Photo Credit: NASA
Photo Credit: NASA

Cosmic Queries: Human Endurance in Space

Photo Credit: NASA

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About This Episode

What challenges and perils await humanity on our journey into space, and will we be up to the task? In this episode of Cosmic Queries, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and comic co-host Chuck Nice discuss why pressurized space suits are required on a spacewalk, how the Sun’s ionizing radiation can harm human biology, and other short and long term dangers of space exploration. Neil also talks about dangers we bring with us into space, like the impact of charismatic leaders on off-world colonies. You’ll find out more about the human side of the colonization of Mars, from the comfort food NASA’s cooking up, to the emotional value of pets, to the feasibility of the Mars One project. Discover the conditions on Mars under which water can coexist as a liquid, a solid and a gas at the same time, known as water’s “Triple Point.” On a lighter note, Neil and Chuck speculate on sports in space, and for Harry Potter fans, how zero gravity will impact Quidditch, brooms, and the Golden Snitch.

NOTE: All-Access subscribers can listen to this entire episode commercial-free here: Cosmic Queries: Human Endurance in Space.

In This Episode

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  • Christina Vonthronsohnhaus

    ok I am all for understanding how the universe works ,but we don’t belong in space. We have to get along with each other & our own spaceship ( Planet Earth) !!! Oh by the way I love your Show…

  • Awesome….Sis and I (and friends) love having our own “personal and private” astrophysicist and his hilarious sidekick and I can speak for all when I say we’ve learned so much….seriously.. I was always interested in anything pertaining to the “universe” but it’s fun to learn and laugh at the same time!

  • Tony Costello

    Where’s the mp3? Can’t listen anymore. Please post mp3 link like before.

    • Jeff

      Tony, if you look at the new player, in the lower left of the player, you’ll see the word “Download.” Click it and you can download the MP3.

  • David

    The Founder effect is a genetic consequence of a few individuals moving to a new location. I think the questioner was wondering if there was any thought to countering the founder effect if we sent a few individuals to inhabit a planet. Genetic diversity would necessarily be low if there weren’t enough people sent from different genetic pools. I’m sure a geneticist could calculate what that number should be, but I’m not that person.

  • kyle carter

    Ive two questions about endurance in space.

    1) have you heard of the Mars ONE mission, my colleagues signed up along side many other well qualified people.

    2) I seen NASA was doing a study on microgravity by basically having people remain horizontal for a period of 70 days. This might be a foolish question but is there no risk of blot clotting or other serious health issues. im assuming they have thought this one out, im just curious.

    • Jeff

      Kyle, Neil actually talks about Mars One in this episode. Give it a listen…

  • Tony Costello

    I don’t see any player? Just a big blank spot where one would be. How about posting just the MP3 link like before… it was perfect, why change just for change sake?

  • Shadow

    @Christina Vonthronsohnhaus

    We didn’t “belong” in the air too, but we are flying using machines.

  • Matt

    I cannot listen to the “SoundCloud” on an iPhone! Please post the MP3 like you have done previously. Thank you.

    • Jeff

      Matt, if you look at the new player, in the lower left of the player, you’ll see the word “Download.” Click it and you can download the MP3.

  • BTT

    Unless I am missing it, the new player does not seem to have a volume control. :/

    • Jeff

      That’s true, BTT. The SoundCloud player doesn’t have a volume control built in. You’ll have to use the volume control on your computer/device.

  • Love startalk radio!!!

  • Steven

    Re: David’s post.

    For the founder effect’s relevance, a ‘few’ can be hundreds of individuals. We can pull perhaps dozens of illustrations of it from the colonial era of the 1600s-1800s with respect to genetic diseases. Most readily drawn to mind is the prevalence of otherwise rare diseases such as Maple Syrup Urine Disease (a genetic error in the breakdown of certain amino acids) among the American Amish population. In this case it follows the principles of genetic drift: A small (for genetics purposes) population settles a new area and establishes a community that almost exclusively breeds amongst itself with little to no inflow of new genetic material (from outside individuals) into the population. This leads to a relatively higher frequency of certain shared genes within that founding population. (Hopefully that’s helpful to anyone who was wondering).

    To get back to David, I would posit that to some respect the founder effect would be unavoidable in colonizing distant worlds. However, the effect might be mitigated by providing a steady stream of colonists into the colonizing population to support further genetic diversity. (For a possible parallel, think of Europe colonizing North America in the 1600s). Of course there are other alternatives, but genetic screening with the aim of avoiding founder-specific deleterious effects would probably be expensive, if nothing else.

  • Christopher Busch

    Always have enjoyed your thoughts Mr. Neil. I really loved this clip I watched a while back where you discuss how a being 1% more intelligent than use would be beyond our understanding like use to a termite and we don’t often stop to talk to a termite. Or something to that affect. My memory isn’t so good.

    Anywho. I think that a broom ( in reference to that Harry Potter sport) in space would have stabilizer thrusters. Since its magic we could all just assume that magic would fix any lack of gravity problems.

    They should have said “The Space Eagle has landed.” Then put a picture of an eagle with thrusters under its wings and a little helmet 😀

    I always enjoyed Isaac Asimov stories as a kid and still re-read them now and again. I wonder in maybe another hundred or so years, how will we develop as we separate as a species into spacers, colonists and Earthers? Will it be similar to how Asimov imagined? Will spacers become weaker in their bodies do to lack of gravity? Will those on other planets evolve differently over time? Will space colonies turn into isolated units free of disease and fear contact with those from other planets? A lot to think about.

    I wish I could be like a Q from Star Trek so I could watch the human race as it expands into the universe. Always enjoy listening to you Mr. Neil. Cheers.

  • Christopher Busch

    also, please pardon my horrible spelling as I have always been terrible and there is a guy cutting into concreate in my moms house about twenty feet away. Cheers.

  • Bake

    A few thoughts on the founder effect… A “few” people by genetic standards is very different than the “few” people we can fit into a modern space shuttle so unless we assume a massive ship carrying many more people than we can today the founder effect will be very relevant.

    One idea I had as a biologist would be the possible use of artificial insemination. The crew could theoretically use sperm donors (strategically selected from a variety of backgrounds) and transport the sperm to be used for insemination in the new colony. This would obviously bring up a whole new set of ethical considerations including the fact that the donor’s future child may be born well after the donor’s death depending on travel time and the fact that they would be on entirely separate planets. However, scientifically this would fix the problem as transporting sperm is much easier than transporting the same amount of people. To be clear I’m not advocating this alternative, just saying that scientifically speaking prolonged transport of sperm is possible and would be able to solve the founder effect.

  • Kai Green

    @Christina…… spaceship Earth is doomed. In a few billion years time its dead, no matter what we do.,…. so the earlier we learn how to survive in space, the better. More over, if an asteroid hits, or some other global catastrophe occurs, the human race could be doomed unless we already inhabit another planet too.

    If you don’t want to go in to space yourself, thats cool….. you can stay behind when the planet blows up. The rest of us will continue on elsewhere.

  • Aretin

    Neil, please upload these fascinating podcasts in better quality. At least 128 kbps.
    When you upload in lower bit-rates & sampling rates, the tonal quality is lost &
    the listening becomes a chore rather than an enjoyable experience.

    56kbps at 22kHz that too on SoundCloud? Really?! We are in 2013.
    Please do not skimp on something like the audio quality.


  • Bilbo

    NOOOO!!! Why did you change the player? With my Sony Ericsson (java) I cannot listen to your show anymore. Please put the “download link” separately like it was because it’s the only way for me to listen Star Talk.

  • Bilbo

    It’s OK I downloaded Opera and it has better features so now I can listen.

    • Jeff

      That’s great, Bilbo.

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