After 'Hubble 3D,' What's Next for IMAX in Space?
WASHINGTON - There?s a load of deserved praise about the new IMAX screen-o-rama that is ?Hubble 3D.? Moviegoers are told the 20-year tale of the Hubble Space Telescope?s trials and tribulations in superb clarity.
The film, released hits theaters today, is the saga of how astronauts first returned with the remedy for the once out-of-focus Hubble observatory, followed by an armada of spacewalkers tending to and upgrading the huge eye on the sky. But Hubble 3D only whets the appetite for more "on-location" film shoots in the cosmos. So what other space destinations are feasible?
?Hubble 3D? producer and director Toni Myers has her answer, and it includes finding a way to reach out beyond out beyond low-Earth orbit with cameras.
"The future is really about image capture," Myers told SPACE.com. And in scoping out that future, it is going to be, sadly she added, the disappearance of film.
?Hubble 3D? was a hybrid undertaking, Myers said. The new footage in ?Hubble 3D? was captured in May 2009, during NASA?s fifth and last-ever mission to send astronauts to fix and upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope.
For one, the space shuttle-carried 700-pound IMAX 3D camera held nearly a mile of large-format film yielding all of eight minutes of take-home footage, Myers said. Complementing the main IMAX 3D camera were numerous high-definition digital cameras, as well as handheld video cameras.
Resolution is the key and, as yet, digital image capture doesn?t produce the pixel power of IMAX film, Myers said, "but we?re on it . . . so it?s going to come." The ability to store digital data, she said, is also rapidly advancing.
"We know we want to make a film on the moon or on an asteroid," Myers explained, as well as Mars. "It?s just a matter of the technology catching up. Obviously, you can get the camera there. But how soon is the question."
The other half of the future, Myers continued, is for space applications, specifically pointing to stunning 3D simulated fly-throughs ? like those used in Hubble 3D ? that allow moviegoers to embark on a virtual joyride ? but making use of real data.
"There?s a wealth of opportunities there and IMAX takes you there. It takes you someplace where you can?t go," Myers said.
Myers said that another future space target for IMAX is a new Earth-looking film. The camera setting would be the International Space Station, she added, now that the cupola has been installed on the orbiting facility ? a dome-like skylight that provides a magnificent 360-degree panorama.
Given the work on IMAX space stories by Myers ? "Hail Columbia," "Destiny in Space" and "Space Station 3D" to name a few ? what is her private take home message?
"I guess what I?ve learned is that the scale of things is way bigger than you think. But I also think that we better learn to get off this planet. Future generations are going to have to. I think the resources are limited and they are going to have to find them somewhere else?or not be here anymore," Myers concluded.
Looking into heaven
A hallmark of any space IMAX film is that it?s billed as the next to being there. That outlook is widely held true by astronauts taking a look at the footage they shot themselves during their space missions.
Still, there are things missing, not captured by the camera lens.
Astronaut Mike Massimino has flown in space twice, both missions to the Hubble Space Telescope with multiple spacewalks to boot.
"When you are spacewalking, particularly at the altitude we fly to Hubble, you see the roundness of Earth?s curvature?the planet in its entirety," Massimino told SPACE.com. "It?s like looking into heaven."
Massimino said that he enjoyed the Earth more during nighttime passes, rather than in daylight. "The contrast is incredible. The brightness of the Sun in space is the brightest white, a pure white. It?s the brightest thing you can imagine. That?s my impression."
Getting into darkness, Massimino said that it?s the exact opposite contrast. "It is devoid of light. It is the darkest black I have ever experienced."
Massimino said he had a few quiet moments during his space strolls, recalling a set of mental pictures of what he encountered.
"One thought I had, within my mind?if you were in heaven, this is what you?d see from heaven," Massimino recollected. "That was immediately replaced by another thought that this is what heaven must look like. This must be paradise in some odd way. Sometimes I wonder if we?re actually in heaven. Having seen it, this might be as good as it gets right here. The beauty of our planet is so striking."
Intellectually, the future of astronomy includes the search for other habitable worlds, Massimino said. "There?s got to be another one out there. But a thought I had up there by just gazing at our planet is how could there be another place like this? I wouldn?t be surprised if this is it . . . perfection."
The astronaut quickly added: "Don?t tell the NASA shrink this."
- Gallery: Spectacular Photos From The Revamped Hubble Telescope
- New 3D Film Makes Hubble Space Telescope a Star
- How IMAX Movies Work, Filming Hubble in 3D
Leonard David has been reporting on the space industry for more than five decades. He is past editor-in-chief of the National Space Society's Ad Astra and Space World magazines and has written for SPACE.com since 1999.
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