Zen And The Art Of Space Maintenance
Los Angeles CA (SPX) Mar 25, 2010
The challenge for the makers of Hubble 3D was how to somehow turn repairing a twenty year old beat-up piece of space technology into a dramatic and compelling story for a broad audience.
Of course that piece of the technology inserted as the main character of the story is the several billion dollar Hubble Space Telescope that has a long and controversial history, beset by programmatic delays, bureaucratic infighting, technical setbacks and substantial cost overruns.
The story revolves around the May 2009 mission by the crew of Atlantis to make critical repair and upgrades to the faltering telescope. The large format IMAX film, combined with the 3D effects, absolutely delivers the visual goods for the audience. The orbital mechanical ballet performed by the astronauts is compelling, but the back drop of the Earth is captivating.
During one of the critical repair missions, NASA astronaut Michael Massimino works to unscrew 117 screws on an access panel. The task is intensely difficult due to the cramped conditions, the intense temperature swings, the oven mitt like gloves, and what can almost be described as corroded screws.
Massimino lets the audience know how he is able to succeed at what most people would view as a nearly impossible task. For Massimino, he prefers to look at this as almost zen-like activity.
He does not consider how many screws he has removed, nor does he contemplate how many screws are left. He only focuses on one screw at a time. For Massimino who is 6'3 (6'4 is the tallest a U.S. astronaut can be), there is one moment when he become more a martial artist, then a zen master and, unable to unscrew a metal rail, he simply rips it from the telescope.
NASA has been criticized by a few in the media for talking about Pandora, but carefully not mentioning or endorsing Avatar. If one had a conspiratorial bent they might imagine that there was some larger ingenious media plan at work.
First roll-out Avatar to whip-up and stimulate tens of millions of people. Then roll out a fantastic 3D documentary which essentially lays out how to find compelling planets, perhaps those that might resemble a Pandora.
The film, and Hubble itself, even for myself as a long-time space analyst calling for greater efficiency and insisting on a NASA that can deliver greater impact, won me over with it's beauty and splendor.
Yes, Hubble has had many, many challenges. But so did the filmmakers in putting together this 3D movie. For example 8 mins of raw IMAX film is one mile long. The filmmakers had to battle with condensation on camera lenses, an inability to view the film until after the mission was over, and numerous constraints involved with filming with large, heavy cameras in space.
The film may very likely become viewed as the one of NASA's all time greatest efforts to reach out and connect with global audiences about what NASA does best - difficult, creative, basic gee whiz science and technology.
While space enthusiasts and all types of geeks will enjoy this film, the most important audience is children. If audiences want a film to make an impact then they have an obligation to bring the next generation.
We live in a fascinating time where religion and science occasionally struggle to coexist. The Vatican recently has attacked the movie Avatar, churches in Houston are praying that NASA budget cuts do not bring pain to their followers, and a Zen astronaut is helping humanity to understand our place in the universe.
Michael Potter is the Director of the award winning Documentary film, "Orphans of Apollo," The Greatest Space Story Never Told." and editor at large for SpaceDaily.com
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