NASA 101 - What Filmmakers Need to Know

NASA 101

Are movies getting things right?  Was there ever life on Mars?  Is global warming a fact?  What was it like to be up in space?  What are the new gadgets being developed for research?  These were the questions answered at the JPL /NASA event on December 9, 2010.  

Hosted by astronaut Mike Massimino, we were treated to experts in four different areas of NASA’s program.  “The public buys science fiction but has no knowledge of science fact.  More films need to be done in real time so that Congress and the public can realize what NASA really does and how funding it can be an investment in the future.”

NASA 101 - Peter Guber and astronaut Mike Massimino

The focus of the day’s seminar was to educate filmmakers on what NASA does and how it can help writers, directors and producers to perfect their stories.  Greeted by the director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Dr. Charles Elachi, he informed the audience that “Like the NASA investigators, Hollywood has to think outside the box and go beyond the documentaries.  Films like Deep Impact, and the new animated Mars Needs Moms featured some of the information from NASA.”  The same with old television programs like Lost In Space.  June Lockhart, star of the above series, shared some of her thoughts about the show and the accuracy of its research.  

The first panel, Life Beyond Earth moderated by Mandalay CEO, Peter Guber, consisted of scientists Doug Hudgins, Pan Conard, Chris McKay and Jen Eigenbrode.  Just fifteen years ago, we were ignorant of other planets around other stars.  Now, for the first time in human life, we can answer the burning question, “Is or was there life elsewhere?” Searching out exo- planets (planets outside our solar system), we hope to discover if life had been or would be habitable on those surfaces.  One of the key factors in determining this is the presence of water and the chemical combinations, which may or may not, be supportive of life.  “It’s a matter of looking at the signs and thinking outside the box,” Dr. Eigenbrode said.  “The more we know about Mars,” Dr. Conard stated, “the more possible it is that some form of life existed there.”  

Since water on our planet is thought to have come, in part, from asteroids, it’s possible then that the microbiotic spores that started life could have come from outer space, as well.  In fact, we could all really be Martians and not know it.  

NASA 101: Michio Kaku, Lucy McFadden, Don Yeomans, Waleed Abdalati, Mike Freilich

Since every project is now an international collaboration, there are now rules on space travel and Mars exploration that all the countries are adhering to.

Dr. Michio Kaku moderated the second panel on Understand Home. The topic of global warming was addressed by Lucy McFadden, Don Yeomans, Mike Freilich and Waleed Abdalati.  Dr. McFadden specializes in observing asteroids and meteorites that may come to the earth and harm us.  Part of the early warning system, NASA is aware of any potential natural disaster and says that they can be dealt with easily if done soon enough.   

According to Socrates, Man must rise above the earth to the top of the atmosphere and beyond. For only then will he fully understand the world in which he lives.  A favorite quote of Dr. Abdalati, he states that the earth is the only planet we know so far that will support our life.  That is why it is so important to understand how and why it is changing and be aware of climate changes.  “The study of our own planet is necessary for our survival.  Responding to our climate changes is necessary to our species.  We must adapt to changes and try to mitigate the effect,” stated Dr. Freilich.  

NASA 101 - Diane Frolov, Andrew Schneider, Mike Massimino, Leland Melvin and Tracy Caldwell Dyson

Screenwriters Diane Frolov and Andrew Schneider led us in the discussion with astronauts Mike Massimino, Leland Melvin and Tracy Caldwell Dyson on the Look, Smell, and Feel of Space. While Mr. Massimino described his mission, we learned from them what it was really like to be above the earth’s gravity.  Ms. Dyson talked about the beauty and the peacefulness of seeing the earth while in space and of the necessity for international cooperation. She had spent a six month sojourn with two Russian cosmonauts.   All three urged that we find and follow our dreams.  

NASA 101 - Bill Nye, the science guy

Finally Bill Nye, the science guy, gave us the panel on Surreal Space.  He was joined by scientists Gentry Lee, Michael Meyer and Jay Falker.  Dr. Falker gave us some of the newer robotic projects including the android “Robonoff” that NASA was working on while the humorous Mr. Nye bantered with science fiction expert Lee.  

NASA 101 - Bill Nye, Gentry Lee, Michael Meyer, Jay Falker

Concluding remarks about Hollywood and NASA were given by Bert Ulrich, the liaison for film and TV collaborations.  Willing to help with any story, Bert asked that he not be approached on spec projects as funding for the assistance was limited to those in actual development with production planned.  For such questions, he can be reached at [email protected]

A final tour of the Mars Science Laboratory showed us the rover that will take off November 26, 2011 and land on Mars August, 2012.  A display showed us how it will settle down with the jets and the type of information that the scientists hope to recover.  “We are all struggling to answer the questions – Where did we come from?  Are we alone in the universe?”  These are the answers that NASA seeks to find for us   “If you are satisfied with the pace of life, then you are not a dreamer.  If you are not a dreamer, you will not achieve.”Maybe this next Mars mission will show us that what we thought was impossible is indeed possible.  

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