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by Jeff Wilkin

Type A To Z

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Features reporter Jeff Wilkin on pop culture

Live From Space

I’m always amused to see how television networks squander their promotional budgets.

Today, I received a two-foot-high box from my friends at the National Geographic Channel. Inside was a 20-inch tall, white and gray inflatable astronaut. He came with a helmet, air pack on his back and American flag patch on his left sleeve. The present came with a package of freeze-dried ice cream from the Kennedy Space Center.

I’m kind of curious about the ice cream. I’m more curious about the show for which Nat Geo is trying to buy publicity.

It’s called “Live From Space,” and it’s happening Friday, March 14 at 8 p.m. The program will be broadcast live from the International Space Station and NASA Mission Control in Houston, with journalist Soledad O’Brien hosting. Don’t know much about old Soledad. Don’t know much about Rick Mastracchio and Koichi Wakata, the two astronauts who will be on space station duty that night. But they’re not really the key elements here; the stars will be the stars.

Here’s how Nat Geo is pushing the project:

“The ISS orbits Earth every 90 minutes, meaning NGC (National Geographic Channel) will quite literally take viewers on a trip around the world,” the press release reads. “We’ll see incredible shots of the planet, from sunset to sunrise, to city lights and green aurora, to lightning storms and shooting stars.”

Sounds like a gas. But because outer space business doesn’t really thrill folks anymore, it sounds like it could be a bomb.

Can you imagine if a program like this was on the TV schedule in 1967 or 1968, when people were nuts about the space program and the U.S. was planning the 1969 trip to the moon? It would have been a blockbuster, and parents would have forced their kids to watch the historic scenes from beyond.

These were days when elementary school kids — like me — had televisions in our classrooms to watch blast-offs of the latest Gemini or Apollo missions. What would you rather do, kids? Read another chapter of “The Light in the Forest” or watch a countdown, ignition and a fiery ascent into the sky?

I hope people do watch the show, especially kids. If the space program is to ever pick up speed again — and I don’t know what kind of future missions would be worth the time and the danger — but young dreamers of today will be drawing up plans for tomorrow. Funny how movies about space often do big business at the box office — “Gravity” and the two recent “Star Trek” movies are examples — but the real thing doesn’t start any fires.

I hope Nat Geo finds a way to make this exciting, and gets some sensational shots from the space station in orbit. No corny jokes, no techno-babble. Give me a shooting star if you can, or the dark side of the moon. If Mars decides to break into the telecast and announces the angry red planet will attack Earth — for real, this time — that would be OK, too.

“Live From Space” will be competing against some of the college basketball conference tournament semi-finals and finals, and people are often doing other things than watching TV on a Friday night. I think I’m going to watch ... or at least flip over a few times when basketball goes to commercial.

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