A Roughneck and a Rocket Scientist Went to a Movie…

Back in 1998 when the movie “Armageddon” first came out I went to see it with a friend who was in the oil business. I was working at NASA at the time, so we’re talking about a roughneck and a rocket scientist going to a movie, which somehow sounds like the prologue to a bad joke. While it may have been a fairly decent Bruce Willis flick, at least at the time, my friend and I did so much eye-rolling at the inaccuracies in the movie’s script that we hardly saw what was going on. Later when we were home and still ranting about how technically incorrect it was, my teenage daughter just shook her head at us.

“Mom! It’s only a movie!” she said, not understanding what all the fuss was about.

To me as well as my friend the fuss was about doing something correctly. Since we were both in technological fields we knew that was important. Do something wrong in either of our career fields and someone could die. Furthermore, with all the money spent producing movies it was nothing short of lazy to not hire a science and/or engineering consultant to get it right. Around that same time the movie “Deep Impact” came out, a Steven Spielberg movie, and to his credit, the science in that movie was accurate but apparently Robert Duvall didn’t have the drawing power of good ol’ Bruce.

My point, however, remains the same. If you’re going to do something, do it right. Seriously. Or as Yoda so eloquently put it, “Try not, do. Or do not. There is no try.”

I have wanted to be a writer since I was in elementary school. And I wanted to do it right. I wanted to write science fiction and knew that would require not only research but the background necessary to understand the principles and apply them properly. So I went back to school and got a physics degree. I thought I would know a lot more than I did by the time I graduated but I still knew a whole lot more than when I started. So many people say they stupider after going to college than before because they then realize how much there is to know about our amazing world.

After graduation I went to work in the aerospace industry, ultimately winding up at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas where I worked for over 20 years. And even after that, what I know is relatively little compared to everything that is out there.

Science is loaded with theories that make fantastic plot material. The subject of physics and how it applies to the Universe is often so weird that it actually makes the story more interesting when you tell it like it is. Like they say, truth is stranger than fiction and that certainly applies to science as much as anything. Science fiction is all about taking science to its limits and showing the effects it could have on mankind. There is nothing more exciting than that.

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