Neil deGrasse Tyson is an astrophysicist with the American Museum of Natural History and Director of the Hayden Planetarium.  He is also the host of the hit radio and Emmy-nominated TV show StarTalk, and the New York Times best-selling author of Astrophysics for People in a Hurry and the author of a number of other notable books, the latest of which is titled Letters from an Astrophysicist.  He earned his BA in physics from Harvard and his PhD in astrophysics from Columbia.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • He knew he wanted to become an astrophysicist since the age of nine when he visited his first planetarium.
  • His passion for discovering the universe enabled him to push past the racism and all the societal pressures holding him back. He would not allow anything to interfere with his ambitions.
  • He finished middle of his class in high school because he was valuing the joy of learning while others were valuing high grades. He had lots of interests outside of school and was never driven by grades.
  • “When I wonder what I am capable of as a human being, I don’t look to relatives, I look to all human beings. The genius of Isaac Newton, the courage of Joan of Arc and Gandhi, the athletic feats of Michael Jordan, the oratorical skills of Sir Winston Churchill, the compassion of Mother Teresa. I look to the entire human race for inspiration for what I can be – because I am human. My life is what I make of it.”
  • It’s highly likely that there is extra-terrestrial life. The top four ingredients of life on earth are the top four chemically active ingredients in the universe. In addition, the speed at which life formed on Earth, the age of the universe, and the number of planets and galaxies all suggest that there are life forms outside of the Earth.
  • He does not believe in a God. If there were such a divine force, it would manifest.  If there is something we don’t understand and can’t explain, his first thought if not whether it might be divine but rather, how can he experiment on it further to better understand it.
  • He has 14 million Twitter followers. He views his role on social media as enlightening the public to what is objectively true so people can have informed opinions.
  • Physicists recently detected gravitational waves originally predicted by Einstein over a century ago. These waves were produced in a collision between two black holes 1.3 billion light years away.
  • “Excellence is whether you’ve done the best you can given whatever the talents available to you.”

Scott Kelly is a retired NASA astronaut and a veteran of four space flights.  He is best known for spending nearly a year on the International Space Station and the second most time in space of any American.  He recently wrote a book now available about his space travels called Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • He struggled academically for many years until he read Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff which would finally give him the focus he needed to turn himself around and become a model student.
  • Despite the odds of success of becoming an astronaut being stacked against him, his attitude was if you don’t even try, then you know for certain that the odds are zero.
  • Learn how spending a year in space tests your psychological endurance as much as your physical endurance.
  • When you’re doing a very challenging task, try to focus only on the things you can control and then ignore the rest.
  • His mother’s passing a rigorous physical exam to become a police officer served as a role model for Scott overcoming his own challenges.
  • Excellence is the ability to focus 100% of your ability and attention on one thing.

Alan Eustace holds the record for highest altitude free fall jump. On October 24, 2016, he jumped from the stratosphere at an altitude of 136,000 feet or about 26 miles.  Alan was a Vice President of Engineering and Knowledge for Google and held many other executive roles at other high tech companies prior to Google.  He is currently retired and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • He had so much confidence in his team and his equipment and so much practice along the way that he had absolutely no fear on the final record-setting jump.
  • He used scuba diving as inspiration for solving the challenge of surviving in a self-contained system in the stratosphere.
  • Unlike Felix Baumgartner’s Red Bull-sponsored jump which had tons of media and buzz around it, Alan approached the jump more as a science experiment with little fanfare.
  • Learn how he assembled and oversaw a team of leading experts across multiple fields which were foreign to him at the time including meteorology, ballooning, spacesuit design, environmental systems and high altitude medicine.
  • There were multiple feats of engineering to enable a safe flight including a specially-designed rogue parachute that could stabilize him during his fall, a spin-free spacesuit and an automatic parachute release.
  • His wife had him write his own obituary and farewell video to his children so he could understand the gravity of this undertaking.
  • “Excellence is approaching a problem and trying to find the best possible way through it.”