Episode 2 | To Antarctica and Beyond
Alok Jha goes to Antarctica and far beyond with space plasma physicist Dr Suzie Imber.
Suzie is Associate Professor in Space Physics at the University of Leicester. She’s currently involved in the BepiColombo mission to Mercury, which launched in 2018, and will go into orbit around Mercury in December 2025.
She’s also a high altitude mountaineer: since 2014 she’s teamed up with highly-acclaimed mountaineer Maximo Kausch, firstly to discover and then to climb dozens of the most remote mountains on the planet.
And, in 2017, Suzie was the winner of BBC2’s Astronauts: Do You Have What it Takes? After being put through her paces by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, she now has his backing for her application to the European Space Agency’s call for new astronauts.
Listen to the podcast below
As recommended on the podcast
The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard
The Worst Journey in the World recounts Robert Falcon Scott's ill-fated expedition to the South Pole. Apsley Cherry-Garrard, the youngest member of Scott's team and one of three men to make and survive the notorious Winter Journey, draws on his firsthand experiences as well as the diaries of his compatriots to create a stirring and detailed account of Scott's legendary expedition.
Why does Antarctica matter to you?
"Antarctica matters to me because it is an example of international collaboration in an increasingly fractured world. The Antarctic treaty set aside Antarctica as a place for peace and scientific exploration, and this is what I would like to see for the future of space exploration."
Dr Suzie Imber, 2021
Glossary of terms
Space Weather: Space weather describes changing environmental conditions in near-Earth space. Magnetic fields, radiation, particles and matter, which have been ejected from the Sun, can interact with the Earth’s upper atmosphere and surrounding magnetic field to produce a variety of effects. It drives the beautiful aurora, but can also damage spacecraft instrumentation, disrupt communication infrastructure and GPS systems, damage astronaut health, as well as driving currents that flow in the ionosphere (above the atmosphere) that can cause damage to ground-based assets such as power grids.
Neutrino: A neutral subatomic particle created in a wide variety of nuclear processes. They carry no electrical charge and with nearly no mass, they zip through the cosmos at almost the speed of light. To put that into context, there are billions of neutrinos that pass through an area the size of a fingernail every second, without any interaction.
Space Plasma: The universe is made of up of space plasma. Plasma is the word given to the fourth state of matter (solid, liquid, gas, plasma). A plasma is a gas that is so hot that some or all its constituent atoms are split up into electrons and ions, which can move independently of each other. They are made up of electrically charged particles and are therefore strongly influenced by electrostatic and electromagnetic fields and forces.
Episode 2 Transcript To Antarctica and beyond with Dr Suzie Imber
Alok Jha (00:01): Let me take you on a journey to the coldest place on earth and it's last and greatest wilderness on A Voyage To Antarctica. Hello, and welcome to A Voyage to Antarctica brought to you by the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust. I'm your host, Alok Jha. As a continent of research and science, Antarctica gives us an insight into the history and future of our planet. But the research happening there is also revealing the secrets of our universe. So this week we're going to Antarctica and far beyond with space plasma physicist, Dr. Suzie Imber, Suzie is an associate professor in space physics at the University of Leicester. She's currently involved in the BepiColombo to Mercury, which launched in 2018 and will go into orbit around Mercury in December 2025. She's also a high altitude Mountaineer. Since 2014, she's teamed up with highly acclaimed mountaineer Maximo Kausch first to discover, and then to climb dozens of the most remote mountains on the planet.
Alok Jha (01:18): So you're someone who researches planetary sciences and planets out there, whether it's Mars or beyond what's your interest in Antarctica?
Dr Suzie Imber (01:28): I have lots of interested in Antarctica actually. My primary research in Antarctica is that I'm interested in how the sun interacts with the planet's magnetic field, the Earth's magnetic field, and that drives huge dynamics around the Earth that can be quite harmful. My area of research is called space weather and big space weather events can cause damage to GPS systems and power grids and astronauts to get high doses of radiation and damage to telecommunication systems. it also drives the Aurora, which is sort of wonderful light show that we see at high latitudes. We often call this the Aurora Borealis or the Northern lights. And we see them over Northern Norway and Canada, those kinds of regions, but there's also an Aurora in the South as well called the Aurora Australis and the Antarctic continent is the perfect place to observe the Aurora Australis and by looking at the Aurora where it is, how intense it is and how it moves, we can understand the coupling between the sun and the solar wind and the Earth's magnetic field. So that's my interest.
Alok Jha (02:32): And, you know, in terms of how long this kind of work has been going on in Antarctica, space science. So what was the sort of connection between space science and Antarctica?
Dr Suzie Imber (02:44): In terms of my area of research, which has been going on for decades actually. We have lots of equipment down there. So we have cameras, all sky cameras that look up and, and measuring the Aurora from different locations. But we also have a huge radar system down there built at the British Antarctic survey base. And so we've got loads of equipment and that equipment's been there for a long time. One of the problems that we face is that the location where the radar is, is on a particularly unstable portion of of the ice shelf and when it starts to break up and we think we see cracks in the ice, we quickly have to drag the radar to a different place, to a place of safety and set it up again. And it's massive. So yeah, we, we have these issues associated with our equipment
Alok Jha (03:31): Now, but being an Antarctica, getting to Antarctica, working in Antarctica is not at all an easy thing to do. But I'm guessing that the reason you do it is because the conditions there are particularly good. You talked about how you can see the Southern lights, the Aurora Australis, but is there, is there something about the conditions there in Antarctica in terms of the sky or the positioning of the Earth that allows you to do your work particularly well?
Dr Suzie Imber (03:57): Yeah. So for my work, you need to be at high latitudes in the Northern hemisphere or the Southern hemisphere. And if you want to go South to look at the differences between the Aurora Borealis and the, Aurora Australis or the Northern and Southern lights, then you have to be on land. And the only continent we have is Antarctica. So it's exactly it's position relative to the South magnetic pole. That's important, but for many of the other aspects of scientific research that are going on Antarctica s ideal for a range of different reasons. So for example if you were interested in positioning telescopes in Antarctica you might do that because it's a region of dark skies, it's a very transparent atmosphere, in some regions it's very low wind conditions. So it's ideal for observing space at just a fraction of the cost of actually going to space with your telescope. Another example is ice cube, which is a neutrino detector, and that's buried deep underground,, under the Antarctic surface in the ice. And it's designed to detect neutrinos and these neutrinos come from supernovae and other explosive events in the universe and neutrinos are really hard to measure. They mostly just pass through the planets and they don't interact with anything. But the way this instrument works is that the neutrino collide with a nucleus of anatomy in the ice. And it gives off a little bit of light and we see that light. So you need this sort of a large area, huge volume of totally dark space. That's also transparent and the ice underneath Antarctica is the perfect place for it. So there's a huge range of research going on down there
Alok Jha (05:32): With the neutrino experiments, I'm guessing also that one of the reasons it's good to be in Antarctica is that you have fewer bits of noise around. So, you know, you don't have potential random signals from, you know, human induced activity or buildings or lorries or anything else that might sort of swamp, any tiny signal that is a real neutrino.
Dr Suzie Imber (05:52): Yeah, you're right. So you need complete darkness because you're looking for tiny, tiny flashes of light in the ice. And so, yeah, being deep underground, these, these experiments, they're always underground, sometimes they're underground in, in huge mines underground, for example, in Italy and other and other places too. So yeah, they have to be underground.
Alok Jha (06:13): So, so tell us some of the the big insights that have come from looking at space from Antarctica, what kinds of things have we discovered because, because of these, these really complicated experiments in very far away places,
Dr Suzie Imber (06:26): Well actually kind of to extend this a bit more than just looking at space, I wanted to bring up something that, that actually was in the news just a few days ago to do with a new discovery in Antarctica, and it's not to do with space it's to do with Earth. So they report is just a few days ago that they, that the British Antarctic survey drilled through a thick ice shelf out 900 meters, dropped a camera down, and they were looking for a kind of mud on the seabed, and they found a Boulder with sponges growing there and a load of unidentified creatures. And these things are completely isolated in darkness and temperatures of minus two degrees and they suspect some of them might be thousands of years old. They've never seen some of these species before. So basically everywhere we look, we see exciting discoveries in Antarctica. In terms of the research that I do, we have made huge steps forward over the last decade or two, combining the ground-based signatures that we get with our radars and looking at the Aurora from the ground with spacecraft measurements. So we've got some, some spacecraft going around the earth, measuring the in-situ conditions up in the ionosphere, which is sort of above the atmosphere. And then we compare this with our ground-based observations, and that has enabled us to really understand the response of the Earth's magnetic field to the solar wind this sort of space weather area of research.
Alok Jha (07:48): Actually, you talked about this earlier, but I wonder if you could expand a bit, so your, your, your research area touches on space weather. When you say space weather, just describe for us what you mean?
Dr Suzie Imber (08:00): So what I mean, I mean, we call ourselves space weather forecasters. It's a bit like sort of, you know, terrestrial weather forecasters we're looking at the sun all the time, and we are looking for larger eruptive events on the solar surface. So sometimes there are regions of the solar surface that kind of explode outwards, and we get magnetic fields and huge amounts of plasma that leaves the sun and enters the solar wind and travels all the way through the heliosphere to the outer planets. And I'm interested in what happens when that one of these explosions hits a planet and what the impacts might be. And so we see the beautiful and bright Aurora, but that's really just the a way that we can sense the extreme dynamics going on in the global system. And, and the biggest space weather event that we ever observed was in the 1850s, and it was called the Carrington event. And back then, the only reason they knew it was happening was that Telegraph operators got electric shocks in their ears. And so they knew something was going on. But actually what was happening was this huge coupling between the solar wind and the planetary magnetic field, the Earth's magnetic field was driving massive currents above the atmosphere that induced currents to flow in anything long and metallic on the surface, for example, the wires, the Telegraph operators were using. And if that happened today, of course, we'd get currents flowing in our power lines, for example, along oil pipelines. And we could see extreme damage to satellites, et cetera. So space weather has really serious impacts for our society because we're so dependent upon technology today. And in fact, more and more of our lives coupled with sending up satellites and using satellite data. And the more we become dependent on satellites, the more space weather matters to us.
Alok Jha (09:45): So while it might have been just an inconvenience back in the Carrington event time, so these, these electrical electrical electric shocks for Telegraph operators today, it would, it would sort of make economies stop for at least a certain amount of time, given how much we rely on electricity and, and, and, and electronics.
Dr Suzie Imber (10:05): Absolutely. And one of the massive challenges for us is that these things are very, very difficult to predict. As I said, the last massive events happened a hundred over 150 years ago. But smaller scale events happened fairly frequently and really it's difficult for us to, to predict when they're going to happen. So what we do is we look at the sun, we still have this Eagle eye view on the sun all the time, looking for these kinds of events, measuring what the sun's doing to try to see whether the sun is becoming more active, for example, that might be indicative of a big event. And then when one does happen, we track it through the solar system to see whether it's going to hit the earth
Alok Jha (10:57): Another piece of, I suppose, planetry science research is, is, is the appearance of meteorites on Antarctica. I mean, most of the meteorites we know of on earth that we use to study rocks from the rest of the solar system they they're found on Antarctica. Isn't that right?
Dr Suzie Imber (11:14): Yeah, that's absolutely true. And it's not because for some reason they all land in Antarctica as opposed to
Alok Jha (11:19): Yeah, I was going to say how come they all end up there? Is it just, is that where the entry point is?
Dr Suzie Imber (11:25): No, in fact, it's because they're easier to see in Antarctica. So as they land there, they're dark in colour often and the Antarctic surface is white and so they stand out very easily. Also there's sort of no vegetation in which they can be lost. So really it's a question of identification. One of the interesting things though about meteorites is that we seem to see slightly different meteorites in Antarctica, the rest of the planet. So about 5% of all meteorites contain iron but only half a percent of the ones found in Antarctica contain Iron. So the suspicion is that the ones that do as they, as they land they get preferentially heated by the sun and they just sort of sink through the ice. And so they're, they're much harder for us to pick up. So in a way, the fact that the landing on ice is sort of preferentially enabling us to observe or pick up certain types of meteorites over other types in Antarctica. And the reason that we care about meteorites and the reason that we're looking for meteorites is that they're remnants from the early solar system. So when the planets were forming and they can really tell us about the history of planetary formation in our solar system.
Alok Jha (12:36): And so by looking at these meteorites we get a sense of sense of where our planet and others came from essentially.
Dr Suzie Imber (12:44): Exactly.
Alok Jha (12:47): Tell us about working in Antarctica itself. I just wonder, you know, we've heard from so many people on this podcast about how ethereal and strange, and kind of magical place it is to work, but I just wonder for a lot of those people are also working on Antarctica itself, looking at you know, how that continent is changing because of things like climate change, looking at the wildlife around there, looking at those sorts of things. For space scientists. Is there a kind of similar connection to the continent in, in terms of the work you're doing? Or is it just another place that's just a bit harder to get to.
Alok Jha (13:29): Well, most space scientists, including me have never, never got the chance to go to Antarctica. So I haven't been to Antarctica yet. Although it must be on your list of things to do surely
Dr Suzie Imber (13:39): Absolutely on my list of things to do. Yes, absolutely. So most of us never get to go there because unless you're building the instrumentation or maintaining it, there are actually thousands of people using the data, but you don't need those people to go down to Antarctica to collect the data. So, you know, most people never get the chance. There are ways that you can go and get involved. For example, we talked about meteorites. You can join organizations that are hunting for meteorites. So various research organizations send people down to Antarctica every year, hunting for meteorites. So that's kind of a great way for scientists to get involved in in Antarctica and get to go and visit
Alok Jha (14:16): In part of the work that you're doing. Again, we're looking at understanding the character of different planets and, and understanding the other worldliness of them. I mean, for us here for the rest of us, Antarctica itself is probably the most other worldly place that there is. What can we learn from Antarctica that, that helps people like you to understand what conditions might be like on other planets?
Alok Jha (14:40): Well, Antarctica does provide a unique environment that we can use in many different ways in our research. So for example there are some dry valleys in Antarctica. These are regions that aren't covered in ice, and these are ideal sites for Martian analogs. So they're places where we might send Martian rovers or other equipment designed to operate on the Martian surface to test whether there'll be effective. They, it suffers from extreme cold and it's very dry environment, just like you might expect on Mars. So there are analog sites which are of interest. Also of course, if you think about where we're looking at going in the future, we've got Europa clipper going to one of Jupiter's moons, Europa. Another moon of great interest to us is Enceladus, one of Saturn's moons, and these are icy worlds, and we're going to be sending equipment to look for life beneath the surface of these icy moons. And the closest analog that we have to that environment to test all manner of things, whether it's drilling through a thick ice or operating equipment in these kinds of environments is the Antarctic continent. And so it really does provide analogs that are going to help us with our future exploration.
Alok Jha (15:53): And so it's a way of testing out equipment before you send it to hundreds of thousands, hundreds of millions of kilometers away to other planets. You mentioned the icy moons of Jupiter and Saturn, and I can't help, but just indulge my interest in this a little bit more if you don't mind. So these are very, very far away from the sun, obviously, but they have liquid water on them. And liquid water is something that we think must be well, it's very important for life on earth. So we assume it's important for life elsewhere. Is that what we're looking for going to these places Enceladus and Europa, where are we, are we genuinely looking for microbes or, or something else?
Dr Suzie Imber (16:34): Yeah, so we have sent we have sent probes out to these reasons in the past. And we know that they have liquid water because there's a magnetic signature associated with the liquid water that we've been able to observe. So we know that they have liquid water deep, deep under the surface, and we suspect that the ice is incredibly thick. So what we're thinking about is sending Europa clipper to kind of characterize the environment, but in the future, perhaps sending something that could land and drill through the ice, because we want to sample the water underneath. Now, some of these, icy moons have large cracks in the ice and plumes of material coming out of the cracks. And we've also sampled some of those plumes. And as we've looked at the plumes, we've been able to identify some compounds in the material that are also given off at the Earth. And so by, by processes that enable life. And so we're sort of looking not necessarily to see the microbes, but maybe to see sort of some hints of conditions that might enable microbes to, to exist. And if you think about where life started on the earth, we look at these sort of deep sea deep ocean vents, at the bottom of the sea. They never see the light of the sun. The environment is incredibly hostile down there and yet life flourishes. And so that's the reason why we suspect that life may also flourish deep under the surface of, of these icy moons. One thing I will say about the water though, is it's not the kind of water that we see on the earth. It contains a lot of impurities and we also want to kind of sample the water and find out a bit more about its pH and about the impurities in the water to also assess what kind of life might be able to survive there,
Alok Jha (18:21): Which is all incredibly exciting. The idea of looking for life beyond earth is, is something that I think is going to be increasingly interesting and, and reported on in, in, in the coming years. But there's another reason I think that Antarctica is interesting for that front because for the last 20 or so years, 30 years, we've been discovering even more extreme organisms in different places. So you mentioned the hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the ocean, where, where organisms can live at crazy temperatures and still seemed to survive, but Antarctica itself has shown us that we, there are all sorts of organisms that can live in a very, very extreme conditions there, which again, give us the hope that they might exist elsewhere, other extreme conditions on other planets or other moons or anything. I'm just curious how, how that has impacted the places we sort of send probes or look for life, or look for signs of life elsewhere.
Dr Suzie Imber (19:21): It certainly has. So the only, the only thing that can help us in our search is looking at the most diverse forms of life on the earth, and then trying to find out if there could be parallel environments in other places. And so Antarctica clearly is a prime example of this. There are bacteria and other small organisms surviving in the most unlikely places in Antarctica, whether that's in pockets of water cutoff from, from the rest of the world for, for thousands of years. Or as you say, under the ice completely under high pressure environment. So yeah, looking for life elsewhere, we really have to look at what we can see on the earth first, and then try to understand how life can survive here. Of course, we are assuming that life elsewhere in our solar system has evolved along similar lines to the Earth when we make these assumptions. And you have to start somewhere. So, and this is where we start, but of course that's an assumption that maybe disproven.
Alok Jha (20:24): Well, the, the exciting thing about all of that, I think is that as much as you might expect, trying to find life on earth and its various multi multifaceted forms. And you think, well, these are the conditions it must exist in. As soon as you find more extreme conditions that life somehow finds a way of existing there too, whether it's incredibly salty or where there's not much water or there's not even any sunlight. They, they exist everywhere, which gives me optimism at least anyway, as a, as an, as an amateur, it gives me the optimism to think perhaps life finds a way of surviving in all sorts of other places elsewhere as well.
Dr Suzie Imber (20:59): I mean, we've even found examples of of organisms that can survive space. So we've sent things into space and brought them back again and they've, they've survived that journey. So yeah, absolutely.
Alok Jha (21:13): Yeah. That's terrifying What is this thing? What is this thing that can survive in space?
Dr Suzie Imber (21:18): Well, there's this things called nematode worms, for example there's actually a few examples of organs. What, what worries us at the moment in fact is is planetary protection. So when we're thinking about sending something to another planet, this applies to Antarctica as well, interestingly, but as you particularly, if we're sending equipment to Mars, we're really worried about decontaminating that equipment so that when we, when the equipment arrives at Mars, we don't populate it with a load of organisms that have come from the earth. So we have to be really, really careful. And now with the recent arrival of Perseverance and Perseverance is designed to cache samples that will be brought back to the earth again, one of the real hot topics in our community is what will we do with those samples when they return to the earth? Because we don't want the opposite to be true, where we contaminate our own environment with samples that have come from Mars. And the same certainly is true for Antarctica. We don't want to contaminate the Antarctic continent with, with anything from, you know, other regions of the surface. So plants should protection is essential parts of what we do.
Camilla Nichol (22:27): Hello. I'm Camilla Nichol, CEO of the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust. And I hope you're enjoying the podcast so far. We work to preserve and protect Antarctica's unique heritage from the historic huts of early pioneers to the amazing discoveries in climate science. And our mission is to inspire current and future generations to discover value and protect this precious wilderness. The pandemic has had a significant impact on our work. We need your generosity now more than ever. Find out how you can help save Antarctica, protect our planet and even adopter penguin at ukaht.org. Or search for the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust. Thank you and enjoy the rest of the podcast.
Alok Jha (23:11): Well, what kind of work are you going to be doing with projects in Antarctica in, in the coming years? What excites you the most?
Dr Suzie Imber (23:19): There's a couple of things actually that I'm excited about. One is this project I'm involved with called Homeward bound, which is an international leadership program designed to bring together women who are scientists and policymakers who really care about climate change in our environment. The idea is to make a network of people who combined and together will be able to lead the fight against climate change. And the combination it's a leadership training program in essence, but the combination is, is a voyage to Antarctica as a group. And that voyage was supposed to happen in November. Sadly, of course, with the coronavirus pandemic, wasn't possible for us all to go to Antarctica, but we have high hopes that we will be going in 2022. So I'm excited about that because that's my first opportunity to go to Antarctica.
Alok Jha (24:07): Can I just ask, have you, have you always wanted, I mean, of course right now we talked about this. You do want to go to Antarctica, but I'm just curious where your interest in that continent came from. Have you always wanted to go or has it come from the fact that this is where you can do the best research of the kind that you want to do?
Dr Suzie Imber (24:23): Oh, that's a great question. Yeah, I've always wanted to go. I, I used to read the sort of stories of the ancients Antarctic explorers of a hundred years ago and they really inspired me. And so I always wanted to go to Antarctica but I've never yet found a way to get down there. And in fact, I spend a lot of my time in the high mountains doing, doing mountaineering and launching mountaineering expeditions to climb unclimbed mountains. And there are lots of unclimbed, mountains and Antarctica actually. So I have a real dream to go down there with a mountaineering expedition one day.
Alok Jha (24:55): You don't have small ambitions, I'll tell you, other planets climbing mountains in Antarctica, anything else? That's part of the expedition, but are there other projects you're working on in terms of the research going on down there, the research that perhaps also can inform the work you're doing.
Dr Suzie Imber (25:17): Yes. So as I mentioned one of our, well, our radar in Antarctica sadly the piece of ice that it was on sort of looks in a very fragile state. And so we're looking to relocate that radar system to a more stable area, which, which will enable it to operate far into the future. So we have plans around that to start with sort of quite urgent work that needs to be done. We also have lots of plans associated with the Aurora science that we do. And as I said, we are always launching new spacecrafts that we can then use in conjunction with our ground-based assets to, to try to understand space weather. So this is a real focus of my research. And although it probably won't take me to Antarctica to necessarily do any of the science of course, Antarctica is inherently a part of what I do.
Alok Jha (26:04): Antarctica is the focus of this podcast and this conversation. But I'm also curious to know about your your sort of attempts to go to very difficult places. I mean, you want to go to Antarctica, is it sounds like it's going to happen. Would you, I mean, what about going to space or things like that? I mean, if Antarctica is one challenge, space is surely next for you.
Dr Suzie Imber (26:26): Well, yeah, so I, I always really dreamed of going to Antarctica rather than growing up dreaming of being an astronaut. But I sort of had some experiences in this regard a few years ago when I was part of the BBC television series called "Astronauts: Do you have what it takes?" Which is a reality television series where sort of space meets reality TV, space meets the bake-off basically is how it felt.
Alok Jha (26:53): Space meets the Bake Off, fantastic.
Dr Suzie Imber (26:53): It was kind of all about, you know, we had a group of people and we had an astronaut during the selection and we were put through astronaut selection to try to see kind of what attributes are required for an astronaut, sort of who had the skills to be an astronaut one day. And so that really made me think about maybe applying to be an astronaut one day. I mean, the European space agency had just opened their applications for astronauts, and I'm sure there'll be many thousands of applications for people wanting to do that. So yeah, I think, you know, something that I would love to do, but we'll have to see what opportunities arise in the future.
Alok Jha (27:28): What do you think your chances are?
Dr Suzie Imber (27:30): Statistically they will be probably 15 to 20,000 applications and they'll pick around 25. So not great somewhere between one and 1,000 and one in two thousands, I guess is the likelihood of me getting there. But having said that there were a number of qualifications that will probably automatically rule out some of the people who apply in the first round. So I should have all the qualifications that they require. It's just a case of really, whether I'm the kind of person they're looking for.
Alok Jha (28:04): Well, I'm incredibly excited for you. I think that the idea of going into space would be something that definitely I would dream about, but I'm far too old and unqualified for that sort of thing. Anyway. Now I think part of my reasons for becoming a journalist was because that way I could ring up NASA and say, do you mind if I go on one of those astronaut training programs, just for a day to write it, that was the closest I was ever going to get unfortunately. Although having said that now there are lots of private space companies that will take people up. I mean, Virgin Galactic and others. So even if, even if one doesn't become an official astronaut, there are potential for the people to go into space in the next 10 years. I mean, that must be exciting too.
Dr Suzie Imber (28:43): Well, absolutely, but it's very different. So if you think about Virgin Galactic, their model is that you go up in a, in a plane and the plane has a rocket attached to it. The rocket detaches from the plane, it flies in a big arc and it comes back down again and you're weightless for about six minutes as the rocket sort of completes its huge arc. So you get to see the earth from space. You get to experience microgravity environments, floating around inside the capsule, and then this thing comes back and lands at the spaceport. And so that's not quite the same as going to the International Space Station to do science experiments for six months. It's just a different kind of experience. Although actually for you, Space X are looking to send a capsule around the moon and back. I think the, I think the program is called Moon Shot. And I know that they, the person who has bought all the seats on the first flight is looking for things like artists, journalists, like you, people who write music and writers to go on that journey, because what he recognized is that actually what he said was what if John Lennon had been to space? You know, how different would, would it have been? You know, think about the reach of some of these people, some of these artists and writers, et cetera, poets, they have huge reach and sending someone like that into space has a much bigger impact for the entire population of the planet, rather than sending someone like me into space. He'll do some great science, but it may not reach as many people. So
Alok Jha (30:18): I think you're doing yourself a disservice. It's probably much more useful for humanity in general if scientists go into space than someone, someone like me. But I tell you what if you do, if you do hear about the Space X seats then, and you want to put a good word in for me, I'm not going to complain so feel free, but I think it's very interesting. We're talking about going into space because for the explorers that inspired you, that went to Antarctica, Ammons and Scott, Shackleton more so than these people who went to Antarctica for the first time, got to the South pole for the first time, endured all these terrible things that inspire the rest of us to sort of do, do amazing things in our lives. For them going to Antarctica was the equivalent of going to space is for us now. I mean, that's how unknown it was and that's how difficult it was. And that's how challenging physically it was. So, you know, these things are not unconnected.
Dr Suzie Imber (31:12): No, absolutely. And actually the best book, possibly the best book I've ever read in my entire life. And one that I recommend everybody to read. If you haven't read it already is a book called The Worst Journey in the World. It's by Apsley Cherry-Garrard. And it is just an extraordinary story of survival and overcoming adversity in Antarctica, absolutely extraordinary and the courage that the people that were on the team displays and their good humor in the face of extreme adversity is just remarkable. And I think stories like that really remind us what humanity is capable of. And I find it incredibly inspiring.
Alok Jha (31:49): I, I totally agree. I totally agree that that book, of course, we've discussed on this podcast before as well, and Apsley Cherry-Garrard, is a, is a hero of that, of that time. I'm just glad that it happened to someone else, it's good to read about those things, but you don't want them to happen to you necessarily. Can I just finish up by asking you a question, which we're asking everybody, why does Antarctica matter to you?
Dr Suzie Imber (32:13): Antarctica really matters to me as in a much broader sense than just science or interesting and incredible stories of history. It actually mattered to me as I'm sure it does to many of your other guests, as an example of international collaboration in an increasingly fractured world. And I think what the Antarctic treaty and subsequent treaties over the years have done is protect these incredibly fragile environments for the betterment of everybody. And they've done an incredible job and in my line of work and in my thoughts is what's going to happen to space in this, in this context, you know, we have all manner of issues around space and that they're very similar issues to the issues of the early Antarctic continent, thinking about the fact that the Antarctic treaty set aside Antarctica as a place for peace and scientific exploration. And that really sets what I would like to see as, as the future of space exploration, but there is no sort of similar treaty yet. So I think it's really a milestone for what we can achieve when we work together for the betterment of science and all humanity.
Alok Jha (33:27): Suzie, it's been fascinating. Thank you so much.
Dr Suzie Imber (33:30): Thank you.
Alok Jha (33:34): Thank you for listening. A Voyage to Antarctica is brought to you by the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust. Next time I'll be talking to Dwayne Fields. The first black Britain to walk more than 400 miles to the magnetic North Pole, in The white Continent, a special two-part episode. To find out more about our guests, including photos and videos, head to our website www.ukaht.org, or follow our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages. If you enjoyed this episode, please don't forget to follow us and rate us wherever you get your podcasts. This podcast is part of the trust's Antarctica Insight program supported by the Arts Council England, the Garfield Western Foundation and the Foreign and Commonwealth development office. A Voyage to Antarctica was presented by me Alok Jha, produced by Jessica Norman. Ben Hewis is digital producer and the music and sound design is by Alec Hewes. See you next week.