An Interstellar JPL Probe Goes ‘The Farthest’ ✮✮✮✮✮

Put on some Chuck Berry “Johnny B. Goode” and take a trip back to go forward because it’s time to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the launching of Voyager space probes. How better to understand the cultural and scientific significance than with three movies?

The Voyager spacecrafts were built at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Flintridge-La Cañada. Voyager 2 launched on 20 August 1977 and Voyager 1 on 5 Sept. 1977 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Originally, they were meant to study Jupiter and Saturn, but the probes were so successful, they continued their mission on to Uranus and Neptune.Carrying, the Golden Record, on 25 August 2012, Voyager 1 became the first man-made object to go interstellar, traveling the farthest of anything from this earth.

Emer Reynolds’ “The Farthest” tells us about the beginning, the planning and the launch as well as the cool party where Chuck Berry entertained the lucky few at JPL. Archival footage on grainy film sharply contrast the contemporary interviews with people who have been on this project from the beginning and watched it exceed beyond their wildest dreams.

If you watched or read about the launch, the documentary will update you on what the transmissions told scientists. I was disappointed to learn Carl Sagan disapproved of rock and roll.The plutonium generator “heart” of the spacecraft with eventually give out  and perhaps by 2020 the Voyager will go silent. And yet, we’ll have to wonder if someone will find that Golden Record.

Astronomer Carl Sagan (1934-1996) chaired the committee for the Voyager Golden Record which included 115 images, natural sounds, greetings from 55 modern and ancient languages, printed messages from then-president Jimmy Carter and  U.N. Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim (1918-2007), and a selection of songs such as “Johnny B. Goode.”

At the time, the Golden Record sound track was unavailable, but now, 40 years later, a crowdfunding campaign has made it possible for everyone to own it. (Order at Ozma Records).

The best reviewers of “The Farthest” are, of course, the people who lived through those heady and uncertain first days. All the JPL people I spoke with had nothing but enthusiasm for the movie which was screened in its full form at Caltech at the end of July and is currently playing at the Pasadena Laemmle Playhouse 7.  The PBS edited version  of “The Farthest”  airs on 23 August 2017 and will be available to stream afterward. (Check local listings).

Now that Voyager has hit interstellar, we can imagine that somewhere, sometime, someone or something will find the Voyager and its Golden Record. Two popular movies did: “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” and “Starman.”

The 1979 “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” might not have been a fan favorite, but it did bring together the main cast from the TV series, launching the TV series and delighting crew who worked on the real Voyager.

The movie came out a decade after the TV series was cancelled. Set in the 23rd Century, Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner)  is now an admiral. An alien cloud of energy is approaching Earth and the admiral takes command of the recently modernized Starship USS Enterprise to investigate and stop the alien that calls itself V-Ger.  V-Ger has already destroyed three Klingon Empire warships.

The Enterprise’s captain, Willard Decker (Stephen Collins before his run as the patriarch of “7th Heaven” and his recent disgrace), is disgruntled over Kirk’s intrusion. During the refitting, two officers die in the malfunctioning transport. That leaves an opening for our favorite science officer, Spock (Leonard Nimoy), to return.

Besides dealing with the disappointment of demotion, Decker is unsettled that a former fling, Ilia (Persis Khambatta with a shaved bald head), joins the Enterprise crew (after taking an oath of celibacy). Ilia’s body will be taken over by alien cloud, confronting both Kirk and Decker.

The movie lacked the wit, warmth and humor of the TV series, but it did get DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols and George Takei back on the screen (Majel Barrett and Grace Lee Whitney, too). The dull beige or blue uniforms were not to return for the next installment.

“Star Trek: The Motion Picture” was nominated for three Academy Awards (Best Art Direction, Best Effects and Best Music Original Score), one Golden Globe (Best Original Score) and won a Saturn Award in 2010 for Best DVD Collection and a Best Special Effects Saturn Award in 1980.

“Star Trek: The Motion Picture” is now available to stream on Hulu and Amazon Prime Video.

While V-Ger was supposed to be the imaginary Voyager 6 (there was no Voyager after 2), the 1984 “Starman” imagines that the actual Voyager 2 was found and the Golden Record’s message of peace was used by alien life forms to learn about Earthlings.

The decision by the Golden Record committee not to include anything negative about life on Earth proves to be a problem for the Starman (Jeff Bridges) who comes to investigate. Instead of being greeted by a welcome wagon of scientists, Starman is shot out of the air, crashing into the Chequamegon Bay, Wisconsin.

Using the DNA of a dead man’s lock of hair, he generates himself into a likeness of Jenny Hayden’s husband, Scott. He has seven small silver balls that he can hold in a single hand. He uses the first one to send a message to his mother ship that Earthlings are hostile and arranges a rendezvous point. Then, he forces Jenny (Karen Allen) to take him from Wisconsin to the Barringer Crater in Arizona.

This romantic road trip is a touching reminder that although we extended the invitation, we might not be ready for aliens of the extraterrestrial kind with only a few exceptional people willing to take the risk.

Jeff Bridges was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar as well as a Golden Globe. He won a Best Actor Saturn Award.

“Starman” is available on Netflix and Amazon Video.

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