Space Odyssey (TV series)


Space Odyssey:
Voyage to the Planets
US DVD Cover
Created byJoe Ahearne
Christopher Riley
Narrated byDavid Suchet
Music byDon Davis
No. of episodes2
Running time100 min.
Production companyImpossible Pictures
Original networkBBC One
Discovery Channel
Picture formatWidescreen
Original release9 November 2004 (2004-11-09) –

Space Odyssey: Voyage to the Planets (released as Voyage to the Planets and Beyond in the United States) is a 2004 British fictional documentary about a crewed voyage through the Solar System. Space Odyssey premiered in 2004 and was made by the BBC. It was written and directed by Joe Ahearne and produced by Christopher Riley, who was presented with the 2005 Sir Arthur Clarke Award for Best TV & Radio Presentation.[1]

The story is set at an unspecified time in the future, though in the accompanying book, the mission's chief science officer recalls reading Arthur C. Clarke's 1982 novel, 2010, some 40 years earlier.[2]


At an unspecified point in the near future, five astronauts, commander Tom Kirby, engineer Yvan Grigorev, medic John Pearson, geologist Zoë Lessard, and exobiologist Nina Sulman depart Earth orbit on a mile-long nuclear-powered spaceship, Pegasus. Six weeks later, Pegasus arrives in orbit around their first destination, Venus, where Lessard and Grigorev pilot the lander Orpheus to the surface, where Grigorev conducts a short walk in a specially designed reinforced pressure suit while Lessard remains inside the lander. During the walk, Grigorev visits the nearby derelict Soviet lander Venera 14, however he starts to fall behind schedule, and suffers from exhaustion and overheating, only narrowly making it back to Orpheus. After successfully launching and docking with Pegasus, the crew depart Venus for Mars.

After arriving in Mars orbit, the crew rendezvous with a pre-placed supply ship to refuel Pegasus. Kirby, Pearson, and Sulman descend to the surface of Mars in the lander Ares, landing nearby Melas Chasma, a part of the Valles Marineris canyon system, where they intend to search for liquid water buried beneath the surface at the bottom of the canyon using a robotic rover (named Charlie) carried by a balloon. Upon landing, Kirby is hit by a dust devil, but he is not injured. Their first attempt at finding water is thwarted by a solar flare, which forces the astronauts on the surface to take shelter in Ares for a few days, while Lessard and Grigorev in orbit onboard Pegasus take shelter too. Once the danger has passed, the crew of Ares return to the edge of Melas Chasma, where Sulman successfully guides Charlie to the bottom of the canyon, successfully finding a small amount of liquid water buried under the ground. However, Lessard reports that a large dust storm is developing in the canyon, which threatens to ruin their mission. After retrieving the water sample, the astronauts once again take shelter in Ares. Once the dust storm has passed, Ares lifts off and rejoins Pegasus.

Departing Mars, the next destination of Pegasus is Jupiter, which they will reach by swinging near by the Sun to pick up speed. On the way towards the Sun, Pegasus passes by Mercury, however no landing is conducted due to mission constraints. To protect them from the intense radiation of the sun, an artificial magnetic field is generated around Pegasus, but the power requirements of the generator force them to turn off non-essential systems, such as their laboratory and the centrifuge that provides artificial gravity for their sleep compartments. The flyby is a success, and the crew head to Jupiter. On their way through the asteroid belt, the crew perform an unplanned close flyby of a binary asteroid system, which passes much closer than predicted due to discrepancies in the data provided by mission control.

Pegasus performs an intense aerobraking maneuver in Jupiter's upper atmosphere to put them on course for Io. En-route to Io, Pearson receives a diagnosis of lymphoma, which he received from a high radiation dose during the solar flyby. Upon arriving at Io, the primary landing site is considered unsafe due to an ongoing volcanic eruption, as is the secondary landing site due to lethal levels of radiation. After a heated discussion at mission control over whether to land at the still potentially risky tertiary landing site, or to land at the safe but uninteresting quarternary landing site, the decision is made to land at the more interesting site, but the mission duration is cut to reduce radiation exposure. Lessard then descends alone in the lander Hermes. On the surface, Lessard quickly becomes exhausted in her bulky radiation-shielded spacesuit, and is forced to abort her walk early, leaving all the samples she had collected behind. Pegasus then encounters Europa, where they send a robotic probe to the surface to collect sub-surface ice samples.

Their mission around Jupiter complete, Pegasus embarks on the long journey to Saturn . However, Pearson's condition continues to worsen, weakening him severely. Upon arriving at Saturn, Pegasus enters orbit around Titan, where they release a robotic probe to collect samples, however the probe malfunctions and is lost. Leaving Titan, Pegasus is placed in an orbit in the Cassini division, where Sulman performs a spacewalk to collect a fragment of Saturn's rings. However during her spacewalk, Pearson dies. Subsequently, the remaining crew cut off communications with Earth for a whole day while they mourn Pearson and decide what to do next. During this period, Kirby floats the body of Pearson into the rings of Saturn. Upon restoring contact, the crew reveals that they have decided to continue the mission (in the US version, they decide to return home), and they leave for Pluto shortly afterwards.

Arriving at Pluto, Kirby and Grigorev land on the surface in the lander Clyde, where they set up a telescope array to detect exoplanets, which they had modified on their journey from Saturn to Pluto, and the telescope is pointed at Earth for a calibration test. Before leaving Pluto, Kirby and Grigorev perform a short memorial service for astronauts who have died in the pursuit of space exploration, including Pearson, who was intended to land on Pluto with them. Clyde later ascends and docks with Pegasus. On the way back to Earth, they rendezvous with a fictional long-period comet, Yano-Moore. Lessard and Sulman pilot the lander Messier to collect samples, but during their excursion, the nucleus of the comet breaks apart, sending high-speed debris towards Pegasus, severely damaging the ship, and injuring Grigorev, who was hit by a comet fragment that had pierced the hull. Unable to contact the damaged Pegasus, Lessard and Sulman abandon Messier and spacewalk to the airlock. After performing emergency surgery on Grigorev, the three able astronauts repair Pegasus and commence on the final journey home. Finally, after six years away, Pegasus arrives back at Earth.

The programme is narrated by David Suchet.


  • Tom Kirby (played by Martin McDougall) - mission commander. American citizen.
  • John Pearson (played by Mark Dexter) - flight medic. British citizen.
  • Yvan Grigorev (played by Rad Lazar) - flight engineer. Russian citizen.
  • Nina Sulman (played by Michelle Joseph) - exobiologist. British citizen.
  • Zoë Lessard (played by Joanne McQuinn) - geologist. Canadian citizen.

Also, several members of Mission Control, most notably:

  • Fred Duncan (played by Colin Stinton) – flight director. Canadian citizen.
  • Alex Lloyd (played by Mark Tandy) - mission scientist. British citizen.
  • Claire Granier (played by Hélène Mahieu) - flight surgeon. French citizen.
  • Isabel Liu (played by Lourdes Faberes) - flight dynamics officer.[3]


The film had initially been titled Walking with Spacemen[4] due to the involvement of Tim Haines, the creator of the Walking with Dinosaurs series. This title was eventually dropped as Space Odyssey had little in common with the Walking with . . . series. To prepare them for the roles, the actors undertook basic cosmonaut training at Star City with the Russian space program. Many scenes were shot in simulated zero-gravity aboard a Russian Ilyushin Il-76 aircraft. Backgrounds of the spacecraft interior were later digitally composited in.

The series DVD describes the selection of locations in the Atacama Desert, Chile to represent both Venus and Mars. Weather conditions troubled production, needing to be overcast for Venus,[5] but cloudless for Mars.[6]

The fate of the Titan probe was deliberately ambiguous to prevent any conflicts with the findings of the then imminent landing of the Huygens probe.

The film's score was written by American composer Don Davis, who wrote the music for the Matrix trilogy.

Tie-in book

BBC Books published a book written by Christopher Riley with the same title as the UK version of Space Odyssey. It was based on the fictional diary entries of the ground staff and crew on Pegasus, with supplementary factual information on the planets they visited and the real robotic missions which have explored them through history. It is illustrated with specially commissioned digital still images and screenshots taken from the drama.

See also


  1. ^ "2005 Winners". The Sir Arthur Clarke Awards. Archived from the original on 15 May 2008. Retrieved 5 December 2008.
  2. ^ Alex Lloyd: "I first read of a manned Jupiter mission in Arthur C. Clarke's novel 2010 when I was a boy; little did I know I'd be involved... some 40 years later."
  3. ^ "The ultimate journey of human exploration comes to BBC One November 2004" (PDF). BBC. 2004.
  4. ^ "Space exploration underway with BBC Worldwide, Discovery and ProSieben". BBC Worldwide Press Office. 26 March 2003. Retrieved 16 February 2008. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  5. ^ Narrator: "Ideally, we needed a cloudy desert to film our Venus exploration scenes."
  6. ^ Associate Producer: "Another day on Mars... a bit of cloud, which we could have had for Venus, but didn't."

External links

  • Space Odyssey homepage
  • BBC Press Pack
  • Space Odyssey: Voyage to the Planets at IMDb