Gene Cernan, Apollo 17 astronaut, dies

Gene CernanApollo 17 Commander Eugene Cernan, the last human to leave the surface of the moon in the 20th century, dies at the age of 82. One of the members of NASA’s second astronaut class, recruited in 1963 to take part in the Gemini program, Cernan first flew into space aboard Gemini 9 in 1966, a mission in which he became the second American spacewalker, though his assigned tasks outside the Gemini spacecraft proved to be dangerously exhausting. His second flight, as the lunar module pilot for Apollo 10, saw him flying a lunar lander to within miles of the moon’s surface in May 1969, a dress rehearsal for the upcoming Apollo 11 mission. He commanded the final Apollo moon landing mission, Apollo 17, in December 1972, where he earned the title of “last man on the moon” by being the last astronaut to leave the lunar surface to re-enter the Apollo 17 lander. He later wrote an autobiography about his spaceflight experiences, and was frequently outspoken about his disappointment that no one walked on the moon again in his lifetime.

Miguel Ferrer, actor, dies

Miguel FerrerVeteran character actor Miguel Ferrer, a steady presence on TV and the big screen for over 30 years, dies of cancer at the age of 61. Fondly remembered for his villain role in the original Robocop, a recurring role on Twin Peaks, and a brief cameo as the first officer of the hapless U.S.S. Excelsior in Star Trek III: The Search For Spock, Ferrer was co-starring in the popular series NCIS: Los Angeles at the time of his death.

Masaya Nakamura, Namco founder, dies

Masaya NakamuraMasaya Nakamura, the founder of pioneering Japanese video game maker Namco, dies at the age of 91. Founded in 1955 as Nakamura Manufacturing Co., Namco was an early proponent of video game development in Japan, though it saw its earliest successes as the Japanese distributor of Atari arcade games imported from the U.S. After moderately successful early coin-ops such as Gee Bee, Namco quickly established itself as a global powerhouse with the release of such perennial classics as Pac-Man, Galaxian, Galaga, Dig Dug, Pole Position, and Xevious, among many others. Namco’s growth in the 1980s was so explosive that it absorbed Japanese film studio Nikkatsu in 1993 (several of whose titles Nakamura oversaw as executive producer), and later merged with Bandai in 2005.

More about Namco in Phosphor Dot Fossils

John Hurt, actor, dies

John Hurt is the DoctorBritish actor Sir John Hurt, renowned for memorable roles in everything from I, Claudius to Alien to The Elephant Man to 1984 to Doctor Who, dies at the age of 77 after a long battle with pancreatic cancer (during which he kept actively working). Known to genre fans for the role of unlucky astronaut Kane in Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979), though before this he had lent his voice to animated adaptations of Lord Of The Rings and Watership Down. He spoofed his Alien character for Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs in 1987. Other genre fare included the movie adaptation of Carl Sagan’s novel Contact in 1997, V For Vendetta, Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull, the final two Harry Potter movies, and voiced the dragon in the BBC’s TV series Merlin. In 2013, he joined the pantheon of incarnations of the Doctor for Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary, playing a previously unseen incarnation of the Time Lord, a role he reprised for Big Finish Productions’ Doctor Who audio plays.

Richard Hatch, actor, dies

Richard HatchActor Richard Hatch, who starred in the 1970s series Battlestar Galactica as Captain Apollo and then took on the new role of Tom Zarek in the show’s longer-running early 2000s re-imagining, dies of pancreatic cancer at the age of 71. Both before and after his starring turn as Apollo, Hatch was a mainstay of 1970s and ’80s TV, with guest appearances in The Love Boat, CHiPS, Fantasy Island, MacGyver, T.J. Hooker and Baywatch. In 1999 he unsuccessfully pitched a Galactica revival to Universal Studios, based loosely on a line of post-TV-series novels he co-authored earlier in the ’90s. He also played a key role in the Star Trek fan film Prelude To Axanar, and was set to reprise his role in a feature-length fan project continuing its story.

Dream Chaser Hubble repair mission proposed

Dream ChaserThough it has yet to actually go to space, the Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser spacecraft is floated as a possible savior for the Hubble Space Telescope, with a very preliminary mission proposal for a repair mission to the telescope which has now been operational in orbit for over a quarter of a century. The possible mission is brought forth as an example of increasing high-profile cooperation between NASA and private space companies. The Dream Chaser’s earliest orbit test flights are not expected to take place prior to 2019; if the mission takes place in 2020 at the earliest, Hubble will by then be 30 years old.

The seven worlds of TRAPPIST-1

Trappist-1NASA announces the discovery, via the Spitzer Space Telescope, of a system of seven Earth-sized worlds orbiting the star TRAPPIST-1, only 40 light years from Earth’s solar system. Though water may exist in some state on all seven of the planets, three of them are thought to be orbiting within the “Goldilocks zone” in which liquid water would be abundant, making life possible on the surfaces of those planets.

Bill Paxton, actor, dies

Bill PaxtonActor Bill Paxton, who played both starring and supporting roles in movies such as Aliens, The Terminator, Predator 2, Weird Science, Apollo 13, Twister, and Tombstone, dies at the age of 61. Paxton worked behind the scenes in the early years of his career, alternating between working for legendary B-movie director Roger Corman, and playing small roles on screen. He directed the film clip for the Barnes & Barnes song “Fish Heads” (which was co-written and performed by Bill Mumy). Paxton died from complications that arose during heart surgery.

SpaceX shoots for the moon

SpaceX DragonPrivate aerospace company SpaceX announces that a crew of two – not publicly identified by the company – have booked a private circumlunar flight scheduled to take place in 2018 aboard a SpaceX Dragon v2 capsule. The flight will utilize a free-return trajectory to the moon, around its dark side, and back to Earth, without orbiting or landing. At the time of the announcement, Dragon v2 has yet to fly into space, either with or without a crew, and the booster that would be required for this flight, the Falcon Heavy, has yet to be test-flown, either with or without a crew.

Europa Clipper

Europa ClipperAfter a long process of gaining sufficient approval to be budgeted for a design phase, NASA’s Europa Clipper spacecraft gets a name and a preliminary shape, but no completion date or launch window any more specific than “the 2020s”, likely putting it at Jupiter’s intriguing moon Europa in the early 2030s after a series of gravity assists. Europa Clipper is intended to closely survey Europa from orbit, attempting to focus on its icy surface and the saltwater ocean believed to be hidden beneath that surface.