Spirit lands on Mars

SpiritThe first of two new American Mars rovers lands successfully on the red planet. The Mars rover Spirit enters the Martian atmosphere (and cleaves a path right through a dust storm), deploying thick layers of airbags that allow it to bounce safely until landing upright. This is the same landing system employed by the Pathfinder mission in 1997, but the unmanned robot probe in this case is much more sophisticated. Among the primary scientific objectives of Spirit’s mission is to determine if water existed on the surface of Mars for a significant length of time. The Spirit rover will undergo a series of diagnostics and won’t begin its mobile mission for several days. Its identical twin, a rover named Opportunity, will land in three weeks.

Long-lost Doctor Who episode recovered

Doctor WhoThe BBC announces that a private collector has returned part two of the mostly-missing twelve-part Doctor Who story, The Daleks’ Master Plan, to its archives. Last seen in late 1965, the episode has been in the possession of the former chief engineer of the competing Yorkshire Television network ever since the early ’70s – when he snatched it from the BBC archives (where he was a trainee at the time) rather than destroying it as ordered. The 25-minute episode, subtitled Day Of Armageddon, is handed over to the Doctor Who Restoration Team, which oversees the preservation and restoration of past episodes for DVD release.

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Star Trek Phase II: Come What May

Star Trek Phase IIThe internet-based fan film Star Trek: New Voyages (later Phase II) releases its first full-length episode, Come What May. Shot with homemade sets, costumes and props in upstate New York, the attention-getting project is greeted with enthusiasm by fans and with consternation by CBS/Paramount, which still has a Star Trek series (Enterprise) on television. The New Voyages group, led by James Cawley, is permitted to continue as long as no profit is made from its use of the Star Trek name, setting a precedent for future fan productions. As the group’s productions improve, it eventually disowns this pilot episode as one of its “official” adventures.

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Spirit’s murky memory

SpiritJPL engineers begin experiencing severe difficulty communicating with the Spirit Mars rover, which had successfully rolled off of its landing platform the previous week. Just as the rover is ready to begin its travels on the surface of Mars, it stops communicating with Earth, or with any orbiting spacecraft overhead. A command is transmitted to force Spirit to report its condition, and the resulting telemetry indicates that the rover has been continuously rebooting its internal computer system. By the weekend, after worries and warnings that Spirit would probably never regain 100% functionality, JPL’s engineers re-establish communications and received enough diagnostic information to narrow the problem down to Spirit’s flash memory and handling software. Engineers soon resolve the problem, transmitting instructions to work around the potentially corrupted memory, and restoring Spirit so it can continue its exploration.

Opportunity lands on Mars

OpportunityThe Opportunity rover, identical to Spirit, lands on schedule and on target in Mars’ Meridiani Planum region, but initial readings from the surface of Mars indicate that the landing pod containing Opportunity has come to rest on its side. Telemetry signals from Opportunity announce that the the rover has arrived safely and intact, ready to begin its mission, and the opening of the landing vehicle returns Opportunity to its intended upright position. As with Spirit, Opportunity will remain on its landing platform for several days undergoing a series of diagnostic tests before rolling off to the Martian surface for independent exploration, and engineers are keeping a close eye out for signs of a computer problem that has plagued Spirit for several days.

Battlestar Galactica soundtrack

La-La Land Records releases the soundtrack CD from the two-part Sci-Fi Channel miniseries rebooting Battlestar Galactica, with music by Richard Gibbs and Bear McCreary. The music from the miniseries sets the template for the scoring of the early episodes of the weekly series, though the musical style of the show expands rapidly under the direction of McCreary (Gibbs opts not to return for the series).

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Rosetta lifts off

RosettaAfter years of delays that forced a rewrite of the entire mission plan, the European Space Agency launches the Rosetta unmanned space probe on a looping, ten-year journey through the solar system that will hopefully take it to a rendezvous with Comet 67/P Churyumov–Gerasimenko in ten years. The mission plan calls for Rosetta to orbit the comet and release a small lander, Philae, to descend to its surface. In the intervening years, Rosetta will also have opportunities to study Mars and various asteroids as it passes by them. Rosetta’s mission profile is similar to that of NASA’s cancelled 1990s CRAF (Comet Rendezvous / Asteroid Flyby) mission.

Cecily Adams, DS9’s “Moogie”, dies

Cecily AdamsActress and casting director Cecily Adams, known to fans of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine as Quark’s mother, Ishka (also known affectionately as “Moogie”), dies due to lung cancer. The daughter of Get Smart! star Don Adams, Ms. Adams had made appearances on DS9, Total Recall: 2070, Murphy Brown and Home Improvement. Behind the scenes, she lent her casting expertise to such series as Third Rock From The Sun, That 70s Show, Eerie, Indiana, and many others. She is survived by her husband and a two-year-old daughter.

Paul Winfield, actor, dies

Paul WinfieldActor Paul Winfield, perhaps best known for his portrayal of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1978 TV miniseries King, dies of a heart attack at the age of 62. In genre circles, Mr. Winfield won praise for his portrayal of Captain Terrell of the Reliant in Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan and as General Richard Franklin in the GROPOs episode of Babylon 5, but perhaps his best genre outing was in a 1991 Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Darmok. He received Emmy nominations for his work in King and Roots: The Next Generation, as well as an Oscar nomination for Sounder; he finally took home an Emmy for a guest role on Picket Fences in 1995.

Cassini captures clumping

SaturnThe Cassini spacecraft is close enough to Saturn to observe unusual transitory “clumps” in the planet’s ring system. First spotted by the Voyager space probes in the early 1980s, these clumps zip around Saturn’s outermost rings, following the direction of the planet’s own motion, but until now it hasn’t been possible to get close enough to study those clumps. Unlike the Voyagers, however, Cassini won’t be zipping past the planet at the speed of a bullet – it will enter an orbit around the planet in July and keep an eye on things.

Not just water, but salt water, on Mars

MarsNASA scientists unveil new findings from the two Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity. While both rovers have found evidence of water erosion in rocks at their respective landing sites, the scientists now say that Opportunity’s landing site – a large crater – features rocks which show conclusive evidence of a large body of salt water, not unlike Earth’s oceans. While no definitive signs of life have been found by Opportunity or its identical twin, these findings continue to add up to a picture of Mars as a place where life once could have thrived.

The Clone Wars: Chapter 20

Clone WarsBridging the gap between Star Wars Episode II and Episode III, Cartoon Network premieres the 20th mini-episode of Genndy Tartakovsky’s The Clone Wars animated shorts. The Clone Wars shorts return – in a slightly less short format – in the spring of 2005, running up to the theatrical release of Episode III; on DVD, this is also the end of Volume One. This installment marks the first appearance of General Grievous.

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Mars Rovers’ mission extended

OpportunityNASA announces that the Spirit rover has exceeded its mission goals of 90 continuous Martian days of operation since landing, with over 600 meters of the Martian surface covered. NASA applies for, and receives approval on, a plan to keep Spirit and Opportunity roving through September, almost tripling the rovers’ planned life span. The extended mission, made possible by a budget boost of $15 million, will give engineers the chance to try handing control over to the Rovers’ built-in systems, and it’ll afford a greater opportunity to examine the unusual rocks and evidence of past bodies of water on the Martian surface.

ISS Expedition 9 gets dizzying welcome

ISSThe three members of the Expedition 9 crew arrive on the International Space Station, and the station promptly loses one of its three gyroscopes, which keep the station aligned in orbit. According to NASA, the station can remain stable with only two of the gyroscopes operating, and even if a second one should fail, the thrusters of the newly-arrived Soyuz capsule can keep it aligned. Departing in their Soyuz vehicle will be Expedition 8 crewmembers Michael Foale and Alexander Kaleri, along with ESA astronaut Andrè Kuipers, who arrived with the Expedition 9 crew to perform a week’s worth of experiments. Manning the station for the next six months will be Commander Gennady Padalka and Flight Engineer Mike Fincke.

Anthony Ainley, Doctor Who actor, dies

Anthony AinleyAnthony Ainley, the actor who revived the role of the villainous Master in the BBC’s long-running series Doctor Who, dies at the age of 71. Picking up the role originally played by the late Roger Delgado during the Pertwee years, Mr. Ainley first appeared in 1981’s The Keeper Of Traken as the benevolent Consul Tremas, father to series regular Nyssa (Sarah Sutton), whose body was taken over by the Master late in the story. He was born into an acting family and got his first film role at only five years old, though he later studied to be an insurance agent. Finally returning to the family vocation, he appeared in movies such as You Only Live Twice and Inspector Clouseau, and television series ranging from the 1960s police series It’s Dark Outside to Upstairs, Downstairs.

Richard Biggs, Babylon 5 actor, dies

Richard BiggsActor Richard Biggs, best known to Babylon 5 fans as Dr. Stephen Franklin, dies of a ruptured aorta at the age of 43. An actor perhaps better known to the general public for numerous long-running soap opera roles, Biggs played Dr. Franklin for all five seasons of Babylon 5, but also enjoyed long runs on Guiding Light (a show on which he was still currently appearing at the time of his death) and Days Of Our Lives. At one point before pursuing acting, Biggs actually studied to become a real doctor. Throughout his acting career, he also actively taught acting, and most recently had embarked on a touring acting workshop with his friend and former B5 co-star Jason Carter. He is survived by his wife and two sons.

SpaceShip One: first private spaceflight

SpaceShip OneA joint venture between experimental aircraft designer Burt Rutan and investor/Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, SpaceShip One becomes the first privately owned vehicle to cross the 100-kilometer boundary into space. It is one of several vehicles vying for the Ansari X Prize, a $10,000,000 competition to launch the first privately funded (in other words, not government-funded) space vehicle, even though this is considered one of its test flights and not a qualifying flight for the X Prize. Launched from an airplane “mothership” and dropped off seconds before its own rocket engine takes it into suborbital space, SpaceShip One nearly reaches Mach 3, and is already the first private aircraft to reach Mach 2. Pilot Mike Melvill becomes the first recipient of the Federal Aviation Administration’s commercial astronaut wings upon landing.

Risky spacewalk called off

International Space StationA risky spacewalk at the International Space Station is called off hurriedly, with astronaut Mike Fincke already through the open hatch. The oxygen container on Fincke’s spacesuit is the cause for concern, as mission controllers in Russia note that its pressure is rapidly dropping. Fincke and mission commander Gennady Padalka were en route to replace a circuit breaker, but due to a variety of other problems aboard the station they were exiting the station via the Russian-built airlock at the opposite end of the station from the breaker’s destination, requiring a 45-minute journey from one end of the station to the other. The spacewalk, rescheduled for a later date, will leave the station unoccupied with its entire crew outside for only the second time since the station became operational.

Daleks to be absent from new Who

DalekThe Daleks are out of the running for the ninth Doctor’s adventures, according to the BBC and Doctor Who‘s new producer, Russell T. Davies. Apparently it’s not just a matter of money either – the estate of Terry Nation (the late creator of the Daleks, Blake’s 7 and other classics of British SF TV) wants editorial input into the Daleks’ use in any new stories. But fear, not, Davies says: “We’re disappointed the Daleks won’t be included but we have a number of new and exciting monsters. And I can confirm we have created a new enemy for the Doctor which will keep viewers on the edge of their seats.”

Cassini arrives at Saturn

SaturnAfter a journey of seven years, gravity-assist slingshots past Earth, Venus and Jupiter, a plunge through Saturn’s ring-plane, and an engine burn of over an hour just to slow it down, the NASA/ESA space probe Cassini becomes the first man-made object to orbit Saturn. The trip has already paid off: Cassini has spotted never-before-seen features in Saturn’s immense rings, and succeeds in piercing Titan’s atmosphere with infrared imaging to provide one of the first-ever glimpses of the huge moon’s cloud-covered surface. Titan will also receive a visit from Cassini’s Huygens probe in 2005.

James Doohan diagnosed with Alzheimer’s

James DoohanBest known to Star Trek fans around the world as the original Enterprise’s tireless chief engineer, actor James Doohan and his family reveal that the actor is suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. In an interview given to British satellite channel Sky News, Doohan’s wife says that thus far, the problem has only manifested itself as a frustrating loss for words. Doohan, now 84 years old, is due to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and plans to make one final convention appearance in late August alongside a rare reunion of the entire original surviving cast of Star Trek at an event titled “Beam Me Up, Scotty…One Last Time”.

V revival runs aground

VSources within NBC reveal to the media that a revival of the ’80s science fiction series V, being written by its creator, Kenneth Johnson, is languishing in a development hell from which neither the network nor its corporate cousin under the Vivendi-Universal umbrella, the Sci-Fi Channel, wants to rescue it. The project, titled V: The Second Generation, simply hasn’t excited anybody enough to greenlight it past the script stage. NBC has passed on V for now, and even Sci-Fi has turned back the lizard invasion. NBC’s executive in charge of miniseries and movies-of-the-week urges Johnson to continue rewrites rather than abandoning ship.

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Stargate Atlantis: The Rising

Stargate AtlantisSci-Fi Channel airs the two-hour premiere episode of Stargate Atlantis, a new spinoff of Stargate SG-1. SG-1 stars Richard Dean Anderson and Michael Shanks makes guest starring appearances in the episode, which sees the departure of an Earth expedition on a one-way journey through the Stargate to an alien base in the Pegasus Galaxy. The new series launch is well-received, with the existing Stargate fanbase eagerly awaiting the spinoff.

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New Doctor Who filming begins

CHRISTOPHER ECCLESTONE IS THE DOCTORFilming begins on the new series of Doctor Who on location in Cardiff, Wales. Christopher Eccleston, the ninth Doctor, has yet to film his first scenes, however – the first week’s scenes focus on Billie Piper as the Doctor’s companion Rose Tyler, as well as an enemy that will be familiar to fans of the classic series in the Jon Pertwee era.Eccleston is expected to report to the set during the second week of shooting. The new series will debut in 2005 on the BBC.

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Jerry Goldsmith, Hollywood composer, dies

Jerry GoldsmithVeteran television and film composer Jerry Goldsmith dies at the age of 75, after a lengthy battle with cancer. Known to genre fans and soundtrack listeners for an almost countless number of classic scores, his works range from Planet Of The Apes to Logan’s Run to The Omen to Star Trek: The Motion Picture and beyond. His television work includes the themes for such TV series as The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Perry Mason, The Waltons, and of course Star Trek: Voyager. His work earned 17 Oscar nominations, including a win for 1976’s The Omen, and five Emmy Awards (including one for Voyager). He began his classical music studies at the age of six, and studied under legendary composer Miklos Rozsa, eventually getting into the business as a typist in CBS’ music department and then beginning his career by creating music for CBS Radio Workshop, the music for which was usually performed live during broadcast. He then moved on to episodic TV work, including The Twilight Zone, Gunsmoke, Playhouse 90, Thriller, Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea, Amazing Stories, and many others.