Moonbase Alpha

Back in April, I shared the model I built of Main Mission, the command center of Moonbase Alpha from the 1970s TV series, Space: 1999. As I mentioned at the time, the command center was only one part of the kit. The main part of the kit is effectively a diorama of the full Moonbase from the series. We saw the moonbase at the beginning of each episode in the title card, and often at various points in the series.

In the series, Moonbase Alpha was located in the crater Plato and was approximately four kilometers in diameter. The central tower housed the main mission command center we saw in the first season. The overall base housed some 311 people. The premise of the series was that a nuclear accident launched the moon from Earth orbit and sent it hurtling out into deep space. The series goes on to show the Alphans as they fight for survival during their encounters with assorted natural phenomena and various alien races. Needless to say, it was challenging to see how the physics would work out to get the moon out of the solar system in a short time span. Despite that, the moonbase was designed in a way that felt real. As a child, watching the show with wide-eyed wonder, I could imagine living on the moonbase and flying the Eagle transport craft. I remember asking my parents for an early edition of the Moonbase Alpha kit. They wisely turned me down. While it looks simple, I encountered some challenges along the way, even as a relatively experienced model builder. Here’s the finished model, photographed from approximately the same angle as in the title card.

Moonbase Alpha Model

Perhaps the biggest challenge of building this model is that the moon crater ground pieces are vacu-form plastic while the moonbase pieces are polystyrene plastic. What this means is that you can’t use standard polystyrene model glue to assemble the kit. Most of it must be done with a more general bonding agent such as cyanoacrylate adhesive or super glue. This is tricky stuff to work with, since you don’t want to get it on your fingers. If you do, it’s a good way to attach parts of the moonbase to yourself permanently! Another tricky aspect of this kit was that the travel tubes, the long radial segments coming out from the buildings, had to be cut to size. Fortunately, I’d watched a good video on YouTube from Starship Modeler that suggested that I should measure the pieces on the model itself rather than use the guide in the kit instructions. It gave me nice results and I was able to fit the tubes into position with little trouble.

Eagle on the pad ready for liftoff!

One of my favorite aspects of the series were the Eagle transporters, used to shuttle our crew on Alpha around the moon or to alien worlds they encountered as they hurled through space. One of the things I love about the most recent Moonbase Alpha kit is that they provided nice, detailed decals for the landing pads and the Eagles were made to scale. The challenge is that the Eagle in the photo above is only 1.5 centimeters long! I had to paint the details using my jewler’s magnifying loops. Still, I’m pleased with how the Eagles came out. I chose to place two of them out on landing pads since that seemed typical for a reconnaissance mission.

Moonbase Alpha mounted in its frame

I ended up mounting the whole base on form board to give it extra stability, and then having it framed at a local shop. It was a little expensive, but it now makes a nice wall hanging in my home.

While working on the model, I sought a little inspiration and came upon the Gerry Anderson Podcast. This podcast is hosted by Jamie Anderson, son of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, who created Space: 1999, Thunderbirds, UFO and numerous other wonderful British TV series. Jamie’s co-hosts are Richard James and Chris Dale. In each episode of the podcast, they discuss trivia about episodes, share news about new memorabilia and upcoming projects related to the Anderson shows, and interview someone related to the series production or has some insight into one or more of the series. A highlight of each episode is the “Randomizer” where Chris Dale watches an episode and provides commentary and insight. At times, his remarks can be as much fun as watching an episode of Mystery Science Theater. What’s more, his Randomizer segment has induced me to seek out and watch some of the Anderson entertainment shows I didn’t know about before discovering the podcast. I was especially delighted when they chose to read an email I sent in. If you would like to hear it, it’s in show 162 a little over 13 minutes into the episode. There is a Facebook group devoted to listeners of the show. I have enjoyed being part of the group, in part because the other fans take such delight in the podcast and the shows. Any criticism of the shows is clearly made with a good-natured spirit. You can learn more about the Gerry Anderson podcast and find places to listen by visiting https://www.gerryanderson.co.uk/podcast/

Aftershock and Awe

This has been a busy summer for my daughter. She had a remote NASA internship and took second semester physics as an intense six-week summer course. I did what I could to help with both of these areas, explaining things like orbital parameters for the internship and helping her understand physics problems. I know how intense these things are and some of what I did was simply not provide a distraction at inappropriate times by turning on the television. This caused me to turn to books and comics for more of my entertainment, which is not altogether a bad thing. In seeking things to read, I stumbled across a comic published in 2012 based on the TV series Space: 1999 called Aftershock and Awe, written by Andrew Gaska. Given my recent interest watching the show and listening to the audio re-imagining by Big Finish Productions, I thought this looked interesting. The only problem is that it had gone out of print around the time the COVID-19 pandemic began and appeared to be somewhat difficult to find. I did find some copies on eBay and most appeared to be available for a fair price, considering that it was a hardcover book. Still, I decided to ask some devoted fans whether this was worth the price.

On Facebook, there is a group devoted to a podcast hosted by Jamie Anderson, Richard James, and Chris Dale. Jamie is the son of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, the producers of Space: 1999 and the podcast is devoted to the shows. If you enjoy shows like Thunderbird, Stingray, UFO, or Space: 1999, the podcast is well worth a listen. What’s more, the Facebook group is full of fans who genuinely enjoy these shows and have fun discussing them. So, I asked about the book there. I had some nice responses, including one from Chris Dale who said the book was worthwhile. I was surprised and delighted a few days later when they read my question on the podcast itself. Jamie Anderson indicated he was familiar with the book and liked it. The upshot of all of this is that I took the plunge and picked up a copy for my collection.

Showing off Aftershock and Awe while wearing my Space: 1999 shirt.

I’ve now had a chance to read the graphic novel and I agree, it was a good choice for my collection. The first half is a retelling of the show’s first episode, “Breakaway.” It features fabulous, classic Space: 1999 comic art by Gray Morrow along with new art and colors by Miki and dialog by Andrew Gaska. Like Big Finish’s version of “Breakaway,” it expands the story. It tells more about the backstory of Commander Gorski who leaves Moonbase Alpha at the beginning. It also suggests there is more to the moon leaving orbit rapidly than simply being propelled by a nuclear explosion. It’s not quite as satisfying as the explanation in the Big Finish audio, but it’s clearly heading in that direction and dovetails with it nicely. When I do have a chance to turn on the TV for a little while, I’m watching the second season of Space: 1999 and it was nice to see second season characters Tony Verdeschi and Shermeen Williams introduced right from the outset as minor characters. The opening title pages also give nods to both the first and second season credit sequences. Like many fans, I’m not as fond of the second season as the first, but the second season has grown on me and I think for the most part, it improved toward the end. So, it was nice to see this nod to continuity.

The second half of the book is set on Earth and sets up Space: 1999 as existing in an alternate history. As someone who has written various flavors of alternate history, I really like this approach. Featuring lovely painted illustrations by David Hueso, we find out what was happening on Earth to a group of people connected to those crewmembers on Moonbase Alpha who blasted out of orbit. Of course, the moon leaving Earth’s orbit suddenly would be catastrophic and such an event would set off numerous natural disasters. The apocalyptic events are highlighted by lines of poetry and quotes from the book of Revelation. The timing was interesting, since I’m about to embark on editing my 2007 novel, Heirs of the New Earth for a new edition, and I also highlight key elements with quotes from Revelation. The other aspect both the graphic novel and my novel share is that while they both imagine great disaster befalling the Earth, they’re both ultimately hopeful stories in that they imagine the human race persevering in the wake of the disaster. First edition copies of my novel are available for half off the cover price at: https://www.hadrosaur.com/HeirsNewEarth.php or you can support me at Patreon and support the work I’m doing on the new edition. My Patreon site is: https://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers.

I was sufficiently impressed with Aftershock and Awe that I’d recommend it to any Space: 1999 fan. There was a follow up, which also featured Gray Morrow’s art, but that book, To Everything that Was, is much rarer and much more expensive. As I understand, these books were on Comixology for a time. It would be great if a new distribution deal could be made and they could return to digital format, or a new print run ordered for more fans to discover these books.

Main Mission

A week and a half ago, I shared the model of the Starship Enterprise’s bridge that I built. It seems I’ve been in the mood to build science fictional command centers lately, because I also recently completed a model of Main Mission from Space: 1999. This was, in part, inspired by my enjoyment of Big Finish Productions’ audio version of the series, which in turn led me to re-watch the first season of the 1970’s television series.

As for the model itself, I discovered it when looking up videos that might help with some points of assembly on the Enterprise bridge model. Some videos that turned up in the suggested play list discussed the Space: 1999 Moonbase Alpha kit, which includes the show’s first season command center, Main Mission. As it turns out, I remember seeing an early version of the Moonbase Alpha kit from when I was a child. I also remember asking my parents to buy it for me. At the time, they turned me down. It was probably for the best. That was during the height of my slap kits together as fast as I could, without really caring about the quality of my work! I discovered MPC had released an update of the Moonbase Alpha kit in the not-too-distant past and they aren’t hard to find for decent prices on eBay, so I bought one.

MPC Moonbase Alpha Model Kit

As of this writing, I haven’t actually built the Moonbase itself. I may share that at a later time, but I have tackled the miniature of main mission. Like the Enterprise bridge, it’s not a perfectly accurate replica. Two problems stand out at first glance. First, there’s a spiral staircase in Main Mission. In the show, it was a simple staircase with landings. Second, Commander Koenig’s office is too short. In the show, he had a lower level with a conference table and several chairs. It was actually a rather spacious workspace. The biggest challenge of this model is that it’s rather small, so painting details and adding decals took some care and patience. Still, I managed it. Here’s a look in from the top.

Main Mission from above.

I rather like the details in the decals they included. The big screen is a very accurate version of what was shown on television. The globe in Commander Koenig’s office was another selling point for me. It was such a memorable prop, I was delighted they included it in the model, even if painting it was a challenge. The continents don’t really match up with anything on a real globe, but they do give the impression of the continents as they looked in the show.

Main Mission from the side

The second view shows a more oblique angle, so you can see the computer banks on the lower level. Again, these were good decals. It also made me realize how similar the main mission and command center sets were in Space: 1999 and the earlier series produced by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, UFO. As with my Enterprise bridge model, one of the most fun elements was painting and placing the people. I tried to imagine something of a story in progress. I have Commander Koenig and Dr. Helena Russell speaking in the commander’s office. Dr. Victor Bergman is running in to tell them something. We have Paul Morrow, Alan Carter, and Sandra Benes sitting at consoles. One challenge was whether to depict the televised Main Mission, or as I imagine it might be in the audio. On television, the computer officer is David Kano. We see a person that could be him standing by the computer. In the audio, David became a woman named Dashka Kano. I have a woman that could be her standing near one of the Main Mission doors.

Main Mission and the Enterprise Bridge

This final image serves two purposes. It shows the Main Mission model with its roof panels in place and it also shows the model compared to the Enterprise bridge model. As you can see, the Main Mission model is a much smaller scale. One of the reasons I decided to get this model is that the Enterprise bridge model was pretty plain on the outside, so sitting on the table, it’s not very attractive unless you look inside. The Main Mission model makes a nice compliment on the shelf.

At some point in the not-too-distant future I hope to build the actual Moonbase part of the kit, but for now, it’s time to get back to writing.

Space: 1999 Volume One

At the beginning of February I wrote about the fun I had listening to the Big Finish Audio adaptation of “Breakaway,” the first episode of the Gerry and Sylvia Anderson TV series, Space: 1999. Big Finish is well known for their Doctor Who audio adventures, which typically feature actors from the series reprising their roles in brand new stories. Many of the Big Finish audio productions are notable for being on par, and in some cases, even better than the televised episodes. Unfortunately, actors such as Martin Landau and Barry Morse are no longer with us, so it’s perhaps no surprise that Big Finish cast all new actors to play the parts in their Space: 1999 adaptation. I was quite impressed with Mark Bonnar as Commander John Koenig, Clive Hayward as Professor Victor Bergman, and especially Maria Teresa Creasey as Dr. Helena Russell. As such, I was really looking forward to this month’s release of Space: 1999, Volume One which featured two original episodes and one remake of a classic episode in audio format.

Space: 1999, Volume One

The recording opens with a story called “The Siren Call.” In the original televised version of “Breakaway,” an important plot point is that Earth and the moon are receiving a signal from aliens on a planet called Meta. We then never hear anything more about Meta. In the Big Finish version of the opening story, the signal from Meta is tied directly to the moon leaving Earth’s orbit. That version of the story ends with the moon approaching Meta. This story resolves the Meta storyline. Aliens from Meta make contact and even seem to welcome the inhabitants of Moonbase Alpha. The only problem is that the first ambassador to the Moonbase is a fellow who walks and talks but has no heartbeat. The Alphans need a new home now that they find themselves so far from Earth, but they begin to wonder if Meta will prove as inviting as it first appears.

The second recording is a remake of the classic episode “Death’s Other Dominion.” In this story, Moonbase Alpha encounters a group of human survivors on a distant, frozen world. By all appearances these are the survivors of an expedition to the outer reaches of our solar system who had been lost seventeen years before. The only problem is that someone on the planet is also trying to warn them away. When Koenig, Russell, and Bergman investigate they find the survivors, but discover that somehow they had not only been sent deep into space, but launched far back in time! The probe survivors are over 900 years old. The story ends up being an interesting look at immortality. In the original episode, Brian Blessed gives a wonderful performance as Dr. Chaney Rowland, the leader of the survivors. Chris Jarman takes up the role here and sounds very much like Blessed.

The final episode in this set of stories is called “Goldilocks.” Moonbase Alpha discovers a planet in the so-called Goldilocks Zone of its star. It looks like a good place to settle. Commander Koenig leads a team, which goes down to investigate. They find a very nice planet and pleasant, telepathic people who learn human language very fast. They also find a horde of vicious, reptilian monsters who would be happy to eat humans. If that weren’t bad enough, it seems they awoke an even bigger menace on the planet. Will the Alphans have to run away like Goldilocks did to avoid being eaten?

Overall, these episodes were good fun. They do a great job of capturing the original series’ tone and flavor. If you’re a fan of Space: 1999 this will give you two new episodes to enjoy. What’s more, “Death’s Other Dominion” puts a new spin on the themes covered in the original episode. I only had one disappointment and really that was because “Breakaway” set such a high standard. In the new “Breakaway,” writer Nicholas Briggs came up with a clever, creative way to send the moon on its journey. In this set, I’d hoped the writers would explain why the moon travels from planet to planet so quickly. The moon doesn’t seem to be moving a significant fraction of the speed of light, so one would expect it to take centuries for the moon to move between systems. Instead, it seems like it only takes days or weeks to move between systems. Perhaps it’s now in an open star cluster where stars are closer than they are in the solar neighborhood, or maybe the speed of encountering new planets is a mystery to the Alphans, too. I could imagine some good story potential here, and hope they do explore some of that potential in volume two.

If you’d like to purchase Space: 1999, Volume One, you can find it at: https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/space-1999-volume-01-2320. Big Finish also has a free 20-minute excerpt from “Death’s Other Dominion” at: https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/space-1999-death-s-other-dominion-excerpt-2458.

Space: 1999 Redux

Saturday’s post about Space: 1999 didn’t come out of a vacuum. On Christmas day, when I went to the Big Finish Productions website to download some Doctor Who audio, I discovered they had produced an audio re-imagining of the Space: 1999 pilot episode, “Breakaway.” This is the episode where a nuclear stockpile on the Moon explodes, blasting it out of Earth orbit and sending it on a journey through space. This appealed to the part of me that really enjoys writing retrofuturistic stories. After all, 1999 is now in the past and the series is now a look at “what could have been” more than “what will be.” Big Finish didn’t just create a new version, they expanded it into a two-hour movie-length version with more details. I recently downloaded it and gave it a listen and I’ll share my thoughts. Before I do, I thought it would be fun to go back and read the original novelization of “Breakaway” released when the series was on the air. Novelizations often give a chance to explain more about the characters and the story than you see on screen, so I thought that might give me a little more background. It turns out that my neighborhood used bookstore had four copies of the novelization in their science fiction section.

As it turns out, Breakaway by E.C. Tubb is not simply a novelization of the first episode. It attempts to weave four episodes from the series into a single narrative arc. With a mere 141 pages, Tubb doesn’t spend a lot of time delving into backstory or character. What we get are effectively novelettes of the episodes “Breakaway” and “A Matter of Life and Death.” The two episodes “Ring Around the Moon” and “Black Sun” are combined into a third novelette. We don’t really learn anything from these stories that we didn’t learn from watching the episodes. Tubb does work to develop the romance between Commander Koenig and Dr. Russell. He also provides a more direct narrative link between the resolution of “Ring Around the Moon” and the events of “Black Sun.” It was interesting to see that Tubb killed off Commissioner Simmonds, an annoying politician from “Breakaway” even though the character would actually meet a far more interesting end later in the series.

The Big Finish production of “Breakaway” proved much more ambitious. Writer Nicholas Briggs, who has written many of the Big Finish Doctor Who stories teamed up with Jamie Anderson, son of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, the original Space: 1999 producers, to re-imagine the series. The plot is effectively the same as the original plot, Commander John Koenig has been dispatched to Moonbase Alpha to launch a mission to the distant planet Meta. The mission is in danger because the crew of the probe has started to succumb to a mysterious illness.

Solving the mystery is the primary impetus of the original pilot. In the new version, Koenig learns that his predecessor has been ordered to cover up that the illness is even happening and Dr. Russell is trying desperately not only to learn what’s happening but trying to keep the mission from getting launched until they are sure the people going to Meta won’t get sick. In effect, this new version takes a dramatic situation that already existed and ratchets it up so that it becomes much more engaging. What’s more, Briggs and Anderson developed a clever new way to get the Moon to break away from Earth orbit. I won’t say too much about how it’s done, because that ends up being something of a spoiler for the end of the episode. However, where the original meant packing an implausible amount of explosives on the moon, this one gives us an explanation that makes me think it could happen. Certainly, I’m much more willing to suspend my disbelief for the new explanation than the original one.

Briggs left us with something of a cliffhanger at the end of his version of Breakaway. Fortunately, new episodes of Big Finish’s Space: 1999 are due this month. I’ve already reserved my copies to find out what happens! You can get details about the Big Finish version of Space: 1999 at: https://www.bigfinish.com/hubs/v/space-1999

One of the things I love about this re-imagining of Space: 1999 is how it improves on something that was good albeit flawed. This was one of the things I tried to do when I created my new edition of The Pirates of Sufiro. I worked to keep the parts of the novel that were good, the characters people responded to, but I also tried to take a good hard look at parts of the book that didn’t work so well for readers and revise them and make sure I created good, solid explanations for why things happened. You can learn about The Pirates of Sufiro at: http://davidleesummers.com/pirates_of_sufiro.html

Revisiting Space: 1999

I’m sure everyone remembers where they were on September 13, 1999. Or, at least, they would remember that momentous day if the events of the television show Space: 1999 had come to pass. In the show, that’s the day a nuclear waste dump exploded on Earth’s moon sending it out of orbit and on a long, harrowing journey out of the solar system. I recently found myself thinking about Sylvia and Gerry Anderson’s series. I remember watching it when it first aired, but it occurred to me that I didn’t remember many details about the series, so I went back and watched most of the first season’s episodes.

The first thing that occurred to me as I watched the series is how much it owed to two sources: Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey and Sylvia and Gerry Anderson’s previous live-action television series, UFO. The show reminded me of 2001: A Space Odyssey in the sense that it’s less about space as a setting for the story’s action as it’s a place where mankind will encounter phenomena that will stretch the mind and maybe even spur the next stage of human evolution. The uniforms, the moon base, and the overall feel of the show reminded me a lot of UFO and I’ve read that some elements of the series were, in fact, originally developed for a second season of UFO, which never materialized.

The science of Space: 1999 is much maligned. Isaac Asimov once famously remarked that an explosion big enough to knock the moon out of orbit would destroy it. Physicist Kevin Grazier has taken a much more balanced approach and calculated the energy it actually would take to knock the moon out of Earth’s orbit. He notes that enough energy to knock the moon out of orbit would be highly improbable and also remarks that getting the moon to leave Earth’s orbit isn’t as hard a problem as getting the moon to leave the solar system. You can read Grazier’s thoughts here: https://www.gerryanderson.co.uk/science-of-space-1999/

In his article, Grazier does point out one way in which Space: 1999’s science was ahead of its time and that was it’s presentation of rogue planets. In the series, the moon encounters numerous planets away from the sun wandering by themselves with no nearby star. Rogue planets were pure speculation when the series was created, but we now know them to be something that does exist. We still do have a science issue in that some of these rogue planets seem to support human-like life, despite the lack of a nearby star.

Part of how Space: 1999 sells its improbable physics is by giving us some of the most believable tech I’ve seen in a science fiction series. The Eagle spacecraft look like the kind of things you might have expected NASA to have developed if they had continued building on the Apollo program. The only real problem with the Eagles is their use in atmosphere and high gravity worlds as the series progresses. I believe them on the moon, but not necessarily flying through dense planetary atmospheres. The comlocks that people use to unlock doors and talk to each other feel like the kind of combination remote control, video cell phone that could have been developed in the 1990s.

One of the things I found remarkable about revisiting Space: 1999 was the quality of the cast. Of course, Martin Landau, Barbara Bain, and Barry Morse all had wonderful, understated performances. They felt like humans coming to grips with the weird reality they found themselves in. I had forgotten that actors such as Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee appeared in the series. Speaking of Cushing and Lee, I had forgotten how well the series did at presenting science fiction horror. The denizens encounter some truly frightening situations such as aliens who take over people’s bodies, or implacable tentacled aliens who dine on people’s flesh and spit out corpses.

One of the episodes I found especially interesting was one called “The Guardian of Piri.” In it, Catherine Schell plays an alien who convinces the Alphans they can have complete contentment if they settle. Much of it reminds me of the kinds of visions John Mark Ellis experiences in Children of the Old Stars and the Cluster’s eventual takeover of Earth in Heirs of the New Earth. The structures on Piri are even spheres, reminding me of the Cluster. Although I don’t remember the episode specifically, it does make me wonder how much the episode seeped into my subconscious and was reprocessed in my story.

So, where was I on September 13, 1999? I was working at New Mexico State University on the 1-meter telescope project based at Apache Point Observatory. We were about a month into a new semester, which meant that I was probably busy getting classroom demonstrations ready. I was also working on the novel Children of the Old Stars and thinking about some of the more metaphysical topics I wanted to explore in my series. You can help me create the new edition of my novel by supporting my Patreon campaign at: https://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers