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For generations, humans have dreamed, speculated, and theorized about the possibility of journeying to distant stars, finding habitable planets around them, and settling down. In time, the children of these bold adventurers would create a new civilization and perhaps even meet the children of Earth. People could eventually journey from one world to another, cultures would mix, and trade and exchanges would become a regular feature. The potential for growth that would come from these exchanges – intellectually, socially, politically, technologically, and economically – would be immeasurable.

Expanding humanity’s reach beyond the Solar System is not just the fevered dream of science fiction writers and futurists. It has also been the subject of very serious scientific research, and interest in the subject is again on the rise. Much like sending crewed missions to Mars, establishing permanent outposts on the Moon, and exploring beyond cislunar space with human astronauts instead of robots – there is a growing sense that interstellar travel could be within reach. But just how ready are we for this bold and adventurous prospect? Whether we are talking about probes vs. crews or technological vs. psychological readiness, is interstellar travel something we are ready to take on?

This was a central question raised at a public outreach event aptly named “Interstellar Travel: Are We Ready?” that took place at the 8th Interstellar Symposium: In Light of Other Suns, held from July 10th to 13th at the University of McGill in Montreal, Quebec. The symposium was hosted by the Interstellar Research Group (IRG), the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA), and Breakthrough Initiatives – in coordination with the University of McGill – and featured guest speakers and luminaries from multiple disciplines – ranging from astronomy and astrophysics to astrobiology, geology, and cosmology.

This public outreach event, organized by Prof. Andrew Higgins (Mechanical Engineering) and the McGill Interstellar Flight Experimental Research Group, occurred on July 10th from 7:30-9:30 PM EST. The event was open to the public and made available for free via a live stream. It was chaired by famed author and NASA scientist and technologist Les Johnson and featured a panel of noted scientists, educators, and space exploration advocates who offered an array of perspectives on this very question. The panel included:

Alan Stern, at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) and the principal investigator of the New Horizons missionAJ Link, an adjunct professor at the Howard University School of Law, a disability policy analyst, space law policy expert, and member of Astro Access (promoting accessibility in space)Prof. Philip Lubin, the head of the UCSB Experimental Cosmology Group and expert in directed energy for the propulsion (DEP) and planetary defense applicationsErika Nesvold, Ph.D. physicist, computational astrophysicist, former NASA researcher, and developer at Giant Army (creators of the Universe Sandbox)Trevor Kjorlien, a space educator at Plateau Astro and a media production specialist with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA)

After each panelist provided a brief introduction of themselves and their perspectives, a general discussion on the issues of interstellar travel was raised, followed by a Q&A session towards the end. Throughout, the panel addressed the chief challenges in realizing interstellar travel, be they technological, psychological, ethical, social, economic, and the like. They also addressed the likely implications, possible solutions, potential timelines, and whether or not humanity is ready to shoulder the associated burdens. As Les Johnson told Universe Today via Zoom:

“I introduced all the panelists, AJ, Allen, Phillip, and Erica. And then Trevor was like the emcee. He’s apparently a popular host in Canada. And does this kind of thing all the time. He’s witty, he’s personable, and so he interacted with the audience, had a list of questions, and we, on the panel, kind of batted around the answers. Some were specific to us, and some were general. And it all centered around this notion of, ‘How do we plan for something that’s far out?’ ‘Why are we doing it?’ Can we really afford to do it, and what’s the scale that it will be?” And there were differences of opinions.”

Going Interstellar

As we explored in a previous article, it would take between 19,000 and 81,000 years to reach the nearest star (Alpha Centauri) using conventional propulsion methods. It’s easy to see why space and advanced research agencies have been exploring concepts that could allow for much faster transits since the dawn of the Space Age. Nuclear-Pulse Propulsion (NPP) was an early idea, where fission reactions (nuclear warheads) or the fusing of deuterium or hydrogen fuel would be used to accelerate a spacecraft to a fraction of the speed of light (aka. “relativistic speeds”)

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Can We Survive in Space? It Might Depend on How Our Gut Microbiome Adapts

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For over a century, people have dreamed of the day when humanity (as a species) would venture into space. In recent decades, that dream has moved much closer to realization, thanks to the rise of the commercial space industry (NewSpace), renewed interest in space exploration, and long-term plans to establish habitats in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), on the lunar surface, and Mars. Based on the progression, it is clear that going to space exploration will not be reserved for astronauts and government space agencies for much longer.

But before the “Great Migration” can begin, there are a lot of questions that need to be addressed. Namely, how will prolonged exposure to microgravity and space radiation affect human health? These include the well-studied aspects of muscle and bone density loss and how time in space can impact our organ function and cardiovascular and psychological health. In a recent study, an international team of scientists considered an often-overlooked aspect of human health: our microbiome. In short, how will time in space affect our gut bacteria, which is crucial to our well-being?

The team consisted of biomedical researchers from the Ionizing and Non-ionizing Radiation Protection Research Center (INIRPRC) at the Shiraz University of Medical Sciences (SUMS), the Lebanese International University, the International University of Beirut, the MVLS College at The University of Glasgow, the Center for Applied Mathematics and Bioinformatics (CAMB) at Gulf University in Kuwait, the Nuclear Physics Institute (NPI) of the Czech Academy of Sciences (CAS), and the Technische Universität Wien Atominstitut in Vienna. The paper that describes their findings recently appeared in Frontiers of Microbiology.

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Artist’s impression of the Space Launch System (SLS) taking off. Credit: NASA

A microbiome is the collection of all microbes that live on and within our bodies, including bacteria, fungi, viruses, and their respective genes. These microbes are key to how our body interacts with the surrounding environment since they can affect how we respond to the presence of foreign bodies and substances. In particular, some microbes alter foreign bodies in ways that make them more harmful, while others act as a buffer that mitigates the effects of toxins. As they note in their study, the microbiota of astronauts will encounter elevated stress from microgravity and space radiation, including Galactic Cosmic Rays (GCR).

Cosmic rays are a high-energy form of radiation that consists primarily of protons and atomic nuclei stripped of their electrons that have been accelerated to close to the speed of light. When these rays are generated from elements heavier than hydrogen or helium, their high-energy nuclei components are known as HZE ions, which are particularly hazardous. When these impact our atmosphere or protective shielding aboard spacecraft or the International Space Station (ISS), they result in showers of secondary particles.

While Earth’s protective magnetosphere and atmosphere prevent most of these particles from reaching the surface, astronauts in space are exposed to them regularly. As the authors noted, previous research has shown how this exposure could potentially enhance astronaut resilience to radiation, a process known as radio-adaptation. However, they also noted that the extent to which astronauts adapted varied from one astronaut to the next, with some experiencing adverse biological effects before embarking on a deep space mission.

For this reason, they recommend conducting further research to determine the risks associated with the space environment, as it mostly consists of protons, which astronauts will be exposed to before encountering HZE particles. Third, NASA’s Multi-Mission Model suggests that an astronaut’s first mission can be an adapting dose. However, the team notes that current research suggests that a second spaceflight does not necessarily increase the chances of genetic abnormalities as much as expected. This could mean that the
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The Best Ultralight Hiking and Running Jackets of 2024

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By Michael Lanza

You’re out on an all-day hike or a long climb or trail run or ride in the mountains. The weather forecast looked pretty good before you set out—but no one shared that memo with the wind that just started hammering your summit ridge, or the spitting rain and hail now pelting you as you contemplate the sudden drop in temperature and the miles between you and shelter. The question now is: What’s in your pack?

If you’re smart, it’s an ultralight jacket that takes up little space, but is about to gift you with just the right amount of weather protection when you need it.

This article offers my expert tips on how to choose the best ultralight shell for your needs, followed by my freshly updated picks for the best models on the market today, based on real-world, backcountry field testing and more than 25 years of experience reviewing outdoor gear and apparel, including more than 10 years running this blog and previously the lead gear reviewer for Backpacker magazine for 10 years.

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Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter. Join The Big Outside to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. Click here for my e-books to classic backpacking trips. Click here to learn how I can help you plan your next trip.

The Outdoor Research Helium Wind Hoodie.
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” data-medium-file=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Outdoor-Research-Helium-Wind-Hoodie-vert.jpg?fit=221%2C300&ssl=1″ data-large-file=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Outdoor-Research-Helium-Wind-Hoodie-vert.jpg?fit=753%2C1024&ssl=1″ src=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Outdoor-Research-Helium-Wind-Hoodie-vert.jpg?resize=753%2C1024&ssl=1″ alt=”The Outdoor Research Helium Wind Hoodie.” class=”wp-image-52060″ style=”width:471px;height:641px” srcset=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Outdoor-Research-Helium-Wind-Hoodie-vert.jpg?resize=753%2C1024&ssl=1 753w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Outdoor-Research-Helium-Wind-Hoodie-vert.jpg?resize=221%2C300&ssl=1 221w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Outdoor-Research-Helium-Wind-Hoodie-vert.jpg?resize=768%2C1045&ssl=1 768w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Outdoor-Research-Helium-Wind-Hoodie-vert.jpg?resize=150%2C204&ssl=1 150w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Outdoor-Research-Helium-Wind-Hoodie-vert.jpg?w=882&ssl=1 882w” sizes=”(max-width: 753px) 100vw, 753px” data-recalc-dims=”1″ />The Outdoor Research Helium Wind Hoodie.

Ultralight Jackets Explained

What is an ultralight shell jacket? There’s no consensus definition, and considerable variation among today’s models. But basically, the term “ultralight jacket” explains their primary advantage: They weigh under about 10 ounces—and some a fraction of that—and are very packable, often stuffing down to the size of a fist. In other words, they are usually less than half the weight and bulk of a standard waterproof-breathable jacket. While a few may be partly or even fully waterproof, many are water-resistant and windproof, providing a minimum level of protection from the elements.

While these jackets, also known as ultralight wind shells, are marketed primarily to trail runners, they are often a better choice than a heavier, bulkier rain jacket for dayhikers, climbers, and lightweight/ultralight backpackers who don’t expect to encounter heavy rain. I’ve used many of the models reviewed here for lightweight dayhikes and some of the more durable models for backpacking and climbing when the forecast threatened no more than passing showers or thunderstorms.

Although they certainly look very minimalist, they deliver all the
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Review: Rocky Talkie Mountain Radio

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Two-Way Radio
Rocky Talkie Mountain Radio

$110 each/$220 per pair

6.1 oz./172.9g (one radio only), 7.9 oz./224g (including carabiners and leash)

rockytalkie.com

Over more than 30 years of climbing and skiing in the backcountry, I’ve had a few close calls, some directly due to the inability of my partner and I to hear or see one another. One of my most trusted partners—a longtime friend who once saved me from a potentially long lead-climbing fall by leaping down a steep hill at the route’s base to reel in many feet of rope—also once took me off belay before I reached the top of a pitch and anchored myself; fortunately, I didn’t fall. After relying on the sketchy low tech of shouting and rope signals for much too long, I’ve found a vastly more reliable, light, and inexpensive solution: the Rocky Talkie Mountain Radio.

On days of ski touring in the backcountry—where you need to know the location of your partners after skiing separately down runs and confirm that all are safe, and you can often be too far apart to hear or see one another and wind can drown out or distort shouts—I’ve found the Rocky Talkie Mountain Radio reliably provides clear communication, eliminating the need for often fruitless and frustrating shouts to one another.

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Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter. Join The Big Outside to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. Click here for my e-books to classic backpacking trips. Click here to learn how I can help you plan your next trip.

The Rocky Talkie Mountain Radio.
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” data-medium-file=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2024/02/Rocky-Talkie-Mountain-Radio-closeup-2.jpg?fit=300%2C225&ssl=1″ data-large-file=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2024/02/Rocky-Talkie-Mountain-Radio-closeup-2.jpg?fit=900%2C675&ssl=1″ src=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2024/02/Rocky-Talkie-Mountain-Radio-closeup-2.jpg?resize=900%2C675&ssl=1″ alt=”The Rocky Talkie Mountain Radio.” class=”wp-image-62090″ srcset=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2024/02/Rocky-Talkie-Mountain-Radio-closeup-2.jpg?resize=1024%2C768&ssl=1 1024w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2024/02/Rocky-Talkie-Mountain-Radio-closeup-2.jpg?resize=300%2C225&ssl=1 300w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2024/02/Rocky-Talkie-Mountain-Radio-closeup-2.jpg?resize=768%2C576&ssl=1 768w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2024/02/Rocky-Talkie-Mountain-Radio-closeup-2.jpg?resize=150%2C113&ssl=1 150w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2024/02/Rocky-Talkie-Mountain-Radio-closeup-2.jpg?w=1200&ssl=1 1200w” sizes=”(max-width: 900px) 100vw, 900px” data-recalc-dims=”1″ />The Rocky Talkie Mountain Radio.

I’ve also used the Mountain Radio resort skiing at Northern California’s Palisades-Tahoe and Sugar Bowl resorts with my young-adult son, enabling us to discuss which runs to ski whenever we were too far apart to hear one another, or to locate one another when we took different runs. That’s particularly helpful when skiing unfamiliar resorts. (Radios are less necessary with a group who are all familiar with the resort and can plan where to rendezvous after a run and a phone call can usually clear up any miscommunication.)

The Rocky Talkie Mountain Radio is simple enough for a young child to master—and skiing parents know how easily one can lose a fast, young kid on the slopes. Yes, many resorts have cell service. But a cell phone is usually buried in a pocket where its sound is muffled and you have to remove a glove or mitten to operate it, whereas you can clip a two-way radio to a shoulder strap of a small pack—near your ear—where you need only to reach over and press the talk button to speak to a partner and will
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