European Space Agency News Release
Saturn's moon Titan as photographed by the Cassini
orbiter in a recent flyby. (NASA)
December 25, 2004 - The European Space Agency’s Huygens probe was successfully released by NASA’s Cassini orbiter early this morning and is now on a controlled collision course toward Saturn’s largest and most mysterious moon, Titan, where on 14 January it will make a descent through one of the most intriguing atmospheres in the solar system to an unknown surface.
The separation occurred at 02:00 UTC (03:00 CET): A few minutes after separation, Cassini turned back to Earth and relayed back information about the separation. This signal then took 1 hour and 8 minutes to cross the 1.2 billion kilometers separating the Cassini spacecraft and Earth.
“Today’s release is another successful milestone in the Cassini/Huygens odyssey”, said Dr David Southwood, ESA’s Director of Science Programs. “This was an amicable separation after seven years of living together. Our thanks to our partners at NASA for the lift. Each spacecraft will now continue on its own but we expect they’ll keep in touch to complete this amazing mission.
"Now all our hopes and expectations are focused on getting the first in-situ data from a new world we’ve been dreaming of exploring for decades”.
Final stage of a seven-year odyssey
Artist's impression of the Huygens probe
entering the upper layers of the moon
Titan's atmosphere at 22, 000 kilometers
per hour. (ESA /D. DUCROS)
The Cassini/Huygens mission, jointly developed by NASA, ESA and the Italian space agency (ASI), began on 15 October 1997, when the composite spacecraft were launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, atop a Titan 4B/Centaur vehicle. Together, the two probes weighed 5548 kg at launch and became the largest space mission ever sent to the outer planets. To gain sufficient velocity to reach Saturn, they had to conduct four gravity-assist maneuvers by flying twice by Venus, once by the Earth and once by Jupiter. On 1 July Cassini/Huygens eventually became the first spacecraft to enter an orbit around Saturn.
On 17 December, while on its third orbit around the ringed planet, the Cassini orbiter performed a maneuver to enter a controlled collision trajectory towards Titan. As planned, a fine tuning of the trajectory took place on 22 December to place Huygens on its nominal entry trajectory. While Huygens will remain on this trajectory till it plunges into Titan’s atmosphere on 14 January, the orbiter will perform a deflection maneuver on 28 December to avoid crashing onto the moon.
Today’s separation was achieved by the firing of pyrotechnic devices. Under the action of push-off springs, ramps and rollers, the probe was released at a relative velocity of about 0.3 m/s with a spin rate of 7 rpm. Telemetry data confirming the separation were collected by NASA’s Deep Space Network stations in Madrid, Spain and Goldstone, California, when the telemetry playback signal from Cassini eventually reached the Earth.
The Huygens probe is now dormant and will remain so for its 20-day coast phase to Titan. Four days before its release, a triply-redundant timer was programmed in order to wake-up the probe’s systems shortly before arrival on Titan.
The Huygens probe slows to about 1400
kilometers per hour in less than two
minutes, thanks to the friction of the
front heatshield with the atmospheric
gas. The temperature of the gas in the
shock wave in front of the heatshield
may reach 12 000°C, with the shield
itself reaching 1800°C. (ESA /D. DUCROS)
Exploring Titan’s atmosphere
Huygens is scheduled to enter Titan’s atmosphere at about 09:06 UTC (10:06 CET) on 14 January, entering at a relatively steep angle of 65° and a velocity of about 6 km/s. The target is over the southern hemisphere, on the day side. Protected by an ablative thermal shield, the probe will decelerate to 400 m/s within 3 minutes before it deploys a 2.6 m pilot chute at about 160 km. After 2.5 seconds this chute will pull away the probe’s aft cover and the main parachute, 8.3 m in diameter, will deploy to stabilize the probe.
The front shield will then be released and the probe, whose main objective is to study Titan’s atmosphere, will open inlet ports and deploy booms to collect the scientific data. All instruments will have direct access to the atmosphere to conduct detailed in-situ measurements of its structure, dynamics and chemistry.
Imagery of the surface along the track will also be acquired. These data will be transmitted directly to the Cassini orbiter, which, at the same time, will be flying over Titan at 60 000 km at closest approach. Earth-based radio telescopes will also try to detect the signal’s tone directly.
After 15 minutes, at about 120 km, Huygens will release its main parachute and a smaller 3 m drogue chute will take over to allow a deeper plunge through the atmosphere within the lifetime of the probe’s batteries.
The descent will last about 140 minutes before Huygens impacts the surface at about 6 m/s. If the probe survives all this, its extended mission will start, consisting in direct characterization of Titan’s surface for as long as the batteries can power the instruments and the Cassini orbiter is visible over the horizon at the landing site, i.e. not more than 130 minutes.
Equipped with a variety of scientific sensors, the Huygens probe will
spend 2-2.5 hours descending through Titan's dense, murky atmosphere
of nitrogen and carbon-based molecules, beaming its findings to the
distant Cassini orbiter overhead. (NASA)
At that time, the Cassini orbiter will reorient its main antenna dish toward Earth in order to play back the data collected by Huygens, which will be received by NASA’s 70-m diameter antenna in Canberra, Australia, 67 minutes later.
Three playbacks are planned, to ensure that all recorded data are safely transmitted to Earth.
Then Cassini will continue its mission exploring Saturn and its moons, which includes multiple additional flybys of Titan in the coming months and years.
A probe deep into space and time
Bigger than Mercury and slightly smaller than Mars, Titan is unique in having a thick hazy nitrogen-rich atmosphere containing carbon-based compounds that could yield important clues about how Earth came to be habitable. The chemical makeup of the atmosphere is thought to be very similar to Earth’s before life began, although colder (-180°C) and so lacking liquid water.
The in-situ results from Huygens, combined with global observations from repeated flybys of Titan by the Cassini orbiter, are thus expected to help us understand not only one of the most exotic members of our Solar System but also the evolution of the early Earth's atmosphere and the mechanisms that led to the dawn of life on our planet.
European Space Agency - http://www.esa.int
NASA Space Quiz
Hey, spaceman! NASA has a new, neat space quiz on their homepage in Flash and HTML versions.
Find out how much you really know about outer space and how much you just think you know from watching Star Trek reruns!
NASA Space quiz - http://planetquest.jpl.nasa.gov/PQquiz_launch_page.html
|Farscape's Ben Browder and SG-1's Michael Shanks |
Vancouver December 22, 2004 (Sci Fi Wire) - Stargate SG-1 star Michael Shanks told SCI FI Wire that he was pleased to hear that Farscape's Ben Browder would be joining the cast of the SCI FI Channel series when it kicks off its ninth season next year.
"I'm a big fan of stirring the pot," Shanks said in an interview. "Not that we've become complacent, but I'm a big fan of introducing new elements."
Browder joins the cast as a new character, a seasoned lieutenant colonel who becomes the latest member of SG-1.
"We've worked on the show for many years, and we've worked with the same three other actors," Shanks said, referring to co-stars Amanda Tapping, Christopher Judge and Richard Dean Anderson.
"If it's just those four people on the screen, yeah, we could have a great rapport, but when you introduce a new element you always have that inhale of breath. It's like, 'Ooh, what's this going to do?' That's what guest stars are for. You get complacent when you sit on your butt too long and you work with the same group of people. You get used to the dynamic, and you get spoiled and lazy.
Ben Browder on Farscape
"I think introducing a new element tests you, and it also shakes it up a little bit. And I think, without taking anything too much away, the introduction of a new person is going to up the stakes and sort of have everybody doing a tap dance to figure out where this is all going to fit."
SCI FI no doubt hopes that Browder's presence will both attract new viewers to the show and keep SG-1 fans—particularly those who've bemoaned the decreased presence of Anderson—in the fold.
But Shanks insisted that that end of the equation was not his concern.
"Whether Ben brings a SF cachet to the table, ... I don't care," he said. "That's not my business to worry about whether or not he's going to bring in viewers. My job is to find out how we can work together and how it's going to be positive and what kinds of good stories we can tell. If his reputation in that regard is spot-on, that's all I care about, and it sounds like he's got a positive reputation."
The remaining new episodes of Stargate SG-1's eighth season kick off Jan. 21, 2005, in a new Friday 8 p.m. ET/PT timeslot, followed by the new episodes of Stargate Atlantis at 9 p.m. and the new original series Battlestar Galactica at 10 p.m.
The ninth season of SG-1 will begin airing in the summer.
Stargate SG-1 - http://www.scifi.com/stargate
Farscape Official - http://www.farscape.com
WB Smallville Sweepstakes
Win Clark and his pals (WB)
December 24, 2004 (eXoNews) - The WB doesn't want you to forget Smallville while your favorite TV superhero and his pals are on holiday so they have launched a new Smallville Sweepstakes with a Season 3 DVD Box set as part of the grand prize.
The DVD Sweepstakes began on November 12, 2004 and ends December 30, 2004.
To enter the Smallville DVD Sweepstakes, go to www.smallvilledvd.com/sweeps
25 grand prize winners will receive each of the following: a Smallville Season 3 DVD; Smallville 2005 Wall Calendar; Smallville: "City" by Warner Books; Smallville Comic Book by DC Comics; The Official Smallville Magazine (Issues #1&2) by Titan Books; and The Official Season #1 Smallville Companion Guide by Titan Books.
Smallville Official - http://www.thewb.com/Shows/Show/0,7353,||126,00.html
CBS Finds Elvis
NEW YORK December 22, 2004 (AP) - Irish actor Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, who played the soccer coach in 2002's "Bend It Like Beckham," will star as Elvis Presley in a four-hour miniseries to air on CBS.
The fact-based drama will also star Camryn Manheim ("The Practice") as Presley's mother, Gladys, and Randy Quaid ("LBJ: The Early Years") as his manager, Col. Tom Parker, the network said Tuesday.
Rose McGowan ("Charmed") will play Ann-Margret, the actress who co-starred with Presley in the 1964 film "Viva Las Vegas."
The miniseries, titled "Elvis," is being made with the cooperation and participation of the Elvis Presley estate and will include actual master recordings of Presley's most famous hits, CBS said in a statement.
Point Pleasant and More New Genre Shows Ahead
BY JOSEF ADALIAN
Marti Noxon's Point Pleasant
premieres in January on Fox
Hollywood December 20, 2004 (Variety) The Big Six are getting ready to unleash a slew of skeins designed to scare the hell out of viewers.
With ABC's creepy-crawly drama "Lost" already a ratings hit, next year promises to bring at least three new network dramas designed to produce chills.
Next month, Fox unleashes "Point Pleasant," a sort of "Omen" meets "The OC" centered around a teen girl whose dad just happens to be Satan.
Also in January, Glen Gordon Caron ("Moonlighting") returns to TV with "Medium," which features Patricia Arquette as a psychic cop who sees dead people.
And later this season, NBC will unleash "Revelations," a six-hour end-of-days biblical thriller that could become a series.
Webheads are forging ahead with scream machines even though the genre's track record on the small screen is, well, scary.
"That whole thing about comedy being the hardest thing is true, but doing scary television is also pretty difficult," says former "X-Files" exec producer Frank Spotnitz.
Indeed, except for "The X-Files," there have been few successful straight-ahead spine-tinglers on network TV in the past decade.
The producers behind "The Blair Witch Project" tried to translate their style to the small screen with "Freakylinks," but it bombed. Ditto shows such as "Wolf Lake," "American Gothic" and "Prey," not to mention "X-Files" spinoff "Millennium."
Patricia Arquette as a psychic cop
in NBC's Medium
And while movie auds seem to flock to any title in a horror franchise --- ergo, "Jason X" --- brand names don't guarantee success in TV. Two reinventions of "The Twilight Zone" have failed in the past two decades, while a remake of "Dark Shadows" couldn't get past the pilot stage at the WB earlier this year.
Compared with horror features, "It's doubly hard to do something scary when it's on a TV (production) schedule and a TV budget," Spotnitz argues. The producer remains committed to bringing back scary TV, however: He's developing a new take on "The Night Stalker," the cult classic that inspired Chris Carter to create "X-Files."
Former ABC drama chief Thom Sherman, who developed "Lost," believes making primetime fright-time is tough because audiences aren't as willing to suspend disbelief with a weekly skein.
"There's no real natural franchise to a horror show," says Sherman, who now runs "Lost" exec producer J.J. Abrams' Bad Robot Prods. "People want to step into the shoes of characters who live in a real world place. The LAPD doesn't have a horror crimes division."
TV producers also can't simply resort to the blood-and-guts formula that packs 'em in at the multiplex.
For one thing, most advertisers don't want to hawk their wares in shows filled with bloody corpses. Audiences can also grow bored with shows that feature nothing but the cheap frights many horror features serve up so successfully.
"It's very easy to go, 'boo,' but if you go 'boo' all the time, it becomes routine," says NBC exec VP Ghen Maynard. "Stabbing someone in the heart doesn't work on TV."
Can TV horror work without her? Sarah
Michelle Gellar in hit movie The Grudge
Not to mention that in this era of FCC scrutiny, some things could have a tough time getting by network censors. Most TV series also can't match the big budget special effects viewers are used to seeing on the big screen.
"Because you don't have a lot of time or a lot of money, it becomes about scaring people with what they can't see (and) leaving things to their imagination," says Spotnitz.
"Lost" has used just that formula to find success this season, and the new breed of scary skeins seems to be taking a similar tact.
Rather than emulate the "Halloween" or "Friday the 13th" franchises, nets are hoping to tap into the aud that made moody thrillers like "The Ring" and "The Grudge" big hits.
No surprise then that Dawn Parouse, one of the exec producers of "Point Pleasant," says her show plans to stay far away from the monster-of-the-week format.
"One of our rules is you'll never see latex in this show," she says. "There aren't going to be people in makeup for a long time. The subtle stuff is much scarier."
Official Fox Point Pleasant site - http://www.fox.com/pointpleasant
20th Century Fox Point Pleasant Site - http://www.foxnow.com/pointpleasant
Mummy Meets 24
Arnold Vosloo (AFP)
LOS ANGELES December 21, 2004 (Hollywood Reporter) - South African-born actor Arnold Vosloo, best known for his role as villain Imhotep in the "Mummy" movies, has landed a recurring role on Fox's "24," playing the leader of a terrorist plot against the United States.
Also recurring on "24" this coming season is Jonathan Ahdout. The actor, who played Shohreh Aghdashloo's son in last year's feature "House of Sand and Fog," will once again play the actress' son on "24." On the show, Aghdashloo plays the wife of a Middle Eastern businessman (Nestor Serrano).
The fourth season of "24" kicks off on Jan. 9 at 8 p.m. ET/PT with a two-hour episode that will be repeated the next day.
24 then begins its regular Monday night run on Fox January 17th.
Who's Your Daddy Now?
By Jill Serjeant
LOS ANGELES December 22, 2004 (Reuters) - Plans to air a television game show in which an adopted woman picks out her father from a panel of impostors have thousands of people deluging Fox TV with letters and e-mails to get the show shelved.
The "Who's Your Daddy?" show, in which a young woman given up for adoption as a child gets a $100,000 prize for picking out her biological father from a line-up, is the latest in America's obsession with reality TV programming.
News of the show sparked both a grass-roots campaign among adoptive parents and protests from national adoption organizations who called the idea offensive, voyeuristic and exploitative. Six episodes have been filmed but so far only one has been scheduled for broadcast, on Jan. 3.
Fox, a unit of News Corp. Inc., has yet to respond directly to its critics but said in a statement that although the title was "attention-grabbing" it was not indicative of the content.
Deborah Capone, a single mother with a 5-year-old adopted daughter, is behind an e-mail campaign that has generated more than 5,000 messages to Fox in a week asking for a meeting and for the show to be axed.
Daddy hosts Finola Hughes (L) and T.J. are
shown in a publicity photo. (Fox via Reuters)
"By turning adoption reunions into a game show, 'Who's Your Daddy?' takes an intensely personal and complex situation ... and transforms it into a voyeuristic display," Capone said.
Capone said she was astounded at the response although she has heard nothing from Fox. She next plans to encourage her supporters to target potential advertisers and Fox TV affiliates to persuade them to abandon the show.
Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, wrote to Fox describing the show as "destructive, insensitive and offensive" to the tens of millions of Americans with adoption in their families.
"The very idea of taking such a deeply personal, complex situation and turning it into a money-grubbing game show is perverse, destructive and insensitive to others," he wrote.
Kevin Healey, one of the show's executive producers, said he was taken aback by the reaction given the fact that the participants, their biological parents, and their adoptive parents were all willing and informed.
"Knowing what we did and the lives that we changed for the positive, I was very surprised. I expected there to be a reaction to the title but I felt people would watch it and then make their decisions," Healey told Reuters.
Healey said the idea was inspired by a friend who is adopted. "It came from a very pure place not from a place of trying to embarrass or harm anyone," he said.
Reality programming, in which ordinary people put themselves in embarrassing or emotionally charged situations, has dominated American television for the past three years, producing efforts such as "Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire," "Survivor," "My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiancé" and "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy."
UK Variety Shows Get Top Ratings
BY STEVE CLARKE
Bruce Forsyth hosts BBC's Strictly Come Dancing (BBC)
London December 20, 2004 (Variety)- Mass-appeal Saturday night TV, apparently killed off by the lure of digital media and the reality boom, is back from the brink after years of high-profile expensive flops.
The reason? An old-fashioned cocktail of wholesome entertainment that has more in common with the golden age of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers than today's abrasive and often voyeuristic forms of popular entertainment.
The weekend before last, a third of the U.K. population (21 million plus) tuned in to watch the final episodes of two new shows that have confounded the expectations of industryites and commentators alike.
"When I told colleagues that I wanted to do a show that revolved around couples competing in a ballroom-dancing competition, they thought I was mad," says BBC entertainment topper Wayne Garvie.
But Garvie and the fancy footwork of his show, "Strictly Come Dancing," based on a format first screened in 1950, has provided a much-needed hit for BBC1, the pubcaster's faltering terrestrial flagship.
In the show, which bowed last summer, celebrities including soap stars and comedians team up with professional dancers, with the pairs voted off by audiences week by week.
Hosted by septuagenarian Bruce Forsyth, who cut his teeth in legit variety shows before breaking into TV in the 1950s, the show has appeal that has stretched across a broad demographic.
The extraordinary thing about what pundits have hailed as the return of the TV variety show is that "Strictly Come Dancing's" success has been matched by another Saturday night vehicle, ITV1's "The X Factor," a talent show that, too, harks back to a more innocent age.
Pub and club singer Steve Brookstein
"'The X Factor' is a great big entertainment spectacular that contains elements of the old variety shows," says executive producer Claire Horton. "People say it's a reality show (viewers vote 'Idol'-style for their favorite act), but I think it's a traditional entertainment show."
As proof of the show's diversity, pub and club singer Steve Brookstein beat classical quartet G4 in the final to win a £1 million ($1.9 million) recording contract.
Co-produced by Simon Cowell's Syco TV and Fremantle Media subsidiary Talkback Thames, "The X Factor" is one of ITV1's few shows that are popular for 16-35 year olds.
At its peak, 11.2 million viewers tuned in to see "EastEnders" star Jill Halfpenny and her pro partner Darren Bennet win "Strictly Come Dancing" with 10.5 million opting for "The X Factor."
In Blighty "Strictly Come Dancing's" popularity has even led to a boom in dance classes.
But could the show work outside the U.K.?
"We've sold it in Australia, but it's not something that can succeed in every market," Garvie admits. "Ballroom dancing is huge in Japan, so I think it could work there, but I don't think it's right for the French. It might work in the States, and I know people are interested there.
"When you get audiences like we've got for these two shows, it gives everyone who works in telly a real lift," he adds.
The X Factor Official - http://www.xfactor.tv
X Factor fan site - http://www.xfactorwatch.co.uk
New Tek for Couch Potatoes
By Paul J. Gough
Don't miss anything on TV!
NEW YORK December 23, 2004 (Hollywood Reporter) - Time Warner Cable is working on a way to solve a channel surfer's nightmare: Missing the start of a show.
The new service, tentatively called Startover, will allow viewers to run back to the beginning of any program that's currently on the air. Say a viewer happens upon a crime drama halfway through the hour, Startover provides the chance to see the show from the start. Running late? Start the show from its opening, as long as it's still being aired.
A test is planned in a TWC market sometime next year, a company spokesman confirmed Wednesday. But significant hurdles still remain for the project, which Time Warner Cable hopes can be overcome.
If launched, Startover would fall somewhere between the capability of a digital video recorder and video on demand for live TV. It would differ from a DVR in several ways. There wouldn't be a way to fast-forward through commercials or programming. And unlike a DVR that stores hours of programs on a hard drive in a viewer's home, Startover would store shows currently on the air at the cable head-end.
That would raise copyright issues that helped sink a high-profile Time Warner project, Maestro. That network-based DVR project came to an end last year; content providers were concerned about piracy of their programs from cable company servers, hurting sales of DVDs for instance. But some of Maestro's ideas live on in Startover.
"It's an outgrowth of some of the Maestro technology and the on-demand, VOD technology," a TWC spokesman said.
TWC would need to secure rights to be able to show individual programs not only in the current hour but the next hour as well because Startover could potentially begin playback of a show in the last minute of its televising. Plans call for only making Startover available on the shows where rights could be acquired. That could limit some of the programs available for rewinding; the identity of some rights-holders can be murky.
But that might not kill Startover. Deutsche Bank analyst Doug Mitchelson, in a note published this week, said that TWC is likely to go ahead with the service with whatever shows it receives permission.
"Given Time Warner's Warner Bros. is the largest producer of TV shows, we would expect TWC should have reasonable success getting a critical mass of product for Startover," Mitchelson wrote. An icon would alert viewers to whether the service would apply.
Not every TWC customer would be a candidate for Startover, either. TWC, like a lot of cable providers, has been going full speed ahead with the introduction of DVRs. The first TWC DVRs were introduced in summer 2002 in two markets; the last rollout was in September in Houston. There were 709,000 DVRs deployed among TWC subscribers at the end of the third quarter.
The non-DVR households who might be candidates for Startover would need two-way addressable set-top boxes. Deutsche Bank said that would be just under half of its basic-cable customers.
Marilyn Munster Sues
Debbie Watson (Taylor) back
in the day.
LOS ANGELES December 23, 2004 (Reuters) - The actress who played Marilyn Munster in the 1966 movie "Munster Go Home" is suing slot machine maker International Game Technology and others for using her image and voice without permission.
The actress, Debbie Watson Taylor, is seeking damages and attorney's fees as well as profits from sales related to the gaming machines. The lawsuit also names as defendants Universal Studios and Monaco Entertainment.
IGT spokeswoman Connie Fox said company executives had no comment on the lawsuit. Officials at Universal Studios, which is owned by General Electric Co., and Monaco Entertainment could not be immediately reached for comment.
In "Munster Go Home," like the popular TV sitcom on which it was based, the winsome character of Marilyn was the only normal member of an otherwise ghoulish suburban family headed by Frankenstein monster look-alike Herman Munster.
A similar lawsuit was filed in Nevada by three actors from the "The Munsters" television series: Al Lewis (Grandpa Munster), Patrick Alan Lilley, whose stage name was Butch Patrick (Eddie), and Pat Priest, who also played Marilyn. It was settled out of court last year.
Reno, Nevada-based IGT is the largest slot machine maker. In recent years, the company and rivals have increasingly turned to themes from television and movies for slot machines, including titles such as "Star Wars" and "The Addams Family."
In the movie, which features characters from the television show, Herman Munster, played by Fred Gwynne, discovers he is the new lord of Munster Hall in England.
[Debbie went by just Watson in the 1960s and was also known for her role as TV's "Tammy". Ed.]
Musters Official site - http://www.munsters.com
International Game Technology - http://www.igt.com