Monday, December 31, 2007

Space Odyssey: A Voyage to the Planets

Envision if you will a voyage to the ends of the solar system aboard a spaceship that still exists within the realm of imagination. A spacecraft named Pegasus. It will embark on a six year voyage that will take an international crew of five astronauts to Venus, Mars, a harrowing close flyby of our nearest star- the Sun, and then on to the outer reaches of the Solar system to the Giant Planets Jupiter and Saturn and on to the dwarf planet Pluto. And, on the return journey home imagine a close encounter with that most ancient of relics of our solar system’s formation - a comet. This voyage is nothing less than a 21st Century grand tour of the awe inspiring wonders of our solar system. Accompany the intrepid crew of the spaceship Pegasus as they undertake take a Space Odyssey to the ends of the Solar System and beyond. The technology to commence such a voyage does not quite exist yet. But, perhaps it will one day.

The broadcast of Space Odyssey on the United States' The Science Channel differed from the full version with the cut of the arrival at Pluto and simply proceeded with the crew heading to the comet. This is because the U.S. version had the crew decide to turn back to Earth rather than press on to Pluto. The encounter with the comet is inferred to take place somewhere between Saturn and Jupiter. The British version with the astronauts going on to Pluto is more awe inspiring.

I think the show inadvertently undermined the role humans could play in future planetary exploration. Especially, when one sees missions to Venus and Io ending in near disaster.

The most devastating blow comes when John Pearson dies of solar radiation-induced cancer in Saturn orbit, the point where the crew must decide whether to continue the mission to Pluto, or abort and return to Earth. The crew decides to press on to Pluto, making history. There were just too many near disasters in one mission.

On the whole the special effects, planetary landscapes and music were very inspirational and set the heart stirring. The Pegasus spacecraft and landers were very plausible engineering marvels and created a highly realistic 21st century depiction of just how such a Grand Tour Odyssey could feasibly be undertaken. I highly recommend that you buy this series which is currently available on DVD home video.

Here are some video highlights of this fantastic documentary.

Space Odyssey Introduction

Space Odyssey: Venus Encounter Part 1

Space Odyssey: Venus Encounter Part 2

Space Odyssey: Mission to Mars Part 1

Space Odyssey: Mission To Mars Part 2

Space Odyssey Aerobraking at Jupiter

Space Odyssey Mission to Jupiter's Volcanic Moon Io

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Cosmic Visions: A Blog Site Dedicated to Carl Sagan

I have established a blog site entitled ‘Cosmic Visions’ This Blog Site was established as an Internet Monument to one of the greatest astronomers and popularizers of science of the twentieth century - Dr. Carl Sagan. Cosmos was the landmark documentary for which he will be long remembered. This Internet Project is dedicated to his life, work and memory. Herein we will discuss many of the issues that occupied Sagan throughout his life (Astronomy, SETI, the future of humanity, space exploration, science and education). I look forward to seeing you there.

This website is still under development and contains many of the articles and material I posted on this site and elsewhere. So, please bear with me until I gather more material for this new site.

Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot -Episode 1: "Wanderers"

As I mentioned earlier this week, December 20th, 2007 marked the eleventh anniversary of the untimely passing of the American astronomer and popularizer of science Dr. Carl Sagan. Cosmos was the landmark documentary for which he will be long remembered.

Had he lived I am sure he would have gone on to produced and host several more documentaries. Back in July I mentioned a video project entitled ‘Pale Blue Dot -Episode 1: Wanderers’ which provides us with a glimpse of one such production.

Please allow me to reiterate what I said back in July: "it is a fantastic documentary worthy of PBS and a moving and fitting tribute to Carl Sagan. PALE BLUE DOT episode 1 was just as good as any PBS production I have seen thus far." This production is the brainchild of Lang Kasranov. Lang, you are an inspiration to us all.

Well here it is for all to see. Over the coming weeks I plan to post several such videos as part of an Internet wide tribute to the greatest science popularizers of all time: Carl Edward Sagan.

A higher resolution version video of this wonderful production can be seen in its entirety at Pale Blue Dot website.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Man Conquers Space

Here is a mock documentary very much to my heart that has been in production for quite some time. This production comes from Australia. It is entitled ‘Man Conquers Space’. It presents an alternate history of our space program and brings to life Collier Magazine’s vision of Man’s future in space in living colour. I am really looking forward to its theatrical release.

Things to Come (1936)

Things to Come is one of my most favourite motion pictures of all time. It is a Wellsian future history based on Wells' 1933 novel ‘The Shape of Things to Come’ . The full text of the novel can be downloaded from Project Gutenberg in Australia.

Things to Come is a 1936 British science fiction film, produced by Alexander Korda and directed by William Cameron Menzies. The screenplay was written by H. G. Wells and is a loose adaptation of his own 1933 novel The Shape of Things to Come and his 1931 non-fiction work, The Work, Wealth and Happiness of Mankind. The film stars Raymond Massey.

Christopher Frayling of the British Film Institute calls Things to Come "a landmark in cinematic design." You can download this motion picture via Internet Archive for free because it has entered the public domain,

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Disney in Space: Mars and Beyond

I have always been fascinated by intellectual history and the history and philosophy of science in particular. As the great science writer Jacob Bronowski pointed out in his landmark book and television documentary series ‘The Ascent of Man’ it is very tempting to believe that the scientific and technological achievements of the past sixty years or so have no equal precedent. “Yet to admire only our own successes as if they had no past (and were sure of the future) is to make a caricature of knowledge. For human achievement, and science in particular, is not a museum of finished constructions. It is a progress….”

All the great scientific and technological ideas of our age have had their antecedents. This is particularly true of space exploration and the search for life beyond the Earth. Over the coming months I will outline some of earliest ideas and dreams of space travel and communicating with extraterrestrial intelligence. Our fascination with the planet Mars is no exception. The human species has had a long love affair with this captivating world. The following video segment from ‘Mars and Beyond’ provides a very nice capsule history of some of these ideas. I will have more to say about Walt Disney's partnership with Wernher von Braun in helping to sell Americans on Space in a later article. In the meantime I give you "Mars and Beyond" (Part 6). The earlier segments of this wonderful Disney program can be found here at this page from You Tube.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Cosmos: A Personal Voyage through Time and Space

Cosmos, the very word evokes the entirety of all existence and a sense of wonder. “The cosmos is all there is, all there ever was, and all there ever will be”. These opening lines of Carl Sagan’s book and landmark television series introduced us to the concept of science as a spiritual enterprise - the quest to understand who we are and where we stand in the vast scheme of the universe.

We live between two great gulfs within the very fabric of the cosmos- the immensity of space and an eternity of time. Yet, through the miracle of special effects and a starship of the imagination, Carl Sagan went boldly forth where few had gone before and took us with him on a personal voyage of discovery through those very gulfs. It was a voyage that traversed the galaxies and the vast ocean of time and space. This epic voyage began from the very shores of our planet out into the cosmic ocean. It was a journey that was also a homecoming to lay claim to our cosmic inheritance into the very realm from which we can trace our beginnings.

The science of our age has revealed to us a universe some fifteen billion years old, where the very matter of the cosmos came to life on our island Earth four billion years ago, and star stuff started contemplating the stars with the emergence of intelligence and civilization fifty thousand years ago. With civilization came science and through much trial and error we finally live in an epoch where the tools and methods of science allow us to make it a spiritual quest where we can, more than any previous generation, hope to answer the seven mystical questions of our age:

    1. How did the Cosmos come into being and how will it end?

    2. What is space?

    3. What is time?

    4. What is gravity?

    5. What are the fundamental nature of matter and energy?

    6. How did matter emerge into life and consciousness?

    7. Do we share the cosmos with other creatures that seek to
      answer these questions and others that our imagination and intelligence have not even begun to contemplate?

Carl Sagan’s Cosmos was for many of us the first epic voyage of exploration where we sort answers to these questions outside the realm of comic books, science fiction, or Star Trek.

Cosmos presented the whole of the scientific enterprise as a very human pursuit. For a very long time we have looked at science as something outside the realm of everyday human concern. We glorify art, literature, and music. But, look at science as a separate endeavor outside the human norm. In fact we should expand the definition of the humanities to encompass science. Science can trace its origins to its metaphysical beginnings in ancient Ionia. The wellsprings of some of our deepest questions were once the chief concerns of religion and philosophy. Yet, science, with a capital “S” is a human endeavor that resonates with our deepest yearnings to understand the reason and purpose of our existence. To quote Carl Sagan “Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality”. Science has its own poetry and psalms that glorify the wonders of the cosmos. Science uses its own language to write sonatas of praise to the numinous, the language of discovery known as mathematics.

Cosmos was also a major source of inspiration for many teenagers to pursue a career in science, and for me personally, a career as a science teacher. Often as I prepare my lesson plans or a public presentation, I can hear Sagan whispering to me “can’t you make it more interesting”? or “where is the poetry to evoke awe and wonder”? We need to inject that sense of wonder and awe back into our teaching. The discoveries of science and the language of discovery mathematics should be presented with the same spirit as Cosmos presented the wonders of creation to the general public. Our classrooms must become the starships of the imagination that transcend space and time to inspire a new generation of scientists and engineers to take us on new voyages of discovery.

The following video clip shows the opening introduction of the first episode of Cosmos: The Shores of the Cosmic Ocean.

The Gift of 'Cosmos'

Hello One and All,
In keeping with this Festive and Holiday Season and in commemoration of the 11th Anniversary of Carl Sagan's untimely passing I would like to give each and everyone of you the Gift of 'Cosmos'. This landmark Television Series is available Online from GUBA Free Video to view and enjoy once again for free. Background information concerning this landmark television series can be found on wikipedia.

The following video clip shows Carl Sagan's introduction of the Cosmic Calendar in the first episode of Cosmos: The Shores of the Cosmic Ocean.

Apollo 8's Christmas Message From Lunar Orbit

Seasons Greetings December 24th, 2007

To Our Dear Readers,

Today Marks the
Thirty-ninth anniversary of the crew of Apollo 8’s Christmas Message from the orbit of the Moon. So on behalf of my fellow writers Dennis Chamberland and Ralph Buttigieg I would like to wish you all:

Warm Wishes To You And Your Loved Ones This Holiday Season And Best Wishes For A Prosperous New Year! May We All Find Prosperity and Peace in Our Planetary Home The Good Earth and Amongst The Stars!

On Christmas Eve, 1968, during the Apollo-8 mission, Astronauts Frank Borman, James A. Lovell, Jr., and William A. Anders, beamed home this holiday message as they orbited the moon (appoximately 240,000 miles above the earth).

William A. Anders:
We are now approaching lunar sunrise. And, for all the people back on earth, the crew of Apollo 8 have a message that we would like to send to you.

"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. "

James A. Lovell, Jr.:
"And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day."

Frank Borman:
"And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good."

And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close, with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you, all of you on the good earth.