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Verge Extras

Special events, discussions, interviews, and one-off shows from The Verge and the Vox Media Podcast Network.

Weekly hand curated podcast episodes for learning

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The Space Shuttle Columbia tragedy: a conversation with my parents who worked the accident

On February 1st, 2003, the Space Shuttle Columbia broke apart over Texas and Louisiana as it returned from a 16-day mission in space. The cause of the accident was a piece of foam that had fallen off the Shuttle’s external fuel tank during launch. The foam struck the left wing of the shuttle, causing serious damage that ultimately led the vehicle to explode when it reentered Earth’s atmosphere. It was the second major failure for the Space Shuttle program, and all seven crew members onboard the vehicle died.It was a tragic moment for NASA, but it was also a tragic time for my family. My parents are retired NASA engineers who spent most of their careers on the Space Shuttle program. They were both working the mission, known as STS-107, the day of Columbia’s scheduled landing, and they were two of the first people to know that something had gone wrong with the shuttle. As soon as there was a sign of failure, both of them got to work on figuring out the cause of the accident. The investigation would keep them at work for many long hours over several months.So for the first half of 2003, I didn’t see my parents that much. I was a freshman in high school and an only child, so I spent a lot of time home alone as my parents exhausted themselves at work. At the time, I didn’t really consider it strange, but my mother told me later that she felt guilty for being away so long. Honestly, my preteen self had begun to crave independence, so I was happy to hold down the fort. The part I didn’t like was seeing my parents in so much pain.Though the Columbia disaster is an important part of my family’s history, I didn’t start to understand or appreciate the engineering involved until I grew up. Nor did I really grasp just how instrumental my parents were in the investigation. Mom helped to create the timeline of events for the accident — a key tool that served as the main point of reference for all the investigators moving forward. Dad worked on the team that came up with the likeliest failure scenario. So they’re the ones that ultimately determined that the foam was to blame. They even figured out the exact spot on the wing that the foam likely hit.Now, 14 years later, I asked my parents to talk to me about their experience. For them, it’s still emotional to recount everything, and my mother still holds some regret. NASA investigated the foam before Columbia returned to Earth, and she feels as if she could have asked more questions. I’ve always told her she shouldn’t feel this way, but she says everyone she worked with still holds some regret. But she also talks about how proud she is of the changes NASA made following the accident, arguing that they became an even stronger team.My parents may be retired now, but they are still extremely fluent in engineer-speak, which means they use a lot of acronyms. I’ve listed a few key terms they use throughout the podcast to use as a guide.RCC: Reinforced carbon-carbon. It’s a super strong composite material that made up the leading edge of the Shuttle’s wings. When NASA saw that a piece of foam had hit the left wing during launch, the engineers were more concerned about any potential damage done to the wing’s tiles. They were less concerned about the RCC, because they thought it was strong enough to handle a blow. NASA later found that the foam had indeed punched a hole in the RCC, which ultimately led to the accident.External tank. This was the large orange tank attached to the bell of the Space Shuttle during launch. It held the liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellant needed for takeoff. The external tank was insulated with foam to prevent it from overheating. It’s this foam that broke off and hit the left wing of the Shuttle.SRB: Solid rocket booster. When the Space Shuttle launched, it had the help of two white solid rocket boosters. The SRBs were attached to either side of the external tank and provided extra thrust needed to get the Shuttle into orbit. Two flights before Columbia’s last mission, a piece of foam broke off of the external tank and dented the bottom of one of the SRBs — similar to what happened on STS-107.MER: Mission evaluation room. This is the room my parents were standing in when the accident occurred. It’s where the engineers who were experts in certain hardware would stay during launch and landing to provide any help to those in Mission Control. Specifically, Mom and Dad were monitoring the wing’s hydraulics, plumbing throughout the Space Shuttle that helps to control certain systems. Just before the accident, hydraulics sensors in the left side of the vehicle were starting to fail, which told my parents right away that something was about to go wrong.Orbiter. Another name for the Space Shuttle. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices

35mins

1 Feb 2017

Rank #1

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Online Reunion | Better Worlds Pt. 1

Welcome to Better Worlds, The Verge's new series of short fiction, audio, and animation that explores how technology can shape our society and environment in better, more equitable ways. "Online Reunion" is part one of five audio adaptations of Better Worlds that will appear in Verge Extras.In “Online Reunion,” author Leigh Alexander imagines a world in which a young journalist is struggling with a compulsive “time sickness,” so she sets out to write a tearjerker about a widow reconnecting with her dead husband’s e-pet — but she finds something very different waiting for her in the internet ether.For more videos, audio adaptations, and written stories from Better Worlds, go to theverge.com. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices

27mins

16 Jan 2019

Rank #2

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How to build your own personal Westworld

Last year in Los Angeles, a mysterious cult began recruiting people through emails, phone calls, and one-on-one consultations. For nine months individuals were drawn into the group’s web of intrigue, discovering that a young woman from Ohio had been taken in and brainwashed. In September, the cult finally opened its doors, and people had the chance to walk its halls and try to find the young woman inside — or die trying.The only thing was, none of it was real.The Tension Experience represented a key moment in the evolution of immersive entertainment. Combining alternate reality gaming, haunted house techniques, and a two-hour immersive theater show, it created what essentially amounted to a mini-Westworld: a persistent, fictional universe where the participant’s choices determined what happened next, and the line between reality and fantasy became so blurred it barely even existed at all.At this year’s SXSW conference, I moderated a panel with the show’s creators: director Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II-IV), writer Clint Sears, producer Gordon Bijelonic, and actress Sabrina Kern. During Horror’s Immersive Future: The Tension Experience, we discussed the evolution of the show, the ramifications for experiential storytelling, and how mediums like immersive theater and virtual reality can impact audiences emotionally in ways that film and television simply can’t.It’s exactly what you’d expect from a show that put hoods over people’s heads, kidnapped them, and asked them to kill other characters on-screen.-Bryan Bishop Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices

1hr 10mins

22 Mar 2017

Rank #3

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Monsters Come Howling in Their Season | Better Worlds Pt. 2

Welcome to Better Worlds, The Verge's new series of short fiction, audio, and animation that explores how technology can shape our society and environment in better, more equitable ways. "Monsters Come Howling In Their Season" is part two of five audio adaptations of Better Worlds that will appear in Verge Extras.In Cadwell Turnbull’s story, “Monsters Come Howling In Their Season,” a journalist travels to St. Thomas in the aftermath of a massive hurricane and sees firsthand how the island’s residents are coping with the help of a community-based AI system called Common.For more videos, audio adaptations, and written stories from Better Worlds, go to theverge.com. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices

27mins

23 Jan 2019

Rank #4

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Why watch people play video games?

About a month ago my colleague Dan Seifert admitted on Twitter to, basically, not understanding me as a person:"i will never understand the fascination with watching other people play video games"Instead of lashing out in his mentions, I sat on that information until the other day when I finally connected with Dan over Skype to hash it all out. Now you can enjoy our conversation in podcast form, thanks to the Verge Extras feed, which you should definitely subscribe to if you haven't already.For reference, here are a few of the Twitch streamers I mention in our conversation: Kripparian, Seagull, Bacon Donut, Giant Waffle, Bjergsen. Also, if you want to watch USA defeat New Zealand in the Overwatch World cup, that’s over on YouTube, or you can dig through the Twitch archives for the rest of the matches.-Paul Miller Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices

22mins

17 Aug 2017

Rank #5

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Astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti on tweeting from space and brewing the first zero-G espresso

Samantha Cristoforetti is an Italian astronaut with the European Space Agency. She currently holds a few spaceflight records — including being the first person ever to brew an espresso in space. In 2014 and 2015, Cristoforetti spent 199 days aboard the International Space Station, where she performed a variety of scientific experiments. She studied generations of fruit flies to chart gene changes in relation to disease; she looked after Caenorhabditis elegans worms used in a Japanese-led experiment; and she tended to plants to study how they grow in microgravity. Cristoforetti was supposed to return to Earth in May 2015, but her stay on the ISS was extended to June after a cargo ship flying on a Russian Soyuz rocket failed to reach the space station. The delay extended Cristoforetti’s stay to 199 days, allowing her to collect the record for the longest single spaceflight by any female astronaut. (NASA astronaut Sunita Williams had previously held the record, at 195 days.) Cristoforetti’s record won’t last for long, though. NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, who’s currently on the ISS, will soon surpass her.One of her records, however, will stay forever. Shortly before retuning to Earth, Cristoforetti used a coffee machine called ISSpresso to brew the first ever espresso in space. She then put on a Star Trek uniform top and used a special zero-gravity cup to sip it. Cristoforetti is not scheduled for another flight to the ISS for now, but she keeps working at the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Germany. Here, she works on new technologies that could one day be used for a future mission to the Moon. She’s “definitely” looking forward to going to space again though. “Hopefully it’ll be my turn again eventually,” she says. In the meantime, The Verge spoke with Cristoforetti about how she became an astronaut, what scientific experiments she performed on the ISS, and what happened to that famous space espresso machine.This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices

19mins

13 May 2017

Rank #6

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The Burn | Better Worlds Pt. 3

Welcome to Better Worlds, The Verge's new series of short fiction, audio, and animation that explores how technology can shape our society and environment in better, more equitable ways. "The Burn" is part three of five audio adaptations of Better Worlds that will appear in Verge Extras.In Peter Tieryas' story, “The Burn,” people around the world fall victim to a mysterious illness called the Burn. Eventually, AR researchers begin to suspect a pattern.For more videos, audio adaptations, and written stories from Better Worlds, go to theverge.com. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices

24mins

30 Jan 2019

Rank #7

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Introducing Better Worlds

Welcome to Better Worlds, The Verge's new series of short fiction, audio, and animation that explores how technology can shape our society and environment in better, more equitable ways. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices

1min

17 Dec 2018

Rank #8

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@dril tweets: a reading of his best work

Last month, Dril published Dril Official “Mr. Ten Years” Anniversary Collection, a 420-page collection of his best tweets of the last decade. And it works because during that same stretch of time, Dril has defined so much of what it’s meant to be online. Please enjoy a reading of his best work, presented by The Verge’s creative director and resident englishman James Bareham. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices

2mins

27 Sep 2018

Rank #9

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Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines controversy explained

Now that President Trump has resurrected the hotly contested Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipelines, here's what you need to know about their pasts — and their futures.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fCPWjg-bXTYHost: Rachel BeckerDirector: Miriam Nielsen & Kimberly MasAudio: Andrew MarinoSpecial thanks to: Mark A. BarteauDirector, Energy InstituteDTE Energy Professor of Advanced Energy Research;Professor , Chemical EngineeringMonte Mills Assistant Professor & Co-Director,Margery Hunter Brown Indian Law Clinic Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices

5mins

30 Jan 2017

Rank #10

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Astronauts Scott and Mark Kelly on NASA’s twin experiment and the future of space travel

Mark and Scott Kelly are the only twins that have ever traveled to space — and their experience will be invaluable if we want to get to Mars one day. The brothers are taking part in what NASA calls the Twins Study — a genetic experiment to see how our bodies change in zero gravity in the long term. That’s important to understand before we put humans on a spaceship and send them on a round trip to the Red Planet.Between 2015 and 2016, Scott spent 340 days on the International Space Station, while his genetically identical twin Mark stayed on Earth to function as a control subject. Before, during, and after Scott’s trip, the brothers have been giving NASA numerous biological samples — blood, saliva, poop, you name it. By comparing Scott’s samples with Mark’s, NASA is trying to understand what long-term space travel does to our bodies. Some preliminary findings have already come out. One study showed that Scott’s DNA changed while he was in space: his telomeres — the protective caps on the end of DNA strands — were unexpectedly longer than Mark’s. (Telomere length can affect aging and age-associated diseases.) Another study showed that there were major fluctuations in Scott’s gut bacteria while he lived in zero G compared to his twin.But we’re still waiting for the bulk of the results, and we might not see those for another year or two. While we wait, The Verge spoke on the phone with Mark and Scott to talk about the Twins Study, whether they’d fly to Mars or the Moon next, and what it feels like to be guinea pigs for the sake of space. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices

15mins

21 Mar 2017

Rank #11

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The delicate science of counting crowds

Here’s how we know how many people were in the crowd for Donald Trump’s inauguration — and why you won’t hear the number on TV.www.youtube.com/watch?v=boOWZXZXINUHost: Russel BrandomDirector: Kimberly MasCamera: Tom ConnorsGraphics: William JoelAudio: Andrew Marino Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices

2mins

26 Jan 2017

Rank #12

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What to do when 20,000 bees unexpectedly swarm your Manhattan skyscraper

theverge.com/2017/6/13/15794060/vox-media-bees-swarm-manhattan-offices Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices

3mins

20 Jun 2017

Rank #13

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VR pioneer Jaron Lanier on dystopia, empathy, and the future of the internet

Jaron Lanier is one of virtual reality’s most recognizable figures. He’s credited with popularizing the term itself, and he co-founded VPL, a short-lived but groundbreaking company that built some of the first commercial VR headsets. Since then, Lanier has been better known for his writing on digital ownership and internet ecosystems, with the books You Are Not A Gadget and Who Owns the Future? But his most recent work revisits the world of ‘80s and ‘90s VR, as well as the rest of Lanier’s life — including his early years on the Texas-Mexico border, his childhood living in a self-designed geodesic dome, and the tumultuous process of founding VPL.Dawn of the New Everything: Encounters with Reality and Virtual Reality debuted last month, and we met up with Lanier to talk about how first-wave VR intersects with present-day reality, why empathy is a double-edged sword, and whether we’ll have to burn down the internet. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices

1hr 1min

8 Dec 2017

Rank #14

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Judges, not Trump, will decide Obama’s environmental legacy

President Donald Trump has vowed to dismantle many of the environmental policies passed under president Barack Obama. But environmental groups and some states are ready to fight back and bring the administration to court.Host: Alessandra PotenzaDirectors: Miriam Nielsen and Kimberly Mas Audio: Andrew MarinoSpecial thanks to: Maria BelenkyDirector, Policy and Research at Climate AdvisersVicki ArroyoExecutive Director, Georgetown Climate CenterDavid DonigerDirector of the Climate and Clean Air Program at NRDC Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices

4mins

20 Jan 2017

Rank #15