The following is a conversation with Chris Mason,
professor of genomics, physiology,
and biophysics at Cornell.
He and colleagues do some of their research out in space,
experiments on space missions that seek to discern
the molecular basis of changes in the human body
during long-term human space travel.
On this topic, he also wrote an epic book
titled The Next 500 Years,
Engineering Life to Reach New Worlds
that boldly looks at what it takes to colonize space
far beyond our planet and even journey out
towards livable worlds beyond our solar system.
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This is the Lex Friedman Podcast,
and here is my conversation with Chris Mason.
You wrote a book called
The Next 500 Years Engineering Life to Reach New Worlds,
and you dedicated to, quote,
to all humans and any extinction-aware sentience.
How fundamental is awareness of death
to the understanding of the existence of life?
And how does it relate to the human condition?
How fundamental is awareness of death and extinction
to the human condition?
I think this is actually one of the most
human-specific traits and features that we have.
It’s actually maybe one of the few things
that only we have and no one else has.
So it sounds scary.
It sounds like what people often don’t like
to think about their death,
except now and again, or at funerals,
or to recognize their mortality.
But if you do it at a species-wide level,
it’s something that is actually
an exemplary human-specific trait that you’re exhibiting.
You think about something that is the loss
of not just your life, or your family,
or everyone you see, but everyone like you.
And that is, I dedicated it because I think
we might not be the last sentience to have this awareness.
I’m actually hoping we’ll just be the first.
But as far as we know, we’re the only.
And I think this is the,
part of the moral thrust for the book
is that we’re the only ones that have this awareness.
That gives us a duty that only we can exercise so far.
So we definitely contemplate our own mortality
at the individual level.
It is true.
When you wrote it, it was really powerful to realize,
for me, that we do contemplate our extinction.
And that is a creative force.
So at the individual level,
contemplating your own death is a creative force.
Like I have a deadline.
But contemplating the extinction of the whole species,
I suppose that stretches through human history.
That’s many of the sort of subtext of religious ideas
is that like, if we screw this up, it’s gonna be over.
And revelation, and every religious text
has some view of either the birth or the death
of the world as they know it.
But it was very abstract.
It was fiction, almost, or in some cases,
complete fiction of what you hope or think might happen.
But it’s become much more quantified and much more real,
I think, in the past several hundred years,
and especially in the past few decades,
where we can see a sense of responsibility
at a planetary scale.
So when we think about, say, terraforming Mars,
that would just be the second planet we’ve engineered
at a planetary scale.
We’re already doing it for this one, just not that well.
Well, yeah, that’s right.
So we’re like a bunch of ants.
Extinction-aware sentience ants that are busy
trying to terraform this planet to make it habitable
so it can flourish.
And then you say that it’s our duty to expand beyond Earth,
to expand to other planets, to find a good backup,
off-site backup solution.
Why the word duty?
It’s an interesting word.
Duty is something that usually puts people to sleep,
I’ll say this.
So duty is a bit like death.
People don’t often like to really think,
wake up in the morning and think,
what is my duty today?
There are some people that think about it every day.
People in active military service wake up,
it’s a very concrete sense of duty to country.
Sometimes you can think about it, though,
in terms of family.
You feel a duty towards your spouse, your kids,
You feel a real duty to them
because you want them to flourish and to be safe.
So we do have this sense of duty,
but very much like death,
you don’t think about it actively.
Usually it’s something that just becomes embedded
in your day-to-day existence.
But I think about duty because people think about duties
for themselves, but there has never been a real
overarching duty that we all feel as a species
for each other and for generations
that haven’t yet been born.
And I think I want people to have a sense of the same love
and compassion and fighting even to the tooth and nail,
whether the way you protect your family,
the way you’d fight for a country, for example,
to feel the same way towards the rarity
and preciousness of life and feel that sense of duty
towards particularly extinction-aware life,
which is just us so far.
This ability that we have this awareness
of not only our own frailty,
which of course is often talked about in climate change
and people think about pandemics,
but other species that we’ve sometimes caused extinction,
but very soon will be even de-extinctifying species
like the woolly mammoth colossus,
a recent startup that’s doing that,
I’m on their advisory board,
and it might happen in three or four years.
So it’s an interesting point in history
where we can actually think about preventing death
at a species-wide level and even resurrecting things
that we have killed or that have gone away,
which brings its own series of questions
of just as when you delete something from an ecosystem,
adding something can be completely catastrophic.
And so there are no real guidelines yet on how to do that,
but the technology now exists, which is pretty extraordinary.
Yeah, I’ve just been working on backup
and restoring databases quite a bit recently,
and you can do quite a lot of damage
when you restore improperly.
So when we bring back the mammoths,
it might be, you have to be careful bringing that back.
The best of science, the best of engineering
is both dangerous and exciting,
and that’s why you have to have the best people,
but also the most morally grounded people
pushing us forward.
But on the point of duty, there’s a kind of sense
that there’s something special to humanity,
to human beings that we want to preserve,
and if that little flame, whatever that is, dies,
that will be a real shame for the universe.
What is that?
What is special about human beings?
What is special about the human condition
that we want to preserve?
Why do we matter?
There are some people who think we don’t.
There are some people who say,
well, humans, take it or leave it.
They think they’re misanthropes,
so the book is, on the one sense, a call to misanthropes
to hopefully shake them out of their slumber,
but there’s some people-
What does the word misanthrope mean?
Just people that dislike humanity there.
They’re just, again, they’re all just-
They’re called nihilists, Donny.
That’s a shout-out for Bigelow fans.
People, they’re like, nothing matters,
and they just apply it more particularly to humans,
but there are endless reasons, I think,
to cherish and celebrate what humans have done.
At the same time, many things we’ve done awfully,
and genocide, and nuclear weapons testing
on unsuspecting citizens in the remote islands.
There are definitely things we’ve done bad,
but the poetry, the music, the engineering feats,
the getting to the moon, and eventually rovers on Mars,
these extraordinary feats
that humans have already accomplished,
and just a sense of beauty, I think,
is something that is-
You can’t ask ants or cockroaches
about their favorite paintings,
or maybe if you could,
it would be very different from ours,
but in either case, there’s a unique perspective
that we carry, and I think-
So that’s something, even just the age-old question,
in biology, I’m a geneticist,
so this comes up a lot of what makes humans unique,
and so is it bipedalism?
Is it our intelligence?
Is it tool-making?
Is it language?
All those things I just listed,
other species have some degree of those traits,
so it’s a question of degree, not of type, of trait
that defines humans a little bit,
but I think for the extinction awareness,
that is a uniquely human trait,
that is, to our knowledge, no other species,
or entity, or AI, or sentience
that carries that awareness of the frailty of life,
of our own life, but all life.
Maybe it is that awareness of the frailty of life
that allows us to be so urgently creative,
create beauty, create innovation.
It just seems like, if you just measure,
humans are able to create
some sort of subjectively beautiful things,
and I see science that way, I see engineering that way,
and ants are less efficient at that.
They also create beautiful things,
but less aggressively, less innovation,
less building, like standing on the shoulders of giants,
building on top of each other, over, and over, and over,
where you’re getting these hierarchical systems,
where you create on greater levels of abstraction,
then you use ideas to communicate those ideas,
and you share those ideas, and all of a sudden,
you have the rockets going out into space.
Which ants have been building the same structures
for millions and millions of years with no real change,
and so that is the key differentiator.
Yet, that’s right.
We’ve got an experiment going right now,
and maybe it’ll change, but.
Well, yeah, we will bring up some extreme organisms.
Another thing you’re interested in.
One interesting thing that comes up much later in your book
is something I also haven’t thought of,
and it’s quite inspiring,
which is the heat death in the universe
is something worth fighting against.
That’s also an engineering problem.
I mean, you seriously look at the next 500 years,
and that’s such a beautiful thing.
Seriously, we’ll talk about the uncertainty
involved with that, and all the different trajectories,
but to seriously look at that,
and then to seriously look at what happens
when the sun runs out,
what happens when the universe comes to an end.
We have an opportunity and a kind of duty,
like you said, to fight against that,
and that was so inspiring to me to think,
wait, maybe we’ll actually,
that’s a worthy thing to think about.
Maybe we can prevent it, actually.
Come up with the best known understanding,
current, of how things end.
We kind of are building an intuition,
and data, and models of the way the universe is,
the way it started, the way it’s going to end.
So our best model of the end,
let’s start thinking about how that could be prevented,
how that could be avoided,
how that could be channeled and misdirected,
and you can pivot it somehow.
That’s really inspiring.
That’s really powerful.
I never really thought about it.
Eventually, all things end,
and that was the kind of melancholic notion
behind all of it.
None of this matters, in a way.
To me, that’s also inspiring to enjoy the moment,
to really live in the moment,
because that is truly where beauty exists,
is in the moment.
But there is a long-lasting aspect to beauty
that is part of the engineering ethic,
which is like, tell me what the problem is,
and we’re going to solve it.
So what do you think about that,
the long scale, beyond 500 years?
Do humans have a chance?
I think we have the best chance of any species,
and actually the best chance that humanity’s ever had.
So I think a lot of people fear that we can
or will kill ourselves.
Actually, my favorite question I ask
at the end of every interview
for every potential graduate student,
medical student, faculty,
whoever I’m interviewing, for whatever reason,
their last question is,
well, how long do you think that humans
or our evolutionary derivatives will last?
And the answers are shockingly wide-ranging.
Some people say, I think we’ve only got 100 years left.
Or some people say billions.
Some people say as long as the universe lasts.
But the person who once said,
it was a medical student, applicant,
who said, I think we’ve only got 100 years left.
And I was like, really, for all of humanity,
everything will be gone in 100 years?
And he said, yes.
And I said, well, sweet Jesus, man, why go to med school?
Why not go sell bananas on the beach?
And then he said, I really wanna make
the last few hundred years count really matter.
And I said, oh, well, that’s actually
kind of, sort of hopeful in a really dark way.
But I think we’ve never been better situated
to actually last for the long term.
We have, even though we’ve also never been
at the greater risk of being able to destroy ourselves
ever since really the first nuclear test,
when they, Tony Orb has a great book
about this called The Precipice,
where The Precipice for Humanity is
at one point we made technologies
that we weren’t sure whether or not
they would destroy the Earth or the entire universe.
So the math was incomplete and there was too much error,
but they tested the bomb anyway.
But it’s an extraordinary place as a species to think,
we now have something in our hands
that may destroy the Earth and possibly a chain reaction
that destroys the whole universe.
Let’s try it anyway as a stage that we’re at as a species.
But with that power comes an ability
to get to other planets to survive long term.
And when you think about the heat death,
that just becomes, that’s an ad infinitum question.
If you keep thinking, well, we survive,
we go to the next sun and then you go to the next sun,
eventually the question will be,
well, if you just keep doing that forever,
at some point the universe either continues to expand
or it could collapse back in itself.
And the heat death is more likely at this point
where it just keeps expanding and expanding,
everything is too far away.
But even in that case,
I think if we had a fundamental knowledge of physics
and space time that you could try and restructure it
quite literally the shape of the universe to prevent it,
I think we would, I think we would wanna survive.
I think, unless we had done the math
and we think that there’s a greater chance
that the next universe would form and make more life,
maybe we would, but even then,
I think humans have always wanted to survive
and you could argue maybe should survive because.
And are able to engineer systems that help us survive.
Yeah, yeah, and always have, yeah.
So what is this though, the Tsar bomb?
Yeah, the hydrogen.
Yeah, there’s nothing more terrifying
and somehow inspiring than watching
the mushroom cloud of a nuclear explosion.
It’s like humans are capable of this.
They’re capable of leveraging the power of nature.
To completely obliterate everything.
And to create propulsion.
I mean, most of the Voyager spacecraft are nuclear powered
because it’s still in many ways the most efficient way
to get a tiny amount of fissile material
and make power out of it.
So they’re still slowly drifting their path to heliosphere.
They’re out now into interstellar space
and they’re nuclear powered.
So it’s like any tool or technology.
It’s a tool or a weapon depending on how you hold it.
Are we alone in the universe, Chris Mason?
What do you think?
So the presumption that you’ve just mentioned
is let’s just focus on our thing.
Yeah, for now.
Well, I think we, as far as we know,
there’s no other sentient life out in the universe
that we’ve found yet.
And I think there’s probably bacteria life out there
just because we found it everywhere we’ve looked on Earth.
It is, and there’s, you know,
halophilic organisms that can survive in extreme salts.
There are cyclophiles that in extreme cold.
There’s, you know, basically organisms that can survive
in really almost any possible environment
that can adapt and find a way to live.
But as far as we know, we’re the only sentient ones.
And I think this is the famous, the Drake equation,
or, you know, how many, where is everyone?
Is that what Enrico Fermi said?
Is that, why haven’t we heard from anyone
if there are these other life forms?
I actually think the question is wrong
to phrase it that way because the Earth
has only been here for 4.5 billion years.
And, you know, life may be only for a few billion
of those years, complex life only for several hundred years,
hundred million years of life we’ve actually had,
you know, and humans only the past few million years
since our last common ancestor.
So it’s not that much time.
But if you think even further back,
the universe hasn’t had that much time itself
to cool and create atoms and have them spread
around the universe, right?
So the current estimate’s 13.8 billion years
of just the whole universe,
but it’s been the first five or six
of those billion years really just like cooling
and making enough of the stars to then make the atoms
that would come from supernovas.
So I actually think we might be the first
or one of the very few or one of the early life forms,
but the universe itself hasn’t had that much time
to make life in a galactic and universal timeframe.
You needed billions of years for the elements
to be created and then distributed.
And we’re only really in the, I think,
the last few billion years where I think even life
could have been made.
So I think the question of where is everyone
is the wrong question.
I think the question is, I think we are the first ones
at the party, let’s set up the liquor,
let’s set up the food.
I just think we’re the first ones at the party of life,
but more people are coming.
One of the early attendees to the party.
Yeah, maybe as far as we know, the first,
but maybe we’ll find someone.
In the local pocket of the universe.
Because the parties then expand and it overflows.
Yeah, that’s right, and then there’s a mosh pit
and then you bump into the other galaxy.
I think the question should be when else
is everyone getting here instead of where is everyone?
I think we’ve just started on the genesis of life
in the universe.
Yeah, so not where you have they or not,
more about when and who and how do we set up the party.
Right, and then how do we help them?
I think it’s an interesting other moral question
is do we, a lot of Star Trek episodes,
the prime directive is you do not interfere
with another planet if you could pass by a planet.
I think it’s time to also revisit that
because what if you go by a planet
and we think that with, as far as we can tell,
enough certainty that they would never be able
to leave their planet and then the sun eventually
would engulf that planet, wherever that planet might be
in some solar system.
But if we had a way to help them, their culture,
their science, their technology,
everything about a different species to survive,
would we not interfere?
I think that would actually be wrong to say,
well, we can save this life here and we decide not to.
We decide after millions and billions of years pass
and we know the sun will engulf that planet,
like what will happen with our planet?
And we don’t interfere.
That’s watching a train hit someone on the tracks
and not moving the train, so.
In terms of the effort of humans becoming
a multi-planetary species, in terms of priorities,
how much would you allocate to trying to make contact
with aliens and getting their help?
And if we look at the next 500 and beyond years,
and just versus option number two,
really just focusing on setting up the party
on our own engineering, on our own,
the genome, the biology of humanity,
the AI collaborating with humans,
just all the engineering challenges
and opportunities that we’re exploring.
I’m focused in my lab, of course,
a lot on the engineering of genomes,
the monitoring of astronauts during long missions.
Reaching out to other aliens,
we’ve been doing reach out to aliens
since the first radio wave’s been broadcast,
so we’re doing some of it, but to do a real.
You made it sound like your lab
is mostly focused on biology,
but you also reach out occasionally to aliens.
Occasionally, when they visit, they bring their whiskey
and we have a drink, but I think we can do,
we’ve been broadcasting into space for,
at this point, almost a century, getting close to,
but it’s not been structured,
so I think it’s very cheap and easy
to send out structured messages,
like what Carl Sagan wrote about in Contact,
doing prime numbers and sending those out
to indicate intelligence.
So there’s things we can do that I think
are very cheap and very easy,
so we should do some of that.
We can walk in, chew gum at the same time.
This is one of the biggest critiques
people often say of space research
and even space flight in general,
is it’s too expensive, shouldn’t we solve poverty,
shouldn’t we cure diseases,
and the answer’s always, as it always has been,
is that you can walk and chew gum at the same time.
You can pass the Civil Rights Act
and go to the moon in the same decade.
You can improve and get rid of structural inequality
while getting to the moon and Mars in this decade,
so I think we can do both.
Yeah, they kinda help each other.
There’s sometimes criticism of ridiculous science,
like studying penguins or something,
or studying the patterns of birds or fish and so on.
Some congressman stands up and says,
this is a waste of taxpayer dollars,
and then someone says, oh, but we,
and for example, CRISPR was pure research for 25 years.
Now it’s a household word,
and students are editing genomes in high school,
but it was just pure research on weird bacteria
living actually in salt, hypersaline lakes and rivers
for decades, and then eventually
became a massive therapeutic,
which has led to curing of diseases in this past year.
And there’s stuff that you discover
as part of the research that you didn’t anticipate
that have nothing to do with the actual research,
like oceanography is one of the interesting things
about that whole field is that it’s a huge amount of data,
neuroscience too, actually,
so you could discover computer science things,
like machine learning things,
or even data storage manipulation,
distributed compute things by forcing yourself
to get something done on the oceanography side.
That’s how you invent the internet
and all those kinds of things.
So to me, aliens, looking for aliens
out there in the universe is a motivator
that just inspires, inspires everybody,
young people, old people, scientists, artists,
engineers, entrepreneurs, everybody.
Somehow, that line between fear and beauty,
Aliens are like perfectly merged, basically.
Because we don’t know.
I mean, for you, let’s start talking
about primitive alien life.
Are you excited by it, or are you terrified?
I want to make a lotion out of it.
I think it’d be great if it’s alien life,
assuming it’s safe, but I’m very excited.
It doesn’t have to be a lotion.
You just said a half sentence, assuming it’s safe.
That’s the fundamental question I’m trying to get at.
If you could, yeah, presuming it’s safe.
So I think, you know, we have this,
this beginning of some planetary protection
is happening now, is we’re gonna send,
we’re bringing rocks back from Mars in 2033,
if all goes according to plan.
But there’s always a danger.
What if you bring this back?
What if it’s alive?
What if it will kill all of humanity?
Or Michael Crichton wrote a book,
The Andromeda Strain, about this very idea.
And it could, but it hopefully won’t.
And the only way you can really gauge that
is the same way we do with any infectious agent
here on Earth, right?
It’s a new pathogen, a new organism.
You do it slowly, carefully.
You often do it with levels of containment.
So, you know, and it’s gonna be,
probably have to be where some pioneers go
and would be, for example, on Mars,
there might be other organisms there
that only get activated once there’s an ambient temperature
and more humidity.
Then suddenly, the first settlers on Mars
are encountering a strange new fungus
or something that’s not even like a fungus,
because it might be a different clade of life,
different branch of life, and could be very dangerous.
Or it could be very inert.
I mean, most of life on Earth is not really dangerous
or harmful, let me go back on this.
Most of life on Earth is neither harmful
nor beneficial to you.
It’s just, they’re making its own way in the universe,
just trying to survive.
It’s when, you know, it’s inside of you
and replicating yourselves and destroying yourselves
like a virus, like COVID, XRCV2,
that it becomes a big problem, of course.
But it’s, you know, just doesn’t really have agency.
It’s just trying to get by.
And so, for example, most of the bacteria
on the table, on your skin, in the subway,
are pretty inert.
They’re just, you know, people hanging around for the ride.
And actually, just because we’re talking
so much trash about viruses,
most viruses are, don’t bother humans.
Yeah, they’re phages.
Almost all, the vast majority of viruses are phages.
There’s this battle in biology that is really dorky,
is that bacteria think that they’re the most,
you know, people who study bacteria
think the bacteria are the most important,
because there’s trillions and trillions of them.
They run a lot of our own biology in our body.
But then people who study phages, they say,
well, there’s 10 times more phages than the bacteria,
which can attack the bacteria and destroy them as well.
So, phage people think that they run the world.
But we need them both.
What do you think about viruses?
So, because you said alien organisms.
Wouldn’t we encounter something like bacteria,
something like viruses, as the first alien life form?
Are they, first of all, are viruses alive or not?
So, by the book definition,
if you pick up a biology textbook,
they’d say, technically, no,
because they don’t have the ability
to self-replicate independently.
But I would think, if you restructure
how you view what life is,
as far as autonomously aggregating
and replicating of information.
For example, AI, at some point,
what if there’s an AI platform that we could consider alive?
Like, at what point would you allow it to say it’s alive?
And I think we have the same definitional challenge there,
is that if it can continually propagate instructions
for its own existence, then it is a version of living.
I think viruses don’t get that category
because they can’t do it on their own.
But they are a version of life, I’d say,
but probably not alive.
Well, they are expressing themselves
and doing so, on occasion,
quite powerfully in human civilization.
So, like you said, at which point
are AI systems allowed to say?
We’re life, we are.
Humans must allow them.
And the viruses didn’t ask for permission
to express themselves to humans,
they just kinda did.
We didn’t have to allow them.
Are they, overall, though, exciting or terrifying to you,
as somebody who has studied viruses?
Well, whenever given two options,
there’s always two more.
I don’t think you do both or neither.
So, here, I’ll say they’re both terrifying and exciting,
I think, to me.
More exciting than terrifying, I think,
if I had to make that sandwich,
and how many layers are meat versus cheese.
There’s a lot more cheese of excitement.
And meat is the fear, apparently,
in this metaphor, apparently.
In the sandwich.
Well, I love both, so it’s a hell of a delicious sandwich.
You quote President Dwight D. Eisenhower in your book,
quote, plans are useless, but planning is essential.
And you provide a thought experiment
called Entropy Goggles.
Can you describe this thought experiment?
Happily, I do this almost every day,
somewhere, when I’m sitting in a given room, I will,
well, a quick comment about that quote, actually,
for all the NASA planning meetings
for the twin study and other missions,
that was often the quote that goes put up on the wall
before we’d sit down for the day to plan the mission.
It was that quote, which I thought was.
Plans are useless.
But planning is essential, which I thought was hilarious
for an official NASA meeting.
But it was because you need to have a plan,
but you have to know that plan might change.
And so I think that’s just a quick context
for that quote.
Craig Kundro, who’s a leader at NASA’s headquarters now,
would always put that first slide up,
and I’m like, hmm, this meeting’s either gonna go
really well or really bad.
I don’t know what’s about to happen.
But it’s an inspiring quote because it’s very true.
In any case, the Entropy Goggles is a thought experiment
I detail in my book, which is,
if you just sit in a room, any room, wherever you are,
and imagine what it will look like in 10 years,
100 years, 500 years, or even thousands of years,
it is a wonderfully terrifying and exciting exercise.
Again, it’s definitely both.
Because you realize the transience of everything.
You think of what might survive.
Almost everything that you’re looking at
will probably not be there in hundreds of years.
It will be, at the very least, degraded,
or it might be changed, altered,
completely different, moved.
It is just, and it’s that trait, though, of humans,
to just sit there and project into the future,
easily, really seamlessly,
with whatever you were doing previously,
is powerful because it shows what can change
and what should change, in some cases,
but also that, left to its own devices,
the universe would, Entropy would come take over,
and really, things would decay.
Things would be destroyed.
But the only thing really preventing,
I think, some of the Entropy is humans,
these sort of sentient creatures
that are aware of extinction, like ourselves.
It’s really one of the only forces in the universe
that’s counteracting the second law of thermodynamics.
It’s Entropy that’s always increasing.
Technically, we’re actually still increasing it
because we emit heat,
and we never have perfect capture of all of energy,
but we’re the only things really actively
and consciously resisting it.
Really, you could say life in general does this.
Ants do this when they build their big homes.
They’re rearranging the universe
to make a nice place for themselves,
and they’re counteracting Entropy.
But we could actually do it in a way
that would be at a large scale and for long-term.
So, but the Entropy Goggles is just a way to realize
how transient everything is,
and just imagine everything that will decay or change
in the room around you.
So, anyone listening, if they’re listening on a train
or they’re driving in their car,
or if someone is listening right now,
looking around, everything can and will change.
And so you, but then, at first, it’s terrifying
to see that, oh my gosh, everything will decay and go away.
But then, I think it’s actually liberating to think,
wait, I can affect this, I can prevent it,
or I can affect it, or I can improve the change
that may occur all by itself, say, naturally.
And so I think it is, but it is that awareness,
again, of the frailty of life,
the ever-insistence in increasing Entropy
that you can address, though.
Actually, I say the same thing
to first-year medical students.
I teach them genetics.
I say, I point early in the course,
I say, here’s all these charts
of how the human body decays over time.
And I call it the inexorable march
towards molecular oblivion,
which the students often find, they kind of laugh at,
oh, because on all the charts, they’re 22 years old,
but older people do not laugh as much
at the thought of molecular oblivion,
but we’re all marching towards it to a large degree.
So this is both a great thought experiment
for the environment around you,
so just looking at all the objects around you,
that they will dissipate, they will disappear with time.
But then it’s also the thing you mentioned,
which is how can I affect any of the world?
Like, you’re one little creature,
and it’s like your life is kind of,
you get dropped into this ocean,
and you make a little splash.
And how do I make it so the splash
lasts for a little bit longer?
Because it ultimately will,
I suppose the wave will continue indefinitely,
but it’ll be such a small impact
that it’s almost indetectable.
And so how do I have that impact at all?
On so many levels, I get to experience this as a human.
Like, I recently had my cold storage hacked
to where it was locked, essentially.
It wasn’t hacked, it was locked.
And so you get to lose all your data.
So for example, if you lose all your data,
if you lose all your online presence,
your social media, your emails,
if you, like, think of all the things you could lose.
In a fire, there’s been a lot of fires in the United States.
If you lose your home,
and it makes you realize, wait a minute,
this is exactly a nice simulation
of what will happen anyway, eventually.
And that eventually comes pretty quickly.
And so it allows you to focus on,
how can I actually affect, what matters, what lasts?
And what brings me joy?
I suppose that the ultimate answer is nothing lasts.
So you have to focus on the things in the moment
that bring you joy,
and that have a positive impact on those around you.
That focusing on something that’s long-lasting is perhaps,
I don’t know, it’s complicated, right?
well, it used to be foolhardy to say,
I want to think,
legacy is often what people think of
as they approach the end of their life.
What is my legacy?
What have I done?
Even younger in life.
But it used to be really foolhardy
to say I could affect something.
People would build a building,
architects would say,
I’m gonna put my name on this building,
and there I’ll have some sense of immortality.
But that’s a fleeting dream.
It’s not, you can’t reach immortality.
And if you could, it would be resource taxing
on everyone else, if you really were.
But I think it’s okay.
I mean, the book’s for the next 500 years,
but I presume I’ll be dead
for the vast majority of that time.
But that is actually the liberating state of mortality,
is you know that you don’t have forever.
So it means what can you do that is the most impactful.
But you can build things that you say,
I want to pass this on to the next generation.
Again, the most obvious thing we do with this
is if people have kids.
But they don’t think of this
as an intergenerational responsibility.
They think of it as, well, I was at the bar one night
and met this hot girl, and then things happened.
Sometimes it’s more planned than that.
But there’s no overarching sense of,
wait, I could have something that
three or four generations from now,
well, that someone will receive this gift
that was planned for them
long before they were born or gestating.
And I think we have that capacity.
And that can be a version of legacy.
But it’s even okay if no one knows exactly who started it,
but that the benefit was wrought by people,
you know, again, hundreds or even thousands of years
after you got it started.
So I think this is something that is,
only really people that are economically secure
can even begin to do this,
where you can say, you know,
think of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs,
where you need to satisfy your physical needs,
all your structural needs, and have shelter.
And so, you know, I’m sitting from a position
of great privilege to be able to pontificate
about what I hope I could do for things
for people that come 200 years from now.
But nonetheless, more and more people can do that.
Humanity’s never been in a better state,
quantifiably, to be able to start to think
about these intergenerational responsibilities.
Yeah, that’s an interesting balance.
Because like, it seems that if you let the ego flare up
a little bit, that’s good for productivity.
Like saying, I can somehow achieve immortality
if what I do is going to be pretty good.
But then, that’s actually being kind of dishonest
with yourself, because it won’t,
in the long arc of history, it won’t matter,
in terms of your own ego.
But it will have a small piece to play in a larger puzzle.
And help people, you know.
Help people many generations from now.
And that they said, there are all these people
who were looking after me before I was ever born.
I think it’s, because it’s a bit of just,
even just, when you go to a campsite,
there’s a camping rule that you always leave
the campsite better than you found it.
So if the fire pit was somewhat damaged
and you got there, you fix it.
If there was no wood, you leave a few bits of logs
for the next person who comes.
And this ethos is something that just picked up
from camping, and so I think if we did that as people,
the world would be a better place,
and the world coming ahead would also be.
That said, with these entropy glasses,
how can you see through the fog?
500 years is a long time.
First of all, why 500 years?
Most people, this is so refreshing.
Because most colleagues and friends I talk to
are, don’t have the guts to think even like 10 years out.
They start doing wishy-washy kind of statements
about, well, you don’t know.
But it’s so refreshing to say, all right,
I know there’s so many trajectories
that this world can take, but I’m going to pick a few
and think through them, and think what,
it’s the, well, it’s the quote, right?
Plans are useless, but planning’s essential.
So why 500 years?
So 500 was a little bit of what I felt like I could see
clearly through the entropy goggles.
I feel like I can’t see.
Which is a contradiction in terms, yeah.
Right, right, right, I can see.
I mean, for example, if you said,
Chris, what’s going to happen in a million years?
Well, I’ll start to describe what happens to,
the moon will be farther away
because it moves several inches away every year.
And so then eventually you can’t have a full lunar eclipse
after a while.
I think about structures of continental change
and things will move.
I could describe some things,
but it starts to become so vague.
It’s just not a useful exercise.
I think if it’s too far out, if it’s too soon,
that’s not that much different
from what people just do with the news and say,
I think this is what the economy might look like
over the next year or two years.
Economists are notoriously not held accountable
when they have really bad predictions.
You can make really awful predictions
and no one seems to care.
You can just make another one next week.
So too short is, I think, not necessarily as helpful.
But 500, I actually, when I was first working on the book
and thinking about the time, I thought,
well, do I do 1,000 or 2,000?
I kept thinking about, the main idea was
if I were to pick this up 500 years from now,
what would it look like?
I changed the number.
If I pick up 1,000 years from now or 100,
and I kept trying to think of what are some timeframes
where really large-scale changes have happened?
And so, in some sense, you could argue
that humans have been mostly the same
for about 3,000 or 4,000 years.
And the best example is this.
You looked at some of the Homer’s poems
or the Greek tragedies in Oedipus, for example.
Humans are really almost identical.
We’re still petty and people have affairs
and people do things they shouldn’t.
People, it’s the same.
You’re saying all those things like it’s bad.
I know, it’s just me.
You read, it’s astounding and, in some sense,
soothing that the Greek tragedies of 2,300 years ago
are very relatable to what happens
in every high school, right?
So, that’s why you read them in high school.
Like, oh, that’s really a clear part
of the human condition.
So, on that sense, some things are really permanent.
But I want to think of, a few reasons I chose 500
is that it’s a timeframe where I could foresee
clear development of some biotechnology
that will get us to a new place,
including missions to Mars that are planned
that will be there and that would start to have
settlements there on the Moon and Mars.
And I could see, also, that by that time,
I think we would have enough knowledge of biology
and technology and space medicine
to start to prepare for an interstellar mission,
to actually send people on a craft
that would have what’s called a generation ship.
People live and die on the same spacecraft
on the way towards a destination.
But I think we need that much time
to actually perfect the technology
and to learn enough about physiology
to be able to make it for that distance.
And the book is kind of focused on the human story.
So, there’s a specific slice of the possible futures.
There could be sort of AI systems.
There could be other technologies
that kind of build up the world.
So much of the world might be lived in virtual reality.
So, you’re not touching any of that.
You’re sticking to biology.
Well, not, you’re touching a little bit,
but focused on what the cells that make up the human body,
how do they change?
How do we design technologies to repair them?
And how do we protect them
and as they travel out into the cosmos?
And it’s something that is part of the duty.
If your duty is to keep life safe,
you have to consider all means to do so.
And engineering life to save itself
is definitely on that list.
I think we can imagine in that timeframe, 500 years,
that we would, there will be AI
that it’s continually advancing.
And I actually say that I’m matter agnostic
So, if your matter is carbon atoms and cells and tissues
and you have cognition, bravo, good for you.
If you’re silicon-based and you’re in chips
and you’re in AI, that’s all virtual.
But we reach a state of well beyond the Turing test
and really clearly intelligent.
Congratulations to you too.
So, I feel like this sense of duty is applicable
regardless of what the state of matter
your cognition is based in.
So, I would imagine that AI platforms
that are really intelligent
might also get a sense of this duty.
Or I hope they would.
I wrote the book.
So, they can carry that flame
of whatever makes humans special.
So, but why nevertheless is so much of your focus
on this human meat vehicle?
Do you think it’s essential?
No, it definitely does not.
It could be, I’m hoping that the AI platforms
that we build or that would become,
that would start to build themselves
would also carry the sense of duty.
Because at that point, they would be life.
And so, whichever means that life,
whatever form life takes, it should have this duty, I think.
Will it have the lessons of genetics, genomics,
DNA and RNA and proteins and the squishy stuff
that makes us human?
Are those lessons a temporary thing that we’ll discard?
Or will those lessons be carried forward?
I mean, like if the machines completely take over,
let’s say, and it’s all-
Not necessarily completely take over,
but either completely take over
or merge with humans in some interesting way
where we, as opposed to figuring out
how to repair cells and protect cells,
we start having some cyborg cells.
I think we will.
There’ll definitely be a blending.
Blending’s already happened.
There’s prosthetic limbs.
There’s cybernetic limbs.
There’s neural link.
Progress being made to blend biology
and cybernetics and machines, for sure.
But I think in the long term,
we’ll see that they are fairly…
The biology would be useful
because it’s a manufacturing system.
All of life is a way to create copies of things
or to replicate information,
including storage of information.
Actually, hard drives are probably one of the worst ways
for long-term storage.
DNA might end up being the best way to have
millennia or even longer scale storage
where you want something that has redundancy
that’s built in and it can store
and can be put at really cold temperatures
and survive even cosmic rays.
DNA might be the best hard drive of the future, potentially.
This is really interesting.
Okay, what is DNA?
What is RNA?
And what are genes?
Yes, we should,
because most, I presume the audience knows it,
but some might just be first-time listeners
There’s a person right now in Brazil
smoking a joint, sitting on the beach,
and just wants to learn about DNA.
So please, can you explain it to them?
DNA, the deoxyribonucleic acid, is the recipe for life.
It is what carries the instructions.
In almost all of your cells,
you have a copy of your genome.
It’s actually the reason I became a geneticist
is because the day I learned that as an embryo,
we start with just a single cell,
but all the instructions that are there
to make every single type of cell in your body,
I was, and still am, endlessly fascinated by that.
That is extraordinary.
That is, to me, the most beautiful thing
in the entire universe.
That is, from one single embryo,
everything is there to make the entire body.
Which aspect of that is most beautiful?
So is it that there is this information within DNA
that’s stored efficiently,
and it also stores information on how to build,
not just what to build.
From all of that, what’s the sexiest,
what’s the most beautiful aspect?
Is it the entire machinery,
or is it just the information is there?
It’s the fact that the machinery is the information,
like that it becomes its own manufacturer
is what is extraordinary.
Imagine if you took a one two-by-four
and you threw it on the ground,
and you said, I’ll be back in a day,
and then a whole house was made when you came back.
I mean, we would all lose our minds.
A lot of people would poop their pants.
People would have to wear adult diapers.
It would be a big scene if that happened.
And we’re actually getting close to that.
People are having autonomous house building.
It’s not quite there yet,
but there are people trying to make robots
that will build entire houses for you.
But you need much more than the block of wood.
That’s the extraordinary thing,
is just to put one piece of wood there
and say, I’ll just leave it there for a few days,
and I’ll come back.
That’s basically what embryos do.
Okay, it takes nine months, a little bit longer,
but still, that is nothing short of magic, right?
So I think that’s what I love about
the fact that DNA carries that information.
Now, the information is static,
so to actually read that information
and to actually put it into motion is where RNA comes in.
So this ribonucleic acid,
so it just has one other oxygen added to it,
versus DNA, but it’s the transcribed version.
It’s like if you look at a book
and you see you have it in your hands,
but then you start to read it aloud,
it becomes the active form of the recipe for life,
is the RNA.
And those RNAs also then get translated to become proteins,
to become active forms like enzymes.
If you think of like your hair
or think of other ways you digest food,
there’s all these active proteins going around
that are copying your DNA, making RNA,
making sure your DNA is safe.
There’s all these built-in systems
to keep your cells in check and working,
and these are often in protein form.
And so genes are really these constructs.
Basically, what are the instruction sets?
Like how many versions of instructions
do you have in your genome?
So the genome is the collection of all the DNA of a person.
For humans, it’s about three billion letters
of genetic code.
So just three billion A, Cs, Gs, and Ts,
these nucleotides that are the recipe for life,
and that’s it.
That is the entire instruction set
to go from that one embryo up to a full human,
which is pretty efficient to say.
That’s actually not that much information.
And in that three billion letters
are snippets of the genes,
which are independently regulated,
autonomous instruction sets, if you will,
these really active forms of the instructions
from your DNA to say, make a protein,
make this RNA, or turn off some other part of a cell.
All those instructions are there in our DNA,
and there’s about 60,000 of these genes
that are in our genome.
So how do those all lead up to you having a personality,
good memory and bad memory?
Some of the functional characteristics
that we at the human level are able to interpret,
the way your face look, the way you smile,
whether you’re good at running or jumping,
whether you’re good at math and all those kinds of things.
There’s an age-old debate of nature versus nurture.
So like most things, if given two options,
you can of course have both.
So almost every trait that we know of in humanity
has mixtures of nurture and nature.
Some of them are purely nurture.
So most people are probably familiar with twin studies,
but twin studies are one of the best ways to gauge
how much is something nurture versus nature,
how much of it is really ingrained
and has probably less ability to change
versus how much can you really train.
So height, for example,
is one of the most obvious inheritable traits,
but it doesn’t have one gene.
It probably has at least 50 or 60 genes
that contribute to height.
So there’s not like a gene for height.
Some people think of like the gene for cystic fibrosis.
Now in that case, that’s true.
There is one gene that if you have mutations,
you get cystic fibrosis as a disease.
But for other traits, they’re much more complicated.
They can have dozens or even hundreds of genes
that influence your risk and what appears.
But from twin studies, you take monozygotic twins,
twins that are identical, and you can clearly tell.
They look, they have the same facial structure,
similar intonation, similar even likes,
and you compare them to dizygotic twins.
Or when you have fraternal twins,
you can have a male and female,
for example, in the same uterus,
and those are dizygotic twins or two zygotes.
So in that case, they share 50% of their DNA,
but they share the same womb.
And then what you can look at is,
what’s the difference between identical twins
versus fraternal twins?
And calculate that difference for any trait.
And that gives you an estimate of the heritability,
or what’s called H-squared.
So that’s what we’ve been doing
for almost every trait in humanity for the past,
you know, 100 years, we’ve been trying to measure this.
And religion is one that’s a negative control.
So if you separate people and see what religion they become,
there’s no gene for religion or what religion you choose.
So often, the correlation there is zero,
because it should be.
It’s a nurture trait.
What religion you end up taking is not encoded in your DNA.
Religion meaning Islam, Judaism, Christianity,
but there could be aspects of religions that’s.
There is religiosity as a trait
that has been studied in twins,
and that has a heritable component to some degree.
So, and things like boredom susceptibility is a trait.
One of my favorite papers just looked at,
how likely is it that people get bored?
And they looked at identical twins and fraternal twins,
and there’s a heritability of about 30%.
So it’s mostly not heritable, it’s mostly environmental,
but that means to some degree,
whether or not you’re bored,
you can say, well, it’s a little bit of my genes.
You could, a little bit, not a lot,
but most traits have some degree,
and they’re probably overlapping with other traits.
Like your boredom susceptibility
versus risk-seeking behavior are interrelated.
So how likely are you to say, I wanna go cliff jumping,
or I wanna go, I wanna do freebasing,
or I wanna, I don’t know, do some else that’s risky behavior.
So speaking of twin studies,
Scott Kelly spent 340 consecutive days out in space
you analyzed his molecular data, DNA, RNA,
proteins, small molecules.
What did you learn about the effect of space
on the human body from Scott?
We learned that space is rough on the human body,
but that the human body is amazingly
and monstrously responsive to adapt to that challenge.
It can rise to the occasion.
So we can see, Scott had, as almost all astronauts do,
a bit of puffiness and spikes in his bloodstream
of these what are called cytokines,
or these inflammation markers of the body
is clearly saying to itself, holy crap, I’m in space.
And liters of fluid move to the upper torso,
and they get a puffy face,
what’s called the astronaut face that is very common,
but it goes away after a few days.
And some astronauts maintain high levels of stress
for their whole mission, as measured by cortisol
or some of these other inflammation markers.
Whereas Scott actually had a little spike,
but then he was cool as a cucumber for most of the mission.
But he had spent, at that time,
it was the longest ever mission for a US astronaut.
A few cosmonauts have gone a little bit longer,
but there’d never been a deep molecular analysis
of what happens to the body after about a year in space.
So it was the first study of this kind.
And what we found is when he got back,
we saw all the same markers of stress on the body
and changes spiked up to levels we’d never seen
for any other astronaut before.
So it seemed like going to space for a year
wasn’t so hard as much as returning to gravity
after a year, it was much harder on the body.
He notoriously broke out in a rash all over his body.
And really, even the weight of clothing on his skin
was too heavy.
It created all this irritation
because his body had not felt the weight
of just a simple T-shirt.
It wasn’t really, it had zero weight, of course, right?
So it went up in space.
So that led to all this inflammation, all these changes.
He was much more comfortable just to walk around nude.
In that case, it was for a medical reason.
Some people do this recreationally.
He was doing it for medical purposes.
I do it for medical reasons as well.
All the time.
I have a prescription, the doctor told me.
So he was allergic to Earth, you can say,
which is fascinating to think about, actually.
How quickly did his body adapt there?
So there it was about three to four days
he got back to normal, at least in terms of the inflammation.
But what’s extraordinary is that we measured
a lot of other molecules, genes, structural changes,
tissue, look at his eyeballs, look at his vasculature.
It took him even six months after the mission,
a lot of the genes that had become activated
in response to space flight were still active.
So things like, we could see his body repairing DNA.
It was being irradiated by cosmic rays
and by the radiation.
It’s the equivalent of giving three or four
chest x-rays every day, just in space.
And we could see his body working hard
at the molecular level to repair itself.
And even in his urine, we could see bits of
what’s called 8-oxyguanosine, a form of damaged DNA
that you could see coming out.
And we see it for other astronauts as well.
So it’s very common.
You could see damaged DNA, the response of the body
to repair the DNA.
But even though he’d been back on Earth for six months,
that was still happening, even six months later.
How do you, wait, how do you explain that?
So some of this has to do with,
when you have a gene get activated,
you might think, oh, it’s like a light switch.
I’ll look at my wall, just flip a light on or off.
And sometimes turning a gene on or off is that simple.
Sometimes you just flip it on because the gene
is already ready to go.
Other cases, though, you have to reprogram
even the structure of how your DNA is packaged,
which is called an epigenetic rearrangement.
In that case, we could see that a lot of these genes
had been, his cells had changed the structure
of how DNA was packaged, and it remained open
even months after the mission.
Now, after about a year, it was actually almost
all back to normal.
99% of all the genes were back to where they were
in pre-flight levels.
So it means that eventually you’ll adapt,
but there’s almost a lag time,
kind of like jet lag for the body,
but jet lag for your cells to repair all the DNA.
What was the most surprising thing
that you found in that study?
There were several surprises.
One is just that the repair, as I just mentioned,
that the repair took so long.
I thought maybe a week or a few days,
he’ll be back to normal.
But to see this molecular echo in his cells
of his time and space still occurring was interesting.
His telomeres was one that was really surprising.
The caps on the ends of your chromosomes,
which keep all your DNA packaged,
and you get half your chromosomes from your mother
and half from your father, and then you go on
and make all your cells.
Normally, these shrink as you get older,
and telomeres’ length is just an overall sign
of aging, getting shorter.
His telomeres got longer in space.
And so it was really surprising
because we thought the opposite would happen.
So that was genetically one surprise.
And also, some of the mutations we found in his blood,
he had less mutations in blood,
as if his body was almost being,
like a low dose of radiation was sort of cleansing his body,
of maybe the cells that were about to die
is one of our main theories on what’s happening.
And of course, you can’t really,
you have theories, but you can’t.
The number of subjects in the study is small.
It’s notoriously one of the lowest-powered studies
in human history, yes.
But what you lack in subjects,
you can make up for in the number of sampling times.
So we did basically 260 samples collected
over the course of three years.
So we really, almost every few weeks,
had a full workup, including in space.
So that was the way we tried to make up for it.
But we’ve tried in other model organisms.
In mice, we’ve seen this.
We’ve looked now in 59 other astronauts.
And in every astronaut that we’ve looked at,
their telomeres get longer in space.
Does that indicate anything about lifespan,
all those kinds of things, or no?
You can’t make any of those kinds of jumps.
I won’t make that jump yet,
but it does indicate that there is a version
of cleansing, if you will, that’s happening in space.
A mixture of, and we see this actually clinically
at our hospital.
You can do a low dose of radiation
with some targeted therapies
to kind of activate your immune cells.
It’s even tried clinically.
So this idea of just a little bit of stress on the body,
or what’s called hormesis,
may prime you into active of cleansing things
that were about to die.
And that includes stress caused by space.
Yes, yeah, apparently.
So how do we adapt the human body to stress of this kind
for periods of multiple years?
What lessons do you draw from that study
and other experiments in space
that give you an indication
of how we can survive for multiple years?
I think we know that the radiation
is one of the biggest risk factors,
and this has been well described by NASA
and many other astronauts and researchers.
And so there, we don’t have to just measure the radiation
or just look at DNA being damaged.
We can actually actively repair it.
This happens naturally in all of our cells.
There’s little enzymes, little protein,
and really many machines that go around
and scan DNA for nicks and breaks and repair it.
We could improve them.
We could add more of them,
or you can even activate them before you go into space.
We have one set of cells in my lab
where you activate them before we irradiate them
to actually prepare them for the dose of radiation.
And now that is what’s called epigenetic CRISPR therapies,
where you can actually,
instead of adding or taking away a gene or modifying a cell,
you just change kind of how it’s packaged.
Like I was just describing that the DNA,
the genes are still there.
We’re just changing how they get used.
And so you can actually preemptively activate
the DNA repair genes, and we’ve done this for cells.
We haven’t done this yet for astronauts,
but we’ve done it for cells.
And a similar idea to this is being used
to treat sickle cell disease and beta thalassemia,
is you can reactivate a gene that was dormant
in a way as a therapy.
So should we make human genes resilient to harsh conditions,
or should we get good at repairing them?
I wanna get good at repairing.
Okay, sorry to interrupt.
I think every time I ask this question,
you have taught me that there’s always a third option.
We’ll say both.
I know for copy, it’s good to just have one big statement,
but you wanna do both, or a third option.
I would want to do electromagnetic shielding.
I would wanna do a fourth option of maybe some other
kind of physical defenses.
They’re outside of the human body.
Yeah, so we’re taking the same passion
to keep astronauts safe that’s outside of them
and just putting it in their cells is what I propose.
And now it’s a bit radical today
because we’re just starting this in clinical trials
to treat diseases on Earth.
So it’s not ready, I think, to do in astronauts.
But in the book, I propose by about the year 2040,
that’s when we’d reach this next phase
where I think we’ll have known enough
about the clinical response.
We’ll have the technology ironed out.
That’s about when it’s time, I think, to try it.
So what are some interesting early milestones?
So you said 2040.
What do we have to look forward to in the next 10, 20 years,
according to your book, according to your thoughts?
A lot of really exciting developments
where if you really want to activate genes,
like I was just describing,
or repair a specific disease gene,
you can actually CRISPR it out and modify it.
This has been already published and well-documented.
But as I was alluding to,
more and more we’ll see people
that just wanna temporarily change your gene’s functions
and change their activity.
So the best example of this is for beta thalassemia.
We all have hemoglobin in our blood
that carries oxygen around.
And when you’re an adult, it’s a different version.
It’s a different gene.
One gene when you’re a fetus called fetal hemoglobin.
When you’re an adult, you have a different gene.
But they both are making a protein that carries oxygen.
When you’re after you’re born,
the fetal hemoglobin gene gets just turned off.
Just goes away.
And you replace it with adult hemoglobin.
But if your gene for hemoglobin is bad as an adult,
one of the therapies is,
well, let’s turn back on the gene
that you had when you were a fetus.
And it’s actually already led to cures
for sickle cell and beta thalassemia in this past year.
So it’s this extraordinary idea of like,
well, you already have some of the genetic solutions
in your body.
Why don’t we just reactivate them
and see if you can live?
And indeed, you can.
So I think we’ll see more of that.
That’s for severe disease,
but eventually you could see it for more,
I think, work-related purposes.
Like if you’re working in a dangerous mine
or in a high-radiation environment,
you could basically start to prime it
for work safety, basically.
We need to genetically protect you.
Now, it would have to be shown
that that genetic option is safe, reliable,
that it’s better, at least as good,
or if not better, than other shielding methods.
But I think we’ll start to see that more
in the next 10, 20 years.
And eventually, as I describe in the book,
you could get to recreational genetics.
You could say, well, I want to turn some genes on
just for this weekend because I’m going to a high altitude,
so I’d like to prepare for that.
And so instead of having to take weeks and weeks
for acclimation, you could just do
some quick epigenetic therapies
and have a good time in the mountains
and then come back and turn them back on.
So this is stuff to do on Earth
across thousands of humans,
and then you start getting good data
about what the effects on the human body are.
How do we make humans survive across an entire lifetime
for, let’s say, several decades in space?
If it’s just in space, it’ll be hard
because you’ll need basically some gravity at some point.
I think you’d need orbital platforms
that give you at least some partial gravity, if not 1G.
If you’re on Mars, it’s actually,
you know, even though the gravity is 38% of Earth’s,
just having that gravity would be enough.
And if you could get under the surface
into some of the lava tubes,
where you have some protection above you from the radiation,
I think that would be,
you probably could survive quite well there.
So I think it’s just in space part that’s hard.
You’d need some gravity.
You need some additional protection from the radiation.
Can you linger on the lava tubes on Mars?
What are the lava tubes on Mars?
Yeah, so they are a bit like what they sound,
like there were large masses of lava
at one point on the planet,
pushing really quickly through the environment.
And they created basically these small caverns,
which you could go in, in theory,
and build a small habitat and then puff it up,
kind of like blowing up a balloon
and have a protective habitat.
Basically, it’s a little bit underground.
So one of the next helicopter missions
being planned at the Jet Propulsion Lab
is to see if you can get a helicopter
to go into the lava tube.
And which is just, as it sounds,
kind of like take out a big worm
that has burrowed into the landscape
and leave out the hollow column that’s left.
And that’s what your tubes look like.
So one of the future helicopters
might even go explore one of them
as a mission being planned right now.
So they’re accessible without
a significant amount of drilling?
Yeah, that’s the other advantage.
Yeah, you can get to them,
because some of them are exposed.
You could do a little bit of drilling
and then see, essentially, this entire cavern.
And that protects you a little bit from the radiation.
Right, because you have some soil above you, basically,
which would be a regolith, which would be nice.
What about source of food?
What’s a good, so that’s part of biology,
how you power this whole thing.
What about source of food across decades?
In space, we’d have to,
plants have been grown in flight
and you can get some nutrients,
but right now, it is very reliant
on all the upmass being sent up,
all the freeze-dried food that then gets rehydrated,
which doesn’t taste awful, but is not self-reliant.
So I think those would have to be small bioreactors.
It’d have to be a lot of work on fermentation,
a lot of work on, essentially, prototrophic organisms,
the organisms that can make all of the 20 amino acids
that you would need to eat.
I describe a little bit in the book,
what if we did a prototrophic human,
where you could have, like right now,
we need to get some of our amino acids
because we can’t make them all,
which I think is kind of sad.
So what if we could make all of our own amino acids
or all of our own vitamins?
And also, I think that’s one case
where another adaptation could be
to activate the vitamin C gene.
Like right now, you’d have to have limes
or some other source of vitamin C in space,
but we actually carry the gene inside of our genome
to make vitamin C.
Look at dogs and cats, for example.
They have these kind of wet noses.
You don’t see them going out and getting margaritas,
although dogs can drink beer and get drunk.
They don’t need vitamin C.
They have no risk of scurvy
because they can make the vitamin C all by themselves.
So can other wet-nosed primates called strepsirines.
But we are dry-nosed primates,
and we lost this ability sometimes
10 or 20 million years ago.
We no longer make our own vitamin C,
but the gene for it, it’s called GULO,
is still in our DNA.
It’s what’s called a pseudogene.
It’s just broken down.
It’s like having a, like in our genome,
we have these functional genes,
like nice BMW, a nice car that works well,
but we also have this like wrecking,
this like junkyard of old cars, old genes,
old functions in our DNA that we could bring back.
And so vitamin C is one of them
that would be very easy to do.
So then you could activate the gene, repair it basically,
repair it so we can make our own vitamin C.
Now we’d have to do it again carefully
because what if we lost vitamin C,
the production of vitamin C as a species?
What if it was a good reason that we lost it?
Maybe it was helping in some other way
that we can’t see now,
but you’d start slowly, do it in cells,
then do it potentially in animal models
and other primates, and then try it in humans.
But that’s something else I’d like to see
so we wouldn’t have to make as much food in orbit.
You could actually start to make
as much of your own food in your own cells.
So the input to the system in terms of energy
could be much more restricted.
It doesn’t have to have the diversity
we currently need as humans.
But I don’t want to be a robot.
Humans love, as I do, texture.
I realize that made me sound like I wasn’t human,
but humans love food and flavors and textures and smells.
All of that is actually attenuated in flight.
You’d want to not forget our humanity
and this love of all the benefits and wonder of food
and cooking and smells.
Well, speak for yourself,
because for me, I eat the same thing every single day
and I find beauty in everything.
And some beauty is more easily accessible outside of Earth.
And food is not one of those things, I think.
What about insects?
The people bring that up,
basically food that has sex with itself and multiplies.
So cockroaches and so on,
they’re a source of a lot of protein
and a lot of the amino acids.
There’s a guy at the American Academy of Natural History
in New York, he loves bedbugs, Lou Sorkin.
And he has a monthly meeting where he talks about
which insects would be the best for eating.
And one month, he gave a whole talk about bedbugs,
that they’re pretty gross,
but in terms of the value of what you can get for protein,
they’re really good.
They’re a good candidate.
I think you’d have to, if you could deep fry them.
If you deep fry anything, you can pretty much eat it.
Some of you need a fryer up in space,
but they’re a candidate.
All right, what, technical question,
what are the major challenges of sex in space?
Asking for a friend for reproduction purposes.
So like, when we’re looking about survival
of the human species across generations.
Do we need gravity, essentially?
For sex in space, we know that gestation can happen
in space, where the babies can develop, at least in mice.
We know that it’s possible for worms to replicate and fly,
so it’s possible for other invertebrates
to show they can make babies in space.
But for humans, NASA’s official stance on this
is that there has never been sex in space, officially.
I think, you know, if we all wonder about that,
I think humans are very predictable in that regard.
Again, going back to the Greek tragedies,
I think that there’s probably someone
did something close to it at some point.
And so I think we know that sperm can be sent into space
and brought back and be used for fertilization,
for in vitro fertilization for humans.
But sex itself in space, you know, would be,
I think when we start to get bigger structures
that have a bit more privacy,
I think there’ll be a lot of it.
And it has to be, you know, this is a big question
of who goes up into space.
It’s now becoming more of, you know, regular,
in quotes, people who have prosthetic limbs
or are cancer survivors like Haley Arsenault
who just went up on the Inspiration4 mission.
So she’s been a great researcher
in helping with a lot of the science from that mission.
We are doing the same analysis on them
as we’re doing for the twin study.
And for other astronauts, we’re doing basically
all the same molecular profile
before, during, and after space flight.
So there, we now know that other people can go into space.
As those more and more regular Joes and Janes go up,
I think we’ll see a lot more of it.
But so far we have no data.
We have no video of it either.
We have no real knowledge other than it would be,
it would need a lot of Velcro,
I think is my only real answer there.
Well, I’m, as a fan of Velcro and duct tape,
I think that’s gonna be, those two are essential
for anything, any kind of engineering out anywhere,
honestly, in all kinds of harsh conditions.
But that is, I mean, on the topic of sex in general,
just social interaction with humans is fascinating.
The current missions are very focused on science
and very technical engineering things.
But there’s still a human element that seeps in.
And the more we travel out to space,
the more the humans, the natural human drama,
the love, the hate that emerges,
it’s all gonna be right there.
It’s a Greek tragedy just in space, basically.
I think it’s gonna be.
Or a reality show.
So what about the colonization of other planets?
If we look at Mars, when you,
first of all, do you think it’s a worthy effort
looking at this particular one planet
to put humans on Mars
and to start thinking about colonizing Mars?
It’s one of the closest options.
It’s not the best option, though, by far.
We put in the book measures of Earth Similarity Index,
or something called ESI, is how close is the gravity,
the temperature, the solar incidence on the surface,
how close is it to Earth is a calculation
many astronomers make when they look for exoplanets.
And Mars is pretty far away from an ESI of about 0.7.
I mean, Earth is one, so the best you can get is one.
Earth is just like Earth.
It gets a score of one.
Anything above some of the best exoplanets
that are in the habitable zone,
where there’s liquid water that could be there,
start to get above 0.8 or 0.9,
but most planets are very low.
They’re 0.1, 0.2.
They’re either way too big,
and we have crushing gravity,
or way too small, too close to a sun.
But Mars is, even though it’s not that great
on the ESI scale, it is still relatively close,
galactically, and Venus is just too hot right now.
So I think Venus would also be a great candidate,
but it’s much easier to survive in a place
where it’s very cold, but you can be sealed and survive,
whereas we probably just have no technology
to survive anywhere except in the clouds of Venus.
So it’s just currently our best option,
but it’s not the best option for sure.
So over time, the ESI changes across millennia.
So Venus is gonna get cooler and cooler.
Okay, but what are the big challenges to you
in colonizing Mars, from a biology perspective,
from a human perspective, from an engineering perspective?
There’s several big challenges to Mars,
and even the first one is even just the word colonize.
So I think there’s even a social challenge.
Like a lot of people, Daniel Wood actually studies this
at MIT, is we shouldn’t even use the word colonize,
but then we probably shouldn’t use the word settle either,
because there’s settlements that have some other baggage
to that word as well.
And then maybe we should use the word explore,
but at some point you need to say,
we’re going there to survive there.
And so colonization still is the word most people use,
but I try to say go explore and build or settle.
But I think the first challenge is social.
I think getting people to think
that this will not be like the colonization efforts
of the past.
The hope is that this will be a very different version
of humanity exploring.
That’s my hope.
History, you could say, has proved me wrong
every single time.
Every time humans have gone somewhere,
it’s usually been a tale of exploitation,
strife, and drama again, and often murder, genocide.
It’s actually a pretty dark history,
if you think of just all the colonization efforts.
But I think most of it was done
in a really dark area of humanity,
where the average life expectancy
was more than half, less than it was today.
Life was brutish and short, as many of,
as Hobbes has famously said.
So it was a rough existence, right?
So I think some of the ugliness of humanity
in prior colonization times was a consequence of the time,
or at least that’s my hope.
I think that now we would have it be much more,
I think, inclusive, much more responsible,
much more, much less evil, frankly.
We’d go there, and you would need commercialization.
You’d need efforts to do mining, for example,
bring things back, but it’d have to be some degree
where there are some areas that are viewed as commons
or that are untouchable, like places that are parks.
We do this today, even if there’s a lake, for example,
the first several hundred feet of a lake
are all for public property and everything.
You can own property, but just not certain areas.
So I think we’d have to make sure we do that
so that it’s not completely exploited.
But so that’s on the social, the human side.
The technological, we’ve talked a little bit
about where you’d have to live.
You’d want to be underground with engineering
and modifying even human cells to make sure you survive.
The soil does have a lot of perchlorates,
which is a problem for growing them,
but there’s ways to extract them.
There’s a fair amount of water.
There’s actually this beautiful image
of all the known water on Mars
that NASA posted about a year ago.
And there’s water everywhere, not lots of it everywhere,
but almost everywhere you look,
there’s at least a little bit of water,
just a few feet under the surface.
And by the caps, there’s a lot.
So I think we could get some water
and we could also do self-generating reactors,
machines that could make food, start to even make beer,
if you go long enough down the path.
But the technical challenges are definitely,
engineering and the manufacturing are gonna be hard
because you have to build the buildings
basically out of the soil that’s there.
So you have to really go there
and try and build with whatever you can.
So that has to be perfected still.
But then once you’re in those buildings, those structures,
you need to create all the biology
that will feed the populace, feed them.
So, which we don’t have the technology for yet.
We have bits of it,
but I think that’s gonna be the biggest challenge
is making Mars really truly independent.
But that’ll probably take, as I say in the book,
several hundred years before I think we’d get there.
It’s interesting because we’re also exploring
ways to motivate society to take on this challenge.
It’s the JFK thing and then the Cold War
that inspired the race to space.
And I think as a human species,
we’re actually trying to figure out different ideas
for how to motivate everybody
to work on the same project together.
But yet compete at the same time.
Well, that’s one idea and that’s worked well.
That’s not necessarily the only idea,
but it’s the one that worked well so far.
So maybe the only way to truly build a colony on Mars
or a successful human civilization on Mars
is to get China to get competitive about it.
And they are.
They’ve announced they wanna have boots
on the red planet by 2033,
which is two to four years earlier
than when NASA’s supposed to do it.
So we’ll see if they get there first.
But I think it’s a space race 2.0,
but it’s not just the US and Russia this time.
It’s China, it’s India, it’s the UAE,
it’s Europe, ESA.
JAXA has the Japanese Space Agency,
and there’s the US.
So now it went from just a two-person race
to a whole field of runners, if you will,
on the track trying to get to Mars first.
And I think, I mean, it’s gonna be like anything.
If you start to have settlements and construction projects
and places to visit on Mars,
I think the true mark of a place being actually settled
is when you start to be able to pick.
You’re like, well, I wanna go to this destination,
not this one, because they have better Martian cocktails
here, but this one’s not as good.
So this idea of innovating and competing
will continue to drive, I think, humans as it always has.
You write this fascinating thing, which is, quote,
people living on Mars will have developed
entirely new cultures, dialects, products,
and even new religions or variations of current religions.
For example, a Martian Muslim will need to pray upward
toward the dusty sky.
I love that you’ve thought through the geometry of this.
For example, a Martian Muslim will need to pray upward
toward the dusty sky since Earth, and therefore Mecca,
will sometimes be overhead.
Or when Mecca’s below the Martian’s feet,
the prayer direction to Allah will stay downward
toward the 38% gravity floor.
Perhaps a second Mecca will be built on the new planet.
That’s another interesting question.
How will culture be different on Mars
in the early days and beyond?
Yeah, it’ll be, as we’ve seen with all of human history,
I think, even just when people migrate and they move,
even the dialects change.
If you’re just going to the South in the United States,
there’s a, oh, y’all, come on down.
And that’s not even that far away,
or even just people on Long Island versus New York City,
and it’ll be with a big nasally accent, oh, yeah,
and the people will just get, or even Wisconsin,
I’m from Wisconsin, we just have this big nasally tone,
welcome to Wisconsin and Minnesota.
I wonder who defines that culture
because it’s very likely that the early humans on Mars
will be very technically savvy.
They have to be for engineering challenges.
Well, actually, I don’t know.
It could be the, this has to do with your extreme microbiome
is like, is it going to be the extreme survivalists,
or is it going to be the engineers and scientists,
or is it gonna be both?
Because my experience of scientists,
they’re, you know, they like the comfort of the lab.
They don’t, well, no, there’s some,
I keep contradicting myself nonstop.
There’s some badass scientists that travel to Antarctica
and all that kind of stuff, so.
It says evolutionary selection for humans
who can stare at a screen for eight hours at a time,
or pipette for 12 hours at a time,
and not talk to anybody.
So it’s not surprising when our scientists
are a little bit awkward in social situations.
But we can get them, we can train them out of that.
We can get them to engage other humans,
not all of them, but hopefully most of them.
So I think, you know, I think the culture
will definitely be different.
There’ll be different dialects, different foods.
There’ll be different values.
There very likely will be a different religion.
Kim Stanley Robinson wrote a lot about this in his books,
the new Martian religion that was created.
So I think this idea has been discussed
in science fiction.
It’s almost unavoidable, because there’s been,
I mean, just think of all the religions
that have happened on Earth with very little,
I think, I mean, there’s just terrestrial drama,
but suddenly you have a different planet,
and a deity that would span multiple planets,
and I don’t even know how you do that,
but I think someone will think of a way
and make up something.
Yeah, that’s, look for ways to draw meaning.
So religion, for a lot of people,
myths, common ideas are a source of meaning,
and when you’re on another planet,
boy, does the sense of what is meaningful change,
because you’re, it’s humbling.
The harshness of the conditions is humbling.
The very practical fact that Earth,
from which you came, is not so special,
because you’re clearly not on Earth currently,
and you’re doing fine, and you made it.
At some point, I mean, it’ll be pretty harsh,
like what Shackleton did doing this exploration
of Antarctica and going, it was a very dangerous mission,
barely made it, people died.
Actually, he didn’t believe in scurvy at the time,
so he didn’t take enough vitamin C,
and some of his people died from not having vitamin C,
so if we had had their genes active,
the pseudogene, they’d be okay,
but there, I think, the early settlers will be,
it’ll be a very different crew,
but once it’s comfort, once people are comfortable there,
I think they’re gonna, I hope they’ll draw more meaning,
because more planets should be more meaning.
I feel like it’s like more hands is a better massage.
I don’t know if that’s the best analogy here, but.
I think Aristotle said that, yeah.
I should mention that your book has incredible quotes.
It’s great writing, but also just incredible quotes
at the beginning of chapters that are really.
Thanks, well, it’s basically my favorite quotes.
I’m like, well, I’m writing a book,
I’m gonna put my favorite quotes in there.
I might as well put them all down.
What are your thoughts about the efforts
of Elon Musk and SpaceX in pushing
this commercial spaceflight,
and I mean, other companies, Axiom Space as well?
What are your thoughts on their efforts?
It’s like a gold rush.
Space Race 2.0, there’s a lot of terms for it.
The new Space Race, I think it’s fabulous.
I think it is, it’s moving at a pace that is unprecedented,
and also there’s a lot of investment
from the commercial and private sector pushing it forward,
so Elon, most notoriously, doing a lot of it
just himself with SpaceX, so we’ve worked really closely
with the SpaceX ops teams and medical team,
planning the Inspiration4 mission,
and now some of the Polaris missions which are happening,
and Jared Isaacman has been a fabulous colleague,
collaborator, pilot for the missions.
You know, again, we’re doing the same deep profiling
and molecular characterization of these astronauts
as we’ve done for Scott Kelly and other astronauts
that are from NASA, and we’re seeing so far,
there’ll be a lot of this presented later this year,
it seems like it’s pretty safe.
Again, there’s dangers.
We can see real stress on the body, very obvious changes,
some of the same changes that Scott Kelly experienced,
but for the most part, they return back to normal,
even for a short three-day mission.
I remember chatting with Jared,
and we were presenting the data to them
actually just a few weeks ago, kind of a briefing
to the crew, and because they went to 590 kilometers.
They went basically several hundred kilometers higher
than the space station or the Hubble normally rests,
more radiation, the farther you get from Earth,
there’s more radiation.
He was worried, you know, did we get cooked?
It was kind of his question for me in the briefing.
I said, well, actually, it looks like
you can go back into the microwave.
You didn’t get fully cooked.
You can go a little bit farther.
So for the Polaris mission, they’re gonna go even farther,
and then also, they’ll open the hatch
and go on these new spacesuits that SpaceX are designing
that’ll be much nimbler, not as much of a giant,
you know, Dr. Octagon kind of spacesuit,
but really looks like just a nice spacesuit,
and they’re gonna go out into the vacuum of space.
And so, you know, pushing all the engineering
for these missions, which are privately funded,
so it’s people who just say, I wanna go up in space
and see if I can push the limits, has been fabulous,
but I think the most fabulous part is Jared in particular,
but others, other commercial spaceflight drivers
like John Shoffner or Peggy Whitson
for the Axiom missions are coming to us,
scientists, researchers, saying,
I don’t just wanna go up into space just to hang out.
How much science can I get done when I’m up there?
What can I do?
What experiments can I do?
Give me, you know, blood, tissue, urine, semen,
I’ll give you any biofluid, you know,
and I always email them back and say,
listen, every one of your cells is worthy of study.
I send, you know, so I have this really kind of creepy
geneticist email response, like,
I want all of your cells, you know,
but it’s true because there’s so much we don’t know,
I wanna learn as much as we can about it.
Every time I go up, anyone,
so we’re doing it, you know, with NASA astronauts,
but it’s been some of this influx of new crews
that are willing to do almost anything, right?
So including, we did skin biopsies
for the Inspiration4 crew before and after spaceflight,
and that’s never been done before.
We’ve never seen the structure of the skin
and how it changes in response to microgravity
and also the microbes that change.
And so we have these beautiful images
of even the structure of skin changing
and the inflammation that we’ve seen in,
like for Scott Kelly, for example,
we now have a molecule-by-molecule map
of what happens to skin, which has never been done before.
What are the interesting surprises there?
So one of the interesting things we can see,
the part of what’s driving inflammation
is we can actually see macrophages
and there’s other dendritic cells,
like cells that are part of the immune system,
kind of creeping along towards the surface of the skin,
which is, now we know it’s actually physically driving
the immune system as these cells
going and creating this inflammation,
which is what leads to some of the rashes.
But we didn’t see as much in them as we saw, for example,
some of the signatures of Scott Kelly.
So we can see within the crew
who’s getting more of a rash or not,
or who didn’t experience any rash.
And some people had changes in vision.
Some people had other GI problems,
even looking at sort of what happens to the gut
and looking at the microbiome of the gut.
Other people didn’t.
So we started to get a little bit predictive
about their medicine.
Right now we’re just diagnosing,
but it’d be good to say, if you’re going into space,
here’s exactly what you need for each bacteria in your body.
Here’s what you could maybe take to get rid of nausea
or other ways we could monitor you
to keep the inflammation down.
What does it take to prepare for one of these missions?
Because you mentioned some of the folks
are not necessarily lifelong astronauts.
You’re talking about more and more regular civilians.
What does it take physiologically
and psychologically to prepare for these?
They have to do a lot of the same training
that most astronauts do.
So a lot of it’s in Hawthorne at SpaceX headquarters,
which if you can ever get a chance to do a tour,
It’s really, you can see all these giant rockets being built
and then we’re drawing blood over there right next to them.
So it’s a really cool place.
But the training, they have to go through a lot of the ops,
a lot of the programming, just in case.
Most of the systems are automated
on the Dragon and other spacecraft, but just in case.
So they have to go through the majority of the training.
If you want to go to the space station,
as the Axiom missions are,
including John Shroffner,
you have to do training for some of the Russian modules.
And if you don’t do that training,
then you’re not allowed to go
to the Russian part of the space station, apparently.
So right now, John Shroffner, for example,
unless he completes this additional training,
all in Russian, he’s not allowed.
All in Russian?
Otherwise he has to learn enough Russian
to be, you know, just functional.
So it’s not just technical, he also has to.
Enough, enough Russian.
And so, and if he doesn’t learn,
he can’t go to that part of the space station.
So interesting things like that.
But you’ll be, you know, it’s not that far.
You’re like, oh, I can see it right there.
I can’t float over to that capsule.
But technically he can’t go, so, you know.
Is there a Chinese component to the
International Space Station?
Is there a collaboration there?
Sadly not, they’re building their own space station.
I’m glad they’re building a space station.
Actually, eventually there’ll be probably
four space stations in orbit by 2028.
Some from the orbital reef, some from Lockheed Martin.
Of course, Axiom is far ahead right now.
They’re probably gonna be done first.
But the extraordinary thing is,
there’s, unfortunately there’s no collaboration
You see that as a negative,
that’s not the positive kind of competition.
It’s, good question.
So maybe, for example, when we get different NASA grants,
you apply for a grant, you get to the lab,
it goes through Cornell, the grants office.
I have to sign, as a scientist, as the PI on the mission,
say, I promise I will move no funds or resources
or any staff to anyone in China
or work with anyone in China with these dollars
that you’re giving to the lab for this mission.
And so every other grant I get from the NASA, DOD,
or sorry, DO, let me go back to that.
Every other grant I get from, say, the NIH or the NSF,
even sometimes DOD, you don’t have to promise
that you won’t talk to anybody in China about it.
But for NASA alone, it’s congressionally mandated.
You have to promise and sign all those paperwork
so I can’t do anything with anyone in China about this.
And what I view as sad about that is I wanna at least
be able to chat with them about it
and know what they’re up to.
But we can’t even go to a conference in China,
technically, with NASA funds about, say, space medicine
or engineering a new rocket.
I can go with personal funds, but I can’t use those funds.
Like, you should be able to go to a conference
and in a friendly way talk shit to the other scientists.
Like, we’re doing, like the way scientists do really well,
which is like they compliment,
but it’s a backhanded compliment.
Like, you’re doing a really good job here.
And then you kind of imply that you’re doing a much
That’s the core of competition.
You get jealous and then everybody’s trying to improve.
But then you’re ultimately talking,
you’re ultimately collaborating closely.
You’re competing closely as opposed to in your own silos.
Well, let me ask in terms of preparing for space flight.
You know, I tweeted about this and I joked about it.
And I talk to Elon quite a lot these days.
What I tweeted was I’d like to do a podcast in space one day.
And it was a silly thing,
because I was thinking, for some reason in my mind,
I was thinking 10, 20 years from now.
And then I realized like, wait, why not like now?
There’s no, just even seeing what Axiom is doing,
what Inspiration4 is doing, it’s like regular civilians
could just start going up.
So let me ask you this question.
When do you think, we saw Jeff Bezos go out into orbit,
when do you think Elon goes up to space?
His thinking about this is it’s partially responsible
until it’s safe, because he has such a direct engineering
roles in the running of multiple companies.
So at which point do you think,
what’s your prediction for the year that Elon will go up?
I think he’d probably go up by 2026, I would say.
Because the number of missions planned,
there’ll be several missions per year
through multiple space agencies and companies
that are really making low Earth orbit very routine.
And by go up, I think it might also, for example,
the Inspiration4 mission just went up
for three days in flight.
You know, and there was enough time to get up there,
do some experiments, enjoy the view, and then you came back.
The Axiom missions are a bit more complicated.
There’s docking up in the space station,
it’s a shared atmosphere.
So you have to follow all the ISS protocols.
What’s interesting about the Dragon capsule
and the Inspiration4 and some of these
what are called free flyer missions,
you can just launch into space.
You basically have your own little mini space station
for a few days.
It’s not that big, right?
But I think that’s what we’d probably see him do first
because we’re gonna see a lot more tests of those
in the next two, three years.
But they’re already been demonstrated to be safe.
And then you’re not trying to go for 10 to 20 days
or months or years at a time.
It’s just up in space for a few days,
but you’re in proper space.
It’s an orbital flight.
It’s not just a suborbital flight.
You could do a podcast from there, I think.
2026, I wonder how the audio works.
See, also, can you comment on 2026?
I’ll start getting ready.
I’ll start pushing him on this.
I’m quite serious.
It’s a fascinating kind of-
Axiom 2 still has room.
You could go on that mission if you wanted.
So I’ll ask you about Axiom.
How strict are these?
So this seems surreal that civilians are traveling up.
So how much bureaucracy is there still in your experience
for the scientific?
I mean, I know it’s a difficult question
to ask a scientist,
because you get to, you don’t want to complain too much.
But how much, there’s sometimes bureaucracy
with NSF and DOD and the funding
and all those kinds of things
that kind of prevent you from being as free
as you might sometimes like to do all kinds
of wild experiments and crazy experiments.
Now, the benefit of that is that you don’t do
any wild and crazy experiments that hurt people.
And so it’s very important to put safety first,
but it’s like a dance.
A little too much restrictions of bureaucracy
can hamper the flourishing of science.
A little too little of that can get some crazy scientists
to start doing unethical experiments.
Okay, that said, NASA and just space flight in general
is sort of famously very, very risk averse.
So what’s your sense currently about like,
even like doing a podcast, right?
A podcast, you know, unless it’s like,
you know, I think with mixed martial arts
is a pretty safe activity,
unless you’re doing the octagon version of your podcast.
I mean, just getting there and back
is the only real risky part, which is still risky.
But I think, you’re not asking to do open heart surgery
in space, you’re just saying, what if I do a podcast?
And I think-
You’re trying to ask to have fun.
And I feel like fun sounds dangerous, any kind of fun.
That’s what’s been extraordinary,
is that traditionally, yes,
I think most of the space agencies have been very,
by definition, bureaucratic,
because they’re coming from the government.
But they’ve been that way for a really good reason,
is that safety, you know, in the early 60s,
we know almost nothing about the body in space,
except for some of the work that pilots had done
at really high altitudes.
So we really didn’t know what at all to expect.
So it’s good that there were decades of resolute focus
on just safety.
But now we know it’s pretty safe.
We know the physiological responses.
We know what to expect.
We can also treat some of it.
Hopefully soon we’ll treat a lot more of it.
But if you just wanna go up there,
it’s actually, now it’s just a question of cost.
Like imagine, I think the way you can view
a lot of the commercial spaceflight companies
is that if you have the funds,
you can basically plan the mission.
All the training they’ll do is to help you get prepared
for how you run some of the instrumentation,
how you can fly the rocket to a limited degree,
and how to use some of the equipment.
But fundamentally, it’s no longer a question
of years and years of training and selection,
this impossible-odds task of becoming an astronaut.
It’s frankly just a question of funds.
Expensive plane ride.
So how much, you mentioned Axiom.
Is it known how much it costs for the plane ride?
There is no official number,
and it depends on the mission, of course.
So if you ask them, often they’ll say,
well, how serious are you?
They don’t just wanna give out random numbers
But the numbers, because for example,
we propose one mission, we want a new twin study
where someone goes up and stays up there
for 500 to 550 days.
But it’s basically gonna be up there
for the longest time ever,
to simulate the time it would take to get to Mars
and back for the shortest possible duration,
about 550 days.
Because if you went there and immediately turned around,
you could maybe make that mission.
Otherwise, it’s a three-year mission.
And there, you’re looking at the ranges of,
you know, it’s 50 to $100 million in that ballpark range.
But the reason it’s so variable is it depends.
What are you doing up there?
If you’re up there, for example, for two years, basically,
almost two years, that’s a long time
to just be in one spot, right?
So could you be doing some things
where your time is valuable?
So you can do experiments, and people pay for those,
and that defrays the cost.
Or you could build something, or you could do podcasts,
and maybe, you know, fundraise on the podcast.
And so as long as you, the reason the cost is variable
is because it depends, well, do you have all the money?
And you say, I wanna go and just sit in space
for two years and do nothing?
Well, then you have to pay for all that time
that you’re up there if you wanna do things.
Yeah, I see the official AX-1 mission
was $55 million for a trip to the ISS.
It’s not that bad.
It could be worse.
Wait, Sergey just posted a $35,000 price tag
per night, per person on the ISS.
Is that real?
I don’t know.
No, it sounds about right, that’s why.
That’s like a real hotel stay.
So to stay, oh, so interesting.
And then I’m sure there’s costs with the docking
and all those kinds of things.
That’s from the perspective of Axiom,
the private company, or SpaceX,
or whoever is paying the cost in the short-term
and in the long-term.
Yeah, and the thing about a lot of that cost
is rocket fuel, a lot of it is the ride.
So I’ve been on calls where Axiom’s like,
hey, SpaceX, give us to make it a little cheaper.
We can make it cheaper on our end.
It’s the cost, that is the rocket.
So SpaceX is giving Axiom a ride, in this case.
What is Axiom Space?
Can you speak to this particular private company?
What’s their mission, what’s their goal?
And what is the Axiom One mission that just went up?
Yeah, so the Axiom Space is a private spaceflight company
that’s building the first private space station.
They actually have seen the videos and footage
and hardware being put together,
so they’re in the process of constructing it.
The hope is that by 2024, one of the first modules
will be up and connected to the ISS.
Eventually it’ll be expanded, and then by 2028,
the plan is it’ll be completely detached and free-floating.
And it will be, maybe even a little bit sooner,
depending on how fast it goes,
but they’re building the world’s
first private space station.
So if you want to have a wedding up there,
you just have to multiply the number of guests
times the number of nights,
and you could have a wedding up there.
It’d be very expensive, but if you want to do it,
you can do it.
It’s like, you can have a lab up there.
If you want to do experiments, you can do experiments.
You just figure out the cost.
If you want to have a beer up there,
you can make your own, brew your own beer.
And so this is the first beer made in space.
For some reason, you want to do it, you can pay for it.
So it’s opened up this space where,
if you can find the funds for it, you propose it.
You can probably just do it.
So what is the Axiom 1 mission that just went up?
Can you tell me what happened?
Axiom 1 is the first private,
the first commercial crew to go to the space station.
So Inspiration 4 was the first commercial private crew
to just go into space.
They went into space and actually did an orbital mission
for just about three days.
But Axiom 1 is the first, again, on the SpaceX rockets,
but launched up, docked to the space station.
And they’re up there for about 10 days to do experiments,
to work with staff, actually just take some pictures.
But it’s a mission, actually doing a lot of experiments.
They’re doing almost 80 different experiments.
So it’s a lot of, it’s very science heavy,
which I love as a scientist.
But it’s the ability to show that you can fundraise
and launch up a crew that’s all privately funded
and then go to the space station.
And it’s four people.
Yeah, four people.
And the Axiom 2 will also likely be four people.
The two that have been announced are
John Shroffner and Peggy Whitson.
Peggy Whitson’s a already prior NASA astronaut,
has been at many times, done many experiments.
She knows the space station like her own house.
And we recently did a training with Peggy and John
in my lab at Cornell to get ready for some other
genomics experiments that we’ll do on that mission.
So they’re doing the experiments too.
What does it take to design an experiment,
and to run a design experiment here on Earth
that runs up there, and then also to actually do
the running of the experiment?
What are the constraints?
What are the opportunities?
All that kind of stuff.
The biggest concern is what do you need for reagents
or materials, the liquids that you might use
for any experiment?
What if it floats away?
What if it gets in someone’s eye?
Because things always float away in space.
There’s notoriously panels in the space station
where you don’t want to look behind
because it’s got a little fungus.
Or food has gotten stuck there and sometimes found
months and months or years later.
Things float around.
The little things.
And so if you have anything you need to do your experiment
that’s a liquid or a solid, whatever that is,
it has to go through toxicity testing.
And the big question is if this thing,
whatever you want to use, gets in someone’s eye,
will they lose their vision or be really injured?
And if the answer is yes, it doesn’t mean you can’t use it.
It just means if the answer is yes,
you have to then go through multiple levels of containment.
There’s a glove box on the space station
where you can actually do experiments
that have triple layers of containment.
So you can still use some harsh reagents,
but you have to do them in that glove box.
And so, but you can propose almost anything.
The biggest challenge is the weight.
If it’s a heavy, it’s $10,000 per kilogram
to get something up into space.
So if you have a big, heavy object,
that is some cost you have to consider.
And that includes the, not just the materials,
but the equipment used to analyze the materials.
One of the ones we worked on actually with Kate Rubins
was putting the first DNA sequencer in space
called the Biomolecule Sequencer Mission.
Also with Aaron Burton and Sarah Castor Wallace.
But there, the interesting thing is
we had to prepare this tiny little sequencer.
It sequences DNA, you can do it really quickly
within really minutes.
And what’s extraordinary is you have to do,
if you want to get a piece of machinery up there,
you have to do destructive testing.
So you have to destroy it and see what happens.
How does it destroy it?
Do pieces, little pieces of glass break everywhere?
If so, that’s a problem, so you have to redesign it.
And do fire testing, how does it burn?
How does your device explode in a fire, or doesn’t it?
You have to test that, and then you do vibration testing.
So you have to basically,
if you want to fly one thing into space,
you need to make four of them and destroy
at least three of them to know how they destroy.
Destructive, fire, and then vibration testing.
It’s kind of like-
Just asking for a friend,
how do you, from a scientific perspective,
do destructive testing?
And how do you do fire testing,
and how do you do vibration testing?
Vibration, just large shakers.
So that’s, it’s mostly to simulate launch.
They have a lot of machinery at NASA and at SpaceX
to just make sure, does the thing completely fall apart
if it has a high vibrational,
essentially force attached to it?
So it’s just kind of like a big shaker.
Fire testing is just to simulate what would happen
if there was a normal fire.
That’s something that gets up to,
fire temperature is several hundred degrees Celsius.
Open fire, or are we talking like you put in a toaster?
No, it’s more like-
Is it heat, or is it actual flames?
It’s flames and heat,
but it’s not like a kiln or anything like that.
You don’t want to know how does it burn in a kiln.
It’s more, is it flammable, is the first big question.
Like, does it just start on fire?
If it gets a little bit of flame on it,
does it just light up like a Christmas tree?
Is there a YouTube video of this?
You know, actually-
Did you film any of this?
Not, not, no.
Aaron Burton might still have some of the videos.
We’re in the middle of doing some testing
for the new sequencer called the Mark 1C.
So I will make videos of that.
I would love to see that for,
if anything, for my private collection.
This is very exciting.
And the destructive testing is just often,
it can be something as simple as a hammer.
It’s really, how does it shatter?
You want to question, are there glass components, and so on.
So it’s like office space.
That scene with the fax machine.
That’s right, that’s right.
We blow into the,
damn, it feels good to be a gangster soundtrack.
Yeah, that’s a great scene.
That’s so, that’s so exciting.
That’s the best of engineering, is that kind of testing.
What else about designing experiments?
Like, what kind of stuff do you want to get in there?
You said 80 different experiments.
So we’re staying in the realm of biology and genetics?
Yep, for now.
But we also want to do,
some of the experiments that have been discussed in the lab
and some that are being planned as well.
But I think the most controversial one
that’s come up in our planning,
it gets back to sex in space,
is can human embryos divide
and actually begin to develop in space?
But then if we do that experiment,
that means you’re taking viable human embryos,
watching them develop in space.
Then you could freeze them
and bring them down and characterize them to see.
But to answer that question,
because we actually don’t know,
can a human embryo actually develop well in zero gravity?
We just don’t know.
But to find that out,
that means we’d have to literally sacrifice embryos,
probably, which itself has, of course,
a lot of complications, ethical considerations.
Some people just wouldn’t.
It’s a non-starter for lots of people.
But we do know that the sperm survives in space,
as you earlier said.
And nobody cares about sperm, apparently.
We’re doing several studies
on autism risk for fathers and sperm.
And it’s really easy to get sperm, I’ll just tell you.
People say, you’re helping us out.
That’s what I hear.
I read that somewhere on Wikipedia.
Asking for a friend.
Are you involved in Axiom 1, Axiom 2 experiments?
Like, what is your lab directly
or indirectly involved with in terms of experiment design?
What are you excited about,
different experiments that are happening out there?
Some of them, we’re doing a lot of the direct training
for the crews.
It’s really saying,
how do you do a modern genetics experiment?
So for the Axiom 1,
for Inspiration 4 and Axiom 1,
we’re also collaborating with Trish,
which is the translational research arm for NASA.
That’s in Houston.
And there, it’s a lot of sharing of samples and data
for all these missions.
Basically, for all the commercial spaceflight missions,
there’ll be a repository where you can look at the data
from the astronauts.
You can look at some of the genetic information,
some of the molecular changes.
So that’s being built up with Trish,
which has been fabulous collaboration
between Cornell and Trish.
But the other thing we’re doing is for Axiom 2
is training them.
How do you, for example, if you want to look at a virus,
you can take a swab of something, extract it, sequence it,
and say, do I have Omicron?
Or do I have a different virus?
And we’re gonna do some of the exact same work in flight,
but we’re having the astronauts do the extraction,
the sequencing, and the analysis of all the molecules.
And so one common occurrence is herpes
is reactivated often in spaceflight, oral herpes.
So you can see that viral reactivation
is one of the biggest kind of mysteries in spaceflight,
where the immune system seems to be responding a lot.
It’s active, the body’s really perturbed,
but viruses start shedding again.
And it’s really, and this happens clinically.
And we see this for, for example, hepatitis C
or hepatitis B, you can get infected with it
and it can stay in your body for decades
and still kind of be hiding in the body.
And in this case, we see it in spaceflight,
herpes comes back.
So we want to figure out, is it there, first of all,
and then when is it happening and characterize it better,
but have the astronauts do it themselves
rather than collecting it and bringing it back to Earth
and figuring out later.
We could see in real time how it’s happening.
And then also look at their blood.
We’ll see what is changing in their blood in real time
with these new sequencers.
So I’m excited about the genomics in space, if you will.
So clearly somebody that loves robots,
how many robots are up there in space
that help with the experiments?
Like what, how much technology is there, would you say?
Is it really a manual activity
or is there a lot of robots helping out?
So far, it’s almost all manual,
just because the robots have to all undergo
the destructive fire and vibrational testing.
So if you have a million-
This is so exciting.
So if you can get-
That thing is a lot less than a million.
So we could destroy it.
We’re definitely gonna test it out for the,
I guess in which order,
and they have to do separate for each one.
Yeah, each one, yeah, yes.
Note to self, do fire testing for the legged robots
and the destructive testing.
That would be fascinating.
I wonder if any of the folks I’m working with
did that kind of testing on the materials.
Like what breaks first with the robots?
That’s a very key question.
And also, the big question.
So what’s interesting about this,
for Axiom and for these commercial spaceflight areas,
if you can fund it, you could fly it, right?
So if you have to say,
I wanna fly these series of robots up
because I think they could help build something
or they could help measure or repair the spacecraft.
Oh, you have to come up with a good reason.
Well, for NASA, you have to have a good reason,
but I think for private spaceflight,
you could have the reason is I’m curious,
and that could just be-
I’ve got a private fund or I’ve got your own money.
And then you pay per kilogram, essentially.
There are some things.
You can’t say, I wanna send a nuclear bomb up there.
I don’t think that would fly, but you-
And there’s probably rules
in terms of free-floating robots, right?
They probably have to be attached.
It’s an orchestra that plays together.
All the experiments that are up there,
there’s probably, it’s not silos.
It’s not separate.
They’re separate kind of things.
But you’re saying it’s all mostly manual.
How much electronics is there
in terms of data collection,
in terms of all that kind of stuff?
A lot of electronics.
So a lot of it’s tablets.
There’s laptops up there.
The whole space station is running
and it’s humming on electronics.
Actually, one of the biggest complaints astronauts have
is sleeping up there is hard,
not only because you’re in zero gravity,
but there’s a consistent loud hum of the space station.
There’s so many things active and humming and moving
that are keeping the station alive.
The CO2 scrubbers, all the instrumentation, it’s loud.
So I think it is a very well-powered lab, basically,
in flight, but the future space stations,
I think, will be very different
because they’re being built more for pleasure than business,
or a little bit of both.
But they’re built for, we want people to,
at least when you talk to Axiom,
when you talk to the other industry partners,
they wanna make space more fun and engaging
and open to new ideas.
So that’s looking at the fun stuff
going on in the next few years.
But if we zoom out once again,
how and when do we get outside of the solar system?
You mentioned this before.
Or maybe you can mention the other hops we might take.
You know what, let’s step back a little.
Where are some of the fun places we might visit first
in a semi-permanent way inside the solar system
that you think are worth visiting?
Yeah, at the end of 500 years,
I’m hoping we make the big launch
towards another solar system,
really driven by the fact that we now actually
have exoplanets that we know we might be able to get to
and survive on, whereas 20 years ago,
we really had almost none,
certainly none that we knew were habitable.
And exoplanets even just discovered
didn’t start to happen until 89 and early 90s
for the real validated ones.
So I’m hoping over the next 500 years,
we go from thousands of possible habitable planets
to hundreds of thousands or millions,
especially with some of the recent telescopes launched,
we’ll find them.
But before we get there, I have a whole section
I really describe about the magic of Titan
because it has all this methane,
which is a great hydrocarbon you can use to make fuel.
It’s cold as all bejesus on Titan, but if you can-
So what’s Titan made up of?
What is Titan?
Everybody loves Titan.
Yeah, it is.
It’s a favorite, I mean, it’s this kind of eerie,
green-hued moon that’s around Saturn
that is, to our knowledge, you know, this large,
it has like, you know, so cold,
it has these methane lakes
where the methane normally is a gas,
but there it actually would be so cold
it’s like a lake of methane.
You could go swimming in it, potentially.
There might be some degree of rocks
or maybe mountains there,
but they might also be made of like frozen methane.
So no one’s ever, no person’s obviously been there,
but it is, you know, I have enough satellite imagery
and some data that you could actually
potentially survive on Titan.
So I think that’d be one place where I’m hoping
that we would at least have a bit of an outpost.
It might not be a luxurious retreat
because it’s really cold.
Is there a life on Titan, you think,
underneath the surface somewhere?
Maybe, well, actually, with all that carbon
and all those hydrocarbons,
it is very possible that some microbial life could be there
and hanging out, waiting for us to dip our toes
into the methane and find it.
But we don’t know yet,
but I think that’s one place I’d like to see an outpost.
I would like to see other outposts near Jupiter,
but Jupiter has extremely high radiation, actually.
So even places like Io,
which are volcanically active and quite amazing,
we probably couldn’t survive that long
or that close to Jupiter, though,
because it’s such a giant planet.
It emits back out a lot of radiation
that it’s collecting from other parts of the universe
and it juts back out.
So if you get too close to Jupiter,
it’d actually almost certainly not be able to survive,
depending on which part of it,
but that’s one risk about Jupiter.
But it’d be cool to see the giant red spot up close,
maybe have some spots there.
Mars is top one.
Then we get to pick Titan or Io,
so ice, firing ice,
the Robert Frost poem comes to mind.
And then Europa, is that?
Europa would be cool, too, and Enceladus,
which is a big ocean that might be there,
like an alien ocean that’s under the,
might be even water ice that’s there,
and even liquid water potentially there under the surface.
So that’d be a great candidate.
The asteroids of Ceres would be good,
or Eros, big enough you get a little bit of gravity.
That’d be interesting.
You could have maybe a habitable place there.
And they just might be big enough
that you could get there, survive,
and even have a tiny bit of gravity, but not much.
Why do you like asteroids?
Are you just, we’re just listing vacation spots.
Yeah, vacation spots, basically, yes.
I’d say, well, so they probably have
a lot of rare earth minerals
that you could use for manufacturing,
which is why part of the space economy
that’s being built up now is people really wanna go
and hollow out the asteroids and bring back all the,
all the resources from it.
So this legally is very possible,
because even though the Space Act
prevents people from militarizing space
or owning all of it,
if you get the resources out of an asteroid,
but you don’t actually say you own it,
that’s still, that’s perfectly legal.
So you could.
What’s the Space Act?
Space Act of 1967 was the first large-scale agreement
between major international parties,
particularly the US and Russia, but also many others,
to say that space should be a place for humanities
to not militarize it, to not weaponize it,
to not militarize it,
also establish some of the basic sharing principles
between countries who are going into space.
And there was a plan to make an additional act in the 90s,
the Lunar, actually I’m blanking on the name of it,
but there hasn’t been any significant legislation
that has been universally accepted since the Space Act.
So, but the primary focus was on the militarization.
Which was, in theory, not allowed,
which so far has stayed true, but.
But there’s no, is there any legal framework
for who owns space and space?
Like, different geographical regions of space,
both out in space and on asteroids and planets and moons?
Currently, you can’t own,
you’re not supposed to be able to own.
I mean, people have tried to sell bits of the moon,
for example, or sell names of stars,
which is pretty harmless.
But you’re not supposed to be able to own
any part of the moon, or an asteroid, for that matter.
But you’re allowed to mine the resources from it.
So, in theory, you could go catch an asteroid,
hollow out the whole thing, like you eat an orange,
and leave the shell, and say, okay, I’m done.
I never owned it, but I just extracted
everything inside of it, and now I’m done with it.
And then, probably.
Of course, you see there’s going to be
some contentious battles, even wars, over those resources.
Hopefully, at a very small scale,
it’s more like conflict, or human tension, but.
It’s like war makes for human flourishing,
like after the war, somehow.
Sometimes, there’s just this explosion of conflict,
and afterwards, for a long while, there’s a flourishing.
And again, conflict and flourishing,
and hopefully, over a stretch of millennia,
the rate of conflict, and the destructiveness
of conflict decreases.
It has, at least in the past 100 years,
the number of wars, number of military actions,
casualties, have all decreased.
I don’t know if it’s gonna stay that way for humanity.
I think, I don’t know, the trajectory’s there.
I think the warmongering is less tolerated
by the international community.
It’s more scrutinized.
It still happens.
Right now, there’s an ongoing war
between Russia and Ukraine, and you’ve spoken
a lot about it, and it’s, but it’s,
there sometimes will be small military actions,
but I think the, and even there,
there’s a large military action across most of the country,
but not all of it, actually, right?
So it’s, I think we see less over time
of large-scale, multi-country invasions,
like we’ve seen in the past.
I think maybe that won’t happen ever again,
but you might see country-to-country battles happening,
which has always happened, I think,
but hopefully, less of that as well.
And yet, the destructiveness of our weapons increases,
so it’s a complicated race in both directions.
We become more peaceful and more destructive
at the same time.
How do we get outside the solar system?
You write an epic line, I believe it’s the title
of one of the sections, Launch Toward the Second Sun.
That journey of saying we’re going to,
somehow the solar system feels like home.
Earth is home, but the solar system is home.
It’s our sun.
The sun is a source of life.
And going towards the second sun, leaving this home behind,
that’s one hell of a journey.
So what does that journey look like?
When does it happen, and what’s required to make it happen?
To get to that state, we have to actually have,
describe a number of options.
We have to all have people survive
in multiple generations, live and die
on the same spacecraft towards another star.
Propulsion technology, you need to have that in place.
I assume we don’t have dramatic improvements.
I describe ways it could happen, like antimatter drives
or things that could make it possible to go faster.
But since it’s a book of nonfiction,
I just make no big leaps other than what we know of today
And if that’s the case, you’d need probably 20 generations
to live and die on one spacecraft to make it towards
what is our known closest habitable exoplanet.
Now that sounds, you know, so you need to have
the life support, self-reliance, self-sustainability
all in that one, it’d be a large spacecraft.
You’d have to grow your own food,
probably still have some areas with gravity.
It would be complicated, but I think after 500 years,
we could actually have the technology and the means
and the understanding of biology to enable that.
And so with that as a backdrop,
you could have people hibernate and talk about like,
maybe they need to hibernate instead of just people
living their normal life.
But I think the hibernation technology
doesn’t work that well yet.
And I don’t know if it might pan out
and maybe in 200 years, it gets really good
and then people can all just sleep in pods.
Great, you know, so I think this is the minimum
viable product with everything that we have today
and nothing else, right?
So if that’s the case, which of course,
I’m sure of more than 500 years,
but based on what we know today,
you have people live and die on the spacecraft.
And that sounds almost like a prison sentence.
You say, if you were born into a spacecraft
and when you got old enough age, you said,
we’re, yes, you can tell we’re on a spacecraft.
You will live your whole life on this,
let’s say something the size of a building.
And this is everyone you’ll ever know.
And then you’ll die and then your children
will also carry on the mission.
Would those people feel proud and excited to say,
we are the vanguard and hope of humanity.
We’re going towards a new sun and maybe they’d love it.
Or would they, after 10 generations,
maybe they would rebel and say, to hell with this.
I’m tired of being in this prison.
This is a bad idea.
We’re turning around or we’re going somewhere else
or a mutiny happens and they kill each other, right?
So we would have to really make sure that the mental health,
the structure of the society is built
so they could sustain that mission.
That’s a crazy mission,
but it’s not that much different from spaceship Earth, right?
Here we are stuck on one planet.
We don’t have planetary liberty.
We can’t go to another planet right now.
We can’t even really go to another moon that easily.
So we, and I love Earth.
There’s lots of wonderful things here,
but it’s still just this one planet and we’re stuck on it.
So everyone that you know and love and live with here
will be dead someday and that’s all you’ll ever know too.
So I think it’s a difference of scale,
not a difference of type in terms of an experience.
Yeah, it’s still a spaceship traveling out in space.
Earth is still a spaceship traveling out in space.
So it is a kind of prison.
It’s always, everybody lives in a prison.
Well, let’s say it’s a limited planetary experience.
We’ll say it’s like that.
Prison sounds so dark, but.
Just, yeah, just like prison is a limited geographic
and culinary experience.
But I don’t want it to be viewed that way.
I want to think, wait, this is,
what an extraordinary gift.
And we wouldn’t probably just launch one generation ship.
We’d probably launch 10 or 20 of them,
the different, the best candidates and hopefully get there.
And yeah, I mean, the fact is limitations and constraints
make life fascinating because the human mind
somehow struggles against those constraints.
And that’s how beauty is created.
So there is kind of a threshold,
being stuck in one room is different
than being stuck in a building
and being stuck in a city, being stuck in like,
I wonder what the threshold of people,
I lived for a long time in a studio
and then I upgraded gloriously to a one bedroom apartment.
And the power to be able to like close the door.
It was magnificent, right?
It’s just like, wow, you can speak volumes.
It’s like, you can escape, that feels like freedom.
That’s the definition of freedom,
having a door where you could close it
and now you’re alone with your thoughts
and then you can open it and you enter
and now there’s other humans as freedom.
So the threshold of what freedom,
the experience of freedom is like is really fascinating.
And like you said, there could be technologies
in terms of hibernation.
VR, ultra reality, virtual reality.
Because 30 years ago, that sounded awful.
I think you’d be stuck in a spacecraft
but now you could bring the totality
of all of human history, culture, every music,
every bit of music, song, every movie, every book
can all be in one tablet basically, right?
So, and also you’d still get updates from Netflix
if you’re on the way towards another star.
You could still get downloads and so,
but eventually maybe the crew
would start to make their own shows.
They’d be like, well, I don’t want the Earth shows.
I wanna talk about, I’m gonna make a drama
on this spacecraft.
But I think it would have to be big enough
so it feels like at least the size of a building.
I think people’s intuitions about quarantining
have really become very immediate
because we’ve all had to experience it
to some degree in the past two years.
And we’ve survived, but definitely we’ve learned
that you need a really good internet connection.
You need some ability to go somewhere sometimes.
And that might just be as simple
as people leaving the spacecraft
to go to something that’s another thing connected to it
or just go out into the vacuum of space
for an afternoon to experience it.
So people need recreation.
People need games.
People need toys.
People love to play.
What are chloro-humans?
Chloro-humans is a description
of how you can embed chloroplasts into human skin
or the thing that makes plants green
so they can absorb light from the sun
and then get all their energy that way.
Of course, humans don’t do this,
but I describe in the book in the far future,
maybe 300, 400 years from now,
if we could work on the ways
that animals and plants work together,
you could embed chloroplasts in human skin.
And then if you’re hungry,
you go outside and you lay out your skin
and then you absorb sunlight
and then you go back in when you get full.
If you only wanted to lay outside for just say one hour
to get your day’s fully value of energy,
you’d need about two tennis courts worth of skin
that you could lay out
and maybe your friends would plant it or something.
But if they plant it,
then their shadows would block your sun.
So maybe you’d leave your skin out there
and you could roll up your skin,
go back inside after about one hour
and that’s how much skin you would need to have exposed
with some reasonable assumptions
about the light capture and efficiency of the chloroplast.
So it’s just kind of a fun concept in the book
of green humans going around,
absorbing light from the sun.
Something I’ve dreamed about since I was a kid.
Is there engineering ways of like
having that much skin
and being able to laying it out efficiently?
Like is there, it sounds absurd, but.
You could roll it up, it would be.
I mean, or you could just lay outside longer.
I wanted to think if you just had one hour
and how much skin would you need.
But if you just went out there for four hours,
you need something that’s smaller,
but you know, so it’s a half a tennis court.
So you could make it.
Could be like wings.
Could be like wings. Gigantic wings.
And you lay them out there.
But also, that’s if you needed all your energy
only from your skin.
So if you just get a little bit of it, your energy,
of course you could just walk around with your skin as is.
And you’d still have to eat, but not as much.
And I describe that because we’d need other ways
to think about making your own energy
if you’re on a really long mission that’s far from stars.
You could turn on a lamp that would give you
some of that essentially exact wavelength of light
you need for your chloroplast and your skin.
But it’s, you know, that’s something I’m hoping
would happen in three to 400 years.
But it would be hard because you’re taking a plant organelle
and putting it in an animal cell.
Which sounds weird, but we have mitochondria inside of us,
which basically where our cells capture the bacteria
and now it walks around with us all the time.
So there’s precedent for it in evolution.
How much, by the way, speaking of which,
does evolution help us here?
So we talked a lot about engineering.
You know, building, you know, genetically modifying humans
to make them more resilient or having mechanisms
for repairing parts of humans.
What about evolving humans or evolving organisms
that live on humans?
Sort of the thing you mentioned,
which you’ve already learned,
is that humans are pretty adaptable.
Now what does that mean?
You also, somewhere wrote that, you know,
there’s trillions of cells that make up the human body.
And, you know, those are all organisms.
And they’re also very adaptable.
So can we leverage the natural process of evolution
of the slaughter, the selection, the mutation,
and the adaptation that is all in,
sorry to throw slaughter into there.
It’s just acknowledging that a lot of organisms
have to die in evolution.
Can we use that for long-term space travel
or colonization, occupation?
Is there a good word for this?
Like to terraform the planet?
Terraform the planet.
No, to adjust the human body to the planet.
Oh, there’s not really a term for that yet.
I guess to-
Adapt to the new vacation spot.
Yeah, I called it just the directed evolution in the book
is that you guide the evolution towards what you want.
In this case, sometimes you can engineer yourselves
to make exactly what you want,
but other times you put people on planets
and see how they change.
Actually, later in the book,
I imagine if you have humans on multiple planets,
you could have this virtuous cycle
where as people adapt and evolve here,
you’d sequence their DNA and see how they change
and then send the information back to the other planet
and then study them with more resources.
So you’d be able to then have a continual exchange
of what’s evolving in which way on different planets
and then each planet would learn from the changes
that they see at the other planet.
Does the evolution happen at the scale of human
or do we need the individual,
or is it more efficient to do bacteria?
Bacteria are cheaper and faster and easier,
but we also have a lot of bacteria in us,
on us, and all around us,
and even the bacteria in the space station
are continually evolving.
Did you study that, by the way?
Like non-human cells, the microbiomes.
Yep, so we’ve seen it for the astronauts.
We can actually see their immune system
respond to the microbiome of the space station.
So as soon as you get into that aluminum tube,
there’s a whole ecosystem that’s already up there
and we can actually see, we saw this with Scott Kelly,
we’ve seen this with other astronauts,
you can see the T-cells in their body,
they actually are responding to little peptides,
the molecules of the bacteria,
the immune system is looking for a specific bacteria,
and then once it sees new ones, it remembers it,
and you can see the body looking for the microbes
that are only on the space station
that you don’t see on Earth.
And then when Scott came back,
he actually had more of those microbes embedded in his skin
and in his mouth and stool that weren’t there before.
So he like picked up new hitchhikers in the space station
and brought some of them back down with him.
So there’s like long-term ecosystems up in the space station.
20 years, they’ve been up there for 20 years, yeah.
There’s some Chuck Norris type of bacteria up there,
You’re part of the Extreme Microbiome Project.
What does that involve and what kind of fun organisms
have you learned about, have you gotten to explore?
We have a really fun project, XMP,
the Extreme Microbiome, which is as it sounds like.
We look for really odd places,
like heavy radiation environments,
high salt, high or low temperature,
strange area of the space station, for example,
lots of radiation and microgravity.
Places where organisms can evolve
for interesting adaptations.
And some of them have been organisms we’ve seen
like a candy pink lake in Australia called Lake Hillier,
which we just published a paper on this.
Why is it pink?
So it’s actually Denalia salinas,
one of these organisms.
There’s a mixture of bacteria and some algae
that are there that make it bright pink.
So they actually make carotenoids,
these really sort of orangey and kind of pink molecules
when you look at them in the light.
So if you get enough of the bacteria, it becomes pink.
And it’s not just pink, it’s like bubblegum pink, the lake.
And so that’s just an odd, it’s a halophile,
means that it grows in 30% salt.
And if you go below 10, 15% salt, it doesn’t even grow.
It actually kills it.
Yeah, there it is, Lake Hillier.
Is it toxic to humans or no?
So when you walk in the pink lake,
actually, it’s so hypertonic, meaning it’s so salty,
you can feel it lysing and killing your cells on your foot.
So it actually hurts to walk in because it’s so salty.
So yeah, but it won’t kill, it’ll, it’s.
Listen, you have to suffer for art.
Great art requires suffering.
I mean, so it is a beautiful lake.
You have to get permits to go sample there,
but we actually just got an email last week.
There’s pilots who fly over this in Australia
because they love the color.
So he emailed us, one of the pilots,
and he said, hey, guys, I saw you publish this paper.
It’s not as pink as it used to be
because he loves flying over it,
and it was like a little bit less pink
because it had a bunch of rain in the past few weeks.
So it was just a little bit diluted.
So we reassured him it’ll get more pink as they grow again.
But basically, yeah, it’s a beautiful pink lake.
That is gorgeous.
It’s almost like a Dr. Seuss book or something.
It’s like, it doesn’t even look real.
Is it hard to get to?
Yeah, there’s no road.
You have to basically fly, land nearby it,
and then paddle in, but, so it’s not next to anything.
So it’s hard to get to.
But once you get there, it’s beautiful.
If anyone knows how to get there, let me know.
I wanna go there.
What are some other extreme organisms that you study?
Other ones, there’s some organisms we’ve studied
in the space station called Acinetobacter pitii,
which is often found in human skin,
but we’ve found hundreds of strains in the space station
that we’ve brought down and curated and then sequenced.
And this is with Katsuri Venkateswaran,
who’s at Jet Propulsion Laboratory working with him.
And they have evolved, so they no longer look
like any Earth-based Acinetobacter.
They don’t look like, they’re now basically a new species.
So actually, there’s a different species of bacteria
and fungi that have now mutated so much
in the space station, they’re literally a new species.
And so we’ve found some of those that have just,
they’re evolving in, as life is always evolving,
and we can see it also in the space station.
It’s an entirely new species born in the space station.
Yeah, that’s completely different.
So we found one species, actually,
that we named after a donor to Cornell,
someone who’s donated funds for research.
So we named a different species of fungus after him,
Naganishia tolchinskia, because he’s Igor Tolchinsky.
So as a thank you for him donating to Cornell,
we said, we’ve named this fungus
that we found on the space station for you.
Was he grateful, or did he stop funding our research?
He was very grateful, and then, and I told him,
I said, if you have an ex-girlfriend,
we could try and name a genital fungus
after her or something, if you want.
And he said, yeah, he said maybe,
but he’s convinced it needs some.
He stopped answering emails after that.
Okay, what about in extreme conditions,
in ice, in heat, is that something of interest to you,
in the things that survive where most things can’t?
Yes, of keen interest.
I think that will be the roadmap
for some of the potential adaptations
we could think of for human cells,
or certainly for our human, the microbiome,
just all the microorganisms in and on and around us.
So we’ve seen, even there’s this one crater,
it’s called the Lake of Fire, it’s in Turkmenistan,
where it’s been on fire because of oil
that had been set on fire decades ago,
and it’s still burning.
So we collected some samples from there,
and those were some Pseudomonas putida,
some species we found there that can.
So there’s stuff alive there.
That seems to be surviving there by this large pit of fire.
Oh yeah, there it is, the desert.
It’s been just on fire for decades, apparently.
So this is another place that we.
It’s just the Lake of Fire.
Yeah, yeah, and they said.
Soviet scientists had set up a drilling rig here
for extraction of natural gas.
Of course, it would be in this part of the world
that you would get something like this,
but the rig collapsed,
and methane gas is being released from the crater.
Yeah, so for those just listening,
we’re looking at a lake full of fire,
and there’s something alive there, allegedly.
And Pseudomonas are known to be
some of the most tough organisms.
They actually can clean toxic waste
from any areas of Superfund sites
where there’s so much waste that’s been deposited.
You’ll find them there as well.
Actually, there’s one place in the Gowanus Canal.
There’s something, it’s called,
in New York City in Brooklyn,
and it is a complete toxic waste dump.
That was where a lot of waste in the 1700s was dumped,
and so the gateway to hell is what it’s called.
That’s the nickname for the lake.
So the Gowanus Canal is also a place
that has been fun to sequence
and see Pseudomonas species that can survive there,
basically pulling toxins from the environment.
So it’s as if you create this toxic landscape,
and then evolution comes in and says,
oh, fine, I’ll make things that can survive here.
And when you look at the biochemistry of those species,
what they’ve created is their own salvation, basically.
The selection has made them survivors,
and suddenly you can use that
to remediate other polluted sites, for example.
That explains Twitter perfectly.
The toxicity created adaptation
for the psychological microbiome that is social media.
Okay, beautiful, but you just actually jumped back
to the interstellar travel.
Assuming the technology of today, yes,
what are some wild innovations that might happen
in the space of physics or biology?
By the way, where do you think
is the most exciting breakthroughs
for interstellar travel
that will happen in the next 500 years?
Is it physics, is it biology, is it computer science?
So information or DNA,
like some kind of informational type of thing?
Is it biological, like physiological,
making the body resilient, live longer,
and resilient to the harsh conditions of space?
Or is it the actual vehicle of transport,
which would be applied physics?
As you can probably guess, I’ll say all of the above.
That’s a question, never.
But to break those down, though,
I think the AI, I hope in the book later
that we would have really good machine companions,
that the AI, I really hope the AIs that we build,
realistically, we are the programmers who make them.
I would feel a colossal failure if we didn’t make AI
that was embedded with a sense of duty
and caretaking and friendship and even creativity.
We have the opportunity.
I’ve coded algorithms myself.
We’re building them, so it’s incumbent upon us
to actually make them not assholes, I think, frankly.
So it’d just be a error.
Actually, on that point, just to linger on the AI front,
can you steelman the case that Hal 9000
from Space Odyssey was doing the right thing?
So for people who haven’t seen 2001 Space Odyssey,
Hal 9000 is very kind of focused on the mission,
cares a lot about the mission,
and kind of wants to hurt the astronauts
that try to get in the way of the mission.
I think he was doing what he was programmed to do,
which was just to follow the mission,
but didn’t have a sense of anything broader,
duty, you could, I mean, he was.
What’s the broader duty, exactly?
Maintaining the well-being of astronauts?
Yeah, or giving them another option.
I think he viewed them as completely expendable,
rather than say.
Not completely, it’s a trade-off.
So a doctor has to make decisions like this, too.
You’re restricted on the resources.
You have to make life and death decisions.
So maybe Hal 9000 had a long-term vision
of what is good for the civilization back at home.
Maybe a deontogenic vision of what was the best duty
for the genetics, you could say.
What’s deontogenic mean?
It’s a word I made up in the book.
It’s like, what is your genetic duty?
When you think of your DNA,
what are you supposed to do with it?
Which is kind of the value of life.
But if Hal was a silicon-based version of genetics,
which is just his own maintenance of himself
and self-survival, you could argue
he’s doing the right thing for himself.
A human in that circumstance might have tried
to find a way to, even if the astronauts don’t agree
with the mission, to figure out some way
to get them on a different spacecraft
to go away or something, versus just say,
well, you’re in the way of the mission,
I’ll just, you have to die.
But a combination can always be made,
to your point with doctors.
Sometimes you’d like to save three people,
but you can only save two,
and you have to at some point pick.
But I think, in that sense, it’s a false dichotomy.
I think Hal wasn’t programmed to
and didn’t try to find a third solution.
Perhaps, let’s say Stuart Russell proposes this idea
that AI systems should have self-doubt.
They should be always uncertain in their final decision,
and that would help Hal sort of get out of the local optimum
of this is the mission, always be a little bit like,
hmm, I’m not sure if this is the right thing.
And then you’re forced to kind of contend
with other humans, with other entities,
on what is the right decision.
So the worst stuff, the worst thing about decisions,
from that perspective, is if you’re extremely confident
and you’re stubborn and immovable.
Right, but programming doubt, that sounds complicated.
That sounds like.
You can go wrong so many ways.
You can go wrong either way.
If you’re too confident, you won’t see the other options.
If you have too much doubt, you won’t move.
You’ll be paralyzed by the options.
So you need some middle ground,
which I think is what most people experience every day,
is we all love the concept of being a steadfast,
resolute leader, making big decisions quickly
and without question, but at the same time,
we know people can be blinded to things they’re missing
if they’re too headstrong.
So how would you improve Hal 9000?
I think I would include other,
because Hal is one program, much like we do for humans.
You get feedback from other humans
before you make a decision that affects all of them.
So I think Hal could have gotten feedback
from other AI systems that said,
well, is this, are there other options here?
And done it probably very quickly.
Or you can even embed a programming system
where the AI has a primary function,
but at times of uncertainty,
queries a series of other programmed AIs
to ask for a consensus almost,
more like a democracy of the AI.
But since it’s all programmed,
you could bring it all together
and say there’s a primary,
but it only activates the parliament, if you will,
for a decision when needed.
Now, I don’t know how you program
dramatically different AIs on one system
that are different enough,
but conceptually, it’s possible.
Of course, that can lead to log jam
and government and parliament doesn’t do anything
or Congress doesn’t do anything.
So there’s trade-offs, but it’s one idea.
I’m sorry, Dave.
I’m afraid I can’t do that.
That, I find really compelling, the idea.
I’d love to set that up in my own life at some point.
So you’re stuck there on a spaceship with an AI system.
And it’s just the two of you and you have to figure it out.
I love that challenge.
I love that almost a really deep human conflict
of through conversation have to arrive at something.
You really try to understand what survival is a stake.
You have to try to understand the other being.
Now, you think it’s just a robot.
We keep saying like, it’s just programmed.
But you know what?
When you talk to another human.
It’s just a bag of meat.
And then you disagree and you’re like,
everybody starts using terms like, how dumb can you be?
How ignorant can you be?
Come on, this is the right way.
What are you talking about?
This is what you’re talking about is insane.
And when the stakes go up, when it’s life and death,
you have to convince another person.
First, you have to understand another person.
In this case, you have to understand the machine
without knowing how it was programmed.
Because as a programmer, even, I mean,
this is very much true for these Lego robots.
I really make sure that everything that’s programmed
is sufficiently large and has a sufficient degree
of uncertainty where I’m constantly surprised.
I don’t know how it works.
I kind of know how it works, but I’m surprised constantly.
And there, there’s a human component
of trying to figure each other out.
And if it’s high stakes.
Life and death.
I mean, to me, that’s actually what makes
a great companion out in space is like,
you’re both in charge of each other’s life
and you both don’t quite know how each other works.
And also, you don’t treat each other as a servant.
So I don’t know if Hal was treated that way a little bit,
where you’re like, yeah, like a servant
as opposed to a friend, a companion, a teammate.
Because I think the worst part about treating an AI system
or another human being as a servant is what it does to you.
If you treat them as a means to an end
rather than end in of itself, then you’ve debased them.
And like lessen the humanity in yourself.
Yeah, at the same time.
Which is, I mean, that’s why they talked about
kids have to be polite to Alexa.
Because they find if they’re, you know,
if people are, if kids are rude to AI systems,
they actually, that.
It’s a bad sign, right?
It’s a bad sign and it develops the wrong thing
in terms of how they treat other human beings.
So that’s AI.
So what about physics?
Can we do, in terms of, can we travel
close to the speed of light?
Can we travel faster than the speed of light?
I would love to fold space.
We know wormholes are technically possible,
but we have no way to do it.
I’d love to see advanced wormhole technology,
Antimatter is notoriously missing
for most of the universe, so.
What is antimatter drive?
Antimatter would be where you just
purify bits of antimatter.
Basically, it was the opposite of matter.
So if you can have an anti-electron,
you can convert it to the electron.
You could have, even in complete atoms,
it would be anti-atoms.
And when you put them together,
they would be pure energy released, in theory.
And that could drive the most powerful possible engine
for space travel.
But the only place you can make antimatter
is in large particle accelerators, and only very briefly.
So that is hard, but if that could work,
that would be extraordinary.
Fusion drives would be great,
just getting nuclear fusion well-controlled,
and that would actually give you pretty good propulsion.
So I think that’s the most likely thing we’ll see,
is fusion drives.
Fusion technology is getting better and better every year.
Or it’s that old saying,
fusion is always 10 years away.
Every year, it’s always 10 years away.
But it’s getting better, and I think.
And saying is something that is a century old,
or less than a century old.
Over multiple centuries, that saying might actually,
the fusion might actually become a reality for propulsion.
So that would be, I think, very likely to see
in the next few centuries.
And then biology was the other part.
Or anything else, physics?
I mean, physics, you could imagine ways
that have electromagnetic shielding.
So it could be, you could deflect all the cosmic rays
that are coming at your spacecraft with a large,
almost like force fields, quite frankly.
That would take some development to do,
but that would be good to see.
And uploading human memories and consciousness
into digital form?
Yeah, this kind of blends the machine and physics
with the biology developments.
I think, you know, there’s a lot of great work
being done on longevity.
I have a, one of my companies itself works on longevity.
It’s called Onegevity.
And so I’m working on it myself,
on ways to improve how we monitor health and wellness now,
and live longer, live better.
Many people are doing this.
This is what the whole purpose of medicine is,
to a large degree.
But I don’t think we’ll live, in the book,
I propose we might get out to live to 150 years.
I think that’s reasonable.
But say humans are gonna live to be two, three, four,
500 years, or some people, I meet people like this
every week, who say, I think I’m not going to die.
To which I always say, I hope you’re right.
But I think you should plan
that you’re not going to be right.
But I want people, also, as we mentioned earlier,
being immortal would really fundamentally change
the social contract, and how you plan,
and how you allocate resources.
Not necessarily bad, but it would just be different.
But I also just think we don’t know yet,
of any way to undo the ravages to the human body
that occur over time.
We can repair some of it, replace some of it,
but it’s okay to assume that you’re gonna die.
And I don’t just assume, know you’re gonna die,
because then you have a bit of liberty
about what you can do quickly and do next.
But I think we will get better.
I think we could see people live, potentially, to 150,
with some of the tools and methods, and living longer.
But upload, you know, living might become-
Living in a brain, like in the Kurtzweil singularity,
where we all have this rapture-like moment,
and we go up and upload into the cloud and live forever.
I don’t know if it would still be the same
as what we consider the view of self in this flesh form.
If we could really get a complete representation
of a person’s entire personality up into digital form,
I mean, that would be immortality, basically.
Or a loose representation.
I’d go through the thought experiment of,
I like thinking about clones.
Twins, twins are clones, basically.
Basically, but the ability to generate,
I mean, you’re stuck with those clones.
The twins is a fixed number of clones,
so that’s a genetic clone.
I mean, a philosophical clone
where you can keep generating them.
And then I, the reason I really like that construction,
thinking about that, like for me personally,
is it nicely encapsulates how I feel about being human.
Because why do I matter?
If I’m, how would I, if I do another copy of me,
how would I defend why I matter as a human being?
And I don’t think I can.
Because that clone-
If it’s a personal clone.
It’s not even a perfect, like a reasonable clone.
Like most people I know that love me and who I love,
they’ll be just fine with the clone.
They’d be like, and they’ll be surprised,
like, oh, you’re like, your move kind of weird,
but overall, but otherwise, I’ll take it.
And if that’s possible to do that kind of copying,
and no, I don’t want to say perfect clone,
because I think perfect clone
is very difficult engineering-wise.
I mean, like a pretty crappy copy.
Would still be okay for most people.
Just like wears suits a lot, has a weird way of talking.
I mean, I think there’s a lot of elements there,
like in the digital space, especially with the metaverse,
you can clone, I think, in the next few decades,
you’ll be able to clone people’s behavioral patterns
pretty well, and visual, at least in the virtual reality,
in the digital representation, if you are.
And then you have to really contend,
it’s like, why do I matter?
Maybe what matters isn’t the individual person,
but what matters are the ideas that that person plays with.
So it doesn’t matter if there’s 1,000 clones,
what matters is that I’m currently thinking about X,
or some kind of problem that I’m trying to solve,
and those ideas, and I’m sharing those ideas,
maybe ideas of the organisms,
and not the meat vehicles of the organism.
That’s a cultural shift where we won’t necessarily
treat any one body as fundamentally unique or important,
but the ideas that those bodies play with.
I mean, that sounds crazy.
No, it’s abstract, but very relevant.
Derek Parfitt wrote this great book
called Reasons and Persons,
about how you really define an individual
as not just your own thoughts and your own self-reflection,
but where almost, he argues, more defined
by how other people have seen you.
See, like, if you walked out into the world,
and say suddenly nobody knew who you were or recognized you,
you’d be, in some regards, deceased, right?
If no one, if everyone just suddenly had massive amnesia,
and you just didn’t, no one knew who you are,
and never remembered, no memory of anything
you’d ever done together, you’d be very alone.
You’d be basically, you know, starting from scratch,
like as if you’d just been born, basically.
So, and he also writes thought experiments,
like what if half of your neurons get replaced
with half of someone else, or a quarter, or 60%?
At what point do you stop being you
and become that other person?
And the argument he makes is it’s more than just
what percentage of your neurons are swapped out.
It’s also the relationships you have with so many people
that partly define you.
No, not completely, but they’re a key component
of how you view yourself, how they view you,
what you are in the world.
And he actually goes so far to say
that they’re probably more important
than even what’s in your head.
Like, if you swap out all of your thoughts,
but when you walk out into the world,
everyone still treats to you and talks to you
the same way, has this memory of what you are,
that is still like an entity that’s defined you,
even if all of your, you know, there’s even movies
like Trading Spaces about this with Eddie Murphy,
or like the ideas of people who can swap bodies.
The reason those are comedies
is because they’re fish-out-of-water comedies,
but they go to the point of what defines you
is not just you, but also how you’re viewed.
Well, you as an entity exist in the memories
of other beings, and so that, yeah,
the entities as they exist in their form in those memories
perhaps are more important to who you are
than what’s in your head, and that clones then are,
how do they, do they lessen?
Not really, they just distribute, they just scale
the you-ness that can be experienced by other humans.
Like, if I could be doing five podcasts right now
at the same time, then in theory,
but I’d have to have some way to transmit the memory
of each one I did, which would be hard,
but not impossible if it’s all digital.
You could aggregate and accrete more and more
of the memories into one entity.
Oh, I see, but I thought at the moment of cloning,
it’s like cloning a Git repository,
then you’re no longer as branched.
You share the version, view one of Chris
that a lot of people have experienced,
like your high school friends, college friends,
colleagues, and so on, but now you moved on
to your music career, and one of your clones did,
and then that’s fundamentally new experiences
that you still, your colleagues can still experience
the memories of the old Chris,
but the new one is totally, you’re going to have
new communities experiencing, connecting to those,
and then you can just propagate,
and the ones that don’t get a lot of likes
on social media, we can quietly dispose of.
We wanna maximize the clones of Chris
that can get a lot of likes on Facebook.
Okay, just returning briefly to the topic of AI,
are you working on AI stuff, too?
A lot of machine learning tools for genomics.
For genomics, because I was seeing this interspersed,
because you’re such a biology,
I mean, I guess post-computational biology person,
but what about the, are you working on age of prediction?
Yes, yeah, so you’ve heard about the book, I guess, yeah.
That’s actually written with the philanthropist
I mentioned who we named the fungus after the space station,
so that’s coming out next year, actually, yeah.
What’s the effort there?
What’s your interest in the more narrow AI tools
of prediction and machine learning,
all that kind of stuff?
I think, called The Age of Prediction,
so the next book that’s coming,
is all the ways where machine learning tools,
predictive algorithms, have fundamentally
changed our lives, so some of them are obvious to me,
where, for example, when we sequence cancer patients’ DNA,
and we have predictions of exactly
which drug will work with it,
that’s actually a very simple algorithm,
but other ones involve predicting, say,
the age of blood that’s left at the scene of a crime,
which uses computational tools to look at each piece of DNA
and what it might reveal for its epigenetic state,
and then predicting, essentially,
how old you are at any given moment,
and it also gets to longevity,
because sometimes you can see if you’re aging faster
or slower than you should be,
so some tools are in medicine or even forensics,
but my favorite part, a lot of the book is,
where does this show up in economics as well as in medicine,
so predictive tools, I mean, I think the most notorious
one people thought of was during the 2012 election,
and 2016 election especially,
we were seeing these really big differences
of how Facebook was monitoring feeds,
and so prediction is not just better medicine
or in finance and economics,
people think about stock traders,
people doing predictive algorithms,
but what you view in your feed,
what your vote is and what you saw,
Facebook did experiments,
they called it social contagion experiments
to see can we restructure what people see
and then how they respond,
actually kind of be really predictive and manipulative,
frankly, with what happens,
and then can that change how they vote,
and the answer seemed to be yes
for a good amount of the populace in 2016 in the US,
so I think we’re seeing more and more of these algorithms
show up all over the place,
and so the book is about where they’re good,
for example, in medicine, they’re phenomenal,
they have fundamentally changed how we treat cancer patients,
but where they’re risky,
like if someone’s trying to steal your vote
or manipulate your thoughts potentially negatively.
So in medicine, you’re hopeful about prediction.
Yeah, most of the AI in medicine,
the machine learning tools for image recognition,
for example, for pathology samples,
where normally you think,
oh, someone takes a big bit of tissue
and then puts it onto a slide,
normally there’s pathologists
that have been training for years
to look at a chunk of your tissue and say,
okay, is this cancer, what kind of cancer,
what treatment should I do,
but there’s an old joke about pathologists
where you can give 10 slides to 10 different pathologists
and get 11 different diagnoses,
which is as awful as it sounds,
because you’re having someone squint
at a stained microscope slide,
but instead, if you use a lot of the AI tools
where you can actually segment the image,
high-resolution characterization with multiple probes,
it’s what AI was built to do,
you have a large training data set,
and then you have test samples afterward,
you can do far better than almost every pathologist
on the planet and get a much more accurate diagnostic.
So that’s for breast cancer, for prostate cancer,
for leukemia, we’ve seen the diagnostic tools
explode with AI power.
Is it currently mostly empowering doctors
or can it replace doctors?
Watson notoriously was made by IBM
to try and replace doctors.
I actually was-
I love IBM so much.
I was in the room when we got a tour of Watson
for the first time with the dean of our medical school,
and these programmers came out and they said,
listen, here’s this example of a patient,
and watch Watson diagnose the patient
and recommend the right treatment,
and then at one point in the conversation,
remember this is a room of,
I’m a PhD, it’s like a geneticist,
some programmers, some MDs,
leaders of the medical school,
the dean is there, and he says,
you could imagine someday this could replace doctors
in a room full of doctors, right?
So it was a really poor choice of words
because everyone’s like, no,
you want to help the doctors,
but I think the view from the programmers
is often a bit naive that they could
fundamentally replace doctors.
Now, in some cases they can.
For the pathology description I just mentioned,
I think the AI tools already do a better job,
and we’ve only really been doing this
for about five years, right?
So you imagine another five years
of optimization and data,
they’re gonna take over, right?
And they should, because staring and squinting
at screens for hours on day
is not the best use of human ingenuity.
So I think in some cases they’ll take over,
in other cases they’ll augment, they’ll help.
Yeah, that human ingenuity,
actually, especially for AI people,
it’s sometimes difficult to characterize.
I have this debate all the time
about autonomous driving.
It’s a lot more difficult than people realize.
You’re an expert on it,
you focus a lot on that for your research, right?
I’m an expert in nothing.
Except in not being an expert, I think.
Or asking stupid questions where the answer is both.
But there is some ingenuity that’s hard
to kind of encapsulate that is human.
For a doctor, the decision-making,
it’s the Hal 9000 thing.
You can have a perfect system
that is able to know the optimal answer,
but there’s some human element that’s missing.
And sometimes the suboptimal answer
in the long term is the right one.
It’s the self-doubt that is essential
for human progress, it’s weird.
I’m not sure what that is.
If I can, let me ask you to be the wise old sage
and give advice to young people today.
In high school, in college,
about how to have a career they can be proud of
or maybe a life they can be proud of
on this planet or others.
Yeah, I think for the Padawans out there
and younglings looking up at the stars,
you have to know that this day that you’re alive
is quantifiably the best day that’s ever happened
and that tomorrow will be even better than this day
in terms of the capacity for discovery,
the amount of data that exists.
Again, it’s not my opinion,
that’s just an empirical fact of the state
of genetics research, knowledge,
accretion of humanity’s acumen for many disciplines.
So with that ability to do so many things,
it can be sometimes just terrifying.
Well, what do I pick?
If I could do everything in the most possibility ever
in human history, how do you pick one thing to do?
And that’s just the thing,
what do you find yourself daydreaming about?
What’s the thing that keeps you up at night?
And if you don’t have anything
that keeps you up at night sometimes,
you go find something that keeps you up at night.
Because that is kind of this,
sometimes I feel like I get woken up
by someone on the inside of my skull
who’s knocking, trying to get out.
It’s kind of that almost haunting feeling
of I need to wake up, there’s things that have to be done,
there are questions I don’t know the answer to.
And there’s a lot of times it’s as simple as
how do we engineer cells to survive more radiation?
But I read a paper and then it came back to me a week later
as, oh, wait, we could use some of these tools
or these genes or these methods.
Really, being pleasantly haunted by something
is a wonderful place to be
and find that thing that bothers you.
Because there’ll be good days and there’ll be bad days,
but you want to have, even on the worst possible days,
working on the thing that you love the most.
And then all the usual normal phrases apply,
like then you never work a day in your life
if you have a job you love, the usual phrases.
But it’s true and it’s actually really hard to find.
I think a lot of times you’ll have to do work
for random jobs that maybe you don’t like
for five or even 10 years, right?
Or you might have to go to school for 10 to 15 to 20 years
to finally get to the right spot
where you have the knowledge, the experience,
and even, frankly, just reputation,
and people trust you, you’ve done enough good work.
And only then can you really do the thing you love most.
So you have to be a little bit patient,
be a little bit patient and impatient at the same time.
You have to do both.
And the interesting thing is
when you’re trying to find that thing
that excites you, you have to,
especially in this modern world,
I think, silence the distractions.
Because once you find that thing and you hear it,
that little voice in your head,
there’s still Instagram and TikTok and video games
and other exciting sort of dopamine rushes
that can pull you away and make it seem
like they’re the same thing, but they’re not really.
There’s some little flame there that’s longer lasting.
And I think you have to silence everything else
to let that sort of flame become a fire.
So it’s interesting,
because so much of the internet is designed
to convert that natural predisposition
that humans have to get excited about stuff,
convert that into attention and money and ads and so on.
But we have to be conscious of that.
I think a lot of that is full of fun and is awesome.
I think TikTok and Instagram, that’s full of fun.
They’re amazing, yeah.
And creativity leads to people making amazing videos
or even doing people, my daughter loves TikTok,
and people who do makeup art on TikTok
of things that are mind-blowing.
You think they made that video just to put it on TikTok
and practice their art and share it with the world.
But then if my daughter watches TikTok
for like three hours straight,
I’m like, what are you doing exactly?
And she’s like, well, you know, so it’s hard.
But I mean, when I was a kid, I mean, I played Nintendo.
I sometimes would play for like 10 hours a day.
Even in grad school, I’d sometimes play
like Counter-Strike or Half-Life, like 12 hours straight.
And I’m like, what was I?
So at one point, I built a new computer.
I just didn’t install some of the games I had them for.
I was like, I’m just gonna not install them
because otherwise I’ll play them for too long.
Yeah, I would love to,
you’re getting props from the team.
I would love to lay out all the things
I’ve ever done in my life to myself
because I think I would be less judgmental of others
and less understanding, more patient
because the amount of hours I spent playing
like Diablo and like video, like it’s insane.
I’m sure it adds up to like weeks, maybe months of my life
that it was just, you know,
but I feel like I was probably, I tell myself at least,
I was problem-solving.
It’s a hand-eye coordination or that’s an old,
I don’t know if that really is even remotely true,
but some of the games like Final Fantasy things
are things we actually had to solve problems and think,
and they were some degree of strategy, but.
They were actually just expanding
the diversity of human character that makes up you.
It’s like, you can’t just focus on the night you can’t,
but perhaps it’s more beneficial to focus,
to not focus on a singular thing
for many, many years at a time.
That could be one of the downsides of a PhD
if you’re not careful,
is that you become too singularly focused,
not just on the problem, but on a particular community.
And you don’t do wild stuff.
You don’t do interdisciplinary stuff.
You don’t go out painting or getting drunk or dancing,
whatever the variety, whatever injects variety
to the years of difficult reading research paper
after research paper, that whole process,
you have to be very careful to add variety into it.
Maybe that involves playing a little bit of
Counter-Strike or Diablo, whatever floats your boat.
New York City’s a great place for this.
There’s Sunrise Rooftop Dancing, a party that does this.
That’s a thing?
It’s a thing.
So you go there, I have some people from my lab that go,
I’ve only been once, but at Sunrise,
and you see the sun rise over the city,
and there’s huge house music,
and you play and you dance like crazy,
and then you go to work, you go to lab,
you go to wherever you’re going.
But you can, it’s good to squeeze in some weird,
crazy sunrise rooftop dancing or things like that
when you can.
If we can, if we may, to some difficult, dark places.
I’ll bring a flashlight.
Maybe something, find something that can warm your soul
or inspires others.
Is there dark periods, dark times in your life
that you had to overcome?
Yeah, like many people, had friends I’ve lost.
I had a friend when I was younger who committed suicide,
and that was actually,
I remember being so struck of, I couldn’t understand it.
I didn’t understand mental illness at the time.
I was very young.
I was only, I think, 11 at the time.
And I really was confused more than anything else
about how could someone take their life.
And I actually, once I got over the grief of it all,
I really, it cemented in my head
that I would never commit suicide.
I used to tell this to my wife.
If it looks like I hung myself, go find my killer,
because I would never do it.
It’s gotta be staged.
But at the same time, I’ve begun to appreciate
there are times where the suffering is so great
and diseases can be so awful that sometimes,
euthanasia, it is an actual exit.
But I just have friends I’ve lost along the way,
or, but that’s not too different.
Everyone has people they’ve lost along the way.
But I actually was never too dark of a childhood
or of a dark place.
I mean, the hardest things have been
really weird relationship breakups
with love, falling in love, and then losing that person,
just breaking up, not like they died,
but where you felt like you just could barely move.
And you literally felt like your heart was moved
in your body to a different location.
And that sort of scraping sense of existence.
But also at the same time, that’s been where I’ve,
in some ways, been the most alive,
where I lost what I thought at the time
was the love of my life.
But then was able to actually, I think,
carve a deeper trench into my heart,
which then could be filled more with joy,
I would say, is what Pablo Neruda wrote about this.
And Khalil Gibran is that the deepest, deepest sorrows,
I think, later have translated into my life
as to places that can be filled
with greater amounts of joy.
I love thinking of sorrows as a digging of a ditch
that can then be filled with more good stuff.
Not at the time, but for a while,
I watched a giant empty cavern full of blood
and tears and pain.
But then, yeah, it comes later, I’d say.
There is an element to life where this too shall pass.
So any moment of sorrow or joy, it’s gonna be over.
And treasure it, no matter what.
I mean, I do definitely think about losing love.
That’s like a celebration of love.
And even any living, I think, is better.
That’s why, just adamantly,
I don’t think I’d ever really commit suicide,
is because anything I take is better than nothing.
So the worst case scenario,
so there’s no heaven, there’s no hell.
That’s just it.
If you just die and that’s really just it,
then anything that you have in living
is by definition infinitely better than the zero,
because at least it’s something.
And so I appreciate sad.
I mean, I enjoy sadness, which sounds like an oxymoron,
but I sometimes even long for a good sadness,
like a rainy day and I’m staring out a window,
squinting and drinking some underpriced whiskey,
and then just moping.
And like, what are you doing?
I’m just moping today, but I want at least one day
where I do that or something.
I actually had a conversation offline with Rick Rubin.
He’s a music producer about this.
And he told me, he has a way of speaking
that’s all sage-like, and he says,
be careful that you spend some time appreciating
that sadness, but don’t become addicted to it.
That there’s a line you can cross
and then you actually push away the joy.
Because you feel like the sad,
because the sadness can be all-encompassing
and therefore even more real
than what might seem like fleeting happiness.
And so, yeah, yeah.
Sadness, if you let it, can be a thing
that stays with you longer and stickier.
But just witnessing suicide made you appreciate life more.
Yeah, and just an appreciation of death
is actually an appreciation of life at the same time.
Are you afraid of your death?
What do you think about it?
I think it’s like being afraid of the sunrise.
It doesn’t make sense.
So you’re a part of this fabric that is humanity.
And then you just think generationally.
Yeah, I think I want to do as much as I can.
I feel like I would die,
I feel like I’ve lived a full life already.
I actually believe that since age 17 onward.
I feel like even then, I mean, then the bar was low.
I feel like, well, I’d had at least sex once.
I had good friends.
What else is there?
Good times right at that age.
But then I had also really read a lot of philosophy,
had traveled a bit, felt like I’d started
to at least see the world
and had lived a somewhat of a life.
But from then on, I felt like,
that I wouldn’t feel like I was cheated
if I had died from that day forward,
that I had gotten at least enough of life
to feel like that I would be not okay with dying,
but that I feel like I knew I was gonna die.
I wasn’t afraid I was gonna die.
And it actually was very liberating.
And it’s only gotten better since then.
So I think some of that may or may not have been
drug-related euphoria, but nonetheless, the joy stuck.
And I think it’s just gotten more true ever since,
is that the default state is one of very rich appreciation
because it’s so fleeting.
And so I knew I would die happy, I guess, even at age 17,
but now my metrics have changed a little bit.
I’ve had sex more than one time now, so that’s really big.
This is very exciting news.
At least four times.
But the empathy.
And professionally accomplished things.
Like I actually do some of the genetic dreams I had
when I was 16 or 17.
I’m now actually making them in my lab.
I actually like to say, my scientific goals and statements
have really been the same since I’ve been 17.
It’s just now everyone takes me seriously
because I’m a professor and actually I’ve done the thing.
And you’re mentoring people, you’re educating.
To the next generation, yeah.
And helping patients live longer
and seeing the hope in their eyes
when they went from, even my own grandfather,
went from a two-month diagnosis of living
from metastatic cancer to living for more than two years.
Eventually he succumbed to it,
but knowing you can use the tools of predictive medicine
to save people.
And so now, looking ahead, I feel like it’s,
I would die very happy if I saw boots on the red planet
and people there.
And the other advice to the younglings, I’d say,
the first time I proposed the twin study to NASA,
they said no several times.
They said, no, we don’t have a plan for a mission like that.
It’s not gonna happen.
So don’t, just persevere.
I didn’t know.
I knew you were part of leading the NASA twin study,
but you were also part of the failure to do so early.
So the first, actually,
because when you start a lab in academia,
they say, here’s a pile of money.
Write grants and bring in more money
and train people and start a lab.
So I actually wrote NASA and said,
I’m not requesting any funds.
I have funds.
They just gave me a bunch of money.
I would like to, though,
do a deep genetic profile of astronauts
before and after space flight
and do it, ideally, if we have some twins
or do genetics and epigenetics and microbiome.
But John Charles,
who’s the director of the Human Research Program,
said, no, we don’t even have those samples banked
that you would want that are old samples
and we don’t have any plans
for missions like that right now.
So we can’t do it.
And that was the first time I,
it’s like saying to someone,
listen, I’ll buy a house for you.
I just have this mile,
and they’re like, oh, no, no thanks.
Because it felt like I was offering
a really unique research opportunity.
But then that failure of saying
that we’re not ready yet, it’s not time,
but then once they had the solicitation,
then he reached out and said,
oh, actually, I think we’ve got something
along the lines of what you were thinking a few years ago.
So sometimes when some things get rejected
or someone says no, say, okay,
maybe it’s just too early,
but don’t give up, I think, and say.
To me, when someone says no, not right now,
I’ll be like, okay, I’ll just,
I’ll come back in a year.
No just means no for now.
And so, if I think it’s,
sometimes no means you have a crappy idea.
That is true.
I do have crappy ideas, and so does everybody,
but if I really believe in it,
I just say, okay, I’ll be back.
Yeah, this too shall pass, the no.
Do you hope to go out to ISS,
out to deep space one day?
I would love to go.
I want to be a little bit older
so that if I die, it’s not as traumatic
for my daughter and family.
But yeah, I feel like if I’m a little bit older,
I definitely, I would even potentially
do a one-way trip to Mars if it’s later in life.
So would you like to,
do you think you will step foot on Mars?
I would love to, and I think I might.
I think it may be that one-way trip.
Because I think they’ll need settlers
who would want to go and stay there
and build and be there for the long term,
knowing it’s high risk, knowing it’s-
And your resume fits,
so you’ll have a lot of cool stuff to do there.
At least on the surface, you’ll be able
to sell yourself well.
Resilience, experience, motivation.
Would that make you sad to die on Mars?
Looking back at the planet you were born on?
No, I think it would be actually,
in some ways, it may be the best way to die,
knowing that you’re in the first wave
of people expanding the reach into the stars.
It’d be an honor.
Why do you think we’re here?
What’s the meaning of life?
To serve as the guardians of life itself.
That is the duty for our species,
is to recognize and really manifest
this unique responsibility that we have,
and only we have so far.
So I think, yeah, to me, the meaning of life
is for life to, in its simplest form,
is to be able to survive,
but to leverage the frailty of life
into its ability to protect itself.
And quite literally, the guardians of the galaxy
is basically what we are.
We’re guarding ourselves and also life.
I mean, life is just so precious.
As far as we know, it is completely rare in the universe.
And I do think a lot, well, what if this is
the only universe that’s ever come in
and it won’t come back again?
And like, this is it.
And if that’s true, we have to serve as its shepherds.
Leverage the frailty of life to protect it.
And this is all life.
So we get the opportunity, we humans get the opportunity
to be smart enough, to be clever enough,
to be motivated enough to actually protect
the other life that’s on this.
Including AI, including life that’s to come.
That might be very different from what we imagine today.
And that would make you sad if we were replaced
by the kinder, smarter AI?
Nope, I think about that in the book a bit,
that I think I would be okay with it
if they carry some echo of that duty
and they bring that with them.
It would be real, I’d be sad if they were like,
to hell with everyone, we’re gonna destroy everything
we come across and become like nanobots
that make everything gray goo.
That seems, but that would still be a version of life.
Just not one that is, as I think is pretty,
but technically it’d be alive.
So philosophically, could I object?
Yeah, but romantically, no.
They need to carry the duty.
There’s some, yes, there’s a bit of a romance
to the philosophy that’s in there.
And you also end the book with a universe
that creates new universes.
So if this isn’t the only universe,
do you think that’s in our future,
that we might launch new offspring universes?
It’s very possible.
I mean, multiverse is a controversial field
because it’s very much hypothetical,
but with this universe has been created,
the one we’re in now, and so it’s happened before,
it certainly could happen again.
Some of them might be happening in parallel.
I think if you look at billions of years,
trillions of years in the future
of technological development, certainly possible.
We could start to have little baby universes,
grow them like cabbage, get them out,
saute them, make them have flavor.
Yeah, create something delicious.
Well, it sounds difficult,
but it’s our human duty to try.
As you said, Chris, this is an incredible conversation.
You’re an incredible person, a scientist, explorer.
I can’t wait to see what you do in this world,
and I hope to be there with you on Mars.
I would like to also breathe my last breath
on that sexy red planet that’s our neighbor.
Podcast from Mars, at least space.
I think space should be coming.
Space is pretty good, space is pretty good.
But Mars next.
Chris, thanks so much for talking to me.
Thanks for having me.
It’s really an honor and a pleasure to be here, thanks.
Thanks for listening to this conversation
with Chris Mason.
To support this podcast,
please check out our sponsors in the description.
And now, let me leave you with some words
from Stanislav Lem and Solaris.
Man has gone out to explore other worlds
and other civilizations without having explored
his own labyrinth of dark passages and secret chambers,
and without finding what lies behind doorways
that he himself has sealed.
Thank you for listening, and hope to see you next time.