NASA’s Finest Hour

Lately, with this COVID-19, there has been an unexpected benefit. Yes, there is a silver lining to this dark cloud.

One theater chain has been showing a lot more “classic” movies. And for the most part, I think the classic movies are better. How much of the current releases will be fondly remembered 25-50-75 years later? Who won the Best Picture award this year?

Does anybody care?

In the past years, I saw for the 75th anniversary The Maltese Falcon on the big screen. If you really want to get a feel for that experience, and you find yourself in Oakland CA, try to get a tour to the Paramount Theater. This was built, like most the “movie palaces”, during the depression. Probably to give weary people a respite from their daily troubles.

4,000 seats, and just as it was in 1935. Complete with an art-deco “Ladies Smoking Lounge”. At 4,000 seats, it defines the term “movie palace”, of which maybe 1/2 dozen remain in their glory in the US.

Anyway, for those who still don’t understand why one would want to pay $12.50 to see a movie that can be streamed picture this famous scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece North By Northwest:

Sheesh, few people really understand editing on YouTube. There is an opening scene in this scene where Cary Grant’s character, Roger Thornhill, gets off the bus and you see a panorama of the vast emptiness he is in – just him and what becomes obvious a cropduster. Not shown in the edited YouTube section, but it does still give you the feeling of the vastness. That was filmed in 1958 outside Bakersfield, CA.

To see that on the big screen, as Hitch intended, is very different from a little flatscreen TV.

By the way, didja know Alfred Hitchcock never got an Academy Award? He’s made movies that people still talk about 80 years later.

Kinda puts the Awards in a different perspective.

Anyway the Century Theater was showing the 25th anniversary of Ron Howard’s masterpiece Apollo 13.  

And if you weren’t there at the time, or don’t remember it, the world pretty much stood still for 3-4 days affixed to a radio or TV to see if these astronauts were going to get back alive.

An oxygen tank on their lunar module exploded on their way to the moon. From that moment, everything they trained for in getting to the moon – and back – was useless.

Their life support systems were failing and it was up to them, and dozens of 20 and 30 something engineers back at Houston, to creatively come up with new ways to keep them alive and bring them back.

And at Houston they did it with slide rules and brainstorming around conference tables. And an astronaut who was scrubbed from the mission for being exposed to someone with the measles, Ken Mattingly, was instrumental in spending many sleepless hours in a simulator devising a power-saving procedure for rebooting the command module electronics.

As I was watching this movie yet again, I came to realize that dozens of people – 20 something NASA engineers and current astronauts, were all instrumental in bringing them back safely. Had any link in that chain broken, they astronauts would have died out in space.

It was an amazing story and as Roger Ebert said at the time, not embellished with additional Hollywood drama. There was more than enough actual drama.

To see that mighty Saturn V lift off – with the panorama of the viewing gallery miles away, to the vastness of space, is something you don’t get on the small screen.

And as a bonus what you usually get at the theater is facts about the making of the movie beforehand.

The actual Jim Lovell, mission commander (played by Tom Hanks in the movie) made a cameo appearance at the end of the movie.

Director Ron Howard wanted him to be an Admiral but Lovell preferred to be shown as his actual rank – captain. He is the one shaking hands with his other persona on the carrier after they returned.

If you have a Century Theater in your area, check your listings daily. They rotate these old movies every couple of days or so.

11-03-20 – I was talking with a Lexican the other day on the F/B page about this, and she said that she knew one of the engineers who was involved with finding the solutions. And apparently it was almost as challenging to write a a concise how-to “instruction guide” for the astronauts, who were freezing in the lunar module, as it was to devise the actual procedures.

I am thinking, for one, how the engineers managed to build from available parts in the Apollo module, a new co2 scrubber. Which was one of the numerous things that were devised “on the fly” that saved their lives.

And I had to smile, because duct tape was involved. An amazing invention.


Leave a comment

Filed under History, Movie Review

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s