RS Classic: Sometimes I Don't Understand Stuff

>> Saturday, June 12, 2010

Another recycle and one I really liked writing. I wrote more on this topic at a later date.

I have never understood why some of the best stuff gets overlooked and other things, that make no sense or are clearly horse manure, are embraced (no, I will not be talking politics - ever, I hope).

My sister, shakespeare, reminded me of this by mentioning two movies that came out at nearly the same time and based on the same concept: Deep Impact and Armageddon. My sister thought the reason Deep Impact was overlooked was in the title, or at least in part. Me, I think the title Deep Impact is just fine. I think the real problem was that it was actually realistic.

The biggest thing that irked me was that NASA (which really should have known better) let the Armageddon crew film in NASA facilities and slap the NASA meatball on every visible surface. Normally, they are reluctant to do so (and I don’t think it was used in Deep Impact, or, at least, it was less prevalent.) So, here is this apparently NASA endorsed movie released at the same time of another movie. You’d think it was more “true” and believable. Well, you would be wrong.

Let’s figure out why (from my memory, so don’t expect perfection - especially since I’ve been trying to scrub Armageddon from my mind for some time).

Deep Impact - Detected impactor years ahead of time and focused on a single plan (from scratch) to get it done. Even with the best will in the world, this would have been a challenge. The fact that we have, in the past done the incredible (Apollo/Gemini/Mercury) in the short term with focus and the right minds, says it is not implausible.

Armageddon - We find out weeks/months ahead of time. Believe me, we’re completely boned. No way, not even the Russians or using military resources - even if we had rockets handy that could send something that big that far, we couldn’t do it. We have nothing to put people in that could take that.

Deep Impact - Select astronauts have been training for this difficult and challenging task for years. Duh! The unknowns alone mean that we need talented and capable people who have extensive experience and can adapt to ugly new challenges.

Armageddon - Ignore your talented astronaut corps and drag in some oil drillers from an off-shore oil platform, letting them call the shots and saying you can train them effectively in low/no gravity in suits in a matter of weeks to use a hand operated drill on a new surface. Brilliant! After all, we all know the offshore drilling is done via hand operated drill and I know, if I was going to drill on a far distant asteroid with only one chance, I’d be much more comfortable stressing the drilling experience. Because, after all, drilling expertise is almost unknown whereas familiarity and training with space gear and suits is a common skill. (I’ve worked with many astronauts, know how dedicated these people are. They are capable and confident people who also know how to keep their egos in check for the good of the mission. This movie offended me on their behalf.)
Armageddon - they launched a handily available titanium Shuttle and “refuel” it at the Mir Space Station (which they accidentally blow up) that has apparently grown large cryogenic fuel tanks somehow. Then, they store up enough “hydrogen/oxygen fuel” in their shuttle and zip off through meteoroid laden space, dodging meteoroids, then land on the asteroid. After landing, they are “trapped” in the payload bay and “shoot their way out” of the titanium Shuttle bay with a convenient machine gun on the “rover.” Alright, folks, do I have to explain how idiotic this is? The Mir didn’t have tanks or any way of “filling up” a Shuttle (and space born cryogenic tanks are not an easy thing to whip together, even for the innovative Russians). Shuttle engines can’t be started in space (which is why they aren’t being used for Ares). The Shuttle has no tanks (none) and no place to put them since the payload bay is filled with drilling equipment. Since meteoroids come screaming through here at 20-70 km/s (that’s 40x-140X the speed of a bullet), even Han Solo couldn’t dodge ‘em. As for the machine gun? Oy! Even my ex, redneck that he was and complaining about my complaints, looked up at that and said, “Alright, that’s stupid.”

Deep Impact - None of that kind of stupidity, so I couldn’t compare it, but they did show people planet side making some hard decisions that you would not like to see free people having to make. I personally think that the fact they did this is what made this movie less than successful - people didn’t want to believe that necessity might mean hard choices. I also think it’s what made this movie realistic. People think nature is gentle. Think of Hurricane Katrina. Think of the recent earthquake in China and all only children lost. Think of Hurricane Mitch. Think back to the tsunami that devastated the rim of the Indian ocean two years ago. Nature is not forgiving and physics has no pity.

Deep Impact - for all their planning, things went amiss and the crew had to sacrifice themselves to make a second opportunity that was partially successful. This is exactly the sort of thing I could expect an astronaut crew to do. No muss, no fuss, just do what they could to save humanity. And, to me, perfectly plausible. Although complete destruction was avoided, a pretty horrible prospect remained that will kill millions.
Armageddon - Our drilling crew (after screwing up repeatedly in the Neutral Buoyancy Lab), *gasp* screws up and our oil drilling hero decides to stick around to save humanity although people try to talk him into leaving. At the last minute, it blows up but the rest of our heroes can go home to an untouched planet. Uh, yeah. I’m so buying that.

It occurs to me that it’s dreck like Armageddon that makes it so hard to accomplish things for NASA. NASA knows life is like Deep Impact, full of tough choices and real physics. Politicians and the populace think that it can all be taken care of with bailing wire and guts (which are relatively cheaper). Problem is, it can’t and they can’t forgive NASA for not living up to expectations that are unrealistic, while NASA gets sent down one blind stupid alley after another to suit the vagaries of the people they answer to and end up - nowhere. What a waste!

I think this is pertinent on many levels today. People want things "cleaned up", someone to wave a magic wand and have it all go away. Reality bites.


  • Aron Sora

    I would also like to blame Armageddon for us not having a clear policy on what to do if something did happened. We don't know who will pay, when to let the rocket through or when not let it hit us, who will lead to campaign to stop the rock and other policy stuff. I think our leaders think NASA can duct tape something together and solve their problem.

    So yea, Deep Impact FTW

  • Jeff King

    As for movies go... By far Armageddon wins.

    but as being closer to the real deal, i give the edge to Deep Impact.

  • soubriquet

    I see...
    What you're saying is that Hollywood should send NASA astronauts to tackle the Deepwater Horizon leaks.
    In the space of a week a shuttle would have been retrofitted to deep-dive, and astronauts would have been trained to handle large corks with the shuttle's manipulator arm.
    Ta Daaa!

  • Project Savior

    I personally like it if the movies either, play by the rules and do as much research into the subject as possible to give it realism, or just toss the whole concept of a real universe that has physical properties and they just make stuff up. It's the ones that try to do both that I hate (unless done really, really well).
    But I feel most normal people can tell the difference, most politicians not so much.

  • GumbyTheCat

    I disliked both movies, for different reasons, but I have to say "Armageddon" is one of the worst movies of all time. It was simply awful. Yelling and screaming and loud music and mayhem and bad acting and worse science for two solid hours.

    Hope you're doing well Steph!

  • Stephanie Barr

    Gumby, you dog! (Just kidding!)

    How you been? I've missed you!

    Project Savior, I'm with you. It's one reason I do fantasy. Either do it right or don't do it.

    Soubriquet, if that's what you got from my post, I need to seriously rework it.

    Jeff, there we'll have to disagree. There was nothing about that appealed to me.

    Aron, I don't know that I blame the movie for the confusion, or rather the poorly informed public and powers that be that made it popular. And I'm pretty disgusted NASA branded it so obviously.

  • soubriquet

    Well, the truth is, I can't remember armageddon, but Deep Impact was the most dreadful tripe.
    your point, however, about sending a group of rufty tufty oil drillers into space to drill a hole and stick a nuclear device into the heart of an asteroid was laughable. No less unlikely than the scenario I outlined.

    If that asteroid's on its way, then I say... "Prepare for fossilisation"
    I don't think we're any more prepared than the dinosaurs were.
    And let's face it. If we can't stop a leaking pipe a mile down, how do we imagine we'll be able to divert the course of a lump of planet?

  • soubriquet

    Ha: I just looked up Armageddon and Deep Impact.
    Armageddon was the one I saw, not Deep Impact...Oops!

  • Stephanie Barr

    Well, then I'm not surprised at your reaction.

    You may be right about the asteroid (although many of the nearest ones are tracked very carefully and can be predicted years in advance). However, a stray meteor or comet that's never come 'round before, we might have no warning whatsoever.

  • The Mother

    Just another honest rant about how bad science in the movies is. I agree.

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