Matt Smith is the Doctor

Doctor WhoThe BBC, having masterfully kept its casting decision under wraps for over a week, broadcasts a special edition of the making-of series Doctor Who Confidential, announcing that 26-year-old Matt Smith will be the eleventh Doctor. The youngest actor ever to play the part, Smith’s casting attracts controversy on the basis of little more than a few rushed, disjointed interview segments in Doctor Who Confidential. His first appearance as the eleventh Doctor is virtually an entire year away at the time of the announcement.

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STS-119

Space ShuttleSpace Shuttle Discovery lifts off on the 125th shuttle flight, a 13-day mission to the International Space Station. Further spacewalks to repair the station’s solar arrays are conducted, as well as a repair to its on-board water system; with the power and water issues resolved, the station can now house a crew of six astronauts and cosmonauts. Aboard Discovery for her 36th flight are Commander Lee Archambault, Pilot Tony Antonelli, and mission specialists Joseph Acaba, Steve Swanson, Richard Arnold, John Phillips and Koichi Wakata. Wakata stays aboard the station, while ISS crewmember Sandra Magnus returns to Earth aboard Discovery.

Soyuz TMA-14 / ISS Expedition 19

Soyuz TMA-14The fourteenth full-time crew of the International Space Station lifts off from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome aboard Soyuz TMA-14. Gennady Padalka and Michael Barratt take up residence on the ISS for 199 days. Arriving with them on the ISS for a 12-day stay is returning space tourist Charles Simonyi, who returns to Earth aboard Soyuz TMA-13 with the Expedition 18 crew. As with his previous flight to the ISS, Simonyi pays for his own Soyuz seat and mission training.

Red Dwarf: Back To Earth, Part 3

Red DwarfThe 55th episode of the science fiction comedy Red Dwarf airs on BBC 2. This is the conclusion of a three-part story commissioned by UK comedy channel Dave. The story receives sharp criticism for completely breaking down the “fourth wall”, and for borrowing heavily from the movie Blade Runner. Despite the fan criticism, Dave begins putting together financing to a full season of six episodes, which won’t appear until 2012.

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Caprica

CapricaThe pilot movie of the Battlestar Galactica spinoff series Caprica, a non-space-based tale of the creation of the Cylons over half a century before the events seen in Galactica, is released direct-to-DVD. Starring Eric Stoltz, Esai Morales and Alessandra Toressani, Caprica actually began its development as a non-Galactica-related pitch about the dawn of a society’s disastrous over-reliance on technology. The pilot will be broadcast nearly a year on Syfy, though its initial means of release reflects an end-of-decade spike in direct-to-DVD genre movies that includes two one-off Stargate SG-1 DVDs.

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Spirit’s sticky situation

SpiritNASA’s Spirit Mars rover becomes stuck in an area of soft, dusty soil in which its wheels can no longer gain traction. Efforts to simulate the problem on Earth begin, as well as studies to see if Spirit can free itself, but attempts to wiggle or rotate the rover’s wheels on Mars produce no results (and eventually wear out the independent motor of another of its wheels). The attempts to free Spirit from its Martian sandtrap continue through early 2010.

Dollhouse: Omega

DollhouseThe 12th episode of Joss Whedon’s futuristic “spy-fi” series Dollhouse airs on Fox, starring Eliza Dushku. Mark Sheppard (Supernatural, Battlestar Galactica) and Alan Tudyk (Firefly, Rogue One) guest star in the first season finale. A further episode, Epitaph One, is produced as a potential series finale, but upon renewal of Dollhouse, that episode does not air on broadcast TV, instead going direct to DVD via the box set release of this season.

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STS-125: last stop at Hubble

Space ShuttleSpace Shuttle Atlantis lifts off on the 126th shtutle flight, the final servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope (and the only post-Columbia flight not to visit the International Space Station). The repairs and upgrades conducted during a series of spacewalks will extend Hubble’s operation life through at least 2014. Aboard Atlantis for her 30th flight are Commander Scott Altman, Pilot Greg Johnson, and mission specialists John Grunsfeld, Michael Massimino, Andrew Feustel, Michael Good and Megan McArthur. This mission was nearly cancelled in light of post-Columbia flight rules requiring all shuttle flights to visit the space station.

Herschel, Planck Observatories launched

Herschel Space ObservatoryThe European Space Agency launches a single Ariane 5 rocket to deliver a pair of unmanned space telescopes to the L2 LaGrange point trailing Earth. The super-cooled Herschel Space Observatory will search for objects at the far-infrared end of the spectrum, while the Planck Space Observatory will scan the microwave spectrum. Though both telescopes are sent to the same general region of space, they are entirely separate spacecraft which will operate independently of one another.

Farewell, Kaguya

KaguyaJapan’s unmanned Kaguya spacecraft, also known as SELENE, is intentionally crashed into the surface of Earth’s moon, which it has been orbiting and studying for nearly two years (twice its intended one-year operational lifetime). Having completed its observations and studies (as well as transmitting back to Earth high-definition camera views of the moon from orbit), Kaguya impacts near the crater Gill.

GOES-14

GOES-14NOAA’s GOES-14 Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite is launched from Cape Canaveral into geosynchronous orbit to monitor weather patterns over the United States. It will be held in reserve until August 2012, when it will be activated to begin monitoring Tropical Storm Isaac as it closes in on the Gulf Coast, and it will redirected to monitor Hurricane Sandy’s approach and landfall on the east coast of the United States. In 2013 it will be moved to a position near the GOES-EAST geostationary position to cover the Atlantic Ocean and the east coast during one of GOES-13’s many technical outages. It remains in orbit on standby.

STS-127

Space ShuttleSpace Shuttle Endeavour is launched on the 127th shuttle flight, a 16-day mission to the International Space Station to complete the Japanese-built Kibo laboratory facility. The installation of the final Kibo module requires five lengthy spacewalks. Aboard Endeavour for her 23rd flight are Commander Mark Polansky, Pilot Doug Hurley, and mission specialists Christopher Cassidy, Tom Marshburn, Dave Wolf, Julie Payette and Tim Kopra; Kopra remains on the station, with Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata returning to Earth on the shuttle.