First Man and the Sci-Fi–Science Feedback Loop

Friday’s release of First Man, in which Ryan Gosling reenacts the true story of Neil Armstrong and the Apollo 11 mission, is in some ways a classic example of art imitating life. But many viewers may not realize that Armstrong’s real-life journey to the moon also imitated art.

The figure-eight trajectory flown by the Apollo moon missions was the very same path followed by fictional astronauts in a classic silent film from 1929, Woman in the Moon. It was plotted by Hermann Oberth, the German father of rocketry and the first in a long line of science consultants for the cinema. These scientists have not only made the science in movies more realistic, but also advanced the state of real science in the process.

Besides calculating a flight path so accurately that NASA would use the same trajectory 40 years later, Oberth designed the Woman in the Moon’s fake rocket so realistically that Hitler’s Gestapo confiscated the blueprints. The movie’s production team also paid Oberth to build and launch a real rocket for the premiere. Oberth failed to complete that ambitious assignment—an embarrassment that led him to leave town before the big day—but he did test-fire his first liquid-fueled rocket later that year.

Oberth was assisted in that experiment by a young Wernher von Braun, the Nazi rocketeer who was recruited by the U.S. government after World War II along with more than a thousand other German scientists as part of Operation Paperclip. He would ultimately become the director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and the chief architect of the Saturn V rocket that finally did carry men to the moon. Both von Braun and Oberth were in turn deeply inspired by Jules Verne’s sci-fi classic From Earth to the Moon, a crystal-clear example of the sci-fi feedback loop, where sci-fi influences science, which influences sci-fi, which influences science.

One key aspect of this feedback loop is what the scientist-turned-communications-studies-professor David Kirby calls “diegetic prototypes.” In his book, Labcoats in Hollywood: Science, Scientists, and Cinema, Kirby explains that fictional technologies can “foster public support for potential or emerging technologies.” For example, the space travel and AI technologies of 2001: A Space Odyssey and the driverless cars, targeted advertising and gestural interfaces of Minority Report—which themselves were developed in close collaboration with real scientists and technologists—have helped define our shared visions of the future and

Source:: <a href= target="_blank" title="First Man and the Sci-Fi–Science Feedback Loop” >The Atlantic – Culture


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