SciTech Now Episode 222

In this episode, high schools provide both an associated degree and optimal real-world experience; 3D printers create soft tissue; we take a look at the marvelous life of a historic space shuttle; and we learn why we find some animals cute and others not.

TRANSCRIPT

♪♪

COMING UP, TRAINING THE NEXT GENERATION OF TECH WORKERS...

SOME KNOW VERY CLEARLY THAT THEY'RE NOT INTERESTED IN TECHNOLOGY AT ALL.

THEY MAY WANT LAW, THEY MAY WANT MEDICINE.

BUT TECHNOLOGY IS A PART OF EVERY INDUSTRY.

...3-D PRINTING THE HUMAN HEART...

THE VISION IS THAT STEM-CELL SCIENCE WILL KIND OF PROGRESS TO THE POINT WHERE WE HAVE CELLS THAT WE CAN TAKE FROM AN INDIVIDUAL AND USE THEM IN AN ENGINEERED TISSUE THAT WE CAN THEN FABRICATE WITH THIS TECHNOLOGY.

...THE COSMIC HISTORY OF A SPACE SHUTTLE...

YOU CAN GET SO CLOSE YOU ALMOST FEEL LIKE YOU CAN TOUCH THIS SPACECRAFT THAT'S FLOWN ON 33 MISSIONS AND TRAVELED FOR MILLIONS AND MILLIONS OF MILES.

...AND FINALLY, THE SCIENCE BEHIND WHAT WE FIND CUTE.

BIG EYES, SOME PUDGINESS, SHUFFLING, OR MOVING IN SOME KIND OF AWKWARD BUT LOPING MANNER.

ANYTHING THAT FALLS OVER A LOT WE TEND TO FIND ADORABLE.

IT'S ALL AHEAD.

FUNDING FOR THIS PROGRAM IS MADE POSSIBLE BY...

HELLO. I'M HARI SREENIVASAN.

WELCOME TO 'SciTech NOW,' OUR WEEKLY PROGRAM BRINGING YOU THE LATEST BREAKTHROUGHS IN SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, AND INNOVATION.

LET'S GET STARTED.

AS JOB OPPORTUNITIES GROW IN SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, ENGINEERING, AND MATH, THE TECH INDUSTRY IS CALLING FOR A BETTER-TRAINED AND MORE DIVERSE WORKFORCE.

TO ADDRESS THIS PROBLEM, IBM AND OTHER TECH COMPANIES ARE TEAMING UP WITH HIGH SCHOOL AND COMMUNITY COLLEGES TO CREATE PATHWAYS IN TECHNOLOGY EARLY COLLEGE HIGH SCHOOLS, OR P-TECH.

STUDENTS AT THESE HIGH SCHOOLS GRADUATE WITH AN ASSOCIATE'S DEGREE ALONG WITH THEIR HIGH-SCHOOL DIPLOMA, PLUS THE WORK SKILLS AND INTERN EXPERIENCES TO JUMP INTO THE JOB MARKET.

REPORTER ANDREA VASQUEZ TAKES US INSIDE.

HIGH SCHOOL SENIOR AMANDA CRAWFORD HAS A BUSY YEAR.

THIS YEAR IS HEAVIER BECAUSE I HAVE TO JAM EVERYTHING IN SO I CAN GET THE DEGREE IN JUNE.

ALONG WITH A HIGH-SCHOOL DIPLOMA, CRAWFORD WILL GRADUATE WITH AN ASSOCIATE'S DEGREE IN COMPUTER SYSTEMS TECHNOLOGY.

AND THE COST TO HER AND HER FAMILY?

NOTHING.

CRAWFORD ATTENDS PATHWAYS IN TECHNOLOGY EARLY COLLEGE HIGH SCHOOL, OR P-TECH, A GRADE 9-14 PUBLIC HIGH SCHOOL WHERE STUDENTS CAN EARN A TWO-YEAR DEGREE AND LEARN THE SKILLS TO WORK AT A TECH COMPANY, LIKE HERE AT IBM, WHERE VICE PRESIDENT FOR CORPORATE CITIZENSHIP AND CORPORATE AFFAIRS STANLEY LITOW DEVELOPED THE P-TECH MODEL.

WE'RE EXPERIENCING WHAT PEOPLE REFER TO AS A SKILLS GAP.

THERE ARE GREAT OPPORTUNITIES IN A GROWING SEGMENT OF THE ECONOMY.

THIS IS AN INTERVENTION PROGRAM AT THE 9th GRADE THAT'S DESIGNED TO INCREASE THE NUMBER OF YOUNG PEOPLE WHO HAVE THOSE SKILLS.

A KEY PART OF P-TECH IS THAT THE MODEL IS MEANT TO BE REPLICATED.

EVERY P-TECH SCHOOL NEEDS THREE PARTNERS -- A SCHOOL, A COMMUNITY COLLEGE, AND AN INDUSTRY PARTNER.

BEYOND THAT, THEY'RE NOT IN NEW BUILDINGS, THEY MAY NOT HAVE STATE-OF-THE-ART EQUIPMENT, AND THEY'RE NOT IN WELL-TO-DO NEIGHBORHOODS BECAUSE THE ARCHITECTS OF THE PROGRAM WANTED TO BE SURE THERE WERE NO BARRIERS TO CREATING MORE P-TECH SCHOOLS EVERYWHERE.

THEY'VE EVEN PUT WHAT'S CALLED THE 'P-TECH PLAYBOOK' ONLINE, OPEN-SOURCE, TO MAKE THE MODEL ABLE TO BE REPLICATED ANYWHERE ACROSS THE COUNTRY AND THE WORLD.

AND DOZENS HAVE POPPED UP AROUND THE COUNTRY IN THE FOUR YEARS SINCE CLASSES STARTED HERE AT THE VERY FIRST P-TECH IN CROWN HEIGHTS, BROOKLYN.

WE WOULD HOPE THAT SOMEHOW THE HIGH EXPECTATIONS, THE CONTINUED CONNECTIVENESS THAT OUR STUDENTS AND FAMILIES ARE DISPLAYING AROUND RECEIVING THE OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE PAID INTERNSHIP, RECEIVING THE OPPORTUNITIES TO GAIN ACCESS TO THE COLLEGE CURRICULUM AT AN EARLY PACE, WOULD REALLY PAY OFF WITH MORE STUDENTS HAVING THIS OPPORTUNITY THROUGHOUT NEW YORK CITY, THROUGHOUT NEW YORK STATE, AND THROUGHOUT EVERY STATE IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

THERE ARE NOW DOZENS OF P-TECH SCHOOLS AROUND THE COUNTRY, WITH MORE THAN 100 INDUSTRY PARTNERS -- THE TECH COMPANIES THAT WORK WITH LOCAL SCHOOL DISTRICTS AND COMMUNITY COLLEGES TO ADAPT CURRICULUM, PROVIDE MENTORS, AND HELP COORDINATE INTERNSHIPS AND WORKPLACE VISITS.

P-TECH GRADUATES ARE NOT ONLY FIRST IN LINE TO BE CONSIDERED FOR JOBS AT THESE PARTNERING COMPANIES, BUT ALSO HAVE SKILLS FOR OTHER JOBS WITHIN OR BEYOND THE TECH INDUSTRY.

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE TALKING ABOUT ONE TYPE OF JOB.

IF YOU LOOK AT THE GROWTH OPPORTUNITIES, THEY'RE FOR PEOPLE WHO HAVE THE RIGHT KIND OF WORKPLACE SKILLS -- WRITING SKILLS, PRESENTATION, PROBLEM SOLVING.

AND THAT'S THE KEY OF WHAT P-TECH IS ALL ABOUT.

THEIR JOB MIGHT CHANGE.

IT PROBABLY WILL.

IT MIGHT CHANGE IN 3 YEARS OR 5 YEARS OR 10 YEARS.

BUT IF THEY'VE GOT THE SKILLS TO BE ABLE TO ADAPT, LEARN, AND GROW, THEN THEY'LL BE SUCCESSFUL.

WHEN I FIRST CAME, I DIDN'T MIND GOING TO TECHNOLOGY, BECAUSE EVEN THOUGH I DIDN'T THINK I WAS GONNA USE IT, I REALIZE NOW THAT I CAN ALWAYS USE IT, AND IT'S A GROWING INDUSTRY.

SOME KNOW VERY CLEARLY THAT THEY'RE NOT INTERESTED IN TECHNOLOGY AT ALL.

THEY MAY WANT LAW, THEY MAY WANT MEDICINE.

BUT TECHNOLOGY IS A PART OF EVERY INDUSTRY, AND SO THEY SEE THIS AS A STEPPING STONE.

P-TECH STUDENTS DO NOT HAVE TO PASS A TEST FOR ADMISSION.

THAT CREATES GEOGRAPHIC, RACIAL, AND ACADEMIC DIVERSITY, AND THAT'S BY DESIGN IN AN INDUSTRY THAT HAS BEEN CRITICIZED FOR BEING PREDOMINANTLY WHITE AND MALE.

AT P-TECH IN BROOKLYN, ABOUT 70% OF STUDENTS ARE BLACK AND HISPANIC YOUNG MEN.

KNOWING THE REALITY THAT BLACK AND HISPANIC MALES HAVE A LOWER GRADUATION RATE AND A LOWER COLLEGE COMPLETION RATE, IF WE ARE ABLE TO BE ABLE TO CREATE A CULTURE LIKE THIS WITH THAT DOMINANT SUBGROUP, IT REALLY IS AN INSPIRATION FOR OTHER AREAS THAT WANT TO TRY A P-TECH IN THEIR COMMUNITY.

EVERYBODY TALKS ABOUT THE FACT THAT PEOPLE WHO ARE COMING FROM POOR COMMUNITIES, LOW-INCOME BACKGROUNDS, CHILDREN OF COLOR, DON'T HAVE THE RIGHT OPPORTUNITY.

AND WE CAN'T TALK ABOUT IT.

WE HAVE TO GET THEM THE RIGHT SKILLS, AND THAT'S WHAT THIS WAS ABOUT.

MORE P-TECH PROGRAMS ARE IN THE WORKS AROUND THE COUNTRY AND THE WORLD.

SOME CRITICS SAY THE MODEL HAS GROWN TOO BIG TOO FAST.

BUT LITOW SAYS THAT MENTALITY IS PART OF THE PROBLEM.

THAT'S THE ANTITHESIS OF INNOVATION IN THE UNITED STATES, WHICH HAS ALWAYS BEEN IF YOU'VE GOT SOMETHING CREATIVE AND DIFFERENT AND INNOVATIVE AND IT'S WORKING, YOU DON'T WAIT DECADES BEFORE YOU REPLICATE IT.

YOU MIGHT MODIFY IT, BUT YOU MOVE IT ALONG SO THAT A GOOD OPPORTUNITY IS BEING GIVEN TO A LOT OF PEOPLE.

AND YOU HAVE TO BE WILLING TO TAKE A RISK BY BEING ABLE TO EXPAND THIS, BECAUSE THE ALTERNATIVE OF DOING NOTHING IS JUST NOT ACCEPTABLE.

AFTER CRAWFORD GRADUATES, SHE WILL ATTEND THE UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA ON A TRACK SCHOLARSHIP.

SHE'LL BRING TWO THINGS FROM HER TIME AT P-TECH -- AN ASSOCIATE'S DEGREE IN TECHNOLOGY AND ONE VITAL LESSON.

I THINK THE MOST IMPORTANT SKILL THAT P-TECH HAS TAUGHT ME IS NOT TO PROCRASTINATE.

BECAUSE IF YOU PROCRASTINATE AT P-TECH, IT NEVER GETS DONE, BECAUSE THERE'S ALWAYS SOMETHING ELSE TO DO.

♪♪

THERE ARE SEEMINGLY NO LIMITATIONS TO 3-D PRINTING, WITH MANY OF ITS APPLICATIONS ONLY JUST EMERGING.

PROFESSOR ADAM FEINBERG AT CARNEGIE MELLON UNIVERSITY IS TAKING THIS TECHNOLOGY TO ANOTHER LEVEL, CONSTRUCTING ARTERIES AND EMBRYONIC HEARTS ALL WITH A CONSUMER-GRADE 3-D PRINTER.

COULD 3-D-PRINTED ORGANS OFFER AN ALTERNATIVE TO ORGAN TRANSPLANTS?

HERE WITH ME NOW IS PROFESSOR FEINBERG.

WHAT ARE WE LOOKING AT?

YEAH, SO, HERE WE'VE GOT THE BOTTOM OF THE FEMUR.

THIS WOULD BE THE PART THAT IS THE TOP OF THE KNEE.

MM-HMM.

AND THIS WAS PRINTED OUT OF A HARD PLASTIC, SO THIS IS WHAT 3-D PRINTERS HAVE REALLY BEEN ABLE TO DO FOR QUITE A WHILE NOW.

AND THERE ARE ACTUALLY FDA-APPROVED 3-D PRINTED BONE PLATES CURRENTLY ON THE MARKET.

IT'S REALLY THE FIRST DEVICE.

AND THIS WORKS WELL FOR HARD MATERIALS LIKE BONES.

A 3-D PRINTER IS GONNA LAY DOWN MATERIAL LAYER BY LAYER, AND IT STACKS ONE LAYER ON TOP OF THE NEXT LAYER.

BUT FOR SOFT MATERIALS LIKE THE REST OF OUR BODY, LIKE SOFT TISSUE, THAT FIRST LAYER IS GONNA SAG OR DEFORM WHEN YOU TRY TO PRINT IT.

SO WHEN YOU TRY TO PRINT THE NEXT LAYER ON TOP, THAT FIRST LAYER HAS MOVED.

IF THAT HAPPENS, YOU CAN'T REALLY BUILD SOFT STRUCTURES.

RIGHT.

SO WHAT WE WORKED ON IN MY LAB IS BASICALLY HOW DO YOU PRINT SOFT MATERIALS?

AND TO DO THAT, WE REALLY HAD TO COME UP WITH A WAY OF SUPPORTING THAT MATERIAL.

SO, WHAT WE DID IS WE CAME UP WITH BASICALLY A SUPPORT GEL.

SO, THIS PETRI DISH HAS A GEL INSIDE OF IT.

AND WE LITERALLY PRINT A GEL INSIDE OF ANOTHER GEL.

SO, THERE'S THIS TINY LITTLE HAND HERE.

IT'S INSIDE THIS PETRI DISH.

AND THIS IS A 3-D HAND.

I MEAN, THIS IS A -- IT'S NOT FLAT, RIGHT?

IT'S NOT JUST ONE LAYER.

YEAH, THIS IS ACTUALLY MRI DATA OF AN ACTUAL HAND.

WOW.

AND, SO, WHAT DID YOU DO?

YOU INJECTED WHATEVER THE STUFF THAT'S IN THERE INSIDE HERE?

YEAH, NO, EXACTLY.

SO, YOU CAN THINK OF IT KIND OF LIKE A JELLO MOLD, WHERE YOU HAVE THE FRUIT KIND OF JUST HANGING OUT INSIDE...

YEAH.

...WHERE YOU HAVE A SUPPORT THAT'S EVERYWHERE.

AND THAT'S WHAT WE'VE DONE WITH THIS PROCESS.

SO, WE TAKE A SYRINGE ON THE 3-D PRINTER THAT CAN BASICALLY EXTRUDE MATERIAL, AND WE DROP IT DOWN INSIDE OF THIS GEL, AND WE START TO MOVE IT AROUND.

IT WILL PRINT A GEL INSIDE OF ANOTHER GEL.

YOU CAN ALSO THINK OF IT MAYBE LIKE PRINTING INSIDE OF A BOTTLE OF HAIR GEL.

WE'VE ALL SEEN THOSE BUBBLES, RIGHT, IN THE HAIR GEL, THAT'LL JUST SIT THERE ON THE SHELF...

RIGHT.

...FOR YEARS.

IT'S BASICALLY A SPECIAL SUPPORT GEL THAT -- IT'S CALLED A BINGHAM PLASTIC, BUT ALL THAT MEANS IS THAT WHEN YOU APPLY A FORCE, IT FLOWS.

SO, WHEN THE NEEDLE MOVES THROUGH, IT MOVES THROUGH WITH NO RESISTANCE -- AND THAT'S THE NEEDLE OF THE 3-D PRINTER -- BUT WHAT IT EXTRUDES OUT STAYS EXACTLY WHERE YOU PUT IT 'CAUSE IT'S NOT EXERTING ANY KIND OF FORCE.

SO, THAT MEANS THAT YOU COULD ACTUALLY TAKE -- IF THIS, SAY, FOR EXAMPLE, WAS SOME SORT OF AN ORGAN OR A TISSUE, YOU COULD TAKE THIS AND THEN DISSOLVE, I GUESS, THE REST OF THE GEL AWAY, AND TAKE THIS INTO THE SURGERY ROOM.

EXACTLY.

SO, THE SUPPORT GEL IS ACTUALLY MADE OUT OF GELATIN.

AND SO WHAT THAT MEANS IS WE CAN PRINT AT ROOM TEMPERATURE, WHERE IT'LL ACT AS THAT SUPPORT, AND THEN ALL WE HAVE TO DO IS RAISE IT TO BODY TEMPERATURE AND THAT ACTUALLY MELTS THE GELATIN AWAY.

SO, DOES THIS MEAN THAT SOME YEARS FROM NOW I'M GONNA BE ABLE TO PRINT ALMOST A CUSTOM ORGAN THAT MY BODY WOULD NOT REJECT?

THE VISION IS THAT STEM-CELL SCIENCE WILL KIND OF PROGRESS TO THE POINT WHERE WE HAVE CELLS THAT WE CAN TAKE FROM AN INDIVIDUAL AND USE THEM IN AN ENGINEERED TISSUE THAT WE CAN THEN FABRICATE WITH THIS TECHNOLOGY.

MY LAB IS REALLY BUILDING THE TECHNOLOGIES TO BUILD THE STRUCTURE, AND THEN STEM-CELL SCIENTISTS ARE REALLY CREATING THE CELLS THAT WILL BE INTEGRATED INTO THESE SCAFFOLDS.

AND YOU COULD BASICALLY MODEL MY EAR EXACTLY AS IT IS.

YEAH.

AND SO IF, SAY, FOR EXAMPLE, I'M A WAR VETERAN AND I'VE SUFFERED A HORRIBLE INJURY, YOU COULD HAVE THIS -- IT'S NOT JUST FOR COSMETICS, BUT IT ACTUALLY HAS A LOT TO DO WITH HOW WE PERCEIVE OURSELVES, RIGHT?

YEAH, EXACTLY.

SO, WE WANT BOTH STRUCTURE AND FUNCTION.

FOR THE HEART, WHERE WE ARE FOCUSING A LOT OF OUR EFFORTS, AND I HAVE, YOU KNOW, A LOT OF FUNDING FROM DIFFERENT FEDERAL AGENCIES TO PURSUE THIS WORK, IT'S FOCUSED ON BASICALLY REGENERATING PIECES OF HUMAN-HEART MUSCLE.

WHAT'S INTERESTING TO ME IS THAT IT'S SUCH A COMPLEX ORGAN, AND YOU'RE PRINTING SUCH A TINY PART.

HOW DO THEY ALL WORK TOGETHER?

THERE'S JUST AN OPEN QUESTION ABOUT HOW MUCH, ESSENTIALLY, INFORMATION DO WE NEED TO ENGINEER INTO THE SCAFFOLD TO DIRECT THE CELLS, AND THEN HOW MUCH CAN THE CELLS ACTUALLY DO THEMSELVES?

AND IT'S JUST AN UNKNOWN ANSWER TO THAT QUESTION, EXACTLY WHERE THAT LIES, AND IT'S PROBABLY GONNA VARY A LOT DEPENDING ON THE TYPES OF CELLS WE'RE USING, AND ALSO THE TYPE OF TISSUE WE'RE TRYING TO ENGINEER.

YOU KNOW, SOMETHING LIKE SKIN THAT MIGHT BE A SIMPLE SHEET IS GONNA BE FAR SIMPLER THAN SOMETHING LIKE HE HEART, WHICH IS A COMPLEX 3-D OBJECT THAT CONTRACTS, BUT IS ALSO ELECTRICALLY ACTIVE, AND THEN MAYBE SOMETHING LIKE THE BRAIN THAT, ON TOP OF ALL OF THAT, HAS VERY INTRICATE 3-D CONNECTIONS THAT ESSENTIALLY PROVIDE, YOU KNOW, THE NEURAL PROCESSING.

THAT'S VERY FAR OFF IN THE FUTURE.

ALL RIGHT.

PROFESSOR ADAM FEINBERG, THANKS SO MUCH FOR JOINING US.

GREAT. THANK YOU.

♪♪

THE SPACE SHUTTLE ATLANTIS FIRST LAUNCHED IN 1985, LOGGING 33 MISSIONS AND MORE THAN 125 MILLION MILES DURING ITS YEARS IN SERVICE.

THIS PIECE OF COSMIC HISTORY IS NOW ON DISPLAY AT FLORIDA'S KENNEDY SPACE CENTER.

IT TELLS THE TALE OF NASA'S 30-YEAR SPACE-SHUTTLE PROGRAM.

TAKE A LOOK.

ON BEHALF OF THE GREATEST TEAM IN THE WORLD, GOOD LUCK TO YOU AND YOUR CREW ON THE FINAL FLIGHT OF THIS TRUE AMERICAN ICON.

LET'S LIGHT THIS FIRE ONE MORE TIME, MIKE, AND WITNESS THIS GREAT NATION AT ITS BEST.

THE CREW OF ATLANTIS IS READY FOR LAUNCH.

ALL THREE ENGINES UP AND BURNING.

...2, 1, 0.

AND LIFTOFF.

THE FINAL LIFTOFF OF ATLANTIS.

ON THE SHOULDERS OF THE SPACE SHUTTLE, AMERICAN WILL CONTINUE THE DREAM.

THIS FINAL MISSION OF THE SPACE SHUTTLE PROGRAM WAS JUST AS IMPORTANT AS THE FIRST.

THE SPACE SHUTTLE PROGRAM FIRST LAUNCHED APRIL 12, 1981, WITH THE ORBITER COLUMBIA.

IT WAS A SUCCESSFUL MISSION, AND FROM THERE THERE WERE 135 TOTAL MISSIONS FOR THE SPACE SHUTTLE PROGRAM.

THE PROGRAM LASTED 30 YEARS.

COMBINED, THE SHUTTLES LOGGED OVER 513 MILLION MILES.

ONE OF THE SHUTTLE ORBITERS, THE ATLANTIS, IS NOW ON DISPLAY AT THE KENNEDY SPACE CENTER VISITORS COMPLEX IN FLORIDA.

SPACE SHUTTLE ATLANTIS TAKES GUESTS ON AN EMOTIONAL JOURNEY, FROM THE PRESENTATIONS THAT YOU SEE AS YOU ENTER THE AREA TO THE REVEAL OF SPACE SHUTTLE ATLANTIS.

FOR SOME PEOPLE, THEY CRY.

FOR OTHERS, THEY CHEER.

BUT ONE THING IS FOR CERTAIN -- YOU'RE JUST AMAZED WHEN YOU FIRST SEE ATLANTIS.

AND IT'S BEING ABLE TO LOOK AT ATLANTIS UP CLOSE.

YOU CAN GET SO CLOSE YOU ALMOST FEEL LIKE YOU CAN TOUCH THIS SPACECRAFT THAT'S FLOWN ON 33 MISSIONS AND TRAVELED FOR MILLIONS AND MILLIONS OF MILES.

THERE ARE MORE THAN 60 INTERACTIVE DISPLAYS AND SIMULATORS THAT YOU CAN DO TO BE THE ASTRONAUT.

OR LOOK AT DIFFERENT ASPECTS OF FLYING A SHUTTLE, LANDING THE SHUTTLE, DOCKING WITH THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION.

THE MEN AND WOMEN WHO FLEW THE SHUTTLE ORBITERS WENT THROUGH RIGOROUS TRAINING TO PREPARE FOR THEIR MISSIONS.

IN 1978, TEST PILOT FRED GREGORY DECIDED TO JOIN THE TEAM.

AS A TEST PILOT, I JUST SAW AN ADVERTISEMENT IN A MAGAZINE ONE DAY THAT SAID 'APPLY FOR THE SHUTTLE PROGRAM.

BE AN ASTRONAUT.'

AND I LOOKED AT IT AND SAID, 'WELL, IT'S SOMETHING TO DO.'

PRIVILEGED TO FLY ON THREE DIFFERENT MISSIONS.

I WAS THE PILOT ON THE ORBITER CHALLENGER, COMMANDED THE ORBITER DISCOVERY, AND I COMMANDED THIS GREAT VEHICLE BEHIND ME, THE ATLANTIS.

TO LIFT THE ATLANTIS, ITS CREW, AND PAYLOAD INTO SPACE IS NO SMALL FEAT.

THE VEHICLE, FULLY-LOADED ON THE LAUNCH PAD, WEIGH ABOUT 4.5 MILLION POUNDS, SO YOU NEED MORE THRUST THAN THE WEIGHT OF THE VEHICLE TO GET IT OFF THE GROUND.

AND LIFTOFF BY SPACE SHUTTLE ATLANTIS.

WITH THE SOLID ROCKET BOOSTERS, THE BIG THREE ENGINES ON THE BACK END OF THE ORBITER, ALTOGETHER THEY GENERATE NEARLY 7 MILLION POUNDS OF THRUST.

SO THAT IS MUCH GREATER THAN THE 4.5 MILLION POUNDS OF WEIGHT.

DURING LAUNCH, NUMEROUS SYSTEMS WORK TOGETHER TO SEND THE SHUTTLE SKYWARD.

WE SPEND ABOUT 85% OF OUR TRAINING FOR FAILURES, SO THAT WE WOULD BE ABLE TO SURVIVE.

WELL, THESE VEHICLES WERE SO WELL THOUGHT OUT THAT WHEN WE GO TO SPACE, WE'RE SITTING AND WAITING FOR A FAILURE BUT NOTHING EVER FAILS.

WHAT YOU END UP WITH IS A CREW THAT'S LAUGHING AND -- AND JUST SCREAMING, AND JUST HAVING A FANTASTIC TIME DURING THAT 8.5 MINUTES IT TAKES TO GET UP TO SPACE.

AND WE GET THERE, AND IT'S LIKE, 'WHOO! WE'RE HERE!'

[ LAUGHS ]

ONE OF THE PRIMARY PURPOSES OF THE SHUTTLES WAS TO DELIVER CARGO TO HELP BUILD THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION.

I'VE ALWAYS SAID IT'S LIKE AN 18-WHEELER, A TRACTOR-TRAILER.

YOU HAVE THE CAB IN THE FRONT, WHICH IS WHERE THE DRIVER WOULD SIT, AND THEN YOU HAVE THE CREW MODULE IN THE FRONT OF THE ORBITER WHERE THE CREW IS RESIDENT.

BEHIND THE CAB IS THE TRAILER.

BEHIND THE CREW MODULE IS THE PAYLOAD BAY.

THE JOURNEY TO THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION IS FILLED WITH ANTICIPATION.

YOU WOULD FIRST PICK IT UP ON RADAR.

AND AS YOU GET CLOSER AND CLOSER, THEN IT IS A DOT.

AND THEN IT GETS LARGER AND LARGER.

AND THEN, AS YOU GET VERY CLOSE TO IT, YOU CAN ACTUALLY WAVE AT YOUR FRIEND WHO'S INSIDE THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION.

AND THEN YOU MERELY JUST GO IN AND DOCK, AND THERE'S THE OPENING OF THE HATCH, AND EVERYBODY'S JUST EXCITED.

THE ATLANTIS ALSO PLAYED A PART IN DEPLOYING SATELLITES, ROBOTIC INTERPLANETARY EXPLORERS LIKE MAGELLAN AND GALILEO, AND SO MUCH MORE.

ATLANTIS CONDUCTED THE FINAL REPAIR AND SERVICING MISSION FOR THE HUBBLE SPACE TELESCOPE, AND THAT WAS BACK IN 2009 ON STS-125.

WE WERE ABLE TO EXTEND THE HUBBLE SPACE TELESCOPE'S LIFE-SPAN THROUGH 2014 AND BEYOND.

ALTHOUGH USUALLY BUSY, ASTRONAUTS DO HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY TO REFLECT ON THE VIEW FROM OUTER SPACE.

A GREAT NUMBER OF THEM WILL LOOK OUT IN THE HEAVENS.

AND THEY'RE LOOKING OUT AT SUNS.

AND WE'VE NOW DISCOVERED THAT THERE ARE NOW PLANETS THAT CIRCLE THESE SUNS.

AND WE'VE DISCOVERED NOW THAT THERE ARE SOME PLANETS THAT ARE VERY SIMILAR TO EARTH.

AND WHEN I LOOK OUT INTO THE HEAVENS, I'M LOOKING AT WHERE WE CAN JOURNEY AND WHERE WE CAN LEARN AND WHERE WE CAN MEET A FRIEND FROM OUT THERE SOME PLACE.

WE'VE GOT FOLKS WHO LOOK AT THE EARTH ALL THE TIME.

I CAN THOSE DIRT PEOPLE.

AND THEY LOOK DOWN, AND THEY'RE SEEING THINGS THAT ARE OCCURRING RIGHT NOW.

EVERY JOURNEY ENDS BY SLOWING DOWN THE SHUTTLE FROM ITS 17,500 MILE PER HOUR ORBITAL SPEED SO THAT GRAVITY CAN BRING IT HOME.

WHEN WE ENTER THE ATMOSPHERE, WHICH IS ABOUT 400,000 FEET ABOVE THE SURFACE OF THE EARTH, THEN WE BEGIN TO TRANSITION AND PHASE FROM THESE ROCKETS BACK THE AERODYNAMIC SURFACES THAT WE'RE ALL KIND OF USED TO.

THE LANDING OF THE ORBITER IS VERY SIMILAR TO A GLIDER.

ONCE WE'VE DONE THE ORBIT BURN, THERE'S NO OTHER PROPULSION SYSTEM.

IT IS AN AMAZING 30-YEAR HISTORY.

135 SPACE SHUTTLE LAUNCHES, EVERY ONE LAUNCHED FROM RIGHT HERE.

AND WE'RE PROUD OF THAT PROGRAM.

AND I THINK WHEN PEOPLE COME TO THIS PARTICULAR CENTER AND SEE THIS DISPLAY AND EXPERIENCE IT, THEY GO HOME AND SAY, 'YOU KNOW, THIS IS IMPORTANT.

LOOK AT MY KIDS, LOOK AT THAT BRIGHTNESS IN THEIR EYES.

I IMAGINE THAT ONE DAY THAT MY DAUGHTER IS GONNA COMMAND A MISSION TO BE THE FIRST ON MARS.'

SINCE THE MID-20th CENTURY, RESEARCHERS HAVE BEEN TRYING TO UNDERSTAND WHAT MAKES CREATURES APPEAR CUTE TO HUMANS.

OFTENTIMES, THESE ADORABLE TRAITS INCLUDE INFANT-LIKE FEATURES SUCH AS WIDE-SET EYES AND LARGE HEADS.

NOW WITH THE HELP OF SOCIAL MEDIA, RESEARCHERS AT VIRGINIA TECH HAVE LAUNCHED AN INTERNET-BASED COMPETITION WITH ITS OWN TWITTER HASHTAG, #CUTEOFF, TO INVESTIGATE THE SCIENCE BEHIND WHAT WE DEFINE AS CUTE.

REPORTER ERIN DELMORE HAS THE STORY.

WITH MORE THAN 1,000 ANIMALS ON 20 ACRES, THE TURTLE BACK ZOO IS PACKED WITH SPECIES THAT MAKES US SQUEAL, AND IT TURNS OUT THEY HAVE SOMETHING IN COMMON.

BIG EYES, SOME PUDGINESS, SHUFFLING OR MOVING IN SOME KIND OF AWKWARD BUT LOPING MANNER, ANYTHING FALLS OVER A LOT WE TEND TO FIND ADORABLE.

CASE IN POINT, THIS RED PANDA, WITH ITS BRIGHT EYES, SMALL FACE, AND SOFT COAT.

THOSE ARE ALL EXAMPLES OF SIGNALING -- WHAT AN ANIMAL'S LOOK SAYS TO OTHERS.

THE EAR POSITION SIGNALS TO US WHETHER OR NOT WE THINK THAT THEY'RE HAPPY OR AGGRESSIVE OR ALERT OR UPSET ABOUT SOMETHING.

WHEN WE CAN READ AN ANIMAL'S EXPRESSION, WE FEEL MORE COMFORTABLE, AND IT'S A WINNING TRAIT FOR CUTENESS.

THINK OF A FAMILY DOG.

YOU CAN TELL WHEN A DOG IS HAPPY -- TAIL POSITION, EAR POSITION, FACIAL MUSCLE POSITION.

IT'S ELICITING FOOD, IT'S ELICITING LOVE, IT'S ELICITING CARE.

ALL OF THOSE THINGS WE'VE BRED IT TO DO THAT WE FIND ENDEARING.

SMALL MAMMALS ARE A SLAM DUNK FOR CUTENESS.

BUT ZOO DIRECTOR BRINT SPENCER SAYS COLD-BLOODED ANIMALS GET THE SHORT END OF THE STICK.

IN THE MOVIES, YOU DON'T SEE THE MONSTERS LOOKING WARM AND FUZZY.

THE MONSTERS LOOK REPTILIAN.

THE MONSTERS LOOK LIKE SOMETHING THAT WE SHOULD BE SCARED OF.

IT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A SMOOTH SLITHER AND A GOOFY GATE.

CHECK OUT THESE WALLABIES.

THEY'RE BOUNCY, AND THEY LOOK KIND OF LIKE ANIMAL POGO STICKS.

AND THAT LOOKS ADORABLE UNTIL ONE REALLY STARTS TAKING OFF, AND YOU KIND OF GO, 'WOW.'

SUDDENLY, THAT'S JUST A LITTLE BIT LESS CUTE THAN WHEN IT WAS JUST SITTING THERE GOING, 'I'M KIND OF AN OLD GRANDMOTHER WITH AN ADORABLE FUZZY FACE AND TAIL.'

BUT OUR CAUTION, 'CUTE ISN'T ALWAYS FRIENDLY.'

THEY'RE A BEAUTIFUL CAT, AND SO PEOPLE THINK THAT THEY'RE FRIENDLY, THEY'RE CUTE, THEY'RE FUZZY.

YOU SEE HOW QUICKLY THEY CAN MOVE AND HOW STRONG THEY ARE, AND WHEN WE DO PHYSICALS AND YOU SEE HOW BIG THE CLAWS ARE, YOU REALIZE THAT THIS IS NOT A FRIENDLY ANIMAL.

A BEAR WALKING IS KIND OF A LOPEY, ADORABLE ANIMAL.

A BEAR RUNNING AT YOU IS AN AMAZINGLY FAST KILLING MACHINE.

WHEN A GROUP OF HUNTERS CAPTURED ONE A CENTURY AGO, PRESIDENT THEODORE ROOSEVELT COULDN'T BRING HIMSELF TO SHOOT IT, SO THE TEDDY BEAR WAS NAMED IN HIS HONOR.

WHILE CUTENESS IS IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER, HUMANS MEASURE AGAINST THEIR OWN YOUNG.

THEY ARE PUDGY, THEY ARE ROUND, THEY ARE BAD AT SUSTAINING THEIR HEADS ON THEIR NECKS, AND THEY ARE BAD AT SITTING UPRIGHT.

AND THEY ARE JUST ROLY POLY, BIG, ADORABLE OBJECTS THAT SMILE AT US WHEN WE MAKE THEM HAPPY AND SHRIEK TO HIGH HEAVEN WHEN WE DON'T.

CUTENESS PLAYS A ROLE IN CONSERVATION, TOO.

CHARISMATIC MEGAFAUNA ARE POPULAR ANIMALS THAT STAR IN CONSERVATION EFFORTS.

BUT THERE ARE SHORTFALLS.

WE MAY SAVE PANDAS, BUT THE REST OF THE BAMBOO FOREST CAN COLLAPSE AROUND THEM, AND WE HAVEN'T SAVED ANYTHING, REALLY.

IT'S MISSION THE ZOO TAKES TO HEART.

OVER THE SUMMER, IT SPONSORED RESCUE EFFORTS BY A VOLUNTEER AND A VETERINARIAN.

PLUS, IT OFFERS CONSERVATION CLASSES YOU CAN APPLY IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD.

AND THAT WRAPS IT UP FOR THIS TIME.

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UNTIL NEXT TIME, I'M HARI SREENIVASAN.

THANKS FOR WATCHING.

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