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Space: 1999

Week of September 13, 1999

This isn't really an astronomy Snack today, but the dates lined up so well I couldn't resist it! In 1975, a new science fiction series aired its first episode: ``Space: 1999''. The premise was that in the near future, humans had built a moonbase (called ``Alpha'') as well as a nuclear dumping ground on the far side of the Moon for nuclear reactor waste-products. For Some Unknown Reason (a plot device used over and over in the show) the nuclear dump built up a huge magnetic field, which exploded, hurtling the Moon out of Earth's orbit. image of show title

Why bring this 25 year old show up now? In the opening credits, they did an unusual thing: they included the actual date the show's events took place. According to the show itself, the date of the Moon's breakaway was September 13th, 1999. That's today! How could I resist?

I loved that show when I was young. It had rockets, and aliens, and just weird stuff all the time. Of course, it was also loaded with Bad Astronomy, but I didn't care about that at the time. Who cared if nuclear dumps don't explode magnetically like that, and if something like that really did happen it would vaporize the Moon rather than push it away, and that in 1975 we were nowhere near having a Moonbase at all anyway? I sure didn't; I loved the outer spaciness of it all (and who would have thought that the lead actor, Martin Landau, would eventually win an Oscar?). image of Eagle spacecraft

I've been accused here and there of taking the fun out of science fiction movies because I tend to critique the astronomy in them, but I don't intend to do that. I love science fiction movies, even when the science is bad (but not too bad, check out my review of the stinker ``Armageddon''). ``Space:1999'' was bad, sure, but it did something I still appreciate: it helped me along my way of loving space even more. These shows may not be all that accurate, but the good ones do promote an atmosphere of excitement about space travel and astronomy, and that's important.

Tonight as I write this, the Moon is new, and will wax to full over the next two weeks. When I look at it, I see a beautiful astronomical object, a piece of art, and a gateway to the stars. The problem is, also as I write this, the U.S. Congress is trying mightily to cut NASA's budget, and when I look at the Moon now I know that there's nothing on it but abandoned hardware and footprints. How long before we start making new footprints?

If you're a fan of the show and want to know more, surf over to The Space 1999 Cybrary, which has tons of links to the show. There is also a FAQ at The Catacombs. Another fun site is the Return to Moonbase Alpha.

©2008 Phil Plait. All Rights Reserved.

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