In the last month of the space shuttle programme, Kevin Fong is granted extraordinary access to the astronauts and ground crew as they prepare for their final mission. He is in mission control as the astronauts go through their final launch simulation, and he flies with the last shuttle commander as he undertakes his last practice landing flight. Kevin also gains privileged access to the shuttle itself, visiting the launchpad in the company of the astronaut who will guide the final flight from mission control.
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.
Scientists have started looking to the heavens and wondering what the weather might be like on other planets. Today, we are witnessing the birth of extra-terrestrial meteorology. They began with our solar system, sending spacecraft to explore its furthest reaches, and now the latest telescopes are enabling astronomers to study planets further afield. Our exploration of the universe is revealing alien worlds with gigantic storm systems that encircle entire planets, supersonic winds and extreme temperatures. On some planets, temperatures are so hot that the clouds and rain are believed to be made of liquid lava droplets, and on other planets it is thought to rain precious stones. We thought we had extreme weather on Earth, but it turns out that it is nothing compared to what's out there.
How and when will the Universe end? Gravity and dark matter are poised to annihilate the Universe in a big crunch. Expansion and dark energy may tear it apart. Or, a phase transition could kill us tomorrow in a cosmic death bubble.