Thursday, November 17, 2011

Mead Festival: "Cinema and the Future of Space"

On Saturday, November 12, WGINY attended "Cinema and the Future of Space," a film presentation and lecture by Michael Shara, Ph.D., given as part of the Margaret Mead Film Festival at the American Museum of Natural History ("AMNH"). Dr. Shara is a curator in the museum's Department of Astrophysics, and also curator of the upcoming exhibit, "Beyond Planet Earth: The Future of Space Exploration," which is slated to open at AMNH this weekend, on November 19. "Cinema and the Future of Space" was presented in conjunction with that exhibit, which will focus on how space exploration will continue to take flight (quite literally!) over the next 50 years, and will even look ahead 500 years, to glimpse "the future of humanity."

Dr. Shara discussed his predictions that robots will become more integral in space flight in the near future, and that within 50-75 years, humans may be able to travel into space via a "space elevator" grounded on the moon. Aeronautics and media mogul, Richard Branson, has already established Virgin Galactic, a company that is capitalizing on the dreams of wealthy would-be "astronauts,"and accepting reservations for anticipated commercial space flights. Can't afford the $200,000 price tag? Not to worry. The future of space exploration should see the rapid expansion of "space tourism," and along with it some healthy competition among travel companies to drive down prices.

Dr. Shara's presentation also focused on space exploration beyond the realm of tourism, including considerations of whether there might be life on Mars, or in the large, salty ocean beneath the icy surface of Europa (a moon of Jupiter), or even on the Earth's own moon, in some simple form. To highlight the wonders of such future exploration, Dr. Shara showed the audience the past. That is, the cinematic past of how filmmakers have portrayed notions of space exploration over the last 100+ years. Movies clips from some of science-fiction's best known films, as well as some of the genre's most frightening, disturbing and astonishing films, were shown and discussed. Beginning with the 1902 French film, "Le Voyage Dans La Lune" (A Trip to the Moon), in which travelers in top hats board a shell that is placed into a cannon by gunners and fired into space, and ending with the 2009 Hollywood blockbuster, "District 9," which examines the sociology of how humans might interact with intelligent aliens who arrive on Earth, the clips ranged from laughable to plausible and realistic. In the 1929 German Film, "Frau imd Mond" (Woman in the Moon), an astronaut in a helmet steps out onto the surface of the moon and tests for air by lighting a match. That seems reasonable, right?... I found that the clips served as a humbling reminder that science is never static, and that, as we begin to usher in what may be an unprecedented era of interstellar and interplanetary travel and commercial space flight, the only limit on what we may find is the human imagination.

Are you as excited about all this as I am? If so, make sure to check out "Beyond Planet Earth: The Future of Space Exploration"at AMNH, where you can walk through the world's largest hologram and see Kepler images of exoplanets (planets outside of the Solar System), or visit a lunar base mockup.  "Beyond Planet Earth" runs until August 12, 2012.

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