no atmosphere without it, right? Well, exactly. So what happens at the atmosphere goes up into the sky and a high energy particle from the sun hits the water molecule and splits it into oxygen and hydrogen and the hydrogen. So light it just takes off. It keeps going into space. The oxygen is heavier, so it sinks down. And so all of a sudden you get a lot of oxygen that rusts the heck out of everything.


So here's a related question. Mike Crosslin says, I've got a question about Moxey, another acronym that's not MAVEN, the Mars oxygen creation experiment. Yes, absolutely. So, you know, this thing is about the size of a shoebox, apparently. And I'd like you to explain if we really have to bring that with us in order to live on Mars or where something like it. Yes.


So one thing I'll say sort of as a side is that Moxey has the best test lab I've ever been into. It's at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and it looks like Frankenstein's laboratory there. All of these flashing lights, I mean, most laboratory is really boring a person sitting on a computer, but the Moxey labs damn cool at any rate.


So if you go to Mars, one thing that, of course, you need to bring is oxygen, breathable air. And Mars has a carbon dioxide atmosphere and not very much of one at that. So, of course, you're getting oxygen. Sounds like a really wonderful idea. And so the Moxey experiment is actually going to try to make oxygen from the existing gases in Mars's atmosphere. But there's actually another deeper reason for Moxey other than have breathable air.


I mean, that's something we might be able to solve other ways. But if you land on Mars, unlike the moon, Mars is actually another planet. You need to build yourself a decent little launch pad, have a nice rocket and be able to take off again up off of Mars. And sure, I mean, I think I think the surface gravity of Mars is a little less than half that of Earth. But even so, that that's a lot of gravity to overcome.


And so the real reason is to make rocket fuel. Liquid rocket fuel is made of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. Could we get there, not take our own rocket fuel? Because that's that's a huge amount of mass to launch to Mars. If you want to bring a rocket fuel, could we make a rocket fuel there?


So the real reason I think that the primary reason that we took Moxey was to see if we could actually start to make rocket fuel on our own.


A lot of people asking about the carbon footprint of the whole project. And if you just mentioned, it's basically oxygen and hydrogen. Does that even create carbon or is that create steam that create there that creates water vapor.


So for for liquid oxygen, but that's indeed there really isn't much of a of an environmental impact. But however, the rockets we use are often a combination of liquid and solid rocket fuel and solid rocket fuel is is a is kind of a nasty thing. It's aluminum based stuff and. I mean, we don't launch these things very often. I don't think there's really much of a measurable carbon impact for the rockets, but one of the things that NASA is doing right now is experimenting with green rocket fuels.


So we were not only trying to make, you know, less harmful, solid rocket propellant, but we're also we're also this year hoping to have our first all electric sort of aircraft flight, a commercial aircraft that doesn't use fossil based fuels at all, but can fly on electricity that you can get from solar power.


You know, it's hard to hear that and not think of of musk. And it makes me wonder, well, in your opinion, what is the role of of private companies in this effort to get to Mars and beyond? Will they work with NASA jointly, do you think? Or how what's the future that you're funny?


This is another one of those questions that working at NASA. I'm just kind of kind of flabbergasted by because how are we getting up to the space station right now?


Whose rockets are we using? Right, right. Guess what? We're working really well with SpaceX. Yeah, I mean, not only are we working well with SpaceX, but I mean, NASA helped fund the development of these rockets. And it was a collaborative effect all the way through. And NASA, by and large, has bought its rockets. We would buy them from Boeing. We would buy them from Universal Launch Alliance. There are several Rocketdyne, there are several companies that we buy are large rockets from.


And most of the missions that we do, I mean, I'm really all all of the big missions, you know, the actual spacecraft itself is built by Lockheed Martin or by Northrop Grumman or, you know, but by many of these big aerospace companies.


It's NASA will build the stuff that is scientifically absolutely cutting edge. And we do that usually usually with universities, you know, that there's no instrument like this in the world like Moxey. So we built the instrument, but we didn't necessarily build all of the gears and all the rockets. I mean, so it's always been a collaboration. And it's the same thing with people ask about how do we feel about other countries like the United Arab Emirates recently launched their their hope spacecraft to Mars.


The spacecraft was actually built, the University of Colorado. You know, the the idea that we do these things in isolation science is we've always included private industry. We've always included other countries. So NASA has a vested interest in seeing these companies succeed. And if there's competition in our rockets, get cheaper.




Janice Forten, why wait ten years to send the soil samples back? Why didn't the rover include capability to test on site?


Well, you know, well, it does have capability to test on site. We shouldn't say that. I mean, it definitely does. It has different spectrometers that can analyze the chemistry of the soil and the air. And then the Mars Curiosity rover, which has been up there for nine years, has an incredible big mass spectrometer and also a gas chromatograph. So, I mean, but we're already analyzing things there. But the thing is that when you get things back to our labs on Earth, we can do things that are so much more sensitive.


All of these experiments have to be done by robots and they have to be rigorous enough to do over and over again. You'd think it'd be easy just to prepare a glass slide, put it under a microscope and look for bacteria. But that's not an easy thing to do over and over again with a robot that needs to take an 11 G kick, you know, to land. Right. So, I mean, there's a limitation to the complexity of the science you can do.


It's the same reason that we return the sample from the asteroid. We want that thing in our laboratory. Right.


Speaking of kick, Arlie Johnson says, Mike, I do some drone flying in to raise four pounds with a drone requires a lot of lift in our atmosphere, they show to counter rotating propellers on the Mars chopper. I just don't see how those two blades could lift four pounds in an atmosphere that has one percent of ours.


Yeah, that's a great question. Yes, absolutely. So. So I know one on Mars gravity. It's about two pounds because Mars has a lower gravitational field. And if you go to the the jet propulsion website, you can see tests of this thing. We did test it in a huge vacuum chamber that had the same air pressure as Mars, air pressure, temperature, all of that. So it has made a short test flight in the chamber under Mars Mars conditions.


So we didn't launch it until we knew that it actually could fly in Mars's atmosphere. But it's incredible. We don't I know that they're extremely fast rotating blades. I mean, it may be some of the fastest stuff ever made for a helicopter. And I'm it's also not going to fly very high, a little fly about 10 to 15 feet above the ground and probably only for, like football field type cops. You may be right about a thousand years at a time.


Alice Dugan says it's a really long football game. It is.


I don't even know if I can ask you this, but I'm going to I'm dying to know the answer to this one. Please ask Michelle how big your anus is a kid in high school. Ask our physics teacher that, but we never got the answer. He wasn't in class the next day for some weird reason. All right. Obviously, that's silly.


But when did we stop calling Uranus Uranus and started calling it Uranus, or was it always Uranus? Oh, Lord, I remember when I used to teach astronomy and, you know, we were going to we were going to talk about the ice giant planets, Neptune and Uranus and Neptune and Uranus. And I would just say, OK, let's just all get it out of our systems. Right. Uranus is blue because of all the methane and Uranus is really, really gold.


You're right. Uranus, there are rings around Uranus. I mean, just just just get the fuck out of your system and, you know, and then we can go on with learning about this fascinating planet. So the the ice giant planets to me are huge lost opportunity because there are two giant planets.


And I mean, I don't know offhand what the radius is, but I mean, I think you're talking you could probably fit on the order of like five or six across Earths, across Uranus, but there's no correct way to pronounce it. Both Uranus and Uranus are correct. It's just a slightly different, you know, accentuation. And yeah, I mean, I think scientists sort of do Uranus so that we have fewer Uranus jokes. But then but then it sounds like you're in.


Right. So, I mean, you know, but that's the reason the reason people are using one word more than another is we got too sick of all your damn Uranus jokes.


Look, I'm sympathetic. I have there are no less than 200 questions in this string of people who corrected my use of the word peaked in my original post. I say the recent landing on Mars has piqued my Curiosity. And I. I misspelled I went with P instead of Secuity. Right.


And the number would've done the same thing. The number of people, the correctors and by the way, I love them. And it I'm mentioning it because the attention to detail that that had to have occurred in order to pull off this mission is not so different than the attention to detail that the average grammarian would employ to telling me that I let it participle, dangle or use the wrong usage of something. But in all seriousness, you better have your poop in a group.


You know, when you're blasting off, you better sweat every single tiny thing from the spelling of a word to the size of an O ring and so forth. Right.


Well, and in some cases they haven't wanted to name missions after people that I thought really deserved it, like cecillia pain because they they didn't want your NASA's Payen telescope. I guess it's why and even Cecillia Pain was the person who figured out what the universe is made of, that stars are made of hydrogen. And I think that would have been a great you know, I once had a telescope called the Spitzer Space Telescope, and that was a wonderful mission.


I actually, before it launched, had hoped that they would name it after a woman. And I thought Cecillia Payne would be a great person to name it after. And and actually, I mean, so Lyman Spitzer, who they chose to name it after, was a wonderful man. But, you know, it's funny you talk about Pete. How's this for a convergence? So Spitzer means means speak in German. He was actually a mountaineer, too, funnily enough.


But the way Spitzer it actually in that case, it means horny. So we sort of we launched the Horny Space Telescope.


So I love paying Spitzer and Horny. It sounds like a bad law firm up there in space.


We we do think about the names. And it was interesting.


The last big space observatory we launched, the Parker solar probe was the first one named after somebody who was still alive, Eugene Parker. I was there right next to him at the launch, I believe at the time he was 94. And that had never, to my knowledge, been done before. And he you know, he really if he he founded the study of the solar wind. So there was just nobody better they could think of to name it after.


It was a lovely woman.


Well, somewhere in there, between discovering the solar wind and getting a pain on Uranus, there's a joke, but I'm not going to make it. Yeah, I'm not going to make it.


Bruce Dunne, is that really where men come from, like Mars bars?


I'd rather be from Mars and Venus because I mean the chances of life. Well, we may have a possible detection of, if we follow up on it, a possible detection of life in the atmosphere of Venus. But I think Mars would be the front of your planet by and large. Yeah.


Sandra Kitchin Perseverence is the fifth vehicle we have successfully landed on Mars. Is there a plan to retrieve all those artifacts or are we going to leave Mars looking like a used salvage lot?


Well, I mean, what I think of someday, you know, is is, as I say, having sort of the equivalent of national parks on Mars and having, you know, this be, you know, the landers. I mean, there's enough wind, enough blowing sand on Mars that quite honestly, there probably be covered up by sand pretty soon. But so that's that's my first answer. I think that this will be buried under blowing sand fairly soon.


And I hope we someday, as humans go back there and have these national parks, see what the moon right within the moon, you know, they they've left all this stuff on the moon surface and including things like human waste, containments. So it's going go and see Buzz Aldrin's poop on the moon. You know.


You know, Buzz Aldrin, from what I understand, was the. First, to employ his UCD, right, the urine containment device, I think, is as Neil Armstrong was taking the first step. Buzz was taking the the first leak. It's got to happen.


A giant leap for mankind. Oh, yeah. I mean. I mean, I have I don't have much.


Do the astronauts see how do you go? Paula is Jules Bergman with the personality of Meg Ryan. She makes intelligence cool. That's from William Hanlon, who apparently has a crush. Let's see.


Let's see.


Oh, Carl Sexers says, How do you determine elevation? Elevation is height above sea level. How do you do that on a planet with no sea? Well, you can determine your elevation from any point you want, really, it just means, you know, how high are you from the point you want to go to? And in this case, we were going to the sort of river valley in the bottom of a crater. And so in that case, the elevation was how far down is it to where we need to land at the crater bottom?


So so no, there's there's no sea level on Mars, but there is certainly a surface. So where there's no ocean, you can just take your elevation from the surface where you want to land. And in the case of the perseverance, perseverance, perseverance was really the first rover to do this in any kind of artificially intelligent, autonomous way. It was able to recognize different landmarks around it and figure out where it was because we were landing on a very rough terrain and that was deliberate because it was geologically interesting.


So we used a radar system for that. And, you know, at NASA, we often use radar to determine elevation. We often use light r bouncing laser lasers off of things. We have a satellite up right now called Aissatou, which bounces actually a green colored laser off everything on the Earth to incredibly high resolution to about the. But the thickness of a pin is the resolution it can see. And we can do things like take the height of trees in the rainforest.


It'll go through water for a while so we can look at the we can look at the health of reefs under the water. It can see, you know, individual buildings. So so, yeah, I mean, elevation is just how far are you away from something? They'll bounce off the surface.


But here on Earth, it's kind of a fixed thing, right? I mean, sea level is always zero, but over there you would have to identify your your benchmark and then it would always be comparative to something that seems to be constantly changing.


Well, it just depends on what your reference is. So, you know, if it's if you if you want to say that something is a thousand feet above sea level or a hundred feet below sea level, go to Death Valley when my favorite places.


That's just a reference that that's just kind of arbitrary on Mars. You could just say that, you know, we we've made topographic maps of Mars to incredible precision. And so you can just sort of say relative to the lowest terrain, you know, here's the highest terrain and then you make a color scale that sort of goes that hole that that that whole range. And if you look at data from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, you can see color maps that are like that, where blue represents the lowest parts of Mars, lowest elevation, red highest.


And so you just you define it from whatever whatever bottom you define as bottom. And the case on Mars, there's some. Yes. And some very deep craters that that have the lowest elevations, I guess you'd say, sort of closest to the center of Mars.


Whose job is that? And in the world of cartography, I mean, is there a cooler gig than essentially mapping the surface of Mars?


Well, yeah. And for a while, actually, we had better data, you know, so we we had mapped sort of all of the surface of Mars to such high resolution data. It was even kind of a better data set than all of Earth. And that that that's pretty incredible. We even met the elevation of the oceans, which is really interesting because people don't realize that the ocean itself has like mountains and valleys. There are there are places where the ocean is warmer and the warm water expands more than cold water.


And so it's warm currents come out of the ocean. You get sort of higher elevation parts of the ocean that persist and then lower parts where there's cold water. So elevation is constantly changing, constantly complex. And Mars, you know, so the the largest mountain on Mars is a 60000 foot high mountain, a giant volcano. And I love that because if you think about like being in an airplane at 30000 feet in most commercial flights there, you're only halfway up the volcano.


Is that Olympus, Munns? That's Olympus Mons. You know, hold on. There's a question in here about this. Bruce Meisner says, hi, Mike. For my birthday, my wonderful kids purchased an acre of land on Mars located at the south of Olympus Mons, often cited as the largest volcano in the planetary system. Can you ask Michelle how far that is from perseverance and if she has a good lead on a contractor to build that base station for excursions up Olympia's months?


I'm kind of serious. Let me know if you want to join me with a film crew.


So, unfortunately, I have to report that there is no actual legal way of purchasing a real estate on another planet right now. But it's a fun thing to do. And and so I could look up exactly how far away our landing site is from Olympus Monds.


We don't land anywhere near Olympus Monds because Olympus Mons is what they call a shield volcano.


It's a very, very wide sort of shallow volcano, even though it's 60000 feet high above the above the surface around it. It it's so high elevation for the most of it that our parachutes wouldn't work to get to a safe landing on the top. I mean, Mars has sold the atmosphere to begin with. By the time we're getting all the way to the top of that thing, there's this really very little air, not enough to use a parachute.


It would be fascinating because one of the. One of the things that we do see in that area are we see a lot of big craters which are collapsed craters, as if there were some sort of very large subsurface tunnels made from lava, a big, big lava tunnels. That might be a really interesting place to explore. So I hope we get there someday. But we we've never landed anything near that big.


Lots of people wondering what the subterranean possibilities might be.


Yeah, well, I mean, it's all about the subterranean on Mars. So, you know, one of the things I'm really excited about with this mission is we have a ground penetrating radar and and that will get down to about 30 feet. But that's that's down under the surface enough to detect the presence of water, maybe running water under the surface in some areas and any life on Mars, most of the biomass of Earth, if you just sort of way all of the living things, is actually below the surface, all the bacteria below the surface.


And some of those ecosystems are really functionally cut off from the surface. They don't care. They don't care what's going on. There could be a supernova. We could all be irradiated. There'd be bacteria down at the bottom of coalmines that just don't care. And the surface of Mars has gotten pretty dead. It's a very cold, dry desert without much atmosphere.


But go 10 feet down, 20 feet down, one hundred feet down, it may be much more suitable for life. And that's where we expect to find life is underneath the surface. And what do you expect that life might resemble?


Well, so, you know, one of the things is, can we identify anything that might be a bacterium or have a cellular structure at all?


And then there are places in the solar system where there are chemical reactions.


In this case, I'm actually thinking of a moon of Saturn called Titan that naturally produced cell like structures just just by through chemistry, that we think that when life was first getting started might have actually formed sort of the structure for the first cells to start to grow with. And, you know, if we could we're getting good enough now that we can actually see fossilized bacteria. That's really true. And so we don't have a scanning electron microscope on Mars, unfortunately.


But we're going to try to do the same thing with the chemistry, try to identify if there's the chemistry. Life is very good at separating chemicals out. We ingest some things and we excrete some things. And you can see chemically in rocks where the chemicals have been processed. And we know a lot about how biological processing looks like. And of course, I mean, this is the problem. You know, we might get a result that's kind of ambiguous because we will say, well, something looks like it was processed here, but we can't say 100 percent for sure it was life.


And and that'll be little frustrating. But you got to make the first measurement.


What are you hoping for? I'm hoping for that, I mean, I or maybe something that actually really does say this had to been biologically processed, I want to end my life hopefully in a while, knowing that life started somewhere else and it would be great if it was living bacteria on Mars. I'm not discounting that, but even just knowing it was there, the evidence of fossilized life that answers a lot of questions. How common is life? How did it start?


The reason we chose the spot on Mars General Crater, it used to be the bottom of the lake, but it was a bottom of a lake almost four billion years ago. So like like the three point eight billion years ago, that's the earliest chemical evidence of life we have on Earth. From around about that time, it was wet. Then we think it was about a thousand feet deep. The lake and sediments, the stuff that was floating in the water stuff was would settle down to the bottom.


That's how you find fossils. You look for sedimentary rock down at the bottom of a lake bed. You know, the limestone quarries of the Midwest where I grew up, I could find, you know, it's these little stems of these these these ancient plants and things like that. So we don't have any sedimentary rock on earth.


That's that old. There have been plate tectonics and volcanoes and weathering and rain and all, you know. And so we have a chance to look at a lake bottom that's billions of years old and undisturbed. And is there evidence in there of how life even gets started, what chemistry was there? So, you know, this the same time the life started on Earth. Mars, we think, was very habitable. Oceans ran, more atmosphere warm, and now we have a lake bed.


That's from that time you were just absolutely delighted and titillated by the prospects of discovery.


And look, this absolutely I promise not to keep you longer than an hour or so as we as we said, nothing else to do.


I'm happy you can talk as long as you like. I'm not going anywhere. Well, you know, I mean, I will say the call my dad I call I call my dad every Sunday night, but that's not till eight o'clock Eastern. So people on this Facebook page, you know, they I was told from the beginning that the whole too long didn't read short attention span phenomenon was was absolutely critical. And to never do anything don't don't write anything longer than fifty words and don't make a video longer than thirty seconds.


They'll never watch it. That's just complete nonsense. People for whatever reason they they pay attention on my page and they're really, really, really interested in you and what's, what's happening up there on Mars right now. What, what we started with was this idea of risk. And I think I said an hour ago that it's always better not to have your head in the sand, but when it comes to the potential of discovering life somewhere else, I'm fascinated by the way that it fills certain people.


That possibility fills certain people like yourself with boundless hope and it fills other people with boundless dread. Why? Why is that? Why do some people see the possibility of life off this planet as hopeful and others see it as the very personification of doom? Well, yeah, I mean, that's something I wonder how many dissertations have been written about our idea of alien life in science fiction and how it changes kind of in lockstep with what's going on in our society.


You know, I mean, Star Trek alone, you know, in the 1960s, it was all hopeful. You know, humanity was all for good, you know, all of this. And and then even Star Trek got darker and more complex, you know. And of course, there was dystopian science fiction all the way along, I guess.


To some degree, I think that the dread comes from the fear of the unknown and we respond to the fear of the unknown differently. I think that's.


People often say, OK, well, if a civilization is is much more technologically advanced than us, you go one of two ways.


Either they've learned how to overcome their differences, like the Carl Sagan said, that would be like sort of a nuclear annihilation phase if they could get beyond that. And maybe they're more peaceful and others would say, well, maybe they're just more aggressive. I mean, maybe they're hyperaggressive race.


So it's it's it's we we have nothing to say about it. It's one of these doors you get to walk through, you know, whether other people talk about, you know, what happens after death or what are other species like, it's like no data. And so some of us respond fearfully and some of us respond with hope.


And I guess, you know, I certainly anything as simple as a bacterium and we're going to be very, very, very careful that we don't contaminate anything with that.


The one that kind of got me was Tabby's star.


So so Tabi Star, do you remember that story, Mike, about something vaguely familiar, but.


Yeah, so so this was from the Kepler mission, a mission that found evidence of planets around other stars. Mm hmm.


And normally these we call them transit's. They look for little eclipses of the star planet goes in front a little bit. The light is blocked and you've detected the planet. And normally there well, planets are shaped like spheres. You know, it's all very even. And all of a sudden, there was the star that we started to see, these huge irregular things that, you know, from our data look like giant triangles.


And they didn't come back. Kind of pattern, and it was all very strange, and they were blocking out more of the light than we've ever seen before, you know, a big planet like Jupiter would block out about one percent of the sun's light. This was blocking out as much as 20 percent. Well, and and so we we just didn't do anything naturally that would do that. And. We are science fiction geeks, scientists, big mystery, and so, of course, we would love to detect an alien civilization, we called our friends at Setit the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.


Is there any sort of strange signal coming from the star that there wasn't? That doesn't mean it's not a civilization because, you know, why would they use radio waves? Right. I mean, it's possible that technology has gone so far beyond that. We wouldn't detect their transmissions.


But then we started to do you know, we started to do more and more follow ups. And for a couple of months, I really wondered if we'd found something that we could say was artificial.


And it's about 60 light years away. Star.


So, you know, if if this civilization was that advanced to build giant maybe, maybe collection devices for solar power, all of that the size of a planet, could I look with my telescope in my backyard at a star that had an advanced civilization that we couldn't understand living around it? It maybe it gave me goosebumps. It turned out, after much follow up, that it's not aliens unless the engineer entirely out of dust. It was dust clouds.


And so probably what happened is two planets collided fairly recently. And we were looking at these big sort of streams of dust coming off from this collision. But that's pretty damn cool. But it's still I'm still getting goosebumps thinking about there might have been a chance that I could have. Would that be scary to you or would that be helpful to you to look through a telescope at a star where you do something bigger than us would be more advanced than us was?


That's what I'm trying to get at, because the answer can't have anything to do with science. That's not a place where we can follow the science because it's what you're asking, I think is a choice. You know, I can assure you I can choose to assign hope or dread to anything. Right. Any discovery can can fill me with one or the other. But I but I don't think it's intrinsic.


I think it's a choice, you know, and and why some people choose the way they choose, I think is the reason why some people become scientists and some people don't.


And you know, that that basic choice is is primal, I think. And it fascinates me.


So I've asked so many by astronaut friends about how they deal with fear and their their their response almost kind of doesn't really gel with me because they say that they've been trained so well that they've they've been trained about all the launch scenarios over and over again. And they trained them deliberately in such a way as to stress them out that, you know, when they actually launched, it was like, well, this is better than all the other things. One hundred things went wrong.


They claimed to have not really felt the fear. And I think that may be a different sort of human than I am because I'm one of those people that scared all the time. I'm scared of flying. And yet I have flown into the Himalayas to go hiking. You know, I've just I've just done it all scared. I didn't want to spend all of my existence giving in to that fear when there's so much to see and so much to learn and so many people to meet.


And I just do it all scared. So, you know, people say, are you scared to be on television? Are you scared to get up in front of an audience? Are you scared to get on a flight? Are you scared to drive to work? Yeah, I just learned to walk with the fear and realize that that's part of being human. And I don't want to miss I don't miss life.


I don't think it's part of it. I think it's I think it's the thing. I mean, courage isn't courage unless you're frightened, but do it anyway. If you're not frightened, then then you're some version of psychotic, to put it bluntly. Nine psychotic, but. Right. I mean, it kind of brings us back to LICA, right? Because they didn't just pull this random dog off the street and and put it in a capsule. They auditioned hundreds.


They went through a lot of animals who simply could never have endured the the prelaunch routine. You're right. They just never, ever could. They put them in a little space like that and they would freak out. I think maybe the logical place to land this plane is to say that whatever thing existed in likers brain that gave her the right stuff, you know, to be the first dog in space also exists in some weird corollary in the minds of the astronauts you're talking about.


I told you the last time we talked, I talked to the guy up in the space station, Scott. You know, I asked him about Mars and I couldn't even finish the question. He said, of course I'd go, Mike, I'd go. Right now, this guy's with a family and a lot to live for. And but he just didn't have the synapse that you and I have that would allow us to look over our shoulder for the camera.


That was no doubt videotaping this episode of punkt. Because you must be messing with me, of course, I'm not going to Mars, but he is and a lot of other people do, too. So, you know, I guess we're we're different. And just remember, there's a lot of right.


Stuff's right. There isn't just the right stuff. And, you know, this idea that you shouldn't do something in life because it frightens you or the people who are doing it must not be frightened. This is where the common humanity comes in that, you know, I can do almost anything if I'm holding somebody's hand. And, you know, this idea that you limit your life only to the things that don't scare you. You know, I remember when I was a graduate student and I was like failing classes in science, I asked the astronomer, Yogi Kando.


I remember it was his name. And I said, you know, I'm so scared. I'm so scared that I'm wrong, that this isn't right. And he said, you know, in life, I feel it's best to run towards what frightens you. And and it makes for a very interesting life. And I'm glad I took that advice.


Have we discussed it all? My my whole safety third philosophy? No, I have think so.


Oh, look, here, I'll show you this real quick. I years ago on Dirty Jobs, after lots and lots of, you know, mandatory safety briefings, lock out tag outs, confined spaces, so forth and so on.


The whole safety first approach to living actually perversely fostered a sense of complacency among my crew and I. And by the third season, we all started getting hurt. So we started saying safety third as a reminder to be careful and to be wary of those organizations, companies and governments who tell you that your safety is their priority. Safety can't be the priority. We never would have gotten off the ground in the first place. We never leave our homes, you know, so I now have safety third on these masks to remind people that just because you're in compliance doesn't necessarily mean you're out of danger.


And I also raise money for my foundation. But I think if anybody embodies a safety third approach to living it, it has to be the explorers who are going to get us off this this third rock from the sun. I think so, so thanks. Great to be here, and I I would love to answer more those questions, one of my favorite ones was a person who was a miner who said that he wanted to give Clay was basically the same thing on Mars and on Earth.


And the answer is basically, yes, it maybe was a brick maker.


There were a couple of questions about that. Yeah. And at first I'm like, wait a minute, a miner like you're 16 or you go into the ground, be specific, because I think he spelled that one wrong, too. I didn't want to correct him.


What what other question caught your eye in the last couple of minutes we got here?


Oh, so, I mean, I don't even remember. I think we've talked about a lot of them, but I do remember thinking that was wonderful, that he was thinking about clays and lasers are fascinating things chemically. So. So, yeah, I mean, Clay's only form in the presence of liquid water and they didn't. And that's what we were thinking here on Mars, the place where we landed. The the terrain is actually cracked like like how a flat dries out all those cracks.


So we're we're going to start exploring some margin.


Clay, look, that's as good a place to live as any doctor. Again, thank you for making time. And more importantly, thank you for the last 72 hours. I know you've been out there without a net and I know what doing satellite media tours one after the next can can do to a person's brain. So so I wish you a speedy recovery and enjoy the headlines. They just seem to be great. Sounds good.


And please go, go, go, go. Find out more about the Mars missions. It's wonderful. And it was another joyous day.


So give me the website again. You would direct people NASA dot gov. Mars dot NASA logo. Yeah. Awesome.


Hey, and while you're there, Google Micro narrates. We're going to Mars. Yes. A terrific short video I did several years ago. That seems to be a more and more prescient with every passing day, if you like the story of Laika and even if you didn't see it and many others are available in the actual audio version of the book, you're listening to a chapter at a time right now, and that's available wherever people buy audio books, which sooner or later will include the Red Planet.


How about that? Thanks. Back next week, Oreo's. Thank you very much. Thanks, Michel.