On the eve of insolvency of the United States of America, the landing of the space shuttle Atlantis on July 21 brought to a close a thirty year program of tremendous progress in science, space exploration and international cooperation. It also reminded me of what America is capable of when it sets its collective mind to accomplish something great. Sadly, my country has lost its greatness in a sea of politics.
A Rasmussen Report poll said that 50% of respondents thought the space shuttle was worth it with a CNN poll reporting that over 50% thought it was bad for America to end the space shuttle program. America is at the precipice. Does our nation continue to lead? Or are we going to be led?
One doesn’t have to be a political scientist to know that China is now in the economic driver’s seat. Their ownership of $1 trillion plus of our bonds is surely going to hold court in the debt ceiling issues of the United States, and they are most certainly going to eventually be “left seat” in manned space exploration. I strongly predict that the United States will be reaching out to China to service the International Space Station because, mark my word; some myopic politician will botch the deal with Russia to continue servicing the ISS while NASA is in the Apollo/space shuttle valley of the 1970s.
As the United States “reset” their relationship with Russia, our government must “reset” the way it operates constitutionally. The time has come. I’m not advocating a change to a dictatorship, but you’d have to be living under a rock not to realize that Washington, DC is in perpetual “special interest” gridlock. There simply has to be a better way.
It’s time for the words United and States to stand together again so that we can all take another “giant leap.”
I am one of those people that believe in fate. That is not to say that our entire lives have been mapped out and that we can’t change our futures. But let’s be honest, our actions and motivations do present us with interesting paths to take. One of those paths led me to be involved in a film called Noah.
Produced by Identical Films, Noah is a feature film set in present day America where slavery was never abolished. I play a character named Martin Scott, a multimillionaire who purchases his first slave. The story that ensues is a reminder that despite the progress we have made since the abolishment of slavery in this country, there remains a need to be educated on our past to protect us from a repeat of history.
The paths I have taken in my own writing, brings us to a time when slavery was legal in this country. In First World, one of the central characters, Elisabeth Seward, is African American. Present during the administration of President Lincoln she was involved in events that motivated Lincoln to craft the Emancipation Proclamation.
I’m not sure who it was, but one of the actors on Saturday mentioned that “one person can make a difference.” How true has it been through the history of our country where one person has had an idea, a motivation or a determination to do something great (or sadly not so great). We know this list is not limited to names such as Washington, Lincoln, Parks or King, but there are the handful of Americans that come to mind when we think of independence and civil rights.
Let’s consider for a moment just what humanity is capable of accomplishing when we unite for a greater good. On April 12, 1861 the pressure cooker of legalized slavery finally erupted into the American Civil War. While the loss of life was severe, the result was freedom for slaves and the building of one of the greatest nations this planet has ever seen. One hundred years later on April 12, 1961 Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to enter space and orbit the Earth. A month later in that same year, President John Kennedy dared to put an American on the Moon by the end of the decade. And in the present Charles F. Bolden is the first African American to head NASA.
Our country was far from perfect after the Civil War ended in 1865. The history of civil rights in the United States has always been an uphill battle, but a battle we are winning even though days can seem like years which can seem like decades. America is a young country and one that is sometimes scarily immature and near-sighted.
As an actor I can offer this experience from my work on the set. There was a moment during taping when a cold shudder came over me during a scene with the character Noah and slave dealer Avery (wonderfully played by Andy Jasmin and Andrew Roth respectively).
Dear God, we used to buy people.
The power of film gives us the opportunity to educate where, sorry to say this, our schools and society sometimes fail. Ignorance of history is not bliss—it’s dangerous. It scares the hell out of me when people think the American Civil War was not about slavery or that the Holocaust didn’t happen.
Although the United States has made tremendous strides over the last two centuries, we still have a long way to go. We know these truths to be self-evident because…
…all men are created equal.
When I wrote the original draft of First World in 2006, I had no idea I would be converting it to a book five years later – never mind a series of them. But those are the journeys in time we take. What’s interesting to me, are the countless additional ideas I had at the time when writing the screenplay that I now can fit into a book. It wasn’t because I didn’t think they wouldn’t be visually interesting, but when writing a script on spec, unless you’re James Cameron, you really are confined to a certain page limit.
In Synedrion, I theorized the possibility that, at some point in time, satellites will not only be able to render images of the inside of buildings, but can do so in three dimensions with nearly life-like quality. Thus, the Eighth Synedrion Council watching President Kennedy as he delivers his famous 1961 address to Congress in VEC – the Virtual Earth Control room.
This technology, while maybe not yet in three dimensional form, partially exists today. According to an article on CNET, DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, wants technologies that render “complete situational awareness” through buildings. My guess is that they already have it as part of their Advanced Space Systems program.
NASA’s Terra satellite already maps the topography of the planet. And in 2007 the Bush Administration approved a plan for “21st-century spycraft…that can see through cloud cover and even penetrate buildings and underground bunkers.”
Speaking of time, last night I watched one of my favorite movies The Time Machine. Starring the dashing Rod Taylor and the beautiful Yvette Mimieux, H.G. Wells’ story of a machine that can go forward and backward in time, is a classic. Forget the remake, the 1960 version is the one you want to see.
One of my favorite scenes was when Taylor’s character, H. George Wells, goes into the library of the Eloi city in the year 802701 only to discover that books no longer exist (those that did crumpled in his hands from extreme age) and that data was stored in ring CD-like devices. Curious how such change in technology is happening now in the Earth year of 2011.
As I’ve said before, what I enjoy the most about the classic science fiction made in the 1950s and 60s (and some in the 70s) is the story they told through dialogue. Of course, they tried their best to deliver visual greatness (This Island Earth took two years to create the special effects). Regarding stories that center on time, one hidden gem (forget the sets) is Journey to the Center of Time.
In closing, the trailer for Approved by Durjaya has been released and I start work on a new film in Boston next weekend titled Noah. More on that project next time.
With the final mission of the space shuttle program launching this Friday, July 8 with Atlantis’s scheduled lift off from Kennedy Space Center at 11:26 EDT, the debate begins on what is truly the next step for NASA and indeed our long term goals in space exploration on a planetary scale.
We have the grand and fantastic International Space Station, a Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle in development, unmanned spacecraft exploring every facet of our solar system while discovering new worlds beyond our own and an exciting commercial space program being led by SpaceX. But what NASA really needs is a budget set in stone, law and time that spells out exactly where the agency is going to go without interference from the whims of a new American President.
In my view, there really have been only three Presidents that understood the importance of setting long term goals for the agency – Kennedy, Nixon and Reagan.
When the Apollo program ended in the early 1970s, the next phase for NASA was well underway with the space shuttle when Nixon announced the program in 1972. Of course a few years earlier, it was Wernher von Braun who said at the time of the Apollo 11 launch “You give me 10 billion dollars and 10 years and I’ll have a man on Mars.”
Back then NASA had direction and long term goals. I’m not saying we don’t have that to some degree now, nor were the 1960s and 70s not fraught with budgetary issues, but NASA’s direction cannot be decided every four years. NASA needs, at least, a 10 year plan that cannot be changed once it’s approved by Congress.
Of course, what I have always found uniquely interesting in the history of the space program is its origins from the 1930s and The Third Reich. For it was that impoverished nation of Germany that conceived the Silbervogel – a winged aircraft that, to some degree, gave birth to what evolved into the United States space shuttle.
One has to truly wonder what inspired those scientists to create what they did given their resources at the time. Could there have been some outside influence perhaps? After all, we are talking about the invention of new applications in science and technology.
I, for one, believe in the ancient astronaut theories. In addition to the general concept of First World being built around it, there are simply too many unanswered questions regarding the abrupt jump in technology and the development of modern civilization. Something, someone or some action had to be responsible. While evidence certainly exists of some sort of interference in our society, an answer has not revealed itself.
Over at Space.com, Andrei Finkelstein, Russian astronomer and director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Applied Astronomy Institute in St. Petersburg, said “The genesis of life is as inevitable as the formation of atoms.”
We have discovered over 1,000 extrasolar planets and with the success of the Kepler space telescope are discovering more everyday. Now that we know where these otherworld planets are, we can turn SETI’s radio antennas to very specific areas of the cosmos to listen.
But with SETI’s budget slashed and its Allen Telescope Array offline, how can we listen to possible signals from alien civilizations if they are aimed at Earth? SETI needs just $200,000 to start listening again.
I leave you with this thought. Why have Earth’s space programs morphed into a thousand different directions with no clear goal? Haven’t we all noticed that we have these great tools in science and technology but no coherent global program to unite these platforms in a mission of revelation? I’m not talking Biblical Revelation here, but the revelation in knowledge and understanding.
The answers we seek are probably already here, but we need the organization to find them – or maybe to let them find us.