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How Tom Cruise Cast Himself in an Unlikely Role with NASA

Tom Cruise in 'Oblivion'
Tom Cruise, who played an astronaut in the the 2013 movie “Oblivion” (above), wasn't sure what he was looking at when he logged onto NASA.gov when Sean O'Keefe was the agency's administrator. (Image credit: NBC Universal)

WASHINGTON – If you've been a fan of NASA's website for more than a decade, you can thank an unlikely space geek: actor Tom Cruise.

Or so says former NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe, who ran the agency from 2001 to 2004.

During a May 11 panel discussion at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) here, O'Keefe said it was the "Top Gun" and "Mission: Impossible" star who encouraged him to redesign NASA's website. To paraphrase "Risky Business," sometimes you just gotta say, 'what the [heck],' and make your move.

Cruise — who narrated the 2002 IMAX documentary "Space Station 3D" — also lent members of his production team to the effort, according to O'Keefe.

Former NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe could hardly blame Cruise for being baffled by NASA’s old (and since replaced) website. (Image credit: CSIS)

Here's how O'Keefe related the story:

Cruise, incidentally, starred in a 2013 movie called "Oblivion" playing an astronaut who safeguards Earth's natural resources from alien invaders. But getting back to O'Keefe's story:

O'Keefe, a CSIS senior adviser who returned to Syracuse University last fall following a five year stint at Airbus North America, said he often returns to the example.

"Every time I encounter situations like this on how do you make the information more available, I gotta thank Tom Cruise for his blinding flash of the obvious," he said.

A screenshot shows the NASA website in about 2002. (Image credit: Wayback Machine)

NASA.gov circa 2003, post Cruise-controlled makeover. (Image credit: Wayback Machine)

You can listen to O'Keefe tell the story himself. We've the embedded the CSIS video below and fast-forwarded it straight to the good part.

Meanwhile, there was no immediate word on what O'Keefe or Cruise think of NASA's current website, which was thoroughly redesigned three weeks ago to put a heavier emphasis on video, graphics and social media.

This story was provided by SpaceNews, dedicated to covering all aspects of the space industry.

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Mike Gruss is a veteran defense reporter and Editor-in-Chief of Sightline Media Group, which includes Army Times, Air Force Times, Dense News, Military Times and Navy Times. From 2013 to 2016, Mike served as a Senior Staff Writer for SpaceNews covering national security space programs and military space policy in the U.S. Congress. Mike earned a bachelor's degree in English and American Studies from Miami University and has previously wrote for the Journal Gazette in Fort Wayne, Indiana and the Virginian-Pilot in Virginia before joining SpaceNews. Prior to joining Sightline in 2017, he was a senior editor of FedTech magazine covering technology in federal government. You can see Mike's latest project on Twitter (opens in new tab).