Are we there yet? Dr. John Kappelman discusses Africa and the human evolutionary journey at HMNS

In the history of mankind, there have been three major migrations: two of these happened a long time ago, and one (of the “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” type) happened in our own lifetime. 

evolution astronautAbout 1.8 million years ago, hominids we call Homo erectus ventured outside Africa, wandering into Europe and Asia. Our own species evolved in East Africa around 200,000 years ago. About 50,000 years ago, Homo sapiens followed in Homo erectus’ footsteps, with significant numbers leaving Africa. Eventually they crossed Asia and made it all the way into the Americas.

Homo erectus model displayed at the Westfälisches Landesmuseum, Herne, Germany in 2007 (Image Wikimedia)

Homo erectus model displayed at the Westfälisches Landesmuseum, Herne, Germany in 2007 (Image from Wikimedia).

 On July 20, 1969, Homo sapiens marked another milestone, with the first step on the Moon. Today, we have a permanent presence in space, albeit it on a very limited scale. We have come a long way indeed.

Long before Homo erectus left Africa, other bipedal creatures roamed Africa. Among these was Australopithecus afarensis, a hominid first discovered in Ethiopia. In 1974, Donald Johanson and his team uncovered a well preserved specimen who was nicknamed Lucy, and shortly afterwards also Dinkenesh. 

AL 288-1, Australopithecus afarensis. Also known as “Lucy” or “Dinkenesh” (Image by Viktor Deak).

AL 288-1, Australopithecus afarensis. Also known as “Lucy” or “Dinkenesh”
(Image by Viktor Deak).

Lucy and her species have been the subject of many scientific studies. However, when she traveled to the United States for the second time in 2007 (the first time was in 1975, to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History), she underwent a scientific procedure never before applied to her: for 10 days, she resided on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin, where she underwent a high resolution CT scan.

The scanned data was handed over to the government of Ethiopia and Mamitu Yilma, director of the National Museum in Addis Ababa. The successful completion of Lucy’s scan meant that the specimen is now safely archived in digital format — one of the reasons behind the scanning.

A small but dedicated team participated in the scanning project in Austin: 

Members of the scanning team included (from left) Ron Harvey, conservator, Lincolnville, Maine; Alemu Admassu, curator, National Museum, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia;  John Kappelman, UT Austin; and Richard Ketcham, UT Austin.  The team used the ultra high-resolution Xradia MicroXCT scanner (background), for some of the scans.

Members of the scanning team included (from left) Ron Harvey, conservator, Lincolnville, Maine; Alemu Admassu, curator, National Museum, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; John Kappelman, UT Austin; and Richard Ketcham, UT Austin. The team used the ultra high resolution Xradia MicroXCT scanner (background), for some of the scans.

Dr. John Kappelman has had a long-standing relation with the Houston Museum of Natural Science. He was one of many scientific advisors to the curator of anthropology when the exhibit featuring Lucy was prepared. His own research into human evolution is the topic of an upcoming presentation at the museum.

To find out if we are “there yet,” come listen to Dr. Kappelman on Tuesday, May 13 at 6:30 p.m.

HMNS Distinguished Lecture
The First Big Trip – Are We There Yet? Africa and the Human Journey
John Kappelman, Ph.D.
Tuesday, May 13, 2014, 6:30 p.m.
Click here to purchase advance tickets.

This lecture is cosponsored by Archaeology Institute of America – Houston Society as part of its 2013-2014 Innovations series.

Final Frontier: Free Lecture Series at Rice University

From Dr. David Alexander, Rice Professor of Physics and Astronomy and creator of the Space Frontiers Lecture series:

Yuri Gagarin

This month celebrates a number of notable anniversaries associated with space exploration.  Tuesday, April 12 marked the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s historic flight to become the first human to travel in space.  Coincidentally, that same day marked the 30th anniversary of the launch of the first Space Shuttle.  Two historic landmarks in our quest to expand the boundaries of our home planet.  For those of you who are interested, April 12 also marked the 134th anniversary of the first use of a catcher’s face mask in baseball as well as being the date on which the American Civil War began.

In the 50 years since that first flight over 520 humans have ventured out of the Earth’s atmosphere, some for a few days, some for several months, some even went to the moon (and back!).  In fact, there has been an American stationed in space every day for over 10 years!  Needless to say conditions on the moon or on board the space shuttle or International Space Station are quite different from here on Earth with the most striking difference being the microgravity environment in which the astronauts or cosmonauts have to live.

Over the last five decades we have learned a lot about what being in space does to the human body from a wide array of phenomena such as bone loss, muscle atrophy, and radiation exposure.  How does space travel affect humans?  How do we mitigate these effects? How do we prepare for longer and longer space shifts? Experimental stations on the moon and Mars could mean hardy astronauts being away from home for years at a time.

On April 21st, in the final Space Frontiers Lecture of the 2010-2011 academic year, Rice University will host Dr. Bobby Alford, who will discuss the medical and biological aspects of space travel.

Dr. Alford is CEO and Chairman of the National Space Biomedical Research Institute, a Distinguished Service Professor at Baylor College of Medicine, where he is also Professor of Otolaryngology.  Dr Alford has also served with distinction on the White House “Blue Ribbon” Advisory Committee for the Redesign of the Space Station, The Aerospace Medicine Advisory Committee (Chairman), The Life and Microgravity Sciences and Applications Committee (Chairman), and the Life Sciences Advisory Committee.

International Space Station

Please bring your bones and muscles to the 1g atmosphere of the McMurtry auditorium on April 21!  See spacefrontiers.rice.edu for details.

What can you do with 63 hours?

Aerial view Terra Cotta WarriorsOnly six days remain. Six days, to see one of the eight wonders of the world. The Terra Cotta Warriors, from Xi’an, China, will be available for your viewing pleasure, for six more days.

Have no fear. Here at HMNS, we know you’ve been busy – and this is something that no one should miss. So, we’re making things just a little bit easier for you to meet the warriors before they’re gone. We are extending our normal viewing hours to make sure as many people as possible have the time and chance to see this amazing exhibit before it leaves.

We will open at our normal hour of 9 a.m. on Friday, October 16 for a 63-hour Terra Cotta Warriors marathon and we won’t close until midnight on Sunday, Oct. 18. That’s 63 straight, uninterrupted hours for you to come in and see the exhibit. Want to meet China’s First Emperor at 3 a.m.? No problem.

63 hours. To put this span in perspective, I’ve devised a list of a few activities you might be able to do in 63 hours.

*Fly to the moon. A manned spacecraft takes roughly three days to fly to the moon.

*Learn the names of all 203 recognized U.N. countries.

*Watch “The Burning of the Red Lotus Temple,” a 1928 Chinese film that runs at about 27 hours, 2 1/5 times.

IMG_1143
Creative Commons License photo credit: thomas_sly

*Run the world’s fastest marathon (at two hours and four minutes) almost 30 times.

*Have a cell divide anywhere from two to five times inside of you.

*Listen to the song “Choak and Ace” (at a recorded length of 4 hours, 27 min, and 32 seconds) 13 and 1/3 times

*Go through almost one percent of pregnancy (not really recommended for the men reading this.)

*Experience the Terra Cotta Warriors at HMNS. This probably won’t take the full 60 hours. However, it is less dangerous than flying to the moon, won’t get stuck in your head like listening to the same four hour song 13 times, and is a lot less tedious than learning the names of 203 countries.

If you haven’t seen the warriors yet, we hope you’ll come by this weekend – any time.  See you there!

Looking Back: 40 Years of Space Travel

On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy exclaimed “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”

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 JFK’s “Moon speech” given at Rice Stadium on September 12, 1962

His speech became reality when, on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong stepped out of the Lunar Lander and uttered the now well-known phrase “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”

The journey to the Moon was a culmination of years of work. Several previous missions had launched satellites and probes into space, as well as manned flights and space walks. On October 4, 1957, Russia launched Sputnik, the first satellite to ever orbit the earth. That same year, Russia launched the first animal, a dog named Laika, into orbit.

On April 12, 1961, Russia successfully sent the first human into outer space. Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin orbited the earth for 108 minutes. In 1965, the Russians also completed the first spacewalk.

Not to be outdone by Russia in the heart of the Cold War, the U.S. decided to send a man to the moon. On July 16, 1969, Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin (Buzz), and Michael Collins launched from the Kennedy Space Center on the shuttle Apollo 11. Four days later, the lunar module separated from the command module and became the first manned spacecraft to land on the surface of the moon.

Hubble's Largest Galaxy Portrait Offers a new High-Def view
Creative Commons License photo credit: Venom82

Since then, we have landed vehicles on Mars. We have sent satellites and probes to observe all of the planets in our solar system as well as our Sun. We have used the Hubble Telescope to capture images of suns and galaxies millions of light years away. We have a space station where astronauts can live in space for months at a time.

It’s been an amazing journey – and there is still so much left to discover. Interested in learning more about the history – and the future – of space travel? Come see Dawn of the Space Age, a new planetarium show on the Apollo space missions, the Space Race, and expected NASA exploration.

Learn a few more fun facts about Apollo 11’s mission.