The season opener explores the difficulties that sending humans to Mars would present, from providing fresh and nutritious meals on the two-to-three year journey to protecting against meteoroids. The investigation also examines the problem of bone and muscle deterioration and dangers of space radiation, and highlights an MIT project to develop a form-fitting space suit. Also: NASA robotic expert Vandi Verma, who's part of the team that drives the Mars rovers, discusses driving on the red planet.
The quest to extend human life is examined. The report ponders lessons from a still-running 1966 Volvo (with 2.7 million miles on it); checks on scientists seeking to create an organ-transplant system that uses custom-grown organs; details the commonality between active ninetysomethings and long-living worms; and explores what hibernation could do for the human body. It also looks at an alternative to physical life that could, theoretically, allow people to live forever: computer avatars.
How the brain works, featuring illusionists Penn and Teller and sleight-of-hand artist Apollo Robbins in a segment on the processing of visual information; humorist Mo Rocca learning firsthand about mind control; and neuroscientist David Eagleman demonstrating how the brain constructs reality. Also: how programming computers to mimic the human thought process is revealing new insights into the brain.
The intelligence of animals is investigated. The report features a canine that possesses a vocabulary of more than 1000 words; a mollusk that can retrieve shrimp from a twist-top jar; and dolphins that are able to interpret written symbols. Also: animal scientist Irene Pepperberg discusses her 30 years of research on the matter and shares the story of her beloved talking parrot, Alex, who died unexpectedly at age 31 in 2007.
A discovery that might enable scientists to determine how the life forms first emerged billions of years ago; why head lice could hold clues about the evolution of humans; an injection that could erase painful memories; whether a supernova shock wave led to the birth of the solar system, including Earth.
A preview of upcoming advancements in technology, medicine and energy, including social robots that learn, carry on conversations and understand human feelings; cars that can drive themselves; and designer microbes that generate medicines and biofuels. Also: an examination of the science used by geologists to predict earthquakes includes footage of a geology team in Haiti following the 2010 quake; and details indicators that a future quake may rock California.