A few months ago while searching for First Signal locations I came across The McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center in Concord, NH. A museum that honors Alan Shepard and Christa McAuliffe with a “mission is to inspire every generation to reach for the stars, through engaging, artful and entertaining activities that explore astronomy, aviation, earth and space science” is right up my alley of interests.
Last Sunday I took a day trip to visit the museum. When you first arrive you are greeted by a 1:1 scale model of the Mercury-Redstone 3 (Freedom 7) that launched Alan Shepard to space. When you see a life size replica of the space program standing in front of you, it puts those early years of the space program into perspective.
For space and science enthusiasts, this museum really gets it right. You’re first greeted by a NASA funded tribute wall to Alan Shepard and Christa McAuliffe before proceeding to the main exhibits. Some of the exhibits include the experimental XF8U-2 Crusader Jet, the Mercury capsule and developmental path and images of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. The resolution of the images this satellite has captured make you feel that you are actually on the Moon. Stunning doesn’t even begin to describe what you’re staring at. Considering that part of First Signal’s story revolves around satellites, I found the CATSAT story to be particularly interesting.
Of course no science museum is complete without a planetarium. The Discovery Center’s 103 seat theater did not disappoint! I arrived just in time for the Take Flight show that brilliantly animated the history and science of aeronautics. After the show, there was the space shuttle simulator (it’s not easy!) that was very engaging. But I felt like I was in a scene from The Andromeda Strain when I took a picture of myself in infrared. Between the static exhibits and the interactive, the museum really has something for everyone. One thing I enjoy the most about developing new projects like First Signal is the research. It takes you to places that you might not normally go.
While I was at the museum, I couldn’t help but remember the tragedy of the Space Shuttle Challenger that took the life of all seven astronauts (including Christa McAuliffe). It reminded me of a quote I used in First World from President Reagan’s memorial speech about the accident. In one line he summed up what the dedicated men and women in the space program represent, not only to the United States but the world.
“The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave.”
– President Ronald Reagan; Houston, TX; January 31, 1986
July 20, 1969. The 49th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission – “we came in peace for all mankind.”
Although at 4 years old, I was too young to remember the historic event of the Eagle landing on the Moon, I fondly recall the later Apollo missions in the early 1970s. Those grainy black and white pictures being transmitted from the Moon to our television sets was a remarkable achievement. Indeed, it truly was “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” In those days the world watched in wonder as the impossible was achieved, not once, but several times.
When you think of the new technologies, sciences and discoveries that resulted from the space program of the 1960s and 70s, it’s clear that a giant leap was achieved on numerous levels. You can’t bring together that many scientists and engineers and focus them on a single end goal without achieving breakthroughs that were literally out of this world. Of course, another result of the space program was the motivation it gave to so many.
In my case, I developed an interest in astronomy which led to my passion for science fiction. When I combined these interests and wrote First World in 2006, I had no idea where that journey would take me. In the film world it led to the production of the short film version of First World in 2007, followed by Evidence and my first feature film Justice Is Mind. In the real world, I have been fortunate to see the space shuttle Atlantis land at Edwards Air Force Base, Discovery and components of the Apollo program at Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, the Enterprise at The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum and Freedom 7 at John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.
In the world of entertainment, two of my favorite TV series that involved the Moon are UFO and Space: 1999 with my favorite sci-fi movie being War of the Worlds (1953). But over the last several years “Hollywood” has produced some excellent must see films. I could list many, but my two recent favorites have been Hidden Figures and Arrival. Two completely different films, but with compelling messages of the possible when faced with the impossible.
As for possible, progress continues on First Signal. With Daniel Elek-Diamanta designing our first promotional poster, the look of First Signal is beginning to take shape. With more location scouting planned over the next several days, I have no doubt that the right location will soon present itself. When a launch is planned, all the conditions need to be right. I don’t want to settle on a substandard location just for the sake of keeping a schedule. Not only do I need to be excited as a director, but I want the actors and crew to feel equally motivated with their surroundings.
No the title of this week’s post doesn’t refer to a meeting hall, but the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. This famed building assembled the Saturn V and Space Shuttle vehicles and will be home to the Space Launch System in the future. Assembly building could also refer to the process of creating a film.
This past week I have been quietly talking to certain actors and crew about First Signal. While I mentioned last week the plan to produce this film in August, I’m purposely being quiet on who exactly is involved until after the fact. Yes, a few actors have already been cast and I started to reach out to crew. Of course it’s exciting to bring a project to light, but there is a method to this “secrecy”.
Those that follow me have probably noticed that I haven’t published one line of dialogue, mentioned a proposed location or stated who is already with the project. For First Signal this is all about building a comprehensive branding and marketing campaign around this “First World” universe. Much like the careful thought and preparation that goes into the assembly of a space vehicle, the same holds true for a film (but not nearly as complicated!).
With the number of films being created due to the democratization of the process of filmmaking, I believe it is imperative to have some sort of solid public relations and marketing campaign tied to your project. I did this with the magazines I published and have carried this discipline to my film projects. I say discipline because that’s what you need when making a movie. Yes, it’s all very exciting when you are on set and actually making a dream come to life, but the years, months, weeks and days leading up that moment is one of careful planning and execution. In particular, the genre of science fiction takes a certain amount of world building to make it original.
Of course what this also comes down to is making a project interesting for a consumer audience. This article in The Hollywood Reporter addressed the gamble films take with a box office release versus selling to Netflix. I firmly believe it was the limited theatrical release we had for Justice Is Mind that led to the majority of press reports and consumer awareness.
Honestly, unless a film has some sort of momentum owing to cast or concept, how do you differentiate one movie from another in the sea of video on demand? Do you hope it’s discovered on VOD or do you give it a consumer marketing push first with a theatrical release? I’ll always believe the latter makes the most sense.
When I was living in New York City in the 1980s there was ship docked a couple of avenues away that I would sometimes notice. In those days it was a dawn walk down 10th avenue in the morning on my way to Sky Rink before I went to work at Time magazine. That ship was the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid.
Last week I traveled to the city to spend the day at The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. I’m not sure if there is another museum in the world that offers an aircraft carrier from World War II, the Concorde, the Space Shuttle Enterprise and the Galileo shuttle from the famed TV series Star Trek. Needless to say among the array of exhibits there’s plenty to do!
When I was researching and writing both First World and SOS United States there was so much at the museum that touched on these stories. Not only do both involve aircraft carriers, the basis for First World is the 1960s space program and the return of the Concorde in SOS United States as Commonwealth One for the Prime Minister of the UK. It’s one thing researching a subject, it’s entirely another to experience them in real life.
Of course, being a Star Trek fan, I know the museum is getting a Star Trek exhibit in July. What I didn’t know is when I walked into the Space Shuttle pavilion I would see the Galileo shuttle from the TV show! I had just watched a documentary on the group of fans that saved this storied piece of TV history from a piece of discarded junk to a restored prop of broadcast quality. Yes, it was a total geek out moment seeing this iconic prop.
As for history, I remember seeing the Space Shuttle Enterprise on TV when it did its atmospheric tests in the 70s. Although I saw the Space Shuttle Discovery some years ago at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, the way the museum has the Enterprise displayed along with its related history and exhibits made the pavilion one of the highlights of my visit.
When I was at the museum I took two guided tours, Pacific War: USS Intrepid in WWII and Concorde a Supersonic Story. For the respective price of $15 and $20, they were wonderfully informative and were essentially private tours. For WWII it was another guest and myself. The tour was all the more interesting as the other guest was a veteran of the Korean War. If it wasn’t for those brave men and women that serve in our military, we would be living in an unrecognizable world today.
Having always been a fan of the Concorde, I saved what turned out to be a private tour until the end of the day. If you grew up in the 70s the Concorde was all over the news. Simply put she was so far ahead of her time that just to see the plane was a cool experience. I first saw Concorde in 1985 on my first trip to London as she was taxing at Heathrow. As I understand it from the terrific guide I had, this is one of the few Concordes in the world that you can actually go into. When I was sitting in the passenger seats I was just thinking to myself about the amazing conversations and deals that went down in the cabin during her time in service.
As for time, I met up with my former business partner Lois Elfman for a wonderful dinner at Bistro Citron (highly recommended!). I first met Lois during my days in New York City at the offices of the Ice Theatre of New York (for insiders Moira’s loft). As many know we went on to launch a newsmagazine for the sport of figure skating that we proudly built into the world’s largest with an “intrepid” team.
Speaking of building, I just completed the second act of the political thriller I’m writing around the sport of figure skating “If she skates the way she did at sectionals she’s going to worlds. And the Federation can’t stop it.”
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.”
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.