WASHINGTON -- Will the greenhouse effect that has swallowed Venus be Earth's fate? Will the sun expand and force man to migrate to distant planets? What are the profits and politics of space exploration?
'The Great Space Race,' a four-part series that debuts Wednesday on the Public Broadcasting Service (8 p.m. EDT), offers a close-up view of the players, the stakes and the ultimate goals of international space activity.
In final production when the space shuttle Challenger was destroyed Jan. 28, the first of the four weekly hour-long segments takes note of the tragedy.
The disastrous explosion, producer Jo Franklin-Trout said in an interview, illustrates the other aspects of the drive for space because 'within minutes, the Soviets, the Chinese sent condolences and offered to take up payloads for a small fee.'
Written, produced, directed and narrated by Franklin-Trout, an award-winning PBS producer, 'The Great Space Race' goes inside the secretive Chinese and Soviet space programs, as well as those of Europe, Japan and the United States, revealing both U.S. and Soviet plans now being formulated for mining operations on the moon, for Mars colonies by the year 2035 and for a new world of spaceplanes, spaceports, space hotels and other commercial operations.
And it examines the advances space technology is bringing to everyday life on Earth, as well as looking at the questions of life and death in the universe, the mysteries of our solar system, the origin of the universe, its fate and thus Earth's, and the possibility of life elsewhere.
The four segments of the project, underwritten by a grant from the Boeing Co., open with a look at what is happening now in space with 'The Payload in the Sky,' detailing how it may become a $100 billion-a-year industry by the turn of the century and examining the satellite business and revolutionary new goods that can be produced in the zero-gravity environment.
The zero gravity environment of the space shuttle also provides a look at the human side of space travel as astronaut Anna Fisher's earrings and heart-shaped locket on a necklace wander about seemingly on their own as she works in space.
'Unlocking the Universe' follows May 14, taking viewers on a journey through the cosmos and beyond, with some of the world's leading scientists offering a look at investigations that may uncover clues about the ultimate survival or extinction of our universe.
'The Earth Below,' scheduled for May 21, details the effect space technology has on Earth and how it may change life in years to come. Circling the globe with visits to Arctic villages, famine-stricken Ethiopia, the volcanoes of Hawaii and the planning rooms of the Soviet Union, the segment also shows how space technology was used in the operating room where President Reagan was treated after the 1981 assassination attempt.
And finally, 'The Next Civilization,' to be aired May 28, details how the Soviets and Americans agree that the era in which human life will remain confined to earth is coming to an end.
As former astronaut Neil Armstrong put it, 'The first Martian settlers have already been born. ... In the 21st century many Americans will be able to live (on the moon permanently) and others will later go on to settle Mars. It is time we recognize that the solar system is the home of mankind.'
Using state-of-the-art animation, the program illustrates lunar mining operations, space colony capsules and questions whether the bodies of moon and Mars dwellers will begin to evolve as experts have predicted.