A Real-Life Astronaut Taught Brad Pitt How to Fly a Spaceship for 'Ad Astra'

It turns out that, when it comes to piloting a spaceship, Brad Pitt's a total natural.

For the movie "Ad Astra," in which Pitt stars as Space Command astronaut Roy McBride, he had to learn how to act like he was piloting a spaceship as he took control of the ship which took off from Mars for a trip to Neptune. Former NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman, who acted as one of the technical advisors on the film, helping to ensure that elements like human movement in zero-g looked realistic. 

So, to make the scenes where Brad it in control of the spaceship realistic, "I came in and taught Brad Pitt how to fly the spaceship," Reisman told Space.com.

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Brad Pitt was a natural spaceship pilot as Space Command astronaut Roy McBride in the movie "Ad Astra," according to former NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman.  (Image credit: Twentieth Century Fox)

And, because of course, Pitt took to the controls well and quickly. "I walked him through all the different controls and displays and it turned out to be super easy because, one, he's a super nice guy and that always helps and two, he's a pilot!" Reisman said. "I was able to teach him by analogy."

So, by relating the different keypads, switches and control elements of the fictional spaceship back to the familiar analogs of these same controls in a plane, Reisman was able to quickly guide Pitt through the maneuvers he would have to perform to pilot a spaceship.

While the spacecraft featured in "Ad Astra" were fictional, Brad Pitt seemed like a natural behind the controls, according to his teacher former NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman.  (Image credit: Twentieth Century Fox)

"By mapping all the things in our movie spaceship to an airplane that he flew, he was able to very quickly grasp how the cockpit was laid out," Reisman said. 

"He asked me at the premiere," Reisman said about Pitt, "he said, 'how'd I do?' and I told him the truth, I said 'he looks like he knows what he's doing!'"

This comfortable handling of the spaceship really does translate in the movie. Not only was Brad a quick study with Reisman, but as Roy McBride, he really does seem right at home in the spaceship cockpit. 

He's first seen piloting a spacecraft when he comes to the quick aid of a nervous astronaut, new to the controls after captain on the ship from the moon to Mars met an untimely fate at the hands of a violent ape. The astronaut, still in shock from his colleague's death and previously too nervous to join him on the mission that got him killed in the first place, fails to act quickly to safely land the craft on Mars so McBride has to jump in and manually land the ship.

Later, McBride is back at the controls, quickly flipping switches and settling into the pilot's seat after an unfortunate series of violent events and panic from the crew on board (surprised by his unexpected and illegal entrance) left him the sole survivor on the ship to Neptune.

So it's true — Brad Pitt is a wealthy, good-looking A-list actor who, with his production company Plan B, has also put out award-winning films including "12 Years a Slave" and "Moonlight." But he also just so happens to be a great spaceship pilot.  

Follow Chelsea Gohd on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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Chelsea Gohd
Senior Writer

Chelsea “Foxanne” Gohd joined Space.com in 2018 and is now a Senior Writer, writing about everything from climate change to planetary science and human spaceflight in both articles and on-camera in videos. With a degree in Public Health and biological sciences, Chelsea has written and worked for institutions including the American Museum of Natural History, Scientific American, Discover Magazine Blog, Astronomy Magazine and Live Science. When not writing, editing or filming something space-y, Chelsea "Foxanne" Gohd is writing music and performing as Foxanne, even launching a song to space in 2021 with Inspiration4. You can follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd and @foxannemusic.