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Cosmic Space

‘Space Hero’ aims for reality TV’s final frontier

Will “Space Hero” go where no reality TV show has gone before?

Twenty years after “Destination: Mir” promised to put the winning contestant of a broadcast TV competition into orbit, “Space Hero” aims to take advantage of new commercial spaceflight opportunities to follow through on that promise at last.

But cautionary tales abound.

“Destination: Mir,” created by “Survivor” producer Mark Burnett for NBC, fizzled out along with Russia’s Mir space station not long after the project was unveiled in 2000. A similar project, aimed at putting boy-band singer Lance Bass on the International Space Station, faded away in 2002 when producers couldn’t come up with the money.

The list goes on — highlighted by Mars One’s unsuccessful bid to get a Red Planet TV project off the ground, Burnett’s fruitless effort to create an NBC series focusing on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, soprano superstar Sarah Brightman’s abortive attempt to fly to the space station in 2015 and this year’s failure to launch for Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa’s space-based matchmaking show.

One British TV series, “Space Cadets,” told contestants that they were being trained for a space shot but actually set them up for one of the most elaborate hoaxes in television history.

This time will be different, said veteran entertainment industry executive Marty Pompadur, the chairman of Space Hero LLC.

“Space Hero is the new frontier for the entertainment sector, offering the first-ever truly off-planet experience,” Pompadur said today in a news release. “We aim to reinvent the reality TV category by creating a multi-channel experience that offers the biggest prize ever, to the biggest audience possible. Space Hero is about opening space up to everyone — not only to astronauts and billionaires.”

The show would trace the training of contestants for a spot on a spacecraft heading to the space station as early as 2023. Axiom Space, a commercial venture that has already struck a deal with NASA and SpaceX for a privately funded space trip, would be in charge of training and mission management. A global audience would cast votes to pick the winner, and there’d be live coverage of the 10-day space stay.

Space Hero says it’s currently in discussions with NASA for a potential partnership that would include educational initiatives. A countdown clock on the company’s webpage is ticking down to April 12, 2021, which marks the scheduled kickoff for the application process as well as the 60th anniversary of the world’s first human spaceflight.

The venture’s founding partners are Thomas Reemer, who has produced unscripted video programming in Germany; and Deborah Sass, whose career has focused on entertainment and lifestyle branding.

“When Thomas and I started this venture, we were very clear that there was nothing like it on the planet,” Sass said. “Today we have started our mission to find our distribution partner and are ready to take it to the next stage and get the world excited about Space Hero.”

The project is being produced by Propagate Content, a company founded by Ben Silverman and Howard T. Owens. Those executives have a storied pedigree in the entertainment industry, touching on shows ranging from “The Office” to an upcoming Eurovision spin-off series called “The American Song Contest.”

Will “Space Hero” succeed where past space TV projects failed? Those past efforts went by the wayside primarily because of a lack of funding. Potential distributors and sponsors have traditionally been chary about backing entertainment projects that could turn into a scrub — or, far worse, a Challenger-style tragedy.

Spaceflight doesn’t come cheap: The projected ticket price for flying commercially to the space station on a SpaceX Dragon or a Boeing Starliner is thought to be in the range of $50 million to $60 million, and NASA has said it’d charge roughly $35,000 a day on top of that cost for a space station stay.

But if projects that are already in the pipeline for space station stardom — such as Estee Lauder’s skin care ad campaign or the granddaddy of them all, Tom Cruise’s zero-G movie — turn into palpable, profitable hits, then it just might be time to put “Space Hero” on your appointment calendar for must-see space TV.

Update for 5 p.m. PT Sept. 17: I asked Hannah Walsh, who is handling public affairs for Space Hero, about the venture’s funding. Here’s her emailed reply:

“Space Hero is currently in the second stage of fundraising, which is exactly where they should be in the plan, and [they] are very comfortable with where they are in the process. Contracts have been signed with all partners and the next step is to evaluate the distribution offers and choose the relationship that best suits the project. Potential investors can find out more by contacting investment firm Gerald Edelman.”

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‘Cosmos’ author muses over possible worlds

Ann Druyan
Ann Druyan is an executive producer, writer and director of “Cosmos: Possible Worlds,” a National Geographic TV series premiering Monday. She’s also the author of a companion book, and the widow of astronomer Carl Sagan. (National Geographic Photo / Stewart Volland)

How many dimensions does the cosmos have?

If we’re talking about string theory, it could be 10, or 11, or 26 dimensions. But if we’re talking about “Cosmos,” the TV series made famous by the late astronomer Carl Sagan 40 years ago, there are now three dimensions.

It all started with the original “Cosmos: A Personal Voyage,” which brought cosmic topics such as stellar evolution and extraterrestrial life to prime-time TV in 1980. Eighteen years after Sagan’s death in Seattle, the show entered its second prime-time dimension in 2014 — thanks in large part to the efforts of Ann Druyan, Sagan’s widow and longtime collaborator.

Druyan served as an executive producer, director and co-writer for “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey,” which aired on Fox and the National Geographic Channel with astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson as host.

The series, which extended and updated Sagan’s original narrative with new discoveries and new graphics, was so well-received that it led to the third dimension. “Cosmos: Possible Worlds” preserves the metaphorical framework built all those years ago by Sagan and Druyan.

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Billionaire quits moonshot matchmaking TV show

Yusaku Maezawa
Japanese billionaire space enthusiast Yusaku Maezawa has broken up with AbemaTV, which was working on a reality-TV dating show focusing on his planned trip around the moon. (Yusaku Maezawa via Twitter)

It’s not you, it’s me: That’s basically what Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa is saying about his decision to end participation in a reality-TV matchmaking show that would have traced the selection of a woman contestant to accompany him on a trip around the moon.

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How the cloud lifts ‘The Expanse’ out of this world

Dominique Tipper on 'The Expanse'
Engineer Naomi Nagata (played by Dominique Tipper) watches a projectile whiz past her in an episode of “The Expanse.” Mavericks VFX was responsible for the whiz. (Mavericks VFX Photo)

It used to take a cast of thousands to create cinematic extravaganzas, but now the job can be done with a cast of dozens of artists and developers, plus thousands of cloud-connected computer servers.

The proof of that can be seen today in science-fiction epics ranging from “Star Wars” to “The Expanse.” And those shows merely hint at the beginning of a computer-generated revolution in visual effects, or VFX. Just wait until artificial intelligence hits its prime.

“That’s changing the game for all of us,” Brendan Taylor, president and visual effects supervisor for Mavericks VFX, told me. “That’s going to turn the VFX industry on its head in the next couple of years.”

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Blue Origin links space fiction and space facts

If “The Expanse” ever decides to shoot episodes of the science-fiction series on a Blue Origin spaceship, Wes Chatham is ready to go.

“I do think it’d be an excellent marketing opportunity to be the first show that shoots a scene in space,” said Chatham, who plays the role of a space jockey with a gruff exterior but a soft heart on the Amazon Prime Video series.

His comments came to light in a video documenting the “Expanse” cast’s visit to Blue Origin’s headquarters in Kent, Wash. That visit took place in March, but back then, all we had to go on were tweets from Chatham’s fellow actors. Today, Prime Video posted highlights from the visit to publicize next week’s Season 4 premiere. This’ll be the first season to have its first-run airing on Amazon, thanks in part to CEO Jeff Bezos’ intervention.

Bezos also owns the Blue Origin space venture, so it was an obvious move to have the “Expanse” cast and crew stop by during March’s tour of Amazon’s home territory. In addition to the show’s stars, the entourage included showrunner Naren Shankar as well as Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, who are co-authors of the “Expanse” book series under the pen name James S.A. Corey.

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Moonshot tales highlight little-known twists

Scene from "8 Days"
Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins (played by Patrick Kennedy) looks out at the moon in a dramatization that’s part of “8 Days: To the Moon and Back.” (BBC Studios)

Even after 50 years, it’s still possible to find new angles on one of history’s most widely witnessed events — as this year’s retellings of the Apollo 11 moon saga demonstrate.

The golden anniversary of the historic mission to the lunar surface in July 1969 provides the hook for a new wave of documentaries showing up in movie theaters and on video screens. Perhaps the best-known example is “Apollo 11,” which capitalized on recently rediscovered 70mm film footage from NASA’s vaults as well as 19,000 hours’ worth of audio recordings of Mission Control conversations.

But “Chasing the Moon,” a six-hour documentary series that premieres July 8 on PBS, freshens the Apollo story in different ways. Oscar-nominated filmmaker Robert Stone goes back to the roots of the U.S.-Soviet moon race and brings in perspectives that rarely get a share of the spotlight.

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Jeff Bezos’ worlds collide over ‘The Expanse’

Cara Gee in Blue Origin crew capsule mockup
Cara Gee, who plays a tough-as-nails spaceship captain on “The Expanse,” takes a seat in a mockup of Blue Origin’s New Shepard crew capsule. “No one asked me to wear this helmet on our tour of the facility,” she tweeted. “But here I am in a real life space chair.” (Cara Gee via Twitter)

Science fiction met space fact this week in the Seattle area when the cast of “The Expanse,” the science-fiction jewel in Amazon’s streaming-video crown, got a look at Blue Origin’s spaceship.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is the common denominator in the meetup: He personally engineered the sci-fi series’ shift from SyFy to Prime Video, and announced it onstage at a space conference last May while I was sitting beside him. Bezos is also the founder of Blue Origin, the space venture that is testing its New Shepard suborbital spaceship and gearing up to build its orbital-class New Glenn rocket.

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For UFO fans, ‘Project Blue Book’ rings all too true

“Project Blue Book” turns some of the best-known UFO tales into a TV series, starring Aidan Gillen as investigator J. Allen Hynek. (History Channel Illustration)

“Project Blue Book,” the History Channel TV series making its debut tonight, takes its inspiration from classic UFO cases of the 1940s and 1950s — but for UFO fans who gathered to watch a Seattle preview of the first episode, the show hints at the shape of things to come as well.

“You won’t believe how many productions are coming down the pike right now to basically red-pill the public,” Michael W. Hall, the founder of a Seattle-area group called UFOiTeam, said at the screening. “The truth is out there, and guess what? We’re going to have to ‘fess up to it right away.”

“Project Blue Book” fictionalizes the real-life X-files of pioneer UFO investigator J. Allen Hynek. So it was natural for.Hall — an attorney based in Edmonds, Wash., who styles himself as the “Paranormal Lawyer” — to put out the word to the more than two dozen UFOiTeam members to attend November’s movie-theater preview.

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How technology made 1968’s ‘Earthrise’ possible

Earthrise
Apollo 8’s astronauts were the first to witness Earthrise from lunar orbit, on Christmas Eve in 1968. (NASA Photo / Bill Anders)

It’s been 50 years to the day since Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders’ “Earthrise” photo changed our world forever, but that mission to the moon and back wouldn’t have happened the way it did if it weren’t for a giant leap in technology.

That comes through loud and clear in “Apollo’s Daring Mission,” a NOVA documentary making its debut on public television on Wednesday.

“NASA usually went step-by-step. In this case, they jumped three or four steps,” the 85-year-old Anders, who now lives in Anacortes, Wash., says during the show.

The Apollo 8 story usually spotlights the impact of Anders’ photos, which show our planet hanging over the moon’s surface, and the magic of the crew’s Christmas Eve reading from Genesis. Those moments get their due in “Apollo’s Daring Mission.” But the show focuses primarily on the engineering magic that opened the way for history to be made in 1968.

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Elon Musk and Mars take the TV spotlight

Elon Musk
SpaceX founder Elon Musk watches February’s ascent of the Falcon Heavy rocket in a scene from National Geographic’s “Mars: Inside SpaceX.” (National Geographic / RadicalMedia via YouTube)

Science fiction blends with fact in tonight’s double dose of Mars from National Geographic’s TV channel.

Truth to tell, there’s more fact than fiction: The first show in the double feature is “Mars: Inside SpaceX,” which wraps a tale of past and future space exploration around an inside look at SpaceX’s first Falcon Heavy launch in February.

Then there’s the season premiere of “Mars,” the semi-scripted, semi-documentary series that’s serving up a second set of six episodes.

Both shows are eye-openers.

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