SGU Episode 899
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|SGU Episode 899|
|October 1st 2022|
|S: Steven Novella|
B: Bob Novella
C: Cara Santa Maria
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein
TD: Tim Dodd, American science communicator
|Quote of the Week|
This job is a great scientific adventure.
Fabiola Gianotti, Italian experimental particle physicist
Introduction, Hurricane Ian, new SGU Book
Voice-over: You're listening to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, your escape to reality.
S: Hello and welcome to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. Today is Saturday, September 24th, 2022, and this is your host, Steven Novella. Joining me this week are Bob Novella...
B: Hey, everybody!
S: Cara Santa Maria...
S: Jay Novella...
J: Hey guys.
S: ...and Evan Bernstein.
E: Good evening everyone!
S: We are recording this episode live in SGU Studios. Cara is joining us remotely from Florida, battening down the hatches while a hurricane is bearing down on her. How are you doing down there, Cara?
C: Well, it's not here yet, but I'm supposed to go home to LA next Thursday, and then I just found out right after I booked the tickets that we're quite probably going to be hit with a category three hurricane on Wednesday. It'll be my first ever. So I did tornadoes in Texas, earthquakes in California, hurricanes now in Florida. Just need to move on to an active volcano.
S: Yeah, there you go.
J: Now, Cara, you know according to Florida rules, you need to be mowing your lawn when that hurricane hits, right? You need to be outside doing something as if there's no danger.
C: Right, and my cow needs to be untrimmed.
B: Because the low pressure of the system raises the grass a little straighter, makes it easier to cut. So I mean, it's kind of an obvious move.
S: Now, NASA is still planning on launching Artemis on Tuesday. Did they finally scrub it?
C: That's so not going to happen.
S: Well, they like to wait till the last minute because sometimes these things zig instead of zag, and they don't want to miss their window. But I guess the latest update is they just scrubbed it. Not surprising. I thought that was a little bit of wishful thinking. So part of the reason why we are recording this episode, and there'll be another episode that we're recording as part of a live stream, is because our second book, The Skeptic's Guide to the Future, is coming out in just three days on September 27th. So this book is The Skeptic's Guide to the Future. Bob, Jay and I wrote this one. This was a ton of fun to research, to talk about, to design, figure out what goes into it, to write. We've already had a few interviews about it. It's super fun to talk about. Essentially what we do in this book is we go through first the history of futurism. So previous attempts at predicting the future and how did they do, what did they get wrong, what patterns of wrongness are there? We talk about futurism fallacies, the common mistakes that futurists make over and over again. We looked a little bit into futurism as an academic discipline to see what they're saying there, et cetera. And then the meat of the book is we talk about the cutting edge technologies, where they're coming from, where they are now, and then we try to extrapolate them into the future. The near future, the medium future, and then the distant future when those technologies are fully mature. What is the ultimate potential of these technologies?
J: We had fun. That was the fun part because when we discussed what is this technology going to look like fifty, a hundred, a thousand years from now, then we took the opportunity to write some science fiction to illustrate that technology in use, which I thought came out really well. That was a ton of fun discussing what that could look like in use.
S: We call them vignettes. They're not even really a full short story. It's just a glimpse of the future.
B: And they bring into lots of different technologies that we had just discussed.
S: Or that we're about to discuss.
B: Or we're about to discuss in the book. So it's not just one tech, but a bunch of them all in one story.
S: And that, of course, is one of the main themes of the book. One of the futurism fallacies is to think that how will this one technology look in the future? But you can't think about it that way because by the time you get to that point that you're talking about, all other technologies will have been advancing in the background. So I say, well, what will fusion power look like in fifty years? You can't talk about that without also talking about what solar power is going to look like in fifty years and all other sources of energy because it's always going to be compared to all of the other options. Or if we talk a lot about space travel and we think, oh, by the time we get here are the problems that we'll be facing with spending a lot of time in space or interstellar travel. Yeah, but by the time we get that, we might be cyborgs. We probably will, we'll be genetically engineered. We may just transfer into a robot for the trip or whatever. You have to think about all the other things that are happening. It's not going to be us. It's not going to be us in the future. That's what we want. We want to imagine us in the future. But that's not what's going to be happening.
B: And if you look at previous predictions of the future and futurists, that's a classic mistake. They take themselves, their culture, and they just put it, plop it into place with this new fancy technology. And that's a classic mistake that you see over and over and over.
S: And it's important because part of "predicting the future" is thinking about how people are going to interact with that technology. And again, we imagine how we're going to interact with that technology. But I think we're living at a very interesting time. Probably our generation, maybe more than any other generation, has a firsthand example of, for those of us who have kids, our kids have a different relationship with technology than we do. They use social media. They use their smartphone. They think about these things differently than we do. They think about it differently. They prioritize different things. My daughters rarely, if ever, use their phone as a phone. It's not really a phone for them. They use it way more to text or to communicate on certain social media apps or whatever.
C: Wait, Steve. Do you use your phone? You make phone calls?
S: Yes. Yeah.
E: Just yesterday I was telling Rachel, when I was her age, I had two means of communicating with people. I wrote them a letter or I picked up a phone and called them. And that was it.
S: Or you met them in person.
C: That sucked.
E: Or you met them in person. But short of that, because I moved around the country a lot, I had to want to communicate with my friends. So we talked about how that happened. I said, I wrote letters and made phone calls that cost $15 for 30 minutes. That's how you communicated with people across the country. That was it.
J: Remember worrying about the cost of making a phone call?
E: Absolutely. You had to call it off-peak hours so that you wouldn't get charged the prime rate, because my parents would kill me if they found out I ran up a $50 phone bill─
S: Long-distance phone call.
E: ─for a call to my friend back at the other side of the country.
B: I think Steve's a little bit anomalous, though, because I definitely use my phone a lot. And I definitely don't use it mostly for making phone calls. There's just so much other stuff, the obvious stuff that I do.
S: Oh, yeah. A smartphone is probably the phone app is one of the least used aspects of it. Absolutely. My smartphone is my handheld computer. That's not my point.
E: If it disappeared, could we get by without it?
S: I do call and accept phone calls. It is still my phone. My daughters, they turned off their ringer. They don't use it at all as a phone.
C: Yeah I don't have a ringer. My phone is on silent with no notifications ever for my mental health, but I'm curious. So the only time I ever talk on the phone, and I guess that's changed a little since I've been in Florida without a car, but in California, the only time I would have conversations was when I was driving long distances. Does anybody else have that same vibe? The only time I talk to people is in the car.
S: That's not the only time, but that's definitely a huge opportunity because you're just sitting there doing nothing, and you could talk to people now that it's easy when you route the phone through your car so you're not holding it.
J: Where are you talking to people, then, if you're not on the phone? Are you not having conversations?
C: I use text.
S: Just communicating virtual time with texts and emails and whatever.
J: I'm definitely more of a phone talker than a texter.
C: And then if I'm missing somebody and we want to have quality time together, then we FaceTime.
J: Well I primarily use my phone to get angry at the internet, I think, if I summarize my interaction.
C: Jay is an angry old Facebook man.
J: I am pissed off at basically everybody that uses social media. I log in and I'm instantly furious with what I see.
S: But this is a classic sort of futurism fallacy, again, in that past futurists pretty much unanimously imagined that in the future, the amorphous future, when the technology existed, people will video call. And now we have─
B: We assumed it.
S: Totally. Absolutely.
B: Even we did years ago, 30 years ago, that was the obvious next step for phones.
S: So we have, now we have, you could video call, audio call, or text, and people prefer texting to audio and audio to video. It's the exact opposite of what everyone predicted prior to─
C: Or, I mean, I think they all have different uses.
S: But that's the thing. Until you put a technology in the hands of billions of people and see how they use it, it's hard to predict. Most futurists think we're going to use future technology like we use current technology. So here's another fun example. When commercial airplane travel was first becoming a thing, futurists imagined that it would evolve into these gigantic luxury airplanes.
E: Flying hotels almost.
S: They were flying cruise ships, right?
B: Right, like luxury liners.
S: They were like luxury liners in the air. That is how they were imagined because they assumed that the use and priorities, it's all about luxury, right? Would hold true even to, would translate to this new technology. And they didn't anticipate, no, people are going to want to get there fast and cheap. And now we've gone so far the other direction where we're crammed into these tiny seats. And you could pay through the nose for a first class seat where you get a slightly bigger seat.
B: Or lots of other airlines I've seen where you can go super ultra mega first class where you literally get a TV this big, a little room, and a foot rub. Somebody comes in and gives you a foot rub, but you're spending $40,000. How many people are going to really do that?
S: And Bob, even that's nothing compared to the luxury liners that they imagined where it was like you're living in a hotel while you're on the plane. Completely different.
E: Titanic in the air.
S: Cara, have you ever called the remote control the clicker?
C: I have.
E: Okay. The original remote device.
C: That's what it was tethered.
E: Which made a click noise.
S: No, no, no. You would make a literal clicking sound.
B: The frequency.
S: When you hit the button, it would hit a tuning fork rod, which would vibrate at a specific frequency, and the TV would respond to that frequency. So you had three or four controls.
E: Three buttons. That's it.
S: Three or four buttons, volume up, down, channel, up, down, on, off. That's it. It literally clicked. So people still call it the clicker. We also still say tape. We're going to tape something. When tape is nowhere in the loop anymore.
J: But they make it, those things, people understand what they mean. And I promise all of you that are young, you'll feel old one day, too. Whatever you think is normal now, it won't be in 30 years, and you'll be doing the same thing. Goddammit.
B: And it will probably just speed up. A 25-year-old and a 20-year-old might find, see dramatic differences as the pace of increase accelerates, as it probably will.
S: And we're just skimming the surface of this book. The third section of the book goes into science fiction technology. So we go beyond actual technology where, the roots of it, even the beginnings of it already exist. Even if it's just a proof of concept or a theory at this point. And then we just talk about crazy sci-fi tech and discuss, is this even possible? Like lightsabers things like that.
S: Is it even possible that we could possibly make a lightsaber? And what would that be like? And can you think about it, like, by the time, if you could make a lightsaber, that technology would be useful for so many other things.
J: It would be so unbelievably.
B: That power source.
J: It would be a game changer.
B: I could plug that into my building and run my building off of that.
J: That's like the transporter in Star Trek, that one invention would change reality. It would change everybody's life.
B: In ways that would be impossible to predict.
S: Or my favorite, and we go into this in the book, the holodeck. If you could do that, why would you confine that to one little room, right? Why wouldn't the whole ship be a holodeck. It would configure itself as needed to whatever functionality you needed anywhere on the ship, except with the only exception of intricate machines that it couldn't make.
E: Assuming you had limitless power at your disposal.
B: Every room would become a room of requirement.
E: Pretty much.
B: And all you would need is, give me a holodeck and a replicator, and I'm good. I'm done.
E: Have a nice life.
B: Goodbye everybody.
J: [inaudible] check out at that point. You go into Bob's holodeck, 50 years later, and it would be a Halloween planet. He would have constructed, right?
B: Also, don't go in there with a black light.
J: (laughs) Oh, my God.
B: I saw the joke, and I took it.
J: Holy shit.
S: We encourage anyone who's interested in any of the things we're talking about, anything about futurism and future technology and existing technology and the history of technology, all of that, and sci-fi stuff, to pre-order the book, The Skeptic's Guide to the Future. If you're listening to this after September 27th, you can order the book directly and they'll send it to you. You can get to the links on the SGU page. You go to the /books, and then that takes you to the publisher who has all the actual links to specific sellers. I also will remind you that this is our second book. Don't forget about The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe. That's our first book. It's still selling quite well, actually. Let's get to some actual content.
Forgotten Superheroes of Science (14:37)
- Raye Jean Montague, American naval engineer credited with creating the first computer-generated rough draft of a U.S. naval ship
B: Oh, boy.
S' You're going to do a Forgotten Superhero of Science.
B: Yeah. I haven't done this in a while. So, yes, Forgotten Superheroes of Science. This is Ray Jean Montague, 1935 to 2018, naval engineer and the first female program manager of ships in the United States Navy. In her own words, she said, I'm known as the first person to design a ship using the computer.
B: Montague was inspired early in life when, for her her scientific career, when she was seven, I believe in 1940, her grandfather took her on a tour of a captured German sub. And she said, she's quoted as saying about that experience: "I looked through the periscope and saw all these dials and mechanisms. And I said to the guy who was giving the tour, what do you have to know to do this? And he replied, oh, you'd have to be an engineer. You don't have to worry about that." And the implication, of course, a young black girl is never going to become an engineer. And don't forget, and also this was like in the 1940s. So imagine the attitudes then for somebody like that becoming an engineer. It's almost unimaginable how bad it was. Today it's not great. Back then, oof. But Montague joined the United States Navy in 1955 in Washington, D.C. And she was a clerk typist. And she was sitting right next to the Univac One. Univac One. So if you remember, the ENIAC was the first programmable, electronic, general purpose digital computer. There were other computers at that time that had some of those capabilities. But that was the first one to have pretty much all of that at the same time. And it was completed in 1945. And it was used for the United States Army's Ballistic Research Lab. Of course it was an amazing tool. Of course, it was it was a computer. Univac One was essentially the business version of the ENIAC. That's basically what that was. It was the very first successful civilian computer. And it was obviously, that was a critical piece of the dawn of the computer age. It's a milestone of milestones right there. And she was sitting right next to it. She was working next to it. And the story goes that one day, a lot, all of the engineers called in sick for whatever reason. I don't know if they were really partying the night before. But none of them came in. And she was able to dive right in and accomplish some work on the Univac One because she had seen and she had observed the engineers using it for quite a while. Soon after that, she was studying computer programming at night school. And then the promotions seemed to come very, very quickly for her. She was appointed as a computer systems analyst at the Navy Ship Engineering Center. And then program director for the Naval Sea Systems Command Integrated Design Manufacturing and Maintenance Program. And then division head for the Computer Aided Design and Computer Aided Manufacturing, CAD, CAD-CAM program, and deputy program manager of the Navy's Information Systems Improvement Program. So lots of titles, lots of responsibilities. And then back in 1971, her department was challenged with a task to create a computer generated ship design. Had never really been done before. She pulled together a lot of systems, some automated systems that had been created, pulled them together. And within 19 hours, she had an initial draft for an Oliver Hazard Perry class frigate. Perry class frigate, I like the sound of that. In 19 hours. That made her the first person to design a ship using a computer system. And then after that, she worked on Sea Wolf class submarines, Nimitz class aircraft carriers, and Dwight D. Eisenhower. And just amazing to think she started as a clerk typist, and she ultimately was doing amazing things and breaking ground. And being the first.
J: What a life.
J: Being involved in all those different things, that is fantastic.
B: Amazing. And also, you can imagine the pushback she got being a black woman at that time. So I'm sure that wasn't easy as well.
J: Well, it's a testament to just how unbelievably talented and intelligent she was. She had to blow people's minds in order to get there.
B: Absolutely. And that's a common thread in a lot of these superhero segments that I've done, where they were so superior that it couldn't be denied in a lot of cases. And that's unfortunate that you have to be so amazing just to get the same opportunities that people who are average amazing have. All right. So remember, the United States Navy's hidden figure, Ray Jean Montague. Mention her to your friends, or Jay, mention her to your friend, especially when you're discussing─
J: You're it Bob.
C: It's so mean.
J: It's just Bob.
B: Especially when discussing drawing interchange formats, cattle bar arrangements, or especially geometric modeling kernels.
J: Ooh, I like those.
B: Yes. Thank you.
Are Fake Meats Sustainable? (19:39)
S: All right, Jay, tell us about the future of vat-grown meat.
J: This isn't the future of vat-grown meat. It's more about the difference between plant-based meats and traditional─
S: And meat-based meats?
J: And meat-based meats that are happening today. And the real question here when we compare the two is, how sustainable are these plant-based meats? What is the profile? After doing some research and reading about it, it's pretty interesting how we got to plant-based meats, and then we're comparing the energy and resources that it takes to create them versus traditional meats. So as everybody knows, a lot of people eat meat, and unfortunately, meat demand, if anything, it's just going up. I have to admit, the older I get, I am way more conscious now about my meat-eating usage. I try to lower it as much as possible. And as much as I do love meatballs and everything, I don't let myself go there. It's like maybe once every couple of months at this point, where it was more like every two weeks, which is a big difference for me.
B: Every two weeks is fine.
J: The other thing about just eating traditional meat is that it is─
B: Once a week is fine.
J: ─it takes a significant toll on the environment. Animal agriculture promotes deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, air and water pollution. So eating meat is just not helping global warming, which is getting worse, and everything seems to be getting worse.
S: But just as I have to say, because we've covered this topic before, just to give it more nuance to that, that doesn't mean zero meat consumption is what's optimal. And I know this is controversial, because there are some people who think that that is the case, but when we've done a deep dive on this topic, I think it's a fairer summary is that we should really have a lot less meat consumption, but not zero, because there's an integrated agricultural system where animals are good at converting non-human calories into human calories. So there can be an efficiency there. And they can use land, which is not usable for growing food for people, and they can eat food that people can eat and then convert that into food. And they produce a lot of fertilizer. Half of our food we grow with cattle manure. So if they all went away, that would be a huge problem for the agricultural system.
J: So you're saying there's a healthy balance in there somewhere.
S: There's probably a sweet spot in there somewhere. We're not at it right now, where I think we're just, demand is requiring that we produce more meat than is optimal for the system. But not to imply that there's a consensus that we need to go to zero meat consumption.
B: And there's studies that show that a meat consumption at certain levels is perfectly healthy and is not going to give you a heart attack.
J: So approximately 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock. And like I said, it's only going to go up as demand for meat goes up. They're saying that there will be a 15% increase in meat demand in the next decade. That is significant. That is way more than I would have guessed. Greenhouse gases come from where? When you're talking about grazing animals like sheep, goats, and cows. These animals burp methane that comes from them digesting grasses and the like. So greenhouse gases also happen to come from chemicals that are used to grow feed. So there's lots of things in the industry that are the result of these greenhouse gases. So interestingly, chickens and pigs have much lower gas emissions than cows, which I did not know. They're also better at converting the calories they eat into muscle. So for example, when we compare chickens, pigs, and cows, chickens need to eat about two pounds of feed for each pound of edible tissue gained. Pigs need three to five pounds of feed. And cows need─
B: Per pound.
J: What? Per pound. Yeah, everything is per pound. So a pig needs to eat three to five pounds of feed to make an edible pound. And then cows need six to 10 pounds of feed.
J: So it's a really big difference here.
S: Goats are even worse, they're like 15, 16. And fish are close to one to one.
C: Yeah, fish are the best. Goats and sheep are pretty bad, but they're not consumed in as large quantities across the globe as cows.
J: Just reading these stats, like eat chicken and fish, that's a good shift in your meat right there. Just focus on them. Cows produce six times more gas than pigs and approximately nine times more than chickens. So they are clearly the biggest problem when it comes to grazing animals. So today we have products that simulate the taste of meat. And they're completely plant-based, and I don't know if you guys have ever tried them, but I have.
E: I have.
S: I've tried them all.
J: I'll tell you about it.
S: They taste nothing like meat.
J: So plant─
C: I love Impossible Burger.
E: Taste or texture?
B: Impossible Burger, Steve, you would not know the difference.
S: Oh, absolutely, I would know the difference.
C: No, you'd know the difference, but they're the closest, I think.
B: If somebody gave it to, I've had them. If somebody gave it to me and didn't tell me, I wouldn't even realize it.
J: Yeah, for a hamburger, it's fine.
C: It's just a little bit weinier.
S: That's a separate question. I mean, they taste fine. I would never confuse it for beef. But they taste fine.
C: I think it tastes better than beef.
S: That's different. How good it is is a different question than how much─
B: What do you have on your hamburger?
J: Yeah, the whole shebang.
B: Mayonnaise? Ketchup? Pickles?
J: By the time you put all your condiments like how much are you? So plant-based foods create significantly lower levels of greenhouse gases than meat-based foods. During the 12-hour show, and this is my anecdote, last year, right, when we do that, a year ago last spring? I cooked meatballs for everybody in real time. And I also made Ian, because Ian is a vegetarian, I made him plant-based meatballs. And I got to tell you, legit, they tasted good. They were good. They weren't─
C: What did you use?
J: They weren't beef, but they were a very good flavor and the texture was fantastic. So I wasn't really that disappointed in them.
C: Jay, what did you use?
J: I used Impossible Burger meat.
C: Impossible, okay.
J: I've also had Shepherd's Pie made completely out of Impossible Burger, and that was fantastic. Because it's heavy with spices, so it obfuscates the flavor. So the point of me saying this is you could use plant-based meats in dishes where there's a lot of spices and everything, like for tacos and things like that. You could just think about swapping that in right away because it tastes fantastic. So researchers were able to make a plant-based product that has similar traits as real meat by figuring out exactly what makes meat meat. Why does meat taste like meat? Why does it have the texture that it has? Why does it have the flavors that it has? So as an example, many of the products that they use, coconut oil is a great example. They use coconut oil, I believe, in Impossible Burger because it has a similar animal fats feel in your mouth. Cara, it seems to me like you and I talk about heme quite a bit. For some reason, you and I are always chit-chatting about heme.
J: Hemoglobin. So this heme is the red liquid. This isn't blood. It's the red liquid protein that comes out of meats if you have a steak or even ground beef. If you squeeze it, you see this red liquid come out.
S: It's blood, Jay.
C: By the way, leghemoglobin.
S: It's not a red liquid. It's blood.
J: It's not exactly blood, Steve. It's a part of blood.
S: Yeah, it's a part of blood.
C: It tastes like blood.
E: Watery blood.
C: It's a part of blood, and it's pretty amazing. When I visited the Impossible headquarters for a TV show, I had to taste leghemoglobin, which is the version that they use, the plant-based version they use in Impossible Meat. And it tastes like your mouth is full of blood, like it's gross to just eat on its own. It makes you feel weird.
J: That's right. And you're not supposed to. (Cara laughs) But Cara, the point is, and I want to make this perfectly clear, they made a plant-based version of heme.
C: Well, all plants have it. They just were able to, first they isolated it from soy. And then when they realized that the quantity that they could get was so tiny, they started genetically engineer yeast to produce it, because it's just so much more efficient to do it that way.
J: Yeah. And so they cultivate these yeast, and then they create reactors that the yeast can multiply in. And then it cranks. This is like insulin. You know what I mean? This is, by the way, is how insulin is made. So taking a close look at how much energy is needed to produce these products will answer the overall question that I'm putting to everybody here, is how much better is plant-based meats for the environment than regular meat? So let me give you guys a little bit of a background here. So each ingredient needs to be traced back to where it comes from, from all the processes. There's a ton of processes that they need to get through in order for it to be the final version that's found in plant-based meats. And this is called life cycle analysis. So for example, each ingredient is what? They're farmed, because they're plants, they're transported, and then they're processed. And in each of those three stages, there's a lot of things happening, and that they had to track all of those different steps and every single thing that happens. So each step along the way uses fuel, uses water, uses land, uses chemicals, and they have to total up all this information for each ingredient, and that gives us the final answer. But the snag is, because there's always a freaking snag, is that the information wasn't readily available to these researchers. The companies that make plant-based meats, they're keeping their products and ingredients and all of that information to themselves because it's proprietary. They don't want to say, here's everything that we do and every single process that we use because that is part of their company's business. It does make sense. I don't think they're doing it for malfeasance. They're doing it because they don't want other companies to copy what they're doing. It is their intellectual property. So scientists had to rely on information that these companies shared about their products. That is the one disclosure that I have here. I'm just assuming that they gave a relatively accurate rendition of what's actually taking place. So to get to some numbers, Impossible Burger production only creates 11% of the greenhouse gases produced by the same amount of beef. That is significantly less. Yeah, that's significant. Other plant-based meat producers were showing similar numbers as well. So compared to pork and chicken, pork was 37% of beef and chicken was 57%, which is even better. These numbers are pretty significant when you think about the impact on the environment. Researchers also found that the amount of water used was only 23% of that in beef, 11% used by pork and 24% in chicken for equal amounts of protein. So they're dramatically less. Land use has huge differences as well. Plant based use was 2% of what beef uses for the same amount of protein. 2%. 18% for pork and 23% for chicken. Land use is important because, you know what, land is very important here because there is a potential huge amount of carbon storage that an acre of land can have. And when you're deforesting tens of thousands of acres, unfortunately, of the Amazon, you're getting rid of an incredible amount of vegetation that's holding a lot of carbon. So it all adds up.
S: But again there's always multiple angles here. Land that cattle are grazing on is not rainforest. And so a lot of that land use is not arable land or land that we could be using for agriculture. And there is a separate movement, like another way to mitigate the resource use of cows and meat-based animals.
B: Meat-based animals (laughs)
S: Is to feed them more of the refuse. You don't grow grains to feed them. You feed them the leftover stuff from─
J: From other processes.
S: ─human agriculture. So that is more of like a circular system. So it remains to be seen how far that can go. But there is a huge movement in agriculture to do that. I just read a recent news item about that.
J: Steve, they are clearing Amazon forest for grazing purposes. And soybeans are also huge, very high on the list of what's being grown in former Amazon forest right now. So it is a problem. And they're racking back those.
S: That's a separate problem. Even without animals.
E: For any reason.
S: That's a problem. And even if they're just growing crops, whether animals are in the mix or not, that's the worst thing they could be doing is what they're essentially doing is burning down the forest and then planting crops to get all the nutrients out of that. And then they move on once they.
B: It's not even burning down a forest. They're like burning down libraries, essentially. Because you've got genetic diversity in those rain forests. And they're isolated. You have a genetic diversified area that is unique. And once that's gone, that is gone, it's millions of years of evolution, now gone that we will never retrieve. There could be amazing drugs in there, amazing genetic information that is gone. So it's so far worse than just burning down trees and stuff.
S: There are alternatives, like you can farm the forest. You can plant and cultivate and whatever things that will grow within the forest without having to destroy the forest itself.
C: Yeah, like castanhas, Brazil nut trees, they're really sustainable. It's a great way to harvest things that are already growing there and not disrupt the ecosystem.
S: And they could also use the land they're already using for farming better by planting things which regenerate the soil that are also cash crops. But so they're just not doing it smartly. They're not doing it well.
C: Well, in some areas, people really are doing it smartly, and in other areas there's too much demand and the cost is too high and individuals are going to do what they need to do to maintain their livelihood.
C: So this is way bigger than the boots on the ground in the Amazon. It's the pressure from countries like ours asking for tropical hardwoods and asking for more crops to be grown and more animals to be produced in those areas. Jay, I think it's important to note because I've been looking at the comments that a lot of these lab grown or synthetic meats that try to emulate real meat, the target audience is not people who are already not eating meat because you hear a lot of times people going, it grosses me out. It tastes too much like real meat. I don't want to eat fake meat. It's not for you. The idea that like the CEO of Impossible when I interviewed him, I think Pat Brown is his name, he was very clear, I wanted to develop this so that I could give an alternative to people who are doing the environmental harm, people who are eating large quantities of meat. Exactly. So that they have an option to do better without giving up what they love.
S: So I think the meta problem here is that there are smart agricultural practices. There are optimal agricultural practices. We can get the system to be more circular and work together better. But it's not like there is a world agricultural organization that actually controls what every farmer does. And so what you have is individual farmers making individual decisions that are in their best interest. And a lot of the times it's, well, they're making decisions so they don't starve. They're making decisions so that they don't lose money doing what they're doing. The margins are so razor thin with agriculture. And so they're not necessarily doing what's optimal for the whole system, but we're at a point with eight billion people on the planet where we're already basically using up all the arable land and because of global warming, where we need the whole system to be efficient together. And that's really what we're talking about is moving towards an integrated system that's coordinated and that's optimal. And that may mean having to pay poor people to not do stuff or paying to give them better ways to do things or integrating it better. But again, individuals will make smart decisions for themselves that are not good for the whole system. That's really the problem.
C: That's why we have poaching. That's why we have gold mining in the Amazon, because it's the only option these people have.
J: I think it's fair to note here, there are some drawbacks to plant-based meats. Right now they cost 43% more than products that they're trying to replace, which is a lot. And I did go on, I did some online searching and verified that that's true.
S: Which is another point, like if you're like a poor farmer in Africa, sometimes animal protein is the cheapest, best protein you can get access to. And that's very important for certain people. Again, we can't just look at this from our perspective where we have no issues with getting enough food or calories or high quality proteins or stuff. When most of the world is living on the edge, we have to be very careful about any changes that we make.
J: And right now, plant-based meats are only 1% of the market, which is basically almost nothing. I would just like to say at this point, eat green leafy vegetables, eat beans, eat grains.
J: This is much healthier than predominantly eating meats.
S: Well, it's all about balance, but we definitely should eat more of that, and we are generally in the West.
Why Go Back to the Moon? (38:08)
S: Bob, you're going to talk to us about whether or not we should go back to the Moon. Or why should we go back to the Moon?
E: In a half hour, good luck.
B: Yeah. So 1962, September 12th. What happened? JFK did his, he announced his public plan.
E: The moonshot speech.
B: To put man on the Moon at the end of the decade. Big, big, huge milestone. And now it's 60 years later, 60 years later, and the United States is about to launch the first mission of the Artemis program to go back to the Moon. There's a lot of people that are saying that, ah, let's go to Mars. For example, Apollo 11 astronaut Jay. Michael Collins, he and Mars Society founder Robert Zubrin, both of them have long been advocates of America going directly to Mars and not the Moon.
E: He's biased. When you've been to the Moon, go to Mars.
B: Right? So it's not unreasonable to say, all right, why are we going back? Why repeat what's already been done, been there, done that? Why do we need to go that, to go back there? And one good reason, one of the big overarching reason is Mars practice. We need to practice going to Mars. And it's a test bed in a lot of ways. So there's lots of examples that's part of that. One is radiation. We've talked about radiation many times on the show. The radiation, the cosmic rays, solar particles that are in space for long distance travel are horrific. You could go there and be well, I got my dose of radiation for my entire life now and cancer, all this stuff. It's horrible. And we've talked to NASA people and their attitude is, yeah, we don't have any good solutions right now. The big plan now is to get there fast and then treat it medically and treat the problems as they arise medically and that was it. That was it. So this is a hard nut to crack dealing with the radiation. It's a huge problem and there's no way we can go to Mars right now. It's really no way for lots of reasons, but radiation is a huge one. So now Artemis is planning from its very first mission, they're going to do experiments and studies on what radiation does to living organisms. And they're going to be testing various things like, how about this one? First, I'd never heard about this, an anti-radiation vest. They're looking at an anti-radiation vest. Wow. I want to learn a little bit more about that because that sounds─
E: Just a vest?
B: Well, I mean whatever. I don't know anything much beyond it.
E: It's starting. Make a whole suit out of it, I suppose, at some point. You start with a vest. Is that the point?
B: I don't know. I mean, I guess that's─
S: Well, the thing is there's different tolerances for your limbs and your organs and your thyroid, which is the most vulnerable. So when X-ray techs don't wear a suit, they just wear a vest and they wear a─
E: I see.
S: ─collar. What do you call that? The thing that goes around your neck.
C: A goiter collar? (laughs)
S: Not a goiter.
E: A ascot.
S: There's a name for that. I think the things that go around to protect your neck. So it makes sense, right? Your arms and legs just don't have the vulnerable stuff that your internal organs have.
C: My friend is an IR physician and she wears the vest thing and then she wears these bananas glasses, these really intense goggles when she's doing her work so that she doesn't get radiation in her eyeballs.
S: Yeah, yeah. And also whenever we talk about radiation in space, Bob, I know you know this, but we have to separate out, well, even just like solar radiation from intergalactic cosmic rays. Everything we're talking about, a vest or shielding or whatever is only about solar radiation. There is no shielding for cosmic rays.
E: I'm bombarded by cosmic rays right now.
S: Well, the atmosphere protects us.
E: Well yes, of course.
S: That's what protects us and really, really well. Without an ocean of atmosphere above you or feet of rock or something like that, any shielding that we can devise would actually make the problem worse. It just traps it inside so it bounces around.
B: It does even more damage.
S: You're better off just letting it go straight through.
B: So radiation, huge problem. And so we can learn a lot about how to deal with radiation by going to the Moon first also. So learning to live off the land is another huge thing that we need to learn on the Moon before we can get to Mars. We have astronauts in space right now on the ISS. We've been to the Moon. The Moon is a thousand times farther than the International Space Station. If you have a problem on the space station, no problem. You can get a rocket there relatively quickly. And even on the Moon, if there's a major problem, you're a few days away. But Mars is a completely different beast. You're months away, probably maybe even more than that for worst case scenarios, far worse. So you need to be able to be self-sufficient on Mars and you can test that on the Moon. For example, like there's plenty of ice on the Moon. We can learn to use, we could have drinking water, hydrogen, oxygen, rocket fuel, amazing. Also regolith. There's lots of different things you could do with the regolith of the Moon. So learning to live off the land on the Moon could teach us a lot about living off the land on Mars, which would be critical because you're just so amazingly isolated. Isolation never experienced by any humans ever before. There's also new technology testing. There's lots of new technologies that are coming out. The new spacesuits that are coming out are pretty amazing. If you look at the Apollo spacesuits, they were designed to last just a few missions. That's it. A few Moon walks and that was it. They were like falling apart. They were in bad shape. Now Artemis and Mars is going to have missions that are going to last a lot more than a few days or a week. It's going to be weeks, months, or even potentially years. So it's a completely different beast. So we got to test these new spacesuits. There's also vehicles that they're developing that you're going to need on Mars. So you can test them on the Moon. Pressurized, unpressurized. And then there's energy sources,. Portable nuclear fission systems. I've talked about Kilopower on the show before. That project is developing a fission system. That's 10 kilowatts that could last many, many years. Incredibly beneficial to have a source like that on Mars that could last you for years and you don't have to worry about anything. You don't need solar or any other type of fuel. That's going to be critical. All going to be tested on the Moon. There's also China competition. China has to go into this. NASA feels that we need to settle the Moon in some way before the Chinese. They're planning on settling or having taikonauts on by the year 2030. And the NASA boss, Bill Nelson said this in a recent interview, he said, we don't want China suddenly getting there and saying, this is our exclusive territory. I mean who knows what's going to happen. That wouldn't shock me if they did that, but they want, they feel that they need a presence there before they could be any reasonable kind of claim that another country could have. Plus this whole space between the Moon and the Earth, the cislunar space is going to be a huge competition. It's a hugely strategically important space that you're going to see China, mainly China and the United States kind of like vying for. That's one of the reasons why we're really seriously developing nuclear rockets now, because you need to have mobility in cislunar space. And I love the fact that we're moving away from chemical rockets, but I hate the reason why we're doing it. But NASA is not stupid. They're involved in these nuclear rockets because they feel that once NASA develops them or once the government uses them for cislunar space, they can then take that as the foundational rocket that they could improve and use them to go to Mars. Great, great, great. I love it.
C: You, so Chinese astronauts are actually called taikonauts?
B: Yeah, yeah.
C: That's cool. I like taikonauts. Cosmonauts is cool. Taikonauts is cool. I guess astronauts is cool too. We're just used to it here. Yeah. It's cool.
B: Yeah. I like it. And then the other huge reason is just science, just going to the Moon for just pure science. And it's not just Tang science, right? It's not just that. Astronaut Jessica Mears said, the samples that we collected during the Apollo missions changed the way we view our solar system. I think we can expect that from the Artemis program as well. Obviously, there's going to be tons and tons of new science coming out of these missions over the next 20 years. The science that's going to flow from the Moon back down to Earth is going to be amazing. It's unpredictable. Who knows what we're going to find, but we're always surprised with stuff like that. And if history is any precedent, I think we're going to be even more amazed at what we discover on the Moon from just a purely science perspective. So there's so many reasons to go to the Moon first. And I think it's not just going to be a training platform for Mars. There's going to be a human settlement there for, and there's lots of amazing things that could be done on the Moon. There's so much we can learn and experience there that we can't on the Earth. And I think we just need to go there.
E: Bob, we've talked before about the Moon being the stepping stone to Mars. So is that still, is that still, but is that still the case in a physical sense? Like we're going to launch the Mars mission from the Moon?
B: Yeah, absolutely. And that's one thing I wanted to cover also the gateway station that's going to be orbiting the Moon. That station it's going to be integral to the Artemis mission. And it's going to be, it's a way station. They're going to astronauts are going to ferry from that station to the Moon, but it's also going to then be used as a way point for going to Mars.
S: The big reason for that is the rocket equation. You don't want to do one long trip if you can avoid it. If you could break a long trip up into multiple smaller trips, that's always much better. The rocket equation essentially is that you need the fuel to carry the fuel to carry the fuel. And so it, the amount of fuel you need for any trip, you could calculate, I want to go to from point A to point B in this amount of time. And that includes getting out of a gravity well. You can calculate how much fuel you need. Time is important because it's like you can go really far if you don't care if you get there in 20,000 years, you don't need a lot of fuel. But if you want to get to Mars without overexposing your astronauts to cosmic rays, you want to get there as fast as possible. So actually most of the energy to get from the Earth to Mars is still just getting out of the Earth's gravity well. So if you can get to the Moon, you've already used a big chunk of your fuel. But you're not carrying the fuel to get the Mars off of Earth. You're only going to carry it firing from the Moon. So that's a no brainer. We get to the Moon, we've already spent most of our energy going anywhere. Anywhere in the solar system. You've already spent most of your energy going from the Earth to the Moon. And then the Moon really becomes our launching pad for everywhere else. That's the system that we have to get to.
B: Assuming you're not going to be accelerating all the way or halfway to Mars. It's still a chemical rocket. You can't be accelerating the whoe way.
J: Imagine if we're using the Moon's regolith to make the rocket fuel.
E: The resource itself.
B: Or even the ice.
S: In situ resources.
J: Did you say in situ? I thought it was in situ.
E: It depends if you're carrying it or not.
C: There's multiple ways to pronounce it. I say in situ, like situation. I find that scientists and, or sorry, I find that physicians tend to say situ and scientists tend to say situ.
S: We're scientists.
J: So I'm wrong either way. (laughter)
C: No, I know.
S: I know what you're saying. That's right. I forgive you.
C: You can say situ. That sounds a little weird, but you can say it. No judgment. Parasaurolophus.
J: Yeah, thanks, Cara. I can't, you say that word, my brain literally gets about a quarter of the way through it and then shuts down. Para.
S: All right, but Bob, so here's the devil's advocate question.
B: Oh boy.
S: You say we need to go to the moon in order to get to Mars, but you're just sort of kicking the can down the road. Why go to Mars then? The big, we know this, we've talked about this before. The big devil's advocate question is why not just have robots do everything? Why put people there at all?
J: Oh, come on. First of all humans are explorers. It's part of the way that we operate and there is something romantically profound about traveling the universe.
S: So romance.
J: No, but it is the human condition though. If you want to just look at it by the numbers, sure, we send machines. Machines can do science there and all that. But as romantic as this sounds, what was cooler than putting people on the Moon that humans have done?
S: So I agree with you, but I think we need to go deeper because that's not enough to sell it, to say why we need to spend an order of magnitude more money to send people to do what robots could do much cheaper. Let's put that money into building better robots so that they'll be better able to─
E: So the question boils down to is what can a person do that a robot can't do?
S: Well that's one question. That's not the question. That's one question. And that remains to be seen because right now, yes, if you had a human scientist with instruments on Mars, they could react to what they're discovering, plan a followup experiment. You know what I mean? They could do that all right there. You don't have to say, oh, now we need to design another Rover and in 20 years we'll be able to do the followup experiment to what we just discovered. But of course the co-argument is well robots will get better to do that. But I think, okay, sure. But we'll also get better at putting people into space at the same time. And as we mentioned previously, when we're talking about the book, we will be robots going into the space.
J: At some point, yeah.
S: We will genetically engineer ourselves and we'll be cyborgs and whatever. So it's, should we send people or robots into space? The answer is yes.
S: We'll send both, we'll be both. And I think developing the technology to have biological organisms basically inhabit the universe, I think is a reasonable goal because if we don't, we're limited to this one planet forever. At some point we need to─
E: We're going to break it beyond repair at some point.
S: But even without that concern, I don't think that's, that's not my argument. My argument is not that we're going to destroy the Earth so we've got to go elsewhere. I'm hoping that we don't destroy the Earth. I don't think we're going to. I think eventually, we may make it shitty for a while, but I think as technology advances, et cetera, Earth's always going to be the home of humanity. So even that argument aside, why wouldn't we want to spread out into our own solar system? There's so much to do out there. There's so many resources. There's just so much to learn, so much science to do. And why should robots have all the fun? I also think that we want the ability to have human civilization spread to other locations. There's hundreds of billions of suns in our own galaxy, and we have no idea how common life is. What if we're the only sentient race in the galaxy? It's a lot of space out there that we could expand into.
E: It's a sad thought.
S: I think that's all worth while.
J: We could have a whole planet, Steve, we could have a whole planet where cows could just go crazy. Just go for it.
B: Cow planet.
B: Mars is a robot planet.
J: When you say that, when you talk about like the fact that humans one day will merge with our technology and machines, like I totally agree with you.
Interview with The Everyday Astronaut (53:10)
S: Okay, we're joined now by Tim Dodd, the everyday astronaut. Tim, let's get right to some questions. So what do you think about the Artemis program and the Space Launch System?
TD: I think, okay. So I mean, in general, I'm very happy about Artemis and I think it's an important step to finally start exploring beyond the Earth orbit again for the first time in almost 50 years. Which is just crazy to think about. Literally 50 years ago we were doing stuff that we just haven't done since and that just, it feels so backwards to me. It feels like like humans are, have gone backwards in time almost. So I personally am a really big fan of anything that, even if it's a slow march forward, at least goes in that direction. And the Artemis program is, is for better or worse, kind of currently revolving around the SLS rocket and the Orion capsule. And although those are over budget and slow programs in general, I am still a big fan of the fact that it survived three administration changes now and that's a big deal. And that they're also working with commercial partners for things like the lunar lander, the eclipse missions that, which will be just lunar explorers a little. So it's heavily rooted in in these commercial partners. And I think it's just set up in a way that will go more and more that way. But for now you kind of have that backbone of having the option of humans getting on a more traditional rocket and a more traditional. And at least it's like a, we know at least this is going to be progressing forward. And we know even if it's slow, at least like it's moving. It is moving, you know?
S: Yeah. We have to separate the Artemis mission from the SLS launch system. The Artemis mission is the mission to go to the Moon and do what they want to do on the Moon. The SLS launch system is what they're using to get there. But that doesn't mean they always have to use the SLS. We're kind of committed for now because we've already dumped a lot of money into it and it's ready. It's on the launch pad had to skirt the hurricane. But other than that, they're ready to go. But I agree. I mean, it does look like, I know like just a few, I mean, you probably heard about this, probably even wrote about it. NASA is soliciting more submissions for lunar landers. I know that they already, did they, they officially contract with SpaceX to use?
TD: Yes. Yes. As of last year, I think they were the sole procurement out of three options last year.
S: But they're asking for more. They want more options.
TD: They do. And they originally, most people thought they had down selected two. So it was actually a pretty big shock when they only were able to select, SpaceX. And most of that was because of the price SpaceX was by far the cheapest option, despite being, almost a hundred times more capable than the next options or 10 times more capable than that.
C: Why was that? How were they able to do it so cheaply?
TD: Their Starship vehicle is just so absurdly, so much larger, bigger, more, it's just a way bigger platform. And the scale at which not only they're building, but even manufacturing things t's a whole different ball game. The Raptor engines, they're, I don't even, I can't keep track of how many they built already. It's over a hundred. It might even, I don't even remember. It might be like 150 or something. And that's an engine that really just started doing stuff about three years ago. So in rocket terms, this is insane pace. They're building almost one a day at this point.
S: And it's also deliberately designed to be cheap and reusable. At one point Musk said, we could use like a carbon polymer and that would be lighter and everything, but steel's really cheap. And so they're just building that of high grade steel of the right kind for what they needed for. And steel is still a great material but the choice was because it's the cheapest thing that will get the job done.
C: Shouldn't every rocket be utilizing that kind of mentality? Should we be trying to make everything cheap?
J: The difference between a private company and the government is profound.
C: Right. It's red tape. It's beurocracy.
J: When you think about what SpaceX has been able to achieve just in the idea of reusability, just in that concept alone, the reusability saves, I mean, it's going to easily save trillions of dollars down the road. It's massive.
C: But the messed up thing is, it's a private company that's just using this public funding. So it's this weird thing where the money coming in is the same. There's still tax payer dollars coming in, but then they're able to do everything without the kind of government regulation and bureaucracy.
TD: There's just kind of two things that are a little bit different specifically about the, so basically SpaceX would be doing Starship with or without the government at all with or without a dollar from NASA. As a matter of fact, they're actually beyond matching their contribution to the lander is substantially more than NASA's contribution, which is really backwards. And it's because SpaceX really believes that this is going to be their commercial platform to make this is their bread and butter now. This is going to make it. So their Falcon 9, which is already the cheapest, most prolific launch vehicle right now will look like a child's toy because it will be able to be five to 10 times more capable and fully reusable. So it could bring the cost down by an order of magnitude or more.
C: Is that match overall or is it just for this project? Money's fungible. They take a lot of money from NASA. Do they not?
TD: Yeah, they've won a lot of contracts from NASA.
C: And so overall what percentage of their funding is?
S: Elon Musk had to finance SpaceX for years through failure without.
C: Yeah, that's true.
S: The startup costs almost bankrupted him, but he's like, keep going, keep going. We'll get there eventually.
C: So it'd be interesting to see the accounting over all this time.
TD: I can give you a sense of that 4.3 billion was basically the original contribution from NASA to win is how they got the Falcon nine developed and the dragon capsule originally developed was because, and then they were trying to get out of, they originally were flying the Falcon one when they finally did launch it on their fourth attempt and made it to orbit. That was like every penny was in already like a hundred percent. Every single per private dollar and investors' dollars were 100% in on that rocket. If that rocket failed, SpaceX would not be a thing anymore. Because they won that they ended up winning another other contracts and then they were able to, the first commercial it was at the time of the COT, COTS program, commercial orbital transportation services, which turned into the CRS commercial resupply missions. And so they were one of, at first three, one of the companies failed. Northrop Grumman is still the other company that's procuring and resupplying the international space station currently. And then again, that went into another round, which is the commercial crew program, which is what we're in now with the crew Dragon capsule and Boeing Starliner is the other option that still has not yet to date flown people. And the big thing there is Boeing won almost two times as much money as SpaceX. Most of it for timeline assurance purposes. And despite that, they still haven't flown anyone to date and SpaceX has sent. They're about to send their fifth crew to the international space station already.
C: So, so if you were to put like a, I mean, you probably can't do this quick and dirty on the back of a napkin, but if you were to put like a percentage of like how much of SpaceX overall, their revenue has been self-funded by Elon himself, has been other contracts purely commercially gained and then coming in from NASA. Would you say it's like a third, a third, a third?
TD: So we can count. So they do three to four, about four resupply missions each year with NASA. And they do, they're basically doing every six months with direct crew Dragon. So there's six missions a year and then every now and then they win things like Lucy and a few other things. So probably eight or nine launches are NASA launches most of the time. And those are those are at cost plus contracting. No, those are, I mean, a fixed price contracting, so a bid. And then these days though, SpaceX is going to be launching probably pretty close to 60 launches this year.
C: Holy, is that from Starlink?
TD: Most of it's Starlink.
C: Okay. And so that's, is that making them bank right now or are they still self-funding that and hoping to see [inaudible].
TD: Still self-funding it and seeing it as, well now it's going to be this kind of backbone for so much of the internet. Already we're seeing T-Mobile wanting to use Starlink to be able to use a little bit of their little slice of bandwidth to be able to basically make it so any T-Mobile customer can potentially use their phone anywhere.
C: I have a lot of friends who are living in rural parts of Europe who are already Starlink subscribers because it's so much better than anything they had previously.
TD: Yeah. So this is just the beginning. This is like the Starlink literally 1.0 or 1.5. And these Starlink 2.0 satellites that are meant to launch on Starship, which is the big reason why they're pushing for Starship, is to get these much bigger, much more capable satellites and that will be what's completely changes the game on all of this.
S: So they really want the Starship to be their heavy lift rocket.
TD: And it's going to take over. I mean, as soon as that thing's flying regularly, of course there'll be some some missions are just too vital to put on anything other like if a Department of Defense mission.
B: Military satelite?
TD: Exactly. If there's a military satellite or something that's already been designed and built and paid for Falcon Heavy launch, it's going to be on a Falcon Heavy launch or Falcon 9 launch. There's going to be a handful of those. So you'll see it taper off though because obviously the price wins out at some point. New customers will very quickly be signing up for Starship. And they actually already have. They already have customers. That's how far along they think they are. SpaceX and their customers believe we're within like earshot of Starship actually being an operational rocket. To me, it feels like we'll probably see some big booms here. We'll see some big failures as they test the just the way they test things, it's good enough to see if we can get data out of it and see if, does it survive this initial phase? Can it survive re-entry? And it will be a little while before I think we see it be operational and be something that is flying important payloads other than their own just Starlink stuff. Cause they don't care if they blow up their own Starlinks, it's not a big deal. But I think it's going to be probably two years before we see two to three years before we see Starship really like becoming a routine thing like Falcon 9 is now.
J: That'll be fantastic. It's just good to have multiple companies that have the infrastructure cause there'll be competition, which will help the price go down. And then the more companies that are building it, taht are building spacecraft, the whole spacecraft industry will become less expensive. It'll be more ubiquitous and it'll be a part of everyday life. 60 launches is so many launches. When you think about 20 years ago, if we talked about a company launching 60 launches in one year. That number just seems way too high but it isn't, it's happening and we're lucky that it's there.
TD: And next year they're going for a hundred and I absolutely believe it. I think two years ago, if you said if Elon goes, we're going to do a hundred launches, I'd be, yeah, this is the most hilariously optimistic Elon thing he could have ever said. But now I told, when they say they're going to do a hundred launches, seeing their pace now, it's yeah, they can absolutely probably do a hundred next year.
C: That was a good Elon impression. (laughter)
S: And the SLS is one per year.
TD: One per year at best and between Artemis one and Artemis two, which would be the first time they put crew on board, it'll be two years. There's a two year gap. And some of that is because the vehicle, I think at this point, the SLS will be ready. The next SLS will be ready. But they're actually reusing some of the avionics from the Orion capsule. It's not like they're relying on it because I guess they do have another set of avionics that they had to take it off from Artemis three and bring it on board or whatever. But that is actually one of the turnaround things is it takes 20 months between splashdown and having the Artemis two Orion capsule be ready with that set of avionics.
J: That's mind blowing when you compare that, what SpaceX is doing. SpaceX is an order of magnitude more fleet of foot and capable. And I just feel like even though we've dumped a ton of money into it, they are going to be shifting over to SpaceX and whatever other company is going to be out there because NASA just doesn't have the infrastructure, I guess. They just don't have the bandwidth to do what SpaceX is doing.
TD: Well, NASA shouldn't. NASA should not be developing and operating a rocket, just like the FAA does not operate aircraft. No, the FAA is not out there with our own. Imagine if they ran FedEx and had to run American Airlines and Delta, it would be terrible if they developed their own airplanes and had to operate them and it'd be terrible. And that's what basically what NASA had had to do in the past just because there weren't commercial options. It was too big of an investment upfront. We're talking about billions and billions of dollars to get, especially we see small set launchers like Rocket Lab, Firefly, Astra, all these new small set launchers, but they're maybe in the hundreds of millions of initial investment to get a small orbital rocket. But to get an orbital rocket capable of carrying people, to certify it for human space flight, all of these things. We're talking in the billions and we just didn't have, there wasn't the funding for that 10, 20 years ago. So it was a necessary evil really for NASA to be doing the ones building and designing and operating rockets, but it's just not, they shouldn't be doing that anymore. Much rather my taxpayer dollars get spent towards science missions and exploration and Earth sciences and things like that. And I think they're better off being a customer to a commercial rocket.
J: For sure.
S: The Starship could go to the Moon, right? It's big enough that it could launch off the Earth and go to the Moon.
TD: After refueling in orbit.
S: It has to refuel in orbit? And is that going to be possible? When is that going to be possible I guess I should say.
TD: That's one of the very first things they're going to have to figure out because obviously with the Artemis program, they're relying on this vehicle being able to land on the Moon. So you have right there, you have one of their big contracts for the thing is relying on this orbital refueling and orbital refueling has not been done with cryogenics at this scale at all. I don't know if it's actually ever, if there's been cryogenic transfer really between two vehicles ever. So that's one of the things they have to test out and initially it's going to be just literally transferring it between two different tanks, between the header tank and the main tank. Then they actually want to contract for that as well. So yeah, so it does require, it has such a heavy dry mass, it's carrying around those flaps and the heat shield, all that stuff. Taking that out to the Moon is not the most efficient way to get to the Moon, but you can brute force it by refueling.
S: And using the Starship as a lander, they're just going to get a couple of the Starships to lunar orbit and keep them there to go up and down from the Moon? Is that the idea?
TD: It's still actually quite confusing, honestly, even for me. So they're making a bespoke version of Starship that does not have landing or does not have the big flaps and a heat shield because you'll never need it if you're just between the Earth-Moon system and never coming back. But I'm still not entirely sure how it gets from on the Moon back into lunar orbit and when's it exactly hook up with the Orion capsule? How is it refueled? Where is it refueled? These are the things that we hope to learn in the near future.
S: I haven't been able to wrap my head around it either. I have so many questions that I can't find the answers to anywhere.
B: Well, what does that tell you? That the answers don't seem to be out there, that they're probably almost as clueless as we are about how it's going to be solved? That's scary.
TD: I think there's, well, there's definitely a lot of, especially the way SpaceX does things, they don't typically go too far into that. I mean, obviously they have big aspirations, let's land on Mars, that's ridiculous for now. But they're really looking at what can we do absolute next step. Right now it's let's try to get our full stack off the ground. It might blow up soon after it leaves the ground, but we want to get all 33 Raptor engines firing and fly. And so for them, I think that's literally like most of the companies just focusing on that one thing, especially around the Starship program. And then from there, you don't want to get ahead of yourself, like the waterfall method of computer programming, where you don't want to get like 10 steps ahead because what if step three changes and you have a big change and all that work you did on step 10 is now negated.
J: I was wondering thinking about that, a ship that big, to me craft landing on the Moon, they're small and they're very dodgy. But they want to land a big spaceship on the Moon. Tim, do you know, are they going to actually have to build a stable launch pad for this thing to land on?
TD: That's not currently in the plans as far as I know. The only people that I know was working on some, I think, was it actually Masten? Maybe my Discord will remind me, but someone was actually working on a system that would, you basically inject into the exhaust plume of your rocket engine, you would inject a concrete basically. As it like is landing, it's literally creating its own landing pad.
J: That is freaking science fiction awesome. And if they could do that, could you imagine?
TD: That was the theory. And unfortunately Masten just went under and Masten had some of the coolest engineers and some of the coolest ideas in my opinion, so I'm really sad.
E: Someone else will grab those people and hopefully bring them into their fold.
J: I did read something where they were talking about having to create some type of landing gear for the Moon that was specific, SpaceX was saying that. But then it hit me, but what are we talking about? Because that's a big ship. It's very different. It's a very different landing feet like on the Moon. The other thing, too, is historically we didn't land where we said we were going to land on the Moon.
E: Luck they landed [inaudible].
B: Eleven seconds of fuel left.
TD: So there's a few things there that a lot of the landing stuff, that's why the clips missions, the commercial Leo something, something partner systems or whatever, their job is to literally scout out the landing spots first and they're going to be sent off to, I think there's a lot of them. I think, I don't remember how many, almost half a dozen or something like that at least that are all different lunar landers that will be checking out different landing spots all in the South pole of the Moon. So hopefully that gives scientists a lot better sense of actually where they're landing if it's safe to land, et cetera, et cetera. And map out some of the topography a little bit more accurately. But with Starship. So the thing is right now, the normal Starship is kind of like a whole fleet of potential rockets. You have the normal Starship that's going to be deploying satellites or whatever in low Earth's orbit. You'll have a a resupply version of Starship. You'll have a potentially an expendable version of Starship for going to Jupiter or something where the upper stage is just expended. But the lunar lander specifically will have huge, will have to have big landing gear with a pretty wide stance. Cause this thing is 50 meters tall. So 165 feet tall. So that's high center of mass with the crew cabin up top. So it's, you definitely have to have a way to have a wide stance and be able to level it out. The other consideration for a long time, they're talking about having thrusters, the landing engines actually on the top of the rocket so that it diffuses the exhaust and doesn't create a giant crater with the engines.
J: Exactly. Yeah. Cause that, those engines would, it would blast the hell out of the surface.
S: And how do they get down from the crew cabin at the top to 165 feet down to the Moon?
J: They just jump out. (laughter)
E: And in a few minutes they land.
TD: One sixth gravity. It'd be like falling from 10 meters.
E: It's not going to work.
TD: There's actually a huge elevator, literally the concepts that we've seen is like the side of it opens up and there's a giant just cargo elevator.
J: That's cool. Oh my god. I hope that they send a ship with a camera so we could watch that whole thing happen.
E: You clip yourself to a conveyor belt, it will carry you down. I would imagine.
S: That is 1950 science fiction.
J: That is so awesome.
S: It is. It is. It's like retro future almost because like that that's what we envisioned was it would have these massive ships that have like cranes and all these cool things and just deploy stuff on the Moon is no big deal. And that's when you have this size and the scale of a vehicle you're talking about. That literally is kind of the stuff that you have to employ. And at the end of the day, that's relatively primitive. An elevator? That's a pretty primitive thing, but obviously that elevator needs to work in the lunar environment with dust and regular all that stuff.
C: Is that manual? Or is it like all high tech? Couldn't they just do like a cranky crank crank?
TD: Hopefully they have like a backup, a manual backup, I'm guessing, but I'm not, no details have been talked about at all.
J: Could you imagine they get all the way there and a fricking elevator doesn't work.
E: Well, you just repel down the side of the ship.
S: Well, here's the real question. Will the elevator have muzak while they're descending?
TD: Automatically sinks Bluetooth into some, just horrible muzak. That'd be awesome.
J: So Tim, we, we invited you on. Another reason was we're we have a new book coming out.
TD: I can't wait.
J: So there are some chapters in here that I think you'll be interested in that we wanted to discuss with you. So Steve, what would be the top one?
S: Well, we have a whole section on space travel, so anything in there. Here's a question that we address in the book. I don't know how much you get into the future of space travel, beyond existing technology. But we'd spend a lot of time thinking about that. What's the infrastructure going to look like, not only in 10 or 20 or 50 years, which what we've been talking about, but then where do we go from there and where do we go from there? Have you thought about that much? Where do you think we're headed? When we're zipping around the solar system, what kind of ships are we going to be using? What would you say?
TD: Do you want a 10, 50 and a 100 year prediction?
S:' 10, 50 and a 100.
B: And then a thousand year prediction. Start.
J: And go.
TD: Ten year. I think in the big thing, the big hurdle right now is just getting the cost of getting to space down, period. And that is happening. So I think in 10 years, hopefully the idea of putting something into LEO, to lower its orbit even if it's a large new space station is not so insane that it's just impossible with our capital now. So that opens up the doors of heavier and heavier bigger, heavier things. You can have cheap space hotels. Cheap being still hundreds of millions, but not like billions. Things like that will open up. But I think that even makes it so as Bob might've whispered under his breath, nuclear engines. I would love to see if there is a resurgence of nuclear capabilities, both the United States and the Soviet Union, fully developed nuclear rocket engines. They're amazing. There's no reason we shouldn't be using them, especially it doesn't make a ton of sense in the Earth-Moon system. But as soon as you leave Earth, a nuclear rocket engine.
B: From what I've read, though, there's a real push now for nuclear rockets in the cislunar space because that is such a strategic space and with China is trying to do it as well. And from what I've read, the idea is that if something happens, you need to move a lot of mass very quickly to a different space within cislunar space. And chemical rockets are just not going to be able to handle that. And you need something like a nuclear rocket to move a big satellite from there to there. The plan, I mean, you're right. We have done a lot of research in the sixties and seventies. We had it, we had the rockets, they were being tested, but now they're really, they're developing them now and plan on having test beds in orbit at this decade, they're really pushing for it and it's really the push for control of cislunar space.
TD: The big problem with nuclear rockets though, is there's, well, there's two things they, they run on hydrogen and obviously liquid hydrogen, it has no oxidizer. All you're doing is heating up hydrogen with nuclear fission. Hydrogen likes to boil off. So you really can't, it's not great for longterm. If you're trying to sit it on a satellite for decades, it's going to take a lot of energy just to keep that hydrogen in a liquid state. It's going to want to boil off in a hurry. So it's really uncommon to have like there's ACEs upper stage and a few other upper stages that are looking into literally having basically an internal combustion engine that just sits there and recondenses the hydrogen constantly on orbit. But it's also really heavy. The NERVA engine that the United States developed was so heavy. The only vehicle that could lift it into orbit and the stage accompanying it was the Saturn 5.
B: Oh yeah. We'll be using chemical rockets for launching for a long time. It's just, the thrust is just off the hook and nuclear rockets I haven't seen any plans on using nuclear rockets for an actual launch system. Usually they spew out too much radiation. But what about resupplying if hydrogen boil off is an issue? I mean, I would think just resupplying that in cislunar orbit somewhere between Earth-Moon systems just to resupply that seems feasible.
TD: The big thing I think in my opinion nuclear will be great for sending large just get a bigger rocket out to your cislunar system. Or get a bigger satellite. It'll do the translunar injection. No problem. It can lift say two to three times more mass because you're using a nuclear engine as your kick stage to get out there. But then ditch that big, heavy thing. You have way more, you use a storable propellant like a, a bi-propellant, something that's hydrazine based or something can last decades like Voyager and or use Xeon, use ion thrusters because ion thrusters are, are even more efficient. We're talking thousands of seconds of specific impulse instead of high hundreds, nine hundreds.
B: But the acceleration is shit. You can't move a lot of mass quickly with using an ion engine, right? You can't, that's just not going to happen. The thrust is like the equivalent. What's the iconic example? A piece of paper on your finger. That's the kind of acceleration, but it builds up and builds up and over weeks and months you can have tremendously efficient and you can attain a lot of pretty intense velocity. But my understanding of cislunar space is you need to move a lot of mass fast and nuclear rockets they say is the way to do it into something.
S: So what do you think about a hundred years from now?
TD: Okay. How about so 50, a little bit like more near future. I think we'll just see, you could potentially just see huge, huge, huge things in space. I think nuclear will be great. I think rotation detonation engines are another thing we'll see in the relatively near future. Those are basically engines that don't, rocket engine doesn't actually have any explosions. It's all just a deflagration. It's all a high energy gas, high pressure, hot gas that's flowing really quickly through a D level nozzle. But a rotation detonation engine literally takes and detonates fuel intentionally, but it propagates in a circle, this detonation continually almost around like an aero spike, which is another level of mine. And that makes it so it can be substantially more efficient and makes it so the exhaust is coming out already at hypersonic velocities. So it's, or potentially a hypersonic thing. It would be a technology I'd love to see, but I think by then just hanging out in space, I just really think in 50 years we'll definitely have some substantial, it won't be a big deal to go to space. But I think it's only, I think we're still going to be using scaled up cheaper versions of what we see today, basically. I don't think in 50 years we're going to have some huge breakthrough yet. I think it's still going to be, I mean, physics is physics. And until we figure something out we're just going to be kind of using bigger, cheaper, more commercially available options of what we currently have.
B: So chemical rockets. So for the next 50 years, chemical rockets still. I hope not, I hope you're wrong because I'm hoping for a bunch of nuclear rockets.
TD: Nuclear is still a chemical rocket. I mean, ish, it doesn't have a chemical reaction, but we're using traditional propellants.
B: Well, okay. We don't describe it that way because it's a chemical rocket and then nuclear rocket. And then beyond that.
S: Fusion. I think we have to have a lot of different kinds of rockets, everything optimized for its specific function because rather than trying to have one size fits all, there's just too many specific things we need to do. What do you think of the role of solar or light sails?
TD: It'll be interesting if light sails things like light sails are exciting. Obviously there's a handful that have been flown so far, but they're really, really, really limited right now. They just, you have to have something insanely massive and fold out big fragile thing just to fly around like a shoe box. You know what I mean? It's really hard to scale that up. But things like pointing a bunch of lasers, a huge laser array at like a reflector and shooting that off like to another star or something. I hope that's something we see in the next 50 years.
B: That's our best chance to get there in the next couple of generations is that type of technology. Chemicals not going to do it.
TD: No, no, no, no. That's where definitely not. We've got to have some light propulsion type of thing. And hopefully in after 50 years hopefully we have a better understanding of physics and we learn how to potentially exploit physics or something like that. Cause I feel like we're still making a lot of discoveries about our understanding of our place amongst the stars all everything Higgs boson type of things. And who knows, we might finally understand how to open up like a wormhole in a couple of years.
B: Well. I'm not. That would be wonderful.
S: Couple of thousand.
B: Try not to get my hopes up for that.
TD: I won't be around for it.
S: How long do you think it's going to take us to land a person on Mars?
TD: I used to say 2030. I actually thought there's a decent chance that humans would walk on Mars in 2030. I'm starting to get, I'm getting a bit worn down right now from scrub city, basically. Watching Artemis scrub, watching Starship take longer than, than anticipated. Watching, I mean, just things just take a long time. So I'm not as optimistic about 2030. Anyway, as optimistic about 2030 as I used to be, I think it'll probably be in the 2030s.
S: In the 2030s. That'd be nice.
J: It sounds a little optimistic, but I hope you're right. It really isn't that far off if you think about it. I mean, we're talking about just over a decade.
S: But that requires a lot of things go well and on time. Pretty much between now and then.
B: Unexpected delays.
E: We get the James Webb syndrome going on.
TD: The tail of the dragon is just hard to predict though when you have again if you had tried to predict the success of the Falcon 9 before they had landed a Falcon 9 in 2015, like July of 2015. Actually, June, 2015, when they blew up a CRS seven, I think it was like June 31st</up> or something. 2015. They lost a Falcon 9 in flight. And if you try to predict then what's 2022 going to look like, I don't think anyone in their mind would have said they'll be flying these things 14 times with minimal refurbishment and they'll be flying 60 times that year with the Falcon 9. There's just no way. Even trying to predict what's going to happen in five more years from now is just really hard to predict. And companies like rocket lab too. They're launching, they had a turnaround time of like 15 days recently and they and they're starting to kick butt and ramp up too. So it's just really hard to predict these curves it, it kind of sneaks up on you and you could be off by two years and on either side of that and be completely off by an order of magnitude.
S: All right, Tim, it was wonderful to have you on the show.
B: Yeah man, thank you.
S: You're always a a wealth of information. We'll definitely get you back. Definitely want to get you back when Artemis is getting before we have boots on the ground on the Moon. But we'll be happy to track the whole thing with you.
J: Thank you, Tim.
S: Thanks again.
TD: Thank you guys.
Science or Fiction (1:24:55)
Theme: Past inventions that utterly failed
Item #1: In 1983, in response to the Sony Walkman craze, Audio Technica released the Sound Burger, a portable record player, complete with earbuds.
Item #2: In 1981 a Swedish company marketed an all-plastic bicycle, the Itera, which turned out to be expensive to produce but failed mostly because the weak frame made it too wobbly to ride.
Item #3: In the 1930s architect Buckminster Fuller designed a pre-fab house designed to be inexpensive, quick to build, and ecofriendly, made mostly out of waste cow bones from the beef industry.
Item #4: In 1964, Claus Scholz of Vienna invented a phone-answering robot; however, its ability was limited to picking up and hanging up the phone.
|Fiction||Cow bones pre fab house|
|Science||Portable record player|
|Portable record player|
|Cow bones pre fab house|
|Cow bones pre fab house|
Voice-over: It's time for Science or Fiction.
S: Each week I come up with three science news items, four facts, two real and one fake. And then I challenge my panel of skeptics to tell me which one is the fake. For this episode I have four items. I haven't done that in a very long time, but I had four items and there's a theme of course. The theme is past inventions that utterly failed or past technology that failed to change the future or make it into the future. One of the themes of the book is that you can't, the future is not inevitable. The same way our present wasn't inevitable. It's made by choices that we make individually and collectively, and it's made also by lots of considerations, not just what's the best technology. And so these are just examples, not in the book, so no one has an unfair advantage, just examples of technology that didn't make it through for whatever reason. Okay? And of course one of these is made up, is not true. So Item #1: In 1983, in response to the Sony Walkman craze, Audio Technica. I think it's Technica. Released the Sound Burger, a portable record player, complete with earbuds. Item #2: In 1981 a Swedish company marketed an all-plastic bicycle, the Itera, which turned out to be expensive to produce but failed mostly because the weak frame made it too wobbly to ride. Item #3: In the 1930s architect Buckminster Fuller designed a pre-fab house designed to be inexpensive, quick to build, and ecofriendly, made mostly out of waste cow bones from the beef industry. And item #4: In 1964, Claus Scholz S-C-H-O-L-Z of Vienna invented a phone-answering robot; however, its ability was limited to picking up and hanging up the phone. Okay, we're going to go down the row here, starting with you, Evan.
E: The Sony Walkman one and the Sound Burger, I would like to think that I actually heard about that at some point. I used to be in the audio-visual industry, but I have a feeling it's a conflated memory of some kind. It does sound plausible, there were, I mean, the competition for Walkman at the time absolutely was there, and this is about the time the first, I think, portable CD player was about to come out, so there was a lot of stuff going on in the portable audio world then. I totally believe that that one's right. The next one about the plastic bicycle, never heard about this one before, doesn't mean anything, but turned out to be more expensive to produce but failed mostly because of the weak frame, too wobbly to ride. Well that sounds like that would be the reason why it would fail. I'm not sure about this one, something seems a little off here. The third one about Buckminster Fuller and this prefab home designed to be inexpensive. I had a prefab home once, didn't I? Or one was built in a─
J: Who built that for you?
E: I think Jay, you might have had a hand in that. It's still standing, so well done.
C: What? That's cool.
E: But this one in the 1930s, mostly out of the waste of cow bones from the beef industry, not totally implausible. I mean it sounds ridiculous in a certain way, but I don't know that that's necessarily looking for new building materials or different building materials. I don't have a problem with that one. And the last one about the, this is the funniest one, the robot, you actually, what are you going to make a robot to pick up, I mean that's what would happen though, in that time, 1964, you would have a mechanical arm of some kind that would have to do the physical picking up of the phone. You're not reinventing the phone or anything, it's just the physicality of it. So the least, the one I think is the fiction is the plastic bicycle one, whereas I see some sorts of plausibilities kind of in the other items, this one seems like, Steve, you might think you made it up out of whole cloth.
S: Okay, Bob.
B: Let's start from the bottom, the phone answering machine in 64. Yeah technically possible at that time, but it also makes sense that it wouldn't be able to tap in and really do anything other than pick it up and hang it up. And it doesn't say anything really came of it, so that makes sense because nothing really would have come of that. So I guess I'll say that one's science. Bookminster Fuller. Wow. Cow bones? I don't know. It doesn't strike me as something that, oh no, no way that ever happened, so maybe I'll just go with that one, but it sounds so bizarre. The plastic bicycle kind of makes sense. The one that I had an issue with, the portable record player. How do you keep it from skipping? I think I remember seeing one that was in a car, but that's far different from a portable one, as you say here. So I think this might be a riff-off of the one that was designed for a car. And even that one sounds like it would be problematic, but putting a regular record with a needle on it that's portable? I don't know how that would be designed in such a way. Would it be such a tight fit that the needle couldn't bounce off it? I don't know, for whatever reason, I'll say this one is fiction, it's probably wrong.
S: All right, Jay, what about you?
J: All right, to answer Bob's question, I would imagine, Bob, that you carry this small record player with you and you just put it down, and then the whole problem that you said is you're not going to be riding a bicycle while you're playing it.
B: But walking down the street with a Walkman is kind of a critical component to a portable record player.
E: Right, but it doesn't say.
C: It doesn't say it's a Walkman, it says it's a Soundburger.
J: It's a portable record player, which I took as you take it with you and you plop it down and you play it.
E: And you go to the beach.
B: That may very well be, but it does say, in response to the Sony Walkman.
J: Yeah, but why would anybody─
J: But I think what you're doing, Bob, is you're saying, well, because it's a Sony Walkman craze, that's almost the tricky part here. There's no way that any kind of record player would perform better than a cassette player.
J: I think the idea is it's the portability aspect of it.
B: I get you. That's a reasonable way to interpret it, and mine might be reasonable as well, so we'll see, won't we?
J: The plastic bicycle, of course somebody made a plastic bicycle. The next one, the architect, waste cow bones. I'm going to just stop you right there, Steve. I just, I always wanted to say that to somebody. There's no way that somebody was building houses out of cow bones. I think that one is a fiction.
E: No way, no how.
S: Okay, so Bob is the Soundburger, Jay is the cow bones, Evan is the robot. So Cara─
E: No, I'm the bicycle.
S: Oh, you're the bicycle.
S: All right, so one, two, and three. So Cara, you're up.
E: Go ahead. Take it. Take the last one.
C: I'm not going to pick the robot. Sorry. I'm not going to be that spread out. Jay, I have been with you since the beginning. I've been thinking about this a lot. So obviously someone made a plastic bicycle and obviously it was a piece of crap. And of course you could make a portable record player, whether it was meant to be played on a table or on your hip, it doesn't matter if it was good. You just made it, right? And so of course somebody attempted this. And maybe it was good because maybe Jay's─
B: It doesn't say made it. It said released.
C: Yeah. Okay. They might've sold it to you. There is an entire museum in LA dedicated to crappy products that don't work well that were actually released. I'm not surprised by this. Buckminster Fuller, famously geodesic dome. I feel like maybe that's where Steve's trying to go. We're imagining a geodesic dome made out of cow bones. Buckminster Fuller was a real architect who made amazing stuff and he probably did make prefab houses as early as the thirties. I wouldn't be surprised by that because he was really innovative. I don't think making something out of cow bones is innovative. I think that's rustic. It just doesn't make sense to me. It doesn't fit my impression of him. So to me that's got to be the fiction.
S: All right. Ian, do we have a vote tally from the live audience?
S: It looks like the vast majority went with Jay and Cara with the cow bones. All right. So most people, all the rogues and most of the audience think that number four is science. So we'll start there.
Steve Explains Item #4
S: In 1964, Klaus Schultz of Vienna invented a phone answering robot. However, its ability was limited to picking up and hanging up the phone. Everyone pretty much thinks this one is science.
E: You're going to get us all?
S: And this one is science. This is science. He actually did that. So yeah, he made up, we'll talk about it in a second, but he made a robot. All it did was pick the phone up and hang it down. Didn't do anything. Didn't give a message. Didn't take a message.
B: Technically, it's a phone answering machine.
S: It just picked up the receiver and set it back down.
E: So it's a hang up device. Call comes in, hang it up.
C: It's a phone not answering machine.
S: I'm not sure what utility he thought it would have, maybe for somebody who couldn't physically pick up the phone. And he made like a full robot to do this. Not an arm. A full humanoid robot.
E: What? Why? What would be that purpose?
C: It's like Simone Yates, like all of her cool, shitty robots, just like for fun.
S: Interestingly, 1964 was the same year that they came out with the tape-based answering machine.
E: Oh, interesting.
S: Actual answering machine.
B: And it was also the year they came out with Steve.
S: That's true. (laughter)
B: Three hours, halfway done.
J: All right, guys.
S: The rest of these I'm going to take in order just so I can go through the pictures in order.
B: Oh, boy.
Steve Explains Item #1
S: In 1983, in response to the Sony Walkman craze, Audio Technica released the Soundburger, a portable record player complete with earbuds. Bob, you think this was the fiction. What was it, like 20% or so of the audience think this one is the fiction. And this one is science.
B: Yeah, yeah.
S: So Jay is basically correct. There it is, the Soundburger.
E: Look at that thing.
J: Look at that, Bob. You can't ride a horse with this thing.
S: It was in reaction to the Walkman.
E: Are those 45s?
S: It was in reaction to the Walkman, which was the diversion. That was the red herring, because I wanted you to think, how are you going to walk around with a record player?
B: Yeah, you got me again. Congratulations, Steve.
J: You nailed it.
S: You do have to put it down. And that's why it failed, because you have to put it down on a hard, stable surface. So it doesn't replace the Walkman in any meaningful way.
E: That's got to be battery powered though?
S: It's battery powered.
E: OK, that's something.
S: It has earbuds. Here's the thing. So it basically failed, because of course it did.
E: CDs were just exploding.
S: You know that turntables, that vinyl, is having a resurgence among millennials and younger generation. And apparently, the Soundburger has fantastic sound.
B: No shit.
S: And it's really come into high demand recently.
C: It's funny. I even loved, Steve, that you said it had earbuds. I doubt it had earbuds. I doubt earbuds existed.
S: Well that what it said. No, it said it had earbuds.
C: Oh really?
S: It had earbuds. I didn't make that up.
C: Like, buds?
C: I don't even think those existed then. I'm looking up when earbuds came out.
E: Not wireless.
S: Not wireless, but they were in the ear.
C: No, I know.
[talking over each other]
E: Cara, they had them in the 60s.
C: With a phone.
S: Not headphones.
E: Earbuds. Transistor radios had earbuds.
C: They were like headphones, but they were tiny, like the little phone ones.
E: There's nothing new about that.
S: It had earbuds.
E: Transistor radios had earbuds, too.
S: All right.
E: That looks like a 45 record only.
S: It could play the full ones, too.
E: The 33s?
B: Oh, my god. The full ones?
C: That's funny.
J: So, wait. So, Steve, people are buying those up?
S: Yeah. Yeah.
C: Yeah, I'm not surprised.
S: All right. Let's go to number two.
Steve Explains Item #2
S: In 1981, a Swedish company marketed an all-plastic bicycle, the Iterra, which turned out to be more expensive to produce but failed mostly because the weak frame made it too wobbly to ride. Evan, you think this is the fiction.
E: Yeah, I thought so.
S: This one is science. There it is, the all-plastic Iterra. They made a ton of these things, hundreds of thousands of them, whatever.
E: Sure, why not?
S: The idea was they wanted to make a bicycle out of essentially recycled plastic. To use up all the plastic that was being created. And it looks like a bicycle, but it just was not strong enough. The frame itself would buckle and was wobbly.
J: As if they didn't test their own product before they mass produced it.
S: It's almost as if they didn't engineer it properly.
E: What the hell they didn't put a person on the thing?
S: And so they basically had to throw out hundreds of thousands of these bicycles. They just had to get rid of them.
J: The guy that made the company must have felt great. He's like, I want to take garbage, like plastic out of it.
E: Well, I think he got confused by the term recycle when it came to this. So it became conflation.
J: There you go Evan.
S: All right.
J: All this means.
Steve Explains Item #3
S: All this means that in the 1930s, architect Buckminster Fuller designed a prefab home designed to be inexpensive, quick to build, and eco-friendly, made mostly out of waste cow bones─
J: Look at the bones.
S: ─from the beef industry is the fiction. Somebody in the chat already pointed out that Buckminster Fuller, and Cara, you said it. He did make a prefab house, the Dymaxion. He made it out of chrome.
C: Oh, cool.
S: Made it out of chrome.
B: Oh, I saw that too.
E: I've never seen that.
S: And you could fit the components onto one truck. You could assemble it in two days. That can't include the site work, but assuming the site work is done, you could assemble it in two days. It failed for what I'm reading-
J: Of course it failed. Look at the miserable expression on that guy in the house.
S: It failed for two reasons that I read.
B: It can't take a 75 mile an hour wind?
E: Well, chrome will rust. (Cara laughs)
J: It was too expensive.
E: If it gets chipped, dude.
J: Is it too expensive?
S: No. It was cheap, quick, easy to build, and quick to build. It was too round.
E: Thank you, Lou.
B: Wow, I was joking
S: They couldn't find furniture that would fit well with the round design.
B: Oh, my god. (Evan laughs)
S: But also, it just-
C: How do you hang those window covers? You'd need a car.
S: How do you hang a picture on the wall? And also, it was just too small. The bathrooms were teeny, teeny tiny, and the bedrooms, there was two very small bedrooms. So people just thought it was too small. The shape was too inconvenient to adapt to, and so it never took off for those reasons. But yeah, he designed it to be an eco-friendly prefab, easy to build home. And so when I was coming up with the idea of this as the fiction, I was like, okay, I'll just have to come up with something else he made it out of that's not true. And it took me like seven tries to find something that doesn't exist as an actual house. So people build houses out of cardboard, but of course, it's like specially engineered to be as strong as wood. Peanut shells, recycled glass bottles, sea shells. I had to go through all of these before I wound up, I couldn't find anyone making houses out of bones. So I figured probably because of the creep factor. Bone is actually a good, strong, lightweight material and relatively-
E: Seemed plausible.
S: And not that combustible.
J: If you turned it into like a pulp and then-
S: I'm sure you could. Not even a pulp.
E: Engineered cow bone, kind of.
S: You could make like a cement.
E: Grind it down.
S: Yeah, probably something.
B: Plus you can suck the marrow out of it.
S: But anyway, it's funny how long it took me to come up with something that people hadn't been making houses out of.
S: Okay, Evan, take us home with a quote.
Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:40:32)
This job is a great scientific adventure. But it's also a great human adventure. Mankind has made giant steps forward. However, what we know is really very, very little compared to what we still have to know.
– Fabiola Gianotti, Italian experimental particle physicist
E: "This job is a great scientific adventure, but it's also a great human adventure. Mankind has made giant steps forward. However, what we know is really very, very little compared to what we still have to know." Fabiola Gionatti, Higgs boson physicist.
B: Great name. Fabiola Gionatti.
S: That's a good quote. It's always important to remember that what we don't know is still vastly outweighed.
B: And the more you know, the more you realize, oh man, we know even less than we thought a little while ago.
E: The more we discover, the less we know.
J: I think at this point in my life, I feel like because of my awareness of what I don't know, I feel like I know the least out of any point in my life. It's in a weird way.
B: That's funny.
J: When I was in my 20s, I felt like I knew everything.
E: Right. Because the horizon has expanded.
S: It's the known unknowns. There's greater known unknowns. All right. So that ends this episode. Thank you for joining us for this live streaming episode of the SGU. As always, thank you guys for joining me.
B: Sure, man.
J: Steve, we should do it again.
C: Thanks Steve.
S: We should do it again.
S: In five minutes.
S: —and until next week, this is your Skeptics' Guide to the Universe.
S: Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is produced by SGU Productions, dedicated to promoting science and critical thinking. For more information, visit us at theskepticsguide.org. Send your questions to email@example.com. And, if you would like to support the show and all the work that we do, go to patreon.com/SkepticsGuide and consider becoming a patron and becoming part of the SGU community. Our listeners and supporters are what make SGU possible.
Today I Learned
- Fact/Description, possibly with an article reference
- Popular Mechanics: NASA's Nuclear Thermal Engine Is a Blast From the Cold War Past
- Ars Technica: How sustainable are fake meats?
- Phys.org: Why go back to the Moon?
- Museum of Failure: Sound Burger – portable vinyl player
- Museum of Failure: Itera – the plastic bicycle
- Wikipedia: Dymaxion house
- British Pathé: Austria: Inventor Shows Robot "Servants"
- Cybernetic Zoo: 1957-73 – "MM6", "MM7 SELEKTOR" & "MM8 CONTINA" SELEKTOR – CLAUS SCHOLZ (AUSTRIAN)
- [url_for_TIL publication: title]