Friday, January 29, 2010

Coming Soon: HUBBLE 3D

Dreams do come true. Now I can see the stars a lot better than I ever did in New York City.
-- Astronaut Mike Massimino
For anyone who has ever dreamed of being an astronaut or looked up at the nighttime sky and wondered what was out there, there's good news: The IMAX feature HUBBLE 3D scheduled to be released to theaters on March 19th can take you there. Yesterday I had the opportunity to view some raw footage of the repair of the HUBBLE last year. It was probably one of the more exciting IMAX experiences I have ever had—definitely worth having to wear those dorky 3D glasses that go along with these events.

The footage we were permitted to view began with the crew prepping for launch. We literally moved through the room with them as they donned their suits, and went through various checks. Their excitement was palpable and contagious. If you've never actually witnessed a shuttle launch, viewing it in 3D is probably the next best thing—the only thing missing was the heat from the boosters. As Mission Control wound through the countdown for liftoff and smoke billowed from the boosters, anticipation rippled through the audience. And then we were in space, floating with the crew as they tried to maneuver their bulky suits to complete the repairs without damaging the telescope. The experience was surreal in many ways. At one point I had a crew member's foot in my face as he shifted position around the HUBBLE. I had to fight the urge not to reach out and help guide his foot back into a stay. The crew's tethers crisscrossed in front of me; in fact, I may have tried to brush one out of the way. Post screening, it was clear that the excitement I felt was shared by the rest of the audience. Whatever we had expected going in, the footage blew us away. [Right: Hubble floating above Earth during servicing mission 3B, March 2002. Credit: HubbleSite]

One thing theater goers will not get to experience is a Q&A session with astronaut Mike Massimino, who was on hand yesterday to field questions and discuss his experiences. An audience member asked him if his training included any zen techniques to help improve concentration—Mike was tasked with removing over 100 screws from the HUBBLE, without having any drift off into space. Mike's response was classic. In perfectly serious tone, he replied that his training involved his wife telling him not to break things abound the house. It was the perfect answer to banish any remaining hesitation about talking to a man who seems larger than life. (Interesting tidbit: Mike was the first astronaut to tweet from space!)

HUBBLE 3D provides a great opportunity to reconnect with the space program, and reminds us that there is still much about our universe that is yet to be explained. Launched in 1990, the HUBBLE telescope has orbited Earth just outside of the planet's atmosphere in one of NASA's longest running science missions. HUBBLE has helped scientists determine a more accurate estimate as to the age of the age of the universe and revealed clues as to how planets formed. The telescope also contributed to our understanding of dark energy. HUBBLE 3D allows audiences to claim a little piece of the telescope for themselves as it brings viewers face to face with this magnificent instrument and its inner workings.

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