– SHOW 1102
I Was a Spaceman
ALDA Some people can hold their breath like that for
almost 8 minutes. They think it's fun, too. On this
edition of Scientific American Frontiers - the people
who push themselves to the limit.
ALDA (Narration) We'll plunge into the depths, with
the world champion deep diver… We'll scale the heights,
even if the body complains… We'll make our brains work
like never before…
COOLEY All my brain cells are going, No, no, please!
ALDA (Narration) And we'll try life off the planet -
as far out as you can get.
LINENGER 18,000 miles and hour - pure speed!
ALDA I'm Alan Alda. Join me now to meet the SuperPeople.
ALDA (Narration) Meet Loic Leferme, the first of our
Superpeople and a superstar in a rapidly growing new
international sport. In a deep dive contest called "No
Limit" he's just pulled off a new world record -- 452
feet. Loic is a member of the French national apnea
team - apnea means holding your breath. Today they'll
be using the same underwater sled Loic broke the record
with. It's the team's regular Saturday morning training
session, 4 months after the record dive. As they practice,
the team members will also be supporting Loic, who today
is preparing for a 300-foot training dive.
AFFRAIT If you want to be great at that discipline,
you have to be more quiet, to relax and to have a psychological
preparation, as he does.
ALDA (Narration) Relaxation is essential. Exertion just
consumes the precious single lungful of air. Loic's
companions practice an event which requires swimming
directly down. They move slowly and deliberately. Loic
starts breath-holding exercises. Learning how to stay
under like this is the basic skill that deep divers
have to develop. The best in the team can do seven minutes,
while most people can manage a minute or less.
ALDA How long will they stay like that?
AFFRAIT I've heard here now only one minute and a half.
ALDA Only a minute and a half.
LEFERME 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. OK Alan, try to relax your face
and your neck here.
ALDA (Narration) I tried several dives using Loic's
relaxation techniques, and my breath-holding did begin
LEFERME You close your eyes.
ALDA (Narration) These techniques can be very powerful.
We can actually defeat our body's own signals to breathe
- and then black out and drown. That's why teams like
these always train in a group, and always watch each
other like hawks.
ALDA That was worse. Oh no, it was longer, wasn't it?
LEFERME One minute and five.
ALDA I stayed under about 10 seconds longer.
ALDA (Narration) Surface breath-holding is a competitive
event, and I could see the fun in it, but it has to
be done with others, who know the very real risks.
ALAN ALDA It's possible to black out and not realize
that you're blacking out.
CHAPUIS Of course, you never realize…
ALDA You never notice it. You never realize. So you
need somebody else there with you to read the signs.
CHAPUIS Of course.
ALDA You need an experienced person.
LEFERME It's like climbing. If you climb alone without
any rope, you take your risk. If you have a rope and
you know how to use it, if you are both… two, it's easy.
ALDA (Narration) This little finger clip detects Loic's
heart rate and oxygen level in the blood. His low 70s
heart rate, with 99% blood oxygen saturation, are about
normal. Loic is going to perform a long breath-hold,
while we monitor his heart and blood. He's going to
be down for 4 minutes. The secret to these amazing performances
is in something called the dive response. It's a primitive
reflex, triggered when our faces are plunged into water,
and found in all mammals. One consequence is a dramatic
drop in heart rate.
AFFRAIT You see, he has lost from 10 to 15 beats per
minute, after one minute of breath-holding. He's OK.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) Loic's heart rate continues to
drop. He's taking a natural reflex and amplifying it
through his well-practiced and profound relaxation.
PHILLIPE AFFRAIT Two minutes and 15 seconds. The O2
saturation is perfect.
ALDA (Narration) The dive response also contracts blood
vessels in Loic's limbs, concentrating blood in the
vital heart, lungs and brain.
AFFRAIT 3 minutes, 30 seconds.
ALDA (Narration) By three and a half minutes his blood
oxygen is way down. Again, Loic's mental discipline
AFFRAIT The concentration of oxygen in his body is really
decreasing, even in his tissue in the heart, in the
brain. But you see that he can bear it. Me, I can't
bear it, but he can. OK. Put it on your nose.
ALDA What you're doing now is just to get a baseline?
AFFRAIT Yes, just to get a base.
ALDA (Narration) Loic is not only mentally disciplined,
but he trains to keep his body physically very flexible.
That's so he can use a technique for increasing lung
capacity, which we're just about to measure.
AFFRAIT Third time. Then after it will be up to you.
Take your air in max… take it, take it, and then blow
very fast, blow, blow, blow, keep on, keep on, go on,
go on, go on, OK, OK, OK. OK it's good. Fine.
ALDA (Narration) Loic scores 5.9 liters - normal for
his body size. For the second test, Loic uses a special
AFFRAIT Alan, look what his technique does is to increase
ALDA (Narration) The pumping blows up Loic's lungs,
literally like a balloon.
AFFRAIT OK. Blow, blow, blow, blow…
ALDA (Narration) The result is dramatic.
AFFRAIT Blow, keep on, keep on. OK.
ALDA So he went up a whole liter. He went up from 5.9
AFFRAIT 5.99 to 6.9 Cinq, quatre, trois, deux, un. Top.
Whenever you want.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) Back at the team's training session,
Loic is still warming up for his 300 foot -- or hundred
meter -- dive. Actually, we should say, he's slowing
down. He's relaxing to heighten the dive response, while
AFFRAIT For that first attempt he is going very slowly.
Usually it doesn't take a lot of time. You can go to
20 meters very fast.
ALDA (Narration) This is just a 20 meter - 60 foot -
warm-up, but the hundred meter dive Loic's going to
do today would have broken the record in the 1970s,
and now techniques like Loic's are allowing divers to
aim for 150 meters. That's nearly 500 feet. Loic drifts
back to the group at the surface, satisfied his dive
response is fully functional.
LEFERME That was good. The training is always like this.
It's not like zen and yoga. But it's another way to
relax yourself because then your head is with the group,
and you have time to relax, you have time to play.
ALDA (Narration) Now the group checks out the weighted
sled that will carry Loic down.
LEFERME It's the team which is the most important, because
the team make someone go down very deep. And without
the team you don't do anything.
ALDA (Narration) The sled is raised with an airbag,
inflated from a scuba tank that's attached to it. Loic
will bring himself up from his deep dive this way, too.
Everything is in order. While safety divers stand by,
Loic prepares himself. He gets his face wet, to stimulate
the dive response. His heart rate now starts to drop.
The safety divers head down to wait at a hundred feet.
Although Loic is going below normal scuba limits, they
may be needed when he comes up. Loic breathes deeply,
then pumps to expand his lungs. The safety divers flash
AFFRAIT 40 seconds. He's 50 meters. It takes more than
one minute, one minute 15 seconds to go up to a hundred
meters. Almost at the bottom. We will see perhaps the
rope - it will pull down… in ten seconds.
MEMBER One minute.
ALDA (Narration) At this depth Loic feels great - the
pressure has collapsed his lungs to one tenth their
size at the surface, forcing most of the available oxygen
into his blood.
AFFRAIT He has taken one minute and 4 seconds, and now
he's going up.
ALDA (Narration) Now comes the dangerous part. Loic's
lungs rapidly re-expand, pulling oxygen back out of
his blood. He could black out. 30 feet down he releases
his air bag.
PHILLIPE AFFRAIT We see the balloon, and there is a
safety free-diver with him, and they are coming up very
slowly. He's here. We can see him now. OK.
ALDA (Narration) The last 15 feet, when the lungs expand
the most, are the riskiest. Everyone's relieved to see
Loic in good shape. Well, I'm not diving to a hundred
meters, but I am going to try extending my breath-holding
LEFERME You try to relax. Your arms. Your neck. 3, 2,
ALDA (Narration) I'm about as relaxed as I can manage
with an underwater camera pushed into my face. But it's
totally relaxing to know Loic is watching me every second.
LEFERME He's OK. Relax your neck. OK you feel good.
You feel good. Close your eyes. Good.
ALDA Wasn't much longer. Probably the same. What was
AFFRAIT What do you feel? What do you feel?
ALDA A minute and thirty two.
AFFRAIT A minute and thirty two? A minute and forty
ALDA Oh. So, OK that's better.
ALDA (Narration) After just a few hours training, I
had almost doubled my breath-holding, and that was no
surprise to Loic.
LEFERME In training one month, perhaps you will do four
or five minutes, and sometimes people, they say, Oh
- it's impossible. Yes, it's possible. You just have
to train, and you have to put your mind in the way of
apnea. That's all. And that's simple.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) Shuffle the deck thoroughly… Set
aside 10 cards… And then…
ALDA Ace of diamonds.
ALDA Five of clubs.
FRANK FELBERBAUM Alright.
ALDA (Narration) Now I'm reading off the remaining 42
cards -- just once, only. And now Frank Felberbaum,
using his memory of the 42 cards I read off, is going
to list the missing 10.
FELBERBAUM Alan, you have the 2 of clubs. Is that correct?
FELBERBAUM You have the seven of clubs.
FELBERBAUM You have the nine of clubs.
FELBERBAUM Ten of diamonds.
ALDA (Narration) Frank continues faultlessly.
FELBERBAUM You have one more card left, right?
ALDA That's right.
FELBERBAUM You have the, er… king of spades.
ALDA Yes. That's really great. And the card that I thought
was in there, isn't there. I didn't even get one out
ALDA (Narration) This is a story about how to develop
a super memory. It does not involve eating ginkgo leaves
or vitamin E, but instead learning how to use the brain's
ALDA When I read off the first card, seven of spades,
what did you do in your head?
FELBERBAUM OK. Well, the seven of spades to me represents
ALDA (Narration) To get from the seven of spades to
"rake", Frank first uses fixed conversion tables. Spades
equals four, which equals R. Seven equals K. Then he
makes a word with R, K - "rake." It could have been
"rock" or "rack," it makes no difference. The point
is to create an object in your mind, and then imagine
the object in a visual story.
FELBERBAUM Once you put something into a visual form,
and then you create a visual scenario -- a story that
has the visual contents in it -- you cannot forget that.
ALDA (Narration) Frank's theory is that, since humans
are very visual, it's easier for us to handle - and
to memorize - visual scenes, rather than abstract symbols
like letters and numbers. He can't prove this, although
one recent brain study did show that when we work on
spatial problems, we use twice the brain area employed
for verbal tasks. The fact is we know so little about
the process of memory, that improving it becomes a purely
practical matter - if it works, it works.
JUDGE You may begin now.
ALDA (Narration) We're going to find out if what Frank
does works, here at the US Memory Olympics, held in
New York City in February, 2000. Open to all, it's a
day of competitive memory challenges that most of us
would be happy to avoid. Frank is coaching a team from
Bergen County Academy, a New Jersey high school. Work
started 5 months earlier.
FELBERBAUM This is Spiros Nikolopoulos. This is Lylan
ALDA (Narration) By the way, these are smart kids, but
they're not a specially selected group of high flyers
-- including the one with the gray hair.
FELBERBAUM Don't say it - just write it.
ALDA (Narration) To start the day there's a test.
FELBERBAUM If you know the first name write it, too,
but last name is the one that counts. OK, anybody? Nobody
got this one. Ah…
ALDA (Narration) Frank promises by the end of the day
we'll do this much better.
FELBERBAUM It's a Dutch name. It's Van Etten. Alright,
how many got 3?
ALDA (Narration) And there's certainly room for improvement.
The class average was just 30% correct names. For this
event in the contest there are 15 minutes to memorize
up to 99 names and faces, with 20 minutes for recall.
JUDGE Time is up.
HONG I think I did decently. For every name, like full
name, we get 2 points and there were 99 names and I
think I got about 30 of them, so around 60.
NUESA I put around 32, 33 names down, but who knows
if they're right?
ALDA (Narration) Frank's team is up against people who
love these challenges, and know they're good at them
- including the reigning US champion, Tatiana Cooley.
COOLEY If I got all of them correctly, 88.
JUDGE Third place person with 75.5 names and faces was
ALDA (Narration) In the first event -- third place went
to one of Frank's team.
JUDGE Our second place person, with 81 points, and breaking
the USA mark also was Terry Williams. And the new US
world record of 85 will belong to Tatiana Cooley.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) Tatiana's in the lead, with four
events to go. She can only roughly describe how she
COOLEY I was sort of taking a feature from their face
and making that something to remember, and then looking
at the name and…
FELBERBAUM Let me give you a way to remember my name.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) We don't know how to explain a
talent like Tatiana's, but for the rest of us, Frank's
got a system we can use.
FELBERBAUM "Fel" -- very easy, something fell, right?
OK. Alright, add another "l". Let's go to the last part.
What does "baum" sound like that's concrete and visual
FELBERBAUM A bomb - OK. So we got a falling bomb now.
Alright now, let's go to the middle part. What does
"ber" sound like to you?
FELBERBAUM Cold. And what if you stretch it a little
bit, what have you got, cold, what?
Close. Beer, beer, cold beer. So we now have falling
bottles of beer coming down from the sky in the shape
of bombs. Where are they going to go?
ALDA Went to your face.
FELBERBAUM Went to my face. What feature would you choose
on my face?
FELBERBAUM My nose. I knew he'd say that. Alright, so
now -- that's an easy one, it's standing out -- so all
those bottles of beer coming down, crashing down on
my nose, exploding, all that beer going all over my
face - right? You can imagine that happening. The more
unusual an image you create in your mind about information,
the more you're going to remember it. It's the ordinary,
everyday things that slip through the cracks. Look at
the feature you chose.
ALDA (Narration) After a day of coaching, we're using
the system on a fresh group of names and faces, and
FELBERBAUM Last name…
FELBERBAUM Brodsky. First name…
FELBERBAUM What does he do?
FELBERBAUM Right on. Give yourself three points if you
got all three of those. And, what's her last name?
ALAN ALDA Madigan.
FELBERBAUM Madigan. First name?
ALDA (Narration) Well, I missed that one, but it's obvious
we're all doing a lot better than before.
ALDA Oh yeah, right. Lieutenant Madigan.
ALDA (Narration) In fact, the class average more than
doubled, to 80% correct.
ALDA Missed it.
FELBERBAUM OK. Last name.
FELBERBAUM First name.
FRANK FELBERBAUM Occupation.
FELBERBAUM Computer analyst. Right.
ALDA I said computer engineer. I'll give myself three
FRANK FELBERBAUM Alright, last name.
FRANK FELBERBAUM Palladino. First name.
FELBERBAUM And occupation.
STUDENT You got them all?
ALDA You got everything?
Well I wrote banker instead of broker, but I…
FELBERBAUM That's OK.
ALDA You got 100%? STUDENT Yes. Go me!
ALDA (Narration) Over several months, Frank taught his
students how to tackle all five contest events. That
didn't make them easy - just do-able. The word event,
for example -- 15 minutes to memorize up to 500 random
words in order. Frank's method -- weave the words into
a memorable story.
JUDGE If you're ready, start now.
ALDA (Narration) Edison Hong got as far as 75 words.
HONG I think I did pretty well in this event. I created
a story in my mind and like all 75 just quickly came
JUDGE Third place winner, with a score of 96 - now our
US record for this event was 65. This is incredible
performance here. Here we go with a score of 96… Helen
ALDA (Narration) Third place to one of Frank's team.
CONTEST JUDGE Please stand up Helen. Our second place
person with a score of 106… Edison Hong.
ALDA (Narration) Second place to one of Frank's team.
JUDGE Our new record for the USA belongs now to Christopher
ALAN ALDA (Narration) And Frank's method gets first
CHRISTOPHER TURNER When I was memorizing them, I just
kind of looked at the word list, and it all kind of
fell together into one big story, that I owned an island.
And then as I'm going back through, I'm just… the story's
coming out, and I'm seeing pictures in my mind, and
the words are just coming straight out.
ALDA (Narration) Next, there are just lines of random
numbers to be recalled in order. Frank's method - convert
numbers to letters, make words with the letters, then
make a story with the words. When it's time to recall,
just reverse the process. And Frank's method worked
JUDGE In third place is Ryan Giuffre. In second place
is Tatiana. And the winner is Joseph Song.
ALDA (Narration) Another win for Frank's team. Joseph
Song recalled 56 consecutive numbers. It's enough to
drop Tatiana back to second over all. The second to
last event is a peculiar 60-line poem.
COOLEY In the land of dreams change is constant, insistent,
ALDA (Narration) It's tough to use Frank's system to
create a story, because the poem's already a kind of
story. Tatiana's really good at this.
COOLEY …all movement like atoms…
ALDA (Narration) With 45 lines perfectly recalled, it's
an easy win.
COOLEY …have been reversed, memory once last, now first…
ALDA (Narration) She's back on top.
COOLEY …black beetles basked in the burnishing beams
of the sun. I've quite a headache right now. I think
it's from thinking so hard. All my brain cells are going,
No, no please, no more!
JUDGE Please begin, now.
ALDA (Narration) It's the final event - 5 minutes to
memorize a shuffled deck of cards, in order. Frank has
taught the students to lay out the cards in threes,
convert them to words, then make sentences from the
words. He can do a whole deck, as we saw at the beginning.
It takes terrific concentration. Tatiana doesn't really
have a method, at least not consciously.
JUDGE Would you begin your recall, now.
HONG Two of hearts.
ALAN ALDA (Narration)
EDISON HONG, second in the standings, has a long way
to go to beat Tatiana.
HONG King of spades.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) And right away Tatiana's in trouble.
She goes wrong after just nine cards. Edison, though,
gets as far as eighteen.
HONG Jack of hearts.
JUDGE Our second place winner, with a score of 337 points,
and off to London, is Edison Hong.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) Edison's score in cards was enough
to move him up to second overall. The top three attend
the world championship in London, by the way. Third
place was another of Frank's team, Joseph Song. And
astonishingly the team took the next seven places. What
they couldn't do was catch the brilliant Tatiana.
JUDGE For the third year in a row it's…
ALDA (Narration) For Frank though, he'd proved his point.
FELBERBAUM I'm absolutely ecstatic. It's like my own
children did this. And it shows you what the potential
of the human mind is.
ALDA (Narration) The Alps. Beautiful. Enticing. And
all too often, deadly. Hardly able to move, this climber
is a victim of mountain sickness. Here at 15,000 feet,
thin air is starving her body of oxygen. One-in-ten
climbers get so sick their lives are in danger. She
could become one of them It's an all too common sight
for the mountain guides. Swiss Guide It's mostly from
the high altitude, why they get very tired. Sometimes
they vomit in the snow. They walk like drunken people.
But mostly they don't like any help, but they don't
like to go down also. Strange. It's difficult to say
why they don't go back.
ALDA (Narration) Going back would clear the symptoms.
But like most climbers, she goes on. Getting to the
top despite the risks is what mountaineering's all about,
of course. Nowadays more and more people are taking
the risks. On distant peaks around the world, we're
seeing the tragic consequences. The problem is, we're
not all superpeople. We can't all be brilliant mountaineers.
This story is about trying to predict the basic attribute
that mountaineers need - not to get altitude sickness
on their way to the top.
PETER BARTSCH There is a big population that exposes
itself to high altitude. If you look at the Rocky Mountains,
all the resorts you have there. If you look at the Andes.
If you look around here and see how popular mountaineering
is, this is I think an important question to these people
- that we find measures how to predict and how to treat
and how to prevent these illnesses.
ALDA (Narration) Here in Heidelberg, Germany, Peter
Bartsch is trying to develop a test to predict which
climbers will get altitude sickness. He has recruited
volunteers willing to push their bodies to the limit
in the lab, and then go mountain climbing. This is Arndt.
His testing begins by finding out how fit he is. As
he works harder, his body responds by increasing his
heart rate, pumping more blood to his muscles and so
supplying them with more oxygen to burn.
ALDA (Narration) To get that extra oxygen into his blood,
he breathes faster and more deeply. Now the real test
begins. Arndt's oxygen is cut back, simulating high
altitude. The idea is to see how he responds when there
is less oxygen available. Again his heart rate increases
- and again his breathing gets faster and deeper. At
the equivalent of 15,000 feet, Arndt is breathing five
times more air than usual, even at rest. This is Michael,
another volunteer for the test. On the fitness test,
he's as good as Arndt. But when Michael's oxygen is
reduced, there's a striking difference. At a simulated
15,000 feet, Michael's breathing is little different
from what it was at normal altitude. Even during moderate
exercise, his body -- unlike Arndt's -- seems to be
ignoring the fact that his oxygen supply is dropping.
The Heidelberg researchers wondered if people like Michael,
whose bodies don't seem to recognize they're getting
into trouble when oxygen is scarce, might be the ones
most susceptible to mountain sickness. There was one
way to find out. Perched at 15,000 feet on the Italian-Swiss
border is the perfect laboratory, a 100-year-old mountain
hut, the highest building in Europe. Peter Bartsch,
the leader of the Heidelberg team, is heading there
now. He's taking it slowly, giving his body time to
acclimate. But the subjects in his experiment don't
have that luxury. They climb fast, rising two miles
in elevation in just over a day. So the experiment is
unbiased, neither Bartsch nor his subjects know how
they performed in their lab tests. So Arndt, for instance,
doesn't know his test suggested he'd cope with the mountain
air by breathing more.
I feel good, very good. Good air.
ALDA (Narration) Michael, who didn't adapt his breathing
in the lab test, is finding the going rough. As the
test predicted, his body isn't getting the message that
the air up here is thinner. But then there's a third
subject - Udo -- who like Arndt adapted fine in the
lab, but may be having the first hint of a problem.
I've just a little bit of a headache, very little bit.
Except for this I'm feeling really good, and I'm lucky
to do this now.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) We are going to see what happens
to Arndt, Michael and Udo once they reach Peter Bartsch's
mountain top laboratory. Night falls -- the most dangerous
time for those vulnerable to mountain sickness. During
the shallow breathing of sleep, blood oxygen levels
can drop steeply. Six hours after arriving, Arndt --
whose test suggested he'd do well at high altitude --
is absorbed in a murder mystery. But Udo, whose test
results also suggested he'd cope, is in trouble.
When I came up I was feeling quite good. But then it
was developing a big headache. And it was a stomach
ache and wasn't good. I had to vomit.
ALDA (Narration) All he wants to do now is rest.
My body is exhausted and I have to sleep. So I hope
that I will have a good night.
ALDA (Narration) Knowing the dangers of the night, Bartsch
makes regular checks. At 5:30 am, the only one complaining
DR. PETER BARTSCH Udo has a lot of problems. He was
vomiting once at night and he had headache. I gave him
some drugs. His symptoms went away. He didn't feel nauseated
any more but he couldn't sleep.
I have just an incredible headache the whole night.
I got some pills, some drugs, but they didn't help so
I didn't sleep the whole night. I think another night
like this and I'm going crazy. It's just you can't sleep
and there's all this banging the whole night.
ALDA (Narration) Udo's lab test clearly did not predict
his difficulties, although of course neither he nor
Bartsch knows this right now. ARNDT meanwhile is still
doing fine, as predicted. His balance is good, his blood
Now I feel me good. Only muda -- in German. Tired.
DR. PETER BARTSCH He would love to climb the Dufourspitze
or any other mountain here. I actually think he's enjoying
himself here, that's my impression.
ALDA (Narration) Which leaves Michael, who is definitely
not enjoying himself. Of course Bartsch doesn't know
his pre-climb test suggested he wouldn't adjust his
breathing to high altitude. He is now very sick.
PETER BARTSCH The problem with him was he didn't call
us last night. When he went to bed he already realized
that something was wrong and no one called us. And when
I saw him this morning he was really in a severe condition.
I think if we had caught him earlier we could have stopped
the process at an early level.
ALDA (Narration) Michael's decision to tough out the
night could have been a fatal error.
I didn't notice quite that I was getting worse and worse.
So just this morning at half past five they wake me
up and I couldn't do anything.
ALDA (Narration) X-rays show Michael has advanced pulmonary
edema. The lace-like pattern in his lungs, especially
on the right, is accumulating fluid.
PETER BARTSCH This means that we have a very severe
illness. If we do not treat Michael he's most likely
going to die. Fluid will accumulate in all his lung
and he will eventually drown. And we have to immediately
install treatment by giving oxygen now and fly him down
as soon as possible.
ALDA (Narration) The oxygen will stabilize Michael's
condition for a while, but the only way to clear the
fluid from his lungs is to get him off the mountain
-- fast. A rescue helicopter is called in from Zermatt,
Switzerland. For Michael, the experiment is over. As
it turned out, the breathing test Peter Bartsch hopes
might help predict mountain sickness was accurate in
Michael's case, and by not admitting he was having problems
he got into serious trouble. Fortunately, after a few
days at a low altitude, he'll make a complete recovery.
Back at the hut, there's a farewell dinner. Tomorrow
all the subjects will be heading down. Feeling fine
to the end is Arndt, whose pre-climb test also proved
accurate. But Udo, whose test results suggested he'd
cope, got sick - at least temporarily. So the breathing
test alone isn't a perfect predictor.
I'm feeling good now. It's okay. I have no more headache
and I'm fine now.
ALDA (Narration) And as things turned out, Udo's acclimation
-- and Michael's rescue -- had come in the nick of time.
A fierce blizzard means no helicopter could have made
it in today. For Udo and Arndt, it's going to be a difficult
climb down. While the experiment was promising, the
mystery of why altitude illness devastates some but
leaves others unaffected isn't solved yet. These young
people now know, if they want to be super-mountaineers,
the best advice is the old advice: climb slowly, heed
the warning signs, and you'll be back to climb another
WAS A SPACEMAN
ALDA (Narration) We're 250 miles above the Earth. It's
May 16, 1997. The American space shuttle Atlantis edges
towards Mir, the Russian space station, and gently docks.
One Mir crew member is especially happy today. It's
Jerry Linenger, an American who's been in space for
the last 5 months. He's going home. Three years later,
Jerry and his wife Kathryn live here in Northern Michigan.
Life in space was filled with problems, but for Jerry
it was also exhilarating, even life-changing.
LINENGER Good Morning. How you doing, sir? Nice to meet
you. Come on in.
ALAN ALDA Thank you. Hi, hello, how are you?
KATHRYN LINENGER Hi. Nice to meet you.
ALDA What's his name?
LINENGER His name is Henry.
ALDA Henry. Hi, Henry. That must have been hard for
you both, for you to be in space, and you to have a
little baby, and…
KATHRYN LINENGER It was. And I spent the entire time
over in Russia, while he was up, too, so…
LINENGER By having Kathryn there we thought we'd be
able to talk once a week at least, but we had failures
of those systems also. So it didn't work out, but Kathryn
spent the five months I was in space over in Star City,
ALDA (Narration) Jerry started training at Star City,
the once top-secret cosmonaut training center outside
Moscow, in 1995. For two years, he was taught the Russian
systems -- the space suits, the cramped Soyuz re-entry
vehicle, every detail of plumbing, wiring and computers
on board Mir.
JERRY LINENGER (Russian)
ALAN ALDA (Narration) Instruction was entirely in Russian,
so he had to pick that up pretty quickly.
ALDA (Narration) You could say Jerry was a political
pioneer before he was a space pioneer. He was one of
the original five astronauts in the joint Shuttle-Mir
program in which US dollars helped prop up the Russian
space program, after the Soviet Union's collapse. But
regardless of the political overtones, the fact is the
Russians had then a near monopoly on long-duration space
flight. They've been blasting cosmonauts up to the Mir
station since 1986. Jerry arrived on Mir in January
1997, brought up by the Shuttle. He learned to enjoy
living in weightlessness. These are mankind's first
steps toward space travel and colonization, he believes,
and he's helping to blaze the trail. But he's also a
down to earth scientist and ex-Navy flight surgeon.
When he got back he found his months in space had led
to a 13% loss of bone mass in the lower spine.
ALDA What does 13% bone loss translate into? Is that
like serious osteoporosis?
LINENGER It's pretty serious osteoporosis. And what
it really I, is leaching of the calcium. You know, this
little frame structure here is built to hold the load.
Our bones are built to hold the load, and it's an Earth
jolt-load that we can hold. You get in space , you float.
The structure says, I'm over-built, starts dumping calcium,
says I'm too strong. Very smart, the bone is. Starts
losing, losing, losing. Unfortunately in space it doesn't
need any strength, essentially, because you're floating,
and it just loses too much.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) To counteract this effect, on
board Mir exercise is mandatory for all crew members,
using a bungee cord harness to simulate gravity. The
Russians discovered this deterioration, and they developed
the counter measures, but the problem is you're still
weightless most of the day. Bone and muscle loss is
a major potential obstacle to space travel in the future.
ALDA (Narration) How severe is that loss going to be,
I mean you were working out two hours a day, and you
still had the 13% loss.
LINENGER That can be a show-stopper. The bone is just
too smart, and it says I'm over-built and it just keeps
ALAN ALDA (Narration) Apart from some friction with
Moscow ground control, Jerry adapted easily to life
in space. He didn't mind washing in a few ounces of
water squeezed from a tube. He stayed healthy. He never
got headaches or motion sickness -- both common in space.
His body began to think weightlessness was normal. And
then he came back to Earth.
LINENGER The first few nights I'd lie there and I'd
say, You're on Earth, you're on Earth, you're not going
to fly, you're not going to fly, but I just could not
relax enough. I ended up taking my sheet, rolling it
up, wrapping it around me, as a constraining device,
and then I was able to close my eyes and sleep.
ALDA In those five months in space you had become so
accustomed to any little force that would send you flying,
that you couldn't take it just lying in bed.
LINENGER You know, I was a spaceman.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) He loved being a spaceman, but
he paid a price -- the bone loss, and something much
LINENGER Sleeping some nights all of a sudden I'd see
flash, flash, flash, flash. Looked like a bright flash
bulb of a camera. And what's happening is I'm getting
hit with radiation. Incredibly I turn my head 90 degrees,
and I'd see a con-trail. A little bit less dense light,
but spread out linearly. Turn again, pinpoint, very
bright. Realize it's coming from that direction, very
directional source, probably from a solar flare. You
know I'm thinking family, things like that, you're doing
this, I really don't like getting irradiated up here…
ALDA Scary. Yeah.
JERRY LINENGER Get behind some big lead batteries, try
to block it, er -- couldn't block it.
ALDA (Narration) Now as he looks out at Lake Michigan,
Jerry hopes the radiation won't have long term effects.
His bones, at least, are almost back to normal. The
aging Mir also nearly cost Jerry and his two Russian
companions their lives, with the worst ever fire in
ALAN ALDA Didn't it burn for like, fourteen minutes?
LINENGER About a fourteen minute fire. I'll tell you,
it was master alarm blaring, I turn the corner, peer
down the length of the module, kind of the end of a
school bus, if you will. Out of a solid fuel oxygen
canister, big, kind of looks like a garbage can, big
metal container, filled with a slurry of oxygen-rich
chemical, coming out of that thing, instead of percolating
a little bit of oxygen we got a big flame coming out.
Two, three feet in length, this big around…
ALDA And smoke?
LINENGER Smoke just like I've never seen smoke come
billowing out of a fire. Within thirty seconds, couldn't
see the fingers in front of your face, and the first
words out of my mouth, I said, Not good! Understatement
of my life, but that's what I said. Look low, try to
get some air. Warm air doesn't rise in space. There's
no density difference. Smoke doesn't rise in space.
Smoke is everywhere. I see a window. I think open the
window. You can't do that in space, you got a vacuum
out there. Call 911 goes through my head, I tell you
all the normal things…
ALDA You actually thought, call 911?
LINENGER I thought call 911. And I actually was laughing
when I looked at that window and said, Jerry - you can't
open the window. (Continues talking on board Mir.) The
things that I think pretty much saved our lives are
these oxygen breathing devices, and during the fire
of course that had to go on quickly.
ALDA (Narration) The crew rapidly found their oxygen
respirators, but for Jerry that was almost the end.
LINENGER Breathe in, I get nothing. Breathe in again,
mask collapses around my face - I got a failed respirator.
ALAN ALDA Oh!
LINENGER Not a good day. Throw that off, feel my way
along the bulkhead, can't see a thing, smoke right in
your face. Er, you know, the next minute of my life,
that's in my brain forever, that's split second by split
second. Adrenaline flowing, had thoughts about my family
here, I told my wife, I love you, Kathryn - take care
of our son, John. Feel my way along. I actually looked
around and I said, Wow, what a strange place to die.
Finally get to the second respirator, mask over my head,
I activate, and say, God help me. Breathe in, and I
get air. You know, just hyperventilate the next 30 seconds,
and then I yell, We're going to get that fire out!
ALDA (Narration) They'd saved their own lives, and the
fire eventually burned out. Jerry also found the right
stuff within himself, when he was swung out to replace
some equipment, surrounded by the emptiness of space.
LINENGER I felt detached, and all at once I felt speed.
Gut level, I felt 18,000 miles an hour speed.
ALAN ALDA So what happened? What was your reaction to
LINENGER You know - grab on! Aaaah…
ALDA That's a familiar feeling to me. That sounds like
an anxiety attack. Right there.
LINENGER It's not anxiety. It's…
ALDA You wouldn't call that anxiety?
LINENGER Anxiety keeps me up at night. That's just fear.
ALDA (Narration) Then, on the way back in he had to
cross the same empty void.
LINENGER I get swung back. Same point in space, no-man's
land, I get the same sensation again. This time I take
my tethers, attach them, push off, fling my arms out
and go, Yahoo, what a thrill!
ALDA Ha! You're crazy!
LINENGER Well, it's incredible. I'm telling myself,
18,000 miles an hour, pure speed, man! How many people
have ever felt this?
ALDA That's extraordinary. In that one hour, you got
so that you were saying, Yahoo.
LINENGER Yahoo. The ability of the human being to adapt
and change -- immeasurable.
ALDA (Narration) Jerry was supremely adaptable - first
Star City, Russia, then space, and now back to Earth.
LINENGER You're plunging through the atmosphere, and
if you don't like turbulence in an airplane, you would
not like re-entry in the Shuttle. Pull about one and
a half gs, I'm moving my arms, I'm telling Houston I'm
doing OK. Last thing we do, 180 degree turn, dive down
at the Earth, Charlie pulls back, Eilleen Collins lets
the gear down. Touch down, Eilleen lets out the drag
shoot. Nose gear down. Get a call from the flight deck,
How you doing, Jerry? I say I'm doing alright, able
to move, able to move my head. Feel my chest… doing
this. Could literally feel my heart - and people say
you're crazy, I'm not crazy, I'm a doctor and I'm a
physiologist and I know what I was feeling. I could
feel my heart muscle, the two ventricles, two muscle
chambers of the heart…
ALDA Do I have this right - your heart suddenly had
gravity to contend with, that it was not any longer
JERRY LINENGER Exactly. It had to pump blood from here,
to the brain and support that weight of the blood. In
space my pulse was around 30, 35 beats a minute, for
the most part, even when I'm working, because it doesn't
take much to pump the blood to your brain when you're
floating. So all at once you've got that challenge of
gravity yanking you down, your heart pumping trying
to keep yourself conscious. Side hatch opens, you know
fresh air just comes billowing in. You know, Earth air
- don't have to make it, don't have to measure it, just
ALDA (Narration) As far back as the 70s, we've known
how hard it is to re-adapt back to Earth after a long
flight. Muscles and bones are weak, balance and coordination
are disrupted. At this point Jerry's extraordinary adaptability
and determination triumphed once again.
LINENGER It's tough back on Earth with that gravity
ALDA But you wanted to walk.
JERRY LINENGER I wanted to walk, you know. The flight
surgeon came on and said, Jerry, two big guys out here
will carry you off. Just let us know when you're ready.
Take an hour, two hours, when you're ready let us know.
I told him, I said, Tom, I've been in space for five
months, overcome a lot of tough times, and, er, it may
be foolish pride but I said, I'm an officer of the United
States Navy and we don't get carried off on stretchers.
And my wife hasn't seen me in five months, don't want
her seeing me carried off on a stretcher. And I told
him I'm going to walk off this thing, or I'm going to
crawl off this thing, but I'm going to get off on my
own power. I'll tell you though, biggest surprise of
my entire Russian experience is that we got along. You
know, here I am US naval officer, used to fly off aircraft
carriers, Indian Ocean, escorting Russian Bear bombers
away from the carrier task force, radar locked on, missiles
ready to fire. Er, Vasily Tsebliev used to live over
in East Germany, Mig fighter pilot opposing our NATO
forces in West Germany. You stick us together in a school
bus off the planet for five months, pressure cooker
environment. You know, who would think we could get
along? Different language, different culture, different,
ALDA What was it? Was it just that you all thought Mission
Control in Moscow was your common enemy, or what?
LINENGER The common enemy, sort of nice, I wouldn't
put it that extreme, er, but you know what it is? It's
common goal. You got a goal, colonize space, bigger
than us as individuals, bigger than our countries, bigger
than our differences. You set all that baggage aside,
and you accomplish the goal. That 5 months in space
was so profoundly different that it changed me as a
human being. That grand view of the Earth, man! You
know, you're looking out - the hook of Cape Cod, Florida,
the boot of Italy, Sicily, curvature of the Earth, absolute
big picture. When I see people having a little conflict,
first thing I do, I step back, look at a bigger picture,
eventually understanding follows. I had a little press
report, I got a one-liner saying they're slaughtering
each other down in Bosnia. And I always wish, you know,
I could snap my fingers and get us all up there, and
I think we'd change our attitudes - toward the environment,
toward our closed ecosystem here on Earth, er, toward
getting along with people. So a lot of those things,
you know, that five months off the planet, becoming
a spaceman, changed me a lot.
ALDA (Narration) And wouldn't we all be Superpeople
if we could adopt Jerry's view of Earth's problems?
That's all for this edition. See you next time.