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Virgin Galactic Will Blast Stephen Hawking into Space

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Space travel is a very exclusive club, with just over 500 people in world history having been granted the opportunity to free themselves from Earth’s confines. If and when billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic adds to the number, Stephen Hawking will be on the passenger list.

In an interview with Good Morning Britain, the 75-year-old physicist said that Branson has invited him on the space company’s maiden voyage and that he has accepted.

“Richard Branson has offered me a seat on Virgin Galactic, and I said yes immediately,” he said. “I can tell you what will make me happy—to travel in space.”

Branson’s Virgin Galactic was conceived in 2004 as a way of commercial industry supplementing government-funded programs like NASA and allowing for private citizens to take sub-orbital flights. Branson originally promised the first flight would happen in 2007, but years of delays have pushed the date back. In 2014, co-pilot Michael Alsbury was killed during a test flight.

Branson is still actively working toward a start date within the next few years that would see passengers pay up to $250,000 a ticket in order to experience zero gravity. For the first official flight, Branson expects to be on board with family members—and, presumably, Hawking, although it’s unknown what kind of medical clearance Virgin Galactic needs or whether Hawking’s age or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) affliction would prove to be obstacles.

[h/t Independent]

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Deb Wright
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Animals
The ‘Yoda Bat’ Gets an Even Cuter Name
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Deb Wright

The fruit bat formerly known as Yoda has found its forever name. Scientists christened the happy tube-nosed fruit bat in the Records of the Australian Museum.

The genus Nyctimene comprises 18 species, all of which live in Oceania and southeast Asia. They’ve got bright fur and faces, and noticeable spots on their wings. They will do just about anything for a mushy piece of fruit.

The family tree is no stranger to memorable common names, with cousins like N. draconilla, the dragon tube-nosed bat, and N. masalai, the demonic tube-nosed bat.

But wacky names aside, it would be hard to spot the dragon or the demon amid a lineup of other Nyctimene species.

“Bat species often look similar to each other,” biologist and co-author Nancy Irwin of York University said in a statement, “but differ significantly in behavior, feeding, and history.”

The newest member of the family showed its smiling little face during a field survey of Papua New Guinea in the late 1990s. Surveyors brought the bat to Irwin, who suspected it was a separate species. For its wrinkly ears and sage but goofy smile, she nicknamed the bat Yoda.

To confirm that they did, in fact, have a new species on their hands, Irwin and her colleagues combed through the scientific literature and museum collections. They examined nearly 3000 bat specimens from 18 museums.

A happy tube-nosed fruit bat with her baby and a postage stamp featuring an illustration of an unknown tube-nosed fruit bat.
Happy tube-nosed fruit bat (L) and a postage stamp (R) showing an unknown Nyctimene species, because they all look the same.
(L) Nancy Irwin; (R) Illustration by Julie Himes.

Many years and many, many research hours later, Irwin and her colleagues can confidently say the Yoda bat is a species unto itself. But they won’t call it Yoda anymore—since, as Irwin points out, most local Papuans have never seen the Star Wars movies, and the word "Yoda" means nothing to them.

She went with Hamamas (a local word for happy) instead. Its full name is the Hamamas tube-nosed fruit bat, Nyctimene wrightae sp. nov. (new species). The species name was chosen in honor of conservationist and scientist Deb Wright, who spent two decades exploring and protecting Papua New Guinea wildlife.

“Until a species is recognized and has a name,” Irwin says, “it becomes difficult to recognize the riches of biodiversity and devise management. Fruit bats are crucial to rainforest health, pollinating and dispersing many tree species, therefore it is essential we know what is there and how we can protect it, for our own benefit.”

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entertainment
Hey Now! 15 Things You Should Know About The Larry Sanders Show
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HBO

In the late 1980s, comedian Garry Shandling was a recurring guest host on Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show. His work didn’t get him Carson’s chair, but NBC was impressed enough with his hosting abilities to offer him David Letterman’s seat when Letterman left Late Night. Ultimately, Shandling—who passed away unexpectedly in 2016—decided against taking NBC’s reported $5 million a year offer, forcing the network to famously go with a "30-year-old unknown comedy writer" named Conan O'Brien instead.

When CBS offered Shandling its own 12:35 a.m. slot soon after, the comedian realized he wasn’t someone that wanted—or needed—to be on TV every night. Instead, Shandling co-created The Larry Sanders Show with Dennis Klein, an HBO series that deftly parodied late night talk shows. Here are 15 things you might not know about the groundbreaking series, which debuted 25 years ago.

1. GARRY SHANDLING GOT THE IDEA FOR LARRY SANDERS FROM HIS PREVIOUS SHOW.

Concurrently with his guest hosting of The Tonight Show, Shandling starred in Showtime’s It’s Garry Shandling’s Show from 1986 to 1990, where the comedian played himself, often addressing both the studio audience and the camera directly. In an episode where Garry was a guest on a morning talk show (“Take My Girlfriend, for Example”), he realized that there could be a whole other show told from the television personality’s point of view.

2. JEFFREY TAMBOR MADE A DESPERATE MOVE TO GET THE ROLE OF HANK KINGSLEY.

After having what he felt was a good audition, Jeffrey Tambor found himself uncharacteristically calling Shandling hours later, saying that he really wanted to play his sidekick. Shandling told him that calling after an audition is exactly something Hank Kingsley would do.

3. ALBERT BROOKS'S DEFENDING YOUR LIFE GOT RIP TORN THE ROLE OF ARTIE.

Executive producer Peter Tolan thought lawyer Bob Diamond, the character Torn played in Defending Your Life, was similar to what they were looking for with Larry Sanders’ producer character, Artie. When Torn and Shandling first met, Torn wouldn’t read the script until the two first had some idle chatter.

4. THE "HEY NOW" EPISODE WAS ACTUALLY THE FIRST EPISODE WRITTEN AND PRODUCED.

When The Larry Sanders Show was on Netflix, “Hey Now” was correctly listed first. But when it originally aired on HBO, it was the last episode shown in the first season. Shandling credited Dennis Klein as the person who came up with Hank Kingsley’s classic Ed McMahon-ism.

5. THE CINEMATOGRAPHER SHOT ON ROLLER SKATES.

The talk show-within-the-show scenes were shot on four video cameras, and shown once a month to a studio audience. The scenes outside of the talk show were shot on film with three cameras in operation at once, with cinematographer Peter Smokler backpedaling on roller skates to shoot the walk-and-talks up and down the studio hallways.

6. THE ACTORS GOT TIRED OF CLEANING UP THEIR LANGUAGE.

Up until the halfway point of season two, actors would record a second take of finished scenes without cursing, so someday it could be shown in non-cable syndication. But they eventually grew tired of the extra work, leading to messier edits down the line when it was broadcast on IFC and Bravo.

7. EDDIE MURPHY WAS THE FIRST CHOICE TO PLAY THE GUEST ON HANK KINGSLEY’S HOSTING EPISODE.

The part in “Hank’s Night In The Sun” ended up being filled by Cheers star George Wendt.

8. JEREMY PIVEN LEFT THE SHOW TO STAR IN P.C.U.

Jeremy Piven, who played Sanders' head writer Jerry, was written off the show in the early season two episode “Larry’s Birthday.” Piven received Shandling’s blessing to leave. When his movie career didn’t get off the ground, he co-starred on the sitcom Ellen.

9. JANEANE GAROFALO LEFT LARRY SANDERS TO JOIN SNL.

Mary Lou Collins (played by Mary Lynn Rajskub) was promoted to the role of booker when Janeane Garofalo's Paula character was written off the show. Garofalo lasted less than one season on SNL, and later admitted that she regretted leaving Larry Sanders.

10. DAVID DUCHOVNY’S ATTRACTION TO LARRY WAS DUCHOVNY’S IDEA.

The X-Files star pitched the idea of his being sexually attracted to Sanders while the two were playing basketball.

11. SHANDLING WROTE THE JOKES MAKING FUN OF HIMSELF.

In the series finale, “Flip,” Sean Penn rips on Garry Shandling to Larry Sanders—which is the only time Shandling is ever referenced in the series. (Penn and Shandling had just worked together on the film version of Hurlyburly.) Shandling told The New York Times that he is the one who wrote the jokes about himself, as ''Nobody can write better jokes putting me down than me ... I know how to destroy myself."

12. DAVID LETTERMAN THOUGHT IT WAS VERY REALISTIC.

Letterman once told Shandling, “This show is like every day of my life.”

13. JOHNNY CARSON WAS SHANDLING'S DREAM GUEST.

While Shandling wasn't able to make a Carson cameo happen, he was told that Carson was a fan of The Larry Sanders Show.

14. BEFORE AGREEING TO PLAY BRIAN, SCOTT THOMPSON MADE SHANDLING AGREE TO THREE CONDITIONS.

The Kids in the Hall star said he wanted Hank Kingsley’s new assistant to actually like his boss (unlike everyone else), to not be flamboyant in his homosexuality, and to be Canadian.

15. IT FEATURED JUDD APATOW’S DIRECTORIAL DEBUT.

Judd Apatow was a writer and producer on The Larry Sanders Show when he directed the episode “Putting the ‘Gay’ Back in Litigation.”

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