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TV Programs

January - December 2003

Spies That Fly
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In the air war in Afghanistan, a 50-foot-wingspan plane known as the Predator flew high over Taliban positions, enabling U.S. commanders to direct lethal fire with pinpoint accuracy. What's different about Predator is that it flies by remote control, with no pilot on board to get in harm's way. In the wake of its success, the military is developing an incredible range of "smart" robotic planes, from tiny flyers that can fit in a pocket to soaring jets that fly halfway around the world. The next generation of pilotless planes will be capable of far more than aerial spying and in time may revolutionize the way we fight all future wars. In "Spies That Fly," NOVA presents the latest hot designs - including those from footage freshly released by the Pentagon - and reveals some newly declassified chapters from the exciting history of airborne spying.
Original broadcast date: 1/7/2003


Last Flight of Bomber 31
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A U.S. military team discovers the wreckage of a World War II bomber on the edge of a volcano in the remote wilderness of Kamchatka, Russia. Nearby are the remains of some of its crew. Who were these men and what was their role in the war? Is there any explanation for the crash? And what became of the missing crew members, listed as missing in action since 1944? Their families have had to live with decades of burning questions about the fate of their courageous sons—until now. Against a wild and hostile Russian wilderness, a team of aviation experts and forensic scientists sets out to reclaim an important piece of history and bring some much needed closure to seven American families.
Original broadcast date: 1/14/2003


Ancient Creature of the Deep
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The most famous "living fossil" is the coelacanth, a huge primitive fish once thought to have died out before the dinosaurs. NOVA tells the amazing story of its rediscovery in 1938, how live specimens were captured on video, and how new colonies of the ancient fish have recently been found, raising hopes for its continuing survival.
Original broadcast date: 1/21/2003


Battle of the X-Planes
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Two aviation giants, Lockheed Martin and Boeing, compete to build the next-generation fighter jet and win the largest government contract ever awarded. For more than five years, with unprecedented access from the Pentagon, NOVA followed the trials and tribulations of this neck-and-neck design war. The program gives a unique inside perspective on every phase of the competition, from design and assembly to the thrilling test flights and finally to the Pentagon's stunning announcement of the winner.
Original broadcast date: 2/4/2003


Mountain of Ice
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Mountaineers and scientists battle the snowy precipices of Antarctica's highest peak, the Vinson Massif. The film, shot in high-definition, is told through the voice of Jon Krakauer, mountaineer and bestselling author of Into Thin Air. His high-risk expedition to scale the icy peak is interwoven with the epic story of Scott and Amundsen's race to reach the South Pole in 1912. Krakauer examines why one team failed and the other succeeded, even as he battles with the challenge of conquering the unpredictable slopes of the southern continent's mightiest summit.
Original broadcast date: 2/11/2003


Lost Treasures of Tibet
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Mustang is a tiny kingdom barely touched by time, hemmed in by the world's tallest peaks along the northern border of Nepal. This speck of neglected land conceals a spectacular treasure from the past—the monastery of Thubchen, decorated with astonishingly intricate and expressive medieval wall paintings. Severely damaged by a leaking roof and stained by soot from the butter lamps of devout monks, the paintings are crumbling fast. Can a crack team of architects and art conservators save these priceless gems of Tibetan Buddhist art? Many local people want the images to be totally repainted, an act that they believe will restore their spiritual power. Shot inside a Shangri-La kingdom that has kept its secrets for centuries, this program explores the clash between the values of Western conservation and the beliefs that inspired the paintings.
Original broadcast date: 2/18/2003


Dirty Bomb
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This summer, an American Al Qaeda sympathizer, Jose Padilla, was arrested on suspicion of planning a "dirty bomb" attack on the United States. Suddenly, one of the ultimate nightmare terrorist scenarios seemed a step closer to reality. But few know what a dirty bomb really is or what devastation it could cause. In this important and timely film, NOVA explores beyond the alarming headlines to answer crucial questions: How easy is it to acquire materials and manufacture a dirty bomb? How does it differ from a conventional nuclear bomb, and how destructive would it be? And how can lives be saved if one should explode? The program dramatizes two credible attack scenarios based on sophisticated models developed by radiation experts. These models are then played out in two major cities, Washington and London, with results that are both frightening and sobering.
Original broadcast date: 3/25/2003


Deep Sea Invasion
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French biologist Alexandre Meinesz was diving in the Mediterranean when he spotted a strange blanket of bright green plants on the seabed. Meinesz was alarmed to find that the plants were toxic algae that were decimating marine life in the Mediterranean, but his findings were ignored for years by the scientific establishment. Nicknamed "killer algae," these organisms have since taken over thousands of acres of seabed, and no one knows how to stop them. Recently they appeared for the first time off the coast of California, and now U.S. officials are struggling to contain their spread up the coast of California.
Original broadcast date: 4/1/2003


Secret of Photo 51
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April 2003 marks the 50th anniversary of one of science's great milestones - the discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA. This "cracking" of life's essential molecular "cookbook" was credited to three British scientists, James Watson, Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins. But their breakthrough would have been impossible without the work of a brilliant molecular biologist and crystallographer named Rosalind Franklin. In 1962, when the three men were awarded a Nobel Prize for their discovery, Franklin's name wasn't even mentioned. Tragically, she had died of cancer four years earlier at age 37. The cancer was probably the result of radiation exposure she suffered while taking the X-ray photographs of the DNA that were directly responsible for decoding its structure. NOVA investigates the life of Rosalind Franklin and her unsung contribution to one of science's greatest discoveries. Through eyewitness accounts and the replication and re-enactments of numerous experiments, viewers will see the tragic story of a brilliant young woman and the male-dominated race to find the scientific secret of life.
Original broadcast date: 4/15/2003


Infinite Secrets
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Christie's, New York, 1998: in a blaze of publicity, an extraordinary item was put up for sale. To the untrained eye, it was nothing more than a small and unassuming Byzantine prayer book, yet it sold for over $2 million. Its real value lay not in the prayers but in a much earlier, spidery script that lay hidden almost invisibly beneath them. This turned out to be the oldest and most authentic copy of a compendium of works by the ancient Greek scholar Archimedes. Lost for over a thousand years, scientists are now using cutting-edge imaging techniques to unlock the secrets of this time capsule, and gain a unique insight into one of the greatest minds the world has ever known. One of four programs in NOVA's Lives in Science biography project.
Original broadcast date: 9/30/2003


Who Killed the Red Baron?
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On April 21st, 1918, Manfred von Richthofen, Germany's most feared fighter ace known as the "Red Baron," took off on patrol over the Somme valley with his notorious red-painted "Flying Circus." What happened next has divided historians and air buffs for decades. NOVA's exciting new investigation of the Red Baron's death presents newly discovered documents that overturn the conventional theory of von Richthofen's demise. In accounting for the Baron's singular success, NOVA explores the origins of the first fighter planes and the evolution of aerial tactics. The show features thrilling re-enactments of hair-raising duels between the fragile fighters of World War I.
Original broadcast date: 10/7/2003


The Elegant Universe
(Special 3-Hour Mini-Series with Host Brian Greene)
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String theory: It's the Holy Grail of physics—the search for ultimate law and order in the universe. And in the last few years, excitement has grown among scientists as they've pursued a revolutionary new approach to unifying nature's forces. To the uninitiated, it's totally mind-boggling. But physicist Brian Greene has a rare gift for conveying physics in vivid everyday images, a gift that has turned his recent book, The Elegant Universe, into a mighty bestseller. Now Greene brings his talent, youth, and vitality to television for the first time. A highly innovative, Matrix-like production style makes the surreal world of string theory spring to life on the screen.
Original broadcast dates:10/28/2003 and 11/4/2003


Wright Brothers' Flying Machine
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December 17, 2003, marks the centennial of the world's first powered flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. To celebrate this milestone, NOVA presents the definitive documentary on the invention of the airplane. While many shows have retold the Wright brothers' personal story, no program has properly explored the astonishing inventiveness that they applied to the problem of powered flight. NOVA reveals the popular image of the Wrights as amateur bicycle mechanics who tinkered their way into the sky to be a total myth. The program features exhilarating footage of flights by exclusively commissioned replicas that use the same original materials and the only existing Wright engine for the frail craft that first propelled humans toward the clouds. Watch as the triumph of powered flight comes alive once more in NOVA's epic documentary.
Original broadcast date: 11/11/2003


Magnetic Storm
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On March 13th, 1989, the lights went out all across Canada and the eastern seaboard of the United States as far south as New York. The most serious power grid failure in American history was caused by a magnetic storm in the Earth's upper atmosphere, itself triggered by the eruption of a huge flare from the surface of the Sun. Unusual as this event may seem, many scientists today are beginning to worry that it may be a harbinger of things to come, and that changes to the planet's magnetic field could make us ever more vulnerable to deadly radiation from space. This film explores one of the least known but most serious threats to life on Earth.
Original broadcast date: 11/18/2003


Volcano Above the Clouds
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Just 200 miles south of the equator, Kilimanjaro has both equatorial and arctic conditions. Five distinct climatic zones inhabit the slopes of this 19,340-foot peak. It is a botanist's dream—rain forests rise out of the savanna, giving way to moorlands and alpine meadows where rare giant high-altitude plants thrive. Atop this peak, a young female geologist takes viewers back to the dawn of time and the formation of the African continent. (This program is part of NOVA's High Adventure series)
Original broadcast date: 11/18/2003

 

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