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Monday, 28 November 2022 15:33

Life on Mars – ‘Good Night Oppy’

We as humans have a tendency to project our own emotions and experiences onto those around us. And that’s not just our fellow people – we’ll anthropomorphize just about anything. Pets, wild animals, even inanimate objects; we have an inherent desire to create those connections.

And yet … sometimes, it’s the right thing to do.

“Good Night Oppy,” the new documentary from Amazon Studios, is a thoughtful exploration of that tendency by way of the Mars rover, of all things. This engaging and surprisingly heartfelt film from director Ryan White takes the viewer along as the rovers Spirit and Opportunity are conceived, constructed and catapulted into the cosmos.

Interviews with some of the major players in the rover program – the engineers who designed them, the scientists who directed them – are interspersed with archival footage from varying points along the two-decade timeline and some recreations intended to give more of a first-person understanding of the rovers’ experience.

It’s the sort of story that would have been compelling enough had the rovers simply fulfilled their three-month mission. Instead, these robots would spend the next decade-plus moving across the surface of the red planet, going above and beyond their original mission again and again. And as the years passed and the rovers kept going, the scientists and engineers on the ground began to view them as not just tools or equipment or machinery.

They were family.

Published in Tekk

Few filmmakers of his generation have made as much autobiographical hay as Richard Linklater. Again and again, he finds new and inventive ways to reflect and refract his own personal story for audiences. He mines nostalgia as effectively – and as interestingly – as just about anyone out there. He’s also unafraid of experimentation, moving with ease between fairly straightforward projects and efforts of wild and occasionally strange ambition.

Seriously – the same dude made “Dazed and Confused,” “A Scanner Darkly” and the “Before Sunrise” trilogy. Also “Boyhood” and “School of Rock” and so many more. No one is more adept at moving between feet on the ground and head in the clouds.

His new film “Apollo 10 1/ 2: A Space Age Childhood” is a perfect example of Linklater’s varied capabilities. It’s a return to rotoscoping, the animation technique where animators trace over live-action footage. It’s autobiographical in nature, loosely based on Linklater’s childhood growing up in Houston in the 1960s, but it’s also a high-concept sci-fi tale about how the first man on the moon wasn’t a man at all, but a boy.

Visually compelling and narratively charming, it’s a combination of everything that makes Linklater such an engaging filmmaker. Again – grounded, but also high-flying.

Published in Movies

As a rule, I’m what you might call an omnivorous reader. My choices aren’t usually constrained by genre – I’ll read pretty much anything. That said, I do have certain types of book that I generally don’t pick up.

For instance, I don’t often get into jargon-heavy thrillers – the Tom Clancys and Clive Cusslers of the world. Just not my scene. I also tend to steer clear of fiction written by famous people who are not famous for being writers – I’ve been burned by too many vanity novels.

So the idea of a book that COMBINES those two things should be a hard no, right? Maybe so – but every rule has its exceptions.

“The Apollo Murders” (Mulholland Books, $28) is the fiction debut of decorated astronaut Chris Hadfield. It’s an alternate history of sorts, a reimagining of the Apollo 18 mission that is packed full of mystery and Cold War intrigue. It’s a new wrinkle to the space race in a world where it’s no longer about getting to space, but rather about controlling it.

Hadfield taps into his own experiences and vast knowledge base to craft a story that is absolutely overflowing with period-accurate detail while also offering up enough twists and turns to make for an engaging thriller. He blends real-life individuals with fictional creations to tell a tale rendered all the more compelling for its general plausibility.

Published in Tekk

There are some stories that should be told over and over again. These are the stories that are a part of the fabric of who we are as a society, stories that represent the pinnacle of human capability in a tangible, visceral way.

The story of the moon landing is one such story. No matter how often the story is told and retold, no matter how many times it is referenced directly or obliquely in popular culture, it isn’t enough. It will never be enough. It’s a story we should keep telling with every increase in our capability to tell it.

“First Man” – directed by Damien Chazelle and adapted by Josh Singer from James R. Hansen’s “First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong” – stars Ryan Gosling as that titular astronaut and relates his story as he walks the path that inexorably draws him toward space. It’s a portrait of the quiet aptitude and stoic readiness that made Neil Armstrong an ideal candidate for this leap into the unknown; it also examines the impacts of this journey (positive and negative alike) on those around him – particularly his family and his NASA compatriots.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 10 April 2018 14:25

To the moon and back - ‘Rocket Men’

It’s remarkable to think that 50 years ago, we sent men to the moon with slide rules and punch-card computers. You’ve probably got something in your pocket right now exponentially more powerful than the combined computing power of NASA in the late 1960s.

But send them we did.

While history most clearly remembers Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon back in July of 1969, he and his crew were just the latest in a long line of astronauts who took many first steps of their own – steps that led to the planting of a flag somewhere not of the Earth.

Robert Kurson’s “Rocket Men: The Daring Odyssey of Apollo 8 and the Astronauts Who Made Man’s First Journey to the Moon” (Random House, $28) tells the story of one such step – the mission undertaken by Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders to become the first men ever to travel to the moon. From meticulous research and hours of interviews springs a lively narrative, one that brings the bravery and brainpower of all involved to vivid life.

Published in Tekk
Friday, 06 January 2017 12:21

‘Hidden Figures’ a perfect launch

Drama reveals some of the Space Race's unsung heroes

Published in Movies

ORONO A wireless leak detection system created by University of Maine researchers is scheduled to board a SpaceX rocket bound for the International Space Station this summer.

Published in Tekk
Wednesday, 29 January 2014 17:03

Beloved TV mom June Lockhart honored by NASA

With two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a Tony Award, career mementos on display at the Smithsonian Institution and a plethora of plaques and trophies, you might assume that June Lockhart is unflappable in the honors department. 'They sent a card notifying me that I had been selected,' she told me in a phone call last week from her home in Los Angeles. 'Nothing means as much to me as this.'   

The award for 'Exceptional Public Achievement' was bestowed upon June Lockhart by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration for her decades-long association with the space agency and for continuously inspiring public interest in space exploration. The prestigious award has been issued to only three other people, and Lockhart is the first woman to receive it.  

Published in Buzz

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. Spacewalk or space delivery? That's the question facing NASA as space station flight controllers try to revive a crippled cooling loop.

Half of the International Space Station's cooling system shut down last Wednesday because of a bad valve that made the line too cold. NASA is using a different valve to try to control the temperature, with some success, Kenny Todd, a space station manager said Monday.

Published in Tekk
Thursday, 09 August 2012 07:06

NASA rover Curiosity lands on Mars

PASADENA, Calif. - In a show of technological wizardry, the robotic explorer Curiosity blazed through the pink skies of Mars, steering itself to a gentle landing inside a giant crater for the most ambitious dig yet into the red planet's past.

Cheers and applause echoed through the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory late Sunday after the most high-tech interplanetary rover ever built signaled it had survived a harrowing plunge through the thin Mars atmosphere.

'Touchdown confirmed,' said engineer Allen Chen. 'We're safe on Mars.'

Published in Tekk

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