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Thoughts on "Capricorn One" as the "Space Age" allegedly ends

Warner Bros.
The set where the fake Mars mission is filmed.
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COMMENTARY

OKLAHOMA CITY – As I write this, the Space Shuttle Atlantis is in the process of returning
home on its historic final journey in about four hours from now.

Also, synchromystically, as I look at my History Channel desk calendar, July 20
is still up (even though it is now officially July 21) and it reads: “1969:
Neil Armstrong walks on the moon
.” I suppose in some circles that notion is up for debate.

How ironic, in light of one of the movies I watched tonight,
here we are witnessing the end of NASA’s 30-year-old Space Shuttle
program in a matter of hours.

Quite coincidentally, this evening was 70’s conspiracy movie
night here at the Red Dirt Report
bunkhouse. First was The Day of the
Dolphin
, a 1973 film with George C. Scott. A decent thriller involving a Flipper-like
talking dolphin and conspirators seeking to exploit the cute sea creature and his chirpy pal as a way to kill the president.

Second was the great South African-set, apartheid-era
thriller The Wilby Conspiracy, from
1975, with Michael Caine and Sidney Poitier. Another great film from a creative
era, for sure.

But it was the 1978 conspiracy film Capricorn One that captivated me the most. This one starred James
Brolin, Sam Waterston, O.J. Simpson, Elliott Gould and Hal Holbrook.

For those not familiar with the film, NASA has decided to
continue with a planned mission to Mars despite the discovery of faulty
equipment aboard the rocket that was going to take three astronauts – Brolin,
Waterston and Simpson – to the Red Planet.

Right before launch, the three astronauts are hauled out of
their capsule and taken to an abandoned military base where NASA heavyweight Hal
Holbrook explains that the cost of “the dream” of manned space exploration was
increasingly being considered not worth it in light of all the problems that
needed solving on Earth.

In his speech to the bewildered astronauts, Holbrook’s
character, Dr. Kelloway, explains it thusly: “I remember when Glenn made his
first orbit in Mercury, they put up television sets in Grand Central Station,
and tens of thousands of people missed their trains to watch. You know, when Apollo 17
landed on the Moon, people
were calling up the networks and bitching because reruns of
I Love Lucy were cancelled. Reruns, for
Christ's sake! I could understand if it was the new Lucy show. After all,
what's a walk on the Moon? But reruns! Oh, geez! And then suddenly everybody
started talking about how much everything cost. Was it really worth twenty
billion to go to another planet? What about cancer? What about the slums? How
much does it cost? How much does any dream cost, for Christ's sake?

Apparently this “dream” is worth pursuing despite the lives
it will ultimately cost. The Mars landing is faked and the astronauts, led by
Brolin’s Charles Brubaker, go through with the farce half-heartedly, at one
time nearly giving away the ruse after the “landing.”

Meanwhile, intrepid reporter Robert Caulfield (Elliott
Gould) is on to the scheme when his NASA mission control pal tries to spill the
beans on things he’s discovered and then mysteriously vanishes, as if he never existed.

Caulfield is on to the conspiracy. Meanwhile, the astronauts
discover they are dead men walking when NASA decides the heat shield on their
craft is said to have disengaged and caused them to burn up. They escape into
the desert only to be hunted down like rats.

Capricorn One is a great film. Exciting, thrilling and compelling. It speaks to things that we are still dealing with in present day.

The director, Peter Hyams, was inspired to do Capricorn One
based on growing concerns at the time (that continue to this day) that the
Apollo Moon landings were faked. One compelling "moon fakery' theory that I've researched and written about involves late director Stanley Kubrick.

And while this is merely a 33-year-old conspiracy film (the
scene with Brolin’s Brubaker character in the desert cave with a rattlesnake
reminds me of the sequence in 2010’s remake of True Grit where Mattie (Hailee Steinfeld) shoots Tom Chaney, played
by James Brolin’s son Josh Brolin, strangely enough, and falls into the hole
with the rattlesnake), it does ring true to a degree. With the so-called “end
of the Space Age
,” which we discussed here at Red Dirt Report some days ago, we expect our government to make
smart and sound decisions regarding space travel. And if that includes pairing up with private companies (as long as they are not Con-Amalgamated), I can live with that. But relying on the Russians? The Chinese? Absolutely ridiculous.

In a piece published in The
Natchez Democrat
by Mississippi’s U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, America does have
a future in space. Wicker wrote: “The end
of the shuttle era, however, will not be the end of American leadership in
space. According to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, “Our destinations for
humans beyond Earth remain ambitious. They include: the moon, asteroids, and Mars. The debate is not if we will
explore, but how we’ll do it.”

So, Mars appears to still be on the table, according to
Administrator Bolden, himself a former Shuttle astronaut. Let’s hope that
journey is made sometime soon and, unlike the fictional events based in Capricorn One, are real and help unite
us as a nation, excited once again about venturing beyond near-Earth orbit.

Copyright 2011 West
Marie Media

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Andrew W. Griffin

Editor & Owner.

Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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