The Space Shuttle: A Film History

Today is the last launch of NASA’s Space Shuttle, the only true exit and return vehicle ever to be flown by mankind (so far). Not only has it had 30 years of service and over 130 launches, but you may not realize the shuttle has also enjoyed an illustrious film career.

The shuttle’s film debut came in the 1979 Bond film, Moonraker, years before any actual test flights. One of the goofier Bond films, the shuttle is one of the least odd things about it. Overall, it is a fun, lighthearted movie, the kind best watched on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

The first official appearance of a named shuttle came in 1986’s comedy Space Camp. Sadly, the film was released in the wake of the Challenger disaster, making a comedy about kids accidentally sent into space a very tough sell. Despite having an overly silly robot befriend Joaquin Phoenix, it’s a pretty decent film despite it’s awful release timing.

The next film to feature the shuttle is Michael Bay’s blockbuster Armageddon. The ultimate blue collar fantasy, this is the film where a bunch of oil drillers are sent to space to use nuclear weapons to break apart an asteroid and save the world. Although the film is now used by NASA as a training exercise in spotting scientific inaccuracies, it’s a great ride, and the shuttle (with a few choice modifications) plays a very prominent role.

Shortly thereafter, Clint Eastwood’s Space Cowboys took a bunch of retirees into space on a mission to reprogram an obsolete Soviet satellite with a secret. It’s a very formulaic film, and as such the tension doesn’t feel so high. Fittingly, the older space jockeys also make an appearance on Jay Leno’s Tonight Show. All of the lead performances are excellent, and overall it makes for one of Eastwood’s most fun efforts.

And finally, perhaps, the shuttle makes a brief appearance in the newest Transformers film, also directed by Bay. Unfortunately, it does not transform. That would have been awesome.

“She sure was a good ship. Farewell, Aquarius, and we thank you.” – from Apollo 13