Space Station. – Review

Space Station. – Review – video recording reviews

Fenella Saunders

Space Staffer Two-video set, $39.95 plus shipping (available from Oregon Public Broadcasting, 800-440-2651) SKYSCRAPER PRODUCTIONS. RUNNING TIME: 120 MINUTES.

ONE DARK NIGHT IN THE WILDS OF Texas, I spotted a satellite. A tiny point of light, it zipped across the sky in a minute. At that moment, I discovered that I hadn’t truly believed things like outer space and satellites are real. Yes, most people use satellites every day to make phone calls or watch TV, but actually viewing one in orbit anchors what otherwise can seem like reality adrift. Imagine looking up and seeing an object smaller than the moon but shinier than the brightest star. If all goes well, later in this century, that object will be the International Space Station, a collaborative project among many countries. Now, Space Station the video–a two-part documentary about man’s biggest construction project off the globe–makes the fantasy real. The station has been in the news for years, but it can still seem like some ethereal dream project until you see the footage of the pieces already linked together and up in space, orbiting our planet. And it is not just a giant, spinning, empty tin can. As only video can prove, engineers are working on it–in space as well as on Earth.

Viewers will likely be struck by the cultural differences between the American and Russian parts of the program. The film includes scenes of a Russian grandmother hand-sewing the insulation on a piece of the station and peasants selling produce in a rural marketplace around the Russian launch site in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. In contrast, Boeing’s ultramodern meeting rooms in the United States are closer to a Western image of rocket science. Yet, in other footage, the programs can look so much alike that it’s hard to tell when the camera cuts from an assembly room in Russia to one in the United States or Canada.

In a scene in which the solar panels were opened, the immense scale of the undertaking becomes obvious. In another, flights of the Space Station’s astronaut emergency return vehicle offer a sense of adventure. Footage of station modules under construction inspires respect for the difficulties that even the most junior engineer faces. Tasks as simple as drilling a hole become complex chores. The U.S. pieces have to fit with those from Russia, and elsewhere any dimensions before they are merged. It’s like making puzzle pieces that mesh perfectly with ones made by someone on the other side of the Earth.

Danger in unexpected forms seems to be everywhere. In one scene, two men float around a module’s hull, trying to deploy two antennae. Before they’re allowed to jiggle one of the jammed wires, they need to get a long sequence of approvals from the designers of the module, the space-suit manufacturers, and a slew of NASA officials. At last the antenna shoots out triumphantly, fortunately not puncturing the astronaut’s space suit in the process, although a cap that covered the wire whizzes by precariously close to his head.

While they balance breathless action with frank interviews about numerous problems that have plagued the program on all sides, these videos are unlikely to reveal any secrets. And they’re far from exhaustive: They don’t discuss the schedule for the project’s completion, for example, or the contributions of many countries. Still, they do an excellent job of showing the human side of the immense project. Most interestingly, they show what many still imagine to be science fiction as fact. One participant says the space station is like a highway: Having the road there will prove that humans can go anywhere; and once it is built, towns will follow.

COPYRIGHT 2000 Discover

COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group