There is perhaps no wider gulf between reality and fiction than that in the world of space exploration.
From the days of “Buck Rogers” to “Avatar” Hollywood has repeatedly returned to the gold mine of outer space for science fiction pay dirt.
Reality, on the other hand, has had all the appeal of a documentary on pouring asphalt. NASA has done little to dispel this. Spend a few minutes watching the space agency’s TV channel and you’ll soon be nodding off to long uninterrupted shots of control rooms and unidentifiable space station parts orbiting high over earth. It’s enough to keep a bear in hibernation an extra month.
Sure, there’s been moments of tremendous public interest through the 50 years of manned space flight: the moon landing, the drama of Apollo 13 and the collective national grief over the Challenger and Columbia disasters.
But in between those triumphant and sad moments the nation turns it collective back on space.
The Hubble Space Telescope has been a shining exception to that pattern.
“Hubble 3-D,” currently playing the Boeing IMAX theater at Pacific Science Center, combines both the stunning images from Hubble along with 3D footage shot by astronauts aboard the space shuttle while the Hubble was being serviced.
It’s a visual rocket tour of the universe and a must-see for anyone interested in what exists beyond the blue skies of Earth. Imagine standing in downtown Tacoma and being able to see in to the window of a Brooklyn apartment and you’ll get an inkling of the visual power Hubble has given humankind.
The story of the Hubble has almost gone mythological. From near sighted national joke to the creator of images that are beyond human imagination, few inventions by mankind have had the image rehabilitation that the Hubble has. Tiger Woods could learn a thing or two.
Launched in 1989, the Hubble (after its vision was fixed) soon began transmitting images that were, well, otherworldly: exploding stars, anthropomorphic gas clouds, galaxies scattered like diamond necklaces. Sometimes astronomers would simply point the telescope at a blank section of space only to make amazing discoveries.
The movie, narrated by Leo DiCapprio, opens with astronauts suiting up for last year’s final repair and servicing mission and then moves to the launch. This is where the glory of IMAX – with its wide screen, 3D imagery and superior sound system practically puts you on the launch pad.
Soon, we’re moving at trillions of miles per second as we travel to Orion’s nebula, a nursery of young stars. Stars streak past in 3D glory as we explore the nebula in an animated sequence built from Hubble images. It’s awe inspiring.
Most of the movie deals with the repair mission and it does drag in a few places. After the 17,500 m.p.h. rendezvous between the shuttle and the telescope the astronauts set out to dismantle and replace broken parts. It was like trying to assemble an Ikea sofa with oven mitts on.
The mission was considered high risk and it was the only time in NASA history when two shuttles stood on neighboring launch pads, one poised to help the other in case there was an accident.
Fortunately, the mission was a success and Hubble still has a few more years left and hopefully a few more images to humble and inspire us with.
WHAT: Hubble 3D
WHEN: 10:30, 11:45 a.m., 1, 2:15, 3:30 p.m. daily through May
WHERE: Boeing IMAX Theater, Pacific Science Center
INFO: www.pacsci.org/imax/ or 800-664-8775