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Promotional poster featuring a Daggerwrist.
|Starring||Various astronomers and scientists|
|Narrated by||John C. McGinley|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of episodes||1|
|Running time||2 hours with commercials|
94 minutes without commercials
|Original network||Discovery Channel|
|Picture format||1080i (HDTV)|
|Original release||May 14, 2005|
Alien Planet is a 94-minute docufiction, originally airing on the Discovery Channel, about two internationally built robot probes searching for alien life on the fictional planet Darwin IV. It was based on the book Expedition, by sci-fi/fantasy artist and writer Wayne Douglas Barlowe, who was also executive producer on the special. It premiered on May 14, 2005.
The show uses computer-generated imagery, which is interspersed with interviews from such notables as Stephen Hawking, George Lucas, Michio Kaku and Jack Horner. The show was filmed in Iceland and Mono Lake in California.
Alien Planet starts out with an interstellar spacecraft named Von Braun, leaving Earth's orbit. Traveling at 20% the speed of light (37,000 miles/s), it reaches Darwin IV in 42 years. Upon reaching orbit, it deploys the Darwin Reconnaissance Orbiter, which looks for potential landing sites for the probes. The first probe, Balboa, explodes along with its lifting body transport during entry, because one of its wings failed to unfold. Two backup probes, Leonardo da Vinci (nicknamed Leo) and Isaac Newton (nicknamed Ike), successfully land on the planet, and learn much about its bizarre indigenous lifeforms, including an apparently sapient species.
The robotic probes sent out to research on Darwin IV are called Horus Probes. Each Horus probe consists of an 8-foot (2.4 m) high, 40-foot (12 m) long inflatable, hydrogen-filled balloon, which is covered with solar receptors, a computer 'brain', a 'head' covered with sensors, and several smaller robots that can be sent to places too dangerous for the probes themselves. The probes have a limited degree of artificial intelligence, very similar to the 'processing power' of a 4-year-old. All the real thinking is done by a supercomputer in the orbiting Von Braun. The probes are programmed with different personalities; Ike is more cautious, while Leo is the risk-taker. The two probes are also equipped with a holographic message that will be projected to any sentient life found on Darwin.
After the two probes inflate their gas-bags, they encounter a voracious Arrowtongue and watch it pursue a Gyrosprinter. Later that night, the twins find the wreckage of Balboa and are ordered to split up, Ike studying the unique plant life and Leo going after big game. Ike's voyage takes him to one of Darwin IV's pocket forests, where he encounters a flock of Trunk Suckers and their predator, the Daggerwrist. Before his research is finished, a massive hurricane-like storm hits and Ike must take to the sky, launching weather balloons. Leo goes to the mountain ranges and finds a herd of Unths engaged in rutting-like behavior.
Afterward, Leo finds a pair of Bladderhorns engaging in combat. It tries to communicate with one, but a sonic ping interrupts the conversation and scares off the animal, and he is knocked out by a mysterious creature. Ike ventures to the meadows and gullies of Darwin IV, encountering massive Grovebacks and a herd of Littoralopes. Flying above, dangerous predators: the Skewers.
Leo gets destroyed by a mysterious and evasive creature, and Ike, ordered by the Von Braun to search for Leo's attacker, hopes to find a new sentient species. Ike's route takes him across perilous terrain, and across the Amoebic Sea in its quest for Leo. As it embarks on its journey, one of the Grovebacks seen earlier falls victim to a swarm of Beach Quills. Ike then finds a pack of Prongheads hunting a Gyrosprinter, and crosses the Amoebic Sea (which attempted to attack Ike), encountering a herd of giant Sea Striders.
Ike manages to find Leo after a harrowing experience with a Skewer which tries to attack it, but is killed by a spear thrown by the newly discovered floating Eosapien. Shortly afterward, Ike communicates with the Eosapien tribe and discovers that they are truly intelligent. Ike launches a camera disk to record the moment, or perhaps "to assess the threat" due to a third Eosapien appearing; however one of the Eosapiens mistakes it as an attack and destroys the camera disk. Before shutting down, the wrecked camera disk records the Eosapien tribe carrying Ike away.
Commentary from notable people discussing the details behind the fictional world of Darwin IV and the likelihood of extraterrestrial life in general is interspersed throughout the movie.
The following are the craft and probes that appear in the film:
The cruise speed of the Von Braun is 20% the speed of light. At this speed it reaches the planet Darwin IV in 42 years. The Von Braun, named after Wernher von Braun, has two primary propulsion systems: nuclear ion engines for low-speed maneuvers during the first year of spaceflight and an antimatter catalyst to accelerate to 20% the speed of light. Once in orbit it deploys the Darwin Reconnaissance Orbiter and the landing probes. It also has artificial intelligence computers to act as the central command for the mission. During the long cruise to Darwin IV, a metal-composite dust shield protects the spacecraft from interstellar debris. It is jettisoned before Von Braun brakes in orbit around Darwin IV. Finally, it has a 165-foot (50 m) diameter communications dish, deployed in orbit, for information transfer to Earth. It transfers a large amount of information via a laser beam at a frequency of 8 GHz in the X-band.
Darwin Reconnaissance Orbiter
The Darwin Reconnaissance Orbiter (DRO) was deployed in orbit around Darwin IV from the Von Braun. The spacecraft has a mass of about 5,000 kilograms. Unlike the nuclear-powered Von Braun, the DRO utilizes solar panels, capable of generating several megawatts for power. Its primary purpose was to look for potential landing sites for the Horus probes and to map the entire planet. After deployment, the DRO utilizes its own booster rocket to place it in the proper orbit. The DRO studied the planet for about 1 Darwin IV year (about 1.6 Earth years) to ensure the Horus probes would not land in unacceptable conditions. Instruments carried on the DRO include a synthetic aperture radar, a visible light camera, a near-infrared camera, and a spectrometer. The exact timing of the landings would be determined by computers in the Von Braun based on data from the DRO.
The Horus probes are used for the surface operations of the Darwin IV expedition. The Von Braun carries three probes. Each probe is essentially identical with the exception of their behavior and external color. Each probe is carried to the surface in a lifting body lander. The probes also have the intelligence on par with a 4 year old child.
Probe Balboa, named after Vasco Núñez de Balboa, was the first probe launched to explore Darwin IV. However, it experienced a malfunction while the two small wings/fins were unfolding. When it entered Darwin IV's atmosphere, non-heat-resistant material which was exposed caught fire, leading to the breakup of the craft. If Probe Balboa's entry into Darwin IV atmosphere is watched carefully, it can be seen that the right wing/fin does not extend and lock into place. Probe Balboa was never given a nickname. It was the shortest lasting probe, since it was never activated. Its color is red.
Probe Da Vinci
Probe Leo, named after Leonardo da Vinci, was the second probe to attempt landing on Darwin IV, which was a success. Leo was programmed to take risks and be adventurous, and study animal life. It explored the planet for several days before it went offline due to an Eosapien attack. It came back online momentarily, launching a camera disk, which disturbed the Eosapiens and provoked them to attack a second time. Leo never came back online. Its color is blue.
Probe Ike, named after Isaac Newton, was the third and final probe to land. He was programmed to be more observational and avoid risks. His first objective was the study of plant life; but Ike encountered many more creatures in the process. After Leo went offline, the Von Braun commanded probe Newton to search for Leo and to take more risks studying animal life. On the way, Ike traveled some distance and discovered several new aliens. Upon arrival at Leo's final transmission site, Ike was almost killed by a Skewer, but was miraculously saved by an Eosapien's spear. It is unknown if this was simply pure luck, or, as a genuine form of extraterrestrial intelligence, if it willingly saved Ike's life. Ike then showed the Eosapien the Earth communication message. Ike was surrounded by Eosapiens and launched its sixth and last camera disk. The Eosapiens thought the camera disk was a threat and attacked it and possibly Ike, thus terminating surface operations of the mission. If an observer looks carefully, they can see that Ike is last seen being carried away by the Eosapien tribe and is presumed to have been destroyed, although his true fate is still debatable. It was the longest lasting probe on Darwin IV. Its color is yellow.
The Horus probes (Leo, Ike, and Balboa) carry mini-probes to venture into places too dangerous or too small for the Horus probes. The spiders and disks can be collected and recharged, while the balloons cannot.
Camera disks are small, flying-saucer like disks that can be launched and fly at high speeds. The disks are equipped with two small cameras to record video. The disks were considered as threats by the Eosapiens (Probably because they see them as throwing weapons), and was the main culprit for the probe's destruction. Leo, Ike, and Balboa each have six of them.
Ike constantly launched camera disks to study life-forms.
Camera disks 1, 5, and 6 from Ike were destroyed by native life. They were lost to - Daggerwrists (Because it "wasn't interested in posing"), Sea Striders (One stepped on the disk by accident), and Eosapiens (They mistook it for a threat for some reason, probably seeing it as throwing a weapon). One of Leo's camera disks was destroyed by an Eosapien (Again, because the disk was mistaken for a threat).
Green weather balloons are used to help Ike, Leo, and Balboa analyze the current weather conditions. They are built with a sensor that tells the Horus probes what is going on. They also have a small camera. Unlike the camera disks and spider probes, the weather balloons are not retrieved for re-use. It's unknown if any of them got destroyed by some force.
These robotic spiders are four-legged, and are used to help the Horus probes.
- Natural History of an Alien
- Extraterrestrial - similar National Geographic Channel documentary program
- The Future Is Wild - documentary series on possible future evolution of life on planet Earth