National Geographic Channel Gives Us A Night Of MARS

Last Night the National Geographic Channel debuted the first episode of it’s new six part miniseries “Mars” from Producers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer. Formatted as a dramatization of the first voyage to Mars the program adds in comments from some of the scientists and engineers who are working to make that first voyage actually happen.

In the first episode we were introduced to the international team of six men and women who will take the spaceship “Daedalus” to Mars. Last night’s episode concentrated in the difficulties and dangers of the actual landing on the red planet. Without giving away to much, a life threatening malfunction occurs, the mission commander is injured while fixing the problem enabling the Daedalus to land safely.

It appears to me that the plot for each episode will resemble last night’s in examining one aspect of the voyage to Mars, adding in an emergency and letting the crew survive by their technical skill and courage. My biggest criticism of last night’s episode would be the sound, with the crew’s helmets on and all of the background noise I never did get to hear what the malfunction actually was.

The interspersed comments from the scientists included Elon Musk the CEO of Space X corporation, Neil deGrasse Tyson the Director of the Hayden Planetarium and host of Star Talk, Andy Weir the author of “The Martian” along with my favorite astronaut (I met him once) Jim Lovell and a host of other scientists. In general the commentators succeeded in informing rather than interfering but towards the end I almost got the feeling I was watching a commercial for Space X.

We’ll see how future episodes go, I’ll certainly be watching. National Geographic has announced that they plan on producing more series like Mars and less of the the Tuna Fishing, Surviving in the wild with nothing but a camera crew to help type of reality show and I for one appreciate the change.

After the premier of Mars came the weekly installment of Star Talk with the aforementioned Neil deGrasse Tyson. Doctor Tyson’s guests were the aforementioned Andy Weil along with NASA Engineer Adam Steltzner the team leader on the Mars Curiosity Rover’s sky crane landing system and Jim Green, NASA’s lead planetary scientist. As you might guess the discussions were all about Mars without making an explicit tie in to the miniseries.

Television was once described by Newton N. Minow as a “Vast Wasteland”. Well last night the wasteland of Mars gave us some of the best TV I’ve seen in quiet a long while.

Star Talk with Neil deGrasse Tyson

Last night we saw the third season premier of Star Talk on the National Geographic channel with host Neil deGrasse Tyson the director of Hayden Planetarium. Basically a talk show in format and billed as “Where Science and Pop Culture Collide” the show is actually broadcast from the Hayden Planetarium and featured Pop guests Whoopi Goldberg and comedian Chuck Nice along with Science guests astrophysicist Charles Liu and neuroscientist Staci Gruber.

Now I’ll be honest, I think the show has a little too much Pop and too little Science but of course the show is intended to make science more accessible to the general audience and nobody is better at that Dr. Tyson. Still, you didn’t get to hear anything about Dr. Liu’s work on the evolution of galaxies and Chuck Nice, who was funny, interrupted the other guests a bit too often.

The first half of the program revolved around Whoopi’s starring on Star Trek the next generation and covered Star Trek and superheroes in general. The funniest moment came when Chuck Nice was doing some “nerd in the street” interviews and asked one gentleman “How does a nerd get revenge?” the answer was “You get your Ph.D. and you hire the people that bullied you!”

The second half talked about the uses of medical marijuana and consisted in Whoopi talking about how she used it and Dr. Gruber evaluating it versus the oxycontin and other opioids. Now, I’m not going to get involved in the argument about Marijuana so I’ll just say that Dr. Gruber did a good job of stating the case for reasonable use of ‘grass’ instead of many of the drugs now being overprescribed.

Personally I was a bit disappointed in the season premier of Star Talk but hopefully Dr. Tyson will soon move on to subjects more to my taste. Again, the biggest problem was simply that Dr. Liu had little to say aside from what a nerd he was and how much he liked Science Fiction. Maybe he’ll be back to talk to talk about the Cosmic Evolution Survey (COSMOS).

P.S. During the show there was also an ad for the new series (or miniseries) Mars that will premier on National Geographic channel on November 14. It looks good and I will certainly be watching and writing about it.