`Smithsonian World' chronicles modern-day pioneers on voyages of discovery

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Man's irresistible urge to observe the previously unobserved is the subject of a fascinating electronic voyage of discovery. Where None Has Gone Before (PBS, Wednesday, Oct. 9, 8-9 p.m.), the fall ``Smithsonian World'' special, tracks modern-day pioneers in their quest to conquer the unachieved. It is a thought-provoking and inspiring journey, led by tour-leader and host David McCullough, who has finally earned the right to be considered a native-born competitor to Alistair Cooke. Mr. McCullough's obvious interest in the subject matter of the special and his enthusiasm for the material cannot help involving the viewer in the wonders he is describing.

First there is the voyage of Voyager, an odd-looking wingspan masquerading as a plane in which pilots Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager plan to make a nonstop, unrefueled round-the-world flight.

``The Voyager Flight'' is McCullough's inside look at the designing of this flying gas tank -- it carries five times as much fuel as its own weight, mainly in its hollow wings. He talks with Dick's brother, Burt Rutan, who is the designer of the craft, and with the pilots themselves as they train for the 12-day ordeal. Why are they taking this incredible risk? Well, the answer comes in McCullough's script, adeptly written by John Sarnik: ``Man belongs anyplace he really wants to go.''

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What may be ``the most significant scientific enterprise of our times'' -- the Hubble Space Telescope -- is scheduled to be placed into orbit next year. An investigation of what this telescope is and what it may be able to do is the subject of the second segment of this ``Smithsonian World'' special.

What affords this $1 billion peek into the black holes of the universe is probably the biggest and most complex piece of scientific hardware, outside of the space shuttle itself, to go into orbit. It will travel at 17,000 m.p.h., completing one revolution of Earth every 96 minutes. According to the scientists, it should be able to see 14 billion light-years away.

And if that is not enough to take your breath away, McCullough brings viewers back to Earth with a splash as he focuses his third segment on Jill Yager, an underwater cave diver in the Bahamas. While scuba-diving as a hobby, high school teacher Yager discovered a new class of crustacean, probably 200 million years old. The cameras follow her deep into the caves and then into a new classroom where she has decided to get her doctorate in . . . biospeliology.

Executive producer Martin Carr has once again blended human interest with scientific knowledge to come up with a winning combination for the Smithsonian Institution and WETA, Washington. The series should be required viewing for anybody searching for that rare commodity on television -- prime entertainment that integrates stimulating information and intellectual revelation.

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