Friday, December 29, 2006

Mars just not exciting

Just about anyone with a TV set watched the first Apollo moon landing, but by Apollo 16 the public were growing tired of the spectacle and it has even been said that the Networks received complaints that reruns of I Love Lucy were been pre-empted to make way for live pictures from the moon. Now in a new survey of American youth, NASA faces the glum prospect that even before it has begun the return to the moon and plans to put a man on Mars, the younger generation feels apathy toward the missions.

The problem is more acute than you might think, since teens and twenty-somethings are the ones who in later years will be digging deep for the tax dollars to pay for these programs, especially projects that may stretch for decades at a time. NASA therefore faces a serious challenge here on earth to enthuse a new generation with the spirit of exploration. Unfortunately we’ve not had an orator of Kennedy’s standing for many years – the way Bush junior has talked about the space program has made it seem about as exiting as a tax audit, so the prospects do not seem good.

A recent workshop attended by some 80 NASA personal involved in public relations focused on the Internet as a particularly strong way of getting out the message. NASA has of course already enjoyed some success with online projects. Its Mars mission websites have received very strong levels of traffic; the Pathfinder web site received 40 million hits in a single day when the first images were beamed back of the plucky little rover on the Martian surface. Equally, when it was announced that signs of life had been detected in a Martian meteorite, President Clinton felt it important enough to comment and the story made headlines across the planet. Unfortunately these were both very much flashes in the pan. One has to wonder, even if a flying saucer touched down on the Whitehouse lawn, if in this age of soundbites and rolling news, the story would be more than a seven day wonder. The real challenge is not getting people excited, because clearly there is a latent interest for big space stories, but maintaining the commitment of the public over the dull stretches of time between the news-worthy moments. For instance, how many people give any thought to the present space program – how many even know that there is a permanent presence in space aboard the International Space Station? Were it to spring a leak and they all died horribly in orbit, it would make news, but the daily grind of routine aboard the station is hardly of interest to CNN.

NASA talks of recruiting movie stars to promote their activities, but then mentions Patrick Stewart and David Duchovny as potential partners. Well sorry David, but you are hardly a man in the public eye since the demise of The X Files, and equally, you’re both predominantly associated with science fiction. You’re simply going to be preaching to the converted. Better to ship Renee Zellweger up to the station for a week long stay. There has been some serious sounding talk of Madonna making the trip, but the Russian Duma voted the proposal down. That was actually a great shame and rather short sighted. If as reported Madonna really is keen to make the trip, then NASA might want to consider putting some pressure on their Russian partners, or flying the material girl themselves aboard a shuttle. Sure, it’s all horribly contrived and serious scientists would be horrified at the waste of time and effort, but imagine the publicity.

Something else that really needs addressing is the underlying reasons for going into space. There is a lot of talk about manufacturing in space and developing new technology that can be applied to consumer and industrial products, but such innovations have been slow in coming. Perhaps the biggest push should be made to show the Moon and Mars as potential lifeboats for the human race. Stephen Hawking made just such a case earlier in the year, and again we got that brief spike of interest, but who remembers it now? NASA could even push the high frontier metaphor. America is a country of immigrants, so what better way to promote space than as a new frontier to be conquered. I don’t look forward to the first MacDonalds on Mars, but it’s a price worth paying for the survival of the human race.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Belgium gets a fright

In a program acknowledged to have been influenced by the Orson Welles radio broadcast of The War Of The Worlds, a fake news program in Belgium saw 30,000 concerned viewers jam switchboards. But this was no alien invasion, rather it was a salient demonstration of just how easy it is to tap into local concerns and bypass the normal common sense of viewers. Belgium is a country roughly divided between the Dutch-speaking Flemings of the north and the French-speaking Walloons of the south, and recent tensions between the two groups have led to constitutional amendments granting some formal recognition and autonomy to the regions. On Wednesday the 15th of December, viewers tuning into Belgium State Television were astounded to be told that the Flemish parliament had voted for Flanders' secession from the Kingdom of Belgium. The broadcast utilised real news reporters and fake outside broadcasts of jubilant crowds, and even prominent politicians took part. Such was the concern of viewers that the stations website was crashed under the strain. Television journalist Philippe Dutilleul had planned the program for two years, and has received mixed reactions to the broadcast. Flemish nationalists naturally applauded the resulting upset, but the president of Wallonia has called the TV event an "unacceptable" breach of journalistic ethics. Jean-Paul Philippot, the chief administrator of Belgian state television was called in to the responsible ministry to explain himself and receive a roasting. Perhaps the most interesting thing to consider is that despite the vast range of alternative news sources available to viewers (other channels and the Internet), many still apparently took the broadcast at face value, and were genuinely concerned. It makes you wonder what would happen if a big broadcaster did something similar with terrorism. Time magazine has a detailed piece further explaining the tensions that exist between the two regions.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Google Mars to get upgrade

Google has already had running for some time a limited Martian version of their hugely popular Google Maps for Earth, allowing users to look at various features on the Martian surface and to pinpoint the locations of landers. In an agreement announced today with NASA, Google is to enhance this service significantly, allowing in due course for users to view high-resolution 3-D maps of Mars (and the Moon.) The collaboration is a growing one, with Google funding a NASA research center in Silicon Valley and using their search and indexing technology to unify and make easily accessible the vast amount of data held by NASA. Other aspects of the deal will allow real-time tracking of the International Space Station and the space shuttle from home PCs. Read more at BBC news.

Martians have invaded already say scientists

In a controversial paper by a Russian-American team of researchers, it is has been claimed that incredibly hardy microbes with an extreme resistance to high levels of radiation may have evolved on Mars. The argument goes that at no time in the Earths history has there been an evolutionary need for such extreme resistance, which is rated at several thousand times the lethal doze for a human being. It has already been demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that some meteorites found on Earth had originated on Mars (they were themselves likely blasted from the Martian surface during cataclysmic meteor impacts) and given that the evidence for water on Mars keeps coming on thick and fast, it is not a great leap to imagine some of these super bugs surviving the trip to Earth. Deinococcus radiodurans is one such microbe, and in honour of its toughness, has been nicknamed "Conan the bacterium" by microbiologists. But not all scientists agree with the theory, with a counter argument raised that the radiation hardiness is simply a side effect of the microbes developing a resistance to dehydration. The BBC News site has more on this story.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

War Of The Worlds comic may be revived

Back in 1996, writer Randy Zimmerman worked on a comic book mini series called The Haven And The Hellweed, which took a hard look at the realities of a modern day Earth under attack by Martians, and just how harrowing and difficult any kind of resistance would have to be. The story was continued in an intriguing sequel called The Memphis Front, but this was cancelled after only 2 issues when the publisher ran into trouble. Yet despite the long hiatus, Randy has not given up on his cherished story and while nothing has yet been formalised, there is a possibility that the first series may be reprinted, and the Memphis Front finally finished. Speaking to this website, Randy had this to say. “I've always wanted to at least finish The Memphis Front because is IS such a great, tight, story. At present I haven't worked on it in over a year, but issues 3&4 are pencilled and scripted (#3 needs to have the inks finished, while 4 needs to be lettered and inked), and #5 is plotted (or course- it's the climax of the story), but hasn't been touched since I finished typing the plot many moons ago. The WOTW stories are still very close to my heart and I do consider it to be some of my very best writing to date. There were also more stories planned - the next arc I would have done would have covered Detroit (it would cover a wider span of time as we followed the same character living in Detroit for almost the whole duration of the war), and I had another writer that was supposed to cover the invasion of Chicago (which would have taken place before Memphis), but he never took it past the plotting stage.”

There have been several other attempts to expand on The War Of The Worlds by speculating on the impact of a second invasion, most famously in the 1970’s Killraven series. Just this year, Boom Studios unleashed their Second Wave series, but neither this nor Killraven came quite as close as did The Haven And The Hellweed to capitalising on the full storytelling potential of the idea, so there is definitely cause for guarded optimism that Randy might get to at least finish The Memphis Front. Who knows, perhaps we might even get to see those Detroit and Chicago stories. It’s a franchise that could run and run. The London Front, anyone?

Martians could invade Earth

A leading British scientist has warned that plans to bring back material from Mars could imperil the Earth should people come into contact with Martian microbes. Dr John Murray, a scientist connected with Europe’s Mars Express mission reportedly believes that life is to be found on Mars, but he thinks it likely that it will be discovered in a dormant state, frozen in ancient Martian ice deposits. Murray has been leading a team at the Open University in the city of Milton Keynes who have been examining fractured features on the Martian surface that are akin to ice formations on Earth. If this is the case, it may indicate the existence of a submerged sea, 800 to 900 kilometres in size and with an average depth of 45 meters. Since the sea will date back to a much earlier era in Martian history, any primitive life that may have existed will be frozen in time. Murray is proposing a two-stage mission to validate his hypothesis, the first a probe to smash into the ice and blast out a crater, the second to land and revive any slumbering microbes. But Murray is cautious about the prospect of bringing anything living back from Mars. H.G. Wells imagined Martian invaders dying of common earthly diseases, Ray Bradbury sent colonists to Mars who infected and wiped out a Martian civilisation, but to bring Martian microbes to Earth may well prove equally cataclysmic, should one of them prove to be a virulent pathogen to which we have no natural immunity.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

There she blows! Water on Mars

In what may prove one of the most important scientific announcements in history, NASA has reported strong evidence that free flowing water has been spotted on Mars. The pictures that seem to clinch one of the longest running debates in space science have come from the now defunct orbiting Mars Global Surveyor, which recently ceased communicating with Earth. An image snapped in December 2001 of the Terra Sirenum region when compared with another taken in April 2005 seems to show a clear fresh deposit of material that has the distinctive look of water action. Close examination of the pictures even shows that the water (if indeed it was) has flowed around obstacles. Similar evidence is also seen in images snapped of the Centauri Montes region. The volume of water is likely to be small, in the region says NASA's Michael Meyer of five to ten swimming pools and the water would literally boil as it erupted from the ground. "You've heard of the smoking gun" says Meyer, "well this is the spurting gun." Of course, the pregnant implication of this discovery is that where there is water, there is quite likely life. To view the amazing pictures, visit the Mars Global Surveyor website.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

More landers spotted on Mars

Further extraordinary images have arrived from Mars that show not only the presently operating Spirit rover (Opportunity was photographed several months ago) but the Viking landers as well. Shot from the orbiting Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the image of the Viking 1 lander also shows the discarded spacecraft shell lying some 260 meters from the lander and most amazingly, what may well be its parachute. It is planned to use the MRO to photograph other past landers in the coming months, some successful, some not. Next in line is likely to be the plucky little Mars Pathfinder, which paved the way for the highly successful Spirit and Opportunity, and of course it almost goes without saying that efforts will be made to find the resting place of the ill-fated UK mission, Beagle 2. Other lost probes that will be searched for are Nasa's Mars Polar Lander, and the Soviet craft Mars 2, Mars 3 and Mars 6. You can view the latest pictures here.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Superb new images from Mars

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is well into the science phase of its mission, using the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE)camera to return images of unprecedented detail, down to as close as 1 meter resolutions. Aside from the wealth of scientific information to be returned, a recent image has spotted the impact point of the Opportunity rover, with the remains of the heatshield and parachute also spotted nearby. Over the next couple of weeks, the camera will be looking for "all the easy-to-find hardware on Mars," says Professor Alfred S. McEwen of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona. That includes NASA's rover Spirit, the Viking 1 and Viking 2 landers, and Mars Pathfinder. You can see the Opportunity image here or see all images here. The team intends to release new images every Wednesday.

War Of The Worlds song

Sorry, but that headline is a bit of a misnomer. This is not a song about Martian invaders (wouldn't that would be fun) but a mellow little number about a relationship going to the dogs. Written and sung by the bizarrely named "Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly" (a name apparently cribbed from a computer magazine headline), the person lurking behind the name (which has a little bit of a science fiction flavour itself) is 20 year old Sam Duckworth, another of the new breed of musicians who have forged a presence online with the likes of Myspace. His first album 'The Chronicles Of A Bohemian Teenager' is making ripples with music critics, and while I certainly don't count myself as one, so can't judge one way or another as to the musical qualities of the song, his War Of The Worlds song is to my untrained ear a pleasant enough listen. Of course I'm slightly biased by that song title. Decide for yourself by listening at the Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly website.

Rosetta probe prepares for Mars flyby

Mission controllers for the European comet interception mission Rosetta are preparing the probe for a gravity assist flyby of Mars this February. The 3 ton probe is scheduled to meet comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko in 2014, but requires 4 gravity assists along the way, sling-shotting around planets to gain speed. Rosetta has already completed one such manoeuvre around the Earth in 2005. The flyby will not however just be providing a push in the right direction from Mars. The probes instruments are being warmed up in preparation, and it will use its imaging system and imaging spectrometers to gather data about the surface and atmosphere of Mars and its chemical composition. It will also collect data about the atmosphere's interaction with the solar wind and the Martian radiation environment. Phobos and Deimos, the two moons of Mars, will also be imaged. For a full report, go to the ESA webpage.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Scena Theatre stages War Of The Worlds

The Washington based Scene Theatre is to stage their own version of The War Of The Worlds radio broadcast this December. The play will be using the original script by Howard Koch, with the action primarily seen from the perspective of the actors in the studio, but listener reactions will also be inserted into the story, overlapping with the events in the studio. The story begins with the actors milling about in the studio preparing their lines, and will including authentic moments such as the actor playing the role of an unnamed secretary of the interior imitating the distinctive tones of President Roosevelt. This was a devious way in which Welles sidestepped the censor, who had insisted that the originally scripted role of the President would have to be removed.

Reviews are invited from anyone who attends this play. More details about the Scene Theatre at their website.

Dates: December 2 through January 14, Thurday – Saturday at 7:30pm, Sunday at 3pm

PWYC previews: Saturday, December 2 at 7:30pm and Sunday, December 3 at 3pm

Venue: DC Arts Center (DCAC), 2438 18th Street NW,Washington DC (note: venue different from that of recent Scena Theatre productions).

Ticket prices: $25 - $32 ($5 discount to students and seniors)

Box office: Click here to buy tickets online or call 703-683-2824

Artistic Team: Robert McNamara (Director), AJ Guban (Set Design), Marianne Meadows (Lighting Design), David Crandall (Sound Design), Zoe Cowan (Costume Design), Melissa Narvaez (Properties Design)

Cast: with: Joe Baker, Dan Brick, Kathryn Cocroft, Kim Curtis, John Geoffrian, Elizabeth Jernigan, Michael McDonnell, Ellie Nicole, Karen Novack, Sasha Olinick, Lee Ordeman, John Tweel, Alex Zasatavovich

A photo from rehearsals can be found here.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Hopes fade for Mars Global Surveyor

NASA is not giving up just yet, but after 10 days of increasingly ominous silence from the 10 year old Mars orbiting space probe, it looks like curtains. Launched on November 7, 1996, the mission was intended to last two years, but like the incredible longevity of the Spirit and Opporunity rovers, the probe surprised mission controllers by lasting long past its warranty. In the process, it took a staggering 240,000 pictures of the surface, but aftern receiving a signal indicating there were problems with a solar panel, the probe fell silent. NASA had hoped to catch a glimpse of the surveyor on Monday might from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, but nothing was seen. Hopes are now being pinned on an effort to instruct Mars Global Surveyor to send a single to one of the rovers below, asking it to switch on a beacon. If the beacon switches on, then this will provide a chance for mission controllers to pinpoint the location of the wayward probe.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Mars Flyer gets wind tunnel test

One of the most exciting prospects for exploration of Mars is the idea of sending an automated aircraft, which could clearly cover great distances and return unprecedented detail of the surface. The newest design to enter the testing stage rejoices in the wonderful name of the Mars Advanced Technology Airplane for Deployment, Operations, and Recovery, or to shorten it to its acronym, MATADOR. Not surprisingly given that brain bender of a name, this is a military funded project; don't the military just love their acronyms? However, don't be disappointed to learn that it is apparently unarmed, unless of course they know something we don't and we're preparing to declare war on Mars. The project is run out of the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, a name synonymous with murky stories of crashed UFOs and stored alien bodies. Tests of the winged design were conduced recently in a vertical wind tunnel. The plane has a folded wing design, which means it would deploy with the wings folded, and then unfurl them deep in the atmosphere. There are plans to do more testing in the future, including the possibility of sending the plane aloft with a balloon. You can find more at the AFRL (there's another acronyn) web site.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Excellent new science fiction documentary debuts on BBC4

Produced as the centrepiece of a week long stream of programs celebrating the importance of British science fiction, part one of this ambitious documentary series lends the subject all the gravitas you would expect of a BBC production, delving deep into the origins of modern science fiction and specifically the vital role played by H.G. Wells in the creation of several key tropes of the genre. Contributions come from a galaxy of star names; many of them revered as royalty in science fiction circles. Brian Aldis, Arthur C Clarke and Nigel Kneale (who we tragically lost just a few weeks ago) lend weighty and authoritative opinion as representatives of the generation of writers closest to Wells, while up and coming talents like China Melville, Stephen Baxter and Brian Stableford signal their own debt to a writer whose ideas are still being liberally borrowed from today.

The core focus of "From Apes To Aliens" is the vexed question of evolution; an idea that the program argues persuasively has always been a key component of British science fiction. Of course Wells himself returned to the theme several times in his novels, first in The Time Machine and again in The War Of The Worlds, though surprisingly the program makes no mention of the fact that he was tutored by T H Huxley, the greatest evolutionary proponent of the day (he was known as Darwin’s Bulldog) and surely therefore a huge and important influence.

The program makes use of archive footage and modern day interviews with writers and scientists, as well as occasional dramatic sequences. These recount key moments in Wells’ life and scenes from his books, though interestingly and quite effectively, the writer and his characters are here presented as essentially one and the same, thus Wells is seen not only writing his books, but constructing his Time Machine and exploring the underground caverns of the Morlocs. This seems a perfectly reasonable dramatic device given that Wells certainly interjected some autobiographical material into his novels. As an interesting aside, it’s not the first time this has been done, most successfully in the superb Nicholas Meyer directed movie Time After Time.

Given that this program is part of a retrospective season of British science fiction, it not unnaturally plunders the BBC archives for causal connections with Wells, and so there is no great surprise that Doctor Who is presented as an important antecedent. The insightful point is made that the time travelling doctor (as first presented to the British public by William Hartnell) was played very much as if he were a Victorian or Edwardian gentleman, and his Tardis was full of the sort of old clutter and bric-a-brac that you might find in an English home of those periods. As critic Kim Newman observes, the Time Traveller of H.G. Wells was dressed in the attire of his time, so it made sense for the Doctor to be dressed in the same way, rather than the modern uniforms of Star Trek. It is also worth remembering that the very first voyage of the Doctor was to the far past and a meeting with cavemen that evoked memories of Wells’ bestial Morlocs.

Readers of this site will be pleased to learn that The War Of The Worlds is also afforded due deference, though an error is made in crediting Wells with the inspiration for the story. It is certainly true to say that the idea for the War Of The Worlds was suggested during a walk by Wells and his brother Frank, as attested to by H.G himself in his autobiography. Along the way, they were discussing the plight of the Tasmanian natives who were then facing the genocidal attentions of colonial invaders, but Brian Stableford suggests erroneously that it was H.G. Wells who offered the observation, “suppose some beings from another planet were to drop out of the sky suddenly?” It was in fact his brother who made this hugely salient observation, though of course H.G developed the idea and made such capital of it, using his story to smash the smug assumption that the British Empire was an unassailable power in the world.

It would have been nice to see a few more references to the incredible legacy of The War Of The Worlds, such as the Orson Welles radio broadcast, and you can’t help but smile when Doctor Who is once again trotted out for comparison, with the slightly more tenuous connection offered up between Wells’ Martians and the Daleks. The program leaves direct discussion of Wells at this point to look at the equally worthy work of Olaf Stapleton and then briefly touches on American influences. There is a quaint bit of Yank bashing here from Kim Newman, who gently chides the primitive early American television science fiction shows such as Captain Video, contrasting these with the much more polished and grown up BBC series Quatermass. Of course this is not to say that Quatermass does not deserve our wholehearted praise. The series had the British viewing public glued to their sofas every week and had palpable connections with The War Of The Worlds. The third series even focused on the discovery of a long buried Martian spacecraft beneath London.

The rest of the program works through several more of the greats of British science fiction, with welcome discussion of the work of Arthur C Clarke, with Clarke himself providing much in the way of comment. Of course pride of place is given to his magnum opus 2001 A Space Odyssey, but it is nice to see his less well-known (though I think equally good) Childhood’s End acknowledged as the prototype for that archetypal science fiction vision; as giant spacecraft hover over our cities in mute testimony to their overwhelming technological superiority. It is an idea since revisited many times on television and film, most notably in the excellent mini series V and of course, Independence Day, which (though not mentioned in the program) was of course an unacknowledged remake of The War Of The Worlds.

This first episode is an excellent series opener, full of detail and respect for the genre and I think one of the few times it has been treated with anything approaching the respect it deserves. The program does however end on a sad note, with a visibly upset Clarke lamenting the failure of science to emulate the great ideas of science fiction, notably in the lost promise of the Apollo moon program. Alas, as will be covered by the second program in the series, science fiction, and British science fiction in particular, has had far more predictive success with matters of an unsettling and depressing nature.

Martians And Us, From Apes to Aliens can be seen on BBC4 on Monday 13 November 2006 9pm-10pm; rpt Wednesday 15 November midnight-1am; rpt Sunday 19 November 12.50am-1.50am (Saturday night)

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Science Fiction Britannia on the BBC

Starting this coming Monday (November 13th) on BBC 4 is a fasinating new season exploring the history of British science fiction. There promises to be a wide ranging selection of programming, including original documentaries and plenty of classic BBC science fiction. Highlights for readers of this site will be two documentaries. The three part The Martians And Us is the centrepiece of the season, the first part of which will be looking at how HG Wells captured man's fascination with evolution to father a new form of fiction. HG Wells And Me is a more general look at his life and work. There is also a welcome repeat for the excellent drama HG Wells: War With The World, which adapts his own autobiography. Plenty more details and clips at the Science Fiction Britannia website.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Orson Welles going to Mars and so can you!

The Orson Welles War Of The Worlds broadcast is going to Mars aboard the Phoenix spacecraft, due for landing in May 2007. A special DVD will contain the broadcast as well as a fantastic collection of material spanning centuries of human thought about the red planet. Works by top science fiction authors such as Ray Bradbury (The Martian Chronicles) and Issac Asimov (I'm in Marsport Without Hilda) will be included on the DVD, as well as fantasy images of Mars. Not only this, but you too can have your name encoded on the disc, which may well be found by far future explorers (human, or otherwise.) It's a great idea, and the full list of material which can be found on the Planetary Society website (who are sponsoring the endeavour) reads like a veritable who’s who of science fiction, but includes some less well known material. I particularly love that H Beam Piper's superb Omnilingual is included, surely one of the best stories ever written about Mars.

I suspect Orson Welles would have been thoroughly amused to know his broadcast would one day make the trip to Mars, but what would H.G. Wells have made of the idea? I think he would have been a little bemused but rather pleased. In my opinion, it is no exaggeration to say that if not for the fascination Wells created in fictional mars-scapes, mission likes Phoenix would simply not be happening, so you can say that things have finally come full circle. That Wells' War Of The Worlds (though perplexingly, only an excerpt of the text) is to rest on Mars, is a truly inspiring thought.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Facing Facts

On the 25th of July 1976 the Viking One orbiter took what should have been another routine image of the surface, but in fact set in motion one of the best-loved and most intriguing conspiracy theories yet developed. The image was of the so-called "face on Mars", a feature that looked distinctly man (or should that be Martian) made. NASA scientists were in fact the first to make the light hearted observation that it looked like a face, but also were quick to point out that the "face" was simply the result of random chance. The orbiter was looking down on that particular spot in such a way that the sun caught a natural feature and amplified the rock formations into the now iconic features. But the image was just too darn alluring, and set in motion an enduring myth and a mini industry of believers who have since spent considerable energy searching the surface for new features, even after the face was pretty well debunked by subsequent images.

There are now entire websites devoted to finding new anomalies on both the surface of Mars and the Moon, and as the images flood in from Mars, there are rich pickings to be had and plenty of scope to accuse both NASA and the ESA of covering up (doctoring) images to hide what the amateur investigators say is plain and obvious evidence of a alien construction on our neighbouring worlds. It all sounds a little desperate and certainly I think they are seeing what they want to see, (I’ve looked at dozens of these images and just can’t see anything untoward) but I have a little private bet with myself that it might yet be one of these amateurs who spots something that the more strait laced scientific community might overlook or even dismiss.

I certainly don't think they've found anything yet, but look at how web communities (and especially Bloggers) have worked together in recent years to investigate where the media fear (or are too incompetent) to tread - the case in point being the fake documents purporting to show Bush in a bad light during his National Service days. That same energy is being applied to the search for proof of live out there, and it would be just wonderful if some guy (or gal) in their spare room made the big discovery. There are just so many images coming in from Mars at the moment that something might easily slip past the scientists, so watch this space. In the meantime, the ESA have re-imaged the face and produced a lovely and pretty damning 3D movie of the rock formation that started the whole thing off. You can see it on the ESA site.

Monday, October 30, 2006

1938 Radio Broadcast celebrated

Many groups and origansations have been celebrating the Orson Welles broadcast of The War Of The Worlds, which terrified many thousands of listeners on the Halloween night of October 30th, 1938. Two events of note come from West Windsor, where can of course be found the unassuming little hamlet of Grover's Mill, the original Martian beachhead as selected by Howard Koch, the writer of the 1938 broadcast. On Saturday the 8th, the David Sarnoff Library in Princeton NJ hosted a live re-enactment of the infamous radio broadcast. Rather brilliantly, the broadcast used original vintage radio microphones provided by the New Jersey Antique Radio Club. Tonight, the 30th of October, local artist Donna Clovis and students from High School North will present "Powers From Pluto", which is an updated version of the broadcast which features television and the internet as the conduit for terror. Anyone interested in tickets can find contact details here.

Other celebrations of note:

WTBQ 1110 AM hosted a live open to the public recording on the 28th.
Los Alamos Little Theater is presenting a stage version of the broadcast tonight (Oct 30th) and several other performances in the coming week.
Pauls Valley Arts Council is doing what sounds like a very interesting stage play, that not only re-enacts the broadcast, but tells the behind the scenes story as well. You can catch a performance tonight (the 30th) at the Pauls Valley High School, Oklahoma.

Mission To Mars

The Mars Society, an organisation whose stated aim is to further the goal of the exploration and settlement of the Red Planet, is soon to announce the crew of seven that will depart in May 2007 for a simulated mission to Mars. The project, known as the Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station, is located in the high artic, on Devon Island, Nunavut. It was chosen because the inhospitable environment is as close to Mars as you are likely to find on Earth. The project, which will run between May 1 through August 31, 2007, will allow scientists and engineers to study the Mars-like climate and conditions of the polar desert and to explore the human impact of long-term isolation in a harsh, cold environment. More information can be found at the Mars Society website.

Biggest every panarama from Mars

In celebration of over 1000 days of successful operation on Mars, the Spirit rover (the original mission plan called for an effective life of just 3 months) has completed a huge new 360-degree panoramic view from its winter resting place, a small hill known as "Low Ridge, which has been home since April. The stop was required as the reduced sunlight of the winter months on Mars precluded any significant activity. The panorama was compiled several pictures at a time every few sols (a Martian day) over a total of 119 sols. The McMurdo panorama (as it has been dubbed) shows volcanic rocks around the rover, Husband Hill on the right, the El Dorado sand dunes near the hill and Home Plate below the dunes. Two rocks, right of center, are believed to be meteorites. The total volume of data transmitted back to Earth exceeded 500 megabytes. A variety of mages are available at the NASA Spirit homepage in both regular and 3D formats.

Mars rover revolts

Satirical webzine The Onion is reporting on some odd and worrying behaviour on Mars by the Spirit rover. After 3 years on the red planet, The Onion reports that the rover may be getting tired of the repetition of its daily routine. Dead give aways include up to 1000 messages a day saying simply "no water" and for 3 days running, the rover has transmitted images of the same rock with the accompanying message, "Happy Now". "Spirit has been displaying some anomalous behaviour," said Project Manager John Callas, though this is to underplay some of the more worrying quirks now plaguing the multi million dollar project, such as using its robotic sample collection arm to make obscene gestures back to mission control. The full story can be found at The Onion. (Warning, contains some expletives.)

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Simpsons to fight War Of The Worlds

The November 5th episode of The Simpsons will be celebrating Halloween with another of their now annual "Treehouse Of Horror" anthologies. The Simpsons has a laudable tradition of spoofing famous (and not so famous) science fiction ideas (perhaps the best was the Treehouse Of Horror story that remade The Twilight Zone episode "It's a good life") and this newest episode (Treehouse of Horror XVII) promises to be the best yet. "The Day the Earth Was Stupid" is going to be a Simpson take on the Orson Welles radio broadcast of 1938, but this time it will regular aliens Kang and Kodos take advantage of a similar radio panic to invade Springfield. The story is also intended to be a comment on the situation in Iraq, with Kang and Kodos expressing surprise that they have not been welcomed with opened arms by the residents of Springfield. "Don't worry says Kodos, "we still have the people's hearts and minds," and holds up a brain and a heart. Look for a full review here after the episode has aired.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

I Spy Opportunity

Extraordinary images are once again coming in from Mars. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has managed to snap an image of the Victoria Crater, on the rim of which can be seen the Opportunity Rover. You can see a large size labeled image from the orbiter by following this link. It is also fasinating to be able to see images taken on the ground by the rover of the Victoria crater rim. The images give an amazing perspective on the situation. The Victoria crater is by far the biggest feature to be explored by the rover and scientists are already getting excited by the layering (upwards of 50 feet) seen in the crater walls which are sure to provide new insights into the geological past of Mars. After traversing the rim of the crater, it is hoped to be able to find a relatively easy route down into the crater itself.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Jeff Wayne's War Of The Worlds DVD

Fresh from a highly sucessful run of performances across the UK, the stage version of the Jeff Wayne musical version of The War Of The Worlds is to be released on DVD. There will be two versions made available, a single disc and a double disc special. There are going to be a significant number of extra features on the double disc edition, including features on Making A Martian Fighting Machine, ehearsing "Thunder Child" and "Bringing Back Burton", which refers to the way in which the production brought back to life the much missed Richard Burton in the form of a stage projection. The double disc set will also include a 12 page booklet with exclusive photos from the show. The release date for both discs is November 6th.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

H.G. Wells to get BBC treatment

The BBC is to broadcast an ambitious drama starring Michael Sheen as H.G. Wells. The BBC press release says of the 90 minute "A Life In Pictures", "Every word spoken by HG Wells in the film is his own, taken from his autobiography and other writings. The film mixes futuristic animation with drama to tell the story of this visionary writer." I'm particularly intrigued by the reference to animation. Does this mean we are going to get a fresh look at The War Of The Worlds with the correct period setting? Broadcast is scheduled for Winter 2006. Sally Hawkins (Fingersmith, Vera Drake, Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky) plays Wells'lover Rebecca West.

Clouds riding high on Mars

The European Space Agency's orbiting Mars Express spacecraft has discovered the highest clouds yet detected above the surface of a planet. The Earth has clouds that top out at about 52 miles, but clouds on Mars reach up to 62 miles. (100 kilometers) The clouds on Mars are thought to be made of Carbon Dioxide. There are no pictures available as the detection was made by the means of ultraviolet and infrared instruments on the orbiter. The orbiter looked at stars just before they were eclipsed by Mars and saw them dim, the telltale sign of clouds in the atmosphere. Says Franck Montmessin, a French researcher on the camera team, "If you wanted to see these clouds from the surface of Mars, you would probably have to wait until after sunset."

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Has life on Mars been blown away?

Sushil Atreya, a University of Michigan professor in the Department of Atmospheric Oceanic and Space Sciences thinks so. His paper "Oxidant Enhancement in Martian Dust Devils and Storms: Implications for Life and Habitability" suggests that storms and dust devils would produce oxidants that would destroy any chance for life to get to grips on the surface, since any organic material would be scavenged efficiently by the surface oxidants. Of course this is not the end of the story by any means. This blog has reported numerous arguments for and against life on Mars, and until a human being gets there to conduct indepth exploration, I think we can still cling to the idea that Earth is not the only home to life in our solar system. For a detailed report on Professor Atreya's findings, go to spaceref.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Did Dark Horse Comics Rip Off Pendragon's WAR OF THE WORLDS?

No. But that's what Pendragon Pictures are alleging. Apparently there are numerous similarities between their 2005 film and the recently released Dark Horse comic, which also attempts a Victorian period reproduction of the story. I can't see it myself, though Pendragon are trying hard, having set up a website to promote the case and ask people to vote if they agree that they have been ripped off. Without a doubt, there are a couple of inadvertent matches, but consider, both versions are working from the same source material and there is only so many ways you can present the material. If you go through the website set up by Pendragon, the similarities become ever more tenuous and desperate as you scroll down the page. Lets take their assertion regarding a scene between the narrator and curate beneath the Martian Cylinder. Says Pendragon of their production: "Writer on the right, curate on the left as the house collapses”, while Dark Horse has "Writer on the right, curate on the left as the house collapses." Well wow! That clinches it. I'm reluctant to give this silly case the oxygen of publicity, but here's the link, if only so you can make your own judgement and if you agree with me, vote a big fat no.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Fantastic concept art for War Of The Worlds

One of the most frustrating things about the recent Spielberg version of The War Of The Worlds was the drought of background material on the making of the film. Even the DVD did little to redress this, with a bunch of fairly awful making of featurettes that were long on back patting, but short on content. We've not even had a making of book, which is frankly incredible, so kudos to Iceblink studios, one of the companies that did pre-production art for the film. They have posted a ton of fantastic images at their site. Access direct it here.

War Of Words between Cruise and Spielberg

You might recall that during the media campaign last year to promote a little film called The War Of The Worlds, there were signs that all was not well between Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise. The somewhat vocal Mr Cruise made a bit of an ass of himself on Opera declaring his love for Katie Holmes and then rumours surfaced (well, pretty much true by all accounts) that his beloved Church Of Scientology had a rather conspicuous presence on set, with a tented facility on hand to dispense wisdom to the cast and crew. But it appears that the New York Post has uncovered the truth. It was not his love for Holmes or the Scientologists on set, but Cruise's bizarre outbursts against the use of Ritalin to treat children, and specifically, the apparent outing of a Doctor known to Spielberg, who was subsequently picketed by Scientologists. The question is, did Cruise pass on the name?

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Mapping the invasion

I've only been able to get this to work on the Firefox browser and its not the most pretty looking page I have ever seen, but its a great concept. Go to the gutenkarte website and select War Of The Worlds. Then you can browse a map of locations from the book. It would be great if they extended this to the Orson Welles broadcast set in New Jerseym but for those people (especially those outside the UK) who want to get a flavour of the locations used by H.G. Wells, this is a fantastic resource.

Falling short on Mars

NASA has been warned in a new report that it is falling short on its requirements for future Mars exploration, especially if it wants to translate future robotic missions into a manned attempt to visit the planet. The report from the National Research Council, which advises the government on science issues, was requested by NASA itself, so the findings will hopefully have weight with officials. Plans for the next decade get a broadly positive report, but the main problem for NASA is that billions of dollars have been stripped from their science budget in order to keep the Shuttle and International Space Station in operation. One of the biggest casualties has been a sample return mission, which is not likely to happen now until the early 2020's. Complex detailed robotic missions such as this are vital to improving our understanding of the planet, given that astronauts may need to spend a year on the surface.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Rough Guide to Mars

London's Royal Society is giving visitors a chance to fly over the surface of Mars this week in a groundbreaking demonstration of 3D landscaping tools. Using images of Mars from the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) onboard the European Space Agency spacecraft ‘Mars Express’, people can peer into Volcanoes or plunge into a frozen see. "It will be great fun,like having your very own jetpack and whizzing around the Martian landscape without leaving your chair" says Dr Sanjeev Gupta, of Imperial Colleges Department of Earth Science and Engineering. Also on display will be a meteorite from Mars and a scale model of the ESA's Mars Express. Find more details of the exhibition at the Royal Society website.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Mars or Bust

"We won't find anywhere as nice as Earth unless we go to another star system," renowned professor Stephen Hawking said in a lecture this week, but in the short term he thinks Mars or the moon might make viable bolt-holes for the human race in the event of some disaster befalling the home world. I've long held the same view (not wanting to put myself on the same footing as Hawking), as it seems obvious that we are in a very precarious position on this little spinning rock of ours. Global warming, war or a meteor strike are all likely events that might trigger a mass extinction, so it's about time we started thinking seriously about spreading ourselves out a bit. If only a few thousand could survive in space, then their descendents might one-day reclaim a recovered Earth.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Euro Rover Science Package Revealed

A UK led team is developing a key science instrument for the 2011 ExoMars mission. The European built and financed probe will deliver a highly complex rover to the surface, equipped with a drill to delve deep beneath the Martian surface. Samples will then be transferred to the "Pasteur Laboratory" aboard the rover. One of the key devices in the lab will be the Life Marker Chip (LMC) which will test soil samples for specific molecules that can be associated with life. Essentially, the test is a "lock and key" procedure, in that certain molecules associated with life will only bind with other molecules of a particular shape. If one of the target molecules is present, it will bind to a prepared receptor in the experiment. The BBC has a detailed piece on the science of the mission.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

War Of The Weird

It may be old news, but this must rate as one of the strangest interviews ever. Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise, bemused but pretty game, endure a bizarre interview in Japan. A truly compelling experience you can share here.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Top 30 landing sites decided

After a 3 day meeting at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, 120 scientists ranked the top 30 contenders for possible landing sites for the 2009 Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter mission. The rover and landing technology has advanced recently, meaning that it is hoped to be able to land the rover within 20km of any targeted landing site. Some of the areas shortlisted are the Nili Fossae (interpreted as a complex of grabens and fractures related to the formation of the Isidis impact basin) which might have water deposited clays. Another potential site for the new rover is Candor Chasma, which rises three kilometers above surface levels.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Atlas V to carry Mars mission

NASA has announced that an Atlas V rocket will carry The Mars Science Laboratory when it lifts off in 2009. The contract requires that principal work for the Atlas V Centaur propellant tank will be performed at Lockheed Martin's facility in San Diego, while the primary work location for the Atlas V booster propellant tank's production will be done at Lockheed's facility in Waterton, Colorado.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Edgar Rice Burroughs comic

A new five issue comic book version of Edgar Rice Burroughs' A Princess Of Mars is due to launch in August of 2006. Published by IDW, who also created an excellent comic book adapation of The War Of The Worlds last year, the new series will be written by Dan Taylor with art by War Of The Worlds artist Ted McKeever.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Ready, steady, aim.

The next probe being readied for a flight to Mars is the Mars Science Laboratory, due for a launch in 2009. The probe should be a considerable improvement on the two rovers presently at work on Mars, but a landing site has yet to be decided. This weekend, engineers in Pasadena will be meeting for the first of many discussions to shortlist a selection of landing sites. Of course if there is life still clinging to Mars and assuming it is not widespread (as previous missions would seem to indicate), then hitting it is going to be a tall order. A number of areas are likely to fall under the microscope, including the vast Valles Marineris, though there is a balance to be made between interesting sites and the practicality of getting the lander down in one piece.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

9-11 Mars

In one of the strangest stories to emerge from Mars, The Sun newspaper in the UK (a tabloid with a less than impeccable record for accuracy) is reporting that components of the Spirit and Opportunity rovers used salvaged materials from the 9-11 World Trade Centre wreckage in their construction. The engineer responsible is reported to be one Stephen Gorevan, an engineer at Honeybee Robotics. That certainly cements the Mars connection, as he and his team worked on the RAT (Rock Abrasion Tool) devices carried by the rovers. According to The Sun, "Engineers used metal left after the 9/11 attacks in building credit card-sized shields for the craft." Gorevan described it as a "quiet tribute."

Sunday, May 14, 2006

European Mars rover lands on Tenerife

No, not a wrong turn, but the first tests of the rover destined to land on Mars in 2011. Tenerife serves as a reasonable facsimile of the Martian surface and for the last week, a prototype of the rover has been put through its paces. If all goes well, the £400m ExoMars project will land a six wheeled 40 kg rover which includes in its paylod a lightweight drilling system, a sampling and handling device, and a set of scientific instruments to search for signs of past or present life. In the first weeks of testing, the rover has proven it is generally sound, and despite some technical glitches, has sucessfully negotiated the rocks of the El Teide volcano. The BBC has a full report and video of the rover in action.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Birds eye view of Mars

NASA have an excellent website set up to promote the incredibly innovative ARES mission to Mars. Standing for "Aerial Regional-scale Environmental Survey", the ARES is an unmanned aircraft capable of travelling upward of 800 km once delivered to the planet. It's a beautiful looking aircraft, and while it is still only on the drawing board, one can only hope that the mission gets a chance to fly. The site has a wealth of material and some fantastic animations and mockups of the craft. Check it out at the ARES homepage.

Nanedi Valles valley raises questions

A new set of images, taken by the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) on board ESA's Mars Express spacecraft, show the 800-kilometre valley long Nanedi Valles valley system. This steep-sided feature may have been formed in part by free-flowing water, but this is open to debate. Some researchers suggest the impressive feature may have been caused by sapping (erosion caused by ground-water outflow), while others suggest that flow of liquid beneath an ice cover or collapse of the surface in association with liquid flow is responsible for the valley's formation.

Cartoon Mars

Colin Pillinger, the leader of the ill-fated Beagle II mission to Mars has helped to compile a collection of several hundred cartoons that feature the planet Mars. The cartoons cover a wide spectrum of subject, many of them political. "It's just amazing how many people have been sent to Mars by cartoonists, particularly political figures" says Pillinger on the BBC news site. Lots of the cartoons feature wry comments on the loss of Beagle II, but Pillinger is unfazed by the attention. ""If there's a picture of Beagle in a crater, it gives me the chance to tell people why that might have happened so it's just a vehicle to me" he says. The exhibition is running now at the London Cartoon Museum.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Russia eyes Mars

At a press conference last Tuesday, Energia Aerospace Corporation head Nikolai Sevastyanov announced that his company is planning a Martian expedition spacecraft, which may be launched in 2020-2030. The project will include a test mission to the Moon followed by a launch to Mars as soon as 2020. Soyuz FG AND proton rockets will deliver spacecraft elements to orbit and a modernized Soyuz 2 and new Angara rockets will be then take over. Soyuz manned spaceships and Progress freighters will be servicing the project until 2015, and then the new Klipper spacecraft (still on the drawing board) will be used afterwards. The full story can be found on the TASS website. Alas we get these stories quite frequently from Russia, and the best laid plans never seem to come to fruition. One suspects there is a constant battle in the Russian space program for funds and prestige amongst the various space design companies, and part of that requires a lot of blue sky thinking.

A new face on Mars

The European Mars Express orbiter has returned a great image that does a lot to dispel the nonsensical notions that ancient Martian inhabitants have been carving bizarre figures into the surface. The famous face on mars has been proposed for many years as proof of an extraterrestrial presence in the solar system. No way say the believers could the features first imaged by Viking be natural. So what do they make of this new image I wonder? It just shows you that on a planet with a surface area as big as Mars, just about any odd convergence of natural features is possible.

Williams nominated for 'Soundtrack Composer of the Year'

John Williams is going up against Harry Gregson-Williams for "Kingdom of Heaven" and Dario Marianelli for "Pride and Prejudice" for Soundtrack Composer of The Year
at The Classical Brit Awards. The ceremony will be held on Thursday, May 4 in London at the Royal Albert Hall.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Mars Orbiter returns first colour image

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter continues to sucessfully bed itself into orbit with the receipt at mission control of several new test images, including the first to be received in colour. The image is not natural colour as seen by human eyes, but infrared colour. It can be seen at the Mars Reconnaissance site.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Lockheed turns up the heat

Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Jefferson County have won a NASA contract to develop and build a heat-resistant space capsule for transporting the next-generation of robotic rover to the surface of Mars. The Mars science laboratory rover is planned to arrive on Mars in 2009 and will build on the success of the Spirit and Opportunity rovers. Both Spirit and Opportunity were provided with head shields built at the Lockheed Jefferson County facility. According to Lockheed, the heat shield for the new rover would be the largest ever built, spanning 15 feet in diameter. The heat shields for the two existing rovers measured just 8.5 feet and an Apollo capsule heat shields measured 12.8 feet.

Harvard Prof says life once on Mars

Andrew Knoll, professor of natural history and earth and planetary sciences at Harvard University delivered a lecture at Lehigh University last Monday in which he made very positive statements in favour of past life on Mars. Knoll and his team at Harvard were actively involved in the 2004 missions, which landed the Spirit and Opportunity rovers (now in their second year of exploration) on Mars. One attendee was less than overwhelmed by Knoll's conclusions, (see more at the Lehigh student newspaper) but I was personally struck by his evocative use of the word "canals". Obviously Knoll is not proposing anything like the canals made fashionable a hundred years ago by Percival Lowell, but it is kind of touching to see the word appear in a scientific discourse. Lowell would be delighted.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

First postcard from Mars

The high-resolution camera aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has returned its first test image. The first test image is a 50km swathe of land in the planet's mid-latitude southern highlands. The resolution is about 7.6 metres, but this will get even better in months to come as the probe refines its orbit, with the result that we will be able to see unprecedented 1 metre resolution images.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Canada eyes Mars

The Canadian Space Agency has sent out a call to the countries scientists to start thinking about an all Canadian mission to Mars. Former space shuttle astronaut Marc Garneau broached the idea five years ago as president of the Canadian Space Agency but federal money was not forthcoming. With NASA scaling back on Mars mission as money is redirected toward a return to the Moon, other nations might well fill the gap. More on this story at

Raining on the Martian parade

It is a growing and popular belief in scientific cirles that the photographic and mineral evidence obtained by recent space probes points with a fair degree of certainty to the existence of running water in the distant Martian past. Gwendolyn Bart, a graduate student in planetary sciences at the University of Arizona has another idea, that perhaps the features can be explained by processes other than water. Bart and other scientists feel that Mars’ temperature and pressure are so low that liquid water could not have formed. Landslides and the flow of dust could just as easily explain the grooves and channels seen on the surface. More on this intriguing idea, (though personally I favour water) can be found at

Monday, March 20, 2006

Wheel trouble on Mars

The Spirit Rover, after having accrued an incredible number of days on the Martian surface looks to be in the trouble. Spirit's right front wheel, which has been stuck before, has ceased moving completely. The rover has plenty of redundancy with its remaining wheels, but the problem is not so much the wheel as power. Winter is approaching and the with it the available supply of solar energy drops fast. Spirit needs to get itself positioned in a favourable position on a nearby hill in order to get the best orientation for her solar panels. So the rover is now in a race against time to make the hill where it can safely sit out the winter.

ESA plans manned mission

The latest issue of Spaceflight Magazine (the magazine of the British Interplantery Society) showcases Mars on the front cover (April 2006 issue) and devotes a number of pages to an indepth breakdown of European plans to put a man on Mars. It should be stated that these "plans" are highly spectulative and no budgets are assigned, but it is interesting to see how a mission to Mars might be launched by a conglomorate of European nations. Frankly, it's pretty depressing reading because it seems that the plans require an incredible outlay in time and resource. No less than 21 Energia launches are called for! Those with an interest in spaceflight history may recall that the Energia flew the then Soviet Buran spaceshuttle on its maiden (and only) flight. It's a monster rocket (though not as big as an Apollo) but 21 flights and a 5 year building program in orbit strikes me as insane. Worse still, for all this outlay, the study paper assumes a manned stay on the planet of just 30 days, yet the crew will be stranded in Martian orbit for a year and a half. I desperately want to see humans on Mars, but this plan is not the way to do it and simply serves to strengthen the argument of those who favour unmanned missions. With NASA looking at a rover with a nuclear power plant for massively extended missions, one can hardly see the point of a mission that deposits humans for 30 days and allows them just 7 EVAs of no greater than 5km from the landing point.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Mike Trim art book features War Of The Worlds

Mike Trim is the versatile artist responsible for some of the iconic designs in Gerry Anderson's best-known television shows, such as Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet. Of interest to War Of The Worlds fans is of course his fantastic work on the Jeff Waynes' musical version of the story, for which he contributed a portfolio of images that are rightly considered definitive. Now fans of Mike's work can treat themselves to a new book recounting his amazing career. "The Future Was FAB: The Art of Mike Trim" features hundreds of full-colour and black-and-white drawings, and can be preordered now from

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Google maps Mars

First there was the earth, then the moon, now Google has mapped Mars. Point your browser at google mars and you can work your way round the planet, switching between black and white photographs, infrared and elevation maps. You can even pinpoint the location of the Spirit and Opportunity rovers on the surface.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter success

Nasa's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has successfully entered orbit around Mars.

At 2124 GMT (1334 PST), the spacecraft fired its engines as it approached the south side of the planet. 20 minutes later, the MRO switched from solar to battery power and entered into a period of radio silence behind the planet. The waiting team at the JPL lab in Pasadena were jubilant when the probe then broke radio silence. The probe is now in a 35-hour elliptical trajectory around the planet. At its furthest point it will swing out to about 44,000km (27,000 miles) above the planet's surface, but will spend the next six months adjusting the orbit by aerobreaking to enter a final circular 2 hour orbit. Only then will the science mission begin. The orbiter has 6 science instruments onboard, including the highest resolution camera ever sent to Mars.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter arrival

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is fast approaching orbital insertion, a point that has seen any number of previous missions come to grief. After a 27 minute burn today, the craft will enter into an extended aerobreaking sequence that will see the orbiter dip into the atmosphere some 500 times in order to further refine the orbit.

Monday, March 06, 2006

War of the woes at the Oscars

War Of The Worlds failed to take any Oscar awards last night, falling to the might of King Kong in the categories of Best Effects and Best Sound. Kong probably deserved to win for effects, at least from a technical standpoint (the film itself was overwhelmed by the use of endless effects) but sound should have gone to War Of The Worlds., if only for the haunting and terrifying voice given to the invaders.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Mars budget in peril

It is reported that the ambitious plans to put men back on the moon and to travel on to Mars are having a seriously bad knock-on effect on big unmanned missions. NASA is scrambling to find money to run the shuttle fleet and keep the International Space Station alive, but funds are seriously stretched, and despite promises from NASA that there would not be budget cuts, a number of highly important science missions are facing the chopping block. Included in the rosta of troubled missions, a Mars sample return mission. Time magazine has a full (and depressing) report.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Cameron on Mars

An amazing snippet of Mars new thanks to AintItCool news. In an interview with director James Cameron (Terminator, Titanic) it appears he is working on a new camera to fly to Mars on a future mission. To quote: "One of the side projects that he’s doing is working in conjunction with the MALIN SPACE SCIENCE SERVICES group… those are the guys that developed the M.O.C. Global Surveyor that’s been mapping Mars for the last couple of years. That’s completely changed everyone’s belief of what MARS is. Well, the next big NASA mission is going to have a Live Video Stereo Motion Image device that Cameron has been developing with M.S.S.S. to bring us back live 3D video images in full motion from the surface of Mars… all tied to the back of one of those nuclear powered Rovers that’ll be exploring, if all goes well, for years. See… Evangelical Techno-Fetishist." The full interview is here.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Casting a giant shadow

The high Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) on board ESA's Mars Express spacecraft has captured the shadow of Phobos as it races across the surface. The amazing picture can be seen on the Universe Today site.

Visual Effects Society honours War Of The Worlds

Spielberg's War Of The Worlds took a number of prizes at the annual Visual Effects Society Awards on the evening of the 16th Febuary. Best Single Visual Effect Of The Year went to the scene in which Cruise and his family flee their neighbourhood from the alien attack. It also took the award for Outstanding Models and Miniatures in a Motion Picture and Outstanding Compositing. Grab a list of the full list of awards at the VES Awards site.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Life between the cracks

A meteorite that fell to Earth in 1911 in Egypt may yet prove the existence of life on the red planet. A carbon-rich substance has been identified deep within the rock, which strongly disputes counter arguments that the material might represent contamination from Earth. The full story is here at the BBC.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Scary Movie 4 trailer is up

It looks like Scary Movie 4 is going to revolve heavily around spoofing Spielbergs War Of The Worlds. The trailer is on Yahoo, and truth be told, it looks quite funny. Love the dig at George Bush.

Grover's Mill pond in the news

There is an interesting article at about the pond at Grover's Mill. Dick Snedeker who has contributed to my website is quoted. Read all about it here.

Oscar nominations and a raspberry

The War Of The Worlds has grabbed three nominations for an Oscar. King Kong" and "Memoirs of a Geisha" share the nomination for Sound Editing, which surely has to go to Spielbergs movie for the chilling Martian calls. Its also up for "sound mixing", but I'm nore really sure what the difference is. "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," and "King Kong," duke it out for Visual Effects, which is a harder nut to crack. My money is on Kong taking this one.

Rather unfairly I think, Tom Cruise has been nominated for a razzie for worst actor. Can't say he was that bad, and in fact I think it was one of his best performances. I suspect the razzie is more for his antics after the film was made, when, and lets be honest here, he went a little strange.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Martian Holodeck planned

Its not quite straight out of Star Trek, but a Scottish engineer has plans to create a virtual reality simulator that will be able to recreate creations on Mars to an incredible degree of realism. The idea is to provide a test environment for scientists planning future Mars missions. The Scotsman has an idepth interview.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Tip of the iceberg

Universe Today is reporting on newly published research that is helping to shed fresh light on the origins of ice on Mars. It seems the planet may have tipped rapidly in the past toward the sun, allowing for the rapid buildup of ice and glaciers.

Fake radio broadcast sparks new panic.

Orson Welles did it in 1938, panicking millions in the United States with his War Of The Worlds radio broadcast, and now from Sweden comes news that Terrorism has repeated the feat, though on a much smaller scale. As reported on Radio Sweden, "Children in a school in Värmdö were left in shock yesterday after listening to a fake radio broadcast that Stockholm had been attacked by terrorists." It just goes to prove that history could repeat itself. It is highly unlikely anyone is going to believe that Martians are invading, but one can imagine a well made radio or television show triggering a panic by pushing the new fear button of terrorism.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Mars Science Laboratory

CNN has an excellent article on the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission scheduled for launch in 2009.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Mars comes to IMAX

This looks great! An IMAX movie about the twin rovers Opportunity and Spirit is due for release this month. Its a combination of actual footage gathered on the red planet by the rovers and computer simulations (obvious given we can't send a cameraman) of their activities. The trailer (and official site) is here. Looks like the next best thing to going there!

Saturday, January 14, 2006

War Of The Worlds Invasion for March

The UK release of the Asylum version of The War Of The Worlds will be released in the UK this March on the 20th. It will go by the alternative name of Invasion for the UK release due to issues with rights on the name.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Two years and still trucking

In what must rate as the single greatest achievement in the history of space exploration, the Opportunity rover celebrates 2 years of activity on the Martian surface today. The mission was expected to last no more than 90 days, but thanks to some fantastic engineering and a little luck (high winds are believed to have swept clear it's dust covered solar panels), the pluckly little rover just keeps on going. Over 7 miles have been traversed and 58,000 images returned so far, along with conclusive proof that Mars was once a very wet place. Opportunity's sister rover Spirit is due to pass it's own two year milestone in a few days. Undoubtedly both are on borrowed time, but the lure of the next rise always beckons, and those of us with Mars in our blood still cling to the hope that a lost Martian city may yet rise from the sands. Good luck Opportunity and Spirit, and congratulations to the teams responsible for this incredible mission. Long may they continue to rove the surface of Mars.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

War Of The Worlds makes BBC top 10 films of 2005

Spielberg's War Of The Worlds took number 8 in the top 10 films according to the BBC Film 2005 survey. The full list of winners can be found at the BBC website.