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[b]Discovery Lifts Off On NASA's 50th Anniversary Celebration[/b]
Discovery Communications launches its yearlong commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as Founder and Chairman of Discovery Communications John Hendricks headlines a gala celebration on Thursday, January 31, paying tribute to legendary newsman Walter Cronkite.
At the center of NASA and Discovery's partnership is Discovery Channel's landmark summer 2008 special event series [i]When We Left Earth: The NASA Mission[/i] airing on consecutive Sundays, June 8, 15 and 22. For the first time ever, audiences will see the space age come to life in vivid, completely digitally remastered high-definition television. Discovery painstakingly restored mission and training footage, making these national treasures available for future generations through the NASA archives.
The NASA/Discovery partnership includes these additional events and initiatives: [list][*][b]Science Matter![/b] a nationwide, multifaceted initiative aimed at fostering students' interest in science, presented by Science Channel and Comcast and kicked off in Huntsville this past month
[*]Extensive online offerings of archives and podcasts
[*][b]Science Channel's 2nd annual SPACE WEEK[/b], July 6-11
[*]NASA participation in Discovery's [b]2008 Young Science Challenge[/b][/list] [b]When We Left Earth: The NASA Missions[/b]
For 50 years, America has led the world in space exploration. Yet the boundless void that begins just 62 miles above us has been visited by no more than 500 people. [i]When We Left Earth: The NASA Missions[/i], a stunning high-definition series from Discovery Channel, opens up space like never before. The missions, the people and triumphs of exploration are revealed in a depth of detail previously experienced only by the astronauts themselves.
[b]Project Mercury: Ordinary Supermen[/b]
NASA, formed in 1958, one year after the launch of Sputnik, is leading the search for test pilots who have what it takes to enter the unknown of outer space. The seven men chosen to fly the Mercury capsule each know what it means to risk their lives. On average, one test pilot a week is dying in an air crash -- the danger of riding in a rocket will not faze these men.
Still, the first American in space will face a number of unanswered questions: Will a man in space be able to swallow food or drink? Will he go insane? Will he die from radiation exposure? Faced with fierce Soviet competition, the race is on to answer these and many other important questions. President Kennedy dares America to get to the Moon within 10 years, and early missions are critical steps in a process that will culminate in the ultimate goal of landing a human on the Moon.
[b]Friends and Rivals[/b]
NASA understands that getting to the Moon and back means mastering the art of joining two spaceships in space. With that goal, NASA begins a new program dubbed Gemini and for the first time will launch two men into space in a single spaceship. Gemini is charged with achieving an ambitious set of advanced space travel goals, from long-duration flights to space walks.
Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov completes the first human space walk in 1965, and astronaut Ed White becomes the first American to walk in space a few months later. Still, the challenges of rendezvous and docking with another spacecraft have yet to be accomplished by either NASA or their Soviet counterparts. In a bold, complicated mission, NASA plans for Gemini 6 to fly thousands of miles before catching up with an orbiting Gemini 7 in a breath-taking moment of space choreography. The Moon is in their sights.
[b]Landing the Eagle[/b]
In the summer of 1968 -- with the Gemini program having achieved its goals and the Apollo program in full swing -- NASA changes the mission of Apollo 8 to be the first manned flight to the Moon. Commander Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders become the first humans to leave the gravitational pull of Earth and see the far side of the Moon. The astronauts of Apollo 8 had traveled farther than any man had before, at 250,000 miles to the Moon and back.
On July 16, 1969, Apollo 11 lifts off for a lunar landing carrying Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins and good wishes from the world. The world awaits the crew's Moon fate: Will the lunar module sink into the dust? Will the crew be attacked by "lunar germs"? Will they be able to blast away from the lunar surface once the mission is completed? Four days later, the astronauts land on the Moon. It is NASA's finest hour and one of the most triumphant moments in world history.
[b]A Home in Space[/b]
As NASA's confidence grows, the tentative steps taken by Armstrong and Aldrin are overshadowed by the feats of Charlie Duke, John Young and Gene Cernan (among others), who race around the Moon on lunar rovers. Lunar missions become more ambitious, culminating in Apollo 17's three-day stay in the Sea of Serenity. But budget worries force the cancellation of the final three missions, and the end of the Apollo program brings a search for new objectives.
Man has orbited the Earth, walked in space, crossed from one spacecraft to another and even visited the Moon. NASA begins taking steps to further space exploration by sending Skylab into orbit along with a team of scientists. The Skylab mission would prove that humans could live and work in space for extended periods. U.S. astronauts are eventually invited to live aboard the Russian Mir space station, developing relationships in orbit long before the Cold War thaws out on Earth.
[b]The Shuttle -- Triumph and Loss[/b]
For 20 years, NASA had launched capsules carrying a maximum of three people -- drawn from an exclusive group of men, nearly all of whom are test pilots. The development of the reusable shuttle leads to a revolutionary approach to space travel. For the first time ever, groups of six or seven astronauts can fly into space at once.
Described as a butterfly on a bullet, the shuttle is first flown by John Young, the man who sat alongside Gus Grissom on the first Gemini flight. The pioneers of NASA's manned programs are leading the way into the modern era of the space age. Yet space travel remains as dangerous as ever, as demonstrated by the 1986 Challenger shuttle disaster and the 2003 Columbia shuttle accident. But the development of the International Space Station -- human beings' boldest collaboration in space hardware to date -- meant that the shuttle could not be abandoned.
[b]A New Space Age[/b]
Billions of dollars over budget and 10 years behind schedule, NASA launches the Hubble Space Telescope aboard the space shuttle Discovery. One of the most complex instruments ever built, and the latest in an illustrious line of unmanned space missions, Hubble is expected to transform our understanding of the universe. But nothing happens. NASA has a serious problem. It is discovered that human error is to blame for a defective main mirror on the orbiting telescope. Hubble, our all-seeing eye into deep space, is short sighted.
NASA decides to send the crew of space shuttle Endeavour to fix the problem. The mission requires months of intense training for the longest, most dangerous series of space walks of all time. It is NASA's greatest and most high-profile mission since the Apollo era. The mission manages to recapture the public's imagination, engaging people in space heroics like nothing since the Moon landings of the Apollo era. Our natural desire to explore and discover is back, and NASA plans to send men back to the Moon, Mars and beyond.
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