One of my favorite endeavors this semester, which is now ending, has been teaching a Space Odysseys course for the Department of Cinema Studies and Moving Image Arts at the University of Colorado Boulder, where I currently serve as a Scholar in Residence as well as wearing many other hats. I have used this course as an avenue to take students, from all walks of life, on a journey of space exploration to understand not only how space has been represented on screen but the science behind those representations.
What are the political, scientific and philosophical motives in attempting to show our species venturing beyond planet Earth—and other life forms arriving here? How do these adventures highlight our future hopes, clarify our present anxieties, and consolidate our past learnings?
These cinematic reflections served as a barometer of history, as a chronicle of our fears and our dreams, as a pillar of culture. Simultaneously, we tracked the scientific, technological and engineering advances driving astronomy and space exploration and our understanding of the universe.
Through lively and insightful discussions, we gained a better understanding of what—and how—we know about the universe around us, a firmer grasp on major Space Race milestones, an appreciation of what is technically feasible, an expanded experience of how space has been depicted on screen in iconic fashion, and ideas about how to create one’s own vision of society’s ongoing relationship with the cosmos.
We also enjoyed invaluable visits from filmmaker Erin Espelie, cosmologist Andrew Hamilton, planetary scientists Nick Schneider and Brian Hynek, science communicator Ethan Siegel, cinema scholar Ernesto Acevedo-Muñoz, and science fiction writer William Hertling.
Arguably, the hardest part for me was to curate a fitting and meaningful list of eclectic media to display in our cinema-like classroom—from science fiction classic movies to music videos—to complete our journey. I cannot wait to teach this course again.