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NOVA ScienceNOW Season 3 #303 1x53

Hubble is in trouble: the Hubble Space Telescope, that is. The amazingly productive scientific instrument that has generated so many stunning images of the universe for the world to marvel at is due for a very different kind of service call in just a few months — one that is to be its last. Launched in 1990, Hubble has been repaired on several previous Space Shuttle flights, but there has never been a renovation project quite like the one that now faces this old telescope. Host Neil deGrasse Tyson travels to the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, where he and NOVA scienceNOW cameras are given special access to the astronauts who are training for one of the most complex missions ever attempted. During earlier Hubble servicing missions, astronauts focused on replacing modular units. Veteran spacewalker Michael Massimino describes the drill: “Open it up, pull a big thing out, and put a big thing in.” This time Massimino and his crewmates will be doing that, but they’ll also be struggling with scores of tiny screws as they try to fix crucial equipment that was not designed to be repaired in orbit. Tyson even tries his own hand at some of the tasks, testing out tools and techniques that NASA has specially devised to perform what has been compared to neurosurgery in space. It’s a job that definitely requires the “right stuff”.

Could one of our early ancestors have been a tree-climbing creature the size of a mouse? If University of Florida paleontologist Jonathan Bloch is correct, we may have to downsize our image of what it means to be a primate: the biological order that includes humans, apes, monkeys, and comparable mammals. NOVA scienceNOW goes into the field with Bloch to search for our missing relatives from the shadowy period after the catastrophe that doomed the dinosaurs. There’s a ten-million-year gap between the demise of the giant reptiles and the appearance of the first known primates, and Bloch thinks that tiny bones embedded in limestone may be the evolutionary evidence for the creatures that evolved into primates. One of the problems is extracting the bones from the limestone and cleaning them to look for telltale clues that connect them to primates, such as the presence of nails instead of claws. But Bloch’s team manages to assemble three intriguing specimens…

It’s been two decades since Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa jumped the border fence separating Mexico and the US and established himself as a farm worker in southern California. His goal: to earn enough to feed his family. Today he’s achieved considerably more: he’s an assistant professor of neurosurgery and oncology at Johns Hopkins University, where he is in hot pursuit of a breakthrough in the treatment of brain cancer.  By day, he operates on tricky brain cancer cases. By night, he researches how tumors grow and migrate. The extraordinary journey of “Dr. Q,” as his patients and students know him, is straight out of a storybook: or storyboard, since Hollywood is interested in making a movie about him. NOVA scienceNow visits this remarkable man at work and at home to see how truly far he has come.

There’s a killer in Iraq attacking injured soldiers, but it doesn’t carry a gun. The culprit is a deadly microbe that the soldiers call Iraqibacter. One of its many victims was ABC news correspondent Bob Woodruff, who was severely injured by a roadside bomb while embedded with US troops in Baghdad in January 2006. Emergency medical care saved his life, but during his long months of recovery he came under a deadly new assault: Acinetobacter baumannii. The virulent drug-resistant bug has been showing up predominately in military hospitals, but has also been brought back to hospitals in America. The bacteria’s ability to survive up to weeks at a time on some surfaces enables it to spread from patient to patient. NOVA scienceNOW interviews Woodruff’s wife and examines his close brush with death. The show also heads into the lab with some of the microbiologists more and geneticists studying how this bug works and what makes it so dangerous. One experiment demonstrates just how drug-resistant some baumannii colonies can be — even able to survive Imipenem, an antibiotic so strong it’s nicknamed Gorillacillin. Viewers will learn about this bug’s secret weapon and researchers’ efforts to understand how deadly bacteria communicate with each other and evolve. The eye-opening piece underscores the constant battle to find powerful new antibiotics that fight these superbugs.