One of the big movie releases this weekend is “First Man,” the new film from Oscar-winning director Damien Chazelle, depicting the astronaut career of Neil Armstrong.
It’s high on my list of films to catch this season, a biopic starring Ryan Gosling and depicting space travel as the intense, life-threatening scenario it was, and still largely is to this day.
“First Man” is part of a run of space-based movies that have surged into the mainstream in the past decade. Several are period pieces, like “First Man” itself or Monroe’s own “Hidden Figures,” movies about the glory days of those heroic astronauts with the right stuff who conquered the moon.
Others are set in the future, like “Moon,” a twisty thriller set on a lunar mining station, or “The Martian,” which depicts actual manned missions to the fourth planet from the sun.
The most successful of the bunch, at least so far as awards go, is “Gravity,” which won Best Director for Alfonso Cuaron, and is the only one to take place in a time that is relatively “now,” with technology we can currently build.
If Hollywood is enamored with space, Congress is not. NASA remains underfunded and poorly supported. We continue to staff the International Space Station, but we depend on Russian rockets to get our astronauts there. We retired the aging space shuttle fleet without a replacement ready to go and seem content to outsource future development to billionaire hobbyists like Elon Musk.
For all intents and purposes, the American space program is, not precisely dead, but dormant. We’re happy to launch robots to Mars, but we haven’t a single manned project ready to go, just grandiose announcements of a military “Space Force” and outlandish dreams of Martian colonies we can’t yet achieve.
For all the naysayers who decry the space program, the world we have today was built on technologies and concepts derived from the Apollo missions. There are new discoveries laying beyond the lunar orbit, on Mars and in the asteroids beyond.
So, far, though, we can only reach them in the movies.