July 19, 2019
Our Lunar Muse
Most of us remember that iconic photograph of the Apollo 11 moon landing: Buzz Aldrin standing on a footprint-covered moon, one arm bent, and Neil Armstrong in his helmet’s reflection taking the picture.
But there’s a much longer, ancient history of trying to visually capture the moon that came before the 1969 photo—from Bronze Age disks with crescent moons to Galileo’s telescope drawings to 19th-century photos and modern photographs. For millennia, we’ve been obsessed with the moon’s glow, its craters and blemishes, its familiar, but mysterious presence in the sky. The moon has mesmerized experts from all fields of study, from scientists, historians, curators, to artists, including this segment’s guest, Michael Benson. Benson is a filmmaker, artist, and author of Cosmigraphics: Picturing Space Through Time, a history of humanity’s quest to visualize the moon and space. In his own art, he uses raw data from space missions to create lunar and planetary landscapes.
Benson isn’t the only person who’s thinking about how science and art has impacted how we see the moon. Mia Fineman recently curated Apollo’s Muse: The Moon in the Age of Photography at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The exhibit explores how humanity has interpreted the moon through drawings, paintings, and photographs for the last 400 years.
Preserving Space History
We’ve all heard the iconic stories of the early space program—from Kennedy’s “We choose to go to the moon” speech, to The Right Stuff, to Armstrong’s “one small step,” to the dramatic story of Apollo 13.
But how do we find new stories to tell, locate hidden figures of history, or even know they exist? The answer may lie in museum collections, old paper archives, and in the memories of ordinary people. Ed Stewart, the curator of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, and Reagan Grimsley, head of Special Collections and Archives at the University of Alabama-Huntsville, join Ira to talk about preserving artifacts of the early space program, and the importance of the archival record in telling the tales of historic space flight.
NASA's Megarocket Bet
The Trump administration says it wants to go back to the moon—but how will we get there? You’ve seen the advances in spaceflight from private companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin. But a big part of the current U.S. plan for returning to the moon involves something called SLS, the Space Launch System—a megarocket assembled from a combination of parts repurposed from the Shuttle program, and new hardware.
John Blevins, deputy chief engineer for the Space Launch System, and Erika Alvarez, lead systems engineer for the Space Launch System Vehicle, join Ira to talk about the rocket’s design, capabilities, and NASA’s plans to use it to go back to the moon and beyond.
July 19, 2019
Celebrating Apollo's 'Giant Leap'
July 20, 1969 was a day that changed us forever—the first time humans left footprints on another world. In this segment, Ira Flatow and space historian Andy Chaikin celebrate that history and examine the legacy of the Apollo program.
Apollo ushered in a new age of scientific discovery, with lunar samples that unlocked the history of how the moon and the solar system formed. It accelerated the development of new technologies, like the integrated circuit. And most of all, says Chaikin, it taught us how to work together, to achieve seemingly impossible goals.
We also take a look at what comes next for NASA’s historic launchpads. Science Friday producers Alexa Lim and Daniel Peterschmidt went to NASA Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida a few months ago. They got to see how the space agency is upgrading some of its storied launchpads—and leaving others behind to rising sea levels.
Take Flight With Science Friday's Book Club
Called anyone a “bird brain” recently? There was a time when we thought this meant “stupid,” deceived by the small size and smooth surface of birds’ brains into thinking they were mere mindless bundles of feathers.
But researchers are finding out what birds themselves have always known: Our feathered friends come with mental skills that might stump even humans. Be it tool-making, social smarts, navigation across vast distances, or even the infinitely adaptable house sparrow, Jennifer Ackerman writes of dozens of examples in this summer’s SciFri Book Club pick, The Genius of Birds. Take homing pigeons, which can be released hundreds of miles from the roof and still eventually wing their way home. Or mockingbirds, who can memorize and mimic, with astonishing accuracy, the songs and calls of as many as 200 different other birds. And birds have other kinds of genius: Bowerbirds craft intricate displays to lure their mates, each species with its own particular aesthetic preferences, like the satin bowerbird’s penchant for blue.
July 12, 2019
If you’ve ever tried brewing your own beer or raising your own sourdough, then you know that the process of fermentation isn't easy to get right. How do you control the growth of mold, yeast, or bacteria such that it creates a savory and delicious new flavor, and not a putrid mess on your kitchen counter? David Zilber is Director of Fermentation at the restaurant Noma, and he tells his fermentation secrets.
The human scent is made up of a combination of 100 odor compounds. Other mammals such as guinea pigs also emit the same odor compounds—just in different blends. And even though human odor can also differ from person to person, mosquitoes can still distinguish the scent of a human from other mammals. We'll talk about how mosquitos have evolved to hunt for the prey of their choice.
Next week marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing. But before astronauts could take that one small step on the moon, they had to take off from Earth. On Tuesday, July 16, in commemoration of the 9:32 am launch of the Saturn V rocket carrying the Apollo 11 crew, model rocketeers from around the world will conduct a global launch event—by firing off thousands of rockets planet-wide.
July 12, 2019
A quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions come from putting food on the table. From the fossil fuels used to produce fertilizers, to the methane burps of cows, to the jet fuel used to deliver your fresh asparagus, eating is one of the most planet-warming things we do. In our latest chapter of Degrees of Change, we're looking at how to eat smarter in a warming world.
July 5, 2019
Much has been written about the Manhattan Project, the American-led project to develop the atomic bomb. Less well known is Nazi Germany’s “Uranium Club”—a similar project started a full two years before the Manhattan Project. The Nazis had some of the greatest chemists and physicists in the world on their side, including Werner Heisenberg, and the Allies were terrified that the Nazis would beat them to the bomb—meaning the Allies were willing to try anything from espionage to assassination to bombing raids to stop them.
Science writer Sam Kean joins Ira to tell the high-stakes story written in his new book The Bastard Brigade: The True Story of the Renegade Scientists and Spies Who Sabotaged the Nazi Atomic Bomb.
Plus, "spontaneous generation" was the idea that living organisms can spring into existence from non-living matter. In the late 19th century, in a showdown between chemist Louis Pasteur and biologist Felix Pouchet put on by the French Academy of Sciences, Pasteur famously came up with an experiment that debunked the theory. He showed that when you boil an infusion to kill everything inside and don’t let any particles get into it, life will not spontaneously emerge inside. His experiments have been considered a win for science—but they weren’t without controversy.
In this interview, Undiscovered’s Elah Feder, Ira Flatow, and historian James Strick talk about what scientists of Pasteur’s day really thought of his experiment, the role the Catholic church played in shutting down “spontaneous generation,” and why even Darwin did his best to dodge the topic.