|By Carmelo Turdo|
|Sam Gemar (NASA)|
Colonel Gemar opened his remarks by asking the classic question - Why do we explore? He suggested the common responses - understanding our environment and discovering human destiny. Both are valid answers to the equation. He also mentioned that one of the questions asked of him most often is, "What is the most difficult part of going into space?" He posited that one answer could be the 22 or more years of education and training obtained prior to even touching a spacecraft. Another answer may be the rigors of space flight - the acceleration forces of takeoff in a multi-million pound machine and then weightless environment of space. For Colonel Gemar, the answer was, "The night before!" The 8-12 hours before a flight is a period of time of waiting for the chance to launch, not knowing the outcome of the flight. The excellent NASA training had prepared him well for the mission, so once the time came for launch, he had total confidence in the crew's ability to fulfill the mission. But thoughts of what would happen to those left behind if he and the crew were lost were top of mind. Astronauts have a unique position in that the legacy they leave is both professional and personal. "Few legacies are made at work (as with astronauts). Legacies are made with family and friends."
Colonel Gemar introduced "Interstellar" by asking a rhetorical question - Is space exploration a flight of fancy or human destiny? Some day the earth will cease to exist following the self-destruction of our own sun - it may take eons but it will happen. What will the human race do to survive, and what level of technology will it have developed by then?
"Interstellar" portrays the earth in a precarious state of self-destruction, with drought and dust storms causing crop failures and wide-spread starvation (at least in the U.S. where the story takes place). The implicit environmental message is one of planetary dustbowl blight rather than global warming, and the script was carefully written to avoid making that the main theme of the movie. Without giving away too much of the plot, the main character, a former astronaut is recruited/compelled to rejoin the underground NASA to spearhead a mission to rescue other astronauts sent on missions to find other habitable worlds beyond Saturn, through a black hole, and beyond. Throughout the adventures of the trip through time and space, just enough basic physics and recognizable space hardware are used to make the science fiction seem more believable.
It is also fairly obvious that beyond the general theme of human survival, there is another pervasive and universal human emotion feeding the drive of the astronauts: Love. Love of a father for his daughter, one astronaut for another, and from one generation of humanity to the next. This message alone, regardless of the mechanisms used to form the plot, has been used in literature and movies throughout recorded history. "Interstellar" takes the human need to leave a legacy to one's family and friends and even the rest of humanity to new heights. The spectacular IMAX special effects seemingly put the audience in the spacecraft throughout the physical and emotional journey with the crew members as they use every ounce of their human strengths to reconcile their humanity with the forces of the universe. The twist of the final scene puts the struggle into perspective, and gives some assurance of the survival of the species as long as it continues to be "human."
Special thanks to Challenger Learning Center St. Louis for providing the opportunity to attend the screening event.