“Are we there yet?”
-Bart and Lisa Simpson
In popular science, few things are as romanticized as space exploration. It is the classic science fiction plot: the fearless captain and his loyal crew, journeying where no man has gone before. Yet to the average American, space exploration appears to be beyond our grasp, a distant, fanciful possibility in the drudgery of day-to-day life.
A new podcast is hoping to change that perception. “Are We There Yet,” hosted by Brendan Byrne, follows the multifaceted efforts of interplanetary space travel, ranging from NASA’s New Horizons Probe to Elon Musk’s mission to Mars. Through informative discussion and interviews with the men and women at the forefront of space exploration, Byrne hopes to answer to question: “are we there yet?”
Byrne was inspired to start his podcast after researching NASA and other organizations’ plans to go to Mars. Byrne chose the podcast format over a traditional news segment so that he could explore his topics in greater detail. “I get the chance to really dig into these topics and not be constrained by time,” he explained. “I hope each episode inspires the listener to do some more exploring on their own.”
Each week, Byrne introduces a topic, briefly shares his own perspective on the state and significance of the issue, and introduces his guest, whom he then interviews for the remainder of the podcast. His guests are typically scientists, researchers, and engineers from institutions such as NASA and Caltech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory—all at the forefront of their field. They are courteous, intelligent, and highly informed.
They are not, however, entertaining. While excellent sources of information, Byrne’s interviews are often dry and at times descend into jargon. While expert sources are an invaluable part of the show, the podcast would benefit from more speaking time by the host. When Byrne speaks, he makes the subject immediately more accessible. “I hope to take these insanely complicated technologies or plans and make them understandable,” he explained. He also understands the importance of public interest in the future of space exploration. “To succeed at space exploration, we need public support.” As a host, Byrne is excellent at exposing his listeners to these complicated technologies. He simply needs to put greater emphasis on making them accessible.
While “Are We There Yet?” presents scientifically accurate and relevant information, it does not capture the audience’s imagination. There is promise though. “We’re hoping to expand the show into a more produced and immersive experience,” he stated. If Byrne can execute his vision, “Are We There Yet” will be a compelling, entertaining, and informative program. Right now, however, it is more a weekly fireside chat. For those captivated by the subject alone, however, this podcast is still worth a listen.
Duration: 20-30min, weekly, NPR