Renowned SF artist (and 11-time Hugo winner) Frank Kelly Freas dies at the age of 82. Perhaps best known to the general public for his painted cover art that adorned Mad Magazine from 1955 through 1962, “Kelly” Freas painted the cover art for such pulp SF magazines as Planet Stories, Science Fiction Quarterly, Weird Tales and especially Analog, to which he contributed cover art many times over five decades. He painted book covers for the works of Arthur C. Clarke, Joe Haldeman, A.E. Van Vogt, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, Frederik Pohl, Poul Anderson and Ursula Le Guin, among others. He was commissioned by the crew of the first Skylab mission to design their mission patch, and painted the cover of the hit album News Of The World for the rock group Queen.
Launched ahead of its identical twin, Voyager 1, in 1977, NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft surpasses its 10,000th day in deep space. At 11 billion miles from Earth, Voyager 2 is one of the most distant human-made objects in space, surpassed only by Voyager 1. Both Voyagers are expected to function well into the 2020s, and are expected to have left the solar system to enter interstellar space by then.
Astronomers at Palomar Observatory discover a body beyond Neptune’s orbit that initial observations show is larger than Pluto. Eris is quickly dubbed the tenth planet by the media and the scientific community, and it is later found to have a small moon of its own in a close orbit, which is later named Dysnomia. But events overtake Eris and Dysnomia before the science textbooks have a chance to be rewritten to include a tenth planet: Eris becomes a case study in an ongoing debate within the International Astronomical Union about the definition of a planet. In 2006, the IAU will establish a set of parameters which determine that Eris isn’t a planet – and then rewrites the history books by deciding that Pluto isn’t either.
After months of delays in development of its elaborate guidance software system, NASA’s Deep Impact unmanned space probe is launched on a mission to intercept, and fire an impactor into, Comet Tempel 1 half a year later. In order to catch up with the comet, Deep Impact is lofted into orbit by a Delta II rocket, which puts the spacecraft on a precise course at a speed of roughly 64,000mph. Deep Impact will fire the impactor into the comet in July to study the distribution and composition of the debris scattered by the resulting impact.
The European Space Agency’s Huygens probe successfully lands on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, gathering measurements and taking mind-boggling images from the sky all the way down to the surface. Perhaps the biggest discovery of the initial pictures is an aerial view of what appear to be tributaries leading to a large body of liquid – an almost delta-like region as viewed from the sky. (Thanks to Titan’s thick atmospheric haze, its surface has never before been seen.) Huygens itself manages to touch down on dry land, on a plain scattered with chunks of ice, slowed to only 15 miles per hour by parachutes during its descent (despite upper-level winds estimated at around 300mph). Even if Huygens had splashed down in a body of liquid, the probe is designed to stay afloat.
Sci-Fi channel airs third episode of Ronald D. Moore’s re-imagining of Battlestar Galactica. Richard Hatch, who played Apollo in the original series, makes his first appearance as political agitator Tom Zarek (and plays most of his scenes against Jamie Bamber, the new series’ Apollo). Brent Stait (Andromeda) also guest stars.
Citing declining ratings, UPN and Paramount announce that Star Trek: Enterprise‘s current season – its fourth – will be its last. The last episode will be shot in March. At 97 episodes (the network’s press release says 98, as Paramount typically counts the two-hour series premiere in 2001 as two shows), Enterprise is the shortest Star Trek spinoff since the original Star Trek was cancelled after three seasons in the 1960s. David Stapf, President of Paramount Network Television, says in a statement, “All of us at Paramount warmly bid goodbye to Enterprise, and we all look forward to a new chapter of this enduring franchise in the future,” though the cancellation marks the first time since 1987 that there is been no new Star Trek in production for TV; at least one spinoff has been in production continuously for 18 years, resulting in 619 episodes (seven of them two-hour TV movies) and four spinoff-based feature films. Another movie, the eleventh in the franchise’s history, is reportedly moved to the back burner by Paramount.
Sci-Fi channel airs ninth episode of Ronald D. Moore’s re-imagining of Battlestar Galactica. Kate Vernon guest stars.
Weeks before its intended premiere date, the first episode of the revived Doctor Who arrives early, via a rough edit leaked to internet filesharing services. Eventually traced to a real preview copy in the hands of a Canadian broadcaster, the episode is missing the new version of the theme music, but is otherwise mostly complete. The BBC tracks down the source of the leak, all while realizing that fandom is now capable of acquiring more than just advance episode titles and photos early.
Sci-Fi channel airs 11th episode of Ronald D. Moore’s re-imagining of Battlestar Galactica. Richard Hatch, Alex Zahara (Jeremiah) and Kate Vernon guest star.
Paul Hester, former drummer for Split Enz and Crowded House, is found dead at the age of 46 in his hometown of Melbourne, Australia. Though police say the death is not “suspicious,” they rule it a suicide. Hester was a mainstay of the Melbourne music scene in the 80s when he auditioned to fill the vacant drum seat in Australian/New Zealand supergroup Split Enz. He joined the group for its 1984 tour, and only recorded one album, 1985’s See Ya Round, in the studio with Split Enz before the band broke up. He joined Neil Finn in a quest to launch a new band which, with the addition of bassist Nick Seymour, was eventually christened Crowded House and scored a #2 on the Billboard charts in early 1987 with “Don’t Dream It’s Over”. He recorded and toured with Crowded House until 1994, when the rigors of touring – and impending fatherhood – convinced him to return to Melbourne with his family.
After considerable fanfare and build-up, Doctor Who returns to BBC1 with its 699th episode. Rose opens the first season of the revived show and introduced the ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) and his companion Rose (Billie Piper), along with a host of supporting characters who reappear throughout the first two seasons. Thanks to a carefully managed publicity campaign, the new Doctor Who is a genuine hit with viewers and discussions of a Christmas special and a second season begin almost immediately at the BBC.
Sci-Fi channel airs 13th episode of Ronald D. Moore’s re-imagining of Battlestar Galactica. This episode and its shocking cliffhanger ending bring the critically acclaimed first season to a close, with a few media outlets claiming that the new Galactica is one of the best television series in history.
The eleventh full-time crew of the International Space Station lifts off from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome aboard Soyuz TMA-6. Sergei Krikalev and John Phillips take up residence on the ISS for 179 days. Arriving with them on the ISS for a nine-day stay is astronaut Roberto Vittori, who returns to Earth aboard Soyuz TMA-5 with the Expedition 10 crew.
The big screen adaptation of Douglas Adams’ science fiction comedy The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy premieres in theaters worldwide. Starring Martin Freeman, Mos Def, Zooey Deschanel and Sam Rockwell, and featuring a cameo appearance from original BBC radio/TV actor Simon Jones, the movie is often criticized for being “Americanized” (despite being produced by a British production company with a largely British cast). Despite an open ending pointing toward a sequel, the movie’s box office take doesn’t merit a second film.
The 704th episode of Doctor Who (the sixth since the series’ revival) airs on BBC1. Corey Johnson guest stars. This is the first appearance of the Daleks since the series relaunch, and the first episode to establish that the Doctor destroyed both the Daleks and the Time Lords at the end of the Time War.
The 19th episode of the radio science fiction comedy series The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy is broadcast on BBC Radio, commencing Dirk Maggs’ adaptation of Douglas Adams’ novel So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish, featuring the entire surviving cast of the original 1970s radio series. Jane Horrocks (Absolutely Fabulous) guest stars.