The Space Odyssey of Juno to Jupiter

Following an argument about the tapirs, the leopard and the ape-men in Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” I was struck by the irony of the scheme of whiteness that pervades this movie and the sequel, “2010.” In 2016, that amount of white interior reminds me more of the inside of an Apple Store although Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak didn’t found Apple until 1976. While there were things that Kubrick’s research predicted, there were other things that that he did not. With the NASA Jupiter Near-Polar Orbiter (Juno) rapidly approaching Jupiter’s orbit, ending its five-year journey on the evening of July 4, I’ve been revisiting Stanley Kubrick’s two science fiction feature films.

“2001: A Space Odyssey” is about a space mission to Jupiter but it starts in the African desert with a tribe of man-apes who discover a black monolith. After touching the monolith, a member of this tribe has a momentous idea: using a bone as a tool and a weapon. First they kill a tapir. Then murder and war are the result as this tribe triumphs over another group of man-apes in a war over water.

The journey to Jupiter comes as a response to the discovery of a curious black monolith on the moon that emits a signal to Jupiter. The U.S. space program already has a moonbus, complete with a white-clad stewardess in special shoes and a soft helmet to protect her poofed up hair. It is no problem to send out a Discovery One spacecraft to Jupiter 18 months later. Besides the astronauts on board, there is HAL 9000, a talking sentient computer.

In Roger Ebert’s original review, Ebert paraphrased e.e. cummings, writing, “It was e. e. cummings, the poet, who said he’d rather learn from one bird how to sing than teach 10,000 stars how not to dance. I imagine cummings would not have enjoyed Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space
Odyssey,” in which stars dance but birds do not sing. The fascinating thing about this film is that it fails on the human level but succeeds magnificently on a cosmic scale.”

Kubrick’s production team predicts the laptop, computerized tablets, voice recognition and smartphones as well as SIRI. Videophones or Skype and Facetime are also predicted.

Kubrick chose Jupiter as the destination for an ill-fated group of American astronauts for artistic reasons rather than scientific reasons. Those rings of Saturn proved too difficult to replicate. The movie was released on 2 April 1968.

At the time, the US was in a furious technological race against the Soviet Union. Russia had put the first human in outer space, cosmonaut Yuri Gargarin, on 12 April 1961 in a Vostok spacecraft.  (Gargarin died in March of 1968 while piloting a MiG-15 training jet nearly a month before “2001: Space Odyssey” was released in the U.S.) The U.S. space program wasn’t far behind and put Alan Shepard into space on the NASA Mercury Seven on in May 1961.

Kubrick was racing against the Soviet and U.S. space programs who by the late 1960s were aiming at a moon landing. Kubrick had promised to wrap up by 1966 but took extra time editing. NASA won that race when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed and walked on the moon (20 July 1969).

Yet the race into space also had a racial aspect. The Soviet program in August of that year had already sent the first Asian, cosmonaut Gherman Stepanovich Titov, born in an Asian section of Russia. The first non-white person in space was Pham Tuan, a Vietnamese man, who was on Soyuz 37 in 1980. The first black person was Cuban Arnaldo Tamayo Méndez on the following Russian mission, Soyuz 38 in the same year. NASA wouldn’t have an African-American in space until Guion Bluford in 1983.  The Soviet program was also more progressive in regards to women. On June 16, 1963, aboard Vostok 6, Soviet Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space. The Los Angeles-born Sally Ride wouldn’t become the first American woman in space until 1978, over a decade later.

This is an aspect of Kubrick’s vision of the future that failed. When his “2010: The Year We Make Contact” premiered on 7 December 1984, the U.S. and Soviet programs were no longer all white. In all, 12 men walked on the moon, all white and all American, but the rest of the space programs had diversified. On TV, the original series “Star Trek” which ran from 1966 to 1969 had already introduced Asians (George Takei as Hikaru Sulu) and African (Nichelle Nichols as Uhura) ethnic actors as regular cast members. By the summer of 1984, the Star Trek universe had moved from the small screen to the silver screen and the third movie, “The Search for Spock,” was already out.

The original Star Wars trilogy had been completed the year before with the 1983 “Return of the Jedi” which included Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian, the Administrator of Cloud City in the second and third movies.In this respect, both the real space programs and popular science fiction understood the change in U.S. culture.


Roger Ebert gave “2010: The Year We Make Contact” three stars. In 1984, Roger wrote, “I felt that the poetry of ‘2001’ was precisely in its mystery, and that to explain everything was to ruin everything — like the little boy who cut open his drum to see what made it bang.”

While “2001” had a mysterious ending, the sequel did not.  Roger commented, “We get a disappointingly mundane conclusion worthy of a 1950s sci-fi movie, not a sequel to “2001.” I, for one, was disappointed that the monoliths would deign to communicate with men at all — let alone that they would use English, or send their messages via a video screen, like the latest generation of cable news.”

In “2010,” a Soviet-US mission is sent to find out what happened to the Discovery mission. The U.S. side is headed by Dr. Heywood Floyd (Roy Scheider), the man blamed for the failure of Discovery One–the death of four astronauts and the disappearance of David Bowman.  Discovery Two will not be ready before Discovery One will crash into one of Jupiter’s moons. The Soviet mission will get there first, but cosmonauts need the American astronauts on board their Leonov in order to enter the Discovery One and analyze the sentient computer, HAL 9000. HAL’s creator Dr. R. Chandra (Bob Balaban) joins the Soviet team which includes Tanya Kirbuk (Helen Mirren).

Bowman appears to Floyd, warning him to leave now and return to Earth. As the Soviet-US team returns, they get a last message that tells them not to attempt landing on Europa. Jupiter has 67 known moons. Europa is one of the four Galilean moons. The other three are Ganymede, Io and Callisto. Europa is the smallest of the four, but the sixth biggest moon in our solar system. Despite the high radiation, scientist theorize that Europa is one of the most likely site for hosting life outside of our Earth.

Another science fiction movie, the 2013 “Europa Report,” explored the possibility of life on Europa with a diverse crew and tragic results. No black monoliths, but still humans were definitely not welcome. A few of the scientists on the Juno mission enjoyed that movie and the science behind it. JPL-NASA and the nearby Caltech have become sources (Kip Thorne and “Interstellar”) and resources (“The Martian”) for recent science fiction movies.

According to the experts at JPL-NASA, Jupiter is a “badass” planet. Juno is going to be bombarded with radiation because Jupiter is “the harshest radiation environment known.” Juno’s electronics will be shielded from the radiation by a titanium vault. Juno is the first solar-powered missions and will, if all things go well, provide the first close views of Jupiter’s poles.

Scientists believe that because of its size, Jupiter was the first planet born in our solar system. Its composition makes it like a little sun.  The sun is mostly hydrogen and helium, but Jupiter has a higher concentration of heavier elements. Scientists aren’t sure if the gaseous planet has a solid core. Scientists feel that Juno will help us understand the formation and evolution of Jupiter.

NASA has special freeware that can help you see where Juno is and understand its path with simulated data at Eyes on Juno. The public can participate on this mission by choosing points for the camera, JunoCam, to focus on. You can also download images from JunoCam.


NASA and Apple are celebrating the Juno mission with a short film, “Visions of Harmony” which is available free on iTunes and Apple Music. There’s also a special section, “Destination Jupiter,” on Apple music that has all the music sampled in the film.

Juno is scheduled to insert into Jupiter’s orbit on the evening of July 4. You can watch live coverage of the orbit insertion online at or


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s