Interview Interlude Playlist, Part 10: Dr. Jeff Hoffman
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Land and I'm Joe McCormack in today we've got a very special episode creole out there. We are doing a partnership with national, Geographic Yeah, so they've got a new show coming out called strange rock, and it is produced by Darren aaronow Sqi of many movie fame, and all about it's all about the science of planet Earth in the sort of intricate interconnected processes both geological and biological the keep the earth stable. Sanctuary for life as we know it, and in that sense, it has a kind of. Ecological Alexander von Humboldt kind of vibe that I. Really Like I. Like it when you can see the large-scale and small-scale interconnectedness of all things to to make the world how it is. Yes, in speaking of saying, this is a visual spectacle. Yeah, it's got a lot of really beautiful photography and it's hosted by Will Smith I. Don't know if he ever says welcome to Earth and it kind of hope so and it. It tells stories through the experiences of a large cast of real life, astronauts who are the only humans ever to venture beyond the shield that protects us from the universe at large, and so because of our partnership with National Geographic for this episode we got an opportunity to talk to one of the astronauts on the show Dr Jeff Hoffman who flew five space shuttle missions, including a Hubble Space Telescope repair, mission and this. This is a great interview. We're just delighted to share it with everybody doctor. Hoffman is very knowledgeable from multiple vantage points about the thing that we're going to be focusing on today, which is the radiation risk from space and how Earth protects us, and he's knowledgeable in a couple of different domains because he's done high energy astrophysics knows all about the radiation environment of our solar system and the universe at large but he. He also has direct experience of what it's like to be an astronaut out in space to sorta go beyond our protective barriers, and that kind of perspective is of hard to come by because I would say one thing. It's really easy to lose sight of in your day to day life when you're reading about. Politics are playing with your dog or making some dinner is that your body is made of molecules and in? In order for molecules in your body to do what they do. They have to remain what they are. And most of the time. The internal chemistry of our bodies is pretty stable right, but we have to recognize that the chemical stability of our bodies is an enormous and unique privilege provided to us by virtue of the fact that we live on planet earth yet and this into a truth that we touch on quite a. A bit on the show and that is that Earth is just the right planet. Yeah, for life as we know it kind of unsurprising of course being creatures that evolved on planet Earth that planet earth is just the right planet for us, but despite realizing the kind of anthropic obviousness of that fact, it is still a kind of strange and comforting feeling. Well, wait a minute. Is it comforting or is it discomforting the? The fact that most of the universe is going to be so hostile to us so unbelievably hostile so incredibly violent that it's just impossible to even consider, and I'm not even talking about the vaporizing heat of stars of the cold airless void of deep space, I'm talking about the fact that the universe is an acid bath of killer radiation, including ionizing radiation, which often takes the form of these high energy charged particles that. That blasts through animal bodies, damaging changing the molecules within them as they go along, and even changing the DNA of our cells, altering the blueprints for cell replication and bringing about tissue, damage, sterility cancer, and so that body integrity and chemical stability. We so take for granted to keep living is only possible because of the planet we inhabit which shields us from being blasted by the sun nearby, and by the galaxy at large. Yeah it's interesting to think about this that we we are creatures of the shallows. Yeah, so life as we know, it essentially thrives in a tide pool, protected from the full onslaught of wind and wave. If you've ever been to. To a number of beach environments, you've seen those areas right where? We're the waves are crashing, but the, but there's this pool this this area of calm water that is protected from all of that, and that's where a lot of can thrive. That otherwise would not be able to bear the hostilities beyond the rocks. And it actually reminds me of this quote by John Steinbeck and he's not directly talking about what we're talking about here. But the comparison is is just beautiful. He he wrote the knowledge that all things are one thing, and then one thing is all things, plankton, a shimmering phosphorescent on the sea, and the spinning planets and an expanding universe all bound together by the elastic string of time it is advisable to look from the tide pool to the stars, and then back to the tide pool again. Our Earth is protected not from wind and ways, but from the full blast of solar and cosmic radiation, instead of rocky sea walls, protected by a robust atmosphere, and most importantly the magnetosphere, the interesting other side to the fact that we've got this kind of connected consciousness that we're aware of like there is no real division between the Earth and the heavens. They're just different places. The only real division is distance, and so all the universe is connected does have a common origin and the Big Bang, but at the same time that connectedness. We use the word connected in such a happy way. It's nice to be connected to things, but you could also think about that is extreme vulnerability like you are right next door to everything in the universe that would crush in annihilate you and what we've got standing in the way of those those crushing annihilating forces beyond our power to control is essentially. Essentially a big magnetic field and a thin layer of gas around the rocky surface of the planet, and so basically we have going on here. Is Your earth solid inner core in liquid outer core? They play a crucial role in protecting life as we know it. From deadliest deadly radiation differences in temperature and composition in the two core regions drive a. A powerful Dynamo, emitting Earth Project, protective, electromagnetic field, and remember. This is one of the key factors we have to consider in proposed interplanetary space travel and establishing stations on other worlds, the only planets in our solar system with some form of magnetosphere in place are mercury. Earth Jupiter Saturn, Uranus and Neptune right so then, of course you've also on the surface of the Earth got the atmosphere to count on, because that means that there's more stuff that radiation has to get through to get to you, and so the atmosphere will block some kinds of incoming radiation, but the other big protector is the magnetosphere that keeps these particles directed away from the earth. Some of course still get through right and also. Serves to protect the atmosphere as well. Yes, because if you don't have magnets, fear, your atmosphere over time can be stripped away, which is one of the things that they think probably happened to Mars long ago. Right, so it's protective barrier against the elements. It's our battlements, and the only humans to have walked these battlements. Our astronauts such as Dr Jeff Hoffman now. Most astronauts never even go beyond the shield that protects us right. We know that astronauts in space are exposed to extra levels of radiation, and that's one reason you want to limit your time and space you'll. You'll like. You can't live in the ISS forever they WanNa bring you back eventually. Because the more time you spend up there, the more you're exposed to this dangerous radiation that could harm you in the long run, but even up in the ISS. You're still you're still benefiting from a large part of the Earth's protective shield right? Yes, it gets a lot worse if you want to go to the moon or Mars or colonize another planet. Yeah, because then you're going beyond Earth's protection so I guess we want to go now to our conversation with Dr Jeff Hoffman. To talk about the radiation risks posed by the universe, and what astronauts have done in can do to protect themselves, but I I guess we should give you just a little bit of background on Doctor Hoffman Yeah, so his original research interests were in high energy astrophysics, specifically cosmic gamma, radiation and x Ray, astronomy, and his doctoral work at Harvard entail balloon-borne born low energy. Energy Gamma Ray telescopes and design, and then the testing of the technology for making seventy, two, nineteen, seventy, five during post, doctoral work at Leicester University worked on several x Ray, astronomy rocket payloads an, and then he worked in the Center for Space Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology From Nineteen, seventy five to nineteen, seventy, eight, as project scientists in charge of the orbiting. O. One eight four hard X, Ray and Gamma Ray experiment, which launched in August, nine, hundred, seventy seven, but in in seventy eight, he was selected to become an astronaut, and he went on a total of five different shuttle flights so in eighty-five. You went up on. Discovery Nineteen Ninety on Columbia Ninety two one Atlantis. On Endeavor in then in nineteen, ninety, six on Columbia, all told one thousand, two hundred and eleven hours in space, twenty one point five million miles. That's a Lotta Miles. Yeah, FREQUENT FLYER! Yeah, so he he is a not only pedigree scientists pedigree astronaut five shuttle flights. That's impressive. That's five more. The vast majority of human beings all right. We're GONNA take a quick break. When we come back, we will be heading straight into our interview with Dr. Jeff Hoffman No one likes to feel stuck, boxed in or held back especially by your cloud. It's a problem, but the IBM cloud is different. It's the most open insecure public cloud for business. It can manage all your. Your apps and data anywhere across all your clouds, so it can help take on anything from re booking flights on the fly to restocking shelves on demand without getting in your way. SMART LOVES PROBLEMS IBM. Let's put smart to work. Visit IBM DOT com slash flexible to learn more. It's a trying time the challenges all of our basic assumptions, however one thing that brings. Brings us all together is our common humanity now more than ever, teams must come together and work together to solve big challenges and Trello is here to help Trello part of Atlassian collaborative, sweet as an APP with an easy to understand visual format plus tons of features that make working with your team, functional and just plain fun teens of all shapes and sizes and. and companies like Google fender and even Costco. All Use Trello to collaborate and get work done with Trello. You can work with your team wherever you are whether it's at home or in an office. No matter what device you're using, computer, tablet or phone, Trello sinks across all of them, so you can stay up to date on all the things your team cares about. Keep your workflow, going from wherever you are with, Trello try Trello for free and learn more at Trello. Dot, com, that's T. R. E. L.. O. Dot COM TRELLO DOT COM. Dr Off men welcome to the show. We're really glad to have you well nice to be here. Looking forward to it. I was wondering if you could start off by telling us a little bit about your research from before you became an astronaut. What what made you interested in high energy astrophysics and What were your pursuits in that field? Well I grew up with an interest in space I I lived in or near New York City. My Dad used to take me to the planetarium to see the new show every month I saw the birth of the space age you know. I was alive when Sputnik was first launched when you're good garden and John Glenn Flu and and so I was also interested in human spaceflight, although it was a tarrant to me that all the early astronauts were military test pilots, and that was not a career for me, but space in general I was fascinated with and went on to become a an astronomer. I got A. Doctorate in astrophysics at at Harvard, and I was attracted by What we call energy astrophysics was a totally new field at the time the discovery of x-rays from celestial objects and gamma rays It was a new branch of astronomy up. Just like radio astronomy opened up back, in the nineteen thirties and Tat Struck me as being An area, where we were almost bound to make new discoveries, because we had never looked at at this type of radiation before, so my professional career as an astronomer, consistent designing x Ray telescopes, and then putting them into space I with I was using high altitude balloons when I did my PhD thesis, and then I spent three and a half years at Leicester University in England. And we had both sounding rocket experiments where we put our telescopes up above the atmosphere you to go by the atmosphere, because x rays and gamma rays are absorbed in the atmosphere, which is good thing for us here on the ground, but it makes life difficult for astronomers, because you have to go above the atmosphere to to see this radiation, and and that was kind of cool as well because I was always interested in space and rockets and so. I was combining the technological interest with what I thought was very exciting scientific field, and then I came back to mit, and we, we had actually all on x Ray satellite, and the most exciting research that I was doing discovered. These things called x Ray bursts you look at an x ray object giving out relatively low level of radiation fairly constantly you know, and all of a sudden you know ban it increases by hundreds and hundreds of times, and then gradually fades away over the course of anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes and we, we discovered lots of these and This was a completely new phenomenon, and that was probably the most exciting thing that I did scientifically was. finally figure out what was what was causing these. It was actually. neutron stars Orbiting around regular stars and The gravitation of the new star, with such that it would suck hydrogen off the regular star in the hydrogen would accumulate in a layer on the surface of the neutron star, and then eventually the whole thing would. Detonate and in a huge thermonuclear explosion, so what we were looking at were hydrogen bombs ten miles in diameter You know pretty spectacular stuff, so that was really exciting and I was all set for A. you know career as an astronomer and But that was now in the mid to late seventies when NASA was getting ready to fly, what was then the brand new space shuttle? And Neat thing about the state shuttle from my point of view was that it had a crew of seven, but they only needed to pilots the pilots. We're still going to be military test by. Let's, but it really opened things up for engineers, scientists and medical doctors, and when NASA put out a call for for astronauts for the space shuttle and indicated that yes, they really did want scientists and engineers and doctors I thought well. I'll apply and I was lucky enough to get selected the first time around so. That basically was the of my career in astronomy. Research I. Had A You know I'd say it was quite successful in and had I not been selected I. Hope I would have had a good career as a research astrophysicist, but Getting selected by NASA, astronaut certainly changed my life. Of before we ask you about a little bit of your spaceflight. Experience I just wondered, does research into high energy astrophysics like if you're looking at neutron stars and bursts of x rays and gamma rays and stuff in the universe. Does that change the way you feel about the sky when you look at it and most people look up and see twinkling stars and. It feels kind of Nice and cool and calm, do you do you envision the universe emotionally has one full of radiation, danger and high energy. Oh absolutely i. mean you know when you look up? Just simple? Look up at the stars. Everything looks pretty constant and unvarying, and when you realize that there's things exploding and off all over the place that tremendous areas of high gravitation, high magnetic fields charged particles Yeah, the universe is a pretty violent place, and You don't see it with your naked eye, but modern astronomy has has opened this up to us. doctor. Can you tell us about some of your your spaceflight experience? So what was the Hubble Service mission like well? Let me let me start a little bit further back with first spaceflight because That of course for any astronaut is is an exciting moment. When you get the call from management, and they say Oh, you've been you've got an assignment to your first spaceflight. We were supposed to take up to satellites and put them into orbit and other pop them out of the Cargo Bay of the shuttle. which was what the shuttle was doing in the early days. And then come home. It was going to be a short, relatively short mission four days or so and As it turned out the second of the two satellites that we popped out of the shuttle didn't turn on You know had nothing to do with us. All we were supposed to do as was get it out of the shuttle into orbit, but when when we reported that it did not seem to have activated NASA went into a big study mode, and they figured out the there was only one single point failure that we could possibly do something about. There's little switch on the outside of the satellite that maybe had gotten stuck. And, so they scheduled for the first time in NASA history, an unplanned spacewalk where my partner and I went out, see I had been trained to use space suits, but we weren't planning to do a space walk on my first flight. but they sent us out to fix it. And so that was a totally unexpected incredible experience. You know getting to go out and do a spacewalk which? you know all astronauts would like to go out? It's the most intimate experience that you can have being in space is actually putting on a spacesuit and going out of the airlock and. Kind of you. Face to face with the rest of the universe it's it's an incredible experience, and and we did a good job, and and so I got identified as as somebody who is good at spacewalking, and I worked on a lot of advanced spacesuit, development and various things, and then when it came time to. Select a crew to go up and try to repair the Hubble Telescope, and of course nowadays people who weren't alive at the time when Hubble was put in orbit, don't don't really appreciate what a disaster! It was for NASA I. Mean This. Billion and a half dollar telescope, which had been launched with great expectations about how it was going to revolutionize, view the universe, and then to find out that it couldn't focus properly I mean how could NASA make a huge mistake like that was what everybody was was asking, and it was absolutely critical I mean. As, I say people don't remember what disaster it was, but NASA Hubble where the joke of late night comedians Hubbell was denounced in the halls of the US Congress as a technology Turkey. NASA was trying to get Congress to approve funding for. The International Space Station at the time, and as you can imagine as it wasn't very popular with Congress, so. basically they were told you know. Go do something about Hubble and then come back and talk to us about the space station. In any case, NASA wanted to do everything possible to reduce the risk of failure in this rescue mission and one of the things that they. Decided, was that only people who had previously done? Spacewalks would be eligible to do the spacewalks for the Hubble, rescue. And because of this unplanned spacewalk that I did way back on my first flight and I had two subsequent, since then so Hubble, for me was my fourth flight, and I had my spacewalkers union cards so I I was fortunate enough to be on the crew, and that was certainly of all the things I did as an astronaut. The one with the most lasting impact was obviously rescuing Hubble and turning it from. Basically Nasr's worst disaster scientifically to its most successful and productive scientific mission ever so it was a, and, and of course as a former astronomer as well as being an astronaut, being able to put my two hands on the Hubble telescope up in orbit was. I mean it was the thrill of a lifetime, and we fixed it. Integrate thing you did well I I know that many of my asks former astronomy colleagues after the mission they would come. I can't tell you how many people would come up to me and say oh. Jeff, thank you so much. Because you know my my professional career was depending on this and all I could say was well. It was a pleasure. Thank you. It was pleasure. It really was. So you mentioned that when you were out on spacewalks in va that you had this kind of intimate experience with the universe, it was like putting you face to face with the Outer Universe, and I wonder about something so there was a Sifi. Couple years ago where a character's born and lives her whole life in simulated environments inside generation starship, and she finally at one point comes back to Earth late in life, and she's outside and discussing the idea of getting sunburned, and she's so familiar with the concept of earth, and the sun that she calls this horrifying, and she calls this getting burned by radiation from a star. Is there a moment in? Space you know outside vehicle activity. Were you begin to think of the Sun, not as the sun, but as a star and other kinds of alien nation effects. No absolutely I mean this is something when I give public talks I. I often show a picture of the sun in space, and then I asked the audience. There's something very strange about this picture. Can you figure out? Out What it is and most people don't quite get it, but what you're seeing. Is the son in black sky and think about it. You've never seen the sun in the black sky. Because every time the weather is clear you go out, and of course our atmosphere scatters the blue light preferentially, and so this guy is blue and so every human being throughout human history. Until the space age has only seen the sun in a blue sky. We see the stars in a black sky, because there's not enough light really from the stars to be scattered, and and make this guy, look blue. But not the sun, but in space you really see the sun as a star in a black sky course. It's bigger and brighter than any other stars, because it's close to us, but yeah you really do appreciate the sun as a star, and that that that was something I didn't have to go out and just looking out the window the shuttle you you get that appreciation, but it's a totally different perspective as are so many other things that you see. I mean that's one of the things about the. Off the surface of the earth is that you look with a totally new perspective. just like most people don't remember the first time ever in an aeroplane, but if you, if you pay attention and look out the window, you also get a totally new perspective on the on the Earth, although most people don't bother to look out the window these days, but from space we spent a lot of time looking at the windows and I never got tired of it. It was a completely. different perspective not only on the earth, but on on the heavens. It was great flying during the nighttime. You know we'd start. We'd enter darkness in the Northern Hemisphere, and you could look up and see all the familiar northern constellations. Cygnus the Swan, which is the northern cross, and then fifteen minutes later you'd be in the Southern Hemisphere and see Alpha Centauri and the southern cross, and that's something else that you never do when you're on. The surface of the earth is to see the northern and southern. Skies at the you know within a half hour of one another. Would you describe this as it as being Kennedy? The overview effect well the over via fact Maybe some of the listeners don't aren't familiar with that, but it was. Coined by Frank White. He's an author who thought a lot about I. Guess he had this kind of inspiration during an air airplane flight when he was looking at the ground, and and feeling a little bit removed from the Earth but he started thinking about what what must it be like for the astronauts? So he came down to Houston and I was one of the first astronauts that he interviewed. And you know the idea is that it really does change your perception of planet Earth to to look at it, and and actually see the earth as a planet. to see from an airplane, you can look out the window and see entire cities spread out below you from an orbiting spacecraft. You can see the entire countries continents. Really the earth is very beautiful, and so you do get this relationship that develops between you and the planet at the same time. You can see examples of environmental degradation caused by humanity which is. Now visible from cosmic perspective, and that's pretty scary. You know the deforestation of the Amazon the silting up of harbors and rivers and and Just all sorts of things and you realize that You you definitely get a feeling of the the finite -ness of planet earth, and and this sense of what it is to be removed from the earth, and how that changes your feelings for planet earth is what Frank called the overview effect, and many astronauts have have reported this now. Actually a a movie that you can find on on Youtube video. That the. About the overview effect made by A. Sin Cinematographer in the UK. interviews with a lot of different astronauts. Myself included so yeah, it's It's a totally different perspective you got when your hundreds of miles above the surface of the earth so going back to the idea of of radiation risk beyond the surface of the earth, the missions you flew in the eighties and nineties. What did you in the other crew? Members understand about radiation risk in space, and a what what kind of measures were in place to protect you other than just limiting the duration of missions. Shuttle flies like International Space Station in what we call low-earth orbit, so we are. Basically below the van Allen radiation belts where inside the earth's magnetic fields, which shields us from most cosmic radiation so. it's it's a much more benign environment than when you actually left the earth to head out to the moon, and you're outside the Earth's magnetic shield, and then you're exposed to direct impact of galactic cosmic rays and and charged particles coming from the sun. you. ultra-violet light of course is not deflected by the magnetic field and we have to have. Protection against ultraviolet light, otherwise it would destroy our our is which is why the space helmet spacesuit helmets have those those gold visors which protect you and there's ultraviolet protection on all the windows, the space shuttle and the international station windows. So You know electromagnetic radiation, cosmic the the ultraviolet rays, we have to protect ourselves against, and then of course there's the infrared radiation from the sun the heat. when you're in the Direct Sunlight temperatures of things exposed to direct sunlight in space can go up above the boiling point of water, and so when you're out in your space suit, you need good. Cooling and we do that by sublimating ice and Matt Cools off which we then circulate in in a liquid cooling garment with lots of to was where where you can run the cold water, right over your body and and take away heat. and you can adjust ad because when you go into the dark side. It gets very very cold and they are. You don't want this extra cooling, so from the electromagnetic point of view has gotta protect ourselves against Ultraviolet Radiation, and we've got to have good thermal control for heat. For the charged particle radiation as I say, we're in a relatively benign place when we did our helplessness in Hubbell was put as high up as the shuttle could go about four hundred miles six hundred kilometers. And we were kind of scraping the bottom of the van. Alen intervene Allen Radiation Belt So. It was calculated that we were GONNA get about ten times the normal exposure first shuttle flight, which which still was nothing to to be concerned about from a cancer point of view, but. but they had us where radiation monitors, the whole time, and and particularly when we went outside, and they tried to schedule the spacewalk so that we would not be outside when we went through. What is known as the South Atlantic? Anomaly which is A. Part of the orbit, where the radiation is is much higher than than the rest of it. That's about all you can do. Obviously if there were ever a huge solar eruption we always have the option of coming home and and Getting underneath the atmosphere for the extra protection, but we never had to do that. What about extended future missions? How did the risk change? And what sort of solutions are being developed to protect future astronauts? -Ation risk is recognized as being one of the most serious if you're going to be. The Earth's magnetic field for a long time. Either on the surface of the moon, or on an extended trip to Mars. On the surface of the moon. Actually getting to the moon is is not such a big deal because you can get there in three days, so your exposure time is limited, but if you're gonNA, spend any significant amount of time on the surface of the Moon obviously the the moon blocks about half of the galactic cosmic rays, but but you're still exposed to all the rest of them. And it may be that you know we'll. They're talking about possibly having underground habitats in lava tubes which we know exist on the moon you. You'RE GONNA have to do something to shield yourself from the radiation, because being exposed to it for a long time is going to be dangerous. That's something that's very difficult to do. If you're on a trip to Mars, because you can't carry that much mass with you to protect yourself and so. NASA is interested in other ways. There are some re. I think very interesting research going on about pharmacological protection against radiation. If there was some way that we could enhance the body's ability to repair DNA. That would. Make the impact of radiation much less serious. We know that there's bacterias which can withstand hundreds of times, the amount of radiation that human can, and they've developed the ability to repair. Much more significant damage to DNA than we're able to do. There may be genetic clues about how to protect against radiation, so the point being that we've got to look for other ways besides just shielding, and of course developing a better more powerful propulsion systems so that we could get the Mars quicker would be a big help as well not just from radiation point of view, but logistically you've gotta carry everything you need. you can't get. Get resupplied once. You're on your way to Mars, so all the food, the medical equipment the spare parts everything, the quicker you get there the better so there's a lot of ways that that we're looking at. That will make long duration spaceflight outside the Earth's magnetic field safer, but most of these things are still works in progress right now. We don't have those solutions available. Now and in correct me if I'm wrong, but once you get to Mars on a Mars mission on the surface. You're not a whole lot better off than you are in space, right as as far as radiation. Bars just like when you're on the surface of the Moon Mars is blocking half of the radiation just by its mass, and then Mars does have a bit of an atmosphere which gives you a little bit of protection, but you're right. There's still the radiation environment on the surface of the law. A Mars is More severe than being low-earth orbit and so radiation protection on the surface of Mars will continue to be an issue. Will be on the moon. you'll have to have certain amount of protection and your habitats. But again the other the other thing you know there's two aspects of the dangers of radiation. One of them is that in the long term it will lead to an increased incidence of cancers like leukemia well one of the things that we're realizing. Is that ability for early detection and treatment and cancer is continually improving, and so maybe you know twenty thirty years from now. That's just not going to be as much of a problem. The other potential problem from radiation are cute impacts there there've been some experiments that have shown a potential loss of cognitive capability for rats when they're exposed to radiation. you certainly would not like to get to Mars and find out that your I q is decreased by twenty points they are potential effects of acute effects of radiation on the circulatory system on the nervous system, and that's an area of very active research. Now it's relatively new traditionally. We were just concerned with the long term impact of radiation that is ultimately causing cancer. Unless of course you had a huge solar flare. You know if you get enough radiation. All at one time you're gonNA, die or have serious illnesses and you know we? We would like not to be in space when they have a huge solar flare. Statistically. Those don't happen very often and so far. We've been lucky. So we've discussed the ambient radiation risks in space, obviously within our solar system. You you've got solar radiation to worry about and got charged particles from the from the galaxy, the universe to worry about, but also apart from these ambient radiation risk. Does it make sense to also for space ferrers to worry about anomalous radiation risks I know for example like x Ray Bursts and gamma-ray bursts are extremely rare in the universe or they so. So rare that that we just don't have to think about that or will the future of space exploration needs really think about it I mean if if if a huge black hole merger like was observed with the gravitational radiation, billions of light years away. If something like that happened right near us in the galaxy, it would be bad news, but there's absolutely nothing we can do about it, and so it's just not something that. That we even bother to think about. What about solar anomalies, you mentioned like a solar event so. I mean solar flares are recognized I mean for a big solar flare in nineteen, seventy, two in August, which just happened to occur between Apollo, sixteen and Apollo seventeen had it occurred when. We're on the lunar surface. There's been a lot of discussion of weather with would have been fatal, or whether it would have just been very bad for them, but it would have been very serious effect, but that solar flare nineteen seventy two was not nearly the strongest solar flare. That's ever existed. I mean, there was the Carrington event back in the mid nineteenth century, which was so powerful, of course that was, we didn't have satellites. We didn't have electronics going, but they did have telegraph lines, and that solar flare collapse the earth's magnetic field to the extent that. Moving magnetic field induced voltages in the telegraph lines which caused fires in telegraph offices I mean if if a flare like that hit us today. It would cost. Lights funding did a estimate of that I mean it would be like a trillion dollars worth of damage. All of our satellites would be destroyed electronic systems all over the world electrical power grids. We'd go down. And there's nothing we can do about it. Except that statistically something like that happens maybe once every five hundred years or so so far we've been lucky. And, not too much more, you can say about it. we are people are? Still doing research to try to be able to predict solar flares so far without. Many positive results, but I just read recently. Some new research is indicating that you know. Maybe they've made a breakthrough. being able to predict solar flares in advance would be a big help so that at least you can get ready for it, and if you had astronauts on the moon. At least they could try to get inside their shielding, but other than that It's statistics and so far we've been lucky. I Dr. Hoffman in other interviews you have stated that shrimp cocktail your favorite food in space. Can you explain for our listeners why you select? You know when when when you take away. Gravity, there is a an upward migration of fluid from your lower body to your upper body, and so you get a lot of extra fluid in your head. It's a little bit like having sinus congestion and it. It decreases your sense of smell so that you. The food becomes very bland They provide extra tabasco sauce that we can sort of spice up our food. The Nice thing about the shrimp cocktail dehydrated so the shrimp themselves. you know nothing to write home about you? You put a little bit of water on them, and they don't have that much taste, but they pack it in a really really hot horseradish sauce so. I found if I would eat a shrimp cocktail. Before dinner every night that horseradish would kind of open up my nasal passages, so that I could smell and taste the rest of the food a little bit more, so that's why it was my favorite food, not because it intrinsically taste good I mean as a shrimp cocktail. It was you know I. If they served it to you in a restaurant, you'd send it back, but it really opened up the nasal passages so that I can enjoy the rest of my meal well. I guess it's those little pleasures that make life worth living. Well thank you so much. It's been such a privilege to talk to you Dr Hoffman. We really appreciate you sharing your time. And I hope it's giving maybe a new perspective to some of the listeners who haven't heard some of this stuff so thanks for your interest and It's It's been fun. Yeah, thank you so much, thank you. You have a great day, sir. Well, thanks once more Dr, Jeff Hoffman and National Geographic for an enabling us to have this wonderful chat. We're going to take a quick break and we come back Joe and I will discuss the interview a little bit before we close out the episode. Working remotely can be a challenge especially for teams that are new to it. How do you deal with your work? Environment being the same as home while staying connected and productive, and then there's your newest co worker the. The cat, well, your friends at Trello have been powering remote teams globally for almost a decade at a time when teams must come together more than ever to solve big challenges Trello here to help Trello part of Atlassian collaborative, sweet as an APP with an easy to understand visual format plus tons of features that make working with your team, functional and just plain fun. 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These are strategies that have worked for me for people I admire, and that comes from listeners like you. We'll tackle everything from to do lists to Home Office design to strategic career decisions. Listen over that First Cup of coffee. And I promise you'll learn something useful. My goal is to help you succeed in the modern workplace where ideas matter more than ever, but shoes might be optional. Listen to the. New Corner Office, starting April first on the iheartradio APP apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. All Right? We're back so Robert Dr Hoffman mentioned a few things in that interview that I thought were really interesting. We might WANNA. Follow up and talk about a little bit one of the things he mentioned when we were talking about solar anomalies was the idea of the Carrington event or the solar storm of eighteen, fifty nine, and this just stuck in my mind because this is one. One of the most fascinating and I think maybe lesser known craziest astronomical events in history. Yeah, indeed it may have been the largest solar energetic particle event in the past several hundred years. So why don't we call it the Carrington event? Well? It's a name for Amateur Astronomer Richard Carrington who observed quote to patches of intensely bright and white light erupting from a cluster of dark sunspots. They vanished within five minutes then within a matter of hours, the effects of this event were felt on earth, so one of those affects look like well as Doctor Hoffman. Alluded to telegraph communication around the world. Begin to fail. Sparks were flying from Telegraph Machines, Telegraph. Operators were in some cases shocked. In also colorful auroras in the sky were causing. The birds chirp at night. Yeah So the solar flare in question, had the power of an estimated ten billion atomic bombs and ice core samples reveal that the Carrington event was twice as big as any other solar storm within the last five hundred years. This is the kind of thing where it really hit today. The estimates are just in trillions of dollars worth of damage. It would just. Just be a massive blow, and Dr. Hoffman alluded into this as well the idea that it would, it would impact our satellites in fact, technology on a scale that simply did not exist in eighteen fifty nine, but of course it would also greatly affect any exposed astronauts or space ferrers that you know we're columnist or wherever outside of the protection of the. The Er Shield. It didn't even fully protect us from this event. Yeah, yeah, you know. I actually interviewed him physicist Dr See, Alex young several years ago about solar storms, and he pointed out that that our modern electrical grid in particular is just highly vulnerable to this sort of thing. He told me the power grids that we have in the US and. and. Actually all over the world are interconnected in very fragile. If the current large enough, it can short out the largest of the transformers, which can knock out the power grid over the scale of a country of a continent or even across the whole globe, a scary yeah, and it for just a minor example of the sort of thing Canada's. Quebec power grid experienced a similar shock in nineteen, eighty, nine from particularly powerful son storm in this caused the grid to go down for over nine hours, resulting in revenue losses estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars, and that was just the small potatoes compared to something like the Carrington. Event, yeah with our earthbound minds, it's impossible for us to grasp the real power and magnitude of solar events like if you've never seen one of those pictures of the earth superimposed to scale against a solar prominence. It's amazing solar prominence or these events where this monstrous loop of plasma erupts out of the photo sphere, which is the apparent surface of the sun, and then it curves through the sun's Corona guided by solar magnetic fields, and this is not even really the core of the Sun. itself is just an event. It's like whether it's it's an event on the surface of the sun, but this event itself is tens of times. Times bigger than the entire planet earth and you see one of these pictures when you look at it. The vulnerability in tiny of human scale projects becomes absurdly apparent. The comparison that comes to my mind is if you've ever been out in nature as I know you like to venture out nature on hikes, and so forth you ever observe a bird's nest for a wasp nest, some sort of animal structure and ask. Yourself, that's horrible place to put that. Don't you know tiny birds that eventually the wind is GonNa Don't you know when it rains? That's that's just not a very protected, plus don't you know that that's my front porch and I'm probably. GonNa. Knock you down eventually just because you're inconvenient to me. And then when you think about everything that that is life on earth, and then everything that humans have built, and you think of the vulnerability. That is intrinsic in all of that We're really no different from from any O. Wasp, the decides to build its nest on the bottom of a porch swing on a geologic cosmic timescales, projects are so hilariously shortsighted but then again that that's just how we're built. Right I mean it's very difficult for us to seriously focus on a project that we think will take place over. Over say one hundred thousand years or even a million years. Yeah, totally we we are sighted is a species. That's what we've evolved to be now. On the subject of Longtime Scales and and the cosmic scale of events I asked Dr Hoffman about whether. Spacefaring species should really worry about things like Gamma Ray bursts or x ray bursts, which I think is kind of a weird question because. On one hand it's something that would pose a very serious threat, but these things are also incredibly rare in the universe, and they're incredibly rare in the galaxy, so it's hard to factor into one's idea about something like space exploration. How much you should worry about something that is almost never going to happen anywhere near you. Yeah, but if it did, it would be catastrophic, we come into it kind of. Of reminds one of lead of course, the the seafaring explorers of old, and to say well. If you go out in that boat, you might very well drown. You might run into a hurricane. ETC, and the hurricanes are pretty common. Yeah, those are pretty common like. If it was, you'd have to say. Oh, I mean we may very well drown. We may very well. Di Di on some distant island. But in the chances here are are are less, but it's ultimately the same scenario like it's of course it's safer to not go out and explore is certainly in the short term, but are the type species that is going to do that of course then again if there were a nearby gamma ray burst as unlikely as that is, that would be bad even if we were on earth. Yeah, yeah, so these in particularly gamma-ray bursts emitted by powerful Supernova that are dubbed Hyper. Nova and you can think of these is. Like the energy shrapnel from titanic exploding star. And even though they are rare, the radiation killing zone for an exploding hyper stars been estimated to be around six thousand light years across compared to normal stars. Thirty Light Year Kills Zone, and even smaller gamma-ray doses can have a serious neurological impact on an individual Oh. Yeah, you don't gamma rays. No matter what. Yeah, there was a cold. Spring Harbor Laboratory study on mice that found the gamma radiation targeted a particular type of stem cell in the hippocampus, the an area of the brain. You know believed to be important for learning and. And move control and normal doses of space radiation also pose serious risk in a separate experiment, the NASA Space Radiation Laboratory dosed mice with radiation equal to the amount. An astronaut might receive on a three year voyage to Mars and scientists discovered significant damage to hippocampus stem cells responsible for repopulating the brain with new cells, so without proper radiation, shielding lengthy space exploration might be recipe for the kind of in the cognitive and emotional breakdown that Doctor Hoffman alluded to the idea that you would have your astronauts arrive at their destination. With reduced cognitive abilities, and this is exactly the time when presumably all the hard work is right in front of them. They're going to have to Land on the planet and Planetary Explorers but have to do so with a reduced with reduced brain power. Yeah, it's a daunting problem. Now. Of course in all of this discussion, we don't want to give the impression of discouraging space, exploration or anything like no, no, no just because of all these risks but In talking about them, it's just that we have to recognize how hard this project is. And how dangerous it is, and how much investment of research and technology it's GONNA. Take to make this something that humans can safely and reasonably do. Yeah, we did an episode. Last year we talked about proposed ways of genetically altering A. Astronauts, the future, so they might be less susceptible to damage radiation so there are there multiple fronts on which? Science current science and future science. May Be able to to tweak all this in our favor, but it is still as you said a dangerous universe and in. A very fragile species that has evolved a thrive. Within a very slim portion of our own. Atmosphere within a slim portion of our own terrestrial environment, even a large portion of the earth will kill Ya. It's true. If you were to teleport up to the top of Mount Everest you would not be able to breathe, or if you were to suddenly appear at the the bottom of the ocean, and find yourself surrounded by what three thousand atmospheres worth of pressure. Yeah, the North or South Pole? Yes, or in the middle of a desert bright. There's just a lot of bad places to be, but I don't mean to trash the earth of course I mean. This takes us back to the idea of the overview effect that we mentioned a little bit with the Hoffman that. Having a cosmic perspective on the earth, realizing the alternate kind of emptiness and violence and hostility of the universe at large and the incredible uniqueness and privilege of this one little rock floating in space. It really should give us a perspective of thankfulness and transcendence something that makes the petty human squabbles kind of fade away into non importance, indeed all right today you have it. hope everyone enjoyed our chat with Dr Hoffman. We certainly enjoyed chatting with him. Absolutely, it was a pleasure and he He gave me a lot of stuff to think about. About this is the first time we've had an actual space traveler on the show, and it did not disappoint. Maybe won't be the last time. Yeah, who knows now if there's anything in our discussion with Dr Hoffman that really left out at you and you would like to hear a whole episode of stuff to blow your mind on. Let us know about that. Because because he covered a lot of ground in the interview. Totally don't be shy to get in touch with us and let us know what you would like to pick up on from that conversation in the future right and you can do that. Arab at are various social media accounts. We're on facebook twitter instagram Allen. Check out stuff to blow your mind dot com. That's the mothership. That's where you'll find links out to our social media accounts that is. is where you'll find links to our social media accounts as well as all the podcast episodes, some blog post it, cetera and hey, checkout one strange rough. It's a really beautiful. 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