- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 9, 2000

”Inside the Space Station,” premiering tomorrow on cable’s Discovery Channel, features some nifty state-of-the-art computer effects, but its main appeal is the human factor.

Although the realistic scenes of asteroids smashing into the Earth or of astronauts working outside the International Space Station are interesting, footage of an astronaut brushing his teeth in zero gravity and chasing after a floating blob of water with his toothbrush has more universal appeal.

Take, for example, astronaut David Wolf’s description of life after four months on the Mir, another space station: “Gravity comes on slowly as you re-enter in the space shuttle. Your blood gets pulled down into your legs and your wristwatch feels like a brick if you’ve been used to zero gravity.”

Dr. Wolf, a doctor and expert on the medical effects of space flight, saw his own body change in space. He lost 12 percent to 13 percent of the bone material in his pelvis because of the weightlessness on Mir. Astronauts can slow down the gradual deterioration of their bodies through extensive exercise, Liam Neeson explains in the narration, but no way has been found to stop the process.

The special about the International Space Station is linked to the start early last month of permanent habitation on the research facility. Besides the permanent crew, a space shuttle team is wrapping up a construction mission to the station and will land on Earth Monday.

Construction work on the station, a 16-nation joint effort, is scheduled for completion in 2006.

Mr. Neeson, whose credits include the space-faring “Star Wars: Episode I, the Phantom Menace,” doesn’t do a bad job with the narration, but the astronauts who share their experiences are much more interesting. What they lack in polish, they make up for in enthusiasm and experience. The special offers glimpses of the two years of extensive training astronauts must undergo before going into space. Among the rigors:

{bul} Trips into the Canadian wilderness to conduct scientific experiments under difficult conditions, meant to simulate the extra stresses of space life and toughen astronauts psychologically.

{bul} Construction work in a giant pool containing 6.4 million gallons of water to simulate weightlessness underwater.

{bul} Actual weightlessness, for short periods, in an airplane at high altitudes.

The training is rigorous because the duty is hazardous. Besides health problems, weightlessness poses dangers unlike those on Earth. Once astronauts are outside a space station, any piece of debris larger than a pebble could penetrate their spacesuits, exposing them to the vacuum of space.

The show’s special effects, representing four months’ effort from about 30 artists, are excellent.

They are used for both mundane purposes, such as showing what the finished space station will look like, and spectacular imagery.

As Mr. Neeson explains that the space station would take a swift 17 minutes to travel from Dallas to Paris if it were traveling close to Earth, a computer-generated space shuttle makes that journey on film. The trip proves to be as exciting as any you’ll see on the big screen.

The special has one distracting aspect: the letterbox format, apparently used because it was shot in high definition.

“Inside the Space Station” will be seen tomorrow in 150 countries and 32 languages as part of Discovery’s “Watch With the World” series of specials. It’s part of a yearlong project called “2001: A Discovery Space Journey.” Tonight, the network will debut “Spacewalkers: The Ultimate Highwire Act” at 9.

WHAT: “Inside the Space Station”WHERE: Discovery ChannelWHEN: 9 p.m. tomorrow

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