A Big-Screen Celebration of Space Flight

With the successful landing of the NASA InSight Lander on Mars this week, it seemed like a great time to look at some of the best movies celebrating space travel—and the productive partnership between Hollywood and the scientific community to bring great, compelling stories to life.

First Man (2018) shares the story of the events leading up to the historic Apollo 11 flight from the perspective of Neil Armstrong and his family. The movie aims to deliver a sensory experience that makes audiences feel like they’re in the spacecraft (but hopefully without the zero-gravity effects!). First Man was crafted in painstaking detail with the participation of NASA, guided by some of the team members from the actual mission. There’s also an immersive augmented reality (AR) companion experience which you can access by visiting moon.firstman.com on your phone.

Interstellar (2014) is a fascinating film exploring a group of astronauts and their journey through a wormhole. Aided by a Caltech theoretical physicist who served as a consultant on the film, Interstellar won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects and had fine performances and a beautiful score.

Apollo 13 (1995) explores the dramatic 1970 Apollo 13 lunar mission. Director Ron Howard received technical assistance from NASA to make the film as realistic and accurate as possible. He secured astronaut and flight controller training for the actors as well as permission to film aboard a reduced-gravity aircraft to feature a realistic portrayal of weightlessness in space.

Astronaut in space

And of course, there’s The Martian (2015), which tells the story of an astronaut accidentally stranded on Mars, his survival on the desolate planet, and the ensuing attempt to rescue him. NASA provided significant support in the making and promotion of this film, which featured stunning visual effects and many surprisingly comedic moments.

But beyond its thrilling entertainment value, sci-fi is a powerful genre that has inspired countless people to pursue studies and careers in STEM fields. It inspires new ways of looking at leadership. It challenges us to confront our own morality and our cultural and political institutions through a safely distant lens. And sci-fi encourages us to look past traditional tools and approaches to consider bold, new ways of thinking.

At SU, for example, we actually use sci-fi as a device to help people think differently about the world and the future. We convene science fiction writers, artists, and other creative professionals to facilitate interactive discussions and ideation sessions. Check out this brief video featuring our CEO, Rob Nail, that describes this fascinating approach. Lowe’s used these methods to propel itself into the future of retail (why hello there, LoweBot!) and also used technology horizon mapping and sci-fi storytelling for innovation.

LoweBot

If these aren’t enough to keep you busy over the holidays, check out the many great sci-fi articles on Singularity Hub. From book recommendations to a look at the current state of VR tech depicted in Ready Player One, there’s a lot of great content to nourish curious minds!