Top Science Stories of 2005 From teaching evolution in Pennsylvania, to the hurricane season in the Atlantic -- and a 10th planet in our solar system -- science captured the headlines this year.
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Top Science Stories of 2005

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Top Science Stories of 2005

Top Science Stories of 2005

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You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION/SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow.

We're going to be talking for the rest of the hour about the science stories that made headlines in 2005. What would you say were your top stories of 2005? Remember, that was--this has been--I'm almost speaking in the past tense--this has been one heck of a year for science stories. It really is a year of science stories. You had the tsunami that hit South Asia. That occurred over a year--a year ago last Christmastime, so we'll--but it really spilled into 2005, for sure, killing 200,000 people. We started 2005 with that story. And I don't think--little did we know what other Mother Nature stories there were in store for us in the months ahead. There was Katrina and Rita and Wilma, the earthquake in Pakistan were all yet to come.

So we're going to look back at some of these stories and other stories that made headlines. Well, things like the shuttle launch. Remember the shuttle launch, still plagued by falling foam off the shuttle? We have the continuing 80-year-old debate over teaching creationism in public schools that's got a lot of attention this year, as did testimony over the nature of science that was heard in a Pennsylvania courtroom about the teaching of intelligent design in Dover, PA. That was very, very interesting, especially what the judge said at the end.

So we're going to be running down the science headlines today, taking your calls about science stories you found interesting in 2005. I'm sure, as we do every year, you're going to come up with stuff that we just are not going to include, and we'd be happy to hear from you about that.

With me is Donald Kennedy, editor of the journal Science. Also joining us now is Jeremy Webb, editor of New Scientist magazine. He joins us by phone from London.

Thank you for staying up with us.

Mr. JEREMY WEBB (Editor, New Scientist): Oh, you're welcome, Ira.

FLATOW: Here with me in the studio is Steve Petranek. He's editor in chief of Discover magazine.

Thanks for actually coming in the studio this time.

Mr. STEPHEN PETRANEK (Editor in Chief, Discover): It's a pleasure being here.

FLATOW: Well, let me start with you, Steve, since you're here. Give us your top pick or two for science story of the year.

Mr. PETRANEK: Well, I'll tell you what my favorite is. My favorite is that we found the 11th planet, Xena. You thought there were only nine or maybe you thought there were eight if you don't include Pluto.

FLATOW: No--well, I was going to say, here in New York, they don't think that there are nine.

Mr. PETRANEK: Last year we found Sedna...


Mr. PETRANEK: ...which was a littler smaller than Pluto and a little farther out in the Kuiper Belt. And this year, we found Xena. That's our number-two science story. Xena also has a moon. That's not its official name, by the way, Xena. I think it's GB313 or something like that. So...

FLATOW: Well, why are those the top picks? They just seem to be, you know, planets. Why is that such an important thing?

Mr. PETRANEK: I think whenever we find out that the environment that we live in is significantly different than we thought it was, we're all amazed. I'm certainly amazed. Scientists--because we found Xena this year, a lot of astronomers feel much more comfortable saying something that they've been thinking for a number of years, which is there may be two dozen planets out there. There's now--it raises even more speculation about the concept called planet X, which could be a large, gassy planet like Jupiter that is way, way, way out there in Oort cloud someplace and is huge. And there are many things we cannot explain mathematically about the wobbles we see in the sun and the way planets circulate around the sun, and more and more planets explains more and more about out solar system.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm. Jeremy Webb, what do you think? What was your top pick or two or three?

Mr. WEBB: Well, I think I'd probably stay in space, as well, in the solar system, and I'd talk about Titan, the largest moon of Saturn. And we dropped a probe onto the surface of Titan and we saw a methane cycle rather like the water cycle on Earth, which seems to be cupping out valleys. We may have even seen a sea of methane; there seems to be erosion going on just like on Earth. And I think that's--seeing something like that on a completely alien moon is just the most astonishing thing.

FLATOW: Yeah. Yeah, interesting. Any other topics?

Mr. WEBB: Well, you mentioned the shuttle. One of my--it's not my favorite; I wish it hadn't happened--but the stem cell story that you've just been talking about is very important. And--but in biology, I guess I'd go for the chimp genome.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm..

Mr. WEBB: You know, a quarter of our genes are identical to the chimp's; 96 percent of our DNA is the same. And it doesn't seem to be the number of genes that are important; it's the regulation of those genes that seems to be important. And I think that's going to be--as we find out more about those regulation genes, I think that's going to be really interesting.

FLATOW: Don Kennedy, the journal Science topic for science story of the year was evolution in action. Why was that chosen?

Dr. DONALD KENNEDY (Editor in Chief, Science): Well, we thought there were a number of papers, including the chimp genome and the inspection of the interesting differences between the chimp genome and the already sequenced human genome. So we think that that was one element among many in building a case for our increasing understanding of evolution as it occurs in action.

One of the things that couldn't be done earlier was to look at the question: How new species arise in nature? And at least two papers within the past year showed new mechanisms for doing that. One of them, on a little fish called the stickleback--which sheds its armor plates whenever it moves into fresh water in historic times and gets isolated in different lakes--has made use of the same rare allele in the ancestral form, a rare gene, that is called into action and create parallel evolutionary tracks at different times in history for that particular species. There's more, but those are two that particularly impressed us.

I would like to salute Jeremy for picking Titan, because we thought that was a terrific story, too, and a great triumph for the European Space Agency.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm. They also had another triumph just recently--Did they not?--the launching--Was it this week, Jeremy?--of their own satellite system.

Mr. WEBB: Yes, that's right. Yep, it's a test satellite. It's a test satellite for Europe's version of GPS, the global positioning system. And it's slightly more accurate than the current GPS, the American version. It'll get--it's spot things down to about one yard instead of five yards.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

Mr. WEBB: And it will also penetrate to the urban canyons of our cities, so it should have better coverage in the cities. And, of course, it's--you know, Europe's been in squabble mode for the last couple of years, and it's good to see that Europe can actually pull something together when it wants to.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: Steve, let's talk about global warming, hurricane season. That's going to obviously be with us. An interesting story out just this afternoon that there was another named tropical storm today, Zeta.


FLATOW: I mean--and, you know, everybody's rushing around to see if this is latest in the season--actually, the season was over a month ago--whether this is the latest in the year that...

Mr. PETRANEK: This is clearly a record year for storms, especially in the Atlantic; a record year for hurricanes, more hurricanes than ever before; a record year for the intensity of hurricanes and the number of hurricanes that were of high intensity. But it is important to remember that we have good weather data that's for about the last 65 years; not for 6,500 years, not for six million years, not for 65 million years, but for about 65 years. And so we really are shooting in the dark when we try to make deductions about what we see.

However, computer models that were predicting what would happen if the oceans warmed, models from the late '80s, are being surpassed dramatically by actual results. As we look back at those models now and we compare what we see, we find that storms, particularly hurricanes, are exhibiting an intensity that is 50 to 80 percent higher than it's ever been, at least in our little 65-year window.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

Mr. PETRANEK: So we know that the oceans are getting warmer, we know that they've gone up about a tenth of a degree per year for the last 12 years. We know that a 1 percent degree in ocean temperature--and temperature is what drives these storms--we know that an increase in temperature will increase the intensity of storms. What we don't know is whether or not it will make more storms. And, of course, hurricanes do seem to--in our limited experience of observing them, do seem to have two- or three-decade cycles. There was a cycle back in the '60s and '70s and many more hurricanes.

FLATOW: Yeah. Jeremy Webb, there was a story out recently about the ice coming off of Greenland, the melting ice; glaciers possibly already affecting the warm water that goes by it. And isn't France having an incredibly cold winter so far?

Mr. WEBB: Well, of course, the big fear here is that--is that the northward flow of warm water in the North Atlantic is going to shut down. There was a paper this year showing that there's be something like a 30-percent reduction in that northward flow over the past 10 years. And if that does continue to slow down, there's the possibility that it will be ice cold in Paris. The whole of northern Europe could be plunged into--not exactly an ice age, but it could get extremely cold up this way, and that would be bad news for us.

But you know, on the other hand--I mean, it's something of an irony--that we've seen Arctic Sea ice melting. There's been a 20-percent reduction over the past 30 years. So, you know, something is going on. All the evidence is pointing to some new phenomenon which we're not used to. It does look like it's manmade; it does look like it's CO2 and methane and the other global warming gases. The evidence is building. I think it's becoming increasingly difficult to say it's not global warming.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm. 1 (800) 989-8255 is our number. Let's to the phones to Marcie in Oakland. Hi, Marcie.

MARCIE (Caller): Hello.


MARCIE: Are you there?

FLATOW: Yes, go ahead.

MARCIE: I wanted to make a comment about the stem cell scandal. And the comment is that I think the--it's being portrayed often as a case of a rotten apple in a distant land, and I think this is a little too simple. I think we need to look at some of the social and political dynamics that are going on in our country to find out why this could happen and why it took so long to uncover.

FLATOW: What--for example, what are you suggesting?

MARCIE: Well, I'm thinking specifically about the way that liberals and progressives and researchers have reacted to the opposition of the religious right. Of course, they oppose stem cell research because embryonic stem cell research involves the destruction of embryos, and they're opposed to that. But I think their reaction has been to not only support embryonic stem cell research--which we should--but to embrace it so enthusiastically that there's a lot of overpromising going on about the imminence and the certainty of cures, and this leads to a kind of pressure for glory and for fame and fortune.

And I think it has also led a lot of researchers and their supporters to resist the kinds of meaningful regulation that we do need on this research, both to protect women who might provide eggs and to prevent misuses of cloned embryos. Now we have these kind of regulations in other countries, but there's been a real resistance to it in the United States. So when the National Academies, for example, came out with their recommended guidelines, they recommend only voluntary kinds of regulations, nothing that was enforceable, and that's really not going to be effective.

So I think we really need effective, enforceable regulation of this research, and that's going to allow it to move forward in a way that brings whatever promises of medical advance can be realized technically, but avoids the kinds of ethical breaches and, really, breaking the law that went on in Korea, and also avoids the kind of misuse of cloned embryos that--we know that there are rogue scientists and others out there waiting to do in order to make the headlines.

FLATOW: Let me get a reaction. We're talking about the top stories of the year this hour on TALK OF THE NATION/SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News.

Don Kennedy, you want to react to that?

Dr. KENNEDY: Well, as an old government regulator, I have a little hesitancy about assigning this one to a particular agency. Perhaps the way to handle this would be analogy with the Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee, the so-called RAC at NIH, which I think has worked very, very well. It's not exactly voluntary, but it's not overregulation, either. And I think it's been pretty successful.

FLATOW: What about the--thanks for calling, Marcie. Have a happy new year. Well, what about the motivation? Every--people keep asking me, `Why would a scientist do this?' I mean, is it the pressure that she was talking about? Is there such pressure in that field to be the firstest with the mostest?

Dr. KENNEDY: I think there is...

FLATOW: Can you give us some thought about that?

Dr. KENNEDY: I think there's more pressure than is healthy. I don't think it's primarily economic. I think scientists live in a prestige economy as well as the real economy, and I think there's a lot of competition to do a thing that has been thought to be terribly difficult to do. And certainly the achievements that Dr. Hwang claimed to have made was one of those.

FLATOW: Certainly the same thing happened with face transplant, did it not, sort of trying to be the first, and the ethical considerations were sort of a bit called into question?

Dr. KENNEDY: Yes, I think the same criticisms...


Dr. KENNEDY: ...have been made there in France.

FLATOW: 1 (800) 989-8255. Jeremy Webb, how is this all viewed over there across the pond?

Mr. WEBB: Well, I think I said earlier, I mean, it's just a great shame that it happened. I think just to go back on the answer that Don's just given, you know, I think there is immense pressure now on scientists, not just--I mean, Hwang was receiving, I think, $30 million from the South Korean government. He was, as you said earlier, something of a pop star or even kind of an idol figure And so, you know, you can see that the pressure's really on this chap.

But again, Don mentioned Hendrick Schon earlier in the program; he was a physicist at Bell Labs. Now, you know, he seemed to put himself under an immense amount of pressure. You know, Bell Labs is a very prestigious lab; you've got to get results. And I think that, you know, there was another case just recently of a researcher being fired from MIT for fabricating evidence in a paper. There does seem to be a trend, growing trend, that researchers are resorting--some researchers, not all, sorry--it's a very small minority of researchers--are resorting to this kind of scurrilous tactics.

And I do think that everybody from peer review journals through to the institutions where researchers work and the educational institutions have got to think about reinforcing research ethics. Now I think also one might think about supervisors having more close contact with their researchers. There seems to be a need for more oversight. I don't know if Don would agree with that.

Dr. KENNEDY: Well, I think supervisors do need to do that. I think heads of laboratories and lead authors on papers need to be quite confident, intimately confident in the work that their colleagues are doing in contributing to the joint venture.

FLATOW: Well, there were 24 co-authors on this paper. Let me--Stephen, I know you want to say something. We have to take a break, so let me, instead of interrupting you in midsentence, interrupt you pre-midsentence, if I can coin a phrase. We'll be right back and talk lots more with Steve Petranek, Jeremy Webb and Don Kennedy and take your questions about the top science stories of 2005. Stay with us. We'll be right back.

I'm Ira Flatow. This is TALK OF THE NATION/SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News.


FLATOW: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION/SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow.

We're talking this hour about the top science stories of the year with my guests: Donald Kennedy, editor of the journal Science; Jeremy Webb, editor of New Scientist magazine; and Steve Petranek, editor in chief of Discover magazine. And we've been talking a lot about probably the story that's on most people's minds in the world of science these days, and that's the scandal in--the South Korea cloning scandal.

And, Stephen, did you want to add something to that?

Mr. PETRANEK: I wanted to say that science is about money now. It takes a hundred times more money to do good research now than it used to even 20 or 30 years ago. If you want to study thermal currents in the Pacific to understand more about weather, you need a ship; you need a ship with 200 people on it. If you want to study the magnetosphere and what's happening--really happening in the ozone layer, you need a satellite. If you want to do really good stem cell research, you need a lab with 50 people in it.

There's a reason there are 24 names on that paper. And when you start looking at scientific papers now and looking at the number of co-authors, all of a sudden, there's an incredible inflation. And the reason is that as science has subdivided itself into finer and finer and finer specialties and therefore better and better research, it takes lots more gear, takes lots more technology, and it takes lots more people. So if you want the money to do good science, you have to produce papers that will attract yet more money. It's a never-ending cycle. What Dr. Hwang was doing in Korea, if it had all been true, would have brought him incredible amounts of money to do yet more science.

FLATOW: You think people wanted it to be true? That's why it was accepted?

Mr. PETRANEK: I personally was scared to death that it was all true, to some extent, because it was happening much faster than I thought. And very few people in this society have started to give much thought to exactly what we're doing in some of the biological sciences, none of which, by the way, I would like to see slowed down with any kind of regulation.

FLATOW: The closest thing I can remember in recent history that created such a scandal was the cold fusion episode.


FLATOW: And look what that did to just even mentioning the word `fusion' or `cold fusion.' You know, there might be that kind of problem now. And I think, Don Kennedy, we were talking about that before, about talking about, you know, cloning or embryonic stem cell work.

Dr. KENNEDY: Yeah. There's one other aspect to the multiplication of the author lists about which Steve is exactly right. I mean, it's accelerating. But what else is accelerating is the number of really serious international combinations of labs that are producing very, very good papers. In a recent issue of Science, I think a third of the papers were from two or three different countries. So laboratories in Sweden and in the Netherlands and in Greece might collaborate on a particular project. I think that's actually good news because I think different sets of cultural understandings and different sets of views about the importance of particular approaches get combined in a useful way.

FLATOW: 1 (800) 989-8255. We're talking about the top stories of 2005. Eric in New York, hi. Welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY.

ERIC (Caller): Hi. I understand that scientists this year found two new rings around Uranus, and I was wondering whether they didn't discover those before in their examinations of--if new technology that's made this possible.

FLATOW: Anybody want to jump in on that?

Mr. PETRANEK: Yeah, I'll jump in on that one. We had really awful telescopes, compared to what we have now, 10 years ago. When Keck went into business, Keck 1 and 2 went into business on Mauna Kea in 1997 or so, they magnified our ability to see by at least a factor of 10. But even more important than the machines themselves that we now have is the software we're using with them. We are now able to see into space better with land-based telescopes than we can with the Hubble, because the software can correct for heat patterns and all kinds of shakes and shimmies in the telescope apparatus itself.

We are now able on silicon chips--we don't use film anymore; we use things called CCDs which are essentially photon-gathering or light-gathering silicon chips. We're actually able to manipulate with software what we receive in the telescope, literally photon by photon, and therefore we can improve the resolution dramatically. And you're going to--it's why we found Xena and it's why we found Sedna last year; it's why we're beginning out we may have so many more planets.

FLATOW: Yeah. And just what is a planet is once again up for debate.

Jeremy Webb, let's talk about another topic. I don't think we could--we would be remiss if we didn't mention the bird flu this year.

Mr. WEBB: Yes, indeed. It's got to be mentioned. We've tracked this now for--What?--about--just over a year. We've followed it into Kazakhstan and Russia, Turkey and Romania, and now everyone expects it to emerge in Africa if bird migration patterns take it there. We've have a case which we're not quite sure whether it was bird flu or not in the UK of an imported bird. So why is that of interest? It's of interest because this bird flu is--it's very nasty. It kills a large proportion of the people who catch it. What this bird flu cannot do at the moment is spread from person to person.

And what everybody is watching for and hopes will not happen is that this bird flu will either combine with a human flu virus or it will mutate in itself so that it is capable of passing from person to person. And if that were to happen, we could see another pandemic like the one in 1918 which killed so many millions of people around the world.

FLATOW: If the bird flu doesn't break out this year--and everybody's hoping it doesn't--are we going to be faced with crying wolf this year, and then next year people won't take it as seriously as they might because it didn't? Don Kennedy, what do you think?

Dr. KENNEDY: There's a lesson to be had. In 1976-77, there was almost equivalent worry about a swine flu, and you may remember, Ira...

FLATOW: Yeah. Yes.

Dr. KENNEDY: ...that it cost the director of the Centers for Disease Control his job. And the...

FLATOW: I remember Gerald Ford getting a shot on television.

Dr. KENNEDY: And--yup. And the epidemic never came.


Dr. KENNEDY: One quick plug for evolution in action. The reconstruction of the 1918 Spanish flu virus...

FLATOW: Right.

Dr. KENNEDY: ...has given us a kind of interesting look at what might be the case with the bird flu. There are some interesting similarities. We've learned something about why that virus was especially infective, and it may teach us something about the possibility of future evolution of the one that we're worried about now.

FLATOW: Steve, did you want to comment?

Mr. PETRANEK: I also think another thing that happened this year that was extraordinary that relates to what Don was just saying is that the CDC was, in fact, able to take H5N1, the avian flu, and mutate it to see what the mutations would be like and to see how virile they might be. And I think we probably don't have a lot to worry about from human-to-human avian flu this year, and I think there will be a little of a fall-down in the public consciousness about. And I think that would be a terrible shame. I thought it was remarkable that the concern got to the presidential level this year, and I thought it was a good thing for everybody because there will be a pandemic.

Avian flu has been around since 1996. We've seen outbreak after outbreak. And it has never mutated into a human-to-human version. And when it does, it could be very well like a flu that spread through about a third of London in the late 1800s and killed almost nobody, even though it was incredibly spreadable. So we don't really know where this thing is going. I don't think we have a lot to worry about avian flu this year, but the science of flu is getting awfully good.

FLATOW: All right. Let's go to Lucy in Lakewood, Ohio. Hi, Lucy.

LUCY (Caller): Hi, Ira. How are you?

FLATOW: Fine. How are you? Happy new year.

LUCY: Thank you. You, too. I just had a couple of questions. I wanted to leave it up to you guys to just throw your comments at me: women in science, and do you believe that there's been an increase in women in the science industry? And also, what do you think of this so-called ivory-billed woodpecker...


LUCY: ...reappearance? Thank you.

FLATOW: Are you talking about some Harvard president? Are we...

LUCY: Well, it could be anyone.

FLATOW: It could be anyone. All right. Well, thanks for calling.

LUCY: Thank you all.

FLATOW: Gentlemen. Don Kennedy, any comment?

Dr. KENNEDY: Well, we published the ivory-billed woodpecker paper, and of course, there are doubters. I mean, ornithologists can find some disagreements almost anywhere, and this one, of course, is an iconic bird. And so everybody's waiting for the next shoe to drop, which will drop either because somebody really sees one and gets a photographic record that nobody can argue with, or it will sort of hang out there and be a matter of lively dispute.

Mr. PETRANEK: I think it's good that it's a matter of lively dispute. I think it's fabulous that somebody is looking at this remote swamp in Arkansas and saying, `You know, there ought to be more places like this.' And we found several wildflowers this year that we thought had disappeared decades ago. I think it's kind of a little bit of a slap in the face to human beings that they think they know everything about every square inch of the Earth...

FLATOW: Right. Right.

Mr. PETRANEK: ...and they keep finding out that they don't.

FLATOW: Yeah. Well, you know, on the other hand, you know, you talk about one thing that has flown under the radar again this year as it does, because it's just become a fact of the way of life, is the loss of all this biodiversity every year from the burning and the clear-cutting in the rain forests around the world. And it just--you know, when you think of the number of species and the number of trees that are cut down, you know, you can pick up any state you want the size of every, you know, five minutes or five days. It's something that we cover a lot in the--unfortunately we don't hear anything good news--no good news about that.

Jeremy, a lot of birders in Great Britain. Were they interested in this story?

Mr. WEBB: Yeah. I think there's one thing better than discovering a new species, and that's rediscovering one that you thought had gone extinct. So you know, I hope they really do find this bird, and I completely with what both the other editors have said. It's a great subject for bringing biodiversity into the eye of the public, and so, you know, the wonders that we have here on this planet which we seem to take for granted.

FLATOW: 1 (800) 989-8255 is our number. We're talking about the year in science this hour on TALK OF THE NATION/SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News. And just a few more minutes to talk about what we see as the top stories of the year with Don Kennedy, Steve Petranek and Jeremy Webb.

Jeremy, you got one you want to throw in as we get close to the end here, another top story?

Mr. WEBB: Well, I guess we shouldn't finish without the shuttle. You know, the shuttle went up--Discovery went up in July. The aim was to stop any foam falling off the external tanks and, you know, obviously stopping a repeat of the Columbia disaster. And some foam fell off, and the shuttle is once again grounded. And that brings into focus, you know, the need for a replacement for the shuttle as quickly as possible. And you know, the chief administrator of NASA mentioned the Crew Exploration Vehicle; I think he called it `Apollo on steroids.' Well, you know, I hope that he can inject some enthusiasm and some urgency into NASA, because we're great supporters of manned spaceflight.

FLATOW: Not only that, but we now have more countries involved in that race to the moon than we had back in the '60s.

Mr. WEBB: Well, that's right. China has now made its second successful flight into space, and India is threatening to send a probe to the moon. So I think things are--you know, the competition is hopping up. But you know, the US has got such a lead here that, you know, I'd like to see NASA back in space as quickly as possible.

FLATOW: Now on the other hand, let me play devil's advocate. You'll hear space scientists say, `Why are we putting all our money in putting people into space when we can make these fantastic robots that go to the outer planets?'

Mr. WEBB: OK. How long have you got?

FLATOW: How about 30 seconds?

Mr. WEBB: OK. OK. So once again, we have a real balance to have here. One, we want to send humans into space because it's a frontier; it's a pioneering, exciting thing to do. Two, you know, we've mentioned Titan today, and there's some fantastic robotic missions going on. And it will be a shame if one eclipsed the other. You know, we want to keep them both going if we possibly can.

FLATOW: And there's a European probe that's going to be going to Mars, right?

Mr. WEBB: Yes, that's right, yep. And you know, there's at least one entrepreneur in Britain who wants to send Beagle 3 up as well.

FLATOW: And that's another story, the entrepreneurial side of space, that we didn't talk about.

Mr. PETRANEK: That's right.

FLATOW: Right, Steve?

Mr. PETRANEK: That's right. You know, the Europeans are now on record that they're going to Mars, too, and they're going to Mars by 2033. So there really is a race.

FLATOW: We also have the race to get people in private--you know, the Burt Rutan sort of--`I can build these things better than the government can.' Are...

Mr. PETRANEK: I hope that we see a private company build a space elevator soon so that we can reduce the price of getting things into orbit from about $10,000 a pound to about a dollar a pound. And I think you'll see that.

FLATOW: Don Kennedy, I got about a minute left here. Last comment.

Dr. KENNEDY: That cost is going to shrink even faster than the chip is shrinking. Good news. NASA's term for taking something off the list of things that they're going to fund is `descoped.' And one of my concerns...

FLATOW: Sounds like a medical term.

Dr. KENNEDY: One of my concerns is that with the commitment to the Moon-Mars project, a number of nearer robotic missions are being descoped. And I think that's too bad. I agree with Jeremy; I'd like to see them both get serious attention.

FLATOW: All right.

Mr. PETRANEK: That means more money.

FLATOW: Yeah. That may have to come from some other place.

I want to thank all three of you gentlemen for taking time to be with us today and wish you all a happy new year. And, Donald Kennedy--Jeremy Webb, editor of New Scientist magazine; Don Kennedy, editor of journal Science; Steve Petranek, editor in chief of Discover magazine, happy new year to all of you.

Mr. PETRANEK: Happy new year.

Dr. KENNEDY: And same to you.

FLATOW: Take care. We'll see you next year.


FLATOW: If you missed any of SCIENCE FRIDAY, surf over to our Web site at, where we are podcasting SCIENCE FRIDAY. You can listen to the program again and all--lots of back issues of SCIENCE FRIDAY. Also, SCIENCE FRIDAY's Kids' Connection is there. This is free teaching material curricula that we make based on SCIENCE FRIDAY. Just go to the Web site, click on the `for teachers' button and there you'll have it, stuff that you can bring into the classrooms and use to teach SCIENCE FRIDAY material to your students.

Have a great weekend. Have a happy new year. I'm Ira Flatow in New York.

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