Alexander Courage, Star Trek composer, dies

Star TrekComposer, arranger and orchestrator Alexander Courage, composer of the theme from the original Star Trek, dies at the age of 88. Courage was responsible for writing the iconic main theme as well as the scores for the show’s two pilot episodes. When Star Trek went to series, however, Roddenberry – ahead of the curve on almost every imaginable marketing angle – wrote and published lyrics to Courage’s theme, thereby earning 50% of the profit from any future use of that music, a move which alienated the composer. Due to Star Trek using a library approach to its music, however, Courage’s music resurfaced in almost every episode in some capacity. Courage began orchestrating and arranging for other composers, including John Williams (The Poseidon Adventure, Jurassic Park) and Jerry Goldsmith, who asked Courage to write a few pieces for 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture which utilized the original TV theme.

Joseph Pevney, Star Trek director, dies

Star Trek: City On The Edge Of ForeverDirector and former actor Joseph Pevney, the man behind the camera for many of the original Star Trek‘s best-remembered segments, dies at the age of 96. A veteran of classic ’60s, ’70s and ’80s television, he also directed numerous episodes of Wagon Train, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Mission: Impossible, The Munsters, Bonanza, and The Incredible Hulk. Before embarking on his directing career in 1950, he also worked as an actor, with his first exposure to showbiz in a 1924 Vaudeville show.

Phoenix successfully lands on Mars

PhoenixRadio signals from the Martian surface indicating the successful landing of NASA’s unmanned Phoenix probe near the north pole of Mars. (To put this feat in perspective: the past several unmanned probes to land safely on Mars used a “bouncing airbag” approach; the last time a lander actually made it to the surface intact with braking thrusters and landing pads – and no airbags – was in 1976, when NASA’s Viking 1 and 2 landers successfully touched down on the planet.) The first stationary (i.e. non-rover) Mars lander since the Viking probes of the 1970s, Phoenix will stay in one spot to conduct three months of studies. Also like the Vikings, Phoenix has a soil-sampling arm and an on-board laboratory to help it determine the presence of water or water ice in its polar vicinity.

Harvey Korman, comedian, dies

Harvey Korman in the Star Wars Holiday SpecialComedy great Harvey Korman, known for his long run on the Carol Burnett Show and Blazing Saddles, dies at the age of 81. Along with Tim Conway, he was a staple of Burnett’s comedy sketch show, though an attempt to spin that success off into his own series ran aground in 1977. A year later, still a comedy fixture, he racked up his most infamous genre credit: appearing as multiple characters in the almost-trippy Star Wars Holiday Special, including one of the better moments of actual comedy in the show, the “stir whip, stir whip, whip whip, stir!” chef. After appearing in Blazing Saddles, he appeared in several more Mel Brooks films, and did countless TV guest starring gigs.

STS-124

Space ShuttleSpace Shuttle Discovery is launched on the 123rd shuttle flight, a two-week mission to install a major laboratory module to the International Space Station. The pressurized module of Japan’s Kibo laboratory joins the unpressurized section installed on a previous flight, complete with its own robotic arm controlled inside. Aboard Discovery for her 35th flight are Commander Mark Kelly, Pilot Ken Ham, mission specialists Karen Nyberg, Ron Garan and Mike Fossum, and Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, who remains on the International Space Station. Station astronaut Garrett Reisman returns to Earth aboard Discovery.

Robert Justman, Star Trek producer, dies

Robert JustmanRobert Justman, who along with Gene Roddenberry shepherded the original Star Trek from an untried pilot to its three years on the air (and came along for the ride with the inception and first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation), dies at the age of 81 from complications associated with Parkinson’s Disease. Originally an assisant director on the rejected pilot episode The Cage, he stuck around to become a producer and one of Roddenberry’s right-hand men. While at Desilu Studios (the makers of the original Star Trek, later bought by Paramount) he also produced the pilot episode of Mission: Impossible; his pre-Trek credits included several episodes of The Outer Limits, numerous Disney Sunday Movies, and The Adventures Of Superman.

Battlestar Galactica: Revelations

Battlestar GalacticaSci-Fi Channel airs the 63rd episode of Ronald D. Moore’s re-imagining of Battlestar Galactica. Lucy Lawless (Xena: Warrior Princess) guest stars. Numerous factors – including a lengthy recent strike among members of the Writers’ Guild of America and Sci-Fi Channel’s scheduling decisions – controversially spread the last season out over two years; the series goes on hiatus until 2009.

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Stan Winston, FX & makeup innovator, dies

Fifth Element elephantLongtime special effects and makeup wizard Stan Winston, a four-time Oscar winner with a resume loaded with some of the most influential genre films in movie history, dies at the age of 62 after struggling for seven years with multiple myeloma. His four Oscar wins – two for Terminator 2, one for Jurassic Park, and one for Aliens – are just the tip of the iceberg; his makeup and effects skills also earned him Oscar nominations for such films as Edward Scissorhands, Batman Returns, and AI. Other movie credits included The Wiz, Predator, Friday The 13th Part III, The Thing, Interview With The Vampire and – most recently – Iron Man. His early career was spent in TV, with work on Roots, Amazing Stories and even creating the costumes for Chewbacca’s family in the Star Wars Holiday Special. In 1994, with James Cameron and Scott Ross, he co-founded visual effects house Digital Domain, which grew into a serious competitor in the effects business with its contributions to movies like Titanic, X-Men, Fight Club, The Fifth Element, Speed Racer, Star Trek: Nemesis, and the Lord Of The Rings and Pirates Of The Caribbean series.

Don S. Davis, Stargate SG-1 actor, dies

Don S. Davis as General George HammondActor Don S. Davis, best known for his long stint in the role of General George Hammond on Stargate SG-1, dies of a heart attack at the age of 65. Though his film and TV career didn’t begin in earnest until the early 1980s, by that time he had earned a doctorate in theater arts and had spent a decade sharing those skills with others as a teacher. One of his early gigs was standing in for Dana Elcar on the set of MacGyver, where he met future SG-1 co-star Richard Dean Anderson. He originated the character of Hammond in the premiere episode of Stargate SG-1, and his final appearance in the role is in the upcoming direct-to-DVD movie Stargate Continuum, due in late July. In addition to reprising his SG-1 role on sister series Stargate Atlantis, he has appeared on such series as The Dead Zone, Highlander, The Outer Limits, The X-Files and Twin Peaks.

Jud Taylor, Star Trek director, dies

Star TrekDirector Jud Taylor, best known to genre fans for helming several third season episodes of the original Star Trek, dies at the age of 76. In addition to his directing duties, he served as vice president of the Directors’ Guild of America from 1977 to 1981, and then served a term as the body’s president until 1983; the years he spent advocating the cause of film and television directors are considered among the most influential in the DGA’s history, during which he helped open doors for both female and minority directors, and had a tremendous effect on directors’ creative rights, pensions, and pay. He was active behind the camera as recently as the 2000s, during which he directed several episodes of Law & Order: SVU.

Phoenix finds water on Mars, but toxic soil

Phoenix on MarsNASA’s Phoenix lander samples the soil of Mars, and it finds not only water, but an unusual soil composition which would make living off the land unlikely for human travelers. The soil sample in question contains perchlorate, a chemical used on Earth to make solid rocket fuel. So while a hypothetical Mars colony couldn’t use the planet’s own soil for farming, it could certainly launch a rocket or two. But missions scientists are quick to point out that while the presence of perchlorate in the Martian dirt may be unfriendly to humans, there may still have been life on the planet at some point which adapted to that chemical; it may also be a localized phenomenon unique to Phoenix’s polar landing site. (There are some plants on Earth capable of processing perchlorate-infused soil, but they’re generally not regarded as viable crops.) The Phoenix probe’s mission is extended to the end of September so it can continue its studies, and could be extended again at the end of that period, though the harsh Martian winter is likely to deny the non-roving Phoenix the kind of longevity enjoyed by its more mobile siblings, Spirit and Opportunity.

Shenzhou 7

Shenzhou 7China launches its third crewed space mission, Shenzhou 7, into Earth orbit. For the first time, a full complement of three taikonauts is aboard (Zhai Zhigang, Liu Boming, and Jing Haipeng), and in another Chinese space first, Zhigang and Boming exit the spacecraft for a 22-minute spacewalk. Also during this flight, Shenzhou 7 passes within 30 miles of the International Space Station, posing no hazard but raising security concerns from the United States government. Because the customary solar panels of the Shenzhou spacecraft have not been installed to allow for the spacewalk (and unobstructed television coverage of the spacewalk), the mission lasts only three days.

A near miss: 2008 TC3

2008 TC3Detected only 20 hours before, the meteoroid designated 2008 TC3 burns up and explodes in Earth’s atmosphere, exploding 23 miles above the Sudanese desert. Estimated to be over ten feet in diameter prior to losing most of its mass to heating in the Earth’s atmosphere, 2008 TC3 is thought to have weighed in at approximately 80 tons; hundred of fragments with a total weight of a little over 20 pounds are recovered from the desert. This is the first Near-Earth Object detected prior to impact or destruction by the NASA-funded Spaceguard survey, though the time between detection, confirmation and arrival is less than a day.

Soyuz TMA-13 / ISS Expedition 18

Soyuz TMA-13The eighteenth full-time crew of the International Space Station lifts off from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome aboard Soyuz TMA-13. Yuri Lonchakov and Michael Fincke take up residence on the ISS for 199 days. Arriving with them on the ISS for a ten-day stay is space tourist and computer game mogul Richard Garriott (creator of the series of Ultima role-playing games, which feature his alter ego “Lord British” as their benevolent ruler), who returns to Earth aboard Soyuz TMA-11 with the Expedition 16 crew. Like other “space tourists” before him, Garriott pays for his own Soyuz seat and mission training. While aboard, Garriott films Apogee Of Fear, which he later calls “the first science fiction film actually filmed in space”, with the help of his crewmates; NASA later objects to the movie when it discovers that its astronauts were recruited as actors and crew. Obviously bitten by the space acting bug, Fincke would later guest star in an episode of Star Trek: Enterprise.

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Tennant to take leave of the TARDIS

Doctor WhoSparking the biggest outcry since Tom Baker’s departure, actor David Tennant announces that the four special Doctor Who episodes in production for 2009 will be his last in the role, after which he’ll hand off the reins to a new actor. Likewise, Russell T. Davies has already announced that he will give up his position as Doctor Who showrunner to concentrate on non-genre projects, and will be succeeded by multiple-Hugo-winning writer Steven Moffat (who has penned such fan favorites as Blink and The Girl In The Fireplace). Naturally, speculation about the actor who will play the Doctor’s eleventh incarnation runs rampant.

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STS-126

Space ShuttleSpace Shuttle Endeavour lifts off on a 15-day mission to the International Space Station, carrying more supplies and equipment than any previous shuttle flight bound for the station. Also on tap is a major spacewalk to repair part of the solar panel assembly on the station which allows it to track the sun. Aboard Endeavour for her 22nd flight are Commander Chris Ferguson, Pilot Eric Boe, and mission specialists Steve Bowen, Don Pettit, Shane Kimbrough, Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper and Sandra Magnus. Magnus remains on the International Space Station, while ISS crewmember Greg Chamitoff returns from a six-month stint in space aboard the shuttle.