Ray Walston, actor, dies

Ray Walston in Star Trek: VoyagerActor Ray Walston, best known for his starring role as My Favorite Martian but also famous for recurring roles on Picket Fences and both Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager, dies at the age of 86. His appearances on Picket Fences earned him two successive supporting actor Emmy awards in 1995 and 1996. Walston also made countless appearances in other television shows, ranging from both the theatrical version and the short-lived TV spinoff of Fast Times At Ridgemont High, to the miniseries based on Stephen King’s The Stand, episodes of Buck Rogers, Mission: Impossible, Amazing Stories, Night Court, Friday The 13th: The Series, Ally McBeal, and Touched By An Angel, and even a one-off attempt to revive ALF.

On to New Horizons

New HorizonsIn response to a NASA request for mission proposals a month earlier, Southwest Research Institute scientist Dr. Alan Stern and a group of other scientists and engineers who had been working on the now-cancelled Pluto-Kuiper Express mission submit a nearly-identical proposal to NASA for a Pluto/Kuiper Belt mission called New Horizons. Very much like Pluto-Kuiper Express, New Horizons calls for a single small spacecraft to launch early in the 21st century, and, after a gravity assist from a Jupiter flyby, a Pluto encounter 10-11 years after launch. Some of the program costs are streamlined in the new proposal to make this iteration of the long-delayed Pluto mission more appealing to NASA, although New Horizons would carry more scientific payload than any previously envisioned Pluto expedition. Another proposal, Pluto and Outer Solar System Explorer (POSSE), is also submitted to NASA.

Hello, Himalia!

HimaliaNASA releases a photo taken by the Cassini space probe as it passed by Jupiter and its complex system of satellites in December 2000, showing the first-ever view of the tiny moon Himalia, taken from a distance of 2.7 million miles. Non-spherical in shape, but estimated to be roughly 100 miles across its widest face, Himalia is believed to be an asteroid permanently captured into an inclined orbit of Jupiter. It was discovered in 1904 from Earth-based telescopes. The New Horizons space probe will also attempt to image Himalia in 2007. The sixth largest satellite of Jupiter, Himalia is the first of the planet’s outer satellites beyond the orbit of Callisto to be photographed by a passing spacecraft.

STS-98: fulfilling Destiny

Space ShuttleSpace Shuttle Atlantis lifts off on the 102nd shuttle flight, a mission to install the American-made Destiny laboratory module on the International Space Station. Once attached to its connection point on the Unity module, Destiny is powered up and pressurized, adding more space for scientific experiments to the station. Aboard Atlantis for her 22nd flight are Commander Kenneth Cockrell, Pilot Mark Polansky, and mission specialists Robert Curbeam, Thomas Jones and Marsha Ivins.

NEAR-Shoemaker lands on Eros

NEARNASA’s NEAR-Shoemaker unmanned spacecraft gently touches down on the surface of asteroid 433 Eros, the first human-made space vehicle to land on such a body. Ground controllers are surprised to discover that NEAR-Shoemaker survives the landing, which was originally meant to end the mission; a two-week mission extension allows scientists to get readings from instruments that are now mere inches from Eros’ surface.

NEAR-Shoemaker signing off

NEARNASA’s NEAR-Shoemaker unmanned spacecraft, still on the surface of asteroid 433 Eros, sends its final signals to Earth before shutting down. Launched in 1996, NEAR-Shoemaker swung by asteroid 253 Mathilde before making its way to Eros via an Earth gravity assist maneuver. It orbited Eros for a year, having started its operations in close proximity to the asteroid a year later due to a technical problem in 1998 that nearly destroyed the space probe. Future asteroid missions such as Hayabusa and Dawn will refine the science of traveling to and studying asteroids.

Prowse paralyzed

Darth VaderAn unusual paralyzing condition strikes actor David Prowse, first leaving one of his arms paralyzed and then his back, robbing him of his ability to walk. Prowse, who portrayed Darth Vader in the original Star Wars trilogy, has made numerous other larger-than-life appearances (including a brief guest shot as the legendary Minotaur in a 1972 episode of Doctor Who), and has lately been a frequent guest on the convention circuit. A spokesman for Mr. Prowse says that doctors have ruled out a stroke as the cause of his condition, but still have yet to identifty what exactly has happened.

STS-102 / ISS Expedition 2

Space ShuttleSpace Shuttle Discovery lifts off on the 103rd shuttle flight, a mission to exchange crewmembers aboard the International Space Station. In the cargo bay is a logistics module containing consumables, supplies, and equipment racks to be installed in the Destiny laboratory module. Aboard Discovery for her 29th flight are Commander James Wetherbee, Pilot James Kelly, mission specialists Andrew Thomas and Paul Richards, and ISS Expedition 2 crewmembers James Voss, Susan Helms and Yuriy Usachev. The Expedition 1 crewmembers (William Shepherd, Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev) return to Earth aboard the shuttle.

New Babylon 5 movie and potential series

Babylon 5The Sci-Fi Channel officially announces that it will be producing a new Babylon 5 movie in 2001, tentatively titled Babylon 5: The Legend Of The Rangers, set three years after the events of Babylon 5’s fifth season, as the Anla’shok try to restore peace and order to the war-torn galaxy. Members of the Babylon 5 cast may appear in the movie – which is confirmed as a pilot for a potential new series with the same premise – but the cast will consist largely of new faces. Douglas Netter and creator J. Michael Straczynski will serve as executive producers.