February 8th, 2011
10:31 PM ET

Star Wars: Legacy of the Force

You've probably seen the ad already. If you haven't, stop reading this and watch Volkswagen's Super Bowl commercial right now. Don't worry, I'll be here when you get back.

The ad stars a pint-sized Darth Vader as his attempts to demonstrate the power of the Force. If you don't fall in love with him in the ad, you might during Kristie Lu Stout's interview with the boy behind the mask, Max Page.

Max hasn't seen any of the Star Wars films yet; he's too young. The original film is 34 years old, after all. And yet it remains a cultural phenomenon. Why?


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Filed under: General • Personal musings • Space
January 28th, 2011
06:22 PM ET

Remembering Challenger

I get emotional every time I see images of Challenger exploding in the sky. The footage always feels fresh. Maybe that’s why I think I have memories of a day I was actually too young to remember.

NASA image

Seven crewmembers boarded Challenger on January 28, 1986. For the first time ever, one was a civilian. Millions of people tuned in to watch the launch on live TV. But 73 seconds after lift-off, something went horribly wrong. The shuttle broke apart, killing everyone inside.

President Ronald Regan best expressed the shock and sorrow felt after their deaths. "We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for the journey and waved goodbye and 'slipped the surly bonds of earth' to 'touch the face of God.'" FULL POST

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Filed under: Personal musings • Space
January 12th, 2011
06:19 AM ET

Meet a Planet Hunter

NASA’s Kepler mission has found the smallest planet outside our solar system. Its name, Kepler-10b, doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. But you’ll definitely want to remember it. Scientists are calling Kepler-10b the “missing link” in the search for Earth’s twin.

An artist's rendering of Kepler-10b. NASA image

That's because most discoveries have been large and gaseous planets... like Saturn or Jupiter in our solar system. But Kepler-10b is different. It’s rocky, like Earth, meaning we would be able to stand on it. There’s just one little problem. Kepler-10b has the right composition… but it doesn’t fall into what’s known as the “Goldilocks zone.” That would be an area that’s not too hot and not too cold.

Kepler-10b orbits 3.2 million kilometers away from its star. That's more than 20 times closer than Mercury is to our sun! Temperatures on this new planet can exceed 1,371 degrees Celsius,  hot enough to melt iron. Not exactly an ideal place for life as we know it... but we're getting warmer. (Unfortunately, too warm this time!)

So how do we know all this about an object some 560 light-years away from us? Listen to Kristie’s conversation with planet hunter Natalie Batalha below.

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Filed under: General • Space
January 7th, 2011
06:53 AM ET

Demonstrating the Deluge

Getty Images

 It's the size of France and Germany combined. It's the size of Texas. It's the size of Egypt.

All impressive facts to convey the scale of the flooding affecting northeastern Australia. But comparisons like these – thrown casually into a broadcast script – are now so commonplace that (in the words of an episode of Cougar Town I watched last night) the news becomes white noise. We work in TV, so we have a duty not just to tell people how big a floodzone is; we have a duty to show them.

News Stream prides itself on the strength of its visuals. And visuals are key when telling a story like the Queensland floods.

At the moment, floodwaters in places like the city of Rockhampton have reached a peak and have – give or take a few centimeters – remained at that peak for three days. They're expected to remain there for another week. It's safe to assume life is getting worse for the hundreds of people who've been displaced. Frustration, anger and exhaustion are sure to be on the increase.

But the numbers, the comparisons and the extremities in this story are going nowhere. So it's up to us as writers, producers and newsgatherers to take our output forward in an engaging way.

Thursday's News Stream offered an example of this. We've seen countless aerial shots captured from the skies above Rockhampton, Bundaberg and elsewhere. But we hadn't yet seen the view from further up. Thanks to our friends at NASA, we were able to demonstrate what three weeks of record rainfall looks like from space.

Here's the view of the Fitzroy River Basin on December 14:


And here's the same view on January 4:


There. That probably conveys more than saying something's the same size as somewhere half the world away, doesn't it?

But if you're going to do comparisons from space, it's pertinent to show how the situation has changed from a Queenslander's perspective.

We were fortunate that CNN meteorologist Mari Ramos drew our attention to a particularly eyecatching example.  The image below may look like your average estate agent web page, advertising a two-storey home in need of a spot of repair. "Roll up your sleeves," the site advises prospective buyers. "There's work to be done."

 Now have a look at this shot from Getty Images, taken this week:

Getty Images

As we stated on News Stream, the website might want to consider changing its health warning to "Roll up your trouser legs. There's even more work to be done".

The home described as being "a stone's throw from the Fitzroy River" has now found itself in the middle of it.

A useful exercise in comparison and a sobering depiction of the human cost of the Queensland floods, rolled into one.

Tune into News Stream today at 9pm Hong Kong, to see (and hear!) where we take the story next.

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Filed under: General • News Stream ephemera • Space
December 15th, 2010
03:06 PM ET

Ready for Liftoff

Crew members on the International Space Station are getting ready for some company. Three flight engineers are set to blast off from the Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Wednesday. Their total travel time, from launch to docking, will be 49 hours and 3 minutes.

Visiting a Cosmonaut museum (AFP/Getty Images)

It’s a long journey… especially when you consider the ISS is just about 320 kilometers (200 miles) above the Earth. That’s roughly the distance from London to Paris.  (It actually only takes several minutes to reach space.  It’s catching the ISS that’s the tricky part.)

The three new crew members of the ISS will include Russian cosmonaut Dmitry Kondratyev, Paolo Nespoli of the European Space Agency and NASA astronaut Catherine “Cady” Coleman.  They’ll spend the next five months there.

But of course, the preparation started long ago.  CNN’s John Zarrella has followed Cady Coleman's training for a whole year.

Zarrella will speak to Coleman live from the ISS on Wednesday, December 22.

A comment from Coleman's husband really struck me. He says, "I'm sustained through knowing this is what Cady wants to do. This is what she lives her life to do." Whether we're here on Earth, or hundreds of kilometers above it, that kind of passion is truly admirable.

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Filed under: General • Personal musings • Space
December 6th, 2010
03:06 PM ET

To Infinity and Beyond...

Something about space always sparks my imagination.  Maybe it’s because I grew up in Space City USA.  (That’s Houston, Texas, home of the Johnson Space Center… no matter what anyone from Cape Canaveral says.)

The idea of taking a trip to the outer limits of the atmosphere is thrilling.  But I’m starting to get a little impatient.  Spaceport America is still a ways from completion.  Its main occupant will be Virgin Galactic.  Tickets for just a few minutes in suborbit are going for $200,000!

I certainly don’t have that kind of cash lying around.  The Spaceport points out that the price of plane tickets have fallen in real terms over the decades.  But using its example of a 1950 Pan Am flight, that space jaunt would cost the equivalent of $21,000 by 2070.

Maybe I’ll be able to afford a jetpack?

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Filed under: Personal musings • Space
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