Who revival kicks BBC into Hyperdrive

HyperdriveWhile the much-talked-about Red Dwarf movie continues to languish in the realm of big-screen vaporware, the BBC lines up its successor. According to a report in the London Times, the new Doctor Who series has put science fiction back on the British broadcasting map, with the BBC’s rivals at ITV preparing a series called Primeval with a multi-million-pound budget and CGI dinosaur effects. In the meantime, the BBC announces a new science fiction comedy for BBC2 called Hyperdrive, which is said to “consciously echo” Red Dwarf, which remains the highest-rated sitcom in BBC2′s history.

More about Hyperdrive in the LogBook

Mittens required on Pluto

PlutoScientists are already aware that Pluto is really cold, but recent observations suggest that it’s even colder than they had imagined. New radio telescope measurements of Pluto’s surface indicate that it’s a brisk -382 degrees Fahrenheit (scientists had earlier estimated a positively summery -364). Part of the reason for the slight chill in the air – if indeed there was any there – is that Pluto is on the outbound train. The tiny planet’s highly inclined orbit isn’t centered around the sun, while the solar system’s other worlds are more or less centered; part of Pluto’s orbit carries it further away from the sun and “under” the plane shared by the other planets. Curiously enough, however, the surface of Charon – Pluto’s nearly-identical-twin moon – is determined to be warmer than Pluto itself. The readings are taken by the Submillimeter Array in Hawaii by astronomers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

Stardust comes home

StardustNASA’s unmanned Stardust space probe successfully returns its samples of comet and interstellar dust to Earth. A few minutes after 5:00am Eastern time, the Stardust sample return capsule makes a soft landing in Utah, its record-setting 29,000mph return to Earth slowed by a series of parachutes. (Before Stardust’s return, the fastest vehicle to enter Earth’s atmosphere was the capsule bringing home the crew of Apollo 10 in May 1969.) It is hoped that analysis of the tiny particles captured in cakes of a special porous material called aerogel will shed some light on the origins of the solar system. The “mother ship” portion of the Stardust probe is left on a course that will put it into a permanent orbit around the sun. Stardust was launched in February 1999, and gathered its samples from the cloud of gas and dust surrounding Comet Wild-2 in January 2004, zipping through the comet’s coma at 13,000mph.

New Horizons launched

New HorizonsNASA launches the unmanned New Horizons probe on a course for the minor planet Pluto, the first spacecraft built to explore that destination. A trajectory with multiple planetary flybys and gravitational assists is designed to sling New Horizons toward Pluto within a decade (compared to Voyager 2’s 12-year trek to Neptune).

New Horizons will enter Pluto’s surprisingly complex system in 2015.

UPN, WB to cease broadcasting

UPNWanna-be fifth networks UPN and the WB both announce that they will go off the air in late 2006, after 11 years of struggling to make a dent against the “big four” networks. (Both networks signed on in January 1995, the WB premiering its programming one week before UPN went on the air with the premiere of Star Trek: Voyager; WB later found its own genre niche with the series adaptation of Joss Whedon’s Buffy: The Vampire Slayer and its popular spinoff, Angel, along with the “young Superman” prequel Smallville.) However, some of their programming may survive to be seen on a new joint venture between Warner Bros. and UPN’s parent network, CBS. This new network, The CW, will have programming and personnel held over from both defunct networks. The announcements do not mention how the merger will work out in broadcast markets where affiliate stations exist for both networks.

Akira Ifukube, Godzilla composer, dies

GodzillaA self-taught composer whose scores for the original Toho Studios Godzilla films have become cult favorites, Akira Ifukube dies at the age of 91. He trained in the lumber industry and served as a forestry office during World War II, but he explored his interest in music in his spare time and became a university music instructor in 1946. In 1954, he scored the first Godzilla movie, and that music was tracked into later films in the series and has been re-recorded, covered and sampled by numerous artists since then. Aside from his film scoring work, he has been credited with hundreds of musical compositions since then and served as president of the Tokyo College of Music from 1976 to 1987.

More about Godzilla soundtracks in Music Reviews

Phil Brown, Star Wars actor, dies

Phil BrownActor Phil Brown, who secured a permanent place in SF lore with the role of Uncle Owen in Star Wars, dies at the age of 89. After spending the early years of his career working in stage productions in New York, he moved to Hollywood and co-founded the Actors’ Laboratory. He was only one film into a directing career when he was blacklisted during the McCarthy hearings, and left America to work in London in 1952 as both an actor and director, not to move back to the US until 1993. He found that his Star Wars role, even as brief as it was, won him a place of honor at many SF conventions, and he spent recent years making the rounds and meeting his fans. He also appeared in Superman, The Pink Panther Strikes Again, Twilight’s Last Gleaming, the TV miniseries The Martian Chronicles, and played a brief part in a trailer assembled by Richard Hatch to pitch a revival of the original Battlestar Galactica series.

Andreas Katsulas, Babylon 5 actor, dies

Andreas Katsulas as G'KarActor Andreas Katsulas, known to SF fans as Babylon 5′s eloquent Ambassador G’Kar, dies of lung cancer at the age of 59. After making a mark with Star Trek fans as Next Generation’s feisty recurring Romulan, Commander Tomalok, he landed the part of Babylon 5′s resident Narn ambassador and stayed with it from the 1993 pilot movie through the most recent Babylon 5 project to date, the 2002 TV movie Legend Of The Rangers. He also made appearances in Max Headroom, Alien Nation, Star Trek: Enterprise, Millennium, NYPD Blue, and movies such as the big-screen adaptation of The Fugitive.

White House honors Odyssey inventor

Ralph Baer with President BushRalph Baer, the inventor of home video games, receives the National Medal of Technology from President George W. Bush. While working for defense contractor Sanders & Associates in the 1960s, Baer pioneered the concept of interactive television programming, eventually gathering a hand-picked team to create a prototype called the Brown Box. Baer and his employer licensed the technology to Magnavox, which repackaged it and marketed it as the world’s first home video game console, the Odyssey. Baer also created other key video game innovations, such as the first light gun.

NASA’s Dawn mission cancelled

DawnHaving been “on hold” since October 2005 pending an audit of technical and managerial issues related to the mission, NASA formally cancels the Dawn unmanned mission to the asteroid belt. The spacecraft had been intended to lift off in 2006, using an ion propulsion system to visit, orbit, and map not one, but two, of the largest bodies in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, in the following decade. The mission is cancelled when NASA auditors find unresolved technical issues and project a budget overrun of 20%. Planners and managers for the Dawn mission plan to appeal NASA’s decision.