When I was 10 we were visiting friends in Vancouver and all of the children, including myself were watching ”Apollo 13”. Why we weren’t watching a kids movie I don’t know. I wasn’t paying attention to Tom Hanks floating around in space but right after things started to get interesting, we had to leave. I never did find out what happened to the crew and my memory of the event faded away.
Several months ago I was wandering my local video store and out of curiosity I picked up a copy of the movie, intent on finding out if the crew had actually made it back home. I had no idea the insanity it would awaken in me, in terms of curiosity about the NASA Space Program and space in general.
I grew up in the era where space shuttle launches were an ordinary occurrence. I knew who Neil Armstrong was and that humans had landed on the moon in 1969 but beyond that my knowledge of NASA and the universe was limited to naming the 9 planets (back when there were 9) and understanding that the Earth rotated around the Sun and the Moon around the Earth.
With this in mind I settled down to watch ”Apollo 13” and found that I really enjoyed the story. The cinematography was amazing as were the sets and costumes. I tried to imagine what it must have been like back in the 60s when all of this was new and mankind had only just started to personally explore outside of Earth’s atmosphere. I don’t think it’s possible to mentally get to a place where you experience the movie as the frontier of space. My perspective has been contaminated by Star Trek and Mars Rovers and Coke and Mentos bottle rockets. I’ll admit that before watching the movie I peeked at the wiki page. And don’t go judging me. I don’t want to watch a depressing movie where the whole crew dies in the end. Do you?
In any case I was curious about space and that interest soon spiralled off into parts unknown. Soon after watching the ”Apollo 13” I watched “The Right Stuff” which tells the story of the Mercury 7 astronauts and how the space program got started. In some ways it was more entertaining than the Tom Hanks movie but it’s clear how far making movies has come when you compare the two in terms of cinematography, soundtrack, special effects and especially transitions.
From there my mild interest in space was going to take a more sinister turn. I borrowed ”Lost Moon” and ”Liftoff” from the library, books about Apollo 13 and the beginning of the space program. I considered that the information might be redundant, having just watched movies about those very events. But I told myself movies leave things out and the books would present a more rounded picture of the history I had previously been ignorant about.
I then went on to rewatch Star Trek: Deep Space 9 - The Dominian War Years the summary version, listened to various Star Trek soundtracks and started watching Star Trek bloopers which morphed into Star Trek remixes where Red Squadron survived their crazy captain (kudos if you have any idea what I’m talking about) and clips of Q taunting the Federation.
By this point I was spiralling out of control and couldn’t stop myself. I poured over wiki pages documenting the Apollo missions and by coincidence watched an interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson on The Daily Show. This led to a video with Tyson talking about how the US has lost sight of their ability to dream beyond the stars. That led me to the Neil deGrasse Tyson meme which then led me to a video where he mentions the meme and how he’s slightly creeped out by it.
That reminded of the game show “QI” hosted by Stephen Fry when they had guest Professor Brian Cox on. He’s a particle physicist but make the science very easy for the lay person to understand. The show was hilarious and I would highly recommend it. (QI incidentally is an amazing show which is funny and educational. I’ll be doing a separate post on the show some time in the future).
Basically the past month has been an entire exercise in ‘if you give a mouse a cookie’ philosophy. I’ve loved it though and learned so much about the space program.
And now I’ve just discovered that ”The Right Stuff” was based on a Tom Wolfe book by the same name. ‘Scuse me I just need to dash to the library.