We Are the Explorers

14-Apr-13 10:46 AM by
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Next month sees the return of several important sci-fi franchises to the silver screen: Star Trek, Superman, and Iron Man. Possibly the most important, the most relevant, of the three is Star Trek, as Gene Roddenberry's vision has long prognosticated the future, inspiring generations of scientists and explorers.

It is with that dream in mind that the Aerospace Industries Association has created a trailer promoting the past and future work of NASA, to be aired before next month's Star Trek Into Darkness. Said Dan Hendrickson, Director of Space Systems for the AIA:

When the Space Shuttle landed for the last time, we noticed that a public misconception seemed to be taking hold that the U.S. human spaceflight program was closed for good. Nothing could be further from the truth; in fact, more vehicles are being developed right now for human spaceflight than at any other point in history. Placing a trailer for Star Trek Into Darkness was the perfect opportunity to show that U.S. human spaceflight is alive and well, and that we’re making real, tangible progress toward an exciting future in space. We can leave audiences with a very simple message: NASA today, Starfleet tomorrow.

The trailer to be aired in theaters will be a 30-second version of "We Are the Explorers":

I find this spot inspirational (if a bit melodramatic) and reminiscent of both the opening sequence of Enterprise and the previous fans campaigns to save that series, which argued that Star Trek isn't just about entertainment; it's about motivating humanity to reach for the stars. Like NASA's previous PSAs, the above video has its own star power, being narrated by Peter Cullen, better known as the voice of Optimus Prime (and, less relevantly, Eeyore and Venger).

To produce a condensed trailer and buy airtime in theaters across the country, AIA went the crowdfunding route, giving fans the opportunity to participate in the evangelization of space exploration. The original goal of $33,000, which would put the commercial in fifty theaters, was reached in under a week. Their new goal is $94,000, "which would ensure that the space program trailer will play on 750 total screens and in at least one theater in every state across the U.S." according to StarTrek.com. You can contribute to the Indiegogo campaign until May 1.

Star-studded NASA PSAs

11-Dec-12 1:33 PM by
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It's my policy to not express political opinions in any public online venue, but I suspect readers of this blog will agree: NASA is underappreciated. The United States' National Aeronautics and Space Administration is one of the most advanced, intelligent, resourceful, and reliable agencies our government has. In the past year, it launched a Mars rover on a nine-month space journey, navigated it through seven minutes of terror, and successfully landed it within 1.5 miles of its intended target. The event was documented through an incredibly savvy Twitter account and a professional, informative, and dramatic video:

Yet the right people don't seem to appreciate these astonishing accomplishments. NASA knows that to reach the stars, they're going to need some star power — so they've recruited some celebrities to help get the word out.

In a recent series of public service announcements (PSAs), pop culture stars such as June Lockhart, Norah Jones, and Alex Trebek. Of course, you can't hope to trek across the stars without acknowledging the icons who have been there. Here's a PSA with Wil Wheaton:


Dancing Among the Stars

02-Mar-10 5:03 PM by
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ABC's Dancing with the Stars continues to redefine the definition of "celebrity", finding its contestants beyond the stage, screen, and sports field and choosing famous figures of significant historical value. This practice continues in the show's tenth season later in March when it introduces the first celebrity to have literally danced among the stars.

Buzz Aldrin, who earlier this year turned eighty, will be the show's next contestant, as he confirmed via Twitter: "Yes, it's true — I'm going to be on Dancing w/the Stars. Make sure to tune in to ABC for the premiere on Mon, Mar 22." His dance partner will be Ashly DelGrosso-Costa, who appeared on the show's first three seasons.

It's exciting to see pop culture acknowledge the value of science and technology. When Steve Wozniak broke the geek mold to defy all expectations on Dancing with the Stars, I was right there with him. And when the show took a Star Wars turn, I cheered for the spaceport tango. Though the dancing skills of an eighty-year-old retired astronaut remain untested, for being so brave and stalwart a hero, Buzz Aldrin has already earned my vote.

As others have said: that's one small two-step for mankind!

Happy Birthday, Buzz Aldrin

20-Jan-10 12:05 PM by
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It's not easy to find a hero. Celebrities and athletes are often idolized, but for less than ideal reasons, such as superficial strength and fleeting victories. And the high standards to which role models are held makes it all the easier for them to fall.

So it is an honor today to acknowledge the 80th birthday of astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the second person to ever walk on the moon. In 1969, he and his team risked their lives to boldly go where no human had gone before. They didn't know if they'd return, but they believed in the scientific and inspirational value of their mission, and they accepted all its inherent dangers.

Mr. Aldrin's reputation isn't limited to that one event forty years ago. Since then, he has continued to be an outspoken supporter of space exploration — and, when need be, a critic of NASA. His public appearances run the gamut from interviews in the Ron Howard documentary In the Shadow of the Moon to an avuncular encounter on Sesame Street:

Like many celebrities, Mr. Aldrin has a versatile online presence. His official Web site has news, interviews, and videos. There, you can purchase his autobiography, Magnificent Desolation, released on June 23, 2009, in which he relates his post-retirement battles with depression and alcoholism; or learn about his upcoming iPhone application. You can follow him on Twitter at @TheRealBuzz and be his fan on Facebook.

A hero takes every opportunity he can to make the world a better place, and Mr. Aldrin's eightieth birthday is no exception: he asks that you please donate whatever you can afford to the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund for disaster relief.

Thank you, Mr. Aldrin, for all your work in lifting this planet's inhabitants to the stars.

(Hat tip to Dayton Ward)

NASA to Relaunch Firefly's Serenity

20-Feb-09 11:43 AM by
Filed under Television; 1 comment.

Seven years after Star Trek went off the air in 1969, fans engaged in a letter-writing campaign to have NASA's first space shuttle christened the Enterprise. Now, fans of modern sci-fi have a similar opportunity to impact our culture. Until March 20th, NASA is accepting votes to name the third node to be installed on the International Space Station. "The name should reflect the spirit of exploration and cooperation embodied by the space station, and follow in the tradition set by Node 1- Unity- and Node 2- Harmony," they suggest. In addition to writing one in, voters can choose one of four default choices:

  • Earthrise
  • Legacy
  • Serenity
  • Venture

Node 3 of the International Space Station.  Image courtesy NASA.

Node 3 of the International Space Station. Image courtesy NASA.

Naturally, fans of Joss Whedon's short-lived series, Firefly, and its subsequent feature film, Serenity, see only one choice out of the four — and I have to admit, there's a certain logic to it. It is the trend for science fiction to become science fact, as evidenced in one episode of Firefly when pilot Wash remarked, "That sounds like something out of science fiction," to which his wife reminded him, "We live on a spaceship, dear." Additional nodes on the ISS expand, in just the smallest way, humanity's ability to colonize space, which is surely a step in the right direction. So don your browncoats and cast your votes to launch Serenity once again!

(Hat tips to SJVN and Lisa Hoover)

NASA and Pixar: Life Imitates Science

19-Nov-08 9:01 AM by
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This may seem a tangential topic to Showbits, but bear with me as I share this fascinating interview with Veronica McGregor of JPL. Ms. McGregor had a very important responsibility in the recent Mars Phoenix mission: she maintained the lander's Twitter feed, writing several daily updates to appear on the microblogging site.

Ms. McGregor took this media venue as an opportunity not just to disseminate factual information, but to engage her readers by presenting the Lander's discoveries from a first-person perspective. She describes how Twitter's 140-character limit motivated her to shorten prefixes such as "The Phoenix Lander" or "Data is not coming in suggesting" to simply "I am doing this" or "I found that".

Moreover, over the course of these many reports, the tweets took on a distinct voice, furthering the anthropomorphizing of the Phoenix Lander. It even wrote back to its followers, establishing an interplanetary dialogue. In response to public reaction to the discovery of water ice was the tweet, "Thanks for the congrats! & yes, I've seen water ice before but this is big news because it's 1st time EVER H20 has been collected/measured." And as the project neared the end of its life, it pondered, "Many questions about next Martian summer and will I wake up? It is beyond expectations. But if it happens you'll be among the 1st to know." Ms. McGregor explained the thought that went into these exchanges:

It's funny, when I sit down to write something for Phoenix I feel like I have to get into my "Phoenix character." I've been writing some other things for Phoenix, in first person, and I had to explain to somebody that it takes me a little while because I have to actually start thinking, well, "how would Phoenix look at this?"

The Phoenix and WALL•E

The Phoenix and Wall-E — not all that unlike.
Image courtesy Gizmodo.

In this way, the Lander became not unlike WALL•E, the mechanical hero of Pixar's summer hit. Though the Lander's virgin tweet on May 7 predates the movie release on June 27, it's likely not a coincidence that two optimistic robots captured the public's imagination simultaneously. Movies like WALL•E and Star Trek prompt humanity to look to the future and the stars, and NASA is helping us get there. Even the slightest glimmer of hope, no matter how whimsical or fictional, is something we're hungry for.

Phoenix's success on Twitter has led other projects have followed suit. The Mars Rovers, which turn five years old in January, joined Twitter in August, while the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn and Titan started tweeting in July. NASA's next expedition, the Mars Science Laboratory, which won't launch until September 15, 2009, at the earliest, already has a over 3,000 followers — despite having not yet published a single tweet! And if these aren't enough for you, NASA has indexed its many other Twitterers.

Someday, we'll be looking not up to the stars, but back to the Earth. Until then, we can count on entities like NASA and Pixar to bring the universe to us.

Ad Astra Per Aspera

24-Oct-07 7:30 PM by
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A movie I was hoping to catch in theaters earlier this year but have now seen on DVD is The Astronaut Farmer. I knew the movie starred Billy Bob Thornton, who I'd ever only seen in bit parts in Armageddon and The Apostle. Once the title rolled, though, I was surprised to see the film also contained an all-star supporting cast: Virginia Madsen (Firewall, Voyager), J. K. Simmons (J. Jonah Jameson from the Spider-Man movies), and — in a surprising and uncredited appearance — Bruce Willis as an old military buddy. By the movie's end, I'd not only enjoyed these bit parts but also come to respect Mr. Thornton as a leading actor.

The movie starts with Charlie Farmer (get it?) already deep in the throes of his obsession to obtain that which eluded him in his Air Force days: space flight. We don't know how long he's been building a spaceworthy rocket in his backyard barn, but it's only when he tries to purchase enough fuel for liftoff that the government becomes aware and suspicious of this potentially terroristic activity and intent on shutting it down. Just as discouraging are the numerous community members who see Charlie as a whacko — perhaps even a threat. Only his family supports his endeavor… but even they have their limits.

Astronaut Farmer is a fun movie about the underdog with some wonderful scenes underscoring the protagonist's uniqueness. When he's a guest speaker in a grade school classroom, the teacher compliments him on his "costume" — it having never occurred to her that Charlie is being authentic in both dress and intent. Later, when he is suspected of mental instability, the small-town sheriff sends him to the only psychologist available: the school nurse. Charlie's intolerance for this folderol is to his company's consternation and audience's amusement. A pair of sympathetic FBI agents support this light mood. (When they get a call from their superiors, be sure to listen to the ringtone!)

However, the film may sometimes strain plausibility with its bright-eyed optimism. Or maybe that's just the pessimist in me; I honestly couldn't decide whether to root for or decry our hero when he tells an FAA hearing board, "When I was a kid, they used to tell me that I could be anything I wanted to be, no matter what… and maybe I am insane, I don't know, but I still believe that." With all the tragedy and disappointment Farmer's had in his life, can he really still be that naive? And why can't more of us be that way? It's the same struggle played out more comically in Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

Perhaps all that mounting frustration is what motivates a sudden and dramatic plot twist at the one-hour mark. Or maybe it was the otherwise calm pacing of the story that the directors decided midstream needed a tweak. Either way, though disruptive at first, this thread too plays itself out by the movie's end. Farmer captures the hearts and imaginations of a nation in this tale that's by-the-book, but is sweet nonetheless and an inspirational counterpoint to my cubicle's décor — maybe I should consider replacing it:

Despair.com Potential

When the Whole World Looked Up

21-Sep-07 11:19 PM by
Filed under Trailers; 1 comment.

I discovered In the Shadow of the Moon last month when I thought my moviegoing for 2007 was complete and looked at the year's remaining releases to confirm. I was pleasantly surprised to find Ron Howard's name attached to this documentary about the first lunar landing. It made me keen to see the film's theatrical release, but I suspected its limited distribution would resign me to waiting for the DVD.

Today, a review on Tech_Space linked me to the film's official site, where I found a version of the movie trailer superior to this one:

Now I know I can't wait to see this film. There have been so many documentaries about the crises of the world (Inconvenient Truth) and the nation (Fahrenheit 9/11) that we need to be reminded of the powerful steps mankind can take when focused on positive change. Amidst our legitimate fears and concerns, humanity must remember that it has much to be proud of.

The good news is that Shadow's distribution is growing beyond its initial release, and it will be in my own town just a week from today.  I will be honored to accompany these men who boldly went where no one had gone before.