For most of us, the simple fact of the matter is that we’re simply never going to outer space. Clearly, this doesn’t apply to any current or future astronauts, or those of you rich enough to visit Richard Branson’s inevitable space hotel or whatever the hell he’s planning on doing up there. For the rest of us, we’re pretty much stuck here on this rock, merely dreaming of the Pluto Nash-esque adventures in the cosmos that we’ll never embark on.
Our imaginations don’t have to do all the heavy lifting, though. Thankfully, there are plenty of movies out there — both documentary and fictional — that can, at the very least, show us what we’re missing out on. Here are 10 of them:
Ridley Scott’s sorta-Alien-prequel wasn’t the sci-fi masterpiece that everyone had expected, but it was pretty cool. In terms of science, it also touches upon “directed panspermia” or the theory that Earth life not only originated off-planet, but was sent here by another civilization. That’s a real word, too, we swear.
Journey to the Edge of the Universe
There are actually two versions of this CGI-heavy tour of the cosmos. They’re both essentially the same thing, just with one narrated by Alec Baldwin and the other by Gotham‘s Sean Pertwee. Produced by National Geographic, it’s a first-person trip through the solar system and beyond, as Baldwin constantly reminds you that everything in space could kill you at any moment.
Yes, Christopher Nolan’s flick about searching for new planets is a rip-roaring sci-fi adventure with some other metaphysical nonsense thrown in. But it’s also a love letter to theoretical physics. In fact, astrophysicist Kip Thorne was a primary consultant on the film. Nolan took extra care to make sure that the science in the film was as accurate as possible. In fact, these efforts were documented in the Science of Interstellar special that aired on National Geographic.
In 1990, Wayne Barlowe published Expedition, an illustrated account of mankind’s discovery and examination of life on an Alien planet. In 2005, National Geographic turned the book into a “docufiction” special, using it as an exercise to look at one of the possible ways — through probes guided with artificial intelligence — that mankind could explore an extrasolar planet. And it has a bunch of freaky looking aliens, too, which is always awesome.
In an age where billionaires own their own space programs, it’s easy to forget just how goddamned complicated space travel is. Especially in NASA’s early years when, compared to the material and science we have now, they were basically making spaceships out of tin foil and bubble gum. Which makes the story of the efforts to get the Apollo 13 capsule safely home even more intense.
Alien Planets Revealed
Premiering on PBS’s Nova earlier this month (which means you can watch it for free either above or on the PBS website), Alien Planets Revealed profiles the Kepler Space Telescope and it’s mission to find extrasolar planets (basically, planets outside our solar system). So, when Galactus eventually shows up to consume our planet, we’ll have a few new homes staked out. Speaking of which…
When a cosmic force is only 75 years away from destroying the Earth, how will the nations of the world respond? This National Geographic special (available on Netflix, along with the series How To Survive the End of the World) examines how they would do just that, from designing the ship to picking the planet to settle on to dealing with the inevitable panic. It jumps back and forth between talking head scientists to actors portraying the events in question. Also, the Earth looks awesome when it’s being blown up.
The Right Stuff
While Apollo 13 was about one early space mission, The Right Stuff illustrates the history of NASA from the very beginning. It focuses as much on the lives of the pilots and astronauts of the original Mercury program (as well as the test pilots who came before them) as it does the actual missions. It was nominated for a ton of awards and was selected for inclusion in the National Film Registry.
Orbiting around Jupiter is Europa, a moon completely covered in ice. Normally, this would be insignificant if it wasn’t for the fact that scientists determined that miles under the thick sheet of ice is actual liquid water. And, where there’s liquid water, there’s possibly life. In Europa Report, a team of astronauts set forth on a mission to the moon in hopes of finding space jellyfish or some such creature. Because this is a “found footage” movie, however, something goes horribly wrong.
2001: A Space Odyssey
I must have been asleep during all of 2001 because I don’t remember any of this happening.