It was 30 years ago that the first space shuttle, Columbia, was launched. It was such a triumph of technology, engineering and organization that it's easy to forget the programme was primarily the product of an economy drive. The disposable Apollo missions had cost billions. A reusable craft was deemed more expedient.
The episode, devoted to the planet Mars, begins with scientific and fictional speculation about the Red Planet during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds, Edgar Rice Burroughs' science fiction books, and Percival Lowell's false vision of canals on Mars). It then moves to Robert Goddard's early experiments in rocket-building, inspired by reading science fiction, and the work by Mars probes, including the Viking, searching for life on Mars. The episode ends with the possibility of the terraforming and colonization of Mars and a Cosmos Update on the relevance of Mars' environment to Earth's and the possibility of a manned mission to Mars.
Kevin explores and probes second by second what it takes to 'lift off' into space. With Tim only days into his six-month mission, he helps Kevin answer what keeps astronauts safe and on track as they are propelled into orbit. How do you control the energy of 300 tonnes of liquid fuel? What happens to your body if you don't wear a spacesuit? And how do you catch up with a space station travelling at 17,500 mph to finally get inside? With explosive live experiments, guest astronauts in the lecture theatre, and planetary scientist Monica Grady direct from the launch pad in Kazakhstan, we learn all this and more as those thrilling minutes of lift off are recreated.
Carl Sagan opens the program with a description of the cosmos and a "Spaceship of the Imagination" (shaped like a dandelion seed). The ship journeys through the universe's hundred billion galaxies, the Local Group, the Andromeda Galaxy, the Milky Way, the Orion Nebula, our Solar System, and finally the planet Earth. Eratosthenes' successful calculation of the circumference of Earth leads to a description of the ancient Library of Alexandria. Finally, the "Ages of Science" are described, before pulling back to the full span of the Cosmic Calendar. Note: This revised version of the series adds an introduction by Ann Druyan, in which she discusses some of the changes that occurred in the years after its broadcast.