The Conversation Weekly podcast Ep #1 transcript: Why it’s a big month for Mars

Dan Merino: Hello and welcome to the first episode of a new podcast from The Conversation!

Gemma Ware: Each week we’ll be bringing you expert analysis on the world’s biggest stories

Dan: And groundbreaking new research, explained by the academics behind it.

In this episode, we’re talking to three experts about the three separate Mars missions due to arrive on the red planet in February.

Jim Bell: What we’re looking for is evidence of past life.

Gemma: We’ll also hear from a researcher who has just carried out a rare survey of public opinion in Belarus, more than six months into protests there over a disputed election.

Félix Krawatzek: Half of the protesters, thought ‘I go out on the street, at least my voice will be heard.’

Gemma: I’m Gemma Ware in London.

Dan: And I’m Dan Merino in San Francisco … You’re listening to The Conversation Weekly.

Gemma: So Dan, why is it such a big month for Mars?

Dan: Essentially, it’s a big month for Mars because three separate missions, from three separate countries are all arriving, more or less at the same time and that’s just kind of wild.

Gemma: And so who’s going to be first?

Dan: First is the Hope mission from the United Arab Emirates, which launched on July 20th of last year from an island in Japan.

Clip of UAE mission launch

Dan: That’s the first mission due to arrive. It should be reaching the red planet on February 9. The plan is to get an orbiter, well, orbiting Mars.

Gemma: OK, so the United Arab Emirates was the first to leave and is the first to arrive. Now who’s next?

Dan: Next would be China. They launched their Tianwen-1 mission on July 23.

Clip of China mission launch

Dan: Tianwen-1 is arriving just one day behind the UAE orbiter on February 10. The Chinese mission actually has three separate pieces, an orbiter, a lander and a rover.

Gemma: OK, all three, that’s a lot, what about the final mission?

Dan: The final mission is Nasa’s Mars 2020 mission, which is carrying the Perseverance rover. That launched on July 30.

Clip of US mission launch

Dan: The Nasa mission should get to Mars on February 18 and is carrying the Perseverance rover and even a little drone copter sorta thing. Perseverance will be doing a lot of science, but the main goal is to do some geology and stash some samples of rock and soil to be picked up in the future and brought back to earth.

Gemma: I bet there are armies of scientists waiting to get their hands on those Mars rocks.

Dan: I can only imagine – I mean the laboratory equipment that we have here on earth is so much better, the discoveries are going to be crazy.

Gemma: OK, so we’ve got UAE, then China, then the US. So why did they all launch within 10 days of each other?

Dan: An excellent question, Gemma. It’s kind of weird to think that Mars will be almost crowded, right?

Gemma: Yep, a busy, busy period for Mars.

Dan: This is because Mars and Earth are not always the same distance apart. The planets orbit the sun at different speeds and its only once every two years or so that the orbits line up and the planets get relatively close to each other. These missions all left last summer so that they can catch Mars when it’s closest to earth.

Gemma: OK, so just because there’s this window of opportunity to go to Mars, it doesn’t mean the whole world is going to jump at the chance, right? So there must be another reason behind why three missions are going at the same time.

Dan: These missions are super complex, require tons of money and space-faring knowhow, and most Mars missions fail. There’s a lot of dead space junk out there.

Gemma: OK so if the stakes are so high and you might just fail, why try? Why go all the way there?

Dan: Well, you definitely get a little geopolitical bragging rights if you can get to Mars. But mostly, these missions are all asking scientific questions. And specifically, they’re asking I think one of the biggest questions there is: did Mars once support life?

Gemma: You mean aliens?

Dan: Yes, aliens, though likely long dead and more closely resembling a bacteria than a green humanoid certainly. So to learn more, I spoke to a few experts about the science – and politics – behind these missions.

Jim Bell: We’re not really looking for evidence of current life on Mars. I mean, unless something actually gets up and walks in front of the cameras, we’re really not going to find that.

Daniel: This is Jim Bell.

Jim: I’m a professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University.

Dan: Jim has been involved in a bunch of other Nasa deep space missions. Now, he’s leading a team of scientists and engineers who have built – and plan to operate one of the camera systems on Nasa’s Perseverance rover. But Mars is not a nice environment – neither for people or robots.

Jim: We know from eight previous missions to the surface and all these orbiters and this armada of spacecraft that have been there since the 1960s that the surface itself, today, is super harsh. Extremely little water, no oxygen to speak of, very very cold temperatures, no ozone layer, so harsh ultraviolet radiation bathing the surface all the time.

Dan: This wasn’t always the case though.

Jim: We’re going to a planet that we know was a lot more Earth-like a long time ago, two, three, four billion years ago. Probably never exactly like the earth, never tropical and, you know, super nice, but still warmer and wetter than it is today, where the conditions for habitability, the conditions for life as we know it probably existed early in that planet’s history.

Dan: That’s why they don’t expect to find anything alive on the surface.

Jim: But instead, what we’re looking for is evidence of past, evidence of ancient life.

Dan: Now, there are a couple of ways you can look for that evidence. You flew all the way the heck out there, you might as well look around on the surface. But what about taking a look below the surface, and that means using a drill. Nasa’s Curiosity rover, which landed on Mars in 2012 and believe it or not is still driving around out there, has done a tonne of drilling. Curiosity has done some amazing science, but it has a limited tool kit on board. That’s where Perseverance comes in.

Jim: Perseverance Rover will drill and core into the surface and cache those little cores into these tubes that are about the size of a dry erase marker, and then put those tubes onto the surface for a future mission later this decade to pick up, transfer to an orbiter around Mars and then is the plan is to bring them back and that’ll be the first time that we’ve done that.

Dan: A very precious delivery those rock samples will be. Here’s the thing though, Perseverance can only collect 38 samples, so the teams have to be really careful with what samples they choose to cache. And another important question: where does Perseverance land to take these, oh so special rock samples?

Dan: We chose one particular place, which is a crater called Jezero, which has a beautiful river delta in it, preserved delta from an ancient river that flowed down into that crater and deposited sediments on the floor of that crater, kind of like the Delta at the end of the Mississippi river in Louisiana, which is depositing its sediments very gently into the Gulf of Mexico. If a Mars Delta operates the same way, then it’s a great environment for preserving evidence of things that were flowing in that water, things that came from the ancient highlands above the crater.

Dan: So when Perseverance sees a promising rock or patch of soil, it will drill down into that, do some analysis, and cache a sample. Hopefully it contains some minerals or chemical signatures that can only be produced by life.

Searching this ancient riverbed is one potentially promising way to find out if Mars could have supported life. Another way is to try and understand the Martian atmosphere, and how it’s changed. That’s what the UAE’s mission is trying to do.

Nidhal Guessoum: My name is Nidhal Guessoum I am an astrophysicist. I am a professor at the American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates.

Dan: Nidhal is not involved directly in the UAE’s mission to Mars, but he’s following it closely.

Nidhal: The atmosphere of Mars is key to understanding what happened to Mars from its past to the present.

Dan: Scientists know that about three to four billion years ago, there was a lot of water on the surface of Mars. There are even still some icy pockets of it left, especially around the poles.

Nidhal: We want to understand what happened to that water. That water must have evaporated as Mars lost its atmosphere gradually. So we want to understand how that atmosphere was lost. At what rate. How long it took. What led to this loss of this atmosphere and obviously the existence or nonexistence of liquid water is key to figuring out whether there was any life in the past or life, perhaps, even in primitive form today, far underground where we still have some liquid water.

Dan: If successful, the UAE’s Hope mission will place a probe into Martian orbit that will stay there for an entire Martian trip around the sun… that’s just under 700 earth days. The probe will be collecting a bunch of data about the current martian atmosphere, while also pulling some real-time weather satellite duty, tracking dust storms and stuff on the surface. The idea behind this long atmospheric sampling duty is to see if researchers can figure out the trends going on in the atmosphere. If so, the hope is to be able to extrapolate back into the past and see what caused all the gases and water in the Martian atmosphere to more or less disappear.

While the UAE’s Hope mission will be orbiting Mars, Nasa’s Perseverance Rover will – if all goes well – be driving around the Jezero crater. Jim Bell’s job, once Perseverance has landed, will be to operate one of the 23 camera systems on board.

Jim: The MastCam Z zoom stereo colour cameras.

Dan: It’s a similar kind of camera to the ones on the Curiosity rover, but with a Zoom – that’s what the Z stands for. And the camera is in stereo, meaning it takes two photos that can be put together to make a 3D image. Yes, 3D.

At the end of the day though, rock and dirt samples are what the Mars 2020 mission is all about. Specifically, getting these samples back to earth. But Perseverance can’t do that. But the plan is for another mission to come and pick them up. Once these tubes with the samples are collected, Perseverance is just gonna leave them there, sitting out on the Martian surface waiting for a ride home.

Jim: Nasa and the European space agency are collaborating, pooling resources on a concept to build and launch a fetch rover with a lander that will send a little rover, comes off the lander goes and gets our little tubes, picks them up, brings them back to the lander.

Dan: A small rocket would be sent down with the lander. The plan is for the samples to be loaded onto this rocket, and then launched into orbit.

Jim: And then they’re in Mars orbit and we’ve got this, you know, grapefruit to soccer ball sized canister up in orbit there, and an orbiter that Nasa and the Europeans are collaborating on, will search for that canister, capture it and then rocket it back to the earth where it will land in the Utah desert. What could possibly go wrong?

Dan: Yeah, lots, obviously. Parts of this have been done before. Japan was able to grab a sample from an asteroid and return it to Earth, but nothing has been done on the scale of this Mars mission. Regardless of the difficulties, it would certainly be worth it though.

Of course, there is still a tonne of science to do on Mars itself, and China’s Tianwen-1, will be doing some good stuff. The Chinese lander and rover will touch down in April or May after spending a few months in orbit. Once on the ground, the rover will use radar to look for pockets of water hidden beneath the surface.

But deep space missions are often about more than just pure science. That’s particularly the case for China.

Steff Palladini: In a way they have already succeeded because apart from the Moon, they have never been so far.

Dan: This is Steff Palladini, Reader in Economics and Global Security at Birmingham City University. She says what China is attempting – sending an orbiter, lander and a rover all at once – is hugely ambitious, and has never been done before. But she shrugs off talk of a space race between the US and China over its Mars missions.

Steff: If there is really a race it’s an Asian race and is between China and India.

Dan: In 2014 India’s first attempt to put in an orbiter in Mars was successful.

Dan: Steff says that China was pretty critical of India at the time.

Steff: When the India mission arrived to Mars, they say, well, India, they can’t feed their population, they spend all this money to send, a probe to Mars. What’s the usefulness? And the Indians say back, well, yes, maybe, but we need to have a space power because we don’t live with friendly neighbours.

Dan: It’s not a very friendly neighbourhood. To China, it really matters that they success on their first mission to Mars, just like India.

Steff: They are in competition on earth. You project on space what you have on earth. It’s the same, like US and the Soviet Union at the times of the space race, they were in competition. It was war. And it was normal to take that to space because it was a projection of national power.

Dan: Steff says that the two countries have a very different approach to their space sectors.

Steff: China comes from a military tradition that is changing right now, but it’s still very much military involved. India comes the other way around.

Dan: India’s space sector has traditionally been led by civilian and commercial interests, rather than military – although she says that may change in the future. In recent years, China’s space sector is actually opening up more to commercial companies.

Like China’s Mars mission, the UAE’s Hope orbiter is also hugely ambitious. Here’s Nidhal Guessoum again.

Nidhal: I tell people actually the bigger strategic objectives and significance of this mission is much more important than the science. Even though I’m a scientist and I’m a space scientist. This is the first time a country from the entire region, not just the Arab world, but almost the entire region has embarked on space exploration of any kind, not just Mars.

Dan: In 2013, when the UAE announced their plans to send an orbiter to Mars in 2020. That’s seven years to pull it off. But at the time, the Emirates had zero space infrastructure.

Nidhal: And so seven years for a country that already has a space infrastructure is, is a tight deadline and timeline. For a country that had absolutely none of that, was an extraordinary bet. And it is amazing that this was essentially met.

Dan: The 2020 launch deadline was an important one. The Emiratis wanted the Hope probe to enter Mars orbit in 2021 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the UAE. The date is symbolic.

Nidhal: It’s symbolic in telling people in the region, look there is really hope – and the name was chosen appropriately – there is hope that we can get out of under development and become a country that 50 years ago created itself, essentially from scratch. In 50 years, you can reach Mars and you can become a science power and you can produce data and you can have scientists.

Dan: There is some nostalgia going on too, for the golden age of Islamic science.

Nidhal: The golden age of the Arab Islamic civilisation from the tenth century to maybe the 16th or so, for about 500 years, one of the most flourishing branches of science was astronomy.

Dan: Huge observatories were built. Hundreds of thousands of manuscripts were written

Nidhal: But what was most significant about all this is that a lot of that science was pure science.

Dan: Pure science, meaning it had little practical application.

Nidhal: And in fact, when the observatories were first created at the beginning of the golden age, the rulers who financed this and hired these astronomers and scientists said: “We have found by coming into contact with the old civilisations, Greek, Babylonian, Indian, Egyptian, that these people had, you know, longstanding traditions of science and culture and knowledge, and we want to reach that height and surpass them.”

Dan: Nidhal said the same connection is made today with space exploration…

Nidhal: To explain to people why we spending US$200 million on this instead of, you know, an infrastructure or hospitals or whatever. And the idea is look, 500 years ago, a thousand years ago, our predecessors spent money, created science and did not necessarily insist on it being applied or beneficial to our everyday life because they valued and cherished knowledge for the sake of knowledge.

Dan: Another big reason why the UAE is sending a mission to Mars is to give a big old boost to its space and engineering sector. Here’s a clip from a promotional video for the Hope mission by the UAE embassy in Washington.

Dan: For the UAE, actually launching the mission is already a mini success in its own right. But another key moment will be when data starts to pour back down to earth and gets put to use for science.

Nidhal: Even bigger success is when we start seeing papers, publications from that data coming out of the UAE and the Arab world. In that case, we will have closed the loop. We will have really entered this big community of science production, not just consumption.

Dan: I personally can’t wait to see what comes back from these three missions. But a lot needs to go right before scientists can start their work in earnest. Mars is known as the graveyard of probes for good reason – many missions just don’t succeed. But when they do, what get back on earth, is well, it’s out of this world. Here’s Jim Bell one last time.

Jim: I think what I enjoy most about pictures from Mars, you know, the beauty of the landscape. Yes. But the irony of the landscape. It looks like a scene out of the desert south-west, but at the same time, if you were actually there, it would be trying to kill you in so many ways.

Gemma: So Dan, it sounds to me like all three of these missions need a good helping of luck, as well as the science to go right.

Dan: Absolutely. About half of all Mars missions fail, so a little bit of space luck would certainly be helpful. I’m sure all the researchers will be watching nervously in February to see if this gang of probes makes it safely to the red planet.

Gemma: And we should say that you can read more about all three of these Mars missions on The Conversation, including a story by Steff Paladini from Birmingham City University on the motivations behind China’s space programme.

Dan: And one from Jim Bell, who’s leading the Nasa camera team out of Arizona State University. We’ll be publishing more analysis by academics on the science behind the three missions, as well as tracking them as data starts flowing back. All our coverage can be found at or by following the links in the show notes.

Gemma: For our next story we’re going to switch to politics. Now in Russia, there have been huge protests in recent weeks by people calling for the release of Alexei Navalany, a leading opposition figure.

Dan: That’s the guy who was poisoned?

Gemma: Yeah, that’s right, Navalny was recuperating in Germany and then returned to Russia in January before being promptly arrested, leading to mass protests. Now, there have been parallels drawn between these protests in Russia and what’s been happening for months in Belarus.

News clip

Ever since a disputed election in the country in August last year, people have continued protesting against the government of Alexander Lukanshenko. Due to the pandemic, and the violent state clampdown against the protests, it’s been really difficult for researchers to understand what Belarussians think about what’s been happening. But I spoke to one researcher whose team has just managed to.

Félix Krawatzek: My name is Félix Krawatzek. I’m working in Berlin at the Centre for East European and International Studies. And I’m in charge here on a cluster exploring young people’s political and social involvement across Eastern Europe. And I’m still affiliated with the University of Oxford.

News clip

Gemma: So let’s start with a bit of context. Tell us when and why did the protests in Belarus begin?

Félix: So the protests in Belarus, they started way before the election in August itself. Already in May and June, we’ve seen quite substantial solidarity actions in support of the independent candidates that were running against the incumbent, Alexander Lukashenko. And some of them were fairly large, especially then the closer we got to the elections in late July, there was for instance, a huge support rally for Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, where according to independent observers, some 70,000 people gathered.

And then of course, in the aftermath of the presidential election, on the ninth of August, the protest really gained huge momentum. The internet was shut down on the evening of the election and that brought out people on the street who couldn’t follow online any longer, what was going on. And then after the election protests grew and grew, gained in momentum over August and September, included a general strike in mid-August.

News clip

Félix: So the electoral commission in July barred Viktar Babaryka from running. He was probably the most prominent of the oppositional candidates and the electoral commission thought that a woman would have nothing to offer against Lukashenko. So they thought that she would be the weakest of the independent candidates and therefore decided that she would be allowed to run. But they obviously miscalculated the momentum that she was able to generate. Security forces, deployed, stun grenades and tear gas.

Gemma: So there was this initial outpouring onto the streets just after the election happened. What was the government’s initial reaction to that?

Félix: So the government reacted in a very brutal and determined way.

News clip

The crackdown that we’ve seen was quite severe. People were very badly injured, right on the election night itself. We know that at least five people died and thousands were detained sometimes, short, but some have also spent a couple of months in prison and they were kept in prison under conditions that don’t comply with human rights regulations.

And moreover, the government was absolutely not willing to engage in any kind of dialogue. So it was repression and no interaction with the protesters. As protests were growing, state media was talking about the harvest in August and there was absolutely no consideration of what was going on in the streets.

Gemma: And that was the immediate aftermath, but things haven’t stopped have they? What’s the situation now, six months, nearly seven months later?

Félix: No things certainly haven’t stopped. I mean, the peak of the protest has ebbed. That is to be said. So the numbers that we’ve seen in August and September, they have been kind of dwindling down over the last couple of weeks. What we still see is kind of an almost ritualistic Sunday march. Every Sunday, since August there’ve been the most significant mobilisations. And that has continued. So we see neighbourhoods mobilising.

And during the week, what we see now is specific groups taking to the streets. So you would see the women on one particular day, you would see students, you would see doctors, but the numbers now are small. So the student protests this week, late January, that we’ve seen, it was probably somewhere between 30 and 50 people who were walking across Minsk. But the situation is still very dangerous for people who are actively involved and even sometimes for bystanders. So we know that, you know, artists, writers, they’re also being, being arrested even though they might not have been on the street.

Gemma: OK. So let’s turn now to your research. You said you research political opinion and social opinion in Eastern Europe. It’s not just Belarus is it, you look across the region. Tell us a bit more about the surveys that you do.

Félix: I look across the region, focusing on Belarus, Russia and Poland at the moment. And one strand of that research is to do online surveys among young people in now also the general population in Belarus. And we’ve done that for the last two and a half years now.

Gemma: OK. So you’ve just done a big round of research in December 2020, let’s talk now about what you found and I know you’re still analysing the results. Can you tell me how many people in the sample were involved in the protests?

Félix: Sure. So we’ve done a survey that includes 2,000 people aged 16 to 64 in the country. And the way it’s being done is that you work with an online panel and you invite people who are in that online panel to fill in your survey. And when you set up the survey, you design quotas.

So you have got your population in the back of your mind. You know, that that Belarus has “X million” people, that distribution in terms of gender and these are the cities where people live in. So you set up quotas, you say, you need so many women living in cities, size 20,000 to 100,000. You need that many men. And then you invite the people who are in your online panel. You send them the link, you invite them to participate. And thereby, by filling in these quotas, you can replicate the population structure to a pretty good extent. And in our sample 10% state that they protested prior to the elections and 14% that they participated in protests since August 2020.

Gemma: And was that the level of participation that you might’ve expected? Was it higher, lower than you thought it would be?

Félix: It left me a bit puzzled, to be honest, at the beginning, because we have got these images in mind and we’ve seen all these videos of hundreds, of thousands of people in the streets and Minsk being crowded by protesters. So I thought, oh, that must certainly be a larger share than 14%. But then of course, when you put that back into context, so if you take 14% of 5 million, that’s 700,000 people. So that’s actually quite a lot.

Gemma: OK and, and maybe just put that into some wider context, cause you’ve been doing research in this region for a while. I mean, how does it compare to what’s happening to before 2020?

Félix: It’s a huge increase. So before 2020, when we asked, for instance, young people who are always, you know, more likely to go and participate in protests, between 2% and 3% of the young people, and by that, I mean, people aged 16 to 34, would say that they got involved in protests. And now we are looking at 14%. So that is a significant increase compared to what we’ve seen before 2020.

Gemma: That let’s turn now to why people are coming out on the streets. So what did your research reveal about the motivations of people who answered your survey.

Félix: The driving motivation that we see in our survey was the shock about the state violence. So 80% of those who went to protest, they said that they have seen the violence and they’ve heard about the violence and that is something that they found just unacceptable. There were other motivations as well that are quite important. So one is for instance, that half of the protesters thought that was the only way to be heard: ‘If I go out on the street, at least my voice will be heard and I can show to the state, but also to the kind of world that was watching, the movements in Belarus that we are one nation.’

Gemma: So that because people are watching, they feel more motivated to, to go out.

Félix: Yeah.

Gemma: And what about the demands that they’re asking for? So you talked about their motivations, but what do they want to now happen?

Félix: So they want proper elections, that’s the most frequently mentioned desired results. The other one is the investigation of violence, that ranks really high. And then the third point is a desire for Lukashenko to, well, he should step down. People think that he’s completely disconnected from the population.

Gemma: OK, so even people who didn’t actually go out to protest still feel this way about the situation?

Félix: Exactly. For instance, it’s more than a third who says that they want new elections. More than 50% say that they have no trust at all in the president. And rather no trust is given by nearly 20%.

Gemma: Wow, that’s nearly 70% of the population who really don’t trust or who don’t have much trust in their, in their government.

Félix: Yeah, exactly.

News clip

Gemma: Really interestingly in January and in the early weeks of 2021, there’ve been widespread protests in Russia against the detention of the opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, and actually there’ve been many commentators who’ve drawn links between what’s been happening in Russia and what’s been happening in Belarus. And I saw some reports saying that people were chanting “long live Belarus” on the streets of some of the cities that were protesting in Russia and even holding up flags, the red and white flag that’s become a symbol of the Belarussian protest. What do you think? Is there a spillover here or could there be a feedback loop going on between the two sets of protests?

Félix: Absolutely. There’s spillover. There’s a feedback process, and has been since at least July 2020, when in Russia’s far east in a region called Khabarovsk,, there have been protests for eight months now. And people have also expressed in Khabarovsk their support of what happened in Belarus and the other way around. So there’s a huge awareness of one another. Half of Belorussians have got friends or relatives living in Russia. And that sense of spillover from activists, I have spoken to, does indeed exist in so far as activists in Russia now feel somewhat empowered looking what happens in Belarus. That, you know, it’s possible to bring 14% of the population out on the street.

At the same time, the conversations that I had were also kind of more cautious than from, from other people’s assessments saying that, but Belarus also shows us how deeply ingrained the authoritarian system is. And that despite so much pressure from below, these systems might just continue to exist. So it goes both way. Yes, encouragement. We can bring people together. But also a warning that, wow, to change an autocracy the protests themselves might not be enough.

Gemma: Interesting. Once you keep a watch on, and I’m sure you’ll be doing more surveys on, on that in the future, in both places. Thank you so much, Félix, for your time today.

Félix: Thank you so much, Gemma, for your interest.

Dan: If you’re looking to read more on what’s been happening in Belarus – as well as the ongoing protests in Russia – we’ve had a bunch of other scholars who are writing about that too.

Gemma: Definitely, and Félix has just written an article, with his colleague Gwendolyn Sasse, showing the results in a bit more detail.

Each week, to end the show, we’re going to hear from a different Conversation editor from around the world. This week we’ve asked Ina Skosana, one of our colleagues based in Johannesburg, South Africa, to send us a voicemail with a couple of recommendations of stories she’s been thinking about.

Ina Skosana: Hello, my name is Ina Skosana, I am a health and medicine editor for The Conversation, I’m based in Johannesburg. Top of mind today is COVID-19 vaccines. So a bunch of candidate vaccine trials have been happening around the world and the results are slowing starting to come in. And one of the latest trials to release results is the Novavax vaccine. Trials were held separately in the UK and South Africa and we spoke to the principle investigator of the South African trial, his name is Shabir Madhi. He is a professor of vaccinology and director at the South African Medical Research Council’s Vaccines and Infectious Diseases Analytical Research Unit. He’s also affiliated to Wits University in South Africa.

So apart from speaking to us about the results of the trial and what they mean in different setting, Professor Madhi also explains to us why taking part in vaccine trials does not automatically mean that a country is going to receive those vaccines, and what must be done to ensure that. You can hear from Madhi himself in the podcast Pasha that he recorded with us, as well as read the story that we’ve written.

The second article I want to recommend is by Rachel Ama Asaa Engmann, she’s an associate professor and adjunct lecturer at the University of Massachusetts. She spoke to former Ghanaian president, the late John J Rawlings. While he rarely gave interviews, she puts together in this article a number of interviews that she had done with him over the years.

And in this interview he explores a number of topics, looking at heritage tourism in Ghana, explaining how he went about getting it off the ground when he came into office and how it has continued, and he also touches on this complex relationship between people in Africa and the descendants in the diaspora. And yeah, I think it’s just a really enlightening piece. Thank you so much for listening, goodbye.

Dan: That was Ina Skosana at The Conversation in Johannesburg.

Gemma: That’s it for this episode of The Conversation Weekly. Thanks to all the academics we’ve spoken to in this episode.

Dan: And thanks to The Conversation editors Miriam Frankel, Bijal Trivedi, Jonathan Este and Ina Skosana. You can find links to all the expert analysis we’ve mentioned in this week’s episode in the show notes. Or, head to, where you can sign up to get a free daily email by clicking “Get newsletter” at the top of the homepage.

Gemma: This episode is co-produced by Mend Mariwany and me, with sound design by Eloise Stevens. Our theme music is by Neeta Sarl. Thanks to Alice Mason, Stephen Khan, Imriel Morgan and Zoe Jazz for their help getting this show on the road.

Dan: One final thing … If you like this podcast, please tell your friends about us and go please give us a review on the Apple Podcasts page – it really does help! Thanks very much for listening and we’ll be back next week.

This article was originally published on The Conversation Weekly podcast Ep #1 transcript: Why it’s a big month for Mars

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