Sunday, July 10, 2011

Captain's Log: Space Shuttle and Star Trek, Torchwood Praised

The last U.S. space shuttle mission began Friday, inspiring many evaluations of the space program and the shuttle program since its beginning, and of the future of American manned spaceflight.  While polls show more than half the Americans surveyed felt the shuttle program was successful,  some observers feared that this final launch may have finally ceded leadership in space to Russia, and there are fears that NASA will decline.

However President Obama was positive about the future in his official statement congratulating Atlantis on its successful launch.  "Today's launch may mark the final flight of the Space Shuttle, but it propels us into the next era of our never-ending adventure to push the very frontiers of exploration and discovery in space," the President said.  "And I have tasked the men and women of NASA with an ambitious new mission: to break new boundaries in space exploration, ultimately sending Americans to Mars. I know they are up to the challenge-- and I plan to be around to see it."

The Atlantis mission is to resupply the International Space Station, which is itself getting new attention as an engineering marvel--among the greatest in human history.  But while the U.S. space program looks forward to new technologies for new missions, it is weirdly true that without at least one operational shuttle, the U.S. has no vehicle ready for manned spaceflight--not even to respond to an emergency on the space station.  This seems imprudent at best.

The shuttle program was part of the Star Trek era, with shuttle personnel inspired by Trek, and Trek inspired by shuttle astronauts. The first shuttle (which never flew) was voted to be named Enterprise. So it's appropriate that the NASA documentary about the shuttle is narrated by William Shatner. MBNBC featured Nichelle Nichols and George Takei on its coverage.

In some ways this is reminiscent of the end of the Roddenberry-to-Berman era of Star Trek, with its institutional continuity--often the same creative and technical people, training and mentoring others, in one continuous line back to Gene Roddenberry and the original cast.  NASA was like that since the early 1960s, and especially during Apollo and afterwards.

But manned space programs in the U.S. are going to change, with new people, and a new mix of public and private companies, in a new situation.  It's going to be more complicated, as Star Trek has become.

Meanwhile, a Russian scientist predicts humans will find alien life in space within 20 years, but the U.S. cuts the budget of those looking for "other earths."

Among the Star Trek related stuff on the web that caught my eye is an article on the 5 things the author expects of Star Trek JJA2,  and how the iPhone is now pretty much a Star Trek tricorder.

And a rave review in Wired  for the first episode of the new Torchwood as "the most idea-driven show on television."  But caution: the review is full of spoilers.  It praises writer Russell T Davis, who developed Torchwood as a Doctor Who spinoff during the David Tennant years, and he remains in charge of this Americanized Torchwood.

Further possibly ominous signs for new Doctor Who: both of the new executive producers have left.

No comments: