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Old 07-05-2017, 08:08 PM
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Dumb astronauts: How did this movie trope start?

How did we go from "smart" space films like Apollo 13, Alien, Contact, Sunshine to movies like...

Gravity, Alien: Covenant, Life, Europa Report... where the entire premise is "fancy spaceship, dumb humans, something eats them"? Why are the astronauts getting dumber and dumber, to be mindlessly killed off like teenagers in a horror movie?

It's fine when they die well (Rogue One, The Martian, Interstellar maybe), but more often, they just fall to a series of stupid mistakes and emotional instability that any space agency would've screened for.

Has this always been a thing in movies, or did it start recently? Have we started to commoditize astronauts so much that they're all expendable now, like Trek redshirts?
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Old 07-05-2017, 08:24 PM
Bryan Ekers Bryan Ekers is offline
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I'm reminded of something Chris Hadfield said, in the middle of describing a minor personal crisis aboard the ISS:

"There's no problem so bad, you can't make it worse."

The problem in this case was him being on a spacewalk to set up some gear, when a droplet containing a chemical he suspected was from the anti-glare coating on the inside of his helmet wandered into his eye and blinded him. Panic, or indeed any reaction beyond complete calm, was most assuredly counter-productive.

Hadfield would think of a way to space the xenomorph.
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Old 07-05-2017, 08:27 PM
snfaulkner snfaulkner is offline
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As space flight (or anything, really) becomes more and more routine/refined, you no longer need the brightest of the bright with the right stuff to make it work.
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Old 07-05-2017, 08:48 PM
Ranchoth Ranchoth is offline
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A really bilious part of me is inclined to say that movie characters, in general, have just been acting stupider and less professional over the years, but that more movies happen to be set in outer space.
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Old 07-05-2017, 08:50 PM
Broomstick Broomstick is offline
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It's a lot easier to write movies where stupid people make dumb mistakes and get into predictable trouble than to write movies with intelligent characters making wise choices in dealing with unpredictable and difficult problems.
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Old 07-05-2017, 09:11 PM
Bryan Ekers Bryan Ekers is offline
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It's a lot easier to write movies where stupid people make dumb mistakes and get into predictable trouble than to write movies with intelligent characters making wise choices in dealing with unpredictable and difficult problems.
Annoyingly, it seems easier still to have intelligent characters, but put them against superintelligent antagonists who are obsessed with the characters. I get that it must have been difficult for the writers of CSI to come up with a crime that has some angle to it that the forensics guys can uncover, so instead they just invent some psychopath who leaves no evidence at all except for the clues he compulsively sends to Grissom because the psychopath wants to play "a game".

I've lately binge-watched the first nine episodes of Sherlock...
SPOILER:
...and the amount of what I'll call "Moriarting" is borderline intolerable. It's not like there's a shortage of material to draw on, but I guess it's just easier to set up some bizarrely elaborate cat-and-mouse game. The third series cliffhanger ends with a recorded message announcing that Moriarty is back, despite the character having shot himself in the mouth. I rather dread the "I elaborately faked my death" (already used for Sherlock himself) or "I am Moriarty's just-as-brilliant-just-as-twisted protegé compelled to carry on my late master's work, including creating puzzles for Sherlock Holmes" twist to come.
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Old 07-05-2017, 09:16 PM
Broomstick Broomstick is offline
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SPOILER:
You'll no doubt be glad to know that Moriarty is really, truly dead and not faking it, and the video did not come from a protegee, quite the opposite in fact.

Last edited by Broomstick; 07-05-2017 at 09:16 PM.
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Old 07-05-2017, 09:25 PM
kunilou kunilou is offline
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It's fine when they die well (Rogue One, The Martian, Interstellar maybe), but more often, they just fall to a series of stupid mistakes and emotional instability that any space agency would've screened for.
How did NASA go from sending people to the Moon and back, and saving Apollo 13 to losing the Challenger because they decided to launch when it was too cold, and losing Columbia when the same problem had been seen in four previous launches but never fixed?
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Old 07-05-2017, 09:28 PM
Aquadementia Aquadementia is offline
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I think it started quite reluctantly, if I'm to believe Don Knotts.
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Old 07-05-2017, 09:28 PM
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How did NASA go from sending people to the Moon and back, and saving Apollo 13 to losing the Challenger because they decided to launch when it was too cold, and losing Columbia when the same problem had been seen in four previous launches but never fixed?
They learned from the movies, duh.
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Old 07-05-2017, 09:39 PM
Exapno Mapcase Exapno Mapcase is offline
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Smart people in science fiction movies are a vanishingly small breed and always have been. The 50s were full of astronauts were who stupid, mostly because everybody in every sci-fi movie was stupid. That was also true in the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, 00s, and 10s. There is no Golden Age. You're cherrypicking a couple of movies out of hundreds.
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Old 07-05-2017, 10:06 PM
zbuzz zbuzz is offline
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Smart people in science fiction movies are a vanishingly small breed and always have been. The 50s were full of astronauts were who stupid, mostly because everybody in every sci-fi movie was stupid.
"You see? You see?! Your stupid minds! Stupid! STUPID!"
  #13  
Old 07-05-2017, 10:12 PM
IvoryTowerDenizen IvoryTowerDenizen is offline
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How did we go from "smart" space films like Apollo 13, Alien, Contact, Sunshine to movies like...

Gravity, Alien: Covenant, Life, Europa Report... where the entire premise is "fancy spaceship, dumb humans, something eats them"? Why are the astronauts getting dumber and dumber, to be mindlessly killed off like teenagers in a horror movie?

It's fine when they die well (Rogue One, The Martian, Interstellar maybe), but more often, they just fall to a series of stupid mistakes and emotional instability that any space agency would've screened for.

Has this always been a thing in movies, or did it start recently? Have we started to commoditize astronauts so much that they're all expendable now, like Trek redshirts?
Who died in The Martian?
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Old 07-05-2017, 10:20 PM
Weisshund Weisshund is offline
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Who died in The Martian?
The potato of course
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Old 07-05-2017, 10:50 PM
Trancephalic Trancephalic is offline
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There was a lot of handling the idiot ball in the original Alien, most involving the characters putting their lives, and the lives of their colleagues, in jeopardy for the sake of a cat.
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Old 07-05-2017, 11:30 PM
Chimera Chimera is offline
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Because people have to act in stupid ways in horror movies or TV shows, because people acting intelligently would not be killed off like that.

Land on a planet, find alien ship, people start getting killed? We're taking off RIGHT NOW. Fuck your mission, it is over.

Geez, zombies would never wipe out the world in the first place, because people would figure out the whole 'head shot' thing long before that happened. The minute they knew being bitten was 100% fatal, most people wouldn't hide it and go with their family and friends into the secure refuge.

Off with the friends to an old campground and one of your friends gets killed by some psycho? Instant 911 calls and high-tailing it out of there. No one sane just keeps hanging around.

Bad scary town full of weird people? How close is the highway? Because that's where I'm going at 90mph and not stopping until I'm in the next state. Yeah, fuck that cop chasing me if we're still in the same county.
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Old 07-05-2017, 11:45 PM
Bryan Ekers Bryan Ekers is offline
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Because people have to act in stupid ways in horror movies or TV shows, because people acting intelligently would not be killed off like that.
The girlfriend and I recently watched You're Next from 2013 and though the twists were pretty predictable throughout, it did have the refreshing theme of the main character being resourceful, intelligent and aggressive.

I see there was some minor thought given to making a sequel. I shall certainly consider checking it out, if it happens.

Last edited by Bryan Ekers; 07-05-2017 at 11:49 PM.
  #18  
Old 07-06-2017, 01:56 PM
Zsofia Zsofia is offline
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Arrival had smart people, but they had to introduce human complications from not-smart people. The scientists-who-are-supposed-to-be-smart were smart.
  #19  
Old 07-06-2017, 02:07 PM
blondebear blondebear is offline
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I think it started quite reluctantly, if I'm to believe Don Knotts.
Abbott & Costello went to Mars in 1953...except they were so dumb they landed in New Orleans instead and ultimately ended up on Venus.
  #20  
Old 07-06-2017, 02:20 PM
Finagle Finagle is offline
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Smart people in science fiction movies are a vanishingly small breed and always have been. The 50s were full of astronauts were who stupid, mostly because everybody in every sci-fi movie was stupid.
For a real laugh, look at some of the astronauts in the old Twilight Zones. They were essentially truck drivers from the Bronx in space.

But the real impetus for "dumb people in space" is that it's hard to identify with astronauts. They are super-smart, very disciplined, and very painstaking. So a movie with *actual* astronauts would be probably very tedious.

Astronaut: "Ah, Mission Control, we appear to have a xenomorph loose in the cargo module."

Houston: "Roger. We'll discuss the situation with Earth's best biologists and get back to you with a solution. In the meantime, under no circumstances are you to wander individually through constricted ventilation shafts with makeshift weapons."

Astronaut: "Thank you Mission Control. Will comply."
  #21  
Old 07-06-2017, 02:44 PM
terentii terentii is offline
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For a real laugh, look at some of the astronauts in the old Twilight Zones. They were essentially truck drivers from the Bronx in space.

But the real impetus for "dumb people in space" is that it's hard to identify with astronauts. They are super-smart, very disciplined, and very painstaking. So a movie with *actual* astronauts would be probably very tedious.
I love the scenario in Destination: Moon. The scientists/engineers in charge of the project perform an unauthorized launch before "sinister forces" in Washington can prevent them from taking off. When their electronics expert comes down with appendicitis (or some other ailment), grease monkey "Joe" is conscripted as the fourth crew member.

They fly to the Moon and back with no specialized training or contingency planning whatsoever. Amazing!
  #22  
Old 07-06-2017, 02:54 PM
enalzi enalzi is offline
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Gravity, Alien: Covenant, Life, Europa Report... where the entire premise is "fancy spaceship, dumb humans, something eats them"? Why are the astronauts getting dumber and dumber, to be mindlessly killed off like teenagers in a horror movie?
Who was dumb in Gravity?
  #23  
Old 07-06-2017, 03:06 PM
gaffa gaffa is offline
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Who was dumb in Gravity?
Yeah, nobody dumb in Gravity or The Martian - whole lot of smart in the latter one. Sadly Life, after a decent start, had ten times more dumb than Abbot and Costello. They could have sent Mr. Bean into space and gotten better results.

Last edited by gaffa; 07-06-2017 at 03:07 PM.
  #24  
Old 07-06-2017, 03:16 PM
Grrr! Grrr! is offline
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Uh, Europa Report is one of the most realistic sci-fi movies out there.

Granted, it's a boring movie if your expectation is to see muscle bound guys smoking cigars and hunting down aliens with flame throwers.

But for an intelligent sci fi flick, ER is a damn fine movie. (Which, ironically, is why it flopped in the box office)
  #25  
Old 07-06-2017, 03:32 PM
gnoitall gnoitall is offline
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For a real laugh, look at some of the astronauts in the old Twilight Zones. They were essentially truck drivers from the Bronx in space.
You've hit on one of the core factors in this trope: in this context, space exploration isn't some noble endeavor meriting the highest efforts of humanity's best and brightest. It's a job:
Quote:
Originally Posted by Elton John
And all this science I don't understand
It's just my job five days a week
A rocket man, a rocket man
Truckers in space. Merchant marines in space. Martinet officers and schlub sailors in space. Not the cream of the crop. Not the best of the best of the best, SIR. Just Joe Sixpack in space.

And that's why they can be dumb.

Last edited by gnoitall; 07-06-2017 at 03:33 PM.
  #26  
Old 07-06-2017, 03:45 PM
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Who died in The Martian?
Sorry, I confused scenes of it with Interstellar. Martian was actually great. My bad.

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Originally Posted by Trancephalic View Post
There was a lot of handling the idiot ball in the original Alien, most involving the characters putting their lives, and the lives of their colleagues, in jeopardy for the sake of a cat.
True, true. Maybe nostalgia colored my perception. Weaver was great, though.

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Arrival had smart people, but they had to introduce human complications from not-smart people. The scientists-who-are-supposed-to-be-smart were smart.
Yeah!!! Probably my all-time favorite movie.

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Originally Posted by enalzi View Post
Who was dumb in Gravity?
Seriously? The Sandra Bullock character.

https://www.theguardian.com/film/fil...overrated-film

Interstellar had a similar problem with a damsel-in-distress astronaut.

Those movies just don't do justice to professional women, much less astronauts, making them seem like hapless, hysterical crybabies.

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Uh, Europa Report is one of the most realistic sci-fi movies out there.

Granted, it's a boring movie if your expectation is to see muscle bound guys smoking cigars and hunting down aliens with flame throwers.

But for an intelligent sci fi flick, ER is a damn fine movie. (Which, ironically, is why it flopped in the box office)
Am I misremembering this movie? Didn't they encounter a giant space squid, try to chase it, and got eaten?
  #27  
Old 07-06-2017, 03:54 PM
Grrr! Grrr! is offline
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:


Am I misremembering this movie? Didn't they encounter a giant space squid, try to chase it, and got eaten?
It's been awhile since I've seen it too. But I don't recall them chasing anything. They landed on Eroupa and were basically like "Holy shit! Squid monster!" (It took them a minute to figure that out) They did try to save their friend but other than that, the rest of the movie was them trying to get the fuck out of there.
  #28  
Old 07-06-2017, 03:58 PM
buddha_david buddha_david is offline
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How did NASA go from sending people to the Moon and back, and saving Apollo 13 to losing the Challenger because they decided to launch when it was too cold, and losing Columbia when the same problem had been seen in four previous launches but never fixed?
The Apollo 1 disaster predates the moon landing.

In the documentary Moon Shot, Mercury astronaut Deke Slayton attributes the problem to what he calls "Go Fever" -- basically, everyone's so focused on pushing forward towards success that they tend to ignore potential problems and mistakes. It's only after a spectacular disaster that people sit back and think, "Gee, maybe we shouldn't launch the space shuttle at below-freezing temperatures..."
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Old 07-06-2017, 04:23 PM
gaffa gaffa is offline
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In the documentary Moon Shot, Mercury astronaut Deke Slayton attributes the problem to what he calls "Go Fever" -- basically, everyone's so focused on pushing forward towards success that they tend to ignore potential problems and mistakes. It's only after a spectacular disaster that people sit back and think, "Gee, maybe we shouldn't launch the space shuttle at below-freezing temperatures..."
They were still trying to bullshit the investigation until Feynman cut through it all with a tiny C-clamp and a pitcher of ice water.

And of course, maybe you don't give the contract for the boosters to a company in a landlocked state so you don't have to put seams in the rocket in the first place. Pork killed that crew.

Last edited by gaffa; 07-06-2017 at 04:25 PM.
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Old 07-06-2017, 05:12 PM
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It's been awhile since I've seen it too. But I don't recall them chasing anything. They landed on Eroupa and were basically like "Holy shit! Squid monster!" (It took them a minute to figure that out) They did try to save their friend but other than that, the rest of the movie was them trying to get the fuck out of there.
I'll take your word for it. I remember loving the first half and then walking away disappointed at the silliness after the second half, but maybe the crew tried their best when faced with unexpected space squid (TM). My own biases towards uberastronauts is showing, I guess.
  #31  
Old 07-06-2017, 05:38 PM
Chronos Chronos is offline
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I'm not buying the complaint with Gravity. Yeah, I'll admit that Bullock's survival mostly wasn't due to intelligence. But what it was due to, mostly, was plucky determination, and that's a good thing, too. Nor was she ever particularly stupid. She was in over her head on the piloting, but then, that wasn't her job, and she still managed it anyway. And yes, she spent a lot of time coping with her emotions, but she did cope with them and got the job done.

And The Martian is not only an exception to the OP's claim; it's arguably the exception that completely disproves the rule. I defy you to find any other movie, from any era, that so exemplifies a person smarting their way through their problems.
  #32  
Old 07-06-2017, 05:50 PM
gaffa gaffa is offline
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And The Martian is not only an exception to the OP's claim; it's arguably the exception that completely disproves the rule. I defy you to find any other movie, from any era, that so exemplifies a person smarting their way through their problems.
"I'm going to have to science the shit out of this!"
  #33  
Old 07-06-2017, 06:00 PM
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I'm not buying the complaint with Gravity. Yeah, I'll admit that Bullock's survival mostly wasn't due to intelligence. But what it was due to, mostly, was plucky determination, and that's a good thing, too. Nor was she ever particularly stupid. She was in over her head on the piloting, but then, that wasn't her job, and she still managed it anyway. And yes, she spent a lot of time coping with her emotions, but she did cope with them and got the job done.
Maybe "stupid" was too strong a word, but I strongly believe that a character like hers would not be suitable for spaceflight (unless this is the distant future, where space travel is commoditized). Why could they have not picked a more emotionally stable, better trained, biomedical engineer? "Plucky determination" seems a terrible excuse for "ability to remain calm and think quickly under fire". She freaked the fuck out multiple times and barely made it through, mostly with help from the other character, and her behavior jeopardized survival for both of them. She was a risk to the mission in a way an astronaut should not need to be. But then again, look at the president. Maybe it's a sign of the times when brashness is an acceptable substitute for thoughtfulness -- in space or on earth.

Compare her to the leads in Contact, Alien, Terminator, Arrival, and to a lesser extent even Rogue One and Guardians of the Galaxy... she's just a crybaby in comparison.

If she were inexplicably the last astronaut remaining, then fine, her performance in space was admirable. But how was she selected for the mission to begin with in a field with so many better candidates?! I hope they do not pick astronauts based on dramatic appeal.

Quote:
And The Martian is not only an exception to the OP's claim; it's arguably the exception that completely disproves the rule. I defy you to find any other movie, from any era, that so exemplifies a person smarting their way through their problems.

Absolutely. It was one of the good ones, and sorry I confused the matter by suggesting that someone in it died.

Last edited by Reply; 07-06-2017 at 06:04 PM.
  #34  
Old 07-06-2017, 07:07 PM
ssgenius ssgenius is offline
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They were still trying to bullshit the investigation until Feynman cut through it all with a tiny C-clamp and a pitcher of ice water.

And of course, maybe you don't give the contract for the boosters to a company in a landlocked state so you don't have to put seams in the rocket in the first place. Pork killed that crew.
Actually, they were aware of the troubles with the O-rings in cold weather which is why they delayed the launch until later in the day (when it was warmer but still the coldest launch ever) so it was a measured risk that was thought to be acceptable. (Even the engineers of the solid rocket boosters were divided on their conclusions
As for the seams in the rocket, no matter where it was built, it had to be transported somehow and transportation is easier in smaller sections.

Yes, I know that other sections (most notably the external tank) were transported by barge.
The entire failure is very interesting, a lot of little items combined to create a major disaster.

Same thing with the Colombia accident. They were aware that there MAY have been a problem but didn't think it to be serious enough to warrant further actions.

Hindsight is always 20/20!!!!!

Last edited by ssgenius; 07-06-2017 at 07:08 PM.
  #35  
Old 07-08-2017, 01:49 PM
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Abbott & Costello went to Mars in 1953...except they were so dumb they landed in New Orleans instead and ultimately ended up on Venus.
In '57-59 the 3 Stooges made at a feature and two shorts with them going to Venus in each one. Not sure how many other spaceflight adventures they got into.

In the 60s there was of course the late-great Bill Dana's Jose Jimenez.

Also in the 60s, Major Healey on I Dream of Jeanie was something of a dolt.

Last edited by ftg; 07-08-2017 at 01:50 PM.
  #36  
Old 07-08-2017, 02:39 PM
wintertime wintertime is offline
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I defy you to find any other movie, from any era, that so exemplifies a person smarting their way through their problems.
Ava? She, sorry, it managed to succeed in the AI-box experiment, after all.
  #37  
Old 07-08-2017, 02:53 PM
aceplace57 aceplace57 is online now
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I can recall being surprised that Astronauts aren't more self sufficient. That every move is planned, choreographed and endlessly rehearsed on Earth during training. The Hubbell repair is an example.

We have to move away from that if deep space missions are ever attempted. uh Houston, we have a problem isn't going to cut it. We need problem solving engineers in space that can fix it themselves.

Chracters like Scotty and Miles O'Brien are needed on real life missions.

Last edited by aceplace57; 07-08-2017 at 02:55 PM.
  #38  
Old 07-08-2017, 02:58 PM
Chronos Chronos is offline
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They do all that pre-planning not because they have to, but because they can. Any engineer would do the same.
  #39  
Old 07-08-2017, 03:46 PM
The King of Soup The King of Soup is offline
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A lot may have had to do with the earliest astronauts/candidates themselves. Once they found out about it, former all-star-hero-stud test pilots did not take kindly to an essentially passive role as cargo (in Chuck Yeager's famous phrase, "Spam in a can.") on what was basically a glorified ballistic missile, following a bunch of rhesus and spider monkeys, macaques, and chimpanzees which had pretty much the same mission responsibilities as they were given.

Last edited by The King of Soup; 07-08-2017 at 03:47 PM.
  #40  
Old 07-08-2017, 05:14 PM
CarnalK CarnalK is offline
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Interstellar had a similar problem with a damsel-in-distress astronaut.
What? Are you talking about the one scene where she refused to give up on grabbing the research data computer on the ocean planet?
  #41  
Old 07-08-2017, 06:56 PM
Dr. Strangelove Dr. Strangelove is online now
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Astronaut diaper lady was the threshold.
  #42  
Old 07-09-2017, 10:10 PM
Wallaby Wallaby is offline
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A lot may have had to do with the earliest astronauts/candidates themselves. Once they found out about it, former all-star-hero-stud test pilots did not take kindly to an essentially passive role as cargo (in Chuck Yeager's famous phrase, "Spam in a can.") on what was basically a glorified ballistic missile, following a bunch of rhesus and spider monkeys, macaques, and chimpanzees which had pretty much the same mission responsibilities as they were given.
Back to Feynman - during the Space Shuttle investigation, he found out the Shuttle could be landed fully automatically and controlled from earth. The only things the astronauts did was lower the undercarriage. So his question was 'Why do they even do that? Involving humans un-necessarily could only f*** it up'. Sure, have humans around to evaluate whether contingency A, B or C is implemented (and how) if something goes wrong, but don't give them things to break if you don't have to.

He basically decided it was to appease the astronaut's egos.
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