Colonize Mars? Elon Musk, SpaceX and NASA are making big plans
NASA's Michelle Thaller shares her prediction of what it will take to get people to Mars, including what role Elon Musk will play in that effort.
Dr. Michelle Thaller is an astronomer who studies binary stars and the life cycles of stars. She is Assistant Director of Science Communication at NASA. She went to college at Harvard University, completed a post-doctoral research fellowship at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, Calif. then started working for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's (JPL) Spitzer Space Telescope. After a hugely successful mission, she moved on to NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC), in the Washington D.C. area. In her off-hours often puts on about 30lbs of Elizabethan garb and performs intricate Renaissance dances. For more information, visit NASA.
Michelle Thaller: Hey Justin, you ask a really neat question about Elon Musk. There have been wonderful things that he’s been talking about colonizing Mars, obviously putting a Tesla in space, which is playing David Bowie, which I love. He’s a really wonderful person and an inspiration to a lot of us. And one of the misconceptions that a lot of people have is that federal space programs like NASA and commercial space programs like SpaceX run by Elon Musk are in some type of a competition. I am a fan of all things space and one of the things that has been so fun for me in the last few years is the collaboration between those two different realms of space travel. For example, NASA routinely buys SpaceX rockets to put our payloads and our satellites up into space. And that means that as a NASA scientist I’ve gotten to go to several launches and landings of these Falcon rockets. And that’s amazing. It used to be that you would go to a launch and a big rocket would go off and everybody would cheer and then you would get in your cars and you’d drive home and it was all done, the amazing thing now is seven minutes later everybody just walks to the other side of the building and watches the first stage of that rocket land. And that is something that is mind blowing. Your eyes basically it does not compute you cannot believe what you are seeing because this giant thing comes down from space faster than you can imagine. And this is something that’s a several story high building it’s a big thing it comes careening down and just before it gets to the ground it stops, settles down and then gently lands.
And one of the things that I love is that you don’t even hear the sonic boom until after you see it land. You watch this thing come careening down then stop, land gently and then you hear boom, boom because it broke the speed of sound coming in. And that is something that I am just really amazed I lived to be able to see. I love SpaceX and I love NASA’s collaboration. I think what a lot of people don’t realize is that NASA is one of SpaceX’s major customers. We actually buy the rockets and we’d even paid for some of the development of the rockets as well. So it was never a question of one or the other, it was the idea is that we’re collaborating the more companies going into space, hey the better for us the lower the cost of the rockets and the more efficient an industry we have and hopefully the more people that think space travel and space exploration are good things.
Then there are the questions about whether Elon is going to build a giant rocket that can take hundreds of people to Mars, and this is something that as a scientist I am naturally skeptical person that’s how I was trained, right now what I see is a really cool idea it reminds me a lot of my favorite science fiction stories, but it’s basically just that, an idea. I think there’s a long way to go before we actually see any significant colonization, any significant number of people going to Mars. First we need to get one single person to Mars or a small team of people. And that is something that has proven very, very difficult. It’s not so much a question that we can’t build rockets to take us there because even today we have rockets that might have the capability of doing that, the problem is how you would keep a crew of people alive for the journey to Mars and then also alive on the surface and get them back. That would be very expensive and because the astronauts would not be protected from the radiation of space right now we really don’t know how to keep them alive. It’s not impossible, there’s a lot of work that can be done, but when I see people thinking that SpaceX is almost ready to send people to Mars that’s where I have a bit of a wait and see attitude. I would love to see people on Mars. I would love to see SpaceX take people to Mars. I think the Tesla up there heading out toward the asteroid belt is so cool. But, there’s a long way to go and it’s not easy.
I think we’re not going to get there from a single company or a single nation. I think that for something as large as a mission to Mars we need to collaborate on a global scale, work with the Europeans, work with other emerging space markets, maybe work with several different companies not just one. It’s not a single entity, it’s a planet going out and exploring something as big as colonizing Mars. I mean it’s an amazing civilization scale activity. I am somewhat skeptical that in my lifetime I will see people walking on Mars. I hope we do. I’m not holding my breath.
NASA's Michelle Thaller defines the special relationship between Elon Musk and the venerable American space agency. A lot of people don’t realize that NASA is one of SpaceX’s major customers. Thaller shares her prediction of what it will take to get people to Mars, including what role Musk will play in that effort.
To create wiser adults, add empathy to the school curriculum.
- Stories are at the heart of learning, writes Cleary Vaughan-Lee, Executive Director for the Global Oneness Project. They have always challenged us to think beyond ourselves, expanding our experience and revealing deep truths.
- Vaughan-Lee explains 6 ways that storytelling can foster empathy and deliver powerful learning experiences.
- Global Oneness Project is a free library of stories—containing short documentaries, photo essays, and essays—that each contain a companion lesson plan and learning activities for students so they can expand their experience of the world.
Just before I turned 60, I discovered that sharing my story by drawing could be an effective way to both alleviate my symptoms and combat that stigma.
I've lived much of my life with anxiety and depression, including the negative feelings – shame and self-doubt – that seduced me into believing the stigma around mental illness: that people knew I wasn't good enough; that they would avoid me because I was different or unstable; and that I had to find a way to make them like me.
A joint study by two England universities explores the link between sex and cognitive function with some surprising differences in male and female outcomes in old age.
- A joint study by the universities of Coventry and Oxford in England has linked sexual activity with higher cognitive abilities in older age.
- The results of this study suggest there are significant associations between sexual activity and number sequencing/word recall in men. In women, however, there was a significant association between sexual activity in word recall alone - number sequencing was not impacted.
- The differences in testosterone (the male sex hormone) and oxytocin (a predominantly female hormone) may factor into why the male cognitive level changes much more during sexual activity in older age.
This is what the world will look like, 250 million years from now
To us humans, the shape and location of oceans and continents seems fixed. But that's only because our lives are so short.
Mathematicians studied 100 billion tweets to help computer algorithms better understand our colloquial digital communication.
- A group of mathematicians from the University of Vermont used Twitter to examine how young people intentionally stretch out words in text for digital communication.
- Analyzing the language in roughly 100 billion tweets generated over eight years, the team developed two measurements to assess patterns in the tweets: balance and stretch.
- The words people stretch are not arbitrary but rather have patterned distributions such as what part of the word is stretched or how much it stretches out.