Saturday, November 14, 2015

Retro Saturday: 2001 A Space Odyssey -- A Look Behind the Future

Click the arrow to watch the film. Video source: WarnerBrosOnline YouTube channel.

For our 100th and final episode of Retro Saturday, I present a 1966 documentary produced by MGM Studios to promote 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The film is introduced by Look publisher Vernon Myers, who states the magazine will help promote the film prior to its 1967 release. 2001 director Stanley Kubrick worked for Look as a photojournalist from 1945 to 1950.

The documentary notes that Kubrick invited space and other futurologists to help with the film's realism. Among them were rocketeer Fred Ordway and space illustrator Harry Lange. Both were contemporaries of Wernher von Braun at the Army Ballistic Missile Agency and later with NASA.

Ordway was a personal friend of 2001 author Arthur C. Clarke. Lange designed the iconic helmet worn on spacewalks in the film.

It accurately predicts a laptop computer with Skype capability, although a briefcase with a typewriter and rotary phone isn't actually what we have today. Skype didn't become popular until a few years after 2001, but who am I to nitpick.

What the film didn't foresee was the general political apathy that post-Apollo would strip NASA of much of its human spaceflight funding.

The Apollo program wasn't about building the futuristic society depicted in 2001. It was about “prestige,” proving to the rest of the world that United States technology was superior to the Soviet Union. This is amply documented by space policy analyst John Logsdon's two books, John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon and After Apollo? Richard Nixon and the American Space Program.

We also see Arthur C. Clarke visit the Grumman plant in Long Island where the lunar modules are being constructed.

The Retro Saturday series was intended to help us learn about today and tomorrow by viewing films about the past. I hope you'll explore the other Retro Saturday articles to find the hidden gems resurrected thanks to the Internet.

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