Tag Archive: Mission to Mars

Liev Schreiber

The exploration of Mars has been the subject of many science fiction productions, especially science fiction thrillers.  One of the best of these was David Tennant’s Doctor Who episode “Waters of Mars” where the good Doctor demonstrates the pitfalls of changing history when he rescues astronauts on a doomed mission to Mars.  The original Total Recall with Arnold Schwarzenegger only used the Mars exploration as a MacGuffin of sorts, but the overall movie resulted in a film classic and the use of Mars as backdrop gave us a new view of the planet as envisioned by  20th century Earthlings.  Other movies have used Mars as a backdrop—Gary Sinise’s Mission to Mars and Red Planet with Val Kilmer and Carrie Anne Moss both at least offered a good-looking landscape.  The more recent John Carter of Mars blended fantasy and sci-fi.  As with most John Carpenter movies, his Ghosts of Mars had a whole bunch of awesome, with a zombie/horror plot and great genre actors Jason Statham and Pam Grier.


The American/Irish made science fiction film Last Days on Mars, which premiered this year at Cannes, gets its UK release this weekend, with the U.S. release date yet unknown.   Directed by Ruairi Robinson and written by Clive Dawson, the trailer doesn’t give away a lot.  It could be another forgettable B-movie Mars flick, or it could be something better.

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It’s a bit like the return of the three astronauts in the Apollo 13 spacecraft to the Earth’s atmosphere as reflected in the last minutes of Ron Howard’s nail-biting film Apollo 13.  Literally at the time of this post, 12:10 a.m. U.S. Central time, August 6, 2012, white-knuckled NASA engineers, scientists and administrators are watching their computer monitors to see if their $2.5 billion gamble paid off.  The space rover Curiosity is just seconds from landing on the surface of Mars.  More than 150 million miles away, we won’t actually know the status of the mission landing for another 14 minutes because of the long communication lag.  If successful, the small car will roam the mountains of the Red Planet for the next two years, learning each day more than the sum total of knowledge amassed in the history of our distant study of the planet.

The Mars Science Laboratory Mission has been in its space travel phase for eight months now, leaving Florida’s Kennedy Space Center last November toward the solar system’s fourth planet from the Sun.  But now it actually has to achieve its descent successfully, and this will be more difficult than landing predecessor rovers Pathfinder, Spirit, and Opportunity.  The vehicle named Curiosity weighs much more, approximately a ton of material to gingerly float to the surface.  NASA is deploying an untested “sky crane,” which looks amazingly like the Nostromo or Prometheus.  Eight engines on each corner of the sky crane will fire to slow the descent of the equipment and rover in its last seconds, deploying NASA’s largest parachute yet in the process.

NASA’s website offers this video showing the stages of the landing, called Curiosity: Seven Minutes of Terror (which sort of sounds odd for NASA, since we’re talking about hunks of metal and wire and no lifeforms affected, but don’t miss this video, as it is well-made and shows engineers laying out computer graphics of the stages we never will be able to actually watch):

Even better, NASA asked Wil Wheaton and William Shatner to explain the landing process for Curiosity.  Very cool!  Here is Wheaton’s version:

And here is Shatner’s version:

It’s sort of funny that NASA chose to use the same script for each actor (I like Wheaton’s more).

What’s happening right now, 154 million miles away:

  • Curiosity enters the atmosphere of Mars at an altitude of about 81 miles and a velocity of 13,200 mph, about 390 miles and 7 minutes from touchdown.
  • One minute and 15 seconds after entry, the heat shield will face heat of 3,800 degrees Fahrenheit, which will slow the craft by 90 percent.
  • Ten seconds later, deceleration will reach 15 times the force of Earth’s gravity at sea level.
  • Four minutes into the atmosphere, the guided entry phase of flight end. Six 55-pound weights will be ejected to help ensure stability when a supersonic parachute deploys.
  • At an altitude of about seven miles and racing toward the Martian surface at 900 miles per hour, the gigantic chute will snap to a diameter of 51 feet, resulting in a 65,000-pound, 9 Gs jolt at about Mach 1.7–NASA’s largest parachute ever flown.
  • Five miles from touchdown and 24 seconds later, the heat shield is jettisoned.  The craft is now descending at 280 mph.
  • Curiosity and its rocket pack separate from the chute and its support.
  • The rocket-laden sky crane kicks in.
  • Four rocket engines shut down.  At 70 feet, Curiosity will be lowered on the end of a 25-foot-long tether.
  • The rover’s six motorized wheels will snap into position for touchdown at 1.7 mph.

Without manned space shuttles, this is the excitement we can expect from the new stage of NASA science and technology.

So did we succeed?  Or as one of the NASA engineers says, will it be “game over”?  Check out NASA.gov right now as the first video images are transmitted back to Earth.

1 a.m. update–Success!  The rover made it.  Good job, NASA!

C.J. Bunce

By C.J. Bunce

Inspired by the new blue space suits in the new movie Prometheus, yesterday we began showing the evolution of the space suit as seen by Hollywood from the 1950s through the 1970s, including a few photos of real astronaut suits that influenced movie designers.  Today we continue trekking forward to the costumes of today.

In 1979 the original cast of Star Trek returned in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Mr. Spock, clad in an orange space suit, tries to meld with the menace called V’ger.

Kirk arrives in a white suit to rescue Spock after he is knocked unconscious.

Forget about the Astronaut Farmer, I really liked the 1979 TV series Salvage 1 with Andy Griffith, an early glimpse at an astronaut a la Virgin’s Richard Branson, where private folks build a rocket from scratch and send it up, up, and away.

I don’t recall Roger Moore wearing the classic aluminum looking suit in the James Bond movie Moonraker, but he wore one in PR photos.

The yellow suits worn throughout most of Moonraker’s space scenes.

Here is an astronaut scene you might not recall–In 1980’s Superman II, Zod and friends use American astronauts on the moon as playthings before bringing their wrath to Earth.

In 1982 we get another look at the Kirk and Spock suits from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, now worn by Walter Koenig and Paul Winfield alongside Ricardo Montalban in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

More of a protective suit, a few of these radiological suits were equipped with glass helmets, making us think they might work outside the USS Enterprise. Here Scotty and his engineering crew wore these in both Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Either way I think these make for some awesome designed space suits, and Scotty never looked cooler.

In 1979 we met the first of Ridley Scott’s Alien universe, and witnessed HR Giger’s visionary suits for the crew of the Nostromo.

Sigourney Weaver’s character Ripley had her own version of a space suit.

In the 1981 film Outland, Sean Connery takes an excursion to Jupiter’s moon Io. And again we have multi-colored space suits!

Sometimes creating space suits means replicating reality, and it was hardly ever done better than in 1983’s Mercury program biopic, The Right Stuff.

The Right Stuff also featured Sam Shepard as Chuck Yeager, and here he augured a test plane into the ground. Crash and burn.

In 1984 Roy Scheider discovered this time he needed a bigger ship in the 2001: A Space Odyssey sequel, 2010.

One of my all-time favorite sci-fi movies is The Last Starfighter. Grig and Alex wore some of the best looking space suits in this film (OK, yes, I’ve included a few pilot outfits in this list).

In 1986 we got to see kids in space in Spacecamp, starring Lea Thompson.

Marketed as “from the makers of Star Wars,” the 1990 film Solar Crisis didn’t even come close.

In the original (but unreleased) cut of Star Trek Generations, the film was to open with a suborbital drop by Captain James T. Kirk. The heat shield tiles were a good idea.

Ron Howard created one of the best films ever of any genre with the superb account of Apollo 13, starring Tom Hanks and Kevin Bacon.

In 1996 with Star Trek: First Contact, Captain Picard and Worf wore this type of suit to defeat a threat from The Borg. These suits were later re-used by the crew in Star Trek Voyager.

In 1997’s Event Horizon, Sam Neill wore a darker and grittier look.

Matt LeBlanc piloted the Jupiter 2 in the remake of Lost in Space (1998) complete with helmeted suit.

More recycled Hollywood. In 1998 B’Elanna Torres wore Captain Kirk’s space suit from the deleted opening scene from Star Trek Generations, in the Star Trek Voyager episode “Extreme Risk.”

In the blockbuster 1998 movie Armageddon, Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck wore these realistic space suits to save the world from a giant rock.

…but first the crew had to wear these suits to drill through the jagged asteroid’s surface.

In 2000 Val Kilmer starred in Red Planet, blending horror and sci-fi, wearing this nicely designed space garb.

Red Planet also featured The Matrix’s Carrie Ann Moss, sporting her own cool but differently styled suit.

In 2000 the all-star cast of Space Cowboys mirrored reality, looking like John Glenn in his second voyage to the stars.

Also in 2000, Mission to Mars featured this type of astro-wear.

In 2002 George Clooney donned a space suit in Solaris, where a psychiatrist investigates a space crew.

But it is really hard to beat these copper colored space suits as worn in 2002 by Scott Bakula’s Captain Archer on the TV series Enterprise–for me the color reflects the old heavy underwater gear of centuries past.

The key impetus that created the Fantastic Four in the 2005 film was a volley of cosmic rays, turning Michael Chiklis’s Ben Grimm into The Thing.

In 2006 in the episode “Waters of Mars” David Tennant’s Doctor Who lead an incredible mission to save Earthlings in space, a mission with a terrible destiny. 

In 2008 the rhino-alien Judoon took Doctor Who by storm, looking tough in these big suits…


And in the same year, the short aliens with big blue suits, the Sontarans, also from Doctor Who.


Maybe the strangest space suit so far, this bulky outfit was worn by Cillian Murphy in Danny Boyle’s film Sunshine.

Maybe the future is really in gear like Iron Man’s suit. After all he’s taken it into space.

Whether you’re a traditional Trekkie or not, you had to like the great look of JJ Abrams’ 2009 remake of Star Trek. And still we have mutli-colored outfits to tell everyone apart!

In 2009’s Moon, Sam Rockwell has some issues to deal with. One of those over-hyped films that I couldn’t get through. Still, it had a good overall look.

In 2009 the TV series Stargate Universe featured these very futuristic, detailed space suits.

Very simple space suits from the 2009 TV series Defying Gravity.

In 2011’s Doctor Who episode “The Impossible Astronaut” Matt Smith was killed by whoever was in this astronaut suit.

Also in the 2011 Doctor Who season, the episode “Rebel Flesh” featured this future-human protective gear, which might as well be a space suit. Over the decades Doctor Who has featured aliens in space suits, too, and too many to list!

Which brings us to June 2012, and next week’s premiere of Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, with these slick blue suits appearing on posters everywhere.

Now we know this was not a comprehensive list, but please drop us a note and let us know if we missed any key space suits.

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