The Influence Of Film On Human Space Exploration

By SpaceRef Editor
October 1, 2010
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The Influence Of Film On Human Space Exploration

Robert K. Weiss of the X-Prize Foundation gave an illuminating presentation about space and the film industry, as part of the 21st Symposium On Space Activity and Society at the 61st International Astronautical Congress in Prague. His talk, “Days of Future Past: Film Visions of Space Exploration, Commercialization and Tourism”, and co-authored by film expert Andy Cochrane, provided a compelling case of how rocketry and art of film grew together to entertain and inspire the public.

Robert Weiss began by pointing out that books, magazines and science fiction films have provided a variety of space visions throughout the years, while dealing with business and budget constraints, and trying to fulfill the interest of the public. The early days of filmmaking with a space theme began with the Lumiere Brothers and the infamous “Le Voyage Dans La Lune”, a 1902 film inspired by Thomas Edison and used elements from Jules Verne “From The Earth To The Moon. This was considered the first science fiction film, which used elementary trick photography, and shaped cinema from an entertainment and artistic perspective. It was interesting for Weiss to note that this film came out one year before the Wright bothers flew. Weiss leaped forward 2.5 decades to 1928, an epic milestone in science fiction, with the film “woman on the moon”/”Frau Im Mond” by Fritz Lang. The film tells the story of a professor inventor who is perfecting a ship to the moon to find gold. Here the depiction of a rocket launch is only 35 years prior to actual reality with Rocket V. The launch sequence in this silent film features the first countdown, invented as cinematic dramatic device. Interestingly the vision of launch countdown became reality in actual launches, and even the fantasy of finding gold on the moon became reality as lunar sample analysis showed traces of gold.

Moving on to the 1930’s, that is when the term “science fiction” was coined, and magazines such as “Flash Gordon conquers the universe” (comic strip) and “Science Wonder Stories” emerged. In 1950 “Destination Moon” which was meant to serve as a documentary of the future by its filmmaker, tells a story where four businessmen arrange to test a rocket design to orbit Earth and go to the Moon before the Russians. With the project being on the verge of being cancelled due to a court order, they decide to blast off without tests.. When they get to the Moon they establish a base there, but are not certain they have enough fuel to return to Earth. It is interesting to note that when the spaceship lands on the moon, the commander makes a statement claiming the moon for the USA on behalf of all mankind, quite similar to Neil Armstrong’s famous moon landing statement in 1969. Weiss also made note of the 1955 film “Cat Women of the Moon” (which was later released in 3D), the 1963 film “Ikarie XB1”, and the infamous 1968 film “2001: A Space Odyssey” which has been considered a renaissance in cinema. The usage of branding of companies was used in “2001”, the concept which became reality when Spaceship One wore the logo of Virgin Galactic. Other films Weiss mentioned were the “Marooned” from 1969, “Outland” from 1981, and “2010” from 1984 which inspired the style for spaceship interior that is used today. The 1987 film “Amazon Women on the Moon”, which Robert Weiss himself directed, was based loosely on “queen of outer space”. The 2000 film Mission to Mars” includes endless science fiction ideas, and uses logos of corporate sponsors; and the 2009 film “Moon”, a low budget by son of David Bowie, employs the idea of a robotic astronaut helper/ companion, which could be realized in a not-so-distant future.

Weiss also noted the recent production of “From Earth to Moon”, which although is not a film, it is a TV series starring Tom Hanks. Robert Weiss asked the audience how many people saw a science fiction film that influenced their choice or direction in career, and many raised their hands. He commented this is not surprising, and that it shows the power of art on our lives. Weiss’s talk left the audience with the hope that more films, especially by world-renowned directors such as James Cameron, will continue to inspire the public and get more people excited about space.

This story is part of a special presentation by SpaceRef on The 61st International Astronautical Congress. For more news during the congress please visit our special page at:

SpaceRef staff editor.