The Space Shuttle Is Dead, Long Live The Space Shuttle!

Originally published on July 15, 2011 12:29 pm

The space shuttle may be gone, but it's not likely to be forgotten — not if Hollywood has anything to do with it. Over the course of the last 30 years, the shuttle has shown up repeatedly on the Silver Screen.

James Bond tracks down villains behind a stolen space shuttle in 1979's Moonraker.

Then there's the 80s movie, Space Camp, featuring a group of students who are accidentally launched into space and their instructor, played by Kate Capshaw, has to get them back down to Earth.

And then there's 1998's Armageddon — you know, the movie where Billy Bob Thornton plays a NASA scientist who helps a team of oil drillers save the world from an asteroid?

OK, so maybe the plot lines are a little unrealistic. Case in point, the most recent Transformers movie.

"There's so much science that's not correct on that, because it's completely fictitious with robotics. But it's very, very exciting, and it tells a wonderful story, and it's a wonderful way to reach people about the excitement of space exploration," says Bert Ulric, NASA's multimedia liaison. His job is to connect movie producers with NASA astronauts and engineers.

"We just want to reach out and share the NASA story as much as we possibly can," he says.

Ulrick is also the guy who gives the agency's stamp of approval and he's often on set when big productions are filming at NASA locations. But not every project passes the test.

"Well there've been certain times where we'd get a script and it's just so not true, that we'd have to say, you know what, we probably can't do this one," Ulrick says.

That's not the case for the upcoming Men in Black 3, which is currently shooting at the Kennedy Space Center. It's scheduled for release next May after the shuttle program has ended.

We don't know what's next for NASA, but Ulrick thinks space will continue to capture the imaginations of moviegoers both here and overseas: Space fever has already spread to India, where Bollywood giant Shahrukh Kahn played a NASA project manager in the movie Swades.

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

Okay, the U.S. space shuttle may be going into retirement but it's not likely to be forgotten, at least not if Hollywood has anything to do with it. Over the course of the last 30 years, the shuttle has shown up repeatedly on screen.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARY LOUISE KELLY, Host:

Unidentified Man: Light it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "SPACE CAMP")

(SOUNDBITE OF A BLASTOFF)

LOUISE KELLY: Here's their teacher, played by Kate Capshaw.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "SPACE CAMP")

KATE CAPSHAW: (as Andie Bergstrom) Well, ladies and gentlemen, I think we've achieved orbit.

INSKEEP: And then who could forget this hit from 1998 - "Armageddon?"

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: You know, where Billy Bob Thornton plays a NASA scientist. Who helps a team of oil drillers save the world from an asteroid?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "ARMAGEDDON")

BILLY BOB THORNTON: (as Dan Truman) Okay, gentlemen, you're our warriors up there. God be with you. You're already heroes, so sit back and enjoy the ride.

LOUISE KELLY: Okay, so maybe the plot lines are just a touch unrealistic. Case in point - the most recent "Transformers" movie.

BERT ULRICH: There's so much science that's not correct on that, because it's completely fictitious with robotics. But it's very, very exciting, and it tells a wonderful story. And it's a wonderful way to reach people about the excitement of space exploration.

LOUISE KELLY: That's Bert Ulrich. His job at NASA is to connect movie producers with NASA astronauts and engineers.

ULRICH: We just want to reach out and sort of share the NASA story as much as we possibly can.

INSKEEP: But not every project passes NASA's test.

ULRICH: Well there've been certain instances where we'd get a script and it's just so not true, that we would have to say, you know what - we probably can't do this one.

LOUISE KELLY: We don't know what's next for NASA. But Bert Ulrich thinks space will continue to capture the imaginations of moviegoers.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LOUISE KELLY: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.