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.
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