Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Journey to Space: A Special Screening and a Memorable Evening

I was fortunate to be invited to tonight's special screening of the new film Journey to Space at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex IMAX theater. My own husband is in Atlanta so my date was someone else's husband, fellow space enthusiast Ryan Kobrick. The 40-some minute 3D film is sponsored by Boeing and Toyota and is narrated by Sir Patrick Stewart.

The pre-film reception at KSC VC's Debus facility was a delight. Ryan remarked that the crowd was eclectic. I saw many familiar faces, colleagues who I didn't expect to run into, as well as new faces and even visitors from out of state. I had a great time munching on the hors d'oeuvres and greeting some people who I hadn't seen in a while. Kennedy Space Center Director and former astronaut Bob Cabana was there to see the film with us, so I stopped by to say hello.

It was dusk when Ryan and I walked to the IMAX theater. The rocket garden was particularly lovely in the sunset. We couldn't resist a picture.

We were all given 3D glasses as we walked into the IMAX theater. I've only met former astronaut and now Boeing Director of Crew and Mission Systems Chris Ferguson once before, so I hopped down to the theater floor to greet him. I swear, he was wearing his 3D glasses a moment before I snapped this picture.

Bob Cabana and Chris Ferguson gave short talks before the start of the film. Bob spoke mostly to introduce Chris. Chris talked a little about the filming of the movie and asked us to bring our kids to see it. We need to sell the dream of spaceflight, he said, and we inspire our children to follow in our footsteps. He also admitted that “though the magic of Hollywood,” the filmmakers had inserted him into places where he wasn't really there, all to add to the story narration.

The film began with bags of popcorn and Patrick Stewart's beautiful voice. I grew up a Trekkie and The Next Generation is my favorite. Picard is my captain. Although he's top billing as narrator, the film is largely narrated by Boeing's Chris Ferguson, the commander of the last space shuttle mission STS-135. NASA spacesuit engineer Lindsay Aitchison and future astronaut (2009 class) Serena Auñón also narrated in parts.

My first thought was that the photography/videography is gorgeous. The nature scenes were vibrantly filmed and the 3D renderings of Hubble space images were very well done. The animations added to the story. There were also some clever angles which encouraged the audience feel in the moment.

I grew up with the space shuttle program. For human spaceflight, that's all I've ever known (excluding far away Russian launches, I mean). I get emotional when thinking about the space shuttles. I cried the first, second, and third times I went through the Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. So it's not surprising that I teared up a little when the film discussed the space shuttle retirement and the Challenger and Columbia incidents. I'm not saying that I think the shuttle program shouldn't have ended, but I do miss the space shuttles dearly!

The focus on the spacesuits and potential Mars exploration vehicles was interesting. I did my doctoral research on regolith (dust) so I have an interest in spacesuit and planetary body vehicle design. The film focused on Mars as the ultimate destination but mentions the Moon when discussing how spacesuits and ground vehicles have evolved since the Apollo program. A potential asteroid mission was mentioned briefly.

Someone remarked that the film was Boeing-centric. Boeing was a sponsor for the film, so that's to be expected. Lockheed Martin's Orion capsule was featured, though I can't recall if LM was mentioned by name; most of the general public would know Orion as a NASA program. Bigelow Aerospace's BEAM expandable modules were also featured as potential future habitats. SpaceX and Orbital Sciences (I assume this was filmed before the Orbital ATK merger) were mentioned in passing. There's only so much that can fit into a short film, so details were simplified and some other players were omitted.

My biggest complaint was the inclusion of sound in space. Scientific accuracy doesn't have to be boring. What's one of the most memorable parts about Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey? The classical music playing over the silent space movements. Rocket launches roar because of Earth's atmosphere, but outside of that medium, sound waves don't carry.

They also took an overly optimistic and simplistic view regarding the mission logistics and timeline. Their Mars mission concept was simply a longer Apollo mission. They also implied that Serena Auñón might be among the first astronauts to Mars, but even if we go with their optimistic Mars landing date of around 2035, she'll be 58 years old by then, possible but less likely.

But this is a feel-good inspirational film, not a scientific documentary. It's goal is to showcase what's been done in recent human spaceflight and to propose some potential future paths. And it did leave this audience member wanting to explore the stars!

Bob Cabana stayed after the film to chat with two of my friends and me. The film had inspired him to think about human expeditions and he recommended Andy Weir's novel The Martian and Frank Arthur Worsley's book Endurance: An Epic of Polar Adventure about the Shackleton expedition. He chatted about Mars missions and the artifacts in the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex as we walked through the rocket garden. I don't think the Center Director wanted us to leave because as we were set to part, he offered us a ride in his car to the farther parking lot where our cars were parked. In the car he chatted for a while about running marathons, flying planes, and the difference between scuba diving astronaut training and an actual EVA in microgravity. Impressive man!

It was a great evening and I'm thankful to have been given the opportunity to check out the film. Go check it out!


  1. Within Trek fandom is a debate question, "Kirk or Picard?"

    My opinion ... If you want to win a hopeless battle, you go with Kirk.

    If you want to avoid picking the fight in the first place and solve the dispute diplomatically, you go with Picard.

    1. I fully admit that I'm not a fan of the original series (the horror!). Kirk is okay. I met William Shatner once though he was not in a meeting mood. Picard had a cool about him, always so classy.