Few if any of you will have ever heard of Ploesti. But it’s a Romanian city that was what Winston Churchill called the taproot of Nazi might due to its many oil high-quality oil refineries overtaken by Germany during World War II. Because of its strategic importance, in 1943, the U.S Army Air Force at the time launched a daring, heroic, and ultimately very costly low-level bombing raid on these refineries. Using some 160 B-24 Liberator medium-range bombers, the Americans were met with heavy anti-aircraft resistance. Today’s guest Jay A. Stout, author of “Fortress Ploesti: The Campaign to Destroy Hitler’s Oil Supply,” provides unique insight into this historic chapter of aviation history.
Planetary geophysicist Erik Asphaug of the University of Arizona discusses what we really know about our solar system; its age; its formation; and its evolution. Asphaug also addresses some major puzzles. Is our solar system truly anomalous? Is the composition and spacing of our eight planets also anomalous? And what we need to do to further planetary science.
The spectacular rise and fall of Pan Am from flying boats to 747s. International best-selling author and former Pan Am captain Robert Gandt gives me the inside scoop on Pan American World Airways, from its humble beginnings to global empire.
Deep space navigator Coralie Adam explains the tricky navigation needed to guide NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft on its flyby of the Pluto system in 2015. The spacecraft continues operation today. Meanwhile, Adam and colleagues are awaiting the arrival of a touch-and-go sample garnered from the asteroid Bennu which is expected back at Earth in 2023. We discuss how deep space navigation is facilitating the precise exploration of the solar system.
Propulsion physicist Marc Millis talks about the prospects for fast, efficient interstellar travel. Millis was head of NASA’s Breakthrough Propulsion Program at Glenn Research Center outside Cleveland for years beginning in the mid-1990s. We discuss why the problem of traveling to the stars is so difficult and what would need to happen to help such dreams become a reality. It’s a lively and irreverent discussion!
Renowned planetary astronomer Heidi Hammel and I chat about our solar system’s mysterious ice giant planets, Uranus and Neptune. There’s only been one flyby of these giant planets by NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft back in the late 1980s. Hammel, who was part of the Voyager 2 science team, explains what that mission taught us about these objects and why we need to go back.
The age of supersonic flight officially began after World War II, when the late Chuck Yeager pushed the Bell X-1 test aircraft beyond the speed of sound (Mach 1) in October 1947. But bestselling author and highly-decorated fighter pilot Dan Hampton contends that Yeager wasn’t the first pilot to go supersonic in controlled flight. On this week’s episode, Hampton and I discuss how the Cold War spurred the quest for speed and why Yeager might not have been the first American fighter pilot to break the sound barrier.
Big band historian and author Dennis Spragg talks about the music, the legacy, and the tragic disappearance of the American big band icon, Glenn Miller. We cover what shaped his unique sound; his driving passion to give back to America’s Greatest Generation in their hour of wartime need; and the tragic disappearance of his December 1944 flight from England to France.
NASA’s MAVEN orbiter has arguably done more to document how and why Mars lost its atmosphere and much of its water than any spacecraft ever sent to the red planet. The mission’s principal investigator, planetary scientist Bruce Jakosky is this week’s featured guest and we discuss the current paradigm on why Mars went so horribly wrong. Jakosky offers a candid and inside look at how such missions work and what we can expect from Mars science in the next few years.
The earliest days of robotic space exploration, to the Moon, Venus, Mars, and even Mercury, likely would never have played out in such dramatic fashion in the late 1950s and early 1960s without the Cold War. Despite a steep learning curve with lots of rocket misfires and mission malfunctions, it was a hair-trigger era of interplanetary exploration that offered the world its first close up views of our nearest planetary neighbors. Former NASA Chief Historian Roger Launius and I discuss the details in this revealing episode.