Outer space is big business for the entertainment world. The earliest record of a work of science fiction, written to fuel the imagination and entertain the public, was the Greek satirist Lucian's Vera historia (True history), penned around C.E. 170. In Lucian's tale, a sailing vessel is caught up by a whirlwind and after a journey of eight days arrives at the Moon. Lucian's description of this imaginary lunar voyage set the scene for many stories, films, and even computer games that have followed.
Science fiction novels sell in phenomenal numbers, appealing to the reader's wish to escape the everyday and stimulating the imagination with the possibilities of tomorrow. Many novelists such as Ben Bova and Neil Ruzic have made careers in science fiction writing. Others, such as James Michener (author of Space ), Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke have been lured by the theme of space, as one compass of a much broader writing career. Science fiction conventions celebrate this genre and allow fans an opportunity to meet with famous authors, hear how they develop their themes related to the future of space exploration, and dissect the plots. These conventions are also major business enterprises.
In modern times the most notable entertainment of the first half of the twentieth century was Orson Welles's broadcast of The War of the Worlds. English novelist and historian H. G. Wells wrote this tale of a Martian invasion as a magazine serial in 1897, but Welles's eerie radio rendition of the tale in 1938 sent shock waves through the United States as listeners tuned in to what they thought was a serious report of alien invasion.
Television: From Star Trek to Nova
Some of the most successful and longest-running series on television have had themes of space exploration. Star Trek, the brainchild of the legendary Gene Roddenberry, through its various generational formats has made the careers of several actors and actresses and met with so much enthusiasm that it has spawned Star Trek conventions. The British invention, Dr. Who, also met with universal, long-term success and was assimilated as one of the "cult" shows of the twentieth century. Babylon Five also developed a very significant following, and the Jim Henson-backed series Farscape, featuring a lost astronaut thrown into the distant regions of space, is the Sci-fi channel's longest running original series.
Space themes are not confined to futuristic fictional series on television, although these are by far the best known and the greatest revenue generators. Aliens are a common theme both as a dramatic effect in a storyline and as the subject matter of serious newsmagazine programs about scientific exploration and pseudoscience . Educational programs about space exploration have great popular appeal and, by extension, attract significant advertising dollars to television stations. One of the great television successes of the 1990s was Tom Hanks's HBO series From the Earth to the Moon, the story of the Apollo missions that landed twelve humans on the Moon. In 2000 the Discovery Channel's in-depth study of the International Space Station represented a significant programming investment. Finally, news magazine programs such as Nova frequently return to stories of space exploration because the human fascination with the unknown and the "great beyond" of the universe draws a large audience.
Films: Special Effects and Special Stories
Outer space can be daunting, fascinating, and mysterious—a gift to moviemakers. Facing the challenges of working in microgravity calls for fearless heroes and feats of courage. And re-creating outer space for the motion picture audience offers numerous possibilities for the special effects department.
People may snicker at the title of the 1956 film Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but this movie is an influential classic and still very scary. It tells the story of residents of a small town who are replaced by inert duplicates, which are hatched from alien "pods."
2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick's influential 1968 masterpiece (with the screenplay written by Arthur C. Clarke), opened the imagination to the possibility of other intelligent entities developing in time frames different from the evolution of humans on Earth, while also featuring alien encounters and a computer with an attitude called HAL. In 2001, possibly the most influential space movie to date, Kubrick enticed the audience with the vastness and timelessness of space in comparison to the current human condition.
From the days of the earliest space-themed movies, directors have been awed by the subject matter and have worked studiously to be as authentic as possible in the representation of spaceflight and off-world locations. This is how space historian Fred Ordway and space artist Robert McCall (who painted the lunar mural in the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.) found themselves in London, consulting on the making of 2001, and how countless astronauts have been called upon to advise actors on how to realistically simulate behavior in microgravity.
The 1977 blockbuster Star Wars, and the two subsequent episodes in the trilogy, The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983), opened a new era in opening the imagination of moviegoers to space. In this series, and Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999), legendary producer George Lucas introduced audiences to tales of life and conflict in a vast universe populated by creatures of mind-boggling diversity and cunning.*
The 1977 film Close Encounters of the Third Kind, directed by Steven Spielberg, describes a first contact with alien beings. Impressive cinematography won an Oscar for Vilmos Zsigmond. Spielberg's E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, released in 1982, cemented Spielberg's reputation as a director and won John Williams an Academy Award for his score, with additional Oscars going to the sound and visual effects teams. E.T. is a classic of the sympathetic alien genre of movies, which developed along with the growing understanding of the unique nature of human life in the solar system and with the increasing knowledge about the origins of life. Its enduring influence is demonstrated by its rerelease to the big screens in 2002.
The blockbuster of the 1990s was Apollo 13, based on the book Lost Moon by Apollo 13 commander Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger. This exhilarating story of the ill-fated Apollo 13 Moon mission was directed by Ron Howard and starred Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, Kevin Bacon, Gary Sinise, and Kathleen Quinlan. Sticking painstakingly close to the true story of Apollo 13, this 1995 movie told the tale of the human ingenuity, fast thinking, and enormous courage that brought the crew of Apollo 13 back from the Moon safely after a catastrophic explosion deprived them of the majority of their air supply. The film provided a marked contrast with the media headlines of failure (because the crew failed to land on the Moon) that had formed public opinion about the mission twenty-five years earlier.
In the late 1990s, as scientific understanding of asteroids grew as a result of better telescopes and the detailed images from robotic missions such as Galileo and the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous mission, a crop of movies about the threat of asteroid or comet collisions with Earth were released. Both Deep Impact and Armageddon did well at the box office and served to broaden the public debate on the threat of asteroid impacts.
Space Cowboys, released in 2000, reflected growing concern with the amount of space debris circling the planet and, on occasion, falling uncontrolled to Earth. And movies telling of the human exploration of Mars—one of the great space challenges for the human race in the twenty-first century—were on the rise.
It is impossible to discuss films about space without mentioning the large-scale IMAX films on a range of space topics that are screened at numerous science museums around the world. These films trace the history of the human exploration of space with awe-inspiring visual effects provided by Mother Nature.
Exhibits and Theme Parks
The best-known visitor attractions with space themes include the most visited museum in the world, the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.; the Epcot Center at Disney World in Orlando, Florida; and Tomorrowland in California. Space theme parks, which allow visitors to sample the technologies of the future or simulate a spaceship ride or a walk on the surface of the Moon or Mars, have been developed by visionaries who foresee hundreds of thousands of people routinely traveling in space in the future.
Video and Computer Games
Computers play a major role in simulating complex rendezvous, docking, and landing maneuvers for space missions. They also provide exciting games that test a player's skill in retrieving a satellite, docking or maneuvering a spacecraft in zero gravity, and much more. If the majority of people cannot experience space travel themselves, some of the computer games available are the next best thing.
see also Apollo (volume 3); Careers in Writing, Photography, and Filmmaking (volume 1); Clarke, Arthur C. (volume 1); Impacts (volume 4); Star Trek (volume 4); Star Wars (volume 4).
Clarke, Arthur C. The Coming of the Space Age. New York: Meredith Press, 1967.
von Braun, Wernher, Frederick I. Ordway III, and Dave Dooling. Space Travel: A History. New York: Harper & Row, 1985.
Expendable Launch Vehicles See Launch Vehicles, Expendable (Volume 1).
*In May 2002, Episode 2: Attack of the Clones was released.
"Entertainment." Space Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 24, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/entertainment
"Entertainment." Space Sciences. . Retrieved February 24, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/entertainment
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en·ter·tain·ment / ˌentərˈtānmənt/ • n. the action of providing or being provided with amusement or enjoyment: everyone just sits in front of the TV for entertainment. ∎ an event, performance, or activity designed to entertain others: a theatrical entertainment. ∎ the action of receiving a guest or guests and providing them with food and drink.
"entertainment." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 24, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/entertainment
"entertainment." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved February 24, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/entertainment