Since humans learned how to make films, filmmakers have dreamed of exploring the infinite distances of space – from moon and beyond!
Years before Matt Damon made potatoes sciencey, this all-star drama featured astronauts who found themselves trapped by debris clouds in low Earth orbit.
The Right Stuff
An homage to America’s original astronauts, this 1983 movie captures their spirit with all its dignity and pride. Starring Jack Nicholson and Patricia Neal as members of “Original Seven”, director Philip Kaufman masterfully employs constructivist montage — several shots strung together to convey meaning or make a point — which was previously employed by Eisenstein (National Lampoon’s Animal House).
Based on Tom Wolfe’s best-selling book, this film explores the turbulent history of Nasa’s Project Mercury and the bitter rivalry between saintly John Glenn and cocky Alan Shepard. While The Right Stuff takes some liberties with historical facts (as can be expected with any film about well-documented historical events), overall this is an outstanding work; its climactic scene featuring astronauts being introduced to press was particularly moving as Administrator Glennan began calling out their names like starting lineup at football game; cheering from audience cheered throughout.
Many viewers experienced color science fiction for the first time with this film and it truly amazed them. Furthermore, it reinforced their belief that one day a human could walk on the moon using rockets as transport.
Pichel sought out only the highest-caliber technical advisors to ensure an authentic film, including rocket engineer Hermann Orbeth (who had worked on Fritz Lang’s 1929 film Frau Im Mond) and astronomical artist Chesley Bonestell, who created beautiful matte paintings for the movie.
However, while this film was insightful in terms of its predictions about space travel and moon landing, its pacing is poor and characters uninteresting. Some very slow scenes prolong the story until its conclusion and scenes on the Moon seem anticlimactic; women only appear briefly; this was typical at that time though.
The Moon (1950)
George Pal and his team assembled an all-star cast for this first cinematic exploration of space travel and lunar exploration: rocket expert Hermann Oberth and Chesley Bonestell who had brought outer space imagery into American consciousness through paintings and illustrations. It also marked the first color science fiction movie with stunning views from space as seen through George Pal’s lens – including views of Earth as seen from space!
The plot revolves around the idea that private American industrialists can outwit government in reaching the Moon – seven years before Sputnik shocked America into participating in the Space Race. Although this approach to its subject does have its drawbacks, overall this film gets many things right – most notably its understanding of gravity (it predicts perfectly), as well as fuel being over 90% reaction mass for rockets.
The Footsteps of Voyager
Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft were launched within weeks of each other on their mission to study Jupiter and Saturn in 1977, continuing their mission 45 years later despite incredible odds. Both spacecraft have provided incredible data about outer planets such as Jupiter and Saturn as well as interstellar space beyond our solar system.
Voyager 2’s journey across the solar system marked just the start of an era: Space Shuttle was just getting underway on Earth. JPL engineers and scientists would use it for experiments at home; however, its launch beyond Earth orbit presented challenges they had never before faced.
This documentary describes those challenges using rare footage and personal accounts from those involved. In 2013, scientists announced that Voyager 1 had entered interstellar space, leaving our solar system and entering deep space – carrying with it an “Golden Record” with messages from humanity for extraterrestrial intelligences should they ever come across it.