'Transformers: Dark of the Moon' Has Real-Life NASA Touches

Michael Bay directs "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" at NASA's Kennedy Space Center
Michael Bay works at Launch Pad 39A with space shuttle Discovery in the background during filming of "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" while the production team was at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in October 2010. (Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

The latest installment of the live-action "Transformers" film franchise may be packed with Hollywood action and special effects, but sometimes all that high-tech fakery doesn't hold a candle to the real thing. That’s why the film's creators turned to NASA for help.

The new science fiction film "Transformers: Dark of the Moon," which opened Wednesday (June 29), creates an alternate version ofNASA's Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969 (in which Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin find a robot alien spaceship) as a major plot point, then puts the agency's space shuttle Discovery — and some employees — in the spotlight.

"Transformers" director Michael Bay filmed Discovery on the launch pad at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida last October, with some shuttle workers appearing as extras in the scenes. [10 Coolest Robots in Pop Culture History]

"The idea of the space program always was how to get in contact with others, so we've brought the Transformers to the shuttle," said Lorenzo di Bonaventura, one of the film's producers. "The Kennedy Space Center has always been this sort of mythical thing, I think, for me. You imagine it out there and then you come here and you realize how many people are working here and what this kind of endeavor entails."

"Transformers: Dark of the Moon" is the third film in the "Transformers" franchise about huge intelligent robots that transform into cars, planes and other vehicles to disguise themselves on Earth. The films are based on the 1980s cartoon series and toy line of the same name.


Some NASA employees remembered watching the "Transformers" cartoon and playing with the toys when they were younger.

"Being that kid watching the cartoon back in the 80s and being part of it now is just an awesome experience," said Danny Zeno, a NASA test director who appears in the film.

NASA Kennedy Space Center employees and their families gather around 'Optimus Prime' in this snapshot taken during a photo opportunity Oct. 8, 2010 after the Transformer cars were used to film scenes of the new "Transformers: The Dark of the Moon" film at the space center. (Image credit: NASA/Frank Michaux)

Actors Shia LaBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whitely, Josh Duhamel and John Turturro — who portray the film's main human characters — all visited the Kennedy Space Center while filming was under way.

"It's kind of hard to believe that you're standing in front of the shuttle over here," said John Turturro, who portrays the character Agent Simmons. "When you see something for real you kind of have to keep looking at it, walk around."

The "Transformers" filming at the Kennedy Space Center included scenes at the Launch Pad 39A, where Discovery was being prepared for its final mission, as well as NASA's cavernous Vehicle Assembly Building, and a space shuttle hangar known as an Orbiter Processing Facility. Scenes were also shot at the Space Station Processing Facility, where components for the International Space Station were being prepared to fly on shuttles, NASA officials said.

"It was kind of [in] homage to the space program," said NASA test director Bill Heidtman in a statement.

Tranquility Base transformed: Teaser for "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" reveals an alternate Apollo 11. (Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

Those touches of real-life space exploration helped give the new "Transformers" film an extra flavor, according to film's creators.

 "The highest grossing films of all time are science fiction movies and things that are in space. I think it's something we still have to discover," Bay said.

The NASA employees who appeared in the film were able to see a sneak preview on Tuesday (June 28) at the nearby Kennedy Space Center Visitor's Complex, which has an IMAX Theater.

"I thought they did a great job," said Mike Cianelli, another NASA test director who appears in the movie. "It was fun to see the production and then to see the end product."

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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of Space.com and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became Space.com's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining Space.com, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at Space.com and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.