On This Episode
NASA Landing and Recovery Director for the Exploration Ground Systems Program
Planetary Radio Host and Producer for The Planetary Society
Chief Scientist / LightSail Program Manager for The Planetary Society
Senior Communications Adviser and former Host of Planetary Radio for The Planetary Society
Additional guests include:
- Shannon Walker, NASA astronaut
- Captain John Ryan, commander of the USS Portland, the Orion recovery ship
Host Mat Kaplan returned to Naval Base San Diego to greet the return of the Artemis 1 Orion spacecraft aboard the USS Portland. Stay with us for a collage of entertaining excerpts of ten of the very best Planetary Radio episodes produced over the last two decades. Incoming host Sarah Al-Ahmed points to a new article about the JWST’s stunning infrared image of Neptune. Don’t miss Mat serenading Bruce Betts in this week’s What’s Up!
- Artemis, NASA's Moon landing program
- Bringing Orion Home: How the U.S. Navy will pluck our future astronauts from the sea
- Planetary Radio: 10 Must-Listen Episodes About Space Exploration
- A deep dive into the Neptune system with JWST
- The night sky
- The Downlink
- Subscribe to the monthly Planetary Radio newsletter
This Week’s Question:
What observed astronomical event did Tycho Brahe write about in his book, “De Nova Stella?”
This Week’s Prize:
A Planetary Society Kick Asteroid r-r-r-rubber asteroid!
To submit your answer:
Complete the contest entry form at https://www.planetary.org/radiocontest or write to us at [email protected] no later than Wednesday, December 29 at 8am Pacific Time. Be sure to include your name and mailing address.
Last week's question:
After Mat retires as the host of Planetary Radio, what job would you like him to do or can you envision him doing? Your answer can be serious or funny. Bruce and Mat will pick the winner.
The winner will be revealed next week.
Question from the December 7, 2022 space trivia contest:
How long in hours and minutes was the longest extra-vehicular activity (EVA) carried out on the surface of the Moon?
The longest extra-vehicular activity (EVA) carried out on the surface of the Moon was conducted by Apollo 17 astronauts Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt. It lasted 7 hours, 36 minutes, and 56 seconds.
Mat Kaplan: Recovering the Artemis 1 Orion capsule and sampling the best from 20 years of our show, this week on Planetary Radio. I'm Mat Kaplan of The Planetary Society with more of the human adventure across our solar system and beyond. Welcome to the second to last Planetary Radio episode that I will host. How do You follow a visit with JPL's Rob Manning and author of The Martian, Andy Weir? With a visit to Naval Base San Diego, where I stood a few feet from a human-rated spacecraft that had just returned from the Moon. You'll hear my conversations with the captain of the recovery ship, with NASA recovery director Melissa Jones and with astronaut Shannon Walker. Then comes another treat, my Planetary Society colleague, Merc Boyan's parting gift is a beautiful montage of moments from some of my favorite episodes. You'll hear Sally Ride, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Freeman Dyson, Bob Picardo, Mary Roach, Linda Spilker, Bill Nye and a cameo appearance by Buzz Aldrin. Incoming Planetary Radio host Sarah Al-Ahmed will drop by in a couple of minutes to revel over spectacular images of Neptune delivered by the James Webb Space Telescope. And here's a heads up, I sing two, count 'em, two songs in this week's 'What's Up' segment with Bruce Betts. Don't say I didn't warn you. Speaking of the JWST, check out the image of two galaxies colliding that the big space telescope also captured. It's at the top of the December 16 edition of our weekly newsletter, the Down Link. You can subscribe to it for free. You know what else is free? The digital version of our beautiful quarterly magazine, the Planetary Report. The Galaxies image is one of those featured in the new December solstice issue that presents many of 2022's best space photos. It's all at planetary.org. Another Down Link story shares the news that Sophia, that Boeing 747 with a big infrared telescope, has been flown to its final resting place, the Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson, Arizona. I visited the museum during my recent stay in Tucson. They have several other history making NASA airplanes there along with a space shuttle solid rocket booster and much more. It's well worth the trip. Here's Sarah. Sarah, welcome back and thanks for tipping me off with this article that details these absolutely outstanding, wonderful new observations of Neptune by the JWST, the James Web Space Telescope, now available at planetary.org. Heidi Hammel, astronomer, Vice President for Science at Aura, the Association of Universities for Research and Astronomy. Of course, she's also vice president of The Planetary Society, been a member of our board since 2005 and has joined me here on Planetary Radio many times. Joined though by Naomi Rowe-Gurney, a post-doctoral researcher at NASA Goddard. So a young astronomer coming up. We really haven't seen Neptune like this since that single Voyager fly-by, have we?
Sarah Al-Ahmed: No, it's been since 1989. It's been a long, long time. So to get another glimpse of this planet and just really look at all the beautiful details, it was so stunning. I literally had my jaw just drop the moment I saw this picture. And it makes sense, I've heard Heidi Hammel speak in the past about how emotionally impactful it was after decades of wanting an image like this to have it. So it's just awesome.
Mat Kaplan: I was so hoping, I was thinking oh man, I hope there's a side by side comparison with maybe the best of the images from the Hubble Space Telescope. And sure enough, if you scroll far enough down in the article, and why wouldn't you? There it is. And it is absolutely stunning, they use the word astounding for this. And one of the most amazing facts in this article is that all of these wonderful new images are the result of, what? Just a couple of hours of time on the telescope?
Sarah Al-Ahmed: Yes. Just two hours of observing revealed the rings of Neptune. All of these amazing details in the atmosphere and all of its beautiful moons, it's absolutely startling. Because trying to get images of Neptune from Earth is just, I mean to say it's difficult would be an understatement. You can try to get images with Hubble, but what JWST has revealed about this planet in the infrared is amazing in just that amount of observing time.
Mat Kaplan: And that's really what makes the difference here, right? The Hubble image that were shown is in visible light because that's really where Hubble excels, maybe a little bit into the infrared. But nothing touches JWSD for observing in the infrared.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: It really reveals details that we couldn't see before with a telescope like Hubble. For example, there are these beautiful features underneath the top cloud layers that you can not only see in certain wavelengths of light if you can look past the methane in the atmosphere down underneath. There are also some really bright clouds that are reflecting light up at the top, so you can see all of this dynamics to that atmosphere, all of this depth that we really couldn't see with Hubble.
Mat Kaplan: Something else that I thought was fascinating is that not only do we have this far more sensitive telescope, but there are features revealed that apparently just weren't there before. They wouldn't have been there even if we'd had this telescope.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: Yeah, well a lot can change and let me calculate this. It's over 30 years, a long, long time. There are some features near the poles on Neptune that we did see when Voyager two flew by and they're still there, but there are whole new things about Neptune that have emerged in this time. That's really cool to see.
Mat Kaplan: Well again, the article is called "A Deep Dive into the Neptune System with JWST" by Heidi Hammel and Naomi Rowe-Gurney, highly recommended at planetary.org. And Sarah, I look forward to talking with you again next week when you will be part of our annual year-end panel reviewing the best in space for 2022. See you then.
Sarah Al-Ahmed: I'm looking forward to it. And who knows what shenanigans you and Bruce and I will get into on that day.
Mat Kaplan: That is Sarah Al-Ahmed. She is the incoming host of Planetary Radio, it happens in just two weeks as this one is published. The Artemis 1 mission ended on Sunday, December 11th, 2022 when the Orion spacecraft or capsule plunged into the Pacific off Baja, California. The Splashdown was originally planned to happen a few miles seaward from the coast of my hometown, San Diego, California. A storm made it prudent for recovery to be slightly redirected. Waiting for Orion was the USS Portland, a so-called LPD or Landing Platform Dock. This class of huge amphibious multitasking ship has a gigantic well deck that can be partially submerged, making it relatively easy to tow floating objects like space capsules inside. It was in that well deck that Orion peacefully rested. Buzzing around it on the morning of December 13 were Navy personnel, NASA officials and media reps like yours truly. The first person I spotted was in her blue astronaut jumpsuit. Dr. Shannon Walker is a space physicist who has been with NASA since 1995. She has also spent over 330 days in space, living twice on the International Space Station. It was a SpaceX Crew Dragon that carried her to the ISS on her second flight in 2020. Dr. Walker, lots of reason to celebrate as we stand here in the hold bay of this ship.
Shannon Walker: Yeah, it's pretty amazing to see the Orion capsule back on Earth in the fantastic shape it's in. It's been a long time coming and it has been absolutely amazing to get this back onto this ship.
Mat Kaplan: You've been with NASA a long time. You have watched the development of Artemis, of Orion, of the Space Launch System, SLS. It's been a long time coming.
Shannon Walker: Yes, yes it has. But now after our first flight, our test flight is done and hopefully it won't be too much longer until we'll get Artemis 2 on its way.
Mat Kaplan: I'm only sorry that my colleagues and I who went down for the first launch attempt. We couldn't stick around. Oh, you tried too?
Shannon Walker: Yeah, me too. I was there for the first launch attempt and I think the second one, and then I had other work I had to do for the actual launch attempt. So I got to watch it on TV with most of the country.
Mat Kaplan: So where are you going to be for Artemis 2, if we're lucky, in a couple of years when some of your astronaut colleagues become the first to actually take a very similar ride in a capsule like this?
Shannon Walker: Well, hopefully I will be in Florida watching them take off, but if not I will be somewhere glued to a television set.
Mat Kaplan: You have an interesting advantage. You've actually been in the Crew Dragon on your trip, one of your trips to the International Space Station. How would you say Crew Dragon compares to Orion?
Shannon Walker: Oh, that's an interesting question. On the surface they're very similar, they both hold four people, but of course Orion is built to go further distances and so it's probably a little more spacious. I know it's definitely heavier, but beyond that it's probably pretty similar on the inside just to ride in that spacecraft.
Mat Kaplan: Would you take a ride if you could?
Shannon Walker: Absolutely.
Mat Kaplan: So where does the really just about total success of Artemis 1 leave us? I mean as I said, we've been told Artemis 2 is a couple of years away. Is that your hope and what are the next steps?
Shannon Walker: Yeah, if everything goes according to plan, Artemis 2 will be at the end of 2024. We're going to take the Orion capsule back to Florida, they're going to go over it with a fine tooth comb and make sure that it really was as good as we thought it was. And if there's anything that needs to be adjusted for Artemis 2, we'll fold that in. But hopefully it's nothing too much that would affect the schedule.
Mat Kaplan: And then a little bit farther down the line, maybe a year or so after Artemis 2, that first woman and first person of color returning to the Moon? Pretty exciting.
Shannon Walker: That is very exciting. It's going to be so exciting to see people on the Moon and going to a different location on the Moon, which is a whole different program than we had before.
Mat Kaplan: What would be your advice, as somebody who's been up there a number of times now, what would be your advice to these probably somewhat more novice astronauts who may be making some of these trips?
Shannon Walker: For the first time flyers I usually tell them that you're going to do your job, you're going to spend so much time trying to do everything, but really what you want to do is also take the time to smell the roses and really live the event because it's historic what's going to happen.
Mat Kaplan: Thanks very much. Dr. Walker?
Shannon Walker: Thank you.
Mat Kaplan: Astronaut and scientist, Shannon Walker. Long time listeners to this show may have caught one or both of my previous visits to Naval Bay, San Diego. I talked with Melissa Jones on both of those trips. Melissa is the director of the NASA recovery team, so I wasn't surprised to see her smiling face on this visit. Have you stopped celebrating yet?
Melissa Jones: Not yet. No, we haven't. We've been celebrating for several days, everyone's just so excited. We were waiting a while for launch, we had a couple hurricanes that we were dodging and we fixed the tanking leak and we've been waiting. And we got off the ground and ever since then we've just been ready to do this.
Mat Kaplan: Congratulations to you and the entire recovery team.
Melissa Jones: Thank you.
Mat Kaplan: Absolutely flawless and right in line with essentially a flawless Artemis 1 mission.
Melissa Jones: I agree, it seems like it's been a very clean mission. I was on the mission management team briefs almost every day, this capsule rocket, the whole system performed phenomenally.
Mat Kaplan: I think of the previous two times that I saw you here at those practice sessions. And I guess there were five in all, I heard you say?
Melissa Jones: There were five one-week practice sessions and then we had a just in time training with this ship after launch.
Mat Kaplan: Was it the Navy's decision to rely on the Portland to make this actual recovery? Because I know a couple of other captains who are going to be really, really envious.
Melissa Jones: Yes, the Navy picks the recovery ship.
Mat Kaplan: Talk a little bit about, I mean I think we've talked about this before, but the relationship between NASA and the military, specifically the Navy, although others are involved and how all of this comes together.
Melissa Jones: We have I think an amazing relationship with the Department of Defense. They are wonderful to work with, they are professional operators, they do their jobs very well. And so the way we work with them for this, we use the ship which is obviously the Navy. There's a diver organization, that's Navy. Helicopters are Navy and then we have a couple of Air Force organizations that work with us too. The 45th Weather Squadron launches weather balloons, and the First Air Force attachment three, they integrate all of it for us. They're like our liaison to the military. We could not do this without them. So they basically put together all of the support that we need. They work with the Navy for us and we all get on the same page and we work, we come out here and we do this together.
Mat Kaplan: Artemis 2, couple of years, is it also expected to come down here off the coast of San Diego?
Melissa Jones: Currently that is the plan, that it'll be in the same area. It is slated for 24 months once we get back. There's some avionics on board this capsule that is needed for the next capsule and of course we're going to review all the data to make sure that we're safe and ready to go. But yeah, it'll come back in the Pacific.
Mat Kaplan: And what will you be up to? I think I heard you say that you have a new job.
Melissa Jones: I do. I'm the operations division chief for the Exploration Ground Systems program. So the program that is responsible for these operations, I'm the division chief for it. I'm actually my own boss right now.
Mat Kaplan: That's great. Well, I hope that you gave yourself a raise.
Melissa Jones: Oh God. I work for the government, so there's none of that.
Mat Kaplan: Melissa, again, congratulations. It is absolutely thrilling to be standing in front of this capsule that has just flown well over a million miles and looped around the Moon and know that one very much like it is going to be carrying humans back to the vicinity of the Moon in a couple of years.
Melissa Jones: Yeah, it's very thrilling for me too. It's surreal. I know we've been planning for this for years, but the fact that it's here, it just doesn't feel real.
Mat Kaplan: NASA's Melissa Jones. Looking very proud was the skipper of the ship that led the effort to recover the Artemis 1 Orion.
John Ryan: So I'm Captain John W. Ryan and I'm the commanding officer of the USS Portland.
Mat Kaplan: And we are standing in the vast bay of your vessel with this amazing bit of cargo behind us.
John Ryan: Yes. So we're actually in the well deck and the Orion space capsule is tied down in our well deck after we retrieved it at sea.
Mat Kaplan: I was here for a couple of the practice sessions where the Navy learned to work with NASA to recover the Artemis capsules, the Orions. I know a couple of captains who are really envious of you right now.
John Ryan: I would not say that those captains are envious. I think everybody who had a part in making this a successful mission, the lessons learned from those commanding officers helped make this... I mean this event went as smooth as it could humanly possibly go and all of that work and all of that effort made the Navy very successful this past weekend.
Mat Kaplan: I just heard pretty much the same thing from Melissa of NASA over there who is in charge of the recovery team, now promoted. She talked about how terrific it has been to work with the US Navy and with the Department of Defense. I wonder, I assume you feel the same way about this partnership with NASA?
John Ryan: Absolutely. The professionalism of NASA, the training they gave the ship, both classroom training, we've run this through on simulators. We did pier-side training and then two weeks ago we actually ran the entire mission profile out here in the Southern California operating area where they brought in a mock-up orbital. We deployed that into the sea and we did the entire event number of times to make sure that everybody was ready to go.
Mat Kaplan: So you were doing that even as Artemis 1 was orbiting the Moon?
John Ryan: Yes. We were in full practice mode to get ready to make sure that it went as smoothly as possible on execution day.
Mat Kaplan: Why is a ship like yours especially well suited for exactly this job?
John Ryan: Portland is a member of the San Antonio class of LPDs and if you look at the capabilities this ship brings, we have a large flight deck so we can embark a number of helicopters. I can deploy a number of small boats, which were critical to getting this mission successfully completed. The ship has a robust communication suite which allowed NASA essentially to have an at-sea command center while here. And I also have a full medical team to include surgical capabilities to keep everybody safe and also to prepare for when astronauts are actually in the orbital.
Mat Kaplan: We are, if all goes well, a couple years away from the first one of these capsules that will carry humans not to the surface of the Moon but to the vicinity of the Moon. Very similar mission profile to what Artemis 1 did. I assume that once again it'll be you or one of your fellow captains on a vessel like this that'll be bringing them back home.
John Ryan: Absolutely. I think the LPD is a proven class of ship that is perfect for this mission. I would love to be part of that mission as well, but unfortunately that'll probably be some other commanded officer hopefully saying the lessons learned from Portland, John P. Murtha and Anchorage also helped them be successful.
Mat Kaplan: Just one more, I know that every part of the mission that you and the Portland take on are important, probably equally important. But there must be something special to you and your crew when you bring aboard something that has just gone farther out into space than any other human-rated device ever.
John Ryan: This is a culmination of history. The Orion had traveled, I think they said, 1.4 million miles and we greeted it back to the world. It was a tremendous opportunity to further the Navy's partnership with NASA and to honestly help push the space program forward here in the next couple years.
Mat Kaplan: Thanks so much Captain and thank you so much for this great work.
John Ryan: Absolutely, thank you for the interview.
Mat Kaplan: Captain John Ryan, commanding officer of the USS Portland. I'm very grateful to the Navy and NASA for allowing me to welcome Orion home. Next up is that delightful review of some of the best of Planetary Radio. We'll first pause for just a minute to hear from the boss.
Bill Nye: Hi everybody, Bill Nye here, CEO of The Planetary Society. Everything we do from advocacy for missions that matter to funding new technology to grants for asteroid hunters and sharing the wonder of space exploration with the world only happens thanks to friends like you who share our passion for space. When you invest in the Planetary fund today, a generous member will match your donation up to $100,000. Every dollar you give will go twice as far as we explore the world of our solar system and beyond, defend Earth from the impact of an asteroid or comet and find life beyond Earth by making the search for life a space exploration priority. With you by our side, we'll continue to advocate for missions that matter for years to come. How about powering our work in 2023? Please donate today. Visit planetary.org/planetaryfund. Thank you for your generous support and happy New year.
Mat Kaplan: Welcome back. Here are excerpts from ten of my favorite Planetary Radio episodes. It's hard to say they are the best because we've produced so very many first rate shows with hundreds of wonderful guests, so let's just call this a representative sample. I'm very grateful to The Planetary Society's great visual storyteller, Merc Boyan for creating it. There's a list with links to all 10 full length shows on this week's [email protected]/radio. I'll return with Bruce and 'What's Up' after this visit to the past. First of all, Sally Ride. Thanks very much for inviting us into your San Diego headquarters, which is busy as we can hear with the telephone ringing.
Sally Ride: Oh, it's my pleasure.
Mat Kaplan: Almost 22 years since your first flight on Challenger. Now when a space shuttle flies, eyebrows would only be raised if there weren't one or two or more women as part of the crew. What kind of a change does that indicate? Is it a positive bit of evolution on our part?
Sally Ride: Oh it's wonderful, isn't it? I think it's something that was a little while incoming in the Astronaut Corps and the astronaut program. When I came into the Astronaut Corps, there were six women brought in at the same time. Six of us came in together. I had the fortune of being the one that was chosen to fly first. All six of the women went on to fly in space and as future astronaut classes were brought in, more and more women were brought in until today. The astronaut Corps is between 20 and 25% female and as you said, it is now very rare that the space shuttle goes up without at least one woman on board and it's now common that there'll be two women, occasionally three women on board a flight. And with Eileen Collins now commanding her second space shuttle flight with the upcoming return to flight, it really just shows how important women have become within not just the Astronaut Corps, but the space program in general.
Mat Kaplan: That's exactly where I wanted to go next because we've followed that a bit on this program in the aerospace industry, in NASA. But I guess there's still some room and that seems to be much of what your life is dedicated to.
Sally Ride: There's still a lot of room and all you need to do is walk into mission control at Johnson Space Center in Houston during a simulation or during a shuttle flight. And it looks very, very different than it did back in the Apollo days. There it was all male, now there are many women who are involved in mission control actively controlling the shuttle. But there's still a long ways to go and the statistics are that only 11% of engineers in the country today are women. Only 20% of scientists in the country today are women. Now those numbers are way up from the 1970s when, believe it or not, less than 1% of the engineers in this country were female.
Mat Kaplan: As recently as that?
Sally Ride: As recently as that. So it's been an enormous change in just a few decades, but there's still a long ways to go. And what I'm seeing in my work now is that there are lots and lots of girls out there who are really interested in the space program, they're interested in science, they're interested in engineering. But they still don't have quite the encouragement and support that boys their age do. They don't have quite the programs available to them. And a funny thing happens to girls in particular as they go into middle school, grades five through eight, suddenly hormones start to kick in a little bit. It's important to be accepted, it's important to be liked. It's important to do what you think your friends, maybe your teachers, your parents are expecting you to do. May not be cool to be the best one in the math class. The girl says she wants to be an aerospace engineer at age 11 she might get a slightly different reaction than a boy who says exactly the same thing. So the result is that we start to lose both boys and girls, but far more girls than boys from the technical field starting at about middle school.
Mat Kaplan: Sally Ride, thank you so much for taking a few minutes here at your headquarters for Sally Ride Science in the San Diego area. We wish you continued success.
Sally Ride: Thank you very much.
Mat Kaplan: Welcome, I'm Mat Kaplan of The Planetary Society with more of the human adventure across our solar system and beyond. I love inviting you to stand with me at the intersection of science and art. They're not so far apart, you know. The latest proof of that overlap has arrived with Beyond Earth's Edge. It includes works from some of the 20th and 21st century's greatest poets. Let's hear this one from the only, well, I would say professional in this field of performance among our nine readers.
Robert Picardo: Hello, I'm Robert Picardo and I'll be reading An untitled poem by Pablo Neruda, translated by Forest Gander, known simply as poem number 21. Those two solitary men, those first men up there. What of ours did they bring with them? What from us, the men of Earth? It occurs to me that the light was fresh then, that an unwinking star journeyed along cutting short and linking distances. Their faces unused to the awesome desolation in pure space, among astral bodies polished and glistening like grass at dawn. Something new came from the Earth because the astronauts didn't go by themselves, they brought our Earth, the odors of moss and forest, love, the crisscrossed limbs of men and women. Terrestrial rains over the prairies. Something floated up like a wedding dress behind the two spaceships. It was spring on Earth blooming for the first time that conquered an inanimate heaven, depositing in those altitudes the seed of our kind.
Mat Kaplan: Robert Picardo. Full disclosure, he is a board member of The Planetary Society and a pretty great emergency medical hologram when you need one, you just call out and he'll appear. It's amazing. The Planetary Society decided to throw a little party for Ray Bradbury. More than 100 friends and admirers showed up at the society's headquarters. You won't be surprised to hear that some of Ray Bradbury's admirers are pretty famous themselves. One of them is Peter Hyams. Director and writer Hyams brought his own birthday wishes to the stage along with a few thousand others.
Peter Hyam: I would like to read a few of these greetings. They're from people you might have heard of. "Warmest birthday wishes and light speed to a true American icon, a visionary and a genius. You are the rarest of Gems, Ray and it has been one of my great privileges to know you." Buzz Aldrin. "Isn't it fitting that Mars should be so close to Earth for your 83rd birthday? You've been an inspiration to us all, happy birthday." George Lucas. "Sometime ago I had the good fortune to be seated next to Ray Bradbury on a flight from Los Angeles to Texas. I have never flown so high since or been so lucky since. What a ride. You are a joy and a genius, you are my kind of guy and I love you." Angie Dickinson. "You have always been a ray of light and a hope in a world often absent of imagination. You challenge our linear thinking and for those of us who have lived out of the box, what first got us there can often be traced to your long and short works of science fiction and fantasy. Happy birthday, love Steven Spielberg."
Ray Bradbury: This is great. When I think back when I was in high school and I read my first Edgar Rice Burroughs books and I saw the drawings of Schiaparelli and the photographs from the [inaudible 00:29:39] Observatory. And I wrote my first story, which was a sequel to the Warlords of Mars by Burroughs. So you see before you someone who started out for Mars a long time ago, so it's a very special evening and I saw a French magazine today. They sent me an article and the headline over my face was, "I never came back from Mars." I just never came back. Because Edgar Rice Burroughs taught me how to go out on the lawns of summer and hold my hands up and say, "Mars, take me home." And Mars took me home and I've been there forever. When I was a child, I thought maybe we'd land on the Moon when I was an old man. Well, it didn't work that way. I was in my 40s and what a night that was. And what we're going to be doing in the next few years with our Martian landers and our final landing on Mars with real people to call back to us across space is going to exhilarate all of mankind. What we need now is to substitute for war. We're engaged in a dozen wars all over the world right now in various countries and there has to be some way of elevating our spirit and saying that mankind is special and wonderful and space travel is the way we do it. And we'll be going to Mars with all of the people, not just a few, in the next 10, 20, 30 years. I wish I could stick around and be part of it. That's the dream I have and that's the reason I'm here tonight. Thank you very much.
Buzz Aldrin: This is Buzz Aldrin. When I walked on the Moon, I knew it was just the beginning of humankind's great adventure in the solar system. That's why I'm a member of The Planetary Society, the world's largest space interest group. The Planetary Society is helping to explore Mars, we're tracking near Earth asteroids and comets, we sponsor the Search for life on other worlds and we're building the first ever solar sail. You can learn about these adventures and exciting new discoveries from space exploration at the Planetary Report.
Mat Kaplan: Freeman Dyson this week on Planetary Radio. Dr. Dyson, it is a great honor and I am a little bit intimidated to have the chance to sit down with you in your hotel room and have a conversation. Thank you very much for this.
Freeman Dyson: Good. Don't be intimidated, I'm very harmless.
Mat Kaplan: I did get a chance to ask you one question years ago before Planetary Radio existed, whether the people producing Star Trek: The Next Generation had contacted you to say that they had put a Dyson sphere in an episode of that television series. And what was your answer?
Freeman Dyson: No. And it was a good joke, I had no problems with it.
Mat Kaplan: And is that idea of the solid sphere, is that what you had in mind?
Freeman Dyson: No. And of course what I was interested in was searching for aliens in the sky. Morrison and Cocconi had proposed listening for radio signals. And I was then put the question, what if the aliens don't want to communicate? Can you still detect them? And the answer is yes you can because if aliens have a big civilization in the sky, they'll have to radiate away waste heat, then the waste heat you can detect with an infrared sky survey. So that was what I was proposing. But somehow rather this, I talked about a biosphere which the aliens would be living in and that somehow got translated into a big round ball and the universe is just full of things we don't understand. That's what makes it exciting. The whole point is we can look and see and the important thing is to look everywhere, not just in the places that are fashionable. I think the concentration on planets is probably a mistake. Everybody thinks life has to be on planets, that's not at all clear. But maybe I have a bet of a hundred dollars with somebody that the first life we discover will not be on a planet, so I haven't yet won.
Mat Kaplan: Speculating that it will be where? You've talked about life on comets.
Freeman Dyson: Comets would be a good place, there's lots of real estate on comets and they're scattered widely over the universe. On the other hand, it might be a gas cloud or a dust cloud, it might be an asteroid or satellite of a big planet. There are all sorts of places it could be.
Mat Kaplan: I'll close with something else that you said which I also have found very profound. And that is that the pain of childbirth is not remembered, but the child is. Are we humans, are we still giving birth to ourselves?
Freeman Dyson: Yes, of course we are. And we will always do that. We are of course the species which has flourished just by hardship. The fact that we've survived 20 ice ages does a lot to explain what our characters are like. These have been very tough times the last couple of million years. We are very tough and we are very good, very good at surviving all these horrible things and that's what's made us what we are. We're social animals, we're also fighting animals and we'll probably stay that way.
Mat Kaplan: Are you optimistic about humanity's future?
Freeman Dyson: Oh, I'm extremely optimistic because I grew up in the 1930s when things were horrible and much, much worse than they are now. So having survived the 1930s, I think we'll survive pretty well another couple of thousand years.
Mat Kaplan: Planetary radio continues with our very special guest on the phone from his home in Sri Lanka is Sir Arthur C. Clarke. I do remember one other novel of yours in which Sri Lanka played a very important part and it's a concept that you've been very excited about for many years, the Space Elevator.
Arthur C. Clarke: Yes. That is now taken more and more seriously, particularly since we have the material C60, Carbon 60, which would make it possible. When I recorded the Founders of Paradise on an old 12-inch record, you remember them?
Mat Kaplan: Sure.
Arthur C. Clarke: Well the one thing about those records, there was a lot of room in the back for sleeve notes and the sleeve notes with a picture of the elevator were done by Buckminster Fuller himself.
Mat Kaplan: Oh, no kidding?
Arthur C. Clarke: And he never lived to see the discovery of the material named after him that would make it possible. Isn't that an extraordinary thing?
Mat Kaplan: That absolutely is. Of course the material will be a C60, also known as fullerenes.
Arthur C. Clarke: Exactly.
Mat Kaplan: The last time we spoke, which was during The Planetary Society's Planet Fest in 1999, I closed by asking you, since you have some success as a futurist and visionary, I wondered where you would point to, what you would have us watch for something that might be truly revolutionary? And at that time you said keep an eye on what's happening with vacuum energy, that odd quantum effect. I wondered, do you have any other thoughts you might want to add to that?
Arthur C. Clarke: I still take that quite seriously and think we should keep an eye on it. We're pretty sure energy is there. Whether it can be tapped is another question. Whether it should be tapped is yet another. I'm always fond of quoting, I think it's Larry Niven. I'm not quite sure who said that supernova are industrial accidents.
Mat Kaplan: Well, I hope it's not an inevitable result of civilization.
Arthur C. Clarke: I trust not. The thing I'm also most involved with now, and I see the new Discover magazine which I've not opened yet has got a headline on the subject Martian life. I'm now fairly convinced as a result of the extraordinary images coming from the Mars orbital camera that Mars doesn't harbor life, it's infested.
Mat Kaplan: I certainly hope you're right. Author Mary Roach packs for Mars, this week on Planetary Radio. Welcome to Public Radio's travel show that takes you to the final frontier. I'm Mat Kaplan of The Planetary Society. She has been called the most entertaining science writer in America. Mary Roach may also be the funniest. The author of Stiff, Spook and Bonk has now written Packing for Mars, a delightful and surprisingly informative book about how really, really hard it is to live in space. Mary, thanks so much for joining us on Planetary Radio.
Mary Roach: Well thanks for having me on.
Mat Kaplan: I knew when I saw you not long ago on The Daily Show with John Stewart that we had to try and get you here and we lucked out because you happen to be in Southern California on the book tour. But please tell me you're not going to make me talk about space poop.
Mary Roach: I don't know if I can guarantee that. Something comes over me and it just comes out.
Mat Kaplan: All right. Oh, really?
Mary Roach: So to speak.
Mat Kaplan: So to speak. I'll start with two aphorisms that I came up with reading the book and the first one is in space, there is no Pepsi generation.
Mary Roach: Absolutely, yes. They tried very, very hard to have the carbonated beverages in space and in fact made it work. Sadly, forgetting that the human body also has to be considered and the human stomach does not deal well with the gas inside. Gas does rise to the top so the stomach can't get rid of the gas in there because it's down in the middle. Burping was a difficult thing. The line that Charles Borland, who's the retired director of space food basically, said that the burps were often accompanied by a liquid spray. So you can imagine Coke and Pepsi, not very popular.
Mat Kaplan: How appetizing. Of course we used to do that in college on purpose, or tried to get our friends to. Here's the other one. Do floating people dream of sore feet?
Mary Roach: Yeah. This was the most amazing thing to me, well one thing that was amazing. I had so much fun during my little 20-second bursts of zero gravity, I was so surprised to learn that if you spend weeks and months in zero gravity it becomes irritating that you can't put anything down, that your arm's going to float away. You can't walk across the room. That was incredible to me. I just thought wow, how could you ever get tired of flying around?
Mat Kaplan: I envy many of your experiences that you had in putting this terrific book together, extremely entertaining and highly recommended by the way.
Mary Roach: Thank you.
Mat Kaplan: Nausea rears its ugly head a number of times in the book. You raise barfing to sort of a tragic art or maybe space did that for you. One of the interesting questions that you answered, and you answer many, your research is tremendous in the book and it's kind of fun to trace how you learn things. For example, will I or will I not die if I barf in my helmet?
Mary Roach: This is a space urban myth. And you see it even in some of the astronauts' oral history transcripts. There's a belief that if you vomit in the suit, well I talked to Tom Chase over at Hamilton Sundstrand. He's a suit engineer. I got this long email back. "We've carefully considered this. In fact, there's these channels of air coming down over the top of the forehead that would essentially blow the blow into the suit." Which is disgusting, but not life-threatening. Also, if you inhale your own hurl, you have a cough reflex. You would cough it up. It'd be possibly painful because there's a lot of acid in it, disgusting. Again, not life-threatening. The worst, the most life-threatening part what I'm told by this suit dude is that visor splatter could potentially blind you, disorient you and on a spacewalk that would be bad news.
Mat Kaplan: My favorite picture in the book, and the pictures at the heads of the chapters are really fun. It's the one of Gilligan from Gilligan's Island looking absolutely deadpan serious. He's got a table radio around his neck and a jet pack and it just seems so appropriate.
Mary Roach: Yeah. Just staring straight ahead with a sort of funky looking, it almost looks like a walker upside down with his jet pack. Yeah, I love that. Finding the photos for the book is one of the most fun parts of it.
Mat Kaplan: Sometimes you just get lucky. I was already planning a trip to Carlsbad Caverns, my first in 30 years, when I learned about the first International Planetary Caves workshop. It was convened by a couple of past guests of this program, Timothy Titus of the US Geological Survey and Penny Boston of the Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology. We're gathering geologists, astronomers, biologists and an engineer or two, all of them fascinated by caves on our own home world and by what we may find when we explore them on other worlds. Because they are out there, you know. We've already found them on the Moon and most intriguingly on Mars. Down the precarious steps we went, within a minute or two we were in the dark zone where the only light came from our headlamps and flashlights. Penny Boston stopped here and there, often to point out some feature that represented one or another form of tenacious microbial cave life, including a fluffy black mass.
Penny Boston: And that black fluff is manganese oxide stars that are being created in association with manganese oxidizing bacteria. So they're a better marker than the iron organisms are. We isolate organisms that can do all of those metals, they can also do chromium. The ones that can do manganese often can manipulate chromium, uranium, a lot of the rare Earth elements. They have this ability to oxidize metals broadly across the periodic table.
Mat Kaplan: Penny reminded us several times of the great diversity of caves and cave life.
Penny Boston: So this cave, even though it's not all that far from Carlsbad, it's a world away in terms of its history I think.
Mat Kaplan: Would you expect to find different biology in here?
Penny Boston: Oh yes. In fact, we've actually done some of the biology and it's quite different. We're finding the manganese organisms, which we also find particularly in La Chaquira Cave. We find them in Carlsbad, but not with the same enthusiasm. There's not as many strains and they're not as abundant. If I want to try to grow them on manganese media, live culture in the lab, it's a lot harder. So they really are a much lower proportion of the flora in Carlsbad than they are in La Chaquira. But in here, they dominate. They dominate the scene and they're very, very cute. They're actually pretty fuzzy. Most bacteria are pretty boring physically, right? They're a limited number of shapes. But one of the things that has struck us in the cave work is that there's a lot more complex morphology just of the cells themselves. So we have little things that look like chrysanthemums and we have some that we call 'giant death stars.' They're all of two microns across, which is pretty big for a bacterium.
Mat Kaplan: That's a giant.
Penny Boston: Yeah, that's a giant. The diameter of the average hair is about 100 microns, to give people a scale for that. So they're big, and then they're always accompanied by these weird, hairy guys that have sort of globular hair-like structures coming off them. And then there's an entire group that we're not sure what they're doing and I have not succeeded in growing them in culture yet. But they're nano bacterial size, so that means ultra small. And they're about a hundred nanometers in diameter, which is like a 10th of a micron across. But they're truly cells, they're actually alive. And so what their ecological role is, I don't know. But there's a big controversy over whether there actually are bacteria and then sort of amuses us because a great number of those species that we find are just nano bacteria in nature.
Mat Kaplan: How big were those little structures found in the famous Mars metorite?
Penny Boston: I guess they were like 16 nanometers or something like that. I've forgotten the exact size, but they were pretty small. So our bugs are very small, but they're getting down into the range where maybe there's some overlap. I also think that there is an issue of shrinkage upon preservation. Cells don't always retain their original size and shape when they're preserved. So the jury is certainly out on the Mars meteorite stuff because it's been altered so many times. It's had a hard life, so to speak. But I don't know whether those are microbial remnants, but I wouldn't rule it out just on the basis of size. I think there's a lot we don't know about what actually is in our own biosphere and we're discovering them all the time.
Mat Kaplan: Celebrating Cassini one last time, this week on Planetary Radio. Please welcome to the stage, Cassini project scientist, Linda Spilker, Cassini program manager Earl Maize and Cassini spacecraft operations manager, Julie Webster. There is one more person joining us, my Planetary Society colleague, senior editor, Emily Lakdawalla. She's here in part to represent the scores of citizen scientists who have contributed to this mission. Emily Lakdawalla. So welcome everyone, and congratulations. I was here Friday morning before five, about 4:00 AM for that glorious, bittersweet finish. All of you, all three of you have been with this mission for so many years. Linda for you, what, almost 30 years?
Linda Spilker: Almost 30 years. Almost a whole Saturn year.
Mat Kaplan: You got to ask, how does it feel to be really at the end of an era, Julie?
Julie Webster: It's amazing, but it's everything that we expected it to be and it was time. We were starting to worry about things going wrong.
Mat Kaplan: Did it start to feel like a family?
Linda Spilker: Oh, absolutely. I think we got to know each other really well. In some cases our kids grew up together, we'd take vacations together, go out to dinner and really got to know each other as people and not just professionals.
Earl Maize: And couldn't agree more. We would finish each other's sentences, dog sit for each other. It was very much a family and the entire set of skills and personalities that you expect in a large extended family. Not like we always got along all the time, but that's what families do.
Mat Kaplan: We have one of your favorite images from the mission that we're going to pop up now. It's also one of my favorites, I had this on the back of my business card for years but the resolution wasn't high enough to really see what's going on here. Talk about it.
Linda Spilker: This is a wonderful image. Basically you're looking at the sun in eclipse, in this case by Saturn and you can see all of the rings. The sunlight is shining through the tiniest particles, much like if you have a dusty windshield and it's hard to see when you drive into the sun. I like it because you can see all of Saturn's rings in one image. And as Emily pointed out, if you look at that bright ring around Saturn it's the sunlight being refracted through the atmosphere and you're looking at every sunrise and every sunset at the same time. And that that's just amazing. And you'll notice that the night side of Saturn is illuminated, that light from the rings is actually falling on the night side and is brightening it. And if you look very carefully, there are three other planets. So this is the Saturn view of the Earth and Moon system and also Venus and Mars. What was really special about this opportunity is that we reached out to the public and said, okay, there'll be a 20 minute window. This was in July, I think, 2013, a 20-minute window, go out, wave at Saturn.
Mat Kaplan: And we have pictures, here you go. Here is everybody at JPL. I love the hula hoop crowd for the ring tribute, of course.
Linda Spilker: It was so wonderful. And then we ask people, send us your selfies because you're going to be kind of small, the Earth's only maybe a pixel or two across. So we took all of these selfies and put them together and recreated that mosaic that you just saw. And so we have, I think with the next image with those selfies...
Mat Kaplan: Oh I don't think we have it.
Linda Spilker: Oh Okay, well we recreated that beautiful image in the selfies. And it was so wonderful, it was one of our most popular images because people were going through trying to find themselves in that particular image. And I did the same thing. Where am I? Where am I in that picture?
Emily Lakdawalla: I think somebody did the math to calculate the likelihood that a photon from a waving person's hand would have appeared in the image that Cassini took. And it was something like if you stood out there for the whole 20 minutes, there was a one in five chance that a photon from your hand would've actually reached Saturn for that picture.
Mat Kaplan: Not bad, I'll take that. Okay. I was waving really hard, so maybe I got two photons. Welcome to the travel show that takes you to the final frontier and this time to the driest spot on Earth. I'm Mat Kaplan of The Planetary Society. I'm back from Chile's Atacama Desert with a great story to tell. You'll hear from many people who have dedicated years or decades to the creation of ALMA, the Atacama Large Millimeter sub-Millimeter Array, our planet's most ambitious and highest astronomy instrument. I'm wondering if there's ever been a day like this here. I mean it really has been a big party for science.
Speaker 17: This is enormous. This is so exciting for everyone who's been involved with the project because we have a lot of VIPs, we have a lot of press who we can finally say, this is what we've been doing, this is what scientists will be able to do, these are the capabilities of the telescope. We're appealing to any astronomer anywhere who is thinking about something in the sky, who's thinking about the evolution of galaxies, stars, whatever. And they can use ALMA to contribute to the data that they already have.
Mat Kaplan: Our bus from a much lower OSF finally reached the magnificently barren plane where giant radio telescopes have begun to work as one, connected by fiber optic lines to the world's second highest building and the highest super computer on the planet known as the Correlator. It was cold and windy, though the weather was not nearly as extreme as it can often become. I was glad to have my heavy jacket and my pressurized can of oxygen. Commissioning Scientist Gianni Marconi kept his O2 in his pocket. So here we are in the center, the core of the world's most powerful astronomical observatory.
Gianni Marconi: Yes, we are in the center of the ALMA ray, essential in the center of the center of the array of ALMA where at the moment we have only 57 antenna of the 66 that are the complete project.
Mat Kaplan: Only 57?
Gianni Marconi: Only 57, 9 antenna to go.
Mat Kaplan: And moments ago they did their dance for us.
Gianni Marconi: So moments ago we see 57 antenna move together silently to not disturb this place that is a holy place for the natives here.
Mat Kaplan: I see one of the pads right over here, we can walk over this way?
Gianni Marconi: This is one of the pads where the antenna can move normally because the antenna, now you can see one of the possible configuration of the ray, but for scientific needs you can move an antenna all around, up to us an area of 16 kilometer in diameter.
Mat Kaplan: So this is a major operation though to pick up one of these and bring it over here?
Gianni Marconi: Yes. To move one of these antenna takes a few hours to move the antenna and over one day to reconfigure antenna to check if the antenna is connected and is working properly for the science.
Mat Kaplan: Do you enjoy coming up here?
Gianni Marconi: Well, it's fantastic. I like the [inaudible 00:55:11] of the Chilean [inaudible 00:55:12]. So I like the mountain, for me this is a fantastic place and the view is amazing.
Mat Kaplan: It's wonderful. I would stay, but I'm afraid I'd have to keep sucking on my oxygen can.
Gianni Marconi: A lot of oxygen, it's fine.
Mat Kaplan: But you're in good shape.
Gianni Marconi: I'm trained, I'm well trained to stay up here. I'm an astronomer, but I'm doing something else. Not only astronomy.
Mat Kaplan: Very true. Back at the operations support facility, I sat down with Ewine van Dishoeck, a radio astronomer and astrochemist who recently left the ALMA board of directors. That morning, Ewine had delivered a great presentation to the hundreds of journalists visiting ALMA. It was your first slide that I was most intrigued by because you had fine art.
Ewine van Dishoeck: That's right, that's one of my hobbies. I like to search for astronomy in art and examples of that. Of course, coming from the Netherlands, [inaudible 00:56:06] is an obvious target, so that one was easy. But...
Mat Kaplan: Starry Night.
Ewine van Dishoeck: Starry Night, yes and there are different versions of the starry night so that's also interesting.
Mat Kaplan: Do you find some kinship with these artists who try and capture the wonder of the universe?
Ewine van Dishoeck: Oh absolutely. That's sort of why indeed I feel very much connected with that. Because they feel the beauty of the universe and they feel this urge to paint the universe just as much as I feel the urge to do the science.
Mat Kaplan: And even beyond that, when you talk about the aboriginal people in Australia or the Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest, they were in their own way trying to figure out what this was all about. Which seems to me you're in the same business.
Ewine van Dishoeck: Yes, absolutely. They were trying to do cosmology as well and in their view of cosmology and their view of order in the universe, so to say.
Mat Kaplan: And in one of your slides you showed a menagerie of simple molecules that we are finding more and more of in space. I mean water, they don't get much simpler than that. But this is one of the most exciting things that ALMA's going to be able to help us to explore?
Ewine van Dishoeck: Oh yes. Certainly for me as a so-called astrochemist, I'm very excited about the chemistry aspects of ALMA and it's really the combination of the sensitivity of ALMA and also the sharpness with which it can see. It really can zoom in to these regions where new planets are being formed and new stars are being born. And then also it has this incredible spectral resolution that you can really see each of these peak, see the fingerprints of individual molecules. I'm glad that I now can now finally reap the scientific fruits of this 20 year investment.
Bill Nye: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Yes! Ignition. Can you feel the light way over here? Go LightSail!
Mat Kaplan: LightSail 2 takes flight 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. Wow. LightSail 2 is now flying free more than 700 kilometers above our world. I was standing next to Planetary Society CEO Bill Nye when the Mighty Falcon Heavy lifted off at the Kennedy Space Center.
Bill Nye: I've been messing with this as the CEO my entire tenure at nine years, I've been working on this. And as a board member, certainly since 2000, 1999 we've been dealing with this. And so we're... Oh, was that a frog? There are amphibians making their way up here onto the balcony. We're three stories off the ground and a frog jumped up on people and there's some frog handlers, we seem to be having an enjoyable interaction.
Mat Kaplan: Life finds a way.
Bill Nye: Well and the frog's excited about the launch, like everybody else. Another thing that just adds to the scene is the Moon has risen and it just adds to the drama as from our vantage point, it's rocket in the lower left, Moon in the upper right.
Mat Kaplan: What you're about to hear is my only slightly compressed recording of what unfolded before us. I think it's one of the most exciting and dramatic pieces of audio I've ever been able to present on Planetary Radio.
Bill Nye: So now the pad 39A is lit up very easy for us to see here on the Saturn V viewing building. And you can feel that little bit of a hush, little bit of a hush.
Speaker 20: Go for launch.
Bill Nye: Go for launch. So there's all sorts of automated things that have to go in sequence. We'll all do this together, I'm sure. Here we go. 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Yes! Ignition. Woo! Can you feel the light way over here? Go LightSail! Oh man, it's beautiful. And the sky is a haze and it's just glowing. Look at this. Woo. Go LightSail. Passing the Moon and now the sound will reach us just now, four miles away. Feel it. Wow.
Mat Kaplan: Oh, I feel it.
Bill Nye: You can feel it under your clothing and hat. Feel it on your hair, take it from me. Wow. Go LightSail! Higher and higher, it's just going perfectly. Even from here you can see the three cores, the three separate groups of engines. Oh man. The diamond shocks make the pah, pah, pah. Wow. Fantastic. Everything's going just perfectly. We're going to make it, you guys. Can you see those smoke trails? Wow, look at the ring of smoke. So everybody stay tuned, you're going to see the flames from the boosters coming down. It's just amazing. Woo, there they are. And now in a few seconds there'll be the sonic booms going through all the atmosphere to us. It's amazing. I mean at night, it's just so striking. It is just amazing. It's so magical. So I'm the CEO, I've been messing with this since a little before I took over, getting finances squared away and $7 million funded by 50,000 supporters around the world. And we are on our way. It's so gratifying. There. There they are. Wow, two of them. And you can see the clusters of engines. Nicely done, SpaceX. Wow, nicely done. Everyone, I want to thank you all for your support. This is [inaudible 01:03:42]. Thank you so much. The sonic boom seconds after landing, it's almost 12 US miles away. 16, 17 kilometers away and it took that long for the sound to reach us. That was just spectacular. So much energy, so much power delivered in such a short time to put our spacecraft with the others on orbit. My goodness. Thank you all so much, thanks for coming [inaudible 01:04:24].
Mat Kaplan: Again, you can read about and hear the 10 shows just sampled in an article on this week's episode page at planetary.org/radio. It's time for, now that I think of it, the penultimate, 'What's up' with Bruce Betts, at least for me, the current host of Planetary radio because in two weeks it'll be Sarah Al-Ahmed who takes over this position. I'm joined by the Chief scientist of The Planetary Society, welcome Bruce.
Bruce Betts: Thank you Mat Kaplan? I don't know.
Mat Kaplan: How soon they forget. Listen, here's somebody who hasn't forgotten. Laura Dodd in California, a faithful listener and enterer of the contest. "I don't know what to think of your leaving plan Mat. This month we will also see Dr. Fauci leaving the NIH, Trevor Noah moving on from the Daily Show. Surely it is the end of days? If Terry Gross leaves fresh air, I'll know for sure." Laura, thank you for putting me in that illustrious crowd. I'm honored to be mentioned in the same sentence.
Bruce Betts: Well, hopefully you're forgiven by the listeners if we continue our ridiculousness and as we close out the Mat Kaplan era of Planetary Radio. Although it will always be Mat Kaplan's Planetary Radio.
Mat Kaplan: Aw, that's probably not true, but very nice of you to say.
Bruce Betts: No, it's not at all true. All right, how about I give you the night sky?
Mat Kaplan: Yeah, would you?
Bruce Betts: You know what I've arranged for the end of Planetary Radio for you, I've arranged for all five planets that you can see with just your eyes to be visible in the night sky in the evening even. It's even convenient.
Mat Kaplan: I'm so flattered.
Bruce Betts: You're welcome. Across the sky in the early evening. Well, let's start with the challenging one. So this one, I talked to them at the last minute. So Venus and Mercury are going to be a little tough, but if you've got a clear view to the Western horizon shortly after sunset, you'll see super bright Venus and above it for a few days, mercury. And then they'll grow closer together and will be only about three Moon diameters apart, one and a half degrees, on December 28th. Again, very low. And then Mercury will go away, Venus will come up. Venus will be super bright with us in the West for the next several months, whether Mat's with us or not. If you walk your way across the sky, you can go towards the east and you will then see yellowish Saturn and bright Jupiter. And then all the way over towards the east in the early evening is reddish Mars. And so there they are for you. For you, Matt. But wait, I've thrown in the Moon. We've got the Moon that's hanging out near the Venus, Mercury pair on the 24th of December and near Jupiter on the 29th. Kind of cruising past Saturn in between those. All right, that's all I could do for you.
Mat Kaplan: It'll do. Do you know that line, from babe?
Bruce Betts: You just call me a pig? I mean an intelligent talking pig, so I guess that's cool.
Mat Kaplan: That'll do pig. That'll do.
Bruce Betts: But I have more, I have this week in space history. It was this week in 1968 that Apollo 8 put the first humans in orbit around the Moon. 2003, Mars Express went into orbit of Mars 19 years ago. Way to go ESA and way to still be cranking. All right, you ready?
Mat Kaplan: I am totally ready.
Bruce Betts: Random Mat Kaplan facts!
Mat Kaplan: I forgot that you were going to start doing those. And by the way, that was lovely.
Bruce Betts: Thank you, thank you very much. It wasn't, but thank you. So here's a little bit about Mat in rapid order. Mat's favorite color is blue, which he happens to be wearing right now. His favorite pet name is Brian, named after his childhood dog. And he swam competitively in high school. That's a little bit more about Mat Kaplan.
Mat Kaplan: All true. And to be exact, it was Prince Brian of [inaudible 01:08:44] because he was a pedigree Iris setter.
Bruce Betts: Okay, now I have learned a little bit more about Mat Kaplan's history.
Mat Kaplan: That'll do dog. That'll do.
Bruce Betts: We move on to the trivia question. And we asked you, have you got good stuff for this, Matt?
Mat Kaplan: I really do, yeah.
Bruce Betts: Great stuff. Okay, so I asked how long in hours and minutes was the longest EVA, Extra Vehicular Activity, carried out on the Moon?
Mat Kaplan: How about hours, minutes and seconds? Here's our winner, I believe, because this is what everybody had. You can confirm it, but I'm pretty sure this is it. It's Gordon Proctor, and I think he is a first-time winner. If he's not a first-time winner in the United Kingdom, it's been a long time. 7 hours, 36 minutes and 56 seconds. An extra vehicular activity conducted by the Apollo 17 astronauts on the moon. Gene Cernan and that scientist, that geologist, Harrison Schmitt. Is he right?
Bruce Betts: He is indeed right. Yeah, pretty amazing. About eight hours hanging out, walking around on the moon surface.
Mat Kaplan: I'm just thinking of the guy at NASA mission control whose entire job was to have a stopwatch from the time they opened the hatch from the time they climbed back in the lunar module.
Bruce Betts: That's a nice image. They had a lot of people, I don't know. He may have been in a back room just standing there for seven hours, 36 minutes and 56 seconds with a stopwatch. "And... Got it."
Mat Kaplan: Gordon, congratulations. You are going to receive a planetary society kick asteroid rubber asteroid, which we're going to make the prize again this time in a few minutes, but just because they're so popular and they're so cute. But I have more. Hudson Ansley in New Jersey, "Much of this time was in a lunar rover." So Bruce, maybe technically not extra vehicular?
Bruce Betts: Ooh. I would still guess they didn't spend enough time. Anyway, food for thought.
Mat Kaplan: Mel Powell or a funny man in California. "It ran that long, about 15 extra minutes, only because Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt, they couldn't find an empty parking space for the lunar rover. Had to drive around the block a few times." Paul [Burgell 01:11:15] in New York. "I hope that one day one of my daughters will beat this record." Nice. Here is a poem from Gene Lewin in Washington who also provides a short history of duct tape, which apparently really did start out as duck, quack quack, tape before it became duct tape. I thought it was the other way around. It's important as you'll hear. "When cruising Taurus-Littrow out on an EVA, having a good body and fender man just might save the day. A half tip to Rand McNally and a bow to Vesta Stoudt. The use of maps and duct tape helped the crew to drive about. Gene Cernan used this fix-all holding lunar dust at bay, now the maps and duct tape grace a Smithsonian display." And just to mention Vesta Stoudt, apparently one of the inventors of duck or duct tape. Do you know what she's talking about there? Or sorry, what he's talking about?
Bruce Betts: I not only know, we did a random space fact video with special guest star Bill Nye. They had a busted fender on the lunar rover and they thought, hey, we have maps and duct tape. And they made a makeshift fender. There're lovely pictures of it on the moon and apparently it came back, good times. Very impressive and awesome duct tape.
Mat Kaplan: Now I have to sing not one but two songs. There's a first. Ian O'Neill, longtime listener in Japan. "M is for the mysteries you unlock, A is for that rubber asta-rock T is for the tech that transmits you around this spec. Matt, we bid you fond adieu."
Bruce Betts: Very nice.
Mat Kaplan: It's good. So no answer there. He did have an answer as well, but he provided that. And finally this from our poet laureate, Dave Fairchild in Kansas. Who by the way, Dave's wife made a ton of cookies, some of which were sent here to my home, some of which were sent to the office Bruce, you may want to stop by soon before they're all gone. Here goes, "Well, I'm not bragging world so don't put me down, but I did the longest EVA in town. A seven hour trip plus a 37 drive, she's got a set of wings, man. I know she can fly. She's my LRV coupe. You don't know what I got." You should join me on the last one.
Bruce Betts: "You don't know what I got. LRV coupe, you don't know what I've got."
Mat Kaplan: With deepest apologies to Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys. But thank you Dave.
Bruce Betts: That's fun. That's very fun.
Mat Kaplan: You could add on with a new contest.
Bruce Betts: "What observed astronomical event did Tycho Brahe write about in the book De Nova Stella?"
Mat Kaplan: That's kind of working.
Bruce Betts: Well, let me repeat that for those of you who were too horrified to listen. What observed astronomical event did Tycho Brahe write about in the book De Nova... Let me try that again. My Latin's all rusty. De nova stella. D-E N-O-V-A S-T-E-L-L-A. Go to planetary.org/radiocontest to get your entry in.
Mat Kaplan: And I know the answer to this one. You have until Wednesday, December 28th at 8:00 AM Pacific time to get us this answer, which will be answered the following week by Bruce and Sarah on January 4th. Oh and by the way, you will win as mentioned, that Planetary Society kick, asteroid, rubber asteroid. Somebody else wrote in to say hey, if Sarah can't roll her Rs, she really can't take the job.
Bruce Betts: Was that part of the interview process?
Mat Kaplan: We forgot to do that test. I guess we'll have to run it still. So yeah, we assume it'll be Sarah hosting the show on January 4th.
Bruce Betts: I assume it'll be fine. Well, she could tag me in.
Mat Kaplan: There you go and that's nice. Ooh, gives me chills. We better go.
Bruce Betts: All right everybody, go out there and look at the night sky and think about Mat Kaplan resting after the show. Thank you and goodnight.
Mat Kaplan: That'll do, chief scientist. That'll do. He is Bruce Betts the chief scientist of The Planetary Society who joins us every week for 'What's up'. My last show as regular host of Planetary Radio arrives on December 28th. Join me for a review of the year in space with several of my Planetary Society colleagues, Planetary Radio is produced by The Planetary Society in Pasadena, California, and is made possible by our nostalgic members. Look back and far forward with them at planetary.org/join. Mark Hilverda and Rae Paoletta are our associate producers. Josh Doyle composed our theme, which was arranged and performed by Pieter Schlosser. Ad astra.