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Geeky History

2020

Perseverance Rover launched toward Mars

Perseverance Rover Atlas V launchNASA launches the Perseverance Rover on its way to the planet Mars atop an Atlas V rocket. Though built around an assembly of flight spares left over from the Curosity Rover, Perseverance (known more formally as the Mars 2020 Rover) carries new experiments, including an ability to gather soil samples and seal them for pickup and return to Earth by a later (as yet unannounced) mission, over 20 built-in cameras, and – in a first for planetary exploration – a microphone designed to record the sounds of the Martian environment. Also attached to Perseverance is a drone, Ingenuity, designed for independent flight in the Martian atmosphere. Perseverance is aimed at Jezero Crater, an environment where liquid surface water is believed to have existed in Mars’ distant past, with a February 2021 landing date. The vehicle alarms ground controllers by going into a “safe mode” after launch, but communications and telemetry resume shortly afterward.

Star Trek: Lower Decks: Second Contact

Star Trek: Lower DecksStreaming service CBS All Access premieres the first episode of Star Trek: Lower Decks, created by Mike McMahan (Rick & Morty) as the first ongoing animated Star Trek series since the early 1970s. Chronicling the voyages of a new set of characters aboard the 24th century U.S.S. Cerritos, Lower Decks stars Tawny Newsome (Space Force), Jack Quaid (The Boys), Noel Wells (Craig Of The Creek), Eugene Cordero (Other Space), Dawnn Lewis (A Different World, Futurama), and Jerry O’Connell (Sliders).

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Star Trek: Lower Decks: Envoys

Star Trek: Lower DecksStreaming service CBS All Access premieres the second episode of Star Trek: Lower Decks, created by Mike McMahan (Rick & Morty) and starring Tawny Newsome (Space Force), Jack Quaid (The Boys), Noel Wells (Craig Of The Creek), Eugene Cordero (Other Space), Dawnn Lewis (A Different World, Futurama), and Jerry O’Connell (Sliders). Jess Harnell (Animaniacs) guest stars.

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Star Trek: Lower Decks: Temporal Edict

Star Trek: Lower DecksStreaming service CBS All Access premieres the third episode of Star Trek: Lower Decks, created by Mike McMahan (Rick & Morty) and starring Tawny Newsome (Space Force), Jack Quaid (The Boys), Noel Wells (Craig Of The Creek), Eugene Cordero (Other Space), Dawnn Lewis (A Different World, Futurama), and Jerry O’Connell (Sliders). Neil Casey (Other Space, Avenue 5) guest stars.

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Star Trek: Discovery: You Are That Hope

Star Trek: DiscoveryStreaming service CBS All Access releases the 30th episode of Star Trek: Discovery, opening the series’ third season, which has been delayed for the better part of a year due to the COVID-19 outbreak forcing an unexpected switch to remote post-production. David Ajala (Doctor Who) joins the series’ regular cast for the third season, which takes place in a future centuries beyond what has previously been chronicled in any prior Star Trek series.

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OSIRIS-REx Samples Bennu

OSIRIS-REx sample collectionNASA’s OSIRIS-REx robotic spacecraft successfully gathers a generous sample of the surface regolith of asteroid 101955 Bennu on its first attempt, with some of the material estimated to originate from as deep as 49 centimeters beneath Bennu’s surface. (This result indicates that the asteroid’s surface is much softer and more pliable than expected.) The touchdown point was selected in conjunction with volunteer citizen scientists searching for safe places to gather a sample, and ruling out potential touchdown sites that appeared to be too hazardous. Intended to gather a minimum of 60 grams of material from Bennu, OSIRIS-REx is believed to have exceeded that minimum by a wide margin, and approval is given to stow the sample in its return container a week ahead of schedule. OSIRIS-REx will remain in Bennu’s orbit until March 2021, at which time it will fire its engines to begin its journey to return the samples of asteroid matter to Earth in September 2023.

The Mandalorian: Chapter 9

The MandalorianStreaming service Disney+ premieres the the ninth episode of Jon Favreau’s The Mandalorian, the first live-action TV series set in the Star Wars universe, starring Pedro Pascal. Timothy Olyphant and Amy Sedaris guest star in the second season premiere.

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Sean Connery, actor, dies

Sean ConneryScottish actor Sean Connery, forever associated with originating the character of super-spy James Bond on film (in 1962’s Dr. No), dies at the age of 90. He played the role of Bond in six films from 1962 through 1971, relinquishing the role to Roger Moore so he could try to expand his career beyond the Bond character and franchise, though he returned to the role for a one-off 1983 film, Never Say Never Again, which was produced outside of the “official” Bond continuity and dared to acknowledge the character’s (and actor’s) advancing age. In the meantime, he had amassed a number of appearances in movies both well-regarded and otherwise, including the bizarre post-apocalyptic sci-fi film Zardoz (1974) and the sci-fi crime drama Outland (1981). In 1986, his appearance in Highlander saw the beginning of a number of films in which he played the mentor of a given movie’s nominal star, including The Untouchables (1987) and Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade (1989). His experiences in filming his final live-action film appearance, 2003’s League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, convinced him to retire from acting; family members said that he suffered from dementia in his final years.

20 years of 24/7 humans in space

International Space Station in 2020The International Space Station reaches a major milestone, marking two decades of constant human presence in space. Despite close calls with space debris, reduced staffing in the months following the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, coolant leaks requiring spacewalks, and losses of resupply vehicles, the orbiting laboratory has maintained a steady human presence in space.

SpaceX Crew-1

SpaceX Crew-1 docked at ISSFollowing the first crewed test flight earlier in the year, SpaceX launches the first operational Crew Dragon flight to the International Space Station, with astronauts Michael S. Hopkins, Victor J. Glover, Sôichi Noguchi, and Shannon Walker aboard. This is also the first long-duration mission for the Crew Dragon, which will see the spacecraft remain docked to the station for several months before returning to Earth.

Arecibo Observatory slated for demolition

Arecibo ObservatoryAfter being in operation for most of the past 57 years, the fate of the Arecibo Radio Telescope facility is sealed by the failure of two major tension cables suspending the 900-ton equipment platform over the dish carved into the Puerto Rican countryside. Engineering safety assessments reveal that other cables are on the verge of failure, which could lead to an “uncontrolled collapse” putting the lives of nearby researchers and engineers at risk. As a result, the Arecibo facility – originally a project of Cornell University but now managed by the University of Central Florida – is slated for demolition as soon as is safely possible, provided its aging superstructure doesn’t collapse under its own weight first. The observatory’s physical superstructure had been under close observation since suffering major damage from Hurricane Maria, which caused widespread destruction in Puerto Rico in 2017. The closure of the Arecibo facility marks the end of a significant era of radio astronomy.

Herbert F. Solow, producer, dies

Herbert F. SolowHired by Lucille Ball to help turn around the fortunes of Desilu Studios in the 1960s following her divorce from studio co-founder Desi Arnaz, producer and production executive Herbert F. Solow became known as “the man who sold Star Trek” – namely, he pitched the series to the networks, and finally made a sale to NBC, getting the storied science fiction series on the air at last. Solow also sold CBS on the spy-fi series Mission: Impossible at the same time, and later scored another major sale to CBS in the form of the detective series Mannix. He adapted (from a novel) and produced the early 1970s TV movie adaptation Killdozer, and co-created the late ’70s sci-fi series Man From Atlantis. He also went on to add “movie producer” to his resume; in later years, he looked back fondly upon his role in starting the Star Trek franchise with such biographical books as “Inside Star Trek: The Real Story“. Herb Solow died at the age of 89.

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David Prowse, actor, dies

David ProwseBritish-born actor and bodybuilder David Prowse, a towering figure who gained fame primarily as the physical embodiment of Darth Vader in the first three Star Wars films, dies after a brief illness at the age of 85. Sought after for movie roles – often non-speaking, and frequently in monster suits of one kind or another – Prowse had also played a Minotaur in Doctor Who (The Time Monster, 1972), a space creature in Space: 1999 (The Beta Cloud, 1976), and even after his sudden rise to fame via Star Wars, appeared in such roles as Hotblack Desiato’s bodyguard in the fifth episode of the BBC’s TV adaptation of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy in 1981, which offered him a rare speaking part. A favorite on the convention and autograph circuit, Prowse had only retired from a busy schedule of convention appearances a couple of years prior to his death. He was sought by George Lucas to play either Vader or Chewbacca after Lucas saw his brief appearance as a muscular bodyguard in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. Prowse had also appeared as a superhero in a series of public safety announcements and films in the UK, which won him much acclaim over the years.

Arecibo Radio Telescope collapses

Arecibo Radio TelescopeThe 57-year-old Arecibo Radio Telescope is destroyed when its 900-ton equipment platform, suspended over the massive dish built into a geographic feature near Arecibo, Puerto Rico, falls into the dish, causing catastrophic damage to both. The platform had been suspended by miles of steel cables from three towers over the dish, through a recent assessment of the ability of both cables and towers to bear the platform’s load had raised doubts that the facility could remain operational. As the decision had already been made to decommission and dismantle the Arecibo telescope, the facility had already been evacuated prior to the collapse. The towers holding the platform over the dish also suffer severe damage, rendering them structurally unsafe as well. Locals compared the sound of the event to that of an avalanche or an earthquake.

Hayabusa-2’s samples return to Earth

Hayabusa-2 Samples RetrievedThe Japanese space agency, JAXA, successfully recovers the Hayabusa-2 space probe’s sample return container after its return to Earth in Austrailia. The container’s precious cargo is 100 milligrams of surface and subsurface material retrieved by Hayabusa-2 from the surface of asteroid 162173 Ryugu during a series of touch-and-go maneuvers performed between February and July of 2019. Though it drops its samples off during a close flyby of Earth, Hayabusa-2 remains in space, where JAXA hopes to redirect it to study further asteroids, though the probe will no longer have the ability to gather or return samples.

Jeremy Bulloch, actor, dies

Jeremy BullochBritish actor Jeremy Bulloch, best known internationally for playing the role of Boba Fett in The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return Of The Jedi (1983), dies at the age of 75. A child actor who went professional at a young age, Bulloch made two Doctor Who appearances (The Space Museum, 1965 and The Time Warrior, 1973), and made guest appearances in Strange Report, Chocky, and Robin of Sherwood. His initial appearance as Boba Fett was considered a very minor role for him as he was, at the time, starring in the popular UK sitcom Agony, broadcast on London Weekend Television, and his combined appearances in both Star Wars films added up to less than two minutes of screen time. After making a fleeting appearance as an unrelated character in 2005‘s Star Wars Episode III, Bulloch became a regular in the 2009 sci-fi comedy Starhyke, co-starring as the ship’s doctor. Like many of his other masked Star Wars castmates, his helmet afforded him little anonymity and he was a favorite on the sci-fi convention circuit.

2021

Mira Furlan, actress, dies

Mira FurlanYugoslavian-born actress Mira Furlan, best known to genre fans as Ambassador Delenn from Babylon 5 (one of the few characters to appear in both the 1993 pilot movie and the 1998 series finale), and for her recurring role as Rousseau in Lost, dies at the age of 65. With her husband, director Goran Gajić, she escaped the Serbo-Croatian war and emigrated to the United States early in the 1990s, just in time to land the role of Delenn. She also continued film and stage appearances, as well as releasing an album titled Songs From Movies That Have Never Been Made, with lyrics in both her native tongue and English.

Louis Clark, musician, dies

Louis ClarkOrchestral conductor, arranger and composer Louis Clark, best known for the chart-topping early ’80s mash-up Hooked On Classics, dies at the age of 73 after a period of illness. Aside from the Hooked On Classics single and album, Clark was the architect of the orchestral arrangements for Electric Light Orchestra during that band’s 1970s peak years, working in the albums Eldorado (1974), Face The Music (1975), A New World Record (1976), Out Of The Blue (1977), Discovery (1979), and ELO’s contributions to the Xanadu soundtrack (1980). He went on to become a full-time member of Electric Light Orchestra Part II (later renamed The Orchestra), creating that band’s orchestral arrangements as well as performing on stage, often playing the orchestral parts with synthesizers and samples. He also worked on numerous solo projects by members of ELO, including Kelly Groucutt’s Kelly album (1982), Roy Wood’s Starting Up (1987), and collaborating with Jeff Lynne on Roy Orbison’s Mystery Girl (1989). He also did orchestral arrangements for acts such as Asia, Renaissance, America, and Ozzy Osbourne.

Michael Collins, astronaut, dies

Michael CollinsApollo 11 command module pilot Michael Collins, who remained in the command module Columbia in orbit of the moon while his crewmates, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, landed on the moon, dies at the age of 90 after battling cancer. Upon returning to Earth, Collins opted to retire from NASA and found work within the United States government, leading to his becoming the first director of the National Air & Space Museum, a facility which had yet to open at the time he took charge of it. Collins wrote a memoir, Carrying The Fire, in 1974, one of the earliest astronaut memoirs (and the first from a member of the crew charged with making the first lunar landing). Prior to Apollo 11, he had flown with John Young aboard Gemini 10, and prior to that had distinguished careers as both a fighter pilot and a test pilot. He applied for the second group of NASA astronauts, but didn’t make the cut until NASA was recruiting its third class.