A $35 Million Week-Long Vacation (In Space)

This morning astronaut Leroy Chiao spent some time with us at Big Think to chat about his four tours in outer space and his role as director at Excalibur Almaz, a recreational space travel outfit headquartered in the Isle of Man. Seven days in space will cost about $35M, says Chiao, "based on market prices."


The forty-nine year-old Asian-American was remarkably humble about his many achievements, including logging a total of 229 days, 7 hours, 38 minutes and 5 seconds in space, including 36 hours and 7 minutes clocked during six space walks. What do you need to be an astronaut? "A bachelor's degree and a good heart," Chiao cheerfully replied.

Chiao witnessed a unique moment in history in the early 90's, when Russian cosmonauts first visited NASA in the post-Cold War era. They were all viewed with skepticism, he said. Now fluent in both Mandarin and Russian, Chiao worked very hard to excel in the latter because the cosmonauts who had mastered English, "Those were the ones you trusted."

As Chairman of the National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI) User Panel, Chiao is an expert on health concerns related to long-duration space travel, including bone and muscle loss, radiation exposure and even sleep troubles. The good news? Most of the breakthroughs being made to help astronauts can be applied to folks "on the ground."

'Upstreamism': Your zip code affects your health as much as genetics

Upstreamism advocate Rishi Manchanda calls us to understand health not as a "personal responsibility" but a "common good."

Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Upstreamism tasks health care professionals to combat unhealthy social and cultural influences that exist outside — or upstream — of medical facilities.
  • Patients from low-income neighborhoods are most at risk of negative health impacts.
  • Thankfully, health care professionals are not alone. Upstreamism is increasingly part of our cultural consciousness.
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Meet the Bajau sea nomads — they can reportedly hold their breath for 13 minutes

The Bajau people's nomadic lifestyle has given them remarkable adaptions, enabling them to stay underwater for unbelievable periods of time. Their lifestyle, however, is quickly disappearing.

Wikimedia Commons
Culture & Religion
  • The Bajau people travel in small flotillas throughout the Phillipines, Malaysia, and Indonesia, hunting fish underwater for food.
  • Over the years, practicing this lifestyle has given the Bajau unique adaptations to swimming underwater. Many find it straightforward to dive up to 13 minutes 200 feet below the surface of the ocean.
  • Unfortunately, many disparate factors are erasing the traditional Bajau way of life.
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Golden blood: The rarest blood in the world

We explore the history of blood types and how they are classified to find out what makes the Rh-null type important to science and dangerous for those who live with it.

Abid Katib/Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • Fewer than 50 people worldwide have 'golden blood' — or Rh-null.
  • Blood is considered Rh-null if it lacks all of the 61 possible antigens in the Rh system.
  • It's also very dangerous to live with this blood type, as so few people have it.
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Scientists create a "lifelike" material that has metabolism and can self-reproduce

An innovation may lead to lifelike evolving machines.

Shogo Hamada/Cornell University
Surprising Science
  • Scientists at Cornell University devise a material with 3 key traits of life.
  • The goal for the researchers is not to create life but lifelike machines.
  • The researchers were able to program metabolism into the material's DNA.
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