Science writer at Stanford University, Kris Newby is the senior producer of the Lyme disease documentary, Under Our Skin, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and was a 2010 Oscar semifinalist. In the first half, she discussed the true story of Lyme disease, and of Willy Burgdorfer, the man who discovered the microbe behind it, revealing his secret role in developing bug-borne biological weapons. Transmitted by tick bites, Lyme disease is caused by a corkscrew-shaped bacterium called a spirochete. Initially, it strikes with flu-like symptoms, but in 10-20% of cases, it can lead to chronic medical issues, including fatigue, arthritis, and neurological problems. Newby and her husband experienced first-hand the chronic and mysterious ailments caused by Lyme, after being bitten by ticks on a trip to Cape Cod in 2002. It took them over five years to recover, along with medical bills that totaled some $60,000.
Burgdorfer, a Swiss scientist, worked for a secretive US military program, turning fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes into bioweapons. The military's strategy, Newby explained, was to take insects filled with dangerous pathogens and drop them on enemy populations to make them sick. She uncovered that this was done with a drop of infected ticks in Cuba right after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. Further, she found there was a release of hundreds of thousands of radioactive, aggressive Lone Star ticks in Virginia, which spread beyond that state. The medical community does not understand the complexity of Lyme disease, she contends, nor its possible connection to Cold War era pathogens. She recommends more proactive tick surveillance, better testing facilities (for more on this visit lymedisease.org), and if you pull out a tick, send it to your county health office for testing.
Robert Zubrin founded the Mars Society, an international organization dedicated to furthering the exploration and settlement of Mars by both public and private means. In the latter half, he reported on how the new space race is not between rivaling superpowers but competing entrepreneurs. Daring companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin are creating a revolution in spaceflight that promises to transform space travel in the near future. Over the past ten years, SpaceX has reduced the cost of space launch by a factor of five, and their new concept called Starship could reduce costs even more, he cited. What Elon Musk's SpaceX has done is proven that it's possible for a lean, entrepreneurial team to do things that it was previously thought only governments could do, and at a fraction of the time and cost.
Beyond billionaires like Bezos, Musk, and Branson, there are working engineers whose companies are getting backed by big investments in countries around the world including New Zealand, Ukraine, and China. Zubrin believes humanity's destiny lies beyond Earth, and within 500 years, the "vast majority of the human race will be living off Earth...we'll be on thousands of other planets orbiting stars in this region of the galaxy." They will look back on our current time period as when this pioneering spirit first took shape, he commented. Zubrin was somewhat critical of Jeff Bezos' idea of floating colonies living in near-Earth space, as this would entail huge set-up costs, and would be easier to set up on an existing asteroid. He also outlined how Mars might be terraformed with greenhouse gases like carbon tetrafluoride, which in 10-years time could raise temperatures there by 10 degrees.