Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The World of Tomorrow

A 1964 recruitment short for Plus Ultra fictionally produced by “Walt Disney” and narrated by “Orson Welles.” It didn't make the movie's final cut. Video source: Disney Movie Trailers YouTube channel.

“We have done a lot of thinking on a model community, and I would like to be a part of building one, a city of tomorrow, as you might say.”

— Walt Disney


The Walt Disney Company movie Tomorrowland premiered in U.S. theatres on May 22, 2015.

Thanks to tepid critic reviews and a disastrous marketing campaign by Disney, Tomorrowland bombed at the box office. According to IMDB, the movie cost $190 million to make, and grossed only $209 million worldwide. By one estimate, Tomorrowland lost Disney about $120-140 million.

But an odd thing happened on the way to the DVD junk bin.

Tomorrowland developed a cult following.

I'm one of them.

I wrote a blog in June 2015, “In Defense of Tomorrowland,” detailing how I'd fallen for the movie.

It took two viewings. The first time, I left the theatre with a negative impression, but my mind kept returning to the world of Plus Ultra, a secret society that believed optimism could build a better tomorrow. Tomorrowland existed on an alternate Earth in a parallel dimension. I found myself contemplating its implications for the future of humanity.

So I saw it a second time. And fell in love with Tomorrowland.

I wasn't the only one.

Blogger Chris Haydon wrote:

This film is not ‘preachy’ as many have lazily labelled, nor is it some modernistic advertisement for the environment; it is actually about asking ‘why’. Why should we accept something bad, something unrewarding simply because it is easier to do so? Why do we accept war, chaos and desolation simply because the world presumes it is inevitable?

The Goshen, Indiana newspaper Goshen News published on June 11 a column by seventh grade teacher Paul Steury about how he used Tomorrowland in his classroom:

Like in Tomorrowland (a movie we watched at the end of the year because it talked about idealism vs. reality in Hollywood scientific terms), the future is scary.

But make sure you remember: You have the potential to change the future.

Anything is possible.

Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.

Tomorrowland fan Nick Tierce keeps the flame burning, both on his web site Tomorrowland Times, and on Twitter at @TheTomorrowTime.

And on May 22, 2016, the one-year anniversary of the U.S. release, a “Tomorrownaut” posted on YouTube this trailer for a “Dreamer's Cut” that restores deleted scenes available on the Blu-Ray release.

Click the arrow to watch the Dreamer's Cut trailer. Video source: Tomorrownauts YouTube channel.

The trailer is a statement of defiance that, despite Disney's abandonment of the film, Tomorrowland still inspires. It also has a one-frame secret link to where you can watch the Dreamer's Cut online.

One restored scene occurs at Kennedy Space Center's Pad 39A, at the exact moment that a Plus Ultra device had predicted the apocalypse. Thanks to the optimistic efforts of our protagonists, the moment passes without incident. Optimism triumphs — for now.

Tomorrowland recruits in the film are issued a pin with certain powers. Replica pins are licensed by various vendors. The Funko Tomorrowland pin is widely available on eBay and popular among Tomorrownauts.

Funko's replica Plus Ultra recruitment pin.

Here at Kennedy Space Center, I'm aware of about twenty employees who wear T-pins every day at work. We're our own little Plus Ultra chapter. The film's ending implies that our heroes' efforts to build a better future are based at KSC. The gag is that we've been recruited to help build an optimistic future. Those who've seen the film instantly recognize the pin and ask about it.

Tomorrowland, of course, is named after the attraction at Disneyland in Anaheim and at Magic Kingdom in Orlando.

The first cut of the film had a far more direct connection between the fictional Tomorrowland and its amusement park namesake.

A May 20, 2015 Slashfilm interview with co-writer Damon Lindelof notes that the original script specifically stated Walt Disney was a member of Plus Ultra. The amusement park was to be a cover for Plus Ultra recruitment. (Plus Ultra's secret symbol is +U.)

This image of Walt Disney is on the wall of a science fiction collectibles store in the movie.

The final cut chose to downplay the connection but, if you're willing to pretend that +U is real, you can find much reason to think that Walt's recruitment center isn't the Tomorrowland attraction, it's EPCOT.

The film opens at the 1964 New York World's Fair. A fictional Hall of Invention is hosting an inventor's competition. Its true purpose is to identify potential Plus Ultra recruits.

Walt Disney had a significant presence at this World's Fair. Four Disney attractions premiered at the fair — Carousel of Progress, It's a Small World, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln and Magic Skyway. Carousel of Progress and It's a Small World play an important role in the movie's early scenes.

Walt was already planning for his second amusement park attraction outside Orlando, quietly buying up land. Part of his vision was to build an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, or EPCOT. The early vision was of a master-planned community encompassing his amusement park attractions and those who lived there.

Disney died in 1966, and with him the original vision for EPCOT.

A 1966 film Walt Disney produced for Florida officials to explain his vision for EPCOT. He died about six weeks later. Video source: TheOriginalEpcot YouTube channel.

Walt was known to love world's fairs, and foresaw EPCOT as a permanent world's fair, rather than one torn down or abandoned at the end of its run.

In the Tomorrowland universe, world's fairs are a big part of +U history. Plus Ultra was founded in 1889 at the Exposition Universelle in Paris. The Eiffel Tower was designed by its founders as a device to search across the electromagnetic spectrum for a way to reach parallel universes.

The movie prequel novel Before Tomorrowland is set at the 1939 New York World's Fair. Plus Ultra plans to use the fair to reveal itself to the world ... but their plans go awry.

The animated short at the top of this article was to be seen by +U recruits once they entered a hidden chamber below It's a Small World. At the end it states that +U once again planned to reveal itself to the world, this time in 1984. The recruitment short was cut from the film, but it's on the Blu-Ray release (and opens the Dreamer's Cut).

The 1984 relevation never happens, due to events detailed in the movie. (By the way, the real 1984 World's Fair was in New Orleans.)

So let's surmise that Walt planned EPCOT to be not just a permanent world's fair, but also a permanent +U recruitment center.

Walt died before EPCOT opened sixteen years later. Or did he? Before Tomorrowland establishes that certain historic figures fake death to help +U establish Tomorrowland on the alternate Earth.

Either way, what if today's EPCOT is a +U recruitment site?

I recently visited EPCOT, and found lots of evidence to indulge that fantasy.

The Spaceship Earth attraction at the EPCOT entrance. Video source: iThemePark YouTube channel.

At the entrance is the Spaceship Earth. According to the Disney World web site, guests “enter the iconic geosphere for a look at the landmark moments that made today's communications technology possible.” The geosphere and the attraction's original script were created in part by science fiction author Ray Bradbury.

But the real giveaway is the end of the attraction.

Guests exit into “Project Tomorrow.”

Signs at the entrance and exit to Project Tomorrow. Images source: SpaceKSC.com.

The Disney World web site describes Project Tomorrow:

Disembark from your time travel experience where an emerging world of wonders awaits your arrival. At Project Tomorrow, stick around after your journey through Spaceship Earth reaches its conclusion and find a showcase introducing the latest in high-tech medicine, transportation, energy efficiency and more.

Step inside the interactive area intended for one and all — from kids short and small to adults big and tall — where you’re invited to build, create, compete and play with a series of exhibits that bring innovative ideas and brand new technologies to life.

Sounds like +U recruitment testing to me.

The conspiracy clincher is this city of the future conceptual artwork on the wall.

Compare it with this promotional artwork for the Tomorrowland movie.

A bit on the nose for a secret society.

And if you want to take the Disney recruitment experience one step further ... Adventures by Disney now offers a tour of Kennedy Space Center led by an astronaut.

For another look of what might have been ...

Click the arrow to watch video of the 2013 alternate reality game “The Optimist” at Anaheim's Disneyland. Video source: Inside the Magic YouTube channel.

During the film's pre-production, director Brad Bird and writer Damon Lindelof pitched to Disney management the idea of using the amusement park as an interactive alternate reality game connected to the film. “Optimists” would explore Disneyland looking for clues that would ultimately lead them to a secret Plus Ultra recruitment meeting. Their reward was to receive a T-pin.

Wouldn't it be fun to do that at Kennedy Space Center?

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Blue Skies

Click the arrow to watch highlight clips from today's Blue Origin test flight. Video source: Blue Origin YouTube channel.

Blue Origin today flew in west Texas its four test of its New Shepard suborbital launch system.

The above video has clips of the test. Click here to watch the complete webcast of the test flight.

The webcast itself is significant, because until now Blue hasn't broadcast live its tests. If successful, eventually we saw highlight clips on YouTube and the Blue Origin web site.

Also significant is that this was Blue's first test of the capsule's re-entry without one of its three main chutes. More about the test flight in this Spaceflight Now article.

The BE-3 engine uses liquid hydrogen as a fuel. Most launch providers on Planet Earth use RP-1 kerosene, which is cheaper and easier to handle, but liquid hydrogen provides more bang for the buck. The upper stages of the Saturn V, and the Space Shuttle's orbiter main engines, used liquid hydrogen. Blue's next-generation engine, the BE-4, will use methane. Rival SpaceX is also working on a next-generation engine called Raptor that would use methane.

The BE-4 engine will be used on a booster capable of sending payloads into orbital flight. That unnamed rocket will launch from the Cape's Pad 36. Blue is currently clearing land at Kennedy Space Center on Space Commerce Road for their Orbital Launch Site Manufacturing Complex. Click here for images.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Ready When They're Ready

Pieces of the Boeing CST-100 Starliner arrive at Kennedy Space Center. Video source: NASA Kennedy YouTube channel.

The next International Space Station crew rotation is scheduled for July 7 from the Russian launch site at Baikonur, Khazkhstan.

Here at Kennedy Space Center, commercial crew vendors Boeing and SpaceX continue to prepare for their first missions in the next two years.

A Boeing executive said on May 11 that their CST-100 Starliner is behind schedule. Their first uncrewed test flight is planned for 2017, with the first crew flight in 2018. According to an Aviation Week article (subscription required), Boeing has problems with the capsule's mass and noise problems as it interacts with its United Launch Alliance Atlas V booster.

SpaceX maintains they're still on track for operational status by the end of 2017, although their schedules are notoriously optimistic.

As recently as March, NASA told media representatives that Boeing and SpaceX were both still on track for 2017. According to a May 25 Spaceflight Now article:

Boeing announced earlier this month that its first piloted CST-100 Starliner flight with two test astronauts on-board has slipped from October 2017 to February 2018. That will be preceded by an abort test using the capsule’s pusher escape engines at White Sands, New Mexico, in October 2017 and a trip to the space station by an unoccupied CST-100 in December 2017, Boeing officials said ...

Earlier this year, SpaceX quietly delayed its initial Crew Dragon mission without astronauts from late 2016 to May 2017. A NASA official confirmed the updated schedule in a March presentation to the agency’s advisory council.

The commercial crew program on paper goes back to President George W. Bush's administration. Part of his Vision for Space Exploration proposal, the Commercial Crew/Cargo Project Office opened in November 2005. NASA issued the first commercial cargo contracts in August 2006, but commercial crew went unfunded because it would compete with the government Constellation Ares I.

A 2009 review concluded that Constellation would not fly Ares I until at least 2017, and possibly 2019. Although prohibited by Congress, NASA budget documents from the Bush era assumed Constellation would be funded by ending ISS in 2016. The station would be disposed into the Pacific Ocean.

NASA was building a rocket to nowhere.

President Barack Obama's Fiscal Year 2011 NASA budget proposal cancelled Constellation to extend the International Space Station to 2020, accelerate commercial cargo and fund the commercial crew program. The goal was to have commercial crew operational by 2015.

After months of political rancor, Congress finally agreed, but for several fiscal years underfunded commercial crew. According to a November 2013 NASA Office of the Inspector General report:

The Program received only 38 percent of its originally requested funding for FYs 2011 through 2013, bringing the current aggregate budget shortfall to $1.1 billion when comparing funding requested to funding received. As a result, NASA has delayed the first crewed mission to the ISS from FY 2015 to at least FY 2017.

Subsequent funding cuts pushed the post-Shuttle “gap” into FY 2018.

If you're unhappy with that, you may wish to contact your members of Congress to determine how they voted when NASA's budget came up for a vote.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Blue's Origin, Part 1

This sign is visible from Space Commerce Road. All images credit: SpaceKSC.com.

Blue Origin has begun clearing at their future manufacturing complex at Kennedy Space Center's Exploration Park.

You'll notice that, on the above sign, it states, OLS Manufacturing Complex. What's OLS?! I'm guessing it's Orbital Launch Site, apparently, from the below press release.

The Haskell Company of Jacksonville has the contract to design and build the complex. Here's their April 26, 2016 press release:

Haskell, a leading integrated design, engineering and construction firm, announced today that it has been selected to design-build a new orbital rocket manufacturing facility for Blue Origin. The facility will be built at Exploration Park in Cape Canaveral, Florida — the hub of U.S. space exploration.

In 2015, Blue Origin announced plans to open a 21st century production facility that will focus on manufacturing a new fleet of reusable orbital launchers for their private spaceflight program. The facility is strategically located near Complex 36, the site where Blue Origin plans to launch from later this decade.

This is Haskell’s second engagement for the private spaceflight company. Haskell previously performed design-build services on a 20,000 SF launch site complex in Texas that was completed in September of 2006. “Haskell’s aerospace and aviation industry performance track record coupled with their proven ability to meet aggressive design-build schedules made them the right fit for this job,” said Scott Henderson, Blue Origin's Orbital Launch Site Director. “We look forward to partnering with Haskell to deliver a world class launch vehicle manufacturing facility to support our vision of millions of people living and working in space.”

“Haskell is thrilled to be a part of this industry-changing project that makes spaceflight more commercially accessible,” said Paul Raudenbush, Haskell’s Aviation & Aerospace Division Leader. “Blue Origin’s culture is grounded in innovation, value and safety much like our own, which makes this a great fit for our two organizations. As a Florida-based company, we’re especially invested in completing a successful project that brings Blue Origin’s operations into our home state.”

Scott Henderson, by the way, once worked for SpaceX at the Cape as Director of Launch Integration and Mission Assurance. He joined Blue in March 2014.

From time to time, I'll drive by the site and shoot photos to keep you apprised of their progress.

Click on an image to view at a larger size. Images may be used elsewhere if credit is given to SpaceKSC.com.

These first two photos were taken on May 29.

These images were shot today, on June 7.

That New Habitat Smell

Click the link to look inside the BEAM. Video source: NASA Johnson YouTube channel.

Another first for NewSpace.

NASA astronaut Jeff Williams yesterday entered the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), the first time a person has entered an expandable habitat on orbit.

BEAM has a volume of 16 cubic meters, or about 212 cubic feet. It's roughly comparable to a small bedroom.

As noted in the NASA video, BEAM was delivered last April in the trunk of the SpaceX cargo Dragon. That was another first — the first time a private company's space module was delivered to orbit by another private company's cargo ship.

In March 2013, I wrote a blog article, “The Origins of Commercial Space.” The NewSpace era as we know it began with a report issued by President George W. Bush's Commission on Implementation of United Space Exploration Policy. Titled A Journey to Inspire, Innovate, and Discover, the commissioners saw fit to dedicate an entire chapter to the subject, “Building a Robust Space Industry.”

The commission wrote in that chapter's preface:

The Commission finds that sustaining the long-term exploration of the solar system requires a robust space industry that will contribute to national economic growth, produce new products through the creation of new knowledge, and lead the world in invention and innovation. This space industry will become a national treasure.

That report was released in June 2004. Twelve years later, the national treasure is on orbit.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Two Billionaires, One NewSpace

Click the arrow to watch the May 31, 2016 Jeff Bezos interview. Video source: Recode YouTube channel.

Click the arrow to watch the June 1, 2016 Elon Musk interview. Video source: Recode YouTube channel.

They didn't appear on the same day, but NewSpace entrepreneurs Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk were among the speakers interviewed at this year's Code Conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, California.

According to the event's web site, “Code Conference is an invitation-only event where top industry influencers gather for in-depth conversations about the current and future impact of digital technology on our lives — at home, at work, in our communities and the world.”

This year was the third annual conference.

Originally known as Re/code, today's Recode is tech business news entity now owned by Vox Media. Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg, the founders of Re/code, are the on-stage interviewers.

Both NewSpace entrepreneurs are interviewed about many topics, not just their space companies. Each interview runs about 80 minutes.

Hard to Port

SpaceX posted this image June 6 of the four landed Falcon 9 boosters in storage at their Kennedy Space Center Pad 39A hangar. Click the image to view at a larger size. Image source: SpaceX.

I went by Port Canaveral on June 3 to shoot photos of the latest Falcon 9 landed at sea by SpaceX.

As with my May 12 pilgrimage, these images were shot from across the port at Milliken's Reef. The restaurant's parking lot is becoming an increasing popular location for photographing landed F9s on the drone ship.

The images may be used elsewhere if credit is given to SpaceKSC.com. Click the image to view at a larger size.