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Carl Sagan’s Unmade Second Show

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Two weeks ago, 5.8 million viewers tuned in to watch the first episode of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s highly-anticipated Cosmos reboot. The late Carl Sagan hosted the series’ original incarnation, which consisted of 13 mesmerizing episodes that forever changed science journalism. But few people know that Sagan had yet another TV show in the works—one that regrettably never saw the light of day.

Cosmos: A Personal Voyage was an astronomical hit. After airing on PBS in 1980, the program won a Peabody Award, an Emmy, and (until Ken Burns’ The Civil War came along ten years later) became the most-watched series in the history of Public Television. Sagan had teamed up with writer Ann Druyan (soon to be his wife) and fellow astrophysicist Steve Soter to create the cosmic documentary. Pleased by their success, it wasn’t long before the trio began discussing plans for a sequel.

Eventually, they hatched a plan for a second show, one that would focus on the looming Cold War arms race [PDF]. Its predecessor had delved into topics ranging from the Big Bang theory to neuropsychology. This new collaboration, however, would exclusively cover nuclear physics and the ethics of atomic warfare. Sagan called the project Nucleus.

Hoping to capitalize on Cosmos, ABC eagerly bought the rights to its sequel, meaning that Nucleus would find an even wider audience. But problems began to emerge when ABC released a controversial made-for-TV movie called The Day After in 1983. During the apocalyptic film, an atomic bomb detonates over Kansas City, Missouri. What follows is a graphic montage of civilians being burned to a crisp, as you can see in this clip:

The Day After had a grim, anti-nuclear tone which became a political lightning rod for conservative organizations across the country. In the face of all this controversy, ABC began to have second thoughts about putting yet another program on the subject into its lineup.

Sagan’s ongoing feud with Ronald Reagan certainly didn’t help matters. The science communicator was intensely critical of the president’s "Star Wars" defense program and turned down several invitations to the White House.

But it was the Soviet attack on Korean Air Liner 007 that August that drove the final nail into the Nucleus coffin. Two hundred and sixty-nine passengers were killed in this assault, including U.S. Congressman Lawrence McDonald of Georgia. According to Sagan biographer William Poundstone, “The international incident seems to have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. ABC put Nucleus on the far-back burner and never brought it forward again.” 

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Space
SpaceX's Landing Blooper Reel Shows That Even Rocket Scientists Make Mistakes
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SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket launches.
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On March 30, 2017, SpaceX did something no space program had done before: They relaunched an orbital class rocket from Earth that had successfully achieved lift-off just a year earlier. It wasn't the first time Elon Musk's company broke new ground: In December 2015, it nailed the landing on a reusable rocket—the first time that had been done—and five months later landed a rocket on a droneship in the middle of the ocean, which was also unprecedented. These feats marked significant moments in the history of space travel, but they were just a few of the steps in the long, messy journey to achieve them. In SpaceX's new blooper reel, spotted by Ars Technica, you can see just some of the many failures the company has had along the way.

The video demonstrates that failure is an important part of the scientific process. Of course when the science you're working in deals with launching and landing rockets, failure can be a lot more dramatic than it is in a lab. SpaceX has filmed their rockets blowing up in the air, disintegrating in the ocean, and smashing against landing pads, often because of something small like a radar glitch or lack of propellant.

While explosions—or "rapid unscheduled disassemblies," as the video calls them—are never ideal, some are preferable to others. The Falcon 9 explosion that shook buildings for miles last year, for instance, ended up destroying the $200 million Facebook satellite onboard. But even costly hiccups such as that one are important to future successes. As Musk once said, "If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough."

You can watch the fiery compilation below.

[h/t Ars Technica]

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Space
Here's Where You Can Watch a Livestream of Cassini's Final Moments
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It's been a road trip like no other. After seven years and 2.2 billion miles, the NASA orbiter Cassini finally arrived at the Saturn system on June 30, 2004. Ever since, it's been capturing and transmitting valuable data about the distant environment. From sending the Huygens probe to land on the moon Titan to witnessing hurricanes on both of the planet's poles, Cassini has informed more than 3000 scientific papers.

It's been as impressive a mission as any spacecraft has ever undertaken. And tomorrow, Cassini will perform one last feat: sacrificing itself to Saturn's intense atmosphere. Project scientists are deliberately plunging it into the planet in order to secure just a little more data—and to keep the spacecraft, which is running low on fuel, from one day colliding with a Saturnian moon that might harbor life.

Because it won't have time to store anything on its hard drive, Cassini will livestream its blaze of glory via NASA. The information will be composed mostly of measurements, since pictures would take too long to send. Instead, we'll get data about Saturn's magnetic field and the composition of its dust and gas.

"As we fly through the atmosphere, we are able to literally scoop up some molecules, and from those we can figure out the ground truth in Saturn’s atmosphere," Scott Edgington, a Cassini project scientist, told New Scientist. "Just like almost everything else in this mission, I expect to be completely surprised."

The action will kick off at 7 a.m. EDT on Friday, September 15. Scientists expect to say goodbye to Cassini less than an hour later. 

While you wait for Cassini's grand finale, you can check out some essential facts we've rounded up from Saturn experts. And keep your eyes peeled for a full recap of Cassini’s historic journey: Mental Floss will be in the control room at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, to offer a firsthand account of the craft's final moments in space. 

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