Today (Sept. 16), Brad Pitt, who plays an astronaut in the upcoming sci-fi film "Ad Astra," chatted with NASA astronaut Nick Hague — who recently screened the film at the International Space Station — about what it's really like to be in space.
Hague and Pitt spoke on a call from space to Earth about everything ranging from who controls the music on the station to NASA's Artemis Program, which is preparing to send the next man and first woman to the lunar surface. Hague and Pitt even chatted about Pitt's performance in "Ad Astra" and how it compared to George Clooney's performance in "Gravity," a space drama from 2013.
"I gotta tell you, this is a real treat — real pleasure to be talking to you up there," Pitt said, greeting Hague. "Likewise, a treat for us, actually. We got a chance to sneak preview the movie a few weeks back," Hague replied. "Just wanted to start off by saying thank you for what you're doing to contribute to the mission of awareness and to light that fire in the imaginations in the next generation of explorers," he added.
Life in "zero g"
"Now that I have you all the way up at the space station, let's talk about me," Pitt said, jokingly. "How did we do? How was our zero g?" he asked Hague about his work in "Ad Astra."
"I gotta tell you, it was really good," Hague said. But, he added, it's probably "easier for me to enjoy the zero g than it was you, whether it was CGI [computer-generated imagery] or hooked to strings."
On the topic of weightlessness aboard the space station, Pitt asked Hague how he felt in the strange environment. "I was curious," Pitt said, "what are the repercussions on your body in zero g? First of all, would it be morning for you there, would it be night for you there? How do you gauge your waking hours if you see 16 sunrises and sunsets a day?"
Hague explained how the International Space Station operates on Greenwich Mean Time and how scientists have devised a number of specialized ways to try to manage the astronauts' circadian rhythms. These methods include a set workday schedule and the use of different hued lights aboard the space station.
Pitt and Hague continued to chat, discussing India's recent Chandrayaan-2 lunar landing attempt and Hague's Expedition 60 mission to the space station, which is coming to a close in October.
"Growing up on a farm, I never would've thought that I would've been able to be involved with things like that," Hague said to Pitt, about the experiments he has worked on during his time at the space station.
"It really is extraordinary … by the way, you're from Kansas? I'm from Missouri. So we're neighbors!" Pitt said.
The challenges of life in space
The dialogue shifted to a slightly more serious tone as Pitt asked about the hardships associated with life in space, "What is that like on the psyche? I'm sure you're always busy, but at the same time missing family and loved ones at home. How do you keep your mental state at peace?"
Hague described the difficulties that come with being away from friends and family on the station, but that because they are positioned in low Earth orbit, they at least are able to stay in contact through phone calls and regular video chats. Still, it remains a challenge that will become only more difficult with crewed missions to the moon and Mars, he said.
"To me it sounds harrowing and really challenging," Pitt said.
The tone lightened as Pitt asked, "OK, most important question: Who controls the jam box?" Hague laughed, and described how nice it was to have an international selection of music rotating on the station.
"Yes, but every now and then I'm sure someone's going, 'I wish Nick wouldn't play that country western anymore,'" Pitt joked. Laughing, Hague responded, "There's that, and to have me stop telling my bad dad jokes."
Pitt went on to say how the "Ad Astra" team originally considered having elements of 3D printing in the movie and show how future lunar settlements might realistically make tools and objects. Hague confirmed that they have been experimenting with 3D printing aboard the station for a while, even 3D printing biological tissues!
Clooney or Pitt?
Before signing off, Pitt said, "Nick, last question, and I need to call on your expertise. Who was more believable, Clooney or Pitt?" The question was in reference to Pitt's performance in "Ad Astra" versus Clooney's performance in "Gravity." The question elicited audible laughter from both Hague and the NASA ground team coordinating the call.
"You were, absolutely," Hague said.
Hague and the rest of the Expedition 60 crew recently watched "Ad Astra" during their downtime on the space station. The movie follows Pitt's journey across the solar system to find his missing father (played by Tommy Lee Jones), who might pose a critical threat to humanity. While the movie is much more fiction than science, it does incorporate some NASA imagery, and the agency provided some technical guidance.
"We reviewed a script of Ad Astra early in production," Bert Ulrich, NASA's liaison for film and TV collaborations at NASA Headquarters, said in a statement. "Although there was no NASA storyline, we provided some of the exciting images and footage for the film especially of the Moon and Mars. Sci-fi films like Ad Astra, the Martian, Interstellar, and Gravity take movie audiences out of this world incorporating some of NASA"s most inspirational photography and footage."
In addition to Pitt, "Ad Astra" stars Liv Tyler, Donald Sutherland and Ruth Negga. The film will be released to the public on Sept. 20.
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