The beautiful interstellar drama Ad Astra does what all good space movies strive to do; it adapts current technological advancements to its narrative and incorporates them into its vision of the “near future”. Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) is a Space Command astronaut sent on a perilous mission to Neptune, hoping to discover the fate of his missing father, as well as Project Lima, the research from which has resulted in cosmic rays surging towards Earth and threatening to wipe out humankind.
Reaching Neptune requires a long journey and several stops. He has a lay over at an “airport” on the moon after flying a “commercial” rocket via Virgin Atlantic. He stops off at a Martian colony complete with tranquility rooms to remind him of the natural world he’s been missing for weeks. All the while, his health is constantly monitored, right down to his BPM, because there’s a danger of suffering a mental break being out in space so long. These are some of the many ways that the film posits space travel could change in the future, but read on for several more.
10 SPACE TRAVEL WILL BE COMMERCIALIZED
One of the most strident aspects of space travel featured in Ad Astra is its commercialization. In Ad Astra’s near future, space travel will be reminiscent of air travel, undertaken on commercial lines, complete with flight attendants. Like the first air travel on Earth, it will be expensive, and only available for the affluent (or government employees with a Space Command clearance).
When Roy McBride begins his top secret mission to Neptune, he must first begin by taking a “Virgin Atlantic” flight from Earth to the Moon, and from there, a rocket ship to Mars. Even before he touches down on a lunar colony, the most surprising thing to viewers will be the price of a blanket and pillow package (they cost $125). No doubt its steep price is adjusted for inflation and the expense of commercialized space flights!
9 PEOPLE WILL GO CRAZY
Astronauts today have to undergo a series of psychological evaluations and physical examinations before, during, and after their trips into space. This helps to monitor their physical and mental health, as both can be stressed while on missions that can take months or even years.
Ad Astra opens and closes with Roy McBride’s psychological evaluation, where it’s determined he’s a man that compartmentalizes even the most harrowing situations to suppress his adrenaline and do what needs to be done. His father (and fellow astronaut) Clifford McBride wasn’t able to maintain such decorum, and suffered an extreme mental break from almost two decades in space, which may be the biggest danger of space travel.
8 WE’LL BE ABLE TO LAND ROCKETS
Even today, private companies like Elon Musk’s Space X are focusing on being able to launch rockets and land them, a process known as Vertical Takeoff, Vertical Landing (VTVL) and something that was previously only successful for NASA in extremely small scales. The most famous example (and largest) VTVL rocket was Space X’s Falcon 9.
In Ad Astra, we see Roy McBride competently land the Cepheus rocket on Mars by lining it up exactly with the landing pad that looks very much like the launching pad it came from. Today, chemical rockets can’t land because of their lack of fuel, so they’re “shed to ocean” in re-entry capsules after their de-orbit “burn.”
7 THERE WILL BE STOPS ALONG THE WAY
By the time that Ad Astra takes place, we’ll have shortened the distance it takes to travel between planets dramatically. A trip from Mars to Neptune will take 80 days, instead of 80 years. It isn’t explained exactly how this is possible, but a sizable contributing theory is there will be stops along the way.
By making “lay overs” on the Moon and Mars, Roy McBride is able to make his trip in a matter of months, rather than a matter of light years. One of the biggest obstacles of space travel has always been fuel, and being able to resupply it at different colonies will greatly reduce astronaut’s need for conservation. A lay over also means less time McBride has to remain hooked up to feeding tubes and muscle-stimulators for a long voyage.
6 MARS WILL HAVE UNDERGROUND COLONIES
Besides Earth, science fiction aficionados have often thought that Mars would be the next best place to sustain life. Even today, Elon Musk and President Trump want to colonize the Red Planet, and there have been countless science-fiction movies and television series depicting just that.
Ad Astra provides a brief look at life on Mars via a series of underground colonies. There aren’t more than a few thousand people inhabiting them, but they’re able to life relatively fulfilling lives, complete with tranquility rooms that mimic the ocean, wildlife, and topography of Earth.
5 PEOPLE WILL BE BORN ON OTHER PLANETS
With the advent of space travel that reaches planets that can sustain human life successfully, there will be a whole swathe of the population born on them that never see Earth. Roy McBride encounters such characters in Ad Astra, and doesn’t seem particularly surprised by the fact.
The woman responsible for the entire Martian colony has only been to Earth once when she was a child. She was born on Mars, but remembers the beauty of Earth’s natural splendor. Television series like The Expanse postulate that eventually, Martians will be so far removed from Earth that they will cease to care about its fate, but she still demonstrates empathy for McBride and his mission.
4 THERE WILL BE IMPROVED FUEL FUNCTION FOR ROCKETS
The way that rockets travel through space is specific: they must continue to accelerate, thereby shortening the amount of time it takes them to reach their destination. It’s how a trip from Mars to Neptune in Ad Astra takes 80 days instead of 80 years.
When the Cepheus ship gets a distress call from a nearby Norwegian medical ship studying Comet 17P/Holmes, it slows down to help out. In order for a chemical rocket to do this, it would take weeks and a huge loss of fuel, then lots more fuel to start up again. This isn’t possible with large ships (yet), but perhaps in the future, there’s been some improvement to ion engines.
3 SPACE TELESCOPES WILL FINALLY GO TO THE PLANETS THEY PHOTOGRAPH
One of the biggest misconceptions space enthusiasts may have is that the Hubble Telescope actually goes to the planets it photographs. This rises from the fact that actual probes head off in search of planets all the time, but the Hubble just hangs out above Earth’s atmosphere, capturing images of things really far away.
In Ad Astra, we see a space telescope orbiting Saturn. Considering the distances involved with that sort of photography, perhaps sometime in the near future, we’ll figure out how to send telescopes into deep space. As evidenced by Clifford McBride’s research, they’d get some amazing shots.
2 PLANETS WILL HAVE AIRPORTS AND COLONIES
When Roy McBride gets to the moon, he finds it shares a lot of commonalities with Earth. As he strolls through the lunar colony “airport,” he sees commodification, commercialization, and its fair share of fast-food restaurants (though not yet like Total Recall). And then come the space pirates.
As McBride soon learns, the moon is a lawless place. Not only does it have colonies in craters to shield them from meteors, but factions of lunar pirates battle for resources. It’s not the moon buggies (which get destroyed), so we can only guess at what they truly want. Helium-3 for some sort of new nuclear fusion, perhaps?
1 SURFING A NUCLEAR BOMB BLAST WAVE WILL BE POSSIBLE
Back in the ’50s, Project Orion was developed by United States to determine whether or not nuclear bombs could be utilized for space propulsion. Clearly Ad Astra thinks so, because Roy McBride uses an explosion from the nuclear bomb blast destroying Project Lima to surf home.
Apparently in the near future, a specific dampening mass has been created to provide something to protect the crew of the ship, push against, and dampen the effects of instantaneous acceleration. Otherwise, the shrapnel is just tearing through it like a can of tuna.
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