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December 23, 2013: Meeting Mr. Everest, Singing Songs in Space and More

Every week, embark with host Boyd Matson on an exploration of the latest discoveries and interviews with some of the most fascinating people on the planet, on National Geographic Weekend.

Please check listings near you to find the best way to listen to National Geographic Weekend on radio, or listen below!

Hour 1

- A dozen years ago, Pete Athans, nicknamed “Mr. Everest” for his record-tying seven summits of Mount Everest, took Boyd into the Khumbu Icefall. The hike above Base Camp is considered the second most dangerous day of climbing on Everest, as precariously balanced ice-boulders topple over at random intervals, while climbers step over aluminum ladders perched 60 feet above ice crevasses bouncing in the winds; in short, it’s dangerous and scary. But above the Icefall on Everest’s overcrowded slopes, Athans tells Boyd that humans and our own mistakes often create dangers where there might not otherwise be.

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- Arctic adventurers have to worry about the cold, encounters with polar bears and large chunks of ice carrying them farther from their destination, much like walking the wrong direction on an escalator. Adventurer and Yale student Parker Liautaud made three trips to the Arctic where he encountered many of these difficulties. He decided to simplify his polar explorations by planning an expedition to Antarctica, where, at the very least, the ice sits comfortably on top of a stationary chunk of land. He tells Boyd about prepping for an attempt at setting a speed record on the frozen continent while living and studying in New Haven, Connecticut. 

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- Biologists who gain access to a place where nobody has ever gone before, or head to well-explored locales with better technology or a fresh perspective, is a successful recipe for discovering species never before described by science. And to call it a “recipe” doesn’t seem to be an oversimplification for Tom Iliffe, who himself has discovered “in excess of 250 new species”. Despite all of the new findings, he only has a few animals named after him, including a shrimp from Bermuda and a worm from the Canary Islands. 

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- Life in Africa’s savannas is hard: some of the world’s top predators hunt and play there. While most of the continent’s big cats – lions, leopards and cheetahs – prefer to stay away from humans, finding simple sustinence is difficult. On a recent trip to Botswana’s Kalahari Desert, Boyd met tracker and safari guide Ras Mundu, who gave him a lesson in hunting for water, eating the right plants and avoiding the animals while walking around in the bush.

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David Braun, editor of National Geographic Daily News, describes a conservation success story, in which former headhunters in India’s Nagaland have agreed to stop hunting Amur falcons on their migration route from their summer home in Siberia to their winter residence in Southern Africa.

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Hour 2
- For every child who dreams of becoming an astronaut, the payoff is great – to see things that only a privileged few have been able to and enjoy novel experiences. But as Colonel Chris Hadfield writes in his book, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, going to the International Space Station is the payoff of a lifetime of focused training and extreme attention to detail. Unrelated to his book, he also shares why diapers are a necessary aid for astronauts, what going on a spacewalk is like, and why it’s difficult to sing in space, as he famously did in his cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity“.

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- As athletes become stronger, faster and aspire to accomplishments recently considered unachievable, the injuries continue to become more devastating. But across sports, head injuries and concussions plague athletes in ways that they never had before. Director Lucy Walker made “The Crash Reel” following snowboarder Kevin Pearce’s life after a traumatic brain injury sustained from a fall in training changed his life in a moment. Prior to his injury, Kevin was favored to medal at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. Walker’s film is shortlisted for an Academy Award in the Best Documentary Feature category.

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A baby orangutan sits with its mother in Borneo's Gunung Palung National Park. (Photo by Tim Laman/National Geographic)

A baby orangutan sits with its mother in Borneo’s Gunung Palung National Park. (Photo by Tim Laman/National Geographic)

- Deforestation in Indonesia is putting pressure on orangutans in the area. The apes require a large area to forage, as their diets vary greatly depending on the time of year and the cycle of available food varies. Cheryl Knott, founder of the Gunung Palung Oranguntan Project, says that their loss of habitat also challenges puts pressure on their ability to raise their young – orangutans take the longest time of all mammals between birthing offspring, having a baby only between a six-to-eight year span.

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- Egypt is home to some of the most studied ancient civilizations in the world. Archaeologists have picked apart artifacts and buildings buried deep in the sands that have accumulated in the thousands of years since the pharaohs last ruled. But National Geographic Fellow Sarah Parcak tells Boyd that she’s certain there are more important discoveries to be made. Her method gives her an edge on that of traditional archaeologists: she studies satellite images to spot foundations of ancient buildings or small changes in the ground from far away that would be impossible to notice on foot.

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- In this week’s Wild Chronicles segment, Boyd reminisces about past successes of the American space program, while remaining curious about its future. He also vows to go into space himself, once ticket prices go down to $250.

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