Heroes

A trip to Mars will require people to use these 8 bizarre inventions.

Scientists are working on some really cool technology to get us to Mars.

A trip to Mars will require people to use these 8 bizarre inventions.

Sure, visiting other countries is great. Trying new cuisines, seeing the sites, good times all around.

But what about traveling to a place far beyond our own lonely planet? You know what I'm talking about: Mars.


But surely we are still hundreds, if not thousands of years away from actually being able to live on the Red Planet?

Before you jump to any conclusions, check out these eight groundbreaking astronomic advances that could mean life on Mars might not be too far away.

1. First of all, you need a way to get there. Let me show you an ion thruster that goes 90,000 mph.

GIF from "Spaceballs."

NASA's Evolutionary Xenon Thruster (NEXT) is a powerful new ion thruster, which is the fastest, most fuel-efficient propulsion engine ever built.

The thruster is lightweight, which means more room on spaceships for storing equipment. In addition, it can propel a spacecraft at speeds of up to 90,000 mph, which means getting to Mars (or beyond) a heck of a lot faster.

Oh yeah, it's also capable of running for five and a half years nonstop. We're getting into "Star Trek" territory here!

2. Of course, if your ship gets jacked up, you're out of luck. So bring along this crazy "Terminator"-style material that can repair itself when damaged.

GIF from "Terminator Genisys."

In addition to developing newer, more mobile, and highly efficient spacesuits last year, NASA-funded research has also led to the creation of a "Terminator"-style self-healing material.

NASA combined two layers of polymer with a reactive liquid called thiol-ene-trialkylborane, which solidifies upon contact with the air to form a sort of next-level Silly Putty.

This technology could be used to defend astronauts (and their ships) from hurtling debris, but it has practical applications back here on Earth as well — it could be used for everything from bulletproof armor to exhaust pipes on cars.

3. Fuel — you need a lot of it. So this company wants to create a space elevator to save on consumption.

GIF from "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory."

The Canadian tech company Thoth Technology was recently awarded a U.S. patent to begin developing a 12.4-mile-high, inflatable “space elevator" to transport astronauts and materials much closer to orbit to launch and refuel ships. If completed, the elevator would save roughly 30% of the rocket fuel that is usually burned up exiting our atmosphere — not to mention provide one heck of a view.

4. We can now grow lettuce in space, which could be a step toward farming on Mars.

GIF from "Parks and Recreation."

Say goodbye to astronaut ice cream and powdered orange juice because NASA scientists have now successfully grown the first fresh greens in zero gravity.

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station used tightly packed pouches of soil, seeds, and slow-release fertilizer called “plant pillows" to grow nearly four dozen red romaine lettuce heads over 33 days.

Three astronauts on the space station shared the snack on Aug. 10, and NASA's Scott Kelly said, "It tastes like arugula." Add some croutons and you're good to go.


5. Farming with artificial intelligence is a real thing.

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Speaking of space farming, I give you AstroGro. Presented at this year's NASA-sponsored International Space Apps Challenge, AstroGro is essentially a self-contained pot for growing plants both in and outside of a spaceship.

Here's how it works: A network of sensors monitor and optimize plant growth within the pot by mimicking Earth's environment in unearthly conditions — recycling water, replenishing air, and automatically adjusting to gravitational differences. This means fresh, organic produce that can be grown using far less water than in traditional methods here on Earth.

The best part? The AstroGro could be built from existing 3D printers onboard the ISS.

6. Another culinary advance: We can possibly create food out of urine. (Let me explain.)

"Man vs. Wild" star Bear Grylls has long extolled the replenishing power of one's own urine in survival situations, and it appears that NASA feels the same way.

Mark Blenner, an assistant professor at Clemson University, and his team are attempting to prove that too. They were just awarded a $200,000 yearly grant by NASA to engineer a strain of yeast capable of growing from human waste products. (Yep, food made from urine. Mmmmmm.)

The yeast would not only produce much-needed food for lengthy missions, but it could also be used to generate omega-3 fatty acids and even polyester plastics capable of being used as a resource for 3D printing. Talk about whizardry, amiright?

7. Of course, you'll need somewhere to live. That's where these pre-packaged living quarters come into play.

The Paragon Space Development Corporation is in the early stages of building an “environmental control and life support system" that could provide astronauts with ready-made, breathable living quarters on planets that are currently uninhabitable.

"If the will and the means are provided, we will see humans begin to explore and even colonize other planets in our lifetime," Grant Anderson, Paragon CEO and president, said in July. Sounds crazy, I know, but you have to credit the guy for being ambitious.

8. And finally, you're going to need some booze to toast once you get there. Grab some space-aged whiskey.

GIF from "Breaking Bad."

Because what good is traveling to Mars if we can't have a drink or 10 to celebrate our incredible accomplishments?

That's not the only reason Suntory — Japan's oldest and most highly awarded distillery — recently said it would send six samples of its whiskies to the International Space Station. The goal here, according to a Suntory spokesperson, is to learn what effect zero-gravity will have on the aging process of whiskey.

Previous research seems to imply that whiskey aged in environments with little change in temperature or convection tends to have a distinctly smoother taste than those aged the traditional way. So the next time you find yourself raising a glass of the good stuff with your family and friends, maybe take a moment to thank the scientists who made it go down so easy.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

I'll never forget the exhilaration I felt as I headed into the city on July 3, 2018. My pink hair was styled. I wore it up in a high ponytail, though I left two tendrils down. Two tendrils which framed my face. My makeup was done. I wore shadow on my eyes and blush on my cheeks, blush which gave me color. Which brought my pale complexion to life. And my confidence grew each time my heels clacked against the concrete.

My confidence grew with each and every step.

Why? Because I was a strong woman. A city woman. A woman headed to interview for her dream job.

I nailed the interview. Before I boarded the bus back home, I had an offer letter in my inbox. I was a news writer, with a salary and benefits, but a strange thing happened 13 months later. I quit said job in an instant. On a whim. I walked down Fifth Avenue and never looked back. And while there were a few reasons why I quit that warm, summer day: I was a new(ish) mom. A second-time mom, and I missed my children. Spending an hour with them each day just wasn't enough. My daughter was struggling in school. She needed oversight. Guidance. She needed my help. And my commute was rough. I couldn't cover the exorbitant cost of childcare. The real reason I quit was because my mental health was failing.


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Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

I'll never forget the exhilaration I felt as I headed into the city on July 3, 2018. My pink hair was styled. I wore it up in a high ponytail, though I left two tendrils down. Two tendrils which framed my face. My makeup was done. I wore shadow on my eyes and blush on my cheeks, blush which gave me color. Which brought my pale complexion to life. And my confidence grew each time my heels clacked against the concrete.

My confidence grew with each and every step.

Why? Because I was a strong woman. A city woman. A woman headed to interview for her dream job.

I nailed the interview. Before I boarded the bus back home, I had an offer letter in my inbox. I was a news writer, with a salary and benefits, but a strange thing happened 13 months later. I quit said job in an instant. On a whim. I walked down Fifth Avenue and never looked back. And while there were a few reasons why I quit that warm, summer day: I was a new(ish) mom. A second-time mom, and I missed my children. Spending an hour with them each day just wasn't enough. My daughter was struggling in school. She needed oversight. Guidance. She needed my help. And my commute was rough. I couldn't cover the exorbitant cost of childcare. The real reason I quit was because my mental health was failing.


Keep Reading Show less
True

Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."