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Space Shuttle Lives Forever on Film

As NASA readies last flight, we find 5 movies where the shuttle stars

Space shuttle Endeavour launching

Space shuttle Endeavour lifts off from launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, on May 16, 2011 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. — Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

En español  |  When it comes to the space shuttle, I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time — and more than once.

In 1978 I was a cub reporter in Downey, Calif., where I got to interview then-and-now Gov. Jerry Brown standing next to a full-scale shuttle mock-up at the old Rockwell assembly plant there.

My in-laws, who lived in Downey, happened to be friends with a guy who helped design the explosive bolts that would release the unpowered shuttle Enterprise from its airliner carrier above the California desert, and so on Aug. 12, 1977, I got to cover that first test flight near Bakersfield.

A series of apparent misunderstandings led to me becoming "Space Editor" for National Geographic Magazine during the 1990s. There I got to write about John Glenn's return to space aboard the shuttle in 1998. I spent time with Glenn during his training in Houston and I actually got to sit in the pilot's seat aboard the Johnson Space Center's training shuttle.

Finally, for Glenn's launch, I sat at the water's edge at Cape Canaveral, the closest living being to Launch Pad 39B, and felt the shock wave of the giant engines pound against my chest.

As a film writer, I've always perked up when moviemakers employed the shuttle in their pictures. Aside from starring roles in some truly awe-inspiring IMAX movies, among them Hubble 3D and Space Station 3D, the shuttle has played a supporting character in any number of sci-fi and action fantasies.

Admittedly, many of those films don't merely border on the ridiculous, they cross the border and become naturalized citizens. Still, from the first moments the shuttle's sleek black-and-white lines cruise across the screen, you just have to marvel at its once-in-a-lifetime convergence of science, engineering and beauty.

NASA will launch its final flight Friday, but the shuttle will live in movies forevermore. Here are five in which it shines (even if the rest of the cast does not).

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Your Scoop on Cinema

Movies for Grownups is focused on films with distinct relevance to a 50-plus audience. In reviews, previews and interviews, we look for actors and themes that speak to the experiences of older moviegoers. Find more about us on:


100 Must-See Movies for Grownups

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A treasure trove of delightfully offbeat recommendations for discerning moviegoers, from the beginnings of film right up the present.

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