Saturday, June 20, 2009

Questions about humanity in Moon - the movie

A few of us drove all the way to Boston yesterday to watch the new sci-fi film, Moon (that's the closest place it is playing from us). The movie is fantastic! If you like old-fashioned thoughtful sci-fi films, then check out Moon (if you only like action-adventure sci-fi, give this one a pass). Here is the trailer:

The movie is set on a lunar base some time in the near future. The purpose of the base is to convert He3 into fuel - a nice clean energy source for the Earth. Most of the base is robotic, and you only have one human crew member, on a 3-year contract, for maintenance. This is all I want to give you about the plot. In many ways, the movie shares a lineage from 2001, Solyaris (also the new Solaris), Blade Runner, and Alien. But don't worry - not in ways that you expect.

By the way, the potential of using Helium 3 (an isotope of Helium - rare on Earth) is not completely crazy. There are proposals out there that believe that He3 can extracted from the regolith of the Moon and used as fuel. However, its not clear how much effort will be required for this extraction and if it will make any economic sense. Nevertheless, US, Russia, China, and India have all expressed in further exploring this option. Read more about He3 mining here. Of course, we will also have to address ethical and legal questions about mining on the surface of the Moon. At present, the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 prohibits any ownership rights on any celestial bodies, including the Moon. This will indeed be tested in the next decade or so.

However, like any other good sci-fi, the fundamental question in the movie is about the nature of humanity: What makes us human? There is no better place to ask this question than on the barren landscape of the Moon. In addition, the movie is a meditation on loneliness, memory, and perhaps even biophilia (the idea of an instinctive bond between humans and living beings. Thanks to Kevin Anderson for bringing to attention this possibility). The movie is written and directed by Duncan Jones (also recognized as Zowie Bowie - yes, David Bowie's son). The movie towards the end could have gone in any number of directions - but the director made some very smart decisions. Sam Rockwell in the lead is also fantastic. The movie, in fact, was written with him in mind - and it shows. Music is hauntingly beautiful and quite appropriate. You can hear some of it in the trailer.

If you have an opportunity, check it out. It is playing in the following cities.

While we are on the subject, here is an interesting op-ed piece in LA Times, Space archaeology, that talks about the preservation of Apollo landing sites:
Today, however, some of the most important elements of that shared space heritage, including Tranquility Base, are threatened. The Lunar X Prize, a $20-million award funded by Google, is being offered by the X Prize Foundation, which previously held a competition to develop private space travel. The first private group to land and maneuver a robotic rover on the moon before Dec. 31, 2012, will be the winner.

A "Heritage Bonus Prize" of perhaps $1 million (the actual amount has not yet been made public) will be given to the team that also sends back images of man-made objects on the moon. In order to take photographs of these artifacts, groups would have to first target their craft to land close to a previous landing site, then move their rover as close as possible -- even into the area where human activity occurred 40 years ago.

The rules for the competition state only that participants seeking the Heritage bonus must have their plans approved by the foundation "in order to eliminate unnecessary risks to the historically significant sites of interest," but there is no explanation what criteria will be used to judge risks as "unnecessary" or what steps are recommended to avoid damage.

The sites of early lunar landings are of unparalleled significance in the history of humanity, and extraordinary caution should be taken to protect them. Armstrong's iconic footprint and the American flag placed by the astronauts may yet be intact -- there is no wind or rain on the moon to damage or destroy them.
Read the full article here.


Don said...

I hadn't heard that Zowie Bowie was behind this. Sold.

Of course, there's that and all of the other good reviews, the trailer, the cast, the premise, the style, and the genre. Guess I'll have to walk up to Harvard.

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