Secrets of the Space Probes

The Universe
Season 5
8 episodes
See below for purchasing options
DVD & Blu-ray
"The Universe" episode no. 61 (season 5)
  • written and directed by Jim Hense
  • edited by Tom Ronca
  • science consultant Alex Filippenko

  • narrated by Erik Thompson
  • Main Title Theme and Original Music by Eric Amdahl
  • Flight 33 Productions, (c) 2010 A & E TV Networks
  • 1 documentary @ 44 minutes

Data Capsule Review

by Martin Izsak

This episode is devoted to the workhorses of space exploration: the planetary surveyors, space telescopes, and phenomenon-chasing probes that gather the information and samples that scientists use to make their discoveries and postulate new theories.

The episode covers the history and limitations of our probes, the difficulties in aiming, launching, and sustaining them, the key concept of gravitational slingshotting, the new abilities of ion propulsion, early probe info from the moon, Venus, Titan, and Enceladus, the refinement of probe sensors, and data collection in the search for life beyond Earth.

Also discussed is the Kepler Mission (just launched as this episode was made) and the principles and limitations of the transit technique that the Kepler telescope uses to detect extra-solar planets.

Exoplanets discussed include:

  • 51 Pegasi b (It is not revealed that this is Bellerophon)
The episode finishes off with an in-depth look at new high-def ways of investigating our own sun, and the space probe designed to carry out the mission.

Many actual probes and space telescopes appear to be modelled faithfully in CGI, allowing viewers to recognize them and their missions visually.

This is the "James Webb Space Telescope", set to launch in 2015 and reported to have 4x the imaging quality of the Hubble Space Telescope.

And the "Ask the Universe" question for this episode is... "How long would it take for a space probe to reach the nearest exoplanet [using the best propulsion available today]?" - Annabelle C., Erie, Pennsylvania.

from the disc sleeve:

Secrets of the Space Probes:
They've discovered water on other planets and snatched the actual building blocks of life from a comet's tail, photographing, drilling and even sniffing new worlds in the quest for life. But can space probes find a new Earth? Or make contact with alien life?

Chapter List:

  • Robotic Proxies
  • Propelling Probes
  • Extrasolar Planets
  • Analyzing Comets
  • Solar Probe

Participants include:

Alex Filippenko

Astronomer, supernova hunter
University of California, Berkeley

regular science consultant to
"The Universe" series.

Amy Mainzer

NASA / Jet Propulsion Laboratories

Geoffrey Marcy

Astronomer, Exoplanet Locator
University of California, Berkeley

As of the first 300 exoplanets discovered by 2009, he and colleague Paul Butler had been credited with finding more extra-solar planets than anyone else.

Laura Danly

Curator of the
Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles

Clifford Johnson

University of Southern California

Kevin P. Grazier

Planetary Scientist
NASA / Jet Propulsion Laboratories

Travis S. Taylor


Todd Hoeksema

Stanford University

This documentary has become available on DVD and Blu-ray.
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The Universe
Season 5 Box Set
8 episodes



Blu-ray U.S.

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Read the data capsule review for another episode: "Total Eclipse"

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