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Tag Archive: The Right Stuff


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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Not long ago the idea of having all your favorite movies available for viewing instantly was as far out there as hover cars.  With streaming options like Netflix you can have access to thousands of movies and TV series in a flash, only limited by the speed and quality of your own home access and viewing technology.  But just like online news will never replace the physical daily newspaper, streaming will never replace the home video library.

Back in early December we previewed here at borg.com four movie collections as gift ideas of varying price ranges, from the three-film The Dark Knight Trilogy from Warner Bros. to the eight-film Tarantino XX 8-Film Collection from Lionsgate Miramax to the 15-film Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection from Universal Studios to the massive 22-film Bond 50: The Complete 22 Film Collection from MGM.

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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.

Review by C.J. Bunce

Cyborg, by Martin Caidin, is the 1972 novel that was adapted into the television series The Six Million Dollar Man.  Long out of print, it is only available today via libraries or used online bookstores.  I managed to track down a copy via Amazon.com for only a few dollars.  My assumption was that this would be a dated story, but that it could be similar to the novels that it claimed to be like in its cover statement “In the explosive tradition of the The Andromeda Strain and Terminal Man.”  Both The Andromeda Strain and Terminal Man were by Michael Crichton, and having enjoyed both of those years ago I figured this was worth a try.  I was more than happy with this book.

First, it is a medical thriller more than a dramatic work of science fiction. Cyborg focuses on the details of witnessing the crash of a NASA stunt vehicle and an Air Force emergency response team’s reaction to a man who barely survived such a crash.  More than anything I have read before, this absolutely reads like an early Michael Crichton novel, including his way of incorporating scientific details, but not too much detail to bore the reader.  Cyborg has characters you care about, characters dropped into strange circumstances made very real.

Caidin’s description of the crash was as an eye-witness of sorts, and the first three chapters read like nonfiction.  Written before the space shuttle program, this type of mission reflected real missions of the time between the days of Apollo and the shuttle program, honing the technology leading to the first real mission with Space Shuttle Columbia.  Shockingly, the crash scene is like a foreseen account of the actual real-life disaster of the Columbia space shuttle.  The gritty realism of the first three chapters sets up the reader for a believable entry into the un-real that follows.

Colonel Steve Austin is a stunt pilot who had already served as astronaut on the last moon mission, the last man to walk the surface of the moon.  Waiting to go off as an astronaut on some Skylab mission he is now at a Mojave Desert test launch, which is vividly described.  Jan Richards is his girlfriend, all too familiar with being the spouse of an astronaut and the circumstances that come about on launch days, and although she has been there before, she is still nervous.  We learn quickly that Colonel Austin is a stunt pilot every bit like the Chuck Yeager as detailed in Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff.  He is confident if not cocky.  Like Han Solo, in response to his girlfriend’s “I love you, Steve Austin,” he responds, “Same here.”

The fact that author Martin Caidin actually participated in the real-life NASA counterpart to the program in which Austin crashes adds a heightened realism to the novel.  Caidin was on site when a pilot suffered a similar terrible accident–the same type of disaster that aired at the beginning of each Six Million Dollar Man episode and makes up the first part of the novel.

Steve Austin, seriously injured as a triple amputee, gets not prosthetics, but improved-upon artificial limbs and an artificial eye.  But first we get accounts of medical triage, a play by play account of the cutting off of Austin’s blood loss, the overall success of protecting the body from burns because of the NASA flight suit, loss of both his legs and left arm, loss of eye through metal debris in the cockpit, skull damage, jaw damage, skin damage, assessment of respiratory damage, standard procedures from placing the intubation tube to removing the space suit from what remains of his body.

Doctor Milton Ashburn, head of emergency response, after hours go by, finally utters the words “He’ll live.”  But then all the conflict and story begins, starting from the lowest of places: “If you love that man like I do… then pray that he dies.”

If you’ve seen people recovering from surgeries, it is all about pain and lots of recuperation time.  It’s what I thought was missing for the first third of the book, then Caidin goes into detail about nerve endings and compensation for missing limbs.  To the layman even in 2012 it all seems to make sense.  Instead of brushing over the details of creating a cybernetic organism–a cyborg–he details all the processes and only in the last 20 percent of the novel do we get to the reason the government is willing to pay $6 million to keep this one man alive, and more than that, make him superhuman.  It is of course to make him a super soldier.

As storytelling is concerned, Cyborg is part Wolfe’s The Right Stuff, part Crichton’s Jurassic Park and Sphere, part Isaac Asimov’s Fantastic Voyage.  There is something exciting when a team of experts in varying fields come together to achieve some purpose that no one initially believes will work.  It’s the formula that worked so well several times for Michael Crichton.

The second third of the novel brings the realization that this in a real and thoughtful sense is a modern retelling of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, only it is the story you can imagine a young 19th century author wanted to tell, as she obviously thought this type of medicine would be possible one day.  As the science is concerned, if it was not exactly possible to do in 1972, it certainly could be more possible today.  Despite the fact that this was written before the pervasiveness of computing, Caidin includes many references to computers, to micro-electronics that would one day be microchips, and bionics that would one day become the beginning of nanotechnology.

Once we get past months of recovery, recuperation, and therapy, and Austin getting to know his new body and abilities, the last third of the novel is a cross between Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October and Clear and Present Danger mixed with any number of 1960s military intelligence operation stories, like The Guns of Navarone.  First Austin goes on a deep-sea mission, using mechanical dolphins, off the coast of Surinam.  He then moves on to a desert mission in North Africa–a Seal Team Six type operation mixed with a True Lies international arms story where Austin teams with an Israeli soldier named Tamara.   The ending is about survival, and whereas Austin upon learning of his triple amputee state remarked that the doctors should have let him die, when he finally is left in a hopeless situation he learns he really wants to stay alive.

Great survival references are included in the final chapters including a bit about the real-life B-24 bomber downed decades ago in the desert called the Lady Be Good (documented in an episode of the History Channel’s History’s Mysteries in the 1990s).

Cyborg is surprisingly not dated considering it was written in 1972.  There is the odd focus on male-female relationships reflecting 1970s men-women workplace relations, but nothing as cringeworthy as I’ve read in 1950s pulp novels.  It probably helps that Caidin doesn’t spend any time on things like clothing descriptions, the very thing that makes the TV series a bit hard to watch today.

I’ve had the fortune of meeting and talking to three of the 12 surviving United States Apollo program astronauts who flew to the moon, and their confidence and character were well mimicked by Caidin’s account of the fictional Colonel Austin.  Clearly Caidin spent time with these guys in real life, and it is reflected in his book.

Cyborg is a great candidate for re-issue.  The TV series opening episodes follow the novel very well, with only the most minor of differences, like which arm that is lost and replaced.  It was also good to see that Phil Hester and Kevin Smith’s Bionic Man comic book series, which we review here periodically, is faithful to the spirit of both the series and novel, although it takes more of the TV series changes on in its monthly story.

Review by C.J. Bunce

The highly anticipated adaptation of the Six Million Dollar Man TV series in comic book from Dynamite Comics was released this Wednesday and was not surprisingly sold out in its first print run.  Titled The Bionic Man, the adaptation was written by Kevin Smith (Green Arrow, Jay and Silent Bob) with Phil Hester (Green Arrow, Green Hornet, Ant Man), based upon a screenplay Smith had written for a never-produced 1990s motion picture version of The Six Million Dollar Man.  Over all, I’d say issue one is a good launch.

Starting with the numerous covers, which you cannot tell a book by, they all look great, and the ten variant covers based on four original works are all pictured inside the back page.  Alex Ross provided the main cover, with Paul Renaud, Stephen Segovia and series artist Jonathan Lau providing the rarer incentive covers.  I posted the covers in a prior article.

The interior art, with pencils by Jonathan Lau and coloring by Ivan Nunes, also looks great.  This is an appealing looking book.  Steve Austin looks pretty close to Scott Bakula as he looks today, as opposed to original series actor Lee Majors, making me think he’d be fun to watch as this updated character.  Oscar Goldman, on the other hand, looks younger than Richard Anderson from the TV series, but has similar facial features to the actor and a more rumpled look about him.  Recall Goldman’s incredible arsenal of suits and the inexplicable checkered suit on the action figure.  Yet check out how similar they look…

   

Clearly this is not about adapting the original but updating it a bit.  The story starts out with an apparent cyborg character gone astray, something like Rambo with a sword, yet some slasher flick stylings…

If there is anything I didn’t care for with the art in issue one, it was this over the top scene, which reminded me of the disturbing opener of Ghost Ship (not a recommended flick).  All other visuals are interesting, with good continuity, and the scene of Austin’s test pilot trip of the experimental Daedalus Mach 8-capable aircraft is definitely nostalgic.

As to the story, there are minor changes to update the character, an already existing relationship with future Bionic Woman Jamie Summers, for example, but otherwise the book’s main story is tracking with the TV series pilot.  Which begs the question, why does Kevin Smith’s name need to be so big on the cover?  And if this is based on a screenplay by Smith, how much of the resulting story reflects Smith and how much reflects co-writer Phil Hester?  At least for this first issue, I think the answer might reflect Smith a bit, based on his modern aka umm, too personal (?) look at Austin discussing a negative bathroom experience with girlfriend Jamie, and an almost pop culture adherence to the original story.  Something about Smith bringing Stanley and his Monster into the first ten issues of his Green Arrow story reminded me of the second storyline of this book. Regarding the killer cyborg subplot–little is divulged, yet is he reminiscent of the Six Million Dollar Man android Maskatron?    Austin is billed as the bravest man alive, yet unlike the TV version, this guy has a nervous stomach before his flight.  Necessary?  I don’t know, but worth pointing out and maybe Smith’s/Hester’s intention of showing thaeir Austin is footed in “modern reality.”

An oddity is the similarity of the character building for Steve Austin as compared to the treatment of the motion picture Hal Jordan in this summer’s Green Lantern movie.  No doubt this is just a coincidence, but the almost slacker test pilot running late to his important test flight is now firmly, if it wasn’t before, cliche.  Since neither original work had it, you get the impression that the slacker generation is creeping into the iconography and mythology of American pop culture a bit.  Maybe this is just an attempt at a hot shot pilot a la Tom Cruise in Top Gun.  No doubt Chuck Yeager and his Right Stuff brethren had a bit of this cockiness to be able to do what they did.

Looking forward to the character development and addition of the cybernetic enhancements that define the Bionic Man in issue #2, out next month.