We had one last stop planned in the town of Mitchell before we moved on. As it happens, the Virgil “Gus” Grissom Museum inside Spring Mill State Park isn’t their only tribute to the hometown legend who was chosen to become one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts in America’s fledgling space program. When the place you’re from thinks that highly of you, sometimes one salute isn’t enough.
On the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend 1984, give or take four years, my family decided to take a two-hour Sunday drive and visit a museum that I might think was cool. The only thing I remember about that day is my petty bitterness at missing out on my friends’ annual tradition of listening to the Indianapolis 500 on the radio in our backyards. Of course it was a year that our favorite driver Rick Mears won again. At the time I resented the imposition and refused to enjoy myself.
Thirty-six years later I tried again, but in a much better mood.
In the grand, 21st-century tradition of Gravity, Interstellar, The Martian, and First Man comes another tale of an A-lister shot into space with a massive budget both in-story and in reality. Honorable mention goes to Duncan Jones’ Moon, which had to make do with a fraction of the cash but was more relatable than at least two of those tentpoles.
Here at Midlife Crisis Crossover we try not to hold ourselves to too many fixed rules, but one I haven’t broken yet is: every film I see in theaters gets its own full-length entry. Sometimes they can take a while because I get distracted by other things I’d rather write about first. Sometimes shifting into overthinking mode takes more brain muscle than I care to exert. Sometimes I don’t feel like a movie needs more than a shrug and a “meh”, but I refuse to settle for a three-word entry. Sometimes I’m not enthusiastic about sharing candid thoughts on a film I thought would be much better than it was, and would rather see succeed despite my tepid reaction to it, particularly if it’s not doing well in theaters in the first place.
That reluctance brings us to First Man, the latest film from Damien Chazelle, director of La-La Land and Whiplash, two films I loved. Our family saw it back in October on its second week of release. In the past we’ve sought out spaceflight history in our entertainment as well as in our vacation choices (cf. Kennedy Space Center, the Cosmosphere, et al.). I assumed this would be one of my favorite films of the year.
it kinda wasn’t. Hence the nearly three-month delay on the mandatory wool-gathering. But I can’t get to my annual “Best/Worst of the Year” pop culture listicles until and unless I finish all the movie entries first. So here we go, checking the one missing box. Because it’s always exciting when you have to force yourself to write.
Hi, My name is Randy. It’s been five years and two months since the last time I pledged money to a Kickstarter campaign. This week I achieved closure on that chapter in my hobbyist life at last.
I’d never heard of Andy Weir’s novel The Martian until the first trailer for director Ridley Scott’s movie adaptation surprised the internet last week. I had no idea what to expect, and the name “Ridley Scott” told me things could go either way. Fortunately what I saw seemed somewhat different enough from Interstellar, Contact, Armageddon, and all those ’90s Martian disaster films (Mission to Mars, Red Planet, Total Recall, Mars Attacks!) that I considered myself somewhat impressed and a bit hopeful that some of the reviews end with hyperbole such as “Ridley Scott’s boldest vision of the future since Alien and Blade Runner!” or “Isn’t it time we forgave him for The Counselor?”.
That was my first thought. My second thought regarding this trailer in which Matt Damon, super-genius, defies expectations and accomplishes nigh-impossible doctorate-level feats under improbable circumstances while everyone else stands back and watches in befuddlement…my second thought is we’re about to see the long-awaited sequel Will Hunting, Good King of NASA. I don’t think I’m complaining, though. In fact, maybe more movie characters should buy tickets to go see the Final Frontier up close and rake in a few extra hundred billion bucks worldwide. Or on an interplanetary scale, even.
While we eavesdropped on the cast’s interplay during their distant grand entrance, the ambiance of their stage-setting was slightly disrupted by the sounds of the peckish viewers seated around me, rustling plastic wrappers and scarfing whatever snacks they couldn’t be bothered to finish during the preceding 25-minute trailer marathon. This sort of aural dissonance isn’t an issue when you’re watching the average summer action blockbuster that kicks off with a twenty-minute 200-decibel set piece that eradicates all sound and vibration in its path.
As we saw in our previous installment, the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Museum in Hutchinson, Kansas, provides a good, safe home to many retired spacecraft and spacecraft understudies. Their collections are a comprehensive tribute to those pioneers and daredevils who yearn to see mankind reach beyond our spatial boundaries and discover what else lies in store for us in God’s universe.
Once we returned from the Underground Salt Museum to the surface world, Day Eight of our nine-day journey continued on the other end of Hutchinson at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center. Our family has seen space-race paraphernalia in other museums such as the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (2003), Kennedy Space Center (2007), and Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry (2009), but the Cosmosphere competes in its own way, particularly with souvenirs from foreign contributors to the space race. Kansas seems like the last place on Earth you’d find a dedicated repository for cosmonaut relics, but there it was.
Despite the focus of Part One on Klingons extraordinaire Robert O’Reilly and J. G. Hertzler, they weren’t the only unforgettable personalities appearing at this year’s Starbase Indy convention. For Trek fans who’d attended previous cons (and therefore already had the chance to meet each Klingon warrior), the headliner would be Nicole DeBoer, making her first Indianapolis appearance. She’s known to us as Ezri Dax, a season-seven regular from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, who had big shoes to fill when Terry Farrell’s Jadzia Dax exited the series.
In case you somehow missed it because of football games on TV: today Austrian skydiver and BASE-jumper Felix Baumgartner broke more than one world record by riding a balloon 128,000 feet into the outer reaches of what can still technically be called atmosphere, jumping out of his claustrophobic cockpit, free-falling at speeds exceeding Mach 1, and landing safely several minutes later on the correct planet and in one very relieved piece.
This was his view mere moments before taking one small step for sponsor Red Bull, and one giant leap for mankind:
Nothing I do for the rest of my life will ever be as cool as this. I think I’m getting ill just looking at this.
Temperatures outside the capsule were near zero Fahrenheit. Baumgartner and his beautiful balloon were upward bound for over 2½ hours before maxing out in the upper reaches of near-outer-space. He and Mission Control reviewed an exhaustive checklist of 30+ steps and checks before undertaking his epic plunge, not including what must have been an extensive, tortuous process to arrive at this historic moment in the first place. Cameras followed him as best they could every step of the way, and broadcast their viewpoints via live YouTube feed.
I imagine much of that footage should be reposted by hundreds of impressed YouTube users by the time I finish posting this. As of this minute, no such luck. Please hurry so everyone who missed it can see for themselves, fast-forward through the few quiet moments, and know what daredevil courage looks like in action.
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Updated 4:30 p.m. EDT: video posted at last. Now that’s service!