June 29, 2014: Refueling Satellites in Space, Sequencing the Koala Genome and More

Koalas face a number of threats to their existence, but the biggest ones are bacterial and viral infections. The Australian Museum sequenced their genome to understand how the marsupials respond to these infections. (photo by Winfield Parks / National Geographic)
Koalas face a number of threats to their existence, but the biggest ones are bacterial and viral infections. The Australian Museum sequenced their genome to understand how the marsupials respond to these infections. (photo by Winfield Parks / National Geographic)

Every week, embark with host Boyd Matson on an exploration of the latest discoveries and interviews with some of the most fascinating people on the planet, on National Geographic Weekend.

Please check listings near you to find the best way to listen to National Geographic Weekend on radio, or listen below!

Hour 1

–  Dr. Kathryn Sullivan a former space-walking astronaut with a background in geology and a present studying oceans has a lifetime’s worth of experiences that leave her uniquely qualified to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Dr. Sullivan points to acidification as a threat to oceans that could damage the global food chain’s foundations, which prevent oysters, coral and many other organisms from forming their protective calcium shells. Sullivan compares the warming climate to a planetary fever that needs treatment, but agrees that motivating humans to act for the greater global good can be difficult. Listen here.

– In the second part of her interview, NOAA Administrator Dr. Kathryn Sullivan shares a story from her time as an astronaut when she became the first American woman to walk in space. Her mission: to refuel a satellite propellant tank in space, using a toxic gas that could be the demise of all astronauts on the shuttle. Dr. Sullivan also debunks many space walk myths created by George Clooney and Sandra Bullock in Gravity, and shares some tips for traveling in orbit at 17,500 miles per hour. Listen here.

– Koalas are cute marsupials that are found only on the Australian continent, that are “vulnerable” to extinction, but not entirely endangered. The Australian Museum’s Centre for Wildlife Genomics team manager Dr. Rebecca Johnson sequenced the koala’s genome to better understand the biological threats facing koalas, which include chlamydia and a newly discovered koala retrovirus that can be passed genetically, from mother to baby, as well as socially from koalas who simply interact on a eucalyptus branch. Dr. Johnson points to the koala’s genetic diversity as reason to be optimistic for their ongoing survival and vows to continue to work to unlock the secrets in their DNA, “because I don’t think anybody can imagine a world without koalas.” Listen here.

Edson Arantes do Nascimento, better known by his nickname “Pele,” embodies Brazilian soccer for millions around the world. (photo by Albert Moldvay/National Geographic)

– Brazil is known for soccer players (which is henceforth to be known as “football”) in the same way that Tibet is known for its Buddhist monks or France is known for its pastry chefs. But those Brazilian phenoms are products of a cultural tapestry that has been evolving the sport from its staid British roots for nearly a century. Alex Bellos, author of Futebol: The Brazilian Way of Life, explains some of Brazil’s football foibles, such as having nicknames like “Hulk” and “Fred” on the backs of their national team jerseys, to the protests surrounding this year’s World Cup and Neymar’s national icon status for his cheeky, acrobatic and improvisational way of playing football. Listen here.

– Once ivory is removed from a poached elephant, it all tends to look the same. There is no way to tell if it came from a forest elephant in Gabon or a towering Kenyan tusker. But 2014 Buffett Award winner for leadership in conservation, Benezeth Mutayoba helped develop DNA tests that can help identify an elephant’s area of origin. In addition, he helped initiate a national anti-poaching campaign in Tanzania and an effort to stop the sale of seized ivory stockpiles, in order to pressure wealthier countries to do the same. Listen here.

Hour 2

– The life of a National Geographic photographer is punctuated by travel to faraway lands and adventure; it’s also dotted with regular doses of danger. Cory Richards, who started as a climbing photographer, is no stranger to flirtations with eternity. He reflects on his most recent scuba diving trip to the Russian Arctic: running out of oxygen 100 feet below the surface, and bobbing in the water next to cracking ice bergs. But Richards says he wouldn’t change his relationship with danger: “It’s a good part of the job. If we’re not pushing boundaries, we’re not learning.” Listen here.

– Gregg Treinish is an outdoorsman with a curious streak. After hiking the length of South America, the 2013 National Geographic Emerging Explorer founded Adventure Science in order to help regular citizens like himself gather data useful to scientists. He discusses his organization’s most recent partnership with the American Prairie Reserve to put fellows on the ground for up to three months to spot wildlife, map prairie dog towns, or collect scat. Treinish also discusses Adventure Science’s upcoming project in the newest UNESCO World Heritage Site in Botsawana’s Okavango Delta. Listen here.

– Digital Nomad Andrew Evans has traveled the world several times and, most recently, has done some classic American road trips. He recently ventured to the southern states and returns with some tips on how best to enjoy New Orleans and avoid the tourist traps in the French Quarter, and also reflects on why he enjoyed learning about Atlanta’s Civil War history shared at the city’s Cyclorama, which features 360° view of the Battle of Atlanta. Listen here.

– During the “Golden Age” of Exploration, the blank spaces on the map were targeted for Western understanding and eventual resource extraction, it took a very specific type of person to go to these unknown places and suffer mysterious indignities. Martin Dugard‘s new book, The Explorers, tells the story of Richard Francis Burton and John Hanning Speke as they hunted for the elusive source of the Nile River. Braggadocious Burton and  “celibate loner” Speke couldn’t have been more different, but Dugard points out that they both shared the qualities of true explorers, which he identifies as “curiosity, hope, courage, passion, independence, self discipline, and perseverance.” Dugard also tells other stories of exploration and survival in the book. Listen here.

– In this week’s Wild Chronicles segment, Boyd shares his own musical odyssey through the south, which brought him from Louisiana’s Cajun bayous, to the saddest country songs ever written in Nashville and the Carter Family Fold’s roots music in western Virginia. Listen here.

Human Journey

Meet the Author
Justin O'Neill produces the weekly radio program National Geographic Weekend with host Boyd Matson. Check it out on on SiriusXM satellite radio (XM channel 133 Sundays at noon), subscribe to the iTunes podcast, or stream it directly to your smartphone with Stitcher Radio.