The Martian Is Trying Hard To Make You Wonder If It’s A Documentary

The Martian is a film scheduled to premiere in the United States on October 2.  Based on the book by Andy Weir, the film stars Matt Damon as an astronaut involved in a Mars mission who has to stay on the Red Planet much longer than expected.  NASA has been a big booster of the project, moreso (to my recollection) than other recent space-oriented films.

This video about the mission in the film further blurs the distinction between fictional story and current space enthusiasm.

How many of you thought, if only for a few seconds, that this was a real episode of Star Talk or COSMOS?  I did.

It’s a beautiful piece of work (much like the clips of the movies shown so far), and I can certainly see some people considering it an excellent advertisement for a future mission.  Unfortunately, for all the wonder it may inspire, that’s not going to be enough to get people there.  Even with a ‘decades-long space race’ like the one described in the video.

I think those that would expect The Martian to be the NASA equivalent of what Top Gun did for the Navy are going to be disappointed.  Making movies is hard work, but it’s not the same kind of hard work that it will take to generate the political will to make the necessary investments.

Kidman To Topline West End Production Of Photograph 51

Photograph 51 is a stage play about the role Rosalind Franklin played in the discovery of the shape of DNA, and how her contributions were downplayed.  Written by Anna Ziegler and first produced in 2008, the play has been produced several times since.  A notable production was during the 2011 World Science Festival, where James Watson joined Ziegler and other biologists to discuss the film.  Ziegler’s work has received attention from the Sloan Foundation, which supports science and technology themed plays and other stories.  This includes a grant to develop a screenplay of the film.

Photograph 51 will be at the Noël Coward Theatre in the West End of London starting on September 5, with Nicole Kidman playing Franklin.  It marks the first London stage performance by Kidman since 1998, and is scheduled to run through November 21.  Here’s a glimpse of Kidman as Franklin in this promotional video:

Informed Consent Teases Out Research Ethics On The Stage

Informed Consent is currently in its New York premiere run at the Duke at 42nd Street through September 13.  The play was written by Deborah Zoe Laufer and is a fictionalized drama about the case of the Havasupai Tribe in Arizona and its lawsuit against researchers at Arizona State University.  The case concerns the use of blood samples taken from tribe members by the researchers.  While the samples were taken voluntarily for the purposes of a diabetes study, the use of these samples in subsequent research prompted the lawsuit.  (The lawsuit eventually ended in an out-of-court settlement, not the most dramatically satisfying of conclusions.)

Laufner was featured on a recent segment of Science Friday, where she talked with Ira Flatow about the play, the case, and the ethics involved in genetic research, informed consent, properly managing genetic data, and issues of identity.  While the court case started over 25 years ago, the challenges of determining how to practically ensure ethically-informed consent for the drawing of samples and use of genetic information.  The ultimate resolution of the case prevented the establishment of relevant case law to inform subsequent court cases.

The court case also raised an issue about genetic migration studies.  Determining the genetic ancestry of individuals can conflict with family and/or cultural understanding of where people came from.  And while individuals being tested might accept such a conflict, there are others who would be exposed to the conflict that were not consulted about the testing.  Figuring out how to set boundaries in such matters is something worthy of consideration by the Presidential Commission for the Study of Biomedical Issues.

But none of that necessarily makes for a good play.  Readers in the New York area (or visiting) still have a few days to check out Informed Consent.

Carl Sagan May Get Major Studio Treatment

I recently noted the successful Kickstarter campaign to support a documentary on Bill Nye, the Planetary Society CEO and Science Guy.  Like Neil deGrasse Tyson, Carl Sagan was an influence on Nye, and it makes sense that a film on Sagan has attracted interest.  (No word yet on a Tyson documentary, and I don’t know one way or the other if Tyson would be so inclined.)

Variety reported last week that the Warner Bros. studio has expressed interest in a film on Sagan’s life (the studio also produced the movie based on Sagan’s novel Contact).  Sagan’s widow Ann Druyan will produce, along with Lynda Obst.  Obst was a producer on the Christopher Nolan film Interstellar as well as Contact.  Druyan was heavily involved with the 2014 edition of Cosmos.  Zach Dean has been attached to the project as writer (though it’s not unheard of for a film to change writers between the beginning of a project and the start of principal filming).  His major screenwriting credit to date is the crime drama Deadfall.

This arrangement also means that the film would be along the lines of The Theory of Everything or The Imitation Game.  In other words, a film focused on the life of a scientist that will serve the story first.  How it treats the history will be uncertain, and could undercut whatever interest comes from the scientific community when its heroes are chronicled.

Science With Tom Looking For Feedback

Tom McFadden is, by day, a middle school science teacher.  But since long before he stepped in front of a classroom, he has been a science rapper (the nom de rhyme here is the Gift of GBA).

I’ve posted about Tom for a while, including his crowdfunded BRAHE’S Battles series and his Science Rap Academy.  He has a couple of current projects that would benefit from additional pairs of eyes.

First is the pending launch of his Science With Tom video series.  This is not to be confused with his Science x (Times) Rhymes or Science Rap Academy series.  It will not be a music-centric program, but a means of showing people what scientists do and who they are.  The program will do this in a fashion that demonstrates Next Generation Science Standards.  Tom would like feedback on the first episode and people to help spread the word.  If you’re so inclined, contact him through his website for more information (and just maybe an advanced look at the goods).

Looking further ahead, Tom is trying to get a panel at SXSWedu, an offshoot of the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin that focuses on education.  He’ll be there to promote Science with Tom and needs your votes to get a spot in the program.  Please vote online (registration is required).

BBC And PBS Collaborate On Live Nature Television From The Monterey Bay

Big Blue Live is a co-production of BBC Worldwide and PBS that will air in the UK starting next Sunday, and in the U.S. starting August 31.  The live broadcasts will focus on the Monterey Bay area and the aquatic life that usually travels through the region at this time of the year.  As befits a live event in this era, there will be opportunities to watch online and comment on the action via social media.  But with the staggered broadcast schedules (the event will end in the UK the night before it starts in the US), it won’t be quite as global as it could be.

The Monterey Bay is part of the eponymous National Marine Sanctuary, so the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will be part of the program, along with the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute and the Seymour Marine Discovery Center.  Parts of the program will air live from the deck of a NOAA research vessel as well as the aquarium.

Big Blue Live will air in the UK on August 23, 27 and 30.  In the U.S. it will air August 31-September 2, with live feeds for both the East and West coasts.

Some Science Shows Returning This Fall

Two science-themed programs will return for their second seasons in October.

StarTalk, the television edition of the StarTalk Live podcast/radio program hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson, will return to the National Geographic Channel (in the U.S.) on October 25.  Its second season will have 10 episodes, and include at least one more former U.S. President.  If you can’t get the show on your television, the episodes will likely end up on the podcast, as all of the first season episodes eventually did.  Announced guests include former President Clinton, fellow late night talk show host Larry Wilmore, and CEO of Mars One Bas Landsdorf.

WGN America starts the second season of its drama Manhattan on October 13.  The program is a fictionalized account of scientists at Los Alamos working on the first atomic weapons (the Manhattan Project).  The network recently released this teaser for the upcoming season, featuring some actors new to the show you might recognize.

No word yet on tie-ins between the program and the forthcoming Manhattan Project National Historical Park.