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Tag Archive: space shuttle Endeavour


Review by C.J. Bunce

After a few packed years of superhero movies, Dark Phoenix is going to be a target for comparison.  No single Marvel movie this year–including Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame–really merits entry on a “best of the best” list, yet all had good, even great, moments, and easily belong in a top 25 superhero movie list.  Dark Phoenix now joins that group.  Instead of a galaxy-changing upheaval, first-time director and award-winning writer-producer Simon Kinberg marked the end of the X-Men movie saga with a personal story.  It’s a story of struggle and tragedy more attuned to the X-Men characters and the cinematic stories 20th Century Fox has told since we first met Patrick Stewart’s professor and Ian McKellen’s metal-manipulating frenemy way back in the year 2000.  Although it’s not as compelling and cinematic as James Mangold’s gold standard Logan or the incredible team-up in X-Men: Days of Future Past, actress Sophie Turner leads an emotional journey for her all-powerful Jean Grey that first began in X-Men: Apocalypse, really backing up that tagline from the movie posters: Every hero has a dark side.  They really meant it.

Kinberg wrote the original script for the Dark Phoenix in X-Men: The Last Stand, but he gets a lot closer to the spirit of the source material this time.  The key conflict mimics Marvel’s Jim Shooter and Chris Claremont’s reported struggle when they developed the character of Dark Phoenix, asking whether Jean Grey is irretrievably bad or bad only because she is possessed by a dark force.  At the same time most of the cosmic oddities are stripped from the comics story, but not all, pulling the necessary elements from the original tale in a more accessible way for audiences.  Jessica Chastain′s new villain and her compatriots from afar are very much the same as found in the comics, all but in name.  The opening act in particular is perfectly executed, beginning with a nicely cinematic launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavour, and a return to the stealth fighter that Nicholas Hoult′s Beast had been building in X-Men: Apocalypse.  If you’ve seen the trailers or know the story then the subject of the scene is no surprise–a rescue of the astronauts aboard from a giant solar flare, directed by James McAvoy′s Professor X from Earth, but led in space by Jennifer Lawrence′s Mystique, who grew to be the front-line commander of the team in the last film.  The most entertaining superhero of all the X-Men movies is back, Evan Peters′ Quicksilver, this time using his speed and time-stopping powers to assemble the astronauts for rescue in the character’s third and final awesome show-stopper.  He’s accompanied by the teleport-wielding Kurt Wagner aka Nightcrawler, providing actor Kodi Smit-McPhee the first of several key scenes that showcase his unique superhero, and round out a building arc for the typically background superhero.

The big takeaway from Dark Phoenix may be that it’s clear the material is capable of being recycled and resurrected many times, by different writers, directors, and actors.  Famke Janssen’s performance of Jean Grey was excellent in the original X-Men trilogy.  Sophie Turner’s performance is equally good.  In a few years we’ll see it all over again, which is pretty much what the Phoenix is all about.  Dark Phoenix will likely be accused of copying the empowered women theme of Captain Marvel.  In actuality Dark Phoenix was completed earlier, in October 2017, and if Dark Phoenix hadn’t been delayed by the Fox-Disney merger, the positions would no doubt be flipped to some extent.  The timing and similarities reportedly prompted Fox to go back and make some revisions.  But who says audiences can’t embrace two movies released within 90 days about the two most powerful superheroines in the Marvel pantheon?  Captain Marvel was able to generate far more buzz, and it’s a more upbeat story, so Dark Phoenix is unlikely to make a dent by comparison to that billion dollar box office hit.  But the acting and script for Dark Phoenix is probably a few degrees better, and the wrap-up of so many beloved characters makes Dark Phoenix a more important chapter for its franchise.

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Astronaut Scott Kelly, who spent 340 days aboard the International Space Station in 2015, has been in the news this month as scientists learn more about his health after such an extended stay in space.  NASA admitted Scott and his identical twin brother Mark into its elite astronaut program in 1996, and after many years the brothers’ back and forth missions resulted in Scott accepting a Russian mission to test human reaction to extended space travel, in part contemplating a trip to Mars one day.  At the end of his 2015 mission not only did his body change, but he encountered what travelers to Mars will encounter: living in weightlessness, relying on the tools, food, and oxygen processing technology, and experiencing work stress for a similar period of time as a voyage to Mars.  Although readers of his recently published memoir will learn the selection of the brothers into NASA and the selection of Scott for his record-breaking ISS mission initially did not contemplate use of the twin brothers as comparative test subjects, NASA soon realized the knowledge they could gain from such an endeavor.  Although scientists have since backed off on early claims that Mark and Scott now have different DNA, their analysis continues, and Scott said he and his brother will continue to be tested and observed as part of the study for the rest of their lives.

In his book Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery, Scott Kelly recounts his life story and the details of his four trips into outer space: via the space shuttles Discovery (STS-103) in 1999 and Endeavour (STS-118) in 2007 and later via Soyuz TMA-19 in Expeditions 25/26 in 2010 and Soyuz TMA-18M in Expeditions 43/44/45/46 in 2015 with a record-breaking mission The Endurance in the title reflects both the ship captained by Sir Ernest Shackleton in the 1901 expedition to Antarctica (and Shackleton’s book Kelly took on his journey into space for inspiration and reflection) as well as the mettle and resolve required to push his mind and body to the limits to survive his many journeys off-planet.  Readers learn through his experiences the detail, perfection, and self-discipline that makes up “the right stuff” for the military fighter pilot turned test pilot, Navy captain, and astronaut commander are the same things that seem to make him so focused that he was perceived as less communicative and responsive to those closest to him.  Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery is very much another chapter in a continuing history of books by astronauts recounting their circuitous and unlikely paths to NASA, yet Kelly’s account reveals less of a superman and more of a flawed but committed adventurer, and his flaws will no doubt engage any reader and fan of real-life adventure stories.  The personal details, openness to discuss his own reservations, concerns, and mistakes, make this unlike any other of the more famous accounts of human travels in space.  Kelly is most likeable when he’d seem unlikeable to us back on Earth–when he shows his frustrations, when at the end of a year in space little comments from his peers simply annoy him.  He seems preoccupied with the ISS toilets and carbon dioxide levels throughout his year on the ISS, both of which he knows could mean the end of any Mars mission if they can’t become more reliable.  And it’s these kinds of details he hopes will drive NASA to improve these components of space travel to hope to make a mission around the moon, around an asteroid, and ultimately a mission to Mars, a reality one day for mankind.

That’s Commander Scott Kelly (bottom right) in the crew photo sporting Jedi robes for Expedition 45.

Kelly credits another book, Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff, as his inspiration for taking on a career as jet pilot and astronaut–he even called Wolfe from space to thank him at the end of his ISS mission.  Kelly’s descriptions of several of his experiences, especially his three harrowing spacewalks while aboard the ISS, provide for a riveting read, and readers shouldn’t be surprised if they find themselves breathless as they follow along with him as he floats 254 miles above Earth orbiting at 17,000 miles per hour.  Some sections of Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery are as nailbiting as Jon Krakauer’s extraordinary account of his ill-fated Mt. Everest climb, Into Thin Air.  Some of Kelly’s more minor details are the most startling, like his description of hand rails outside the station that are riddled with bullet-sized holes, caused by space debris.  Any new arriving piece of debris could poke a hole in him, too, as he floated in space.  In one mission he encounters the same tile problem that caused the destruction of the space shuttle Columbia.  A chunk of an old satellite careening in the vicinity of the ISS provides another dangerous condition for the crew that illustrates another theme of life on the ISS–international relations.  Kelly speaks nothing but admiration for Russia, its space program and its cosmonauts, but their processes and procedures sometimes vary widely.  When the satellite approached, the Russians kept on working just as he and his team hunkered down.  The Russians figured any collision likely would kill them all instantly, so why worry about it?  Readers will learn a lot about those less exciting parts of being a 21st century astronaut, especially about the required extended stays required these days in Russia, the departure point for American astronauts in the post-Space Shuttle world.  In between flights, Kelly served as NASA’s Director of Operations in the legendary town of Star City, Russia, and we learn much about his many encounters with other astronauts and ground crew.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Like many of us, astronaut Chris Hadfield sees his life, both on Earth and off-planet, as a series of worst-case scenarios waiting to happen.  In his book An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, he not only shares his autobiography and pathway to space and afterward, he uses his life to provide a self-help plan for accomplishing your dreams and reaching whatever success you’re after.  Originally issued in hardcover but now available in a paperback edition, Hadfield’s Guide is just what you need to read if you’re in a slump, if you have a goal and can’t figure how to get yourself to attain it, or if you just need a pep talk.

“Most people, including me, tend to applaud the wrong things: the showy, dramatic record-setting sprint rather than the years of dogged preparation or the unwavering grace displayed during a string of losses,” Hadfield says in his book.  And Hadfield takes his errors and his stumbles and displays them for everyone to see so they can use them to learn how to adapt and overcome their own obstacles.  “Sweat the small stuff,” is his mantra, and it’s that attention to detail that he says allowed humans to get to visit outer space in the first place–the required discipline that allows the two other astronauts in your capsule to fully trust you will do your job, and vice versa.  As with astronaut Leland Melvin’s account of his pathway to space (reviewed last month here at borg.com), this meant years of brain work and physical preparation, monotony, and several false defeats and false triumphs before the final ride on that rocket to the stars.  “Since the odds of becoming an astronaut were nonexistent, I knew it would be pretty silly to hang my sense of self-worth on it.  My attitude was more, ‘It’s probably not going to happen, but I should do things that keep me moving in the right direction, just in case — and I should be sure those things interest me, so that whatever happens, I’m happy.'”

Chris Hadfield floating above Earth during a spacewalk.

Colonel Hadfield–who is afraid of heights–always wanted to be an astronaut, at least since he saw Apollo 11 make the first moon shot on television when he was nine years old.  But his path wasn’t easy, especially since Canadians weren’t yet astronauts when he was a kid.  “I wasn’t destined to be an astronaut,” says Hadfield, “I had to turn myself into one.”  He not only had to turn himself into an astronaut, he had to change the perception and rules of those around him as he climbed the ladder to fulfilling his dream.  Along the way that meant diligence, determination, study, practice, repetition, volunteering, and over-achieving to make himself stand out, and sacrificing all his waking hours and much of his family time.

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A collection of hundreds of digitized video clips of unique research aircraft from the 1940s until this past decade is making its way to YouTube.  The collection contains footage of many of the vehicles flown at NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center, previously known as the Dryden Flight Research Center, at Edwards, California.  It only takes a few minutes to get sucked into this visual history of modern aviation and spaceflight.  Every few days more video resource materials are being uploaded to YouTube by the Center, and the result is a superb educational tool.  For decades much of this footage was limited to access by the public via still images in World Book Encyclopedia, and now anyone can observe and compare NASA’s aerial test vehicles at their own pace.

Want to revisit the liftoff and landing of the space shuttle Columbia?  Check it out here from April 1981.  How about flights of the Enterprise, Endeavour, and Discovery, and a beautiful landing of the Atlantis?  Much footage has been made available for everyone in the past few years by NASA, but not in such a complete collection as is happening this summer.  NASA has even uploaded footage of a visit by Nichelle Nichols to the Flight Research Center’s page, as well as a 1969 training flight of the lunar landing vehicle by the Center’s namesake, Neil Armstrong.

You’ll find a full history of experimental flight–views of the rocket-powered supersonic research aircraft X-1 from the 1940s and 1950s to Boeing’s present day flying wing, the X-48.  Some of the videos are mere curiosities, like painting the first Orion crew module and various earthbound Mars Rover tests.

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