The International Astronomical Union meeting in Rio de Janeiro officially ends today. We are on the summit of Sugar Loaf mountain with Copacabana far below. 2009 is not just the 400th birthday of Galileo's telescope and 40th anniversary of the first Moon landing. This Summer is also 30th anniversary of the spaciest James Bond movie ever, MOONRAKER!
Ian Fleming's original novel took place entirely in Britain. Hugo Drax was a mysterious aerospace executive building a ballistic missile for the crown. In reality Drax is a Nazi with evil plans for the Moonraker. The image of a gleaming silver rocket in its silo found its way into movies from THE INCREDIBLES to Bond's own YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE.
In 1977 Bond found BO gold underwater in THE SPY WHO LOVED ME. The biggest grossing movie of that year was, of course, STAR WARS. For Bond's next adventure the producers decided to put him in Space. Now Hugo Drax was building Space Shuttles as part of his evil plot. The pre-credits sequence launches the Shuttle from a 747, as ENTERPRISE had been carried in 1977.
Bond's search for a missing Shuttle takes him to Rio, where he does some spying from the summit of Sugar Loaf. The villainous JAWS, he of the shiny teeth, meets Bond on the cable car line. Bond overcomes his fear of heights before being launched into Space.
A descent from summit to midpoint is surprisingly quick, about 1 minute 45 seconds. Note the ascending car passing at the halfway point so that Jaws can leap over.
After stopping at a Carnival, Bond takes a speedboat into the Amazon, where he finds Drax's secret base beneath a pyramid. There are no pyramids in South America. The location was Tikal in Guatamela, also used as STAR WARS' Rebel Base.
Accompanying Bond on his adventure is Dr. Holly Goodhead (!) astronaut candidate and first American woman in Space. (Sally Ride would not fly until 1983.) In 1979 the Shuttle had not flown either, so the movie used special effects by THUNDERBIRDS' Derrick Meddings. In miniature the FX artists recreated the launch, jettison of Solid Rocket Boosters and External Tank. Finally Bond and Holly rendezvous with a modular space station that rotates for simulated gravity, though the decks seem to be in the wrong plane.
While the plot is quite bad, the movie accurately portrays 1970's dreams of Space. Shuttles are used to supply a space station and a military Shuttle is launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base. (Shuttle Launch Complex 6 at Vandenberg was built at cost of 1 billion US but never used.) In this alternate reality, even a James Bond villain can have his own Shuttles! Today we still hope that spaceflight will someday be routine.