On Sunday evening, millions of television viewers from around the world descended upon the film mecca of Los Angeles, CA for the Oscars. For one night, movie fans were fixated with awards and the red-carpet, but their attention also extended to a movie that helped provide a glimpse at the beauty and artistry that is the International Space Station (ISS). Typically, the ISS National Lab focuses their blogs on research opportunities and efforts to utilize the U.S. National Laboratory – However this movie has provided a forum for humankind’s greatest technical platform and its significance should not be forgotten by the space community.
In a day and age where the National Science Foundation released a study noting that one in four Americans don’t realize that the Earth revolves around the sun, sometimes popular culture can help us realize what happens beyond our scope and that an artistic medium can help convey what words and numbers cannot. While the study mentioned above potentially underscores general knowledge of the ISS, the overwhelming commercial and critical success of ‘Gravity’ demonstrated the desire Americans still have for space and exploration.
As many know, Gravity is a fictional movie revolving around two astronauts on the ISS who become stranded in space when a freak accident destroys the orbiting laboratory. The movie grips its audience through incredible visuals that invoke wonderment of the unknown and at times the terror that comes with being 240 miles above Earth.
More importantly, the film increased public awareness of the ISS and highlighted the fact that there is a space station where people are currently living and working. Even though the premise of the movie is based on the dismantling of a vehicle that took 16 countries and over a decade to build, ‘Gravity’ also created a forum for the world to ask the question, “So what is really happening on the Space Station?”
At present, the ISS is at its customary post of orbiting our planet once every 90 minutes. There are six astronauts currently on the station spending their days conducting research experiments pertaining to many scientific disciplines ranging from the bio sciences to materials testing to human performance, so that we can better learn how to live for more prolonged periods while in space.
From the the ISS National Lab perspective, now and into the future, research will be heading to station intended to benefit life on Earth. From anti-cancer/life science investigations to technology development, STEM initiatives and consumer product experimentation, the ISS is a fully operational laboratory that has the potential to truly change our lives on Earth for the better. However, part of the the ISS National Lab mission for managing the National Lab is to effectively communicate these opportunities for discovery to the American public. While the research community is becoming increasingly aware of the capabilities onboard the ISS, the ISS National Lab also needs to engage the general public, to ensure they understand that their hard earned tax dollars have gone to develop and maintain an incredible asset.
That is why a movie like ‘Gravity’ is so important. It brings to life something that most Americans can’t see, or might not entirely understand. The film helped to build a bridge from the living room to the station. Space has been and remains “cool.” A visually stunning movie like this immerses the viewer in all of the elements that make space a popular discussion topic still today.
‘Gravity’ has brought a spotlight to the ISS. Now it is our role and responsibility to ensure that spotlight never fades away. Our expectation is that with time and the future discoveries sure to eventually come through the ISS National Lab-sponsored investigations, the ISS becomes a part of everyday knowledge as a bastion of innovation and advancement.