If you haven’t heard yet, the IMAX film crew who put together Space Shuttle 3D and Deep Sea 3D have a new film coming out called Hubble 3D. Le trailer:
Reports say that there will be some never before seen images from Hubble at the end of the movie (I’m drooling already), but most of the film is a documentary about the space shuttle crew of STS-125 going up to repair and upgrade Hubble last May. The trailer also makes it sound sort of scary (it is always scary to strap human beings to a bomb and then watch them try to repair a billion dollar instrument 350 miles above Earth) but of course we already know that the mission was a terrific success: Hubble works wonderfully and the crew made it back safely.
I was lucky enough to catch a preview screening of about 15 minutes of footage from the film, and LIKE WOW. I will definitely be going back to catch the whole thing. Seeing the shuttle launch in IMAX 3D was so surprisingly stunning. I got teary. And then seeing Hubble, this magnificent instrument, laid out on the operating table, looking vulnerable, graceful and powerful all at the same time, was really inspiring.
Also fantastic (and I’m sorry this won’t be included with all screenings of the film) was mission specialist on STS-125 Michael Massimino, who came to answer questions and discuss his experience with Hubble. He was such a likable guy, and opened right up to the audience about how emotional the experience was, and how the film brings back so many memories. He and the crew spent about two and a half years in intense training for the mission, so they became, as Massimino said, like a family.
The group was able to bring an IMAX camera and 8 minutes of film into space (they also had non-IMAX video from helmet cameras and satellite feed). I was wondering the whole time what the cost of bringing the equipment with them must have been. If you’ve seen IMAX movies like Everest, you wonder how they managed to haul all the equipment with them on these already difficult journeys. According to the IMAX website, a full camera package weighs 650 pounds! Now I’ve found varying numbers, but it seems that sending something to space costs about $5,000 per pound. So the 650 pound IMAX package would cost around 3.25 million dollars. (I cannot find the exact details via IMAX or NASA so I may be completely wrong here, but I imagine it was not cheap to send this stuff into space; otherwise I’m sure they would have included far more than 8 minutes of film).
Was it worth it? For people who dream of taking a space flight and will never actually get to, the IMAX film is a priceless opportunity (well, not totally priceless. But $15 bucks is definitely a bargain). For NASA, well, no one should underestimate the importance of advertising your product, even (or especially) when the people funding it have so many other things to consider. Massimino talked briefly about the NASA budget situation. He said he’s always felt support for NASA “from the President, Congress, and the public.” The Hubble 3D experience may reinvigorate public support not only of telescopes like Hubble (and it’s replacement, the James Webb telescope) but the space shuttle as well.
Some people never lost their support for NASA, but in tough economic times, it frequently ends up on the chopping block. The agency does do a great deal of work that leads to technological and scientific progress that we can see in our every day lives, but it is also a national symbol. It represents the pursuit of the unknown, the importance of challenging ourselves, and of chasing our dreams. And Hubble 3D shows just how magnificent those things can be. Personally I think it’s a fantastic way to share the experience of a space shuttle flight with the people who pay for it, and the people who dream about it.