Packing for Mars (Part 2)

Photo credit: Artwork by Pat Rawlings of Science Applications International Corporation for NASA.

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About This Episode

Preparations for a manned mission to Mars continue when astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson delves into the more personal aspects of space flight with NASA astronaut Mike Massimino and “Packing for Mars” author Mary Roach. Co-host Chuck Nice learns how to go to the bathroom in zero gravity, why urine recycling is critical and the dangers of methane on a Mars mission. Moving out of the bathroom and into the bedroom, find out how astronauts deal with sex on long missions, if it’s possible to conceive a child in space, what zero gravity may do to embryo development, and the risk of isolated human colonies adapting to new environments so that over generations, they become something… different.

NOTE: All-Access subscribers can listen to this entire episode commercial-free here: Packing for Mars (Part 2).


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  • Aaron

    Re: Lack of innovation abrading our humanity (vis-a-vis space travel)

    Dr. Tyson:

    I just happened to find Star Talk for the first time and “Packing for Mars” the same week I was ranting about a manned mission to Mar after watching you on Youtube.

    When I think about a Manned Mission to Mars, I feel sad and ashamed because of the way our humanity is being compromised by the lack of innovation that you alerted us to.

    If we had spent the time and money to develop proper spacecraft, we would not be having a discussion on what is the nicest way to imprison our best, brightest and bravest in a tin can for over two years. You’re damn right psychological health is not just a humane priority, but necessary for proper functioning on missions. That we accept this as the expected norm hardly makes it civilized, humane, decent or the best we can do. This is not a corner we can afford to cut, nor should we indulge immorally to try.


    I ask you: in what other context would we dare be discussing how to psychologically compromise innocent humans to accept a tiny metal room for two years with processed food and little room for movement? It’s abominable. It’s no different than using ‘God & Country’ to justify sending young men to stand in front of bullets in foreign countries. It’s indecent and someone needs to say so. Convicted criminals suffer less confinement in prison.

    Am I wrong to say that if we had spent the time and money to develop and construct HUMANE spacecraft that we wouldn’t dare be talking about how to diminish the human beings themselves to compensate for the minimal, stingy technological laziness we expect them to suffer for those drivers of exploration?


    Because I tell you, Dr. Tyson: the future of space habitation for profit and defense is approaching us. If this is how we treat our best and brightest, than just what the hell standards will we have for the miners and technicians, and what could possibly motivate people to want to suffer such conditions after hearing how their predecessors are treated? Sure, we *expect* conditions will get better, but then who is actually willing to write that check now to make it happen?

    This isn’t just a question of engineering; this is our values as people, that we are either maintaining or abandoning as space culture evolves to be judged by the species expected to participate in it. The lust to reach the stars will only motivate people to suffer so much.

    You said it yourself: Space is trying to kill us. Nature is cruel; space is cruel. Can we really afford to allow technological laziness and stinginess to justify more cruelty and neglect as a standard, and turn mankind’s reach towards space, which should be something beautiful, turn into a demoralizing pattern of government and corporate gulags in the stars?

    Thank you for your attention,

    Aaron in Erie, PA

  • Steve

    @ Aaron. Your comment assumes we enslave astronauts for our whims. You do realize they sign up right? You do realize they train countless hours for these missions right? If you listen to them talk, they sound light-hearted and ready to ride. I’m not sure you’re getting it.

    On a side note, the U.S. defense budget is exponentially higher than NASA’s budget. This will not change in our current political system. By your logic, we’d have to plan a trip to Mars for a century to make the journey less like “prison” due to financial constraints. In fact, the program would probably be dropped long before that amount of time elapsed.

    I find it sort of odd that you quote NDTyson about the “cruelty” of space. It’s only cruel because we perceive cruelty. We are frail outside of our enviroment. It’s part of the reason we exist here and not in cold space. It’s a fact of human and animal life. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to tackle something greater. To do so would scoff in the face of everything humans have achieved since our existence. Try not to see things so negatively. You might have a better day.

    Steve in Savannah, GA

    • Jeff

      Great points, and well said, Steve. Facing, and overcoming, adversity, or, as Aaron said, “cruelty”, has led to some of our greatest achievements. On other shows and in Cosmic Queries Neil has talked about harnessing the energy in volcanoes and hurricanes/tsunamis: think about the benefits to humanity when we overcome the cruelty of a volcano and turn it into power for the surrounding population.

  • Steve

    @ Jeff – I agree. Tyson actually makes me want to go to school and try to somehow become a geo-engineer to control the earth for our survival. One thing that I can’t get out of my mind though, is how oil tycoons and lobbyists control the money/power behind everything. It’s one thing to know how to fix a problem.. but we can’t even control pollution, and even have industries that fight against fixing it because it hurts their bottom line. It’s frustrating to think that even if you spend the rest of your life trying to work toward the future, there is some profit margin of an industry that will most likely hold you back. What to do?

    • Jeff

      It may be frustrating, Steve, but I truly believe that striving for the right is also one of the most rewarding things one can do as a member of a free society. If you think you know how to fix a problem, then there are many ways to work towards the solution. Get involved in politics, speak out online, teach, build, inspire, create, support the issues you believe in, whichever side they may be. It is the civil interplay of differing points of view that makes our society a better place.

  • Justin Connors

    I actually thought Mikes guess of Madagascar was a really good example of evolution in isolation 😛 though Australia is particularly strange because of the dominance of marsupials over placentals I feel like Madagascar is quite representative of exactly what you were attempting to express. So I was sitting here like “WHY THE HECK ARE THEY LAUGHING!” lol anyways….. love the show just recently started listening. Shame the colonization of humans decimated the mega-fauna, and other really cool species, on both of these islands. Keep up the good work, you hooked a new listener.

    • Jeff

      Glad to have you on board, Justin. Thanks for the comment.

      • J.Lee Paul

        I would love to hear the story behind Dr Tyson’s problem with underscores. A pet peeve against a punctuation symbol? There has to be a story there.

        • Jeff

          J. Lee, I’ll ask Dr. Tyson the next time I see him…

        • Lori

          I hate them, too!

    • Vern Honie

      Yeah, I thought that, too, and just came here to comment. Just look at the Fossa. That thing is an incredible example of convergent evolution.

    • Vern Honie

      Yeah, I thought that, too, and just came here to comment. Just look at the Fossa. That thing is an incredible example of convergent evolution.

  • Emil Måsbäck

    Awesome show as always. The Idea of going by ~1G (9,82 m^2/s) struck me for going to alpha centauri but I guess it’s equally valid for going to mars.

    If my numbers are right it’d take roughly 42,5 earth-days to reach the destination, but unless they figure out some way to sun-sail the first half and figure out some way to reverse the effect it’d be a silly amount of fuel needed.

    Thanks for an amazing show! It feels great to be able to listen form Sweden.

  • I live 16 Miles from the Bishop was great to have it so close growing up and I think I remember hearing once that they in fact have some available Scope time at certain points of the year, and I love the show and I think it’s great that you are the people’s Voice and.our liaison for Space Exploration.

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