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5 Best Films About NASA

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by Steven G (subscribe)
Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler...Former teacher... Scientist... Published author... Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published July 7th 2019
Celebrating some deserved triumphs
July 2019 marks the fiftieth anniversary of mankind's first steps on the moon, when Neil Armstrong became the first man to step foot on the moon.

This was the pinnacle of human achievement, and considering the computers in use at the time and the fact this had never been tried before, the fact they managed to succeed is incredible. It actually makes me think that human beings work better without all the technology to do things for them – it certainly does help make people think more clearly.

The fact that 50 years later we still talk about it, indicates just how important it was to us.
moon landing, NASA, film, movie

Having said that, the moon landing and NASA related activities have not been the stuff of film making too often. Partly because the action all occurs with smart people being smart and not people with guns shooting aliens that came to eat us. These are tales of mental achievement, not stupidly ridiculous science fiction tales.

And yet some films have been made about these very things. These are my 5 favourite films in this genre, sparked not only by the anniversary but by the first film in the list being lent to me by a mate recently. These five films are based on reality. Sure, some fictionalisation may be used to "jazz" the story up, but, at its essence, these are tales that happened. There are no Space Cowboys old astronauts saving the day, no Armageddon saving the Earth from a rogue comet, and no Independence Day alien invasion tales.

These are real(ish) things put on film.

5. First Man (2018)

This is the story of Neil Armstrong from test pilot to first man to walk on the moon. It is a look at the human being behind the image. The fact that Armstrong has not done a lot of media since the time makes a film like this all the more interesting. Ryan Gosling plays Armstrong as a man, who loses a daughter to a brain tumour, who has a loving wife, and who is – for everything else he did – a normal man. And the film looks absolutely stunning. The humanisation of him is done really well, which sounds unfair, but he has become something of a legend in our lifetimes. He was a man who did something extraordinary. But, in all, he was a man.

4. The Dish (2000)

The Dish is a gentle Australian comedy about the people working at the eponymous dish at the Parkes Observatory. At its heart, it is about the cultural clash between Australia and the United States, but it also tells of the Observatory's importance during the moon landing in relaying the pictures around the world. When they lose the signal, they have to get it back using whatever they could in the middle of nowhere and make sure no-one found out. It did very well in the Australian box office and is a harmless enough film. Not a bad way to spend a couple of hours.

3. Hidden Figures (2016)

This is a film about racism and misogyny in the USA, and how sometimes sheer ability and determination can overcome these things. It looks at three black women employed by NASA as mathematicians before John Glenn's first US manned space flight. It investigates the trials and tribulations of these women as they face the US of the early 1960s. However, they do eventually overcome the obstacles (to a degree) and this is a celebration of these women and all they achieved. It is an affirming film but it did make me wonder if things have really changed that much in the world.

2. Apollo 13 (1995)

This Ron Howard directed, Tom Hanks starring movie is one of the best-known space films based on a true story. Apollo 13 tells of a journey to the moon that goes horribly wrong and how everyone had to work together to get the astronauts trapped in space back to Earth safely. For a film where a lot of it is people trying to work things out, the sense of trouble and being on the edge of your seat is really well done. The realistic weightless scenes were done on the infamous "vomit comet" Boeing jumbo jet and this sense of reality really does help add to the film. The acting is well done, but I think it was robbed at the Oscars™ for best director (Ron Howard wasn't even nominated!) because this film is put together so well. A stunning movie.

1. The Right Stuff (1983)

My favourite movie about NASA, detailing the events from 1947 and Chuck Yaeger being the best test pilot to the final of the Mercury space missions. It is an honest look at the space programme, warts and all, and sometimes feels like a documentary, but the characters are relatable and this part of NASA's work is often glossed over in the light of July 1969. Even though based on the book by Tom Wolfe, I remember there being a bit of talk at the time about its exact historical accuracy (imagine if it was released today, what the online world would say!), but the changes made it into a film that was more likely to grab an audience. Which it did not, as it lost money at the time of its initial release. Shame, because it is quite a good film, one which I did go and see at the cinema with a couple of mates from high school. Still my favourite NASA-based movie.
right stuff, movie, poster, NASA, film

And there you have it – my favourite films based on the reality of NASA. This is a time when we can look at what we achieved as human beings and be justifiably proud.

And, yes, the moon landing did happen. (I can't believe in this day and age I have to write that…)
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Why? NASA deserves some plaudits
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