2001: A Mission Planning Odyssey

HAL 9000 eye (Wikimedia Commons)

A paranoid computer and excessive secrecy killed Frank Poole wrecked the Discovery One mission. But, there was another problem that’s been hiding in plain sight for half a century.

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

In the classic sci-fi movie, “2001: A Space Odyssey,” the first human mission to explore Jupiter goes off the rails when the Discovery One‘s HAL 900 computer begins to malfunction. Faced with possible disconnection, HAL kills Frank Poole during a spacewalk, turns off life support for three survey team members in hibernation, and traps mission commander David Bowman outside the ship. Bowman manages to get back inside and disconnects the psychotic computer, triggering a video that explains the true purpose of the mission.

The precise reason for HAL’s malfunction and murderous rampage are not really explained in a movie that is the very definition of opaque. We know that it involved a monolith dug up on the moon that sent a signal to Jupiter. And that HAL knew about it. The answer lies beyond the infinite.

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NASA’s Odyssey Orbiter Marks 20 Historic Years of Mapping Mars

Mars Odyssey spacecraft. (Credit: NASA)

For two decades, the longest-lived spacecraft at the Red Planet has helped locate water ice, assess landing sites, and study the planet’s mysterious moons.

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA’s 2001 Mars Odyssey spacecraft launched 20 years ago on April 7, making it the oldest spacecraft still working at the Red Planet. The orbiter, which takes its name from Arthur C. Clarke’s classic sci-fi novel “2001: A Space Odyssey” (Clarke blessed its use before launch), was sent to map the composition of the Martian surface, providing a window to the past so scientists could piece together how the planet evolved.

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Arthur C. Clarke, 1917-2008

Famed science and science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke died at his home in Sri Lanka today at the age of 90. Perhaps best known as the co-author of the 1968 movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, the British-born visionary wrote more than 100 books about space, science and the future.

Clarke is credited with conceiving the idea for the geosynchronous communication satellite in 1945, about 20 years before they become practical. He envisioned satellites orbiting at approximately 22,300 miles, which allows them to match the orbit of the Earth and thus remain fixed over the same spot. These are also known as Clarke orbits.

He later helped inspire Robert Richards, Todd Hawley and Peter Diamandis to found the International Space University. Clarke served as chancellor of the Strasbourg-based graduate school.

Arthur C. Clarke was a giant in fields of space, science and science fiction. He will be sorely missed. Rest in peace, Arthur.

Coverage

BBC News: Story, Tribute by Patrick Moore, 1985 Interview, Clips from 2001

Bloomberg.com: Story with biographical information

Daily Telegraph (England): Obituary