Planetary Radio • Sep 23, 2020

A Fond Farewell: Solar System Specialist Emily Lakdawalla

On This Episode

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Emily Lakdawalla

Solar System Specialist and Science Communicator

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Bill Nye

Chief Executive Officer for The Planetary Society

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Bruce Betts

Chief Scientist / LightSail Program Manager for The Planetary Society

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Mat Kaplan

Planetary Radio Host and Producer for The Planetary Society

Emily Lakdawalla was on the very first episode of Planetary Radio, and has been heard on hundreds since then. The planetary evangelist returns for a conversation like no other. Planetary Society CEO Bill Nye shares his thoughts after we hear from Emily. Got Mars? Bruce Betts says it’s brighter than Jupiter in the evening sky. He’ll tell you where to look during What’s Up.

Emily Lakdawalla with Mars 2020
Emily Lakdawalla with Mars 2020 Planetary Society solar system specialist Emily Lakdawalla visits the Mars 2020 rover on 27 December 2019 during a media event held at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Father & Sun Productions / The Planetary Society
Emily Lakdawalla in the Juno Jupiter Orbital Insertion Media Center at JPL
Emily Lakdawalla in the Juno Jupiter Orbital Insertion Media Center at JPL Mat Kaplan / The Planetary Society
Mat Kaplan and Emily Lakdawalla in JPL clean room suits
Mat Kaplan and Emily Lakdawalla in JPL clean room suits Planetary Radio host Mat Kaplan and Planetary Society solar system specialist Emily Lakdawalla in clean room bunny suits as they prepare to view the Mars 2020 rover on 27 December 2019 during a media event held at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Mat Kaplan / The Planetary Society

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Trivia Contest

This week's prizes:

Space Exploration for Kids: A Junior Scientist’s Guide by Bruce Betts

This week's question:

What is the largest rock returned from the Moon by Apollo astronauts? Either its official name or nickname is acceptable.

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Complete the contest entry form at https://www.planetary.org/radiocontest or write to us at [email protected] no later than Wednesday, September 30th at 8am Pacific Time. Be sure to include your name and mailing address.

Last week's question:

Who is the only man who has a feature on Venus named after him?

Winner:

The winner will be revealed next week. 

Question from the 9 September space trivia contest:

Bill Nye holds 3 patents. One of them relates to shoes. What kind of shoes?

Answer:

Bill Nye’s patent related to shoes is a design for an improved ballet toe or pointe shoe.

Transcript

Mat Kaplan: A very special conversation with the planetary evangelist, Emily Lakdawalla, this week on Planetary Radio. Welcome. I'm Mat Kaplan of the Planetary Society with more of the human adventure across our solar system and beyond. She has been part of Planetary Radio for the entire history of our show and a favorite colleague at the Society for even longer. Our solar system specialist has returned for a visit that is somewhat bittersweet. One that is not like any of the hundreds that have come before. We'll also hear from Society CEO, Bill Nye, before we turn toward the sky with Bruce Betts in this week's What's Up. The big news from Venus that we focused on last week is still raising eyebrows, I bet some of you have been asked about it by friends and family, but the discovery of phosphine in the Venusian atmosphere is only one of the stories in the September 18 edition of the Downlink.

Mat Kaplan: For example, we've learned that the first human return to the moon may not go to the South Pole after all. NASA has announced that other landing sites might be considered for Artemis 3. Japan's Hayabusa2 won't be finished after it drops off bits of asteroid Ryugu here on earth, the probe will continue toward two more asteroids, not reaching the last one till 2031. And it turns out that the subsurface oceans on moons like Europa may be kept warm by more than gravitational interaction with the giant planets they circle. Most of the energy may come from their sister moons. Want more? It's waiting for you at planetary.org/downlink. I won't keep you waiting any longer. Emily Lakdawalla joined me online just hours before we made this episode available. Here is our conversation, it's one I'll always remember. Emily, I suspect we are about to surprise and sadden a lot of listeners. Make your announcement, what is about to happen?

Emily Lakdawalla: Well, I'll say right up front that it's not as bad as it sounds, but I'll be blunt. I will at the end of September be resigning from the Planetary Society after 19 years, more than 19 years here.

Mat Kaplan: That kind of sums it up, doesn't it? And you're not leaving in disgusts, you're not even entirely leaving although I guess there will be a period when you have some other priorities you need to take care of and we may not hear from you much, but I look forward to other opportunities to interact after that. Why did you make this decision?

Emily Lakdawalla: Well, I'll tell you similarly that's been working best for me as I have been wrestling with this decision and trying to figure out what I really wanted to do. I have been here for 19 years, I feel like I have grown up here into my professional identity as all of the things that I am, all the different hats that I wear. I'm a writer, I'm a translator of science, I speak on the radio, I speak on TV, I'm an artist. I do all of these kinds of things. I feel like I can do them more effectively with the freedom of being often my own. I need to move out of my parents' place and get my own apartment. And so that's what I'm just about to do.

Emily Lakdawalla: I'm in the middle of another book that I have not had time to work on. So my first priority is going to be spending three or four months finishing up that book and getting it out the door so I can write some other books. I've started a little beadwork side business. I'm putting out feelers to all kinds of professional friends, hoping to get more directly involved in some interesting escapades, planetary escapades. I don't know what those are going to be yet, but the possibilities are really wide open at this point.

Mat Kaplan: I want to say now that if people want to stay up with everything that you're doing and we'll probably mention this again, they can do so, even if they can't as easily do it at the Planetary Society site, there is www.lakdawalla.com where I guess you will keep people informed?

Emily Lakdawalla: I'll do my best. I am really going to work very hard at not being distracted by other things until I get this book done. It is so important to me to finish up this project for a number of reasons. It's been going on for a long time but I think the most important reason is that I dedicated my first book to my older daughter. And my younger daughter knows that the second book is going to be dedicated to her and I've got to see that went through. I did that on purpose by the way, that I knew that I might have trouble motivating through finishing the second one, but I absolutely have to do it for her.

Mat Kaplan: Brilliant move on your part for a self motivation. For the few people out there who aren't aware of your first book and may not suspect that it's sequel is coming, if you call it a sequel, remind us what you're up to here.

Emily Lakdawalla: This all began many years ago, I was approached by Springer Praxis to write a book about the Curiosity mission. My book about the Curiosity mission or A book that came out in 2018, it's called The Design and Engineering of Curiosity, but it's actually not the book I intended to write. It was the book that I needed to have in order to do research for the book that I really intended to write, which is about the science of the Curiosity mission, what it was sent to Mars to do and what it actually accomplished once it got there. I didn't realize at the outset of this project that I was going to be writing two books. In fact, it was at the end of my last sabbatical when I realized that the reason I was having so much trouble finishing it was because I was actually in the middle of writing two books and I had almost finished writing one of them and was only halfway through the second one.

Emily Lakdawalla: My task now is to continue writing it. I think I had written about the scientific goals and landing site selection and first few chapters of the surface mission, but I hadn't really gotten all that far on the science interpretation, in part because the team hadn't gotten that far at the time that I was writing. It's a complicated set of science results and papers were only beginning to come out in 2018 that synthesized all of the different things, the different instruments in different parts of the science team we're learning. I will say that the book is actually going to have benefited from the delay because there's now a lot more in the way of those synthesis papers out. I have a lot more to read, but it'll be a little less work that I have to do to generalize from the number of papers about the scientific results.

Emily Lakdawalla: So the goal of the second book is going to be to weave together both the story of the surface mission, the decisions that were made, the challenges that were faced, what they decided to take photos of, what they decided to point their scientific investigations at. And I'll weave that together with the interpretations that the science team has made since they gathered all that data.

Mat Kaplan: That first book, an amazing work, something that we went into in detail in a live event that became a Planetary Radio episode and we'll link to that from this week's episode page @planetary.org/radio. Curiosity is still rolling across Mars, but you feel pretty confident that you're at the point now where you can talk with great authority about what this mission has and continues to accomplish?

Emily Lakdawalla: I really think so because they're getting kind of close to, I won't call it the end of the story, but it's the part of the story that they intended to tell with the mission. They're just about to crawl up onto the mountain, the central mountain of Gale crater. When they landed, they had this long drive to go over the plains separating the landing site from this mountain and it's interesting layered rocks at its base. In the last few years they've spent a lot of time really exploring in detail those layered rocks and understanding the multi-episode stories that they have to tell. So there's episodes of deposition, how the rocks initially got laid down and then there's reworking and alteration which happened when water circulated through the already cemented rocks and altered their chemistry.

Emily Lakdawalla: And so they're beginning to really understand those stories and now they're moving up through Martian geologic history and telling those stories as they unfold. Even as the rover is aging, some people may know about the wheel issues and those actually have been solved. The wheels are not presenting a problem to the longevity of Curiosity anymore, but its radioactive power source is getting weaker so that limits its capability. Its funding is getting less and that limits the number of days they can plan, they typically do about three days a week of planning these days. The rate of return of data and results, it's getting to be less about the fresh data from Mars, although that's still important and more about the synthesis work that the scientists are doing on earth. So I think it's the right time for me to be talking with those science team members about what they're learning.

Mat Kaplan: None of which means of course that we won't see or may not see another wonderful surprise from this aging rover?

Emily Lakdawalla: Oh, definitely. Absolutely. There's always opportunities for surprises and I think we all look forward to this.

Mat Kaplan: All right, you know that you're going to have to come back on the show when the book comes out, be fun to do in another live event at Caltech. Maybe we'll talk to some colleagues about that, but I hope you'll be up for that?

Emily Lakdawalla: That would be my pleasure.

Mat Kaplan: So that's what's going to keep you most busy over the next few months and you've talked about some of the other stuff that you have going on. Oh, and by the way, I think you said something like you've found your professional identity over these 19 years at the Planetary Society. And I'll say now, I've seen that happen. I've watched and it's been very rewarding to see that happen. And I think you're absolutely right and I think it's terrific that you recognize that. And I think it is also something that many others recognize, including myself.

Emily Lakdawalla: Oh, thank you.

Mat Kaplan: You're welcome. All right, let's go way back. What got you interested in science and especially in geology?

Emily Lakdawalla: Well, I was always a science kid. I mean, I had those wooden dinosaur models. I love science museums. I was practically raised by PBS, all the usual suspects of the show, narrators like David Attenborough and Phillip Morrison and James Burke. I just loved watching those shows and learning about everything. So it wasn't just space, it wasn't just geology. It was both science, the sort of process of understanding our world of asking questions and finding out how things worked. And it was also the storytelling. I mean, I really loved James Burke's approach. He had the show called Connections and The Day the Universe Changed, where he would leap through history and show how a new scientific concept or technological development or something in material science would lead through a series of apparently unrelated steps. But they were actually one falling after another to some recent development and just seeing all those connections made throughout history and the stories that he could tell that way was just really engaging and entertaining.

Emily Lakdawalla: Some of these show hosts were more about the sense of wonder, like I remember Jacques Cousteau was very much that way. Some of them were more about... It was almost like everything was just fun. I feel like David Attenborough approached everything with a sense of, "Isn't this just spiffy?" in his approach to nature. Phillip Morrison, he really always struck me with just... He had a kind of grandfatherly effect. His was really almost reverent, his approach to the way he spoke about it. And I just loved all of those different kinds of voices.

Mat Kaplan: I want to note that all of these heroes that you've mentioned so far, and others we could bring up, Carl Sagan among them I bet, all men will come back to that point.

Emily Lakdawalla: Yeah.

Mat Kaplan: Do you remember the episode of Connections in which James Burke explored the modern elevator? It was such a wonderful series.

Emily Lakdawalla: It wasn't that one in particular. I think The Day the Universe Changed, I watched that more times. I think I had it on VHS and he kept on coming back to lamp black. And I just thought that was the greatest thing that this coal tar essentially what seemed like gunk was actually the foundation for so many developments in chemistry. Then every other industry you can imagine from fashion to ammunition and how everything kind of came through that nexus and went out into the rest of history. It was just super.

Mat Kaplan: I remember that well. Then, a little bit later came Planetary Science. I mean, you studied geology, got your bachelor's degree in that area, but was it when you became a grad student that your eyes were really opened up to what's taking place on other worlds?

Emily Lakdawalla: No, it actually happened while I was a school teacher, which was the coolest thing. So I had wound up a geology major at a small liberal arts college, Amherst College in Central Massachusetts. It was a place that had a very strong geology department. But because it was at liberal arts college, it had this tendency to pull in people from English and history because the sort of storytelling aspect of geology and the kind of artistic approach of imagining what landscapes may once have looked like and imagining the 3D structure of rocks underground, it had a very humanities kind of approach to the department. Plus the intro course was always taught in the fall with lots of outdoor labs as the trees were turning color and it was very easy to fall in love with.

Emily Lakdawalla: But I didn't really want to be an academic. My father is an academic, he's an art historian and hadn't been tenured in his first job and we had to move around and just the kind of grindstone of the academic career path. It really didn't appeal to me. I liked teaching, I liked explaining science, but the notion of having to go through all of that and still have to fight for a very few available positions, it just didn't appeal. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do so I became a middle school science teacher. I taught fifth grade general science and sixth grade earth science at a small private school North of Chicago. The summer in between the two years that I taught, it was 1997, cast your mind back, Mat, to what was happening in 1997 during the summer.

Emily Lakdawalla: We had a plucky little rover driving around the surface of Mars. We had Galileo sending back amazing photos from Jupiter. Hubble Space Telescope had recently gotten its vision fixed and was sending terrific pictures of moons and Mars and everything else. A lot was heating up at that point in space exploration and I just suddenly had this epiphany, can you do geology on other planets? And so I asked my thesis advisor from Amherst, Tekla Harms, who is a delightful professor. And she said, "Yes, as a matter of fact, my alma mater at University of Arizona is one of the places that really specializes in that. Why don't you go talk to my thesis advisor and he can tell you all the places you should check out and apply?" And I did that and I went to grad school to do geology on planets.

Mat Kaplan: But you ended up at Brown, not University of Arizona, right?

Emily Lakdawalla: I did.

Mat Kaplan: And had great mentors there.

Emily Lakdawalla: That's right, there aren't that many schools. University of Arizona, Arizona State University, Washington University in St. Louis, Brown University... University of Arizona was my second choice. I apologize to all of my UVA friends...

Mat Kaplan: I'm sorry folks.

Emily Lakdawalla: ... but they've heard this, yeah, they've heard this from me before, Brown was I think more of a familiar environment to me, it felt more liberal artsy. The students there I think felt more like kindred spirits, much as I have a great many friends who were my contemporaries at University of Arizona at the time. I shared an office with a planetary scientist named Jeff Collins and also with Louis Proctor, who I believe you've spoken with before?

Mat Kaplan: Yes.

Emily Lakdawalla: And Bob Pappalardo was a postdoc there at the time. So it was quite the place to be and I really enjoyed it.

Mat Kaplan: Pappalardo of course now leading the Europa Clipper mission. Is this also where this other passion for image reprocessing began?

Emily Lakdawalla: Yes, actually, that's very true. That is where it began. So at Brown, I discovered Brown hosted a regional planetary image facility. In the days before the internet, and even during the beginning of the internet when people generally didn't have a lot of bandwidth, they didn't really serve a lot of image data over the internet. Instead, there were several regional planetary imaging facilities at the time that I was there. They had CDs of more recent spacecraft data. So for instance, all the new Galileo data would be coming in on one or two CDs every quarter or so. You would get this new pile of data in older missions like Magellan and Lunar Orbiter. All of their imagery was printed out on these gigantic photographic sheets and stored in these huge metal cabinets. And just discovering, I mean, I had had no idea how many missions there had been and how many photos they had taken.

Emily Lakdawalla: It was just a huge room, just covered. The whole wall just had all of these enormous metal cabinets and you could pull them open and just leaf through 30 by 40 photo after photo showing the surface of Venus or the surface of the moon. And only a few hundred people had ever actually looked at those pictures before because they weren't that widely available. They were only at these libraries basically. I said this is amazing where people need to know about this and they need to see there are so many more images than just the same few that show up in magazines and in books. It just, yeah, became something that I wanted to do all the time, was just to play with images and to share them with people.

Mat Kaplan: You just compare the situation back then and what we have now, largely technologically driven, but also driven by people like you, who realized that with these image now much more easily available as the internet came into being, that there were so many of them that even the scientists working on these various missions would never have time to deal with. And there was this great opportunity, right?

Emily Lakdawalla: Yeah. Even when all of the data were placed on the internet, it's all out there. Anybody can get it at any time. There's still a learning curve involved in understanding both how to locate it and how to make it pretty, to be able to open the files and display them and adjust them to make the most of the computer display and also of the human eyes ability to interpret them. It takes some knowledge and there weren't easy ways for people to get that knowledge apart from going to graduate school, which it's not an easy way, I guess. So there was and is an international community of people who do have the necessary knowledge and who do dig into the data archives and process it and to bring more things out to show the public but it is a relatively small community. I'm doing what I can to try to entice more people into doing it, but it takes time and expertise and self-driven learning.

Mat Kaplan: I think it's a good example though, of why at least informally [Wafer 00:19:43] always called you the planetary evangelist. Much more of my conversation with Emily Lakdawalla is seconds away. Then we'll get a brief tribute to Emily from Bill Nye, the planetary guy. I hope you'll stay with us.

Jennifer Vaughn: Thanks for listening to Planetary Radio. Hi, I'm Jennifer Vaughn, chief operating officer at the Planetary Society. Want to support this show and all the other great work we do? Help us reach our goal of 400 new members by October 6th. When you become a Planetary Society member, you become part of our mission. Together we enable discoveries across the solar system and beyond. We elevate the search for life and reduce the threat of a devastating asteroid impact here on earth. Carl Sagan co-founded his nonprofit 40 years ago for all of us who believe in exploration. Can we count on you? Please join us right now at planetary.org/membership2020. Thank you.

Mat Kaplan: I'm wondering how you got from Brown to Pasadena and the Planetary Society?

Emily Lakdawalla: Well, my husband and I both finished graduate school at the same time. He'd been at the University of Chicago studying under Gary Becker and who's a Nobel Prize winning economist and I finished up at Brown. He had two job offers and one of them was in Los Angeles. And so we debated for a little bit and he decided to pick up the one in LA. I was not sure what I was going to do. I was finishing with a master's degree. Again, I knew I did not want to become an academic. It was also difficult to search for a job from a long distance so I did find a position that used my expertise, which was to work for an environmental consultant company. I had worked on geographic information systems or GIS for Venus, which basically it's a way of combining statistical data and other kinds of data with map information.

Emily Lakdawalla: And it's very useful when you're doing environmental consulting projects where you can bring different kinds of data together and overlay one on another and understand how groundwater moves through a construction site and that kind of stuff. So it used my skills, but it certainly wasn't the kind of work that I had intended to do. I did really enjoy my colleagues, they taught me how to surf, it was really fun. And that kind of industry, they left their jobs at 5:00 and didn't think about it until the next morning and there was something very attractive about that. So I did enjoy, I learned a lot about how local politics work, I learned a lot of things that are very useful to me now as a homeowner, but certainly it wasn't work that I was called to do.

Emily Lakdawalla: So I was looking around, a year after we had moved to Los Angeles, for a new job and somebody just handed me this job ad in another place that I was applying. I think it was a science museum where I was applying for work and somebody else there was like, "Hey, I was looking for work," which by the way is not a good sign if you're in a place interviewing for a job. But she was like, "I saw this job and I saw your resume and it just sounds perfect for you so you should check it out." And it was like an LA Times ad for a job at the Planetary Society.

Mat Kaplan: So what happened, you came by, you got interviewed by who? Louis Friedman?

Emily Lakdawalla: Definitely Friedman. I don't really remember the interview day very much. I remember Louis, probably Charlene Anderson who was the editor of the Planetary Report at the time and who became my first editor-

Mat Kaplan: Associate director of the Society, yeah.

Emily Lakdawalla: Yes, that's right. Probably Linda Kelly, probably Bruce actually.

Mat Kaplan: Bruce Betts? Yeah.

Emily Lakdawalla: Yeah, because he'd been hired I think not too long before me.

Mat Kaplan: You must have ran then into me not too long after that. And maybe not for the interview, I definitely didn't help interview you. They didn't ask me to do that and I was very part time still at that point.

Emily Lakdawalla: I remember everybody being a little amused that I'd shown up in a suit.

Mat Kaplan: Well, we should explain. This is back at, not quite the original home, but the long time home of the Society, a beautiful old green and green craftsman home on Catalina, just off of the main drag in Pasadena, the one that everybody watches the Rose Parade go up and down. And it was a pretty casual family-oriented atmosphere, right?

Emily Lakdawalla: It was, and I interviewed in August, so there were children and pets running up and down the hallways. And my mother had often worked for nonprofits and I grew up a faculty brat at the school that I went to and my mom was in the admissions department at... And so, again, it felt like a very familiar, uncomfortable environment for me. And I hoped that as I did plan to have a family in the future, that I'd be able to bring my own kids there and so approved. My first child actually was an infant I brought her to work with me several days a week for the first year or so of her life.

Mat Kaplan: I remember it well, and it was a great atmosphere. It wasn't always the most peaceful place, but it was certainly fascinating. There were very few dull moments in that era at the Planetary Society. And yeah, that's another thing I regret about you leaving by the way, that you're one more person who goes back that far, remembers that era, who I am able to share stories like this with.

Emily Lakdawalla: Yeah, I have found myself a lot in the last couple of years saying, well, back when I started at the Planetary Society and I recognize that there's some value in that, but also I felt like I was spending a lot of my time looking back and that I needed to rejuvenate myself. Because I feel like I have the weight of seniority, but I have a long professional life ahead of me. And I think it's too soon for me to be the crotchety old back in my day, gray-haired storytelling person. I am gray-haired, but you know what I mean.

Mat Kaplan: No, that's all right. I'll take on that role and I have some gray hair. What I mean is the hair I have is great. They were wonderful people. They were terrific folks. You mentioned Charlene, who I still miss quite a bit and others who that we haven't mentioned. Lu Coffing, who we lost recently, Susan Lendroth and of course Louis Friedman himself who was just on the show and we're still following along in his career. I mean, he's great proof that you can leave the Planetary Society, at least leave your title there and still do some amazing things.

Emily Lakdawalla: I learned so much from both Friedman and Charlene. And I have to say Friedman because we did have both Louis Friedman and Lu Coffing for so long that I got into calling them Friedman and Coffing just to separate them from Louis. His optimism was just remarkable, no matter what kind of disaster was unfolding, he could find a silver lining and figure out a way that it would turn out for the best or at least that something good would come of it. I'm going to just elliptically refer to the story that I caused an incident involving the Indian consulate, the state department got involved. And I was just like, I went into Louis's office expecting that I was going to be fired. And he just laughed and explained to me how this was actually great and how we were going to get exactly what we wanted out of it and that it was all fine.

Emily Lakdawalla: To this day I find silver linings in everything. Like for my kids now, the whole situation with the lockdown and COVID and everything else, it's a lot to deal with, but we keep on focusing on our blessings and on things that are happening that are good that wouldn't have happened without this whole horrible situation and sort of in so doing we can kind of keep our spirits up. From Charlene, she was my first editor. I was hired at the Planetary Society to work on a behind the scenes project. And so when that project came to an end, we sort of looked around for what I could do and she asked me to start writing for the Planetary Society's website because I had the background knowledge.

Emily Lakdawalla: I've always enjoyed writing, but I've never taken a journalism class, I've never taken a creative writing class, it was a lot of work to beat the academic writer out of me. And Charlene put in that work and she would pepper her advice with stories about editing Carl Sagan which were always hilarious. And she really worked hard on me for I think about two years before the training wheels could come off and I was able to write in a way that didn't sound like a stuffy professor writing a paper for an audience of 10.

Mat Kaplan: And now you help other people learn how to do that. I'm going to add that before she got to work with Carl Sagan, I think Charlene was doing some of the same work for Jacques Cousteau.

Emily Lakdawalla: She was, yeah.

Mat Kaplan: So what a legacy that is, yeah. That project you got hired for, was that Red Rover Goes to Mars?

Emily Lakdawalla: It was. So that was a sprawling project that could only have come out of the mind of Louis Friedman. It's sort of hard to explain, but what I was hired to do was to help run an international contest that selected a small group of high school students from around the world to come to Pasadena when the Mars exploration rovers landed and to get an opportunity to work inside mission operations. What they would do there and what kind of training they needed, that was all up to me. The project was more or less dumped in my lap and because I had the experience of working with children and because I had the background knowledge that would be needed to train these kids into knowing what they would need to know in order to be able to have any idea what was going on inside Mars Exploration Rover mission operations.

Emily Lakdawalla: I designed the application process, collected the applications, helped select the kids, trained them, then supervised them in small groups working at JPL and that was exhausting but fun. And it did produce some... I mean, all the kids were amazing. One of them is currently the deputy project scientist for the Mars Science Laboratory mission, so that's Abigail Freeman. So...

Mat Kaplan: He's been on this show a few times, yeah?

Emily Lakdawalla: Yeah, quite a project.

Mat Kaplan: And quite a legacy. I mean, that is the living legacy.

Emily Lakdawalla: Yeah, so when these students are, I mean, they're not students anymore, they're adults now and they're all over the world doing things in their own communities. A couple of them have ended up in science communication in space. One of them's in Canada and one of them's in Australia. There's a exoplanet scientist, that's Courtney Dressing. There's an astronomer, there's a material scientist in Singapore. They're just all over the place.

Mat Kaplan: So it's like you stay in touch.

Emily Lakdawalla: With some of them, yes I do. I did get back in touch with them on Facebook before I left Facebook. Now we do still keep in touch with several of them.

Mat Kaplan: It wasn't long after this, if we jumped forward to 2005, that a couple of big things happened. One, you started the Planetary Society blog and an organization called Unmanned Spaceflight got underway, right? Or at least you got involved with it.

Emily Lakdawalla: Yeah, I got involved in 2005. Unmanned Spaceflight started out as a website back associated with the Beagle 2 mission. So it began in 2003, it was just this one British medical animator putting together a forum for a key in some other like-minded individuals, other enthusiasts in Britain. Britain's so good at baking enthusiasts, to discuss the Beagle 2 mission, which was a British-built lander that flew to Mars with the European Space Agency's Mars Express Mission. Beagle 2 was unfortunately never heard from after it separated from Mars Express, but its failure was quickly followed by the successes of Spirit and Opportunity and the forum turned over to a discussion of those two missions. And eventually the forum became a kind of home for an international community of space image processing enthusiasts. And it included not only amateurs, but also there are several professional scientists who participated in as well and engineers. I became involved when the Huygens landing happened and I've been involved with it ever since.

Mat Kaplan: And what about the blog? Same year?

Emily Lakdawalla: So the blog is funny. So I had done some blogging on and off for the Society. Probably the most continuous one was in 2003, 2004. I was sent to Devin Island and the Canadian High Arctic to work on this project related to the Mars airplane idea that Louis had been trying to get going. So I wrote a blog for that. It wasn't called a blog, actually it was called Devin Diaries or something, blog wasn't a word then. And a little bit later I started writing a blog for the Cosmos 1 mission because it was going to be my job to process the images that came down from the spacecraft and I was going to be the person inside mission operations who was writing stories about what was going on for the public. So that mission failed, turns out we had a dud rocket and it wound up on the bottom of the ocean, but we didn't find that out right away.

Emily Lakdawalla: There was this uncertainty for days over what had happened to the spacecraft and whether it was actually up there transmitting to us. Out of desperation for something to write about other than, "We still haven't heard from the spacecraft," I started writing about other things and I never stopped writing or at least I didn't for a great many years and the blog kind of grew out of that. It was just my blog for a long time. And then eventually it grew to encompass other voices as well. And I finally pretty much stopped writing just about a year ago.

Mat Kaplan: But it certainly continues on and so another part of your legacy, I would say, because it is doing terrific work today. And we were just in a meeting a few minutes ago and I was hearing about some upcoming articles from some of the best in the business. I just realized I skipped over another significant milestone at least it is for me. And that was the beginning of Planetary Radio. And you were there...

Emily Lakdawalla: I was there.

Mat Kaplan: ... you were on every week for quite a long time.

Emily Lakdawalla: It took us a little while to figure out what the best use for me on the show was. For a while I was reading these Q&A things, they were scripted, and I'm not an actor. I am a teacher and I love to answer questions. I'm always most comfortable when I am just riffing, answering questions to the best of my ability, which I understand isn't true of everybody. It is true of a lot of academics though, I mean, we love to talk for sure. And I love to answer questions. And so just the ability to just talk is, I think, it's what I enjoy the most.

Mat Kaplan: Most of great improvement in that segment of the show and it did a lot for the show and of course you've continued to appear periodically, something that I hope will also continue. These brief visits, these brief conversations that we've had for all of these many years, I'm going to go way forward, because you've already talked about the writing, which eventually would result in you and in a latter era of the Society, 2018 being put in charge of the Planetary Report, our quarterly magazine that is basically as old as the organization. Lots and lots of recognition for this magazine over the years, I suppose you could have simply been a caretaker for this accomplished publication, but you ended up doing far, far more and it is a much better magazine for it. Talk a little bit about this.

Emily Lakdawalla: Well, the Planetary Report was at the beginning of the Planetary Society, it was the main way that we spoke to our members. Over the years with the internet and everything else, it's been harder and harder to define, I think, what makes it unique and great. And for me, it was always the stories being told by the people participating in space exploration about both ideas and missions that were important to them, but doing it in a way that acknowledged that the audience reading it was enthusiastic and interested and had been reading for a while. And so they could get into more detail, more geekery, more depth of how these missions worked and what kind of work they were doing without having to spend a lot of time either defending its importance or putting in context that presumably most Planetary Report readers would know.

Emily Lakdawalla: So I really wanted to centralize those stories. But the other thing that I wanted to do was to place more emphasis on the people who were doing this work. As much as I love the robots that are exploring the solar system, it's not the robots exploring the solar system, it's the thousands of people who work on the missions. And so I introduced a few features or recurring columns that showcased the people, the facilities on earth where those people were working and gave those people an opportunity to talk about what motivated them. Because I think that unless we put the people in the forefront, we have a tendency to stereotype who is it who works on these kinds of missions. And it turns out that there's a huge variety of both roles on missions and the kinds of people who fulfill those roles and what they bring to the table and why they are motivated to work so hard to get these robots to distant places where they'll will eventually die. So, yeah, so I really enjoyed the opportunity to give space to those kinds of voices.

Mat Kaplan: And there are some other great elements that you brought to the magazine, but what you've just described of course is also what we try to do with the radio show, maybe at a slightly more basic, layperson level. And it's not by accident that I start every show by saying, "The human adventure across the solar system and beyond," because it is a human adventure.

Emily Lakdawalla: There's this tension I think in the Planetary Society's communications about how to balance the competing needs of reaching out to as wide an audience as possible, providing all the context, being as inviting and welcoming to people who may be brand new to excitement about space. Balancing that with the value of supporting an enthusiast community who has been paying attention for a long time and is hungry for the kinds of details that you don't get from the more general audience-focused NASA and ISA press releases. NASA does a fantastic job of communicating about their missions but they are limited in how technical they can get. And I've always really enjoyed serving the audience that is hungry for those details. I want to give them all the details and I want to do that in a way that will be accessible.

Emily Lakdawalla: I need to explain jargon, I need to explain some times the purpose of scientific experiments, but I never need to entice people to be interested. I can take it as a given that my audience wants to know the kinds of stuff that I have to tell them and that they will do the work, the mental work, and it is work to understand some of these more difficult concepts that I'm trying to explain to them. The Planetary Society serves both of those groups and everything in between. It's always, I think, been my passion to speak to that hungry enthusiast audience.

Mat Kaplan: And isn't that a gift to be in the position to be able to do exactly what you've been talking about, that's how I feel. Are there two or three highlights, other highlights of your 19-year-old career with the Planetary Society that stand out?

Emily Lakdawalla: It's funny, you often try to ask me questions about favorites or things and I often deflect those questions. But I will say that the event that stands out for me happened pretty early, and that was the landing of Huygens on Titan. Because so many things were new and exciting and unprecedented and never surpassed about that experience. I have not traveled outside the US very much and only once before, I think in a professional capacity before I went to the European Space Operation Center to experience Huygens landing. So that was quite a different experience to suddenly be with the international science journalist community, to see how ISA ran its publicity events, which was very different from NASA.

Emily Lakdawalla: It was a very different environment, it was very heady and it made me, I think, realize just how very international planetary exploration was. I had known that, I had been to Moscow to give a paper as part of the Brown University for Vernadsky Institute microsymposium a couple of years prior, but I really hadn't been in the thick of it as a professional before, I'd only been a student then. That was really exciting. The whole notion of landing on a moon of Saturn was just also something that we've never surpassed since. I mean, we've landed on the moon and on Mars and even on asteroids, but Titan is so, so different. All of those things, it's so much farther away, it's such a weird world. And then we saw those pictures and it looked like the Southwest. It had rivers and it looked like...

Emily Lakdawalla: I mean, I have this joke that I do actually in some of my public talks where I take that first photo that we got back that shows these river channels on Titan and they seem to be emptying into a sea, a dark-colored sea. It turns out they're all dry, but it was a little hard to tell from the first impressions of these images. Anywhere I go and give a talk, there's a really good chance that I can line it up with a local coastline and rivers and an Island off in the ocean. I can line it up with Long Beach, I can line it up with Manhattan, I've lined it up with Chesapeake Bay. It really works. It's really good at pretending to be other coastlines. The weird familiarity of that landscape was just so very special.

Emily Lakdawalla: And then there's a lot of drama over the public release of all the images, they got "accidentally" released on a University of Arizona website and there were a lot of conspiracy theories floating around the pressroom about why they hadn't appeared yet and I was able to show the international media, "No, in fact, the spacecraft did return images and here they're all in the internet and people are already combining them together." And that's how I discovered the Unmanned Spaceflight community, then there was a whole bunch of drama because it turns out that one of the two transmitters on Huygens had not been... or the receiver had not been turned on on Cassini. And so that took a while to figure out and there was a lot of emotional reaction to that.

Emily Lakdawalla: And then after we all flew home, everybody involved had a horrible flu for about a week or two. And so it was just from one end to the other, it was exhausting and thrilling and exciting. And probably it's definitely the most exciting moment of discovery I have shared in as a professional was those first views of what Titan looked like under the clouds.

Mat Kaplan: I will only force you to consider one other, actually it's two other similar experiences. And I do it partly for selfish reasons because I was there with you. And that was donning the bunny suits and going into the High Bay at JPL to stand in front of Curiosity and Perseverance and know where they were headed.

Emily Lakdawalla: Yeah, that first experience with Curiosity was something else. I hadn't yet agreed to write this book, I hadn't been offered the opportunity. I'd been very closely associated with the Mars Exploration Rovers and they were so cute and symmetrical and plucky and they're almost like, in my mind, they kind of occupy the positions of dogs. Loyal, well-trained, one of them behaves better than the other. Opportunity was always a better behaviorer over than Spirit was, but they were very cute. And they were part of my becoming this kind of professional who is there and having opportunities like going in to see Curiosity. Curiosity always seems so huge and ungainly kind of designed by committee and I wasn't as into curiosity. But once I was inside the cleanroom and looked face-to-face at that rover, I definitely fell a little bit in love with it then. And so now, I think the feelings that I have for Curiosity are quite different from Spirit and Opportunity. The missions are very different, but it was a very special opportunity to be able to stand in there with this machine that was going to Mars.

Mat Kaplan: And of course, I don't think there's anybody at JPL who knows the guts, the insides of Curiosity better than you do, as you demonstrated in that first book. I'm going to shift gears. You helped guide several organizations. One of these is the Society of Women in Space Exploration, which has a lot, maybe everything to do with another passion of yours, inclusion, diversity, opportunity for all. I mean, this is something that all of us who work with you at the Society and I think everybody who gets to hear you or read what you publish, they know this is very important to you.

Emily Lakdawalla: Yeah, it definitely is. I mean, if I look around at the scientific community, I see that there's an awful lot of people who are not included. And I think that there's a couple of reasons that this is bad. One of them is a purely selfish one. I recognize that we're not getting the benefit of a lot of more diverse points of view that it has been shown that actually makes for better corporate work, makes for better planning, makes for more creative ideas. But that reason just pales beside the more important reason of equity. I mean, it's morally indefensible to go forward and ignore the fact that there are people who are being denied opportunities. Every time I say something like this, there's somebody who pops out of the woodwork to say, "Well, maybe they just don't want the opportunities." And I say, "Let them decide that for themselves, give them the opportunities or let's stop denying them the opportunities first and then let them choose."

Emily Lakdawalla: Now, one thing, there is an element of truth to that. And that's that one of the reasons why space exploration, why a lot of these technical fields lack diversity is because it's a very inimical environment to anybody who diverges from the norm. It is true that people leave because they don't want to be here, but it's because they're being driven out. And so I think too often, people focus on to, and I don't agree with this framing, but people focus on fixing the people who are not there as opposed to fixing the system that is driving those people out.

Mat Kaplan: Systemic problems, yeah.

Emily Lakdawalla: Yes. Yeah, so that's what... And it's been a little bit of a relief, this is one of those silver linings that the recent unrest, the widespread protestations against police violence and things like that have brought these conversations, have made them easier to have, I think have created the opportunity to have those kinds of conversations in these very white spaces and to overcome some of the discomfort that white folks feel in general about having conversations about race and equity in the workplace. And so that's been a little bit of a relief. It's nice that those conversations are beginning to happen. We're still a long way from taking the kinds of actions that we need to take to change our culture, both our workplace culture and our country's culture. More generally to make these spaces more welcoming and more open to change, the kinds of necessary change that will have to happen before we can truly create places that will help everybody realize their potential.

Emily Lakdawalla: Twitter has been wonderful at helping me find community with people who I ordinarily would not run into such as lots of young black scientists, especially women who are just starting out who have high hopes and dreams and want to participate. And I see the struggles that they go through, the things that they have to deal with and a lot of them do choose to leave. And at least I can continue having conversations with them, talking with them about what went wrong, supporting them in whatever way I can. I think that there's a lot of work that has to be done to give the few people who make it through the gauntlet, the support that they need, not just mentoring, but companionship. They need peers who they can relate to, everything just to help them stick around because it's a brutal environment for anyone, academia starting out. And if you lack any advantage, it's especially difficult. So it's going to be a long time. But there's the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, right? You have to start somewhere.

Emily Lakdawalla: And one of the places that I want to focus on is just helping put conversations out in the open so that people can be more comfortable having them. And then I throw my support behind young women of color and whatever way they need my help. I don't know how helpful I have been to that many of them, but just whatever I can do I'm here to support, to mentor, to copy, edit to... Whatever they need, I am here to help.

Mat Kaplan: Something that meshes very well with this, I think, is your growing expertise and interest promotion of children's books about space and science. Did this start when you had children of your own or long before that?

Emily Lakdawalla: Well, I actually, before I had children, I have always been interested in children's literature. I did go to a meeting of the Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. I took a course from UCLA extension on writing children's books. Children's literature is underappreciated by a lot of people and the quality of what's coming out these days, especially for young adult audiences is just spectacular. The kinds of topics being tackled in young adult books, they're societal problems, they're philosophical problems, they're fantastic books about children with life-threatening illnesses who have suffered all kinds of trauma, but also ones that are fanciful and fun and play with words. You can be a grammar nerd and still enjoy reading young adult books. And so it's to the point where whenever I approach a new topic that I don't know anything about, the first thing I reach for is a book that's aimed at junior high school students.

Emily Lakdawalla: So I'm actually looking right up at my desk right now at a book on Python, which is a programming language for kids. I don't know how to program in Python and I'm going to start with this book because I think the children's book writers really have to distill down to and they have to work much harder at translating for an audience that isn't familiar with jargon than people who write for adults. I think that that work is really valuable in helping give people the foundations that they need to understand and approach a new topic. And so I think it's a great way to approach anything new.

Mat Kaplan: And also generate, I would say the enthusiasm and the inspiration that it's going to take for particularly in the area of the science books if you're going to generate the kind of interest that was kindled in you by children's literature so many years ago.

Emily Lakdawalla: That in just pictures, you got to have good pictures and the pictures have to have good captions. Because I have so many science books on my bookshelf that I've had since I was a kid and many of them, I don't think I've ever read the text, I've just looked at the images and read the captions. And that's how I approached books and I think that's how I approach a lot of my writing is that I recognize how important the images are and how the caption serve to draw you from one difficult concept to the next. In fact, there are some of my blog entries I think that I used to do when I realized I was getting bogged down in something that may be too technical for most readers, I would say, "Here, have a pretty picture of Mars." It's not appropriate to what I was talking about, but we need a break. Let's look at this really pretty picture for a second.

Mat Kaplan: I'm looking over at my bookcase here in my home office where I have quite a few of the books from that very early period in my life that I still treasure. I got just one more for you. What are you most looking forward to in planetary science and exploration and maybe more broadly?

Emily Lakdawalla: Oh gosh, that's a wide open question. What am I most looking forward to? I know this sounds sappy, but I'm looking forward to more people being able to participate. I think that the internet has been a great leveler in that more information can be multiplied infinitely to get to more people, but it was still this kind of top down sort of thing. And I think that with more meetings being conducted virtually, with more spacecraft being flown by more different nations, there are just so many more different ways to get involved and to follow your passions about space exploration. There's lots of different ways to do it, you don't just have to read the NASA website or even read the Planetary Society website.

Emily Lakdawalla: There are so many different ways to learn and to be excited about it and to respond, whether that's processing image data, whether it's going to star parties, teaching a star parties or just visiting star parties, whether you're doing projects with your kids or making art, which is something I'm doing right now. I'm having some fun making artworks that are inspired by the solar system and planets and doing a little wire wrapping with beads and where each bead represents a planet and so on and so forth. There's lots of different ways to get involved and I just look forward to seeing that continue to radiate outward and in more creative and human ways.

Mat Kaplan: Thank you, Emily. You have made the Planetary Society a better organization. You've done the same for the Planetary Science community and well beyond it, I have no doubt that you will continue in this vein in this grand work. I wish you the greatest of success, I'm glad you won't be a total stranger. Working with you has been a delight, an honor and an inspiration. And I'm glad that there will be more opportunities. So thank you for this conversation, which has been lovely. And thank you for 19 years of being a colleague and a friend.

Emily Lakdawalla: Right back at you, Mat, I'm blushing. Thank you so much.

Mat Kaplan: That's Emily Lakdawalla. She is for a few more days the solar system specialist of the Planetary Society, but I'm guessing for the rest of her life, the planetary evangelist. Emily's last day at Planetary Society staff is September 30th. Bill Nye is about to join this little celebration of our colleague. Then it's onto Bruce and this week's What's Up. Back in moments.

Bill Nye: Perseverance is on its way to Mars. Bill Nye, the planetary guy here. I'll be watching when this new Mars rover arrives at the red planet on 18 February, 2021. Would you and a friend like to join me? We'll put you up in a four-star hotel, enjoy a great lunch conversation about space exploration and share our excitement as the rover descends the Martian surface. Then we'll send you home with a Mars MOVA Globe signed by me. Visit omaze.com/bill to enter and support the Planetary Society. That's omaze.com/bill. I look forward to welcoming you as we return to Mars.

Mat Kaplan: Bill, I just wanted to give you a chance to pay tribute to our colleague and friend Emily Lakdawalla.

Bill Nye: Well, she's the force. She's the planetary evangelist, that's what is written on her business card. She loves planets, she loves moons of planets. She loves interplanetary objects, zooming between planets and moons. And she's a real geologist, everybody. She understands rocks like anybody involved in geology. And as we say, every rock tells a story and Emily loves to tell the story of rocks, which comprise the solar system and we live on one. We want to learn as much about other worlds as possible and Emily has just published... She worked for us for 19 years, is that right?

Mat Kaplan: That's it, yeah.

Bill Nye: 19 years. That's a long time to be a planetary evangelist and she changed the world. I mean, she's provided the insights and the passion, the passion man. That's what we're all about at the Planetary Society. The passion for planetary exploration and knowing the cosmos and our place within it.

Mat Kaplan: And I know we all wish her well.

Bill Nye: Oh, you guys, Emily's not going anywhere, with respect. Just her relationship to the payroll is changing. Okay, so she's going to go off and write another book and she's another optimistic author or authoress and I've been there. You think authors write this book in a couple months, three months or something? It takes way longer than that. But the Planetary Society is her home. Bill predicts that she will be back in some, I don't want to be a spoiler here, but she'll be back in some capacity, either part time on the payroll or as a contractor, not quite on the payroll, but she'll be back participating with us when the book is done. It's just saying that a book will take three months is optimistic. Can I use the word optimistic?

Mat Kaplan: Yes you can.

Bill Nye: I don't want to throw in the word delusional or... But it's so hard, to me, writing a book is so hard. So consuming.

Mat Kaplan: I have not yet written a book, but I was told that it's really pretty simple. You just sit down in front of the word processor and you wait until the tiny drops of blood start to come out of your forehead and then [inaudible 00:58:41].

Bill Nye: No, but Emily understands as well as anyone because I remember having this conversation with her just about writing a book, you just got to divide the task into tasklets. Divide the chapters into chaplets and you can get it done. She'll get it done, it's going to be great and everybody's going to love her book because she is an outstanding writer. She's not just a planetary evangelist, she can write. And she's been a big part of the Planetary Report, which is one of our main products for almost 20 years so it's all good. But Emily's contribution to the Planetary Society, I mean, she gets everybody excited about planets and moons and she has two kids, engaging them has clearly helped her engage everybody. Like how do you talk to kids is how you talk with everyone. Kids are like people in many respects and so she has gotten her passion across through the pages of the Planetary Report and I'm always so proud of our journalism in the Planetary Report and as we publish it on our website. Emily's contributions, immeasurable.

Mat Kaplan: And I am proud that she has been part of this show from the beginning, as I am proud that you are a part of it now. And then Bill, thank you for this little tribute. And I'm going to hold you to that, her coming back once this book is done three months or three years or whatever it takes.

Bill Nye: No, I don't think that's an extraordinary prediction. If I'm taking risks, that's a pretty good one. But everybody, I hope you're a member of the Planetary Society. Your family is a member or members. Just go back and look through all the stuff, all the material that Emily has produced over the last 19 years. I mean, it's fantastic. And what she has done to catalog and organize the great body of work we have is extraordinary. She's the planetary evangelist that no other organization has, there's nobody else like her. So of course we wish her the best. I wish her the best and I look forward to her return in some form.

Mat Kaplan: Thank you, Bill.

Bill Nye: Thank you, Mat.

Mat Kaplan: That's the CEO of the Planetary Society, the planetary guy, Bill Nye. Time for What's Up on Planetary Radio. We are joined again by the chief scientist of the Planetary Society. That's astronomer and other stuff, Bruce Betts. Welcome.

Bruce Betts: Thank you, Mat.

Mat Kaplan: I don't see why we shouldn't just jump right into that beautiful big sky.

Bruce Betts: Well, that beautiful big sky still has amazing planets and Mars just stupid wonderful bright. So we'll start in the earliest part of the evening. You've got Jupiter and Saturn, Jupiter looking super bright. Saturn to its left looking yellowish over in the South. Or if you're in the Southern Hemisphere who I forget to adjust for periodically, you're looking more towards the North, but the spectacular thing at this time is Mars. Mars coming up in the East in the very early evening looking orangish reddish as it does and now basically as bright as Jupiter. So stunningly bright coming up on its closest approach to earth for this time around will be on October 6th. Opposition when it's on the exact opposite side of the earth from the sun will be October 13th. So your next three, four, five weeks are the time to check out Mars.

Bruce Betts: And on October 2nd, there will be an almost full moon right next to super bright Mars. So a beautiful view on the evening of October 2nd. If you're up in the pre-dawn checkout Venus, looking super bright coming up a couple hours before dawn in the pre-dawn East.

Mat Kaplan: Our skies have cleared here, our smoke is pretty much gone. I don't know about you. So it might be time to drag the telescope out and take a look at the red planet tonight.

Bruce Betts: Drag it, drag it. We still have a big, massive fire near us, but the winds have shifted, which is not necessarily good for the fire but we can actually see the sky again for the first time in a while.

Mat Kaplan: I heard that Mount Wilson is for at least the second time in this period in some jeopardy again. So I will send out good thoughts for that wonderful shrine to astronomy.

Bruce Betts: And they do real science with some of their facilities up there even today. So it's both historical and currently doing great stuff. So we wish the best of safety to all up there. All right, we move on to this week in space history. It was 50 years ago that the Soviet Luna 16 robotic returned some samples from the moon.

Mat Kaplan: Another great accomplishment.

Bruce Betts: Yeah. 2014, the Mars Orbiter Mission, MOM, from India went into orbit around Mars.

Mat Kaplan: Excuse me, did you say 2014?

Bruce Betts: I said that.

Mat Kaplan: Six years? It seems like yesterday or last year, maybe.

Bruce Betts: Last year, MOM went into orbit at Mars.

Mat Kaplan: Thank you, I feel so much better.

Bruce Betts: About a Jupiter year.

Mat Kaplan: Okay, yeah. That's all right. I'll live with that. Go on.

Bruce Betts: All right. I think you're going to enjoy this wonderous first...

Mat Kaplan: Oh, that was terrific. What inspired that?

Bruce Betts: This, the atmospheric surface pressure on Venus is somewhat higher, higher than the bite pressure of a grizzly bear.

Mat Kaplan: Okay, I get it. Oh my goodness, that's great. So standing on Venus is like being bitten over every square inch of your body by a grizzly bear?

Bruce Betts: Yeah, or worse.

Mat Kaplan: Square centimeters, that's even more.

Bruce Betts: Okay, kind of. I was pretty proud of that all night.

Mat Kaplan: You should be, that's a great random space fact.

Bruce Betts: We move on to a great trivia question. Not that space, he accepted it was about the CEO of the Planetary Society, Bill Nye, the science guy, he holds three patents. One of them relates to shoes, I asked what kind of shoes? How do we do it Mat?

Mat Kaplan: Terrific response, lots and lots of you wanted to get in on this. I don't blame you, I'm sure you were as curious as I was. The only patent I knew about was the one... It's really cool, it's this thing you attach to the end of a baseball bat. So when you're on your own doing a little fun go, you can pick up the ball just by jamming the end of the bat over the ball sitting on the ground. Well, here is a poem from Jean Lewin in Washington that will give away this answer.

Mat Kaplan: A passion burns within this man, or should I call him guy, neighbor to the Begley fam, our CEO, Bill Nye. Engineering degree, a Cornell grad, comedian, inventor too. But most surprising of the success he has had is his patent for a ballet shoe. It's true.

Bruce Betts: It's true, ballet pointe shoes patent.

Mat Kaplan: And here's a little description of it courtesy of Perry Metzger in New Hampshire, the toe shoe preferably includes a toe box and the toe of the toe shoe, an opera in an outer sole support structure within the toe shoe includes a longitudinal support member of foot and circulating tubular sleeve and or a toe ridge. That's our boss. And here's our winner, not our boss. Longtime listener, first time winner. [Sevan 01:06:36] Newhouse in Germany, who indeed said, "A ballet toe shoe." [Sevan 01:06:42], we're going to be sending you a Planetary Society Kick Asteroid rubber asteroid. I got some other great stuff. Darren Richie in Washington, "Instead of plie, could dancers wearing Bill's shoes perform a [Plan-A 01:06:59]?

Bruce Betts: Maybe.

Mat Kaplan: John Guyton, "No tap dancing around this one." I'll show myself out. Norman Casson with this appeal to the boss, "Most of us aren't ballerinas and frankly have trouble simply walking," amen to that Norman. Maybe now I could apply these principles to shoes for us less acrobatically-inclined folk. Why not?

Bruce Betts: I think pointe shoes would be a terrible choice for people who are already... Well anyway, nevermind. Go on.

Mat Kaplan: Both my daughters could go on pointe. I think one of them can still achieve it and I just am absolutely amazed by it. They can tell you about the time someday, I'll tell you when I was in the Nutcracker with them.

Bruce Betts: How are there still stories I don't know about you Mat, so curious.

Mat Kaplan: I got a million of them. Dave Fairchild, he'll close this out with this little, it's more of a 10th anniversary tribute to Bill and we got a lot of these. Thank you to all of you on behalf of Bill who congratulated him on completing his first decade as our boss. "Bill's not just a science dude, he's called the science guy and never wears a straight cravat, but sports a sharp bow tie. He's quite on point on asteroids and dancing shoes and for the last 10 years he's been our stellar CEO." Thank you, Dave.

Bruce Betts: Nice.

Mat Kaplan: Yeah, I'm ready for another one and a very special prize.

Bruce Betts: Oh, alright. Here you go. What is the largest rock returned from the moon by Apollo astronauts? I will accept the rock's official designation and or its nickname. Go to planetary.org/radiocontest.

Mat Kaplan: Well, that shouldn't be too hard for you to dig up. All right, here's the prize folks. Space Exploration for Kids: A Junior Scientist's Guide to Astronauts, Rockets, and Life in Zero Gravity.

Bruce Betts: I've heard it's really good.

Mat Kaplan: Yeah, well apparently a lot of people on Amazon think so. By Bruce Betts.

Bruce Betts: Oh, right.

Mat Kaplan: You're so surprised, right? This is because what, a week ago it's out now in print?

Bruce Betts: Indeed. A week ago, it came out in print. It's also available for Kindle on Amazon and elsewhere or through Planetary Radio contests.

Mat Kaplan: And this is for slightly older kids than your last one, right? Now, what's the age range for this one?

Bruce Betts: It's kind of a first, second grade in the US so kind of six to nine-ish. Flexible.

Mat Kaplan: I enjoyed it, what does that make me?

Bruce Betts: Brilliant.

Mat Kaplan: All right. Anyway, that's what's coming to you if you are chosen by random.oregon, you've got the answer to this one by the 30th. That would be September 30th, Wednesday at 8:00 AM Pacific Time. And we are done.

Bruce Betts: All right everybody, go out there and look up the night sky and think about Emily Lakdawalla. Thank you, and good night.

Mat Kaplan: I am fondly. He's Bruce Betts, thinking of him too, fondly. Sure, Why not? He's the chief scientist of the Planetary Society who joins us every week here for What's Up. Planetary radio is produced by the Planetary Society in Pasadena, California, and is made possible by its members who are likely to miss Emily as much as all of us who work with her. Mark Hilverda is our associate producer. Josh Doyle composed our theme, which is arranged and performed by Peter Schlosser. Ad astra.