Saturday, February 03, 2007

Astronaut Farmer


One advantage of visiting California is invitations to movie previews. During the runup to the Screen Actors Guild awards, movies are free to someone with SAG membership. THE ASTRONAUT FARMER is a good-natured movie with Billy Bob Thornton as a man building an Atlas rocket in his barn. This would be a big project for a homebuilt, but maybe he found some used Atlases in the junkyard. Look for Bruce Willis in an uncredited role.

A few minor technical errors: When we first see the rocket it looks too short, probably due to the limitations of the soundstage. I think Astronaut Farmer sees this too. By the time the rocket becomes a special effect the length has been corrected. The views of Earth are incorrect for low Earth orbit, but we shouldn't let nitpicking interfere with our enjoyment.

The movie rocket is shown standing upright without fuel. To save weight, the original Atlas hull doubled as its fuel tank. It was built of steel so thin that a knife could have punctured it. Only with the pressure of fuel could Atlas stand erect without collapsing. This pressure-stabilised structure gave Atlas a mass fraction big enough to reach orbit.

The movie rocket ends up being fueled by kerosene, somewhat similiar to the RP-1 of the original Atlas. The spacecraft returns to Earth on a very small parachute. It lands on the ground in the continental US, as Orion spacecraft are planned to. The Atlas V that Lockeheed and others are developing is a direct descendant.

The new heroes of Space movies are private citizens. In movies from ARMAGEDDON to SPACE COWBOYS the NASA astronauts are portrayed as unbearable twits. The "ordinary people" always save the day. Private spaceflight has garnered more publicity than NASA. Everyone identifies with the private citizen going into Space. This cute movie opens February 23.

NEXT: What I was really doing in Southern California
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6 Comments:

Blogger serge said...

What's your view on this story on the BBC?
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/6328787.stm

5:40 AM  
Blogger QUASAR9 said...

Louise,
is that an Oscar in your hands?
Which starring role in which movie did you get that for?

9:28 AM  
Blogger QUASAR9 said...

Louise, one thing is a few dollar millionaires being prepared to pay for a 'joy' ride to the space shuttle.

Another thing is raising the funds for a major project. If private enterprise wants to raise $100 billion for space exploration - it has to show a return to interest investors.

Since there are no short-term returns to space exploration, things like a moonbase or a spaceship able to carry a crew of more than two or three has to be built by governments. The US government and NASA, or the EU and ESA - or international collaborations with Russia,China and India.

Of course you may ask what do we need to go to the moon for, but like the poney express unless you can build a moonbase you are never going to get man space craft any further.

And not even Bill Gates or Microsoft are big enough or have enough money (profit from sales) to build a Starship Enterprise, whereas NASA or a government that can build aircraft carriers floaring around the Pacific, the gulf coast or horn of Africa CAN & DOES have the funds and resources.

Just keeping it real. Government is good at wasting money, because government invests in or pays for non-profitable enterprises. Without government you would not have the might of the USAF & US Navy or US Military - Though one could say that the US Military is a private enterprise (subsidised & paid for) by government for the private benefit or profits for the president son of Bush, Cheney and their cronies.

9:41 AM  
Anonymous Darnell Clayton said...

Looks like an interesting movie, but I have to agree with Quasar9.

If the government does not get involved in some fashion, we won't get on the moon via private sector for 70 years.

12:03 PM  
Blogger L. Riofrio said...

Serge, we can hope for good things from PLANCK. Unlike WMAP, the results may not be (Penrose's words) "analysed from the perspective of some currently fashionable theory." PLANCK will be accurate enough to check the prediction that baryons are not 4% but 4.5%. Note that BBC and Smoot stress that "inflation" and "dark energy" are just models and may not exist. Europeans are not completely comfortable with these American ideas.

Q9, that is a real Oscar and that is the photo area adjacent to the Kodak theatre. Immediately after you are photographed it is taken away and wiped off so the next person can hold it. You will enjoy tomorrow's photo.

We agree that Space flight is very risky for private citizens. Even the dreamer in the movie is replicating a mission 45 years ago. Private space transport is best attempted by people like Branson and Elon Musk who already have fortunes. Exploration is best left to the government, which specialises in losing money.

12:18 PM  
Blogger serge said...

thanks Louise.

2:44 PM  

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