Some of the greatest stories are told through movies. In 1968, when I was a kid enthralled with all things related to the space program, my Dad took me on a special outing to Seattle to see 2001: A Space Odyssey. This past New Year’s Eve Laurie and I watched the DVD, 2010: The Year We Make Contact. This 1984 movie was a sequel to the movie, 2001. Despite the fact that watching this on New Year’s Eve is strong evidence that I don’t know how to show a girl a good time, we thought it might be interesting to see how Arthur C. Clarke’s vision of 2010 stacked up against the reality of the year.
The obvious comparisons where we fall short of the fictional 2010 are that there are no moon bases or manned missions to Jupiter. While both seemed like reasonable expectations after our heady progress in space during the 60’s, our national will and interests have been elsewhere.
Pan Am space planes were featured in both the 2001 and 2010 movies. The real Pan Am even established a waiting list for flights to the moon in the ‘60s. Sadly, the iconic airline went bankrupt only seven years after 2010 was released. The airline that advertised in the movie that, “At Pan Am, the sky is no longer the limit,” was grounded in 1991.
Computers are one of the more notable differences where our real 2010 has the edge. While we don’t have the equivalent of HAL 9000, the computer that went rogue in 2001 and was resuscitated in 2010, our computers are much more advanced than in the movie. Computers in the movie look like ‘80s type green screens with boxy monitors and graphics inferior to what the average cell phone user enjoys. In one scene Dr. Heywood Floyd, played by Roy Scheider, uses a “laptop” on the beach. His laptop looks more like a bread machine with a flip down keyboard and a screen the size of a postcard; lame compared to the technology of the average laptop or iPad of today.
On board the mission to Jupiter the crew prints out reports hundreds of pages long. Based on what I observed of their usage they’d need a cargo bay to supply enough paper and printer cartridges to meet the documentation needs of a mission of that length. Not to mention that they’d leave a trail of discarded paper from the Earth to Jupiter and back that would look like the rings of Saturn. On a real mission a mobile computer for each crew member would do the trick.
Sadly enough, Roy Scheider, who starred in movies such as Jaws, All That Jazz, and Blue Thunder passed away in 2008, two years before Dr. Heywood Floyd, the character he played in 2010 traveled to Jupiter to solve the mystery of the spaceship, Discovery One, a derelict orbiting Jupiter.
In one memorable scene Dr. Floyd and astronautical engineer Dr. Walter Kurnow (played by John Lithgow) discuss what they miss about earth. Kurnow craves a hot dog from the Houston Astrodome. Floyd replies, “Astrodome? You can’t grow a good hot dog indoors. Yankee Stadium. September. The hot dogs have been boiling since opening day in April. Now that’s a hot dog.”
The Yankee Stadium of 1984 was replaced in 2009. The Houston Astros baseball team abandoned the Astrodome after the 1999 season. Because of it’s dilapidated condition only maintenance and security workers have been allowed inside since 2008. Not a place to make a hot dog that anyone would miss.
There are similarities between the movie and our present time. In the move 2010 we have to hitch a ride to Jupiter with the Russians to rescue the Discovery because our own space craft isn’t ready. In reality, the Space Shuttle Discovery is scheduled to launch on Feb 24. After the final scheduled space shuttle mission in June of 2011, we’ll once again be reduced to hitching rides with the Russians to space until replacement spacecraft are available.
On the plus side, during the movie a standoff over South America leads to a “State of War” between the Soviet Union and the United States, leading to the Americans being forced to move off of the Soviet spacecraft onto Discovery. In our world, the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 allowing the nearly 300 million citizens of that Communist country to pursue their own destinies as 15 independent nations.
Although the story told in the movie 2010 is very different from the reality of 2010, it’s still a fascinating tale and I highly recommend watching it. And guys, be sure to turn up the sound during the aerobraking sequence. It’s my favorite test of the home theater system. This montage of scenes from the movie illustrates some of my points if you don’t want to see the whole film.
2010: The Year We Make Contact is available on DVD. Maybe even for free through your local library.
Related Posts: Keeping the People In about being at the fall of the Berlin Wall