A blurry future in space

Hubble

An IMAX documentary narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio

A team of technicians is monitoring the position of a large space telescope in a busy control room filled with blinking lights, computer stations, sophisticated equipment, and a large wall-sized display screen. They are trying to bring into focus various aspects of a film that has been released about the Hubble Space Telescope called simply Hubble.

The mission leader is giving instructions to an assistant at one of the computer stations while the rest of his team stands around and gaze at the screen, which is now blank.

“Target area AS345, please,” instructs the mission leader to a nearby computer station assistant.

Static sparks across the huge screen amid the periodic crackle of white noise. The station assistant continues to twiddle with control knobs and taps his keyboard while maneuvering his mouse.

“I’m sorry sir; there must be something wrong with the equipment. I can’t bring up the image. But I can give you some audio.”

“That’s unfortunate.” Frustrated, the mission leader addresses another technician manning a computer station in the row in front of the first computer station, “Stan, can you try and realign the gyros to an azimuth of 38 degrees north?” Then, back to the original station assistant, he says, “Okay, go ahead and play the audio.”

Over the room’s loudspeakers comes the voice of a young man uttering platitudes with emphasized awe and gravitas about the wonders of the universe and the brave men and women who take risky, complex and exhausting missions in space aboard space shuttles to service the Hubble Space Telescope. After a minute or so, the mission leader directs the station assistant to mute the audio.

“What the hell was that?” exclaims one of the standing assistant mission specialists. “Was that some kind of alien message from beyond the stars?”

“Oh my god!” exclaims another assistant mission specialist. “That sounded like Leonard DiCaprio! This could be an invasion of the Hollywood stars! We better alert Homeland Security!”

“Not yet,” calmly replies the mission leader. “We do not know what he or they may want, or even how much of a danger he may represent. Let’s first work on getting those mirrors focused to see what’s out there.”

Turning back to the other station assistant, the mission leader asks, “Stan, what’s your progress on getting us an image?”

Stan, who has been busily tapping his computer and flipping switches, responds, “Sir, I think I can get you an image now.”

After flipping some more switches, the huge screen flickers and blurry patches of light begin to appear. Some smartass in the room yells out “focus!” as Stan keeps tapping his computer.

“Try adjusting the fine guidance optical control sensor on the forward mirror assembly array,” advises one of the assistant mission specialists. Stan complies, and the blobs of light become outlines of what appear to be astronauts.

“Those appear to be people — actual human beings!” gasps one of the assistant mission specialists. “And they appear to be engaged in servicing a sophisticated satellite in orbit,” exclaims another. “How can they do that?! It must be incredibly difficult and complicated work. Amazing!” Yet another assistant says, “But I still can’t make out what they are actually doing as the image is still hazy.”

“I’m sorry sir,” interjects Stan to the mission leader, “that’s the best resolution we are going to get.” They all peer at the huge screen trying to interpret what they are seeing.

Finally, the mission leader breaks the silence, “You know, although they look to be heroic people who are well-trained and well-adjusted and doing some kind of delicate work, they still seem to be out-of-focus. We really can’t get a good handle on who these people really are, where they come from, and what drives them. We’ll remain on yellow alert for now and keep searching. Stan, reposition the aperture to sector gamma 234.12.”

Stan clicks away while they remain fixated on the screen. Then, to gasps of amazement, astonishing images appear of nebula, galaxies, and star fields. As Stan zooms in on one particular nebula, the colorful image depicts a massive stellar nursery in luminous clouds of gas where solar systems are forming around newly birthed stars.

As they all marvel at the huge screen, the mission leader asks, “Stan, can you focus in on one of the planets?” Stan fidgets with a number of controls, but is unable to maneuver the telescope. Finally, he has to confess, “I’m sorry sir, but this is all that I can give you. It looks like we are not going to be able to get a close look at planets and moons, or even comets and asteroids.”

“That’s too bad,” confesses the mission leader. As the mission leader commiserates with his group of assistants, Stan tinkers with his controls. Then, a siren abruptly shrieks throughout the control room as red lights flash. Controlled pandemonium breaks out among the scientists. At another computer station, a radar image indicates something headed toward them at a fantastic speed. Among the excited murmurs of the technicians and forceful orders of the mission assistants, the mission leader implores everyone to calm down, turns back to Stan, and orders him to aim the
telescope in the direction of the incoming object.

As the siren continues to shriek and the room is bathed in red light, they all look at the screen. As they look on earnestly, the mission leader keeps his hand on the red phone to communicate an emergency.

On the screen an image begins to take shape. It appears to be a bright dot of light, possibly a supernova. As Stan works the controls to zoom in, the white-lighted object appears to be square-shaped. They all find that quite odd as such a geometric figure typically does not exist in nature. As the image increases, it appears to be a piece of paper! As the siren is turned off, the room falls silent. Then, there are gasps of shock and dismay as the image on the huge screen finally focuses on the words written on the paper:

Memo

To: The People of Earth

Your Space Shuttle Program has been cancelled.

Your Hubble Telescope has been capped.

Your space exploration has been privatized.

Your mission funding has been slashed.

Please stop looking at us.

With best wishes,

The Universe

Doug Young is the film reviewer for The Colorado Statesman. He is off to cover the Cannes Film Festival next week.