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Are We There Yet?

The Space Exploration Podcast

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The power of parachutes

Coming back from space is dangerous. Astronauts in crew capsules are traveling at more than 25 times the speed of sound from space — and need to slow to just a few miles per hour to land safely back on this planet. After punching through our atmosphere, capsules like SpaceX’s Crew Dragon use parachutes to make that final descent to Earth and help the crew land comfortably back on the planet. But parachutes are complex. And it takes an incredible amount of engineering to keep those astronauts safe during re-entry. So what’s it like plummeting from space and landing…alive? We’ll talk to Chris Sembroksi who flew on SpaceX’s Inspiration-4 mission about the sight, sounds and emotions of falling back to Earth. Then, Boeing’s Starliner is set to depart the station after its demonstration mission successfully reached the International Space Station. It’s a big moment for Boeing and NASA. We’ll talk with Frank Slazer, president and CEO of the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration about this moment in spaceflight history and what’s ahead now that NASA can focus on deep space exploration.

28mins

24 May 2022

Rank #1

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Starliner’s redo, part two. Plus, the story of Susan Borman, Apollo 8 commander’s wife

Boeing’s Starliner is set for yet another test mission, a critical step before NASA lets its astronauts fly to space in it. An attempt to launch the capsule designed for NASA’s commercial crew program back in 2019 left the ground — but failed to reach the space station. An attempt at a new mission earlier this year was delayed due to faulty valves on the vehicle used to steer it in space. As Boeing works to work out the kinks, NASA’s other partner SpaceX is sending astronauts regularly to the station. So what’s at stake for Boeing? And why is having two providers so important for NASA? We’ll talk with space policy analyst Laura Forczyk about the pressure Boeing’s Starliner faces. Then, Frank Boreman commanded the first crewed mission around the moon in 1968 — an incredibly risky but critical mission that got the first astronauts to the moon. Boreman and Apollo 8 succeeded, but the mission took a tremendous toll on his wife, Susan. A new book “Far Side of the Moon: Apollo 8 Commander Frank Boreman and the Woman Who Gave Him Wings” examines the role astronauts’ wives played in the space race — and the enormous price they paid. We’ll talk with author Liisa Jorgensen about her book.

27mins

17 May 2022

Rank #2

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What’s at the center of our galaxy?

At the center of our galaxy lies a supermassive black hole. It’s a region of space where gravity is so strong nothing can escape it, not even light. While the name supermassive might make it seem like these things are easy to spot — they’re really not. In 2019, a group of telescopes and scientists managed to image the first ever black hole, one at the center of the galaxy M87. That same group of scientists say they’ve got a major announcement related to our galaxy later this week. To talk more about the Event Horizon Telescope and what it may have spotted, we’ll speak with Josh Colwell, Addie Dove and Jim Cooney — physicists at the University of Central Florida and hosts of the podcast Walkabout the Galaxy. Then, when will humans step foot on Mars? It’s a topic of discussion at this year’s Human to Mars summit, taking place later this month. We’ll talk with Explore Mars CEO Chris Carberry about the challenges that lie ahead and what government agencies and private industry are doing to get people to the red planet.

28mins

10 May 2022

Rank #3

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A new chapter in commercial space & how Elon’s Twitter buy might impact SpaceX

Commercial space company Axiom says it is learning from its first all-private mission to the International Space Station last month and planning more commercial missions to low-Earth orbit.The company launched 4 people to the station last month from Kennedy Space Center on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule. Axiom is planning to build its own space station, first starting with elements attached to the ISS. Rex Walheim is a former NASA astronaut who flew on the final space shuttle mission. He now works at Axiom and joins us to talk about the company’s plans for the future and what it’s learning from this first commercial space flight. Then, SpaceX founder Elon Musk is buying the social media platform Twitter. What could this mean for Musk’s space company? We’ll speak with Quartz senior reporter Tim Fernholz about the implications of the buy.

27mins

3 May 2022

Rank #4

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The case for Uranus: Outlining the next decade of discovery

Every 10 years, the National Academies submits a report, outlining what it thinks NASA should focus on when it comes to planetary science efforts. Uranus came out the big winner. In its decadal survey, scientists recommend NASA send a mission to the ice giant on the outskirts of our solar system. It would be the first mission to the planet since Voyager 2 zoomed by the planet back in 1986. So why Uranus? We’ll speak with Paul Byrne, a planetary scientist at Washington University in St. Louis about the selection and what scientists hope to learn about a flagship mission to this mysterious planet. Then, the decadal also made recommendations for other planetary missions, including the continued exploration of the red planet. We’ll speak with University of Florida astrobiologist Amy Williams about the decadal’s recommendations for Mars explorers and how the group also took a look at diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility in the field of planetary sciences. The next 10 years of exploration! That’s ahead on Are We There Yet, here on WMFE — America’s Space Station.

28mins

26 Apr 2022

Rank #5

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Catching up with NASA’s administrator & keeping an eye on the planet’s health

It’s a busy week for space news. The first all-private crew is set to depart the International Space Station after spending more than a week on board, a new crew of NASA astronauts is set to launch to the station this weekend, and the agency’s next mega moon rocket experienced some troubles during a test at its launch pad, prompting more delays. We’ll speak with NASA administrator Bill Nelson about these stories. Plus, we’ll discuss this week’s astronaut launch to the station, which will send the first Black female astronaut — Jessica Watkins — on a long-duration mission to the ISS. Last week, NASA announced its first Equity Action Plan. We’ll talk about the agency’s efforts to make space more equitable for all. Then, Awais Ahmed wants to measure the health of the planet. His company Pixxel is launching a fleet of satellites with the capabilities to monitor global health, including detecting gas leaks or spotting insect infestations before they can destroy crops. This innovation is made possible in part by affordable access to space. We’ll talk with Ahmed about his company and how commercial space is helping him see the world through a different lens.

28mins

19 Apr 2022

Rank #6

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Private space station missions, Amazon’s big rocket buy and NASA’s next budget. Here’s a rundown of the latest space news stories

The first all-private crew to head to the space station is currently conducting science experiments on board the station. It’s a big milestone for commercial space and is the first of many developments in the private sector taking on a bigger lift when it comes to low-Earth orbit. Coming up, what’s ahead for commercial space? Also, Amazon is getting into the satellite internet constellation biz in a big way with a huge purchase of rockets. What impact will this have on the launch industry? And the Biden administration submitted its budget proposal for NASA’s next budget, and it’s a big one. Who’s the big winner if it passes? And those aren’t the only space news headlines worth talking about. It’s been a busy few weeks on the space beat. We’ll chat with Anthony Colangelo, he covers spaceflight and the aerospace industry on his podcast Main Engine Cutoff.

28mins

12 Apr 2022

Rank #7

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What it’s like when black holes collide

Some nine billion light years away, a pair of black holes are on a collision course. It’s a cosmic waltz that could come to an end in 10,000 years which will shake space and time. It’s now the second possible observation of two massive black holes colliding — and scientists are eager to watch the destruction. It sounds terrifying. So why are physicists so excited for this cosmic crash? Are We There Yet’s intern Beatrice Oliveira reached out to Michele Vallisneri, a physicist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Southern California to find out. Then, could we survive an encounter with a black hole? Theoretical physicist Jana Levine tackles that question in her most recent book Black Hole Survival Guide where, along with sharing some survival tips, she reimagines the way we think and talk about black holes.

27mins

5 Apr 2022

Rank #8

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A new era of space science takes flight thanks to private civilian missions

SpaceX is set to launch another crew of private astronauts from Kennedy Space Center — this time on a ten-day mission to the International Space Station. A former NASA astronaut will command the mission, chartered by private company Axiom, and will fly to space with three other space tourists — an American, Canadian and Israli. Each of those seats for the space tourist crew cost tens of millions of dollars each — and despite the out of pocket cost, those crewmembers will still have to work in space. Researchers are taking advantage of the increased access to space — and human subjects — thanks to these private space missions. The crew have worked with various researchers and organizations before their flight and plan to conduct science while on board. Understanding how the human body is affected by space travel is difficult to understand — so few people have actually gone to space, and those in orbit have packed schedules. That’s why organizations like the Translational Research Institute for Space Health, or TRISH, based out of Baylor College of Medicine, are jumping on the chance to conduct human research on private space participants. We’ll speak with Dr. Jenn Fogarty, TRISH’s Chief Scientific Officer, about this new dawn of space research and how these studies might help get astronauts to places like Mars while also helping us stay healthy down here on Earth. More to the story:  TRISH worked with the Inspiration4 crew for human space science research last year. Read more about those experiments and listen back to a previous episode with researcher Dr. Emmanuel Urquieta.

27mins

29 Mar 2022

Rank #9

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NASA’S new moon rocket has left the building & UAE’s Hope probe tracks a year of Martian weather

NASA’s mega-rocket the Space Launch System has left the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center and made its way to a launch pad, ahead of an uncrewed mission around the moon and back later this year. It’s the first time a moon-class rocket has seen Launch Complex 39B since the days of Apollo and marks the start of NASA’s newest moonshot missions called Artemis. But before it can embark on its first mission to the moon, SLS must go through a critical test called the wet dress rehearsal, simulating the events of launch stopping just short of firing the vehicle’s four main engines and two solid rocket boosters. For more we’ll speak with Are We There Yet intern Beatriz Oliveira, who was at the roll out event last week. And to learn about the mission ahead and what it might be like to fly on SLS we’ll speak with NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik. Then, a Martian orbiter is tracking weather on the red planet. Launched by the United Arab Emirates, the Hope orbiter aims to better understand the atmosphere of Mars and its weather. We’ll speak with lead scientist Hessa Al Matroushi about the mission so far and what the UAE’s first mission to Mars is learning about the red planet.

27mins

22 Mar 2022

Rank #10