Explorations in the world of science.
The equal rights stuff
In 1976, Nasa launched a campaign to help recruit the next generation of Astronauts. It was fronted by African-American actress Nichelle Nichols, Star Trek’s Lt. Uhura, as part of an effort to ensure the astronaut corps represented the diversity of the United States.
When they were revealed to the press, the 35 members of the new astronaut group included six women, three African American men and one Asian American man. All were appointed on merit.
The selection of the first women caused quite a stir. As the ‘first mom in space’, Anna Fisher was asked by the press whether she was worried about her child (none of the fathers were asked). There were also jibes about separate restrooms and whether the women would ‘weep’ if something went wrong.
Meanwhile, Nasa’s engineers suggested developing a zero-g makeup kit and the first US woman in space, Sally Ride, was issued with a long string of tampons (joined together like sausages) for a six-day mission.
To mark the 40th anniversary of the first Shuttle launch in April 1981, astronaut Nicole Stott speaks to some of these pioneers and hears how Nasa has since aimed to become a beacon for diversity.
Contributors also include astronaut Charles Bolden, the first African American to head the space agency and – as Nasa prepares to land the first woman on the Moon – its new head of human spaceflight, Kathy Lueders.
(Image: Sally Ride. Credit: Nasa)
Producer: Richard Hollingham
Lithium: Chile’s white gold
The Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2019 was awarded to John Goodenough, Stanley Whittingham and Akira Yoshino "for the development of lithium-ion batteries." These rechargeable batteries are in our phones, and in our laptops. And they will be the batteries powering electric vehicles which we are being urged to use in place of ones fuelled by gasoline and diesel. Jane Chambers finds out how the element lithium has become so important in the world today. She lives in Chile, where lithium is called the country’s white gold, as it is the source of much of the world’s supply. Jane travels to the Atacama Desert and visits the SQM mine where lithium is evaporated out of huge brine lakes.
She talks to Professor Clare Grey of Cambridge University about her research into improving the efficiency of lithium ion batteries. And Dr Paul Anderson of Birmingham University explains what needs to be done for more lithium to be recycled.
Editor: Deborah Cohen
Picture: Lithium plant in Atacama Desert, Chile, Credit: SQM
Patient zero: Coronavirus and contact tracing
Today’s episode is about the history we’re still living. From Melbourne to Munich, Lombardy to Wuhan and all the way back again, this episode is about what happened when we faced those first coronavirus cases. Where things went well, where they didn’t, and where contact tracing was effective — and whether there’s anything we could have done to stop it.
Presented by Olivia Willis of ABC Australia.
(Picture: Coronavirus particles spreading in a crowd of people, Credit: Peter Howell/Getty Images)
The Evidence: Mental health and the pandemic
Year two of the pandemic, and in tandem with rising rates of illness, death, acute economic shock and restrictions on everyday life, mental health problems have risen too.
Claudia Hammond and her panel of global experts answer listeners’ questions about the pandemic of mental illness and distress, and find out which groups have been hardest hit.
Children and young people were at low risk from the virus itself, but their lives have been upended as societies have locked down. Older people too have suffered loneliness and isolation as they have tried to keep themselves safe.
What does the evidence show about the true scale of suffering, and what can we learn from other countries about the best way to support those in real distress and bolster resilience within communities?
Claudia hears from Giulia in Brazil about her struggles with anxiety and from Mohsen in Tehran, Iran, about the techniques he is using to cope with anxiety and depression following the serious illness of himself and his family from the virus.
Her global panel of experts includes Dr Lola Kola, a mental health specialist and Assistant Director at the WHO Collaborating Centre at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria, one of the authors of a major review of the mental health impacts of the pandemic in low and medium income countries published last month in Lancet Psychiatry; Andrew Steptoe, Professor of Psychology and Epidemiology at University College London in the UK, leading the UK Social Study, the world’s largest study into the mental health impact of the pandemic during the longest enforced isolation in living history; Cathy Creswell, Professor of Developmental Clinical Psychology at the University of Oxford in the UK, is head of the Co-Space Study, tracking how parents and children are coping during this pandemic; and Steven Taylor is a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. Steven specialises in anxiety disorders, and just before the pandemic, he published a book, called The Psychology of Pandemics.
Production team: Fiona Hill, Samara Linton and Maria Simons
Editor: Deborah Cohen
Technical support: Giles Aspen and Bob Nettles
Picture: Young men wearing protective mask to protect against Covid-19 (Credit: Visoot Uthairam/Getty Images)
Patient zero: The December transplant
Three transplant patients died within a week of each other in Melbourne in December 2006 and alarm bells started ringing. One of the patients was Karen. When she got a phone call from the hospital offering her a kidney transplant, it seemed like a lucky break. But things didn't go according to plan. Olivia Willis tells the story of how doctors discovered that one donor had transmitted a mystery virus to these patients. These tragic cases changed the way that transplantation was done in Australia.
Produced by James Bullen, Cheyne Anderson and Joel Werner of ABC
(Picture: TEM of Arenavirus, Credit: Callista Images/Getty Images)
Patient zero: something in the water
It was October 2010 when reports first emerged of a mysterious disease spreading through Haiti. In a hospital in Saint Marc, about an hour north of the country's capital Port-au-Prince, 400 cases of adults with watery diarrhoea had been reported in a single day. On a regular day, there might be four people show up at the hospital with these symptoms.
For the doctors at the hospital, diarrhoea and vomiting pointed to one disease — cholera.
Olivia Willis tells the story of how cholera came to Haiti in the first of a series about disease outbreaks
Picture: Collapsed house, Haiti, Credit: Claudiad/Getty Images