We're pleased to have with us today the star of the movie, Brad Pitt;
The film's director, James Gray;
And NASA officials Sarah Noble and Lindsay Aitchison.
We're looking forward to their firsthand insights about space exploration and the power of storytelling.
As the 50th anniversary of the moon landing this summer reminded us, space still captivates the public imagination. Even as unmanned probes photograph distant corners of our universe, we still feel the natural human longing to explore beyond our known world.
This is why NASA is preparing for the next phase of human space flight, with ambitious plans to launch sustainable missions to the moon within the next decade. Eventually, they intend to send astronauts to Mars.
For those of us to remain earthbound, films like Ad Astra can help us share in the thrill of these experiences. The movie follows an astronaut's journey into deep space, including stops on the moon and Mars, and shows what early colonization of our solar system might look like. It's among the most realistic depictions of space travel ever committed to film.
Today's speakers will talk about the movie's parallels with this exciting moment in the development of space travel and the role of storytelling in inspiring continued scientific exploration and discovery.
As we get started, let's take a look at a few scenes from Ad Astra.
Ad Astra: Pushing Boundaries in Space and Filmmaking
MS. HORNADAY: Good evening, and thanks again for joining us for this exciting discussion about Ad Astra and space exploration.
I feel confident that you all know our guest to our immediate left, Brad Pitt.
MS. HORNADAY: As well as Ad Astra writer and director, James Gray.
MS. HORNADAY: And please give a special welcome to two NASA officials: Lindsay Aitchison, a space suit engineer;
MS. HORNADAY: And Dr. Sarah Noble, a lunar scientist.
MS. HORNADAY: Thank you both so much for being here.
Before we get started, I wanted to remind the audience in the room and also watching on the livestream that you can tweet your questions for Brad, James, Lindsay, and Sarah, using #PostLive, and I will get to some of those later in the discussion.
James, you have said that you approached this movie, Ad Astra, with the intention of creating the most realistic depiction of space travel that's been put into a movie. You've even coined the term "science future fact" to describe it.
Can you talk a little bit about how you set out to accomplish that and what the aesthetic and conceptual framework was for it?
MR. GRAY: You know, a lot of times when you start working on a project, you say unbelievably dumb things, and things that you can't actually ever--here's what I would say: I would say the word I used was wrong: not "realistic." I would say "plausible."
And what you find is that sometimes you cannot do what is realistic. Or even when you do something that is realistic, it looks fake, because movie believability is a whole other thing.
So, what I would say, as a longwinded way to answer your question, would be that we tried as best we could to adhere to the science as best as we could and veer from it when we had to. And that was kind the governing idea. And a lot of times we looked 50 years in the past to try and see what the development was for 50 years, maybe, in the future. That was kind of the governing principle to it, really.
MS. HORNADAY: How deep into the weeds did you get with research? I mean--
MR. GRAY: I got very deep. I mean, I got--my wife will tell you, you know, I'm hiding in the--you know, hiding in the corner of the house, sitting around with 1960s transcripts.
Well, I mean, you can go down--it's almost a bit of a wormhole, in a way, because the movie has to dictate what it needs. And you can sit there and, like I said, you can study Buzz Aldrin's orbital mechanics dissertation, but in the end, you have to know it so you can forget about it; do you know what I mean?
MS. HORNADAY: Right, right. And what--Brad--
MR. GRAY: What does that mean? He's shaking his head. What does that mean? MR. PITT: You have to know. I don't have to know.
MS. HORNADAY: That's what I was going to ask. That's exactly what I was going to ask.
I remember when I interviewed Steven Spielberg about Minority Report. He said he did all this research and he consulted all these futurists, and then he threw it away.
MR. GRAY: Yeah.
MS. HORNADAY: --because it was really about something--you know, it wasn't about the effects. And I wanted to--you know, can research almost get in the way of a performance like this for you?
MR. PITT: Well, I mean, fortunately, it's not--it's not my responsibility. I mean, my man here, our DP, Hoyte van Hoytema, production designer.
But we would talk about, like, what James was going after. He always talked about the banality of travel, that, you know, we have this idea it's going to be super sleek and sexy and streamlined.
But really, I mean, you look from stagecoach to flying today and the economics that will define what it's going to be in the future, it's probably going to be a little uncomfortable and you're going to have to be waiting to get your baggage, and so on and so forth.
And the other--the thing that I really liked is that they had talked about, you know, the design would be based upon function, purely function. And certainly, when you get to see images of the space station today, that's it.
MS. HORNADAY: Right, right. I was fascinated that you didn't--that you--it seemed like you avoided using green screen and CG--
MR. GRAY: To his detriment. To his detriment.
MS. HORNADAY: Tell me more.
MR. GRAY: Well, because, you know, you have Brad Pitt hanging 30 feet in the air from wires. It's a little bit crazy.
And by the way, he was a troop--he's not here, we're just talking about him.
MR. GRAY: No, you were a huge trooper, actually. And he never complained. But we built the set horizontally and we built the same set vertically, and you do the closeups horizontally and then, on the horizontal set. And then, two weeks later, you know, you'd have Brad hanging from wires looking up, and you'd say, "Okay, Brad, when you stop swaying, we're going to go, okay?"
"All right, buddy."
"Okay. And action. Oh, you're swaying a little bit, Brad."
"Oh, okay, James, my core's hurting a little bit. Got a good port"--
MR. GRAY: So, you know, you get three, four takes and five shots a day or whatever. And if we had green screen, maybe I wouldn't have had to put this poor fellow 50 feet in the air.
MR. PITT: Yes, but--
MS. HORNADAY: But would you have done it if it had--I mean, it seems like that's something you enjoy doing.
MR. PITT: Yeah.
MR. GRAY: Nobody enjoys it. Really? Did you enjoy that?
MR. PITT: A little bit.
MR. GRAY: I didn't think anybody enjoyed that.
MR. PITT: Well, you got to suffer a little bit. But the--but this was also by design, and this is what I signed onto. I thought it was really brilliant on, again, James and Hoytema's vision of the thing.
And that is, they tried to rely on--okay, we had--we're going to need CG. We're going out to Neptune, for Christ's sake. We're going to have to rely on some CG. But these guys tried to work in as much analog effects, meaning things that they could capture in the lens, real, like, flares or things we're accustomed to in nature and in life.
And so, when you look at something CG, you can kind of feel there is a patina of--it's been colored. And by bringing in natural, optical effects, it's more believable to us, the audience, subliminal--subliminally.
Someone say that word for me.
MR. GRAY: I think you did it.
MR. PITT: And I thought this was really smart. It's something that we would have a more visceral experience as an audience and not really be aware of it. I thought that was really pretty brilliant.
MR. GRAY: There is one other practical reason why we did it.
MR. PITT: It's cheaper.
MR. GRAY: No, act--
MR. GRAY: Actors need and should need a set with which they can interact. Actors are very sensory creatures. And to put an actor in a green box, you know, that doesn't help. So, it was really also for performance. It was.
MR. PITT: We were still in garage, so...
MR. GRAY: Let's say "by degrees," then.
MS. HORNADAY: You know, one of the things I love about this movie, and there are many things I love about this movie--and just for the record, I have filed my review. So, you know, this--you know, I'm immune to any charm offensive that occur.
MS. HORNADAY: Full disclosure, but I really did enjoy this movie.
MS. HORNADAY: And one of the things I loved is how it is a part of this living continuum of space movies--and not just space movies. I mean, there's some Apocalypse--there's a lot of Apocalypse.
MR. GRAY: A lot of Apocalypse, a lot.
But that's because--that's because--can I--pretend--I'm going to be pretentious as hell for about the next 30 seconds.
MS. HORNADAY: Oh, please, that's why we're here.
MR. GRAY: Okay, so--"why we're here"? Oh, God.
MS. HORNADAY: We wouldn’t have it any other way.
MR. GRAY: My cowriter, Ethan Gross and I, when we started on this, which was, you know, in--you know, 1783. No, we started in 2011, and we thought we would try to--we were going to do a mythic story in outer space, and then we said, "Okay, let's do the Odyssey from Telemachus' point of view." Right, Odysseus goes away for 20 years and Telemachus is--so, of course, it ends very differently in the film, now, and it changes and all that. But the idea was, originally, a very mythic story.
And for that, you then all of a sudden--we started reading a lot of Joseph Campbell, you know, Hero with a Thousand Faces, and all that. So, then, you get to Apocalypse Now because you realize that John Milius and Francis Ford Coppola were trying to do a Campbellian myth.
In fact, it was so much so--you know, we know that George Lucas is obsessed with Campbell--the Star Wars movies were.
And you know who the original director of Apocalypse Now was? It was George Lucas. He was supposed to go off and do it in 60 millimeter in Vietnam during the war. Not a practical idea.
But they were all into that, and so it became a rip-off, in a way, of Joseph Campbell, but that--it's all part of the same stew. And so, it does steal from Apocalypse Now, inspired by, whatever euphemism you want to use, but everybody steals from everything. And it was very much our idea to be in this continuum, as you put it.
MR. PITT: I have to jump in again, if I may.
MS. HORNADAY: Please.
MR. PITT: What--another intriguing idea--I mean, there's been a lot of sci-fi films, and done really, really well. And you hope to add something different or in addition to the genre, instead of repeating.
When James--another thing he hooked me with when he first started talking about this was he called on a quote that was attributed to Arthur Clarke, which said--and I'm going to get wrong--
MR. GRAY: Right.
MR. PITT: --so you can correct me. Basically, he said, "We're either not alone in the universe or we are completely and utterly alone; and either idea is equally frightening."
And it--I can't think of any other film where actually--we're usually dealing with either benevolent aliens who are going to impart some wisdom or some are going to destroy us and we have to stand up and fight. But this idea, this question of what if we are actually alone, at least in the reachable universe, through our lifetimes, what does that mean? And are we missing something between us? Yeah.
MR. GRAY: That's true. No, that is true. We did try--we were trying to find new ground, territory. You know, we were. I mean, we can talk about Apocalypse now or Kubrick or whatever, but that is certainly--the governing principle was, okay, we're going to make the first movie that might pose that question.
Because to Brad's point, benevolent aliens or bad aliens, it's still an idea--in a sense false gods, right?
Kubrick beats the trap brilliantly. He's got these astronauts, they find a black slab on the moon that looks like some '60s minimalist structure.
And you can project anything you want on it. Oh, it's good aliens, bad--I do not know what they are. It's just a black monolith floating around.
E.T. beats the trap, because he pitches it like a fable. So, it's--I don't think you watch E.T. wanting a disquisition on alien life. You know, it's--really, what it is it's a lonely kid and dealing with a divorce. That's really what it is, a metaphor.
MS. HORNADAY: Exactly.
MR. GRAY: So, we thought, no false gods. No one's going to save us. No little green man is going to help us out of climate change or anything like that. No bad alien is going to come and unify the whole planet and make us realize we're the same. Not coming, not happening. What does that mean?
MS. HORNADAY: That thought sets up--I'd like to play a clip and talk a little bit about the extent to which Ad Astra is anticipatory.
Your vision, and I think it's part and parcel to what you just said, it's kind of this unsentimental vision of the future.
And then, I'd like to bring in our NASA experts to talk about this, but let's play a clip that gives us a glimpse of what the base on the moon might look like in the future.
Let's take a look at that.
MS. HORNADAY: It's a really cool scene.
MR. GRAY: Can I--can I defend us for one second?
MS. HORNADAY: Please.
MR. GRAY: It's very clear that there's no sound in space. And that little clip, it doesn't really allow you to understand that, but we did it here, to the no sound in space thing, don't worry. I just want to put this out.
MS. HORNADAY: Well, and I wanted to get to that--I'm going to get to that a little later, about, like, do these movies drive you crazy, but we'll get to that in a minute.
But this scene is a great scene, and the whole trip when Brad's character flies to the moon, he flies commercial. It's just this fabulous, fabulous scene.
And you are--there are lots of ideas flying around: One is the commercialization of space; one is the militarization of space; one is the kind of Wild West notion that you get at the end.
But Lindsay, I wanted to ask you, where is NASA right now in terms of lunar ambitions? And if you'd like to tell us about Project Artemis, I know we'd love to hear about it.
MS. AITCHISON: Yeah, excellent.
So, Artemis is our new program. It's going to bring the first woman and the next man back to the surface of the moon by 2024. And it's really part of a broader exploration plan that we have.
We're not just going to the moon; we're going to the moon for a purpose. And that's to learn what it's like to live off the Earth and what technologies we need and figure out a few more questions we have about human physiology before we move on to Mars.
Because we want to keep going. We don't just want to just stay here. We want to open up the commercial space, let other people come enjoy the moon. And we're going to go off and keep exploring.
MS. HORNADAY: So, why--and is this because you think we're going to need to colonize these areas at some point or that people will actively want to?
MS. AITCHISON: There are a lot of reasons for us to go back to the moon. There are opportunities--if you look at the soil and some of the mineralogy--and Sarah can definitely talk more about that than I can. But there are things that we can do there to open up commercial space. And it's just about spurring the economy, it's about getting people interested in math and science and to make sure we're the leaders of that area.
MS. HORNADAY: Interesting.
And Sarah, can you talk a little bit about the scenario of it all?
DR. NOBLE: Yeah, sure. We like to talk about now--now, we're not just going back to the moon, but we're actually going forward to the moon.
We've spent the last couple of decades learning about the moon and we now have a very different concept of it than we had during the Apollo era. We know a lot more. We know where to go to get the answers we need to move forward in lunar science.
And one of the reasons we're going to the South Pole is because there is a lot of exciting new science we can do there. We think there are a lot of resources there, particularly water, that we can use not only as a resource for our astronauts to use, but to learn about the moon, too, and to understand how the moon has evolved over the last few billion years.
MS. HORNADAY: So--
MR. PITT: Can I ask you a couple of questions?
MS. HORNADAY: Please, please, yes.
MR. PITT: Well, I heard--I just heard a couple of things that I thought were really interesting: one--one, that we would have to take--if we were going to make a trip to Mars, we would have to take off from the moon because of the lack of gravity.
DR. NOBLE: So, it's helpful. The gravity well from Earth is a lot. So, if you do leave from the moon or from near-Earth space, you have a lot less gravity to overcome. So, it does save us a lot on fuel, which is the big cost of lifting things off.
MR. PITT: And one more?
MS. HORNADAY: Please. This is why we convene you all.
MR. PITT: And that there--they believe there is water on the moon on the South--at the South Pole?
DR. NOBLE: Yes, at both poles.
MR. PITT: And that they would use--one of the things they would use this is to make hydrogen, which is a fuel source?
DR. NOBLE: Yeah, water--H20, right, is made up of hydrogen and oxygen and we can split it apart and use both hydrogen and oxygen as fuel sources, but oxygen also to breath and also good uses for it.
MR. PITT: Okay, I'm done.
MS. HORNADAY: Well, no, please. And I wanted to stipulate that. Please jump in and--
MR. GRAY: We got that right.
MR. PITT: Yeah.
MS. HORNADAY: --ask--you got that right?
MR. PITT: You did.
MR. GRAY: We did--actually, we got it wrong, but we got it right.
Well, the one-sixth gravity thing, we got right that they'd have to--deep space rockets launching from the--from the moon.
But I hear now the plan is changed. The Gateway is itself going to be the craft that's going to go to the--to Mars.
MS. AITCHISON: It's one of our options. So, Gateway is kind of like a very small space station that will be orbiting around the moon. And so, we're going to use that as a point, because it's very easy to get to that orbit, but it also allows you to go anywhere you want on the lunar surface from there.
And once we have that, it's going to be a great analog for a Mars transfer vehicle, if you wanted to use that going forward.
MR. GRAY: Right.
MS. HORNADAY: But again, like, so these expeditions, I think one of the ideas that Ad Astra engages so beautifully, is that, you know, there is this impulse to explore and to always go further, but basically we're taking--what if we export the same problems we haven't solved here, you know?
I mean, is that--I know this is a philosophical question, but does that--is that a conversation you ever have, like, maybe we shouldn't be doing this until we actually solve some of our human, tribal issues here on Earth.
DR. NOBLE: I mean, I think then you're just admitting defeat and we're never going to go anywhere, right?
But you know, opportunities to develop new technology and whatever can often help the problems we have here on Earth. Many of the technologies that we've done at NASA have been spun off to actually do helpful things here on Earth and to solve some of those difficult problems.
MS. HORNADAY: Can you talk a little--is it possible for you to put in layman's terms the other scientific--the scientific discoveries or experiments that excite you personally that can only be done on the moon?
DR. NOBLE: Sure. Let's see--you know, when we went on Apollo, we mostly landed all on the same part of the near side of the moon. So, now, we're going to go to a totally different part of the moon. And so, that's an opportunity to see, like, new and different kinds of soils and things--
MS. HORNADAY: Right. So, you'll be seeing completely different resources, different natural--
DR. NOBLE: The--a lot of--yes, yeah, exactly. And it also gives us, again, a more global perspective.
And with the Gateway, we can actually land in other places. So, in addition to the humans, we actually will have robotic landers going to many different places on the moon.
And because we have all this great orbital data--I mean, we know exactly where to go to get these different answers. We know that there are minerals that we didn't sample during Apollo, because they're only in specific places.
We want to put a seismic network down, and that's going to call--require several different landers so that we can, you know, get multiple seismic stations to coordinate together, right?
So, there's lots of good reasons to go to all sorts of different places.
MS. HORNADAY: Right.
How do you feel, James? I mean, I think there's enough questioning kind of embedded into this film. I mean, do you have--are you a space exploration fan? I mean, do you--
MR. GRAY: Yeah, I am. And I don't know if the movie actually would indicate that, would it? No, I'm a huge fan.
MS. HORNADAY: It raises good questions.
MR. GRAY: No, but here's what I would say: I would say I'm a huge fan of--I mean, I had a little picture of Neal Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins on my wall as a kid. It was tremendously aspirational. It really is--was.
And I'm hugely in favor of it. Here's what I would say: When--I guess it was Pete Conrad and Alan Bean. It would have been Apollo 12, I guess, in November. I think it was November in '69, Armstrong did a talk show appearance, which he didn't do much of, and somebody said to him, "Well, what's it going to be like in the year 2001?"
And he said, "Well, we're going to have lunar bases and we're going to be traveling every two weeks and"--he was completely wrong as a prediction, but he was not wrong on the technology. The national will started to slip.
And I just feel like part of the issue was we were trying to just beat the Russians. And once that happened, the kind of national will got drained a bit. Like, "Okay, we did the moon. We did that. Fine, move on."
And I feel like if you go and explore for pure science or basic science, pure research reasons, that's actually great. If you're going to beat the Russians or some military payload garbage, I have no interest in it.
And the reason I think I'm right is because you see the progress we made was extraordinary and once the Russians couldn't do it, that was--it was over.
I don't know, these guys would have more interesting things to say about it than I would, but my own view is, if the motive is right, it's fantastic.
MS. HORNADAY: But now, I think we're going to--it seems like we're tipping more into a commercial motive than any--you know, that's now starting to kind of overtake the nationalistic or patriotic one.
Is that--I mean, we don't--I'm not even aware of all the different commercial companies from around the world that are vying to get a piece of the action, as it were.
Is it a hot area now?
DR. NOBLE: It is. The moon is pretty hot, both internationally and commercially, right? It's the--
MS. HORNADAY: You heard it here first, folks.
DR. NOBLE: Everyone wants to go, right? There are a number of other nations that are seeking to join us in our adventure to the moon.
And we're working with a lot of commercial companies. I was talking about landing on other places on the moon right now. We have a program where--where commercial companies, a lot of them were former Google Lunar X Prize competition members, right, who have built landers and we're going to use them to deliver stuff to the moon for us, right? It's like, you know, FedEx or DHL, right? They're going to take our packages on their commercial landers to wherever on the moon they want to send them.
MR. PITT: When they start selling advertising space, then we call it quits.
MR. GRAY: I want to ask something. Do you guys--this may be an obnoxious question, but do you guys get, like, irritated by all the commercial companies or are you like, "Bring them on in," or is it like, "No, Elon, come on. Sit down with us. You know, have some dinner."
I mean, how does that work? Because I feel like there is a mix of motives. I mean, it's a weird thing. You guys are much more pure science, aren't you?
DR. NOBLE: Sure, but if they help us do the science...
MS. AITCHISON: As an engineer, I get excited when they have innovative ideas. I don't actually care where they come from, and it's really a great community that we built up, working with each other to move forward faster.
MR. GRAY: Right.
MS. AITCHISON: And so, from that perspective, I think it's great. And Elon's gotten people really exciting. People glue themselves to a computer screen to watch rockets. That hasn't happened since the Apollo program, right?
MR. GRAY: Absolutely.
MS. AITCHISON: So, I'm really excited to have the commercial entities come in and help us do this. We're working together and I think that's great.
MS. HORNADAY: But can you foresee, to your point, you know, if agreements are not hashed out down here on Earth, it could turn into a Wild West. I mean, you can see where people--you know, like, if they haven't figured some stuff out by the time they get there, will it--could it turn into more of a dystopian situation?
MR. GRAY: The number of treaties that European-Americans adhered to that they made with the indigenous people of the Americas is somewhere over 400--the number that they made. The number they adhered to is zero.
So, I find it hard to believe that we would make some space treaties, which I guess we--there are some, aren't there? Who's going to govern that? I--really? Are we going to be evolved that much? I don't know, maybe I'm just being cynical, but it seems like that's an inevitability to some degree, isn't it?
I mean, nobody knows--Helium-3--they know, like, obviously, way more than we do about this, but Helium-3, we don't know what the practical commercial implications of that are. It's apparently plentiful on the moon. So, what if there is a commercial implication to that, that all of a sudden you're going to have certain territories of the moon that have it more than others. Meanwhile, some countries have control of more Helium-3 than others, and what is that going to mean?
MS. HORNADAY: Are these discussions that happen at NASA?
DR. NOBLE: They do among the lawyers.
DR. NOBLE: Not so much among the scientists.
MS. HORNADAY: Well, thank God for that.
I remember reading along the way that you did research, like, will guns fire--can you fire a gun on the moon, right?
MR. GRAY: We did. And if you fire a gun--these guys can tell you more about it than I could, but the bullet--if you stood in the same place and fired a gun, the bullet would travel all around the moon's orbit and come back and kill you. That's true.
MS. HORNADAY: Is that a little cheat? I mean, did you decide to--okay.
MR. GRAY: No, it's not. It's not a cheat, because we researched something called "stilettos," which the--DARPA, which is the defend--the research--they're basically molten lead that they'd be shooting. So, we tried to steal from DARPA their idea of lunar weaponry, because they have been doing research on that stuff--
MS. HORNADAY: Okay, all right.
MR. GRAY: --which is disturbing.
MS. HORNADAY: There is--I'm not sure if it was in that clip, there's a moment where--it's a beautiful shot of Roy McBride, Brad's character, putting his glove up and having that moon dust sift through the fingers.
Which one of you brought the moon--who brought the space glove? We need to see this. This is an amazing...
MS. AITCHISON: So, this is what our space suit gloves look like. You know, they can tell they're kind of bulky, but that's because, as you mentioned before, space suits, they have to have function before form, really.
So, you guys can touch that if you've never seen one of these guys before.
MR. GRAY: I have, indeed. They're insane.
MS. HORNADAY: Does that look familiar?
MR. GRAY: Look how heavy the damn thing is. It's--wow.
MS. AITCHISON: It's partly because it's the different layers. So, when you think about a space suit, the first thing you have to do is you have to keep an atmosphere around your body. And so, that's what the bladder does; it holds all the air inside the space suit so you have something to breathe and keep pressure on your skin, all good things.
MR. PITT: How does it seal?
MS. AITCHISON: So, there's a bearing that goes into the bolt-hold pattern here, and then that connects to the lower arm of your space suit. And so, it swivels around so you can move your wrist.
And then, on top of that, you have what we call the restraint layer. And so, this is the part that keeps the shape of your glove and has all the mobility. You can see the rings down here that allow your wrist to rotate, on the top part of your wrist, and then back and forth.
And then, each of the fingers are sizable so everybody has a custom glove.
MS. HORNADAY: So, these are all in that, right?
MS. AITCHISON: Yup.
MS. HORNADAY: All these layers.
MS. AITCHISON: These two go on the bottom, and then you put your protective layer on the outside.
So, this is the thing that protects from all that sharp lunar dust, as well as the temperature extremes when you're outside. So, it has all your thermal insulation. So, it's kind of like an oven mitt, I guess, a very sophisticated one.
MR. GRAY: May I ask some quest--so, I--
MS. HORNADAY: No thanks.
MR. GRAY: Obviously, the Apollo missions--
MR. GRAY: The Apollo missions, they all look like--you know, they're sort of Michelin men kind of outfits, right?
We tried to project some measure of miniaturization or at least less sort of bulky. Have you made a lot of progress in that way or do they still look kind of like hugely inflate--I mean, I--
MS. AITCHISON: I think they look very svelte, personally.
MR. GRAY: "Svelte."
MS. AITCHISON: So, when we look at those suits, a lot of what it is, is we've learned about how to design the suits to make them more mobile.
MR. GRAY: Right.
MS. AITCHISON: And so, as opposed to having the cables and pulleys that you have underneath all the white stuff on the Apollo suits, we actually have hard elements that make it a--easy to move all of your joints. So, it is very graceful. You can kneel down instead of fall down to pick up a rock, things like that.
MR. GRAY: Right.
MS. AITCHISON: So, they still look--look big.
MR. GRAY: Right.
MS. AITCHISON: But they're actually much smaller and much easier to move than anywhere in Apollo.
MR. GRAY: Wasn't there that thing where Charlie Duke kind of did like a dip or something and almost tore his suit?
MS. AITCHISON: I don't know about tearing the suit, but--
MR. GRAY: He got really scared about that. It was something like they were really--Charlie Duke was one of the Apollo astronauts. He said, "I clearly don't get out very much," but he apparently did some dip and he was--I read somewhere he was worried about--are these--is this a different material than the Apollo mission?
MS. AITCHISON: Yeah.
MR. GRAY: What's the difference? What is this?
MS. AITCHISON: So, this is what we call ortho fabric and in the prior Apollo suits it was a beta cloth. And so, this is much more durable just based on the blend of materials that actually go into the fabric. So, it's a lot more cut resistant than you would find on the old Apollo suits.
And so, the Apollo suits, yeah, the outer layers, they definitely wore through those and they gummed up all the bearings and it was hard to move the wrist. These are things that we've learned from that program.
And so, when you look at our next generation of space suits, we're not going to have those problems, hopefully.
MS. HORNADAY: Right, you're constantly--and I would imagine you're getting feedback from the astronauts, themselves: what worked, what didn't, what could be more comfortable, "I'd like to be able to kneel to pick up the moon rock and not fall."
DR. NOBLE: Yeah, that's the great thing about exploration: It's not defined. You can't just say, "I know I'm going to go outside. I'm going to pick up seven rocks and this is exactly the way I want to pick them up every time." So, it's not designing a machine in that sense. It's still designing a garment. And so, we have to think about that.
And doing a lot of stuff that you would see in movies with, like, green screens, where you have the little icons and some of the dots all over your joints where they make video games. We do the same thing, is to learn how people move and learn their movement patterns to design our space suits around that.
MS. HORNADAY: Fascinating. Do you all get ideas from the movies?
MS. AITCHISON: I think our team is all inspired by different things.
MR. GRAY: That means no.
MR. PITT: Yeah, that means no.
MS. HORNADAY: Well put, Lindsay Aitchison, well played.
MS. AITCHISON: I don't know, there are certainly things that I've seen and like, "Oh, dude, wouldn’t that be awesome to have," but I mean, more things like do you remember that dress that was on the VMAs where she had the text messages that were scrolling along her skirt? Obviously, we don't need that, but it would be kind of cool just to have that embedded into the fabric of your space suit, where you could look down and see messages from the guys somewhere else along the lunar surface. You can text each other back just on your space suit fabric. I think that would be awesome.
MS. HORNADAY: Well, I'll tell you something, Brad's character has a really cool little--I don't know what--do you have a name for that, the communicate--the thing that he puts on his neck to communicate?
MR. GRAY: Oh, yeah, I'm not going to talk about that.
MR. PITT: A sticker.
MS. HORNADAY: Is that proprietary. A sticker?
MR. GRAY: Well, there's a whole other story behind the person who invented that who got caught up in the college admissions scandal thing.
MS. HORNADAY: Oh, lord. Well, that--
MR. GRAY: Whose name is now on the product and--anyway, but yeah, that's a biorhythm thing. It's a real thing, a biorhythm thing that you put on your neck. It's, you know, for--
MS. HORNADAY: So, that's not future; that's actual practical--
MR. GRAY: Well, it's sort of near future, you know?
MS. HORNADAY: Gotcha, gotcha.
MR. GRAY: It's close to fact.
MS. HORNADAY: Gotcha.
But to my earlier question, are you able to watch these movies and not--and either not compulsively fact check them or--I mean, do you enjoy these science fiction speculative films?
DR. NOBLE: I mean, yeah, you got to kind of turn that part of your brain a little. But yeah, and then we enjoy going to lunch the next morning and, like, discussing all of the things they got wrong with our colleagues.
MS. HORNADAY: We call that Degrasse-ing, but--
MR. PITT: Okay, what did we get wrong?
MR. GRAY: I've already gotten the emails, don't worry.
MR. PITT: You have?
MR. GRAY: I--we--there's an astronaut named Garrett Reisman, who's a terrific guy. You know Garrett Reisman? He's a great guy and I made him dinner many times and tried to get everything right. And he saw the movie a couple nights ago and I got, like, a two billion-word email.
MR. GRAY: You know, very complimentary for the most part, but, you know--"But here's what you got wrong." And I just--oh, God, you know, it hurts. But you read it and you go, "Yeah, you're right. Okay, I got it wrong."
MS. HORNADAY: And thank you for writing.
MS. HORNADAY: I'd like to turn to the central performance of this film from Brad Pitt. It's an amazing performance, and it's number two of the year, I might add, after Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which was absolutely fantastic.
But this was a really restrained, subtle--it's just a magnificent exercise in screen acting, especially through the eyes. It's--you know, because of the space suit and the visor and there are so many sequences where you're asked to do so much just physical expression.
I'd like to show a clip. This scene sets up the hero's journey and shows a particularly powerful and subtle performance of yours.
Let's take a look at this.
MR. GRAY: They sort of re-edited our scene, there.
MS. HORNADAY: Yes.
MR. GRAY: We sit and we watch and go, "Did we make a mistake, there?"
MS. HORNADAY: Do you watch yourself? I mean, do you watch your movies?
MR. PITT: Not after they're out, but during--it depends if I'm on the producing side, as well.
MS. HORNADAY: Yeah, which he was, in this case.
MR. PITT: And then, I'm more involved in the editing process. Yeah.
MS. HORNADAY: Tell me--we talked earlier about your collaboration and just how much of this character, how much of this emotional journey came out of your discussions.
The fact that you're at a certain time in both your lives where the emotional journey, the journey to connection, the kind of letting go of certain things is very resonate. Could you talk a little bit about that?
MR. GRAY: I--we could.
MR. PITT: Did you see that handoff?
MR. GRAY: I don't know if I would make any sense about it. I would only say that--you know, there was this--it's a very good book and he knew how to write a sentence or two, Kurt Vonnegut wrote this book called Sirens of Titan, I think, in 1957. So, he was pretty prescient.
He basically said, "Man"--the book begins, "Man flung himself like a stone into space, looking ever outward, ever outward, and what he found was low comedy and pointless death, and what he learned was the true terra incognito was the landscape of the human soul."
Now, it's not an anti-exploration jeremiad or something because it was written before--I mean, I think before even Sputnik. But the point being that the movie that we tried to make, and did make, I think, is really about our emotional lives, our interior, because you can look as far out as you want, and you should. But in the end, we can't really comprehend the infinite, endless void.
And what we have--I mean, as corny as it sounds--is we have our interaction with each other and with the planet.
And it was interesting, I served on--I was on a panel just a couple days ago with some people from NASA. And this woman, this remarkable woman who is an astronaut who hopefully will be one of the first to the moon in 2024, she said something really great.
She said--without prompting, she said--someone said, "Well, why spend all this money on trips to the moon. I mean, we can spend it here on Earth."
And she said, "Because part of it reminds us how special the Earth actually is."
And that's kind of what we were after, in a sense, was you have to look so far out that way to recognize that our interiority is really what really needs examining. I hope this makes some sense.
MS. HORNADAY: It does and it kind of tracks with a pers--a human journey, just, you know, anybody's journey of attaining emotional maturity, I would imagine.
Did you call on your own life to kind of...
MR. PITT: Oh, you have to. Even in comedies, you have to--it has to be personal in some way.
But I mean, James and I--you see, James is very forthcoming. We've been friends since the '90s and have always had really open conversations about our humiliations and our embarrassments and just where we got it wrong.
We've always kind of talked on this level, and it became the guiding, I think, principle for the shape of the scenes. But I didn't know it as much when we were doing it, but I look back now and I see--you know, we were talking about ideas of masculinity. We talked a lot about our own feelings of loss or loneliness or regrets, these things we all carry and do a very good job of hiding, even from ourselves the most, at least our version of men. But I think it's true for all of us to some degree, and that what was it--I'm starting to babble, now, because I don't completely, fully understand it, but this idea to--our character has to go to the--to the loneliest place in the solar system to be confronted with himself and have to deal with these things and to--if he has any hopes of coming back with a real sense of peace, meaning for his life. What's the--it feels to me that's the universal challenge.
MS. HORNADAY: You know, I--maybe James--it's weird to ask an actor like, "How did you do that?"
But another--I think another layer of this film that blew me away is your vocal performance. There's some narration to it, another Apocalypse Now. I mean, I think I thought of Martin Sheen's voice throughout Apocalypse Now. It's a beautiful, beautiful vocal performance on your part.
And I was just wondering--I mean, this seems to be calling on different aspects of your gifts that we really haven't seen before or that we don't maybe think of when we think of Brad Pitt, movie star. This is a very interior, restrained, expressive--am I on any kind of right track?
MR. PITT: No, you are--I mean, to--
MR. GRAY: It's all part of the intent. I mean, the Apocalypse Now voiceover thing, I will say it was originally--in screenplay form, anyway, he was doing these psychological evaluations which are still in the movie, but that they were--almost be overlapped so it would be, like, voiceover from the psychological evaluations. And took on much more of a poetic feel, ultimately.
The psychol--the Apocalypse Now stuff is very much a reminiscence.
The way that that's conceived is that, you know, "And when that mission was over, I'd never want another." In other words, it's him looking back on this mission in the past, which is a very intelligent thing they did because it implies the hero's return.
But we did something a little different here. There--actually, some simultaneous interior notions, and that was because, you know, Brad doesn't have other actors a lot of times to play in the scene with, intentionally so. That was the experiment and the risk that we took. But as a result, you needed that interior voice to be able to make the moments as clear as could be.
You're looking bemused, my friend.
MR. PITT: Well, I was thinking about, we got--we ended up--in trying to complete this film, we found ourselves in many dead ends, because we set out to make a movie about connection or the lack of connection, the ability to connect with others. And but yet, the character is always alone, and you need someone else there to portray not being able to connect. It's very difficult to get that across.
MS. HORNADAY: Right.
MR. PITT: So, I'm laughing because we found ourselves in many dead ends that we had to work our way out of to--which is part of the process, isn't it?
MR. GRAY: Well, you know, in Mandarin--
MS. HORNADAY: All problem solving.
MR. GRAY: --"crisis" is the same as "opportunity." I don't know--
MR. PITT: Yeah, no, fair enough.
MR. GRAY: I didn't--I didn't view it as that. I thought it was a great weapon. When the voiceover was recorded, it was really fantastic.
You know, we did it over several sessions and it evolved a bit.
MS. HORNADAY: Did you direct that performance the way you would direct a--
MR. GRAY: Yeah, but I mean, it's not like--I don't give--voiceover is different: You don't give line readings to the actors.
So, in some sense, you--all my job in that place is to make the actor feel comfortable, you know? There's not really much more that I can and should do.
MS. HORNADAY: It's a beautiful--it's a really beautiful performance.
And I do notice we do have some questions coming in, and I don't want to ignore them.
Kimberly on Facebook asks, "Brad, what was one intriguing or interesting thing you learned about science or space exploration during the making of this film?"
MR. PITT: Oh, you have me confused with an actor who does a lot of pre-work.
MR. PITT: I'm kind of the other guy.
MS. HORNADAY: An actor who doesn't prepare.
MR. PITT: Yes, yes, who likes it to happen on the day, to be spontaneous, to be fresh.
No, I'm sorry--
MS. HORNADAY: The bullet thing going around the moon, maybe?
MR. PITT: Well, it was real--well, I just learned that. I didn't know that. I certainly didn't know that. Of course, if I had done some--
MR. GRAY: Why would you have to know that?
MS. HORNADAY: Should have done your research, Brad Pitt.
MR. PITT: No, I leave that to these guys. I didn't--you know, if anything, it just made me more conscious of--I can't look at space the same way. You know, when you're a child, you look up and you draw the shape that's lit, and it's usually a crescent. And as now--I certainly see the orb that is sitting out in this inhospitable abyss. And beyond that is another, and beyond that are other solar systems, and endless, endless stars and it's just unfathomable and powers there that can bend time and crush--I mean, it's just beyond our understanding. And so, the mystery of it all is quite--is indelible and I--it makes me believe in something bigger than us, without being able to define it. I'm okay that we don't know, but it certainly points me to that kind of belief.
And that is probably the most profound effect I had--
MS. HORNADAY: Lovely.
MR. PITT: --working on the film.
MS. HORNADAY: Lovely.
Rachel on Twitter wants to know, "Where and how did you film those moon rover scenes that we saw?" For James, or anyone.
MR. GRAY: Yeah, I'm going to give a very boring answer--
MS. HORNADAY: That's okay.
MR. GRAY: --which I'm very good at.
MR. PITT: Pomona.
MR. GRAY: The Mohave Desert is the answer.
MS. HORNADAY: All great things happen in Pomona.
MR. GRAY: The Mohave Desert.
What--the closeups of Donald and Brad and Sean were done on a stage, you know, up--like this stuff.
And then, the wider was a sort of logistical catastrophe, because we had these lunar rover vehicles that we built, and there was this rig where you would shoot it with an infrared camera, a digital camera, and a film camera at the same time.
And you had stuntmen dressed up in their space suits in 125-degree weather, and you would pray that their air conditioning unit in the suit didn't break, and sometimes it did. And the second unit director is a guy with excellent--second unit director named Dan Bradley who had to deal with some of this, though not all of it. And it's kind of--it's all really planned way in advance.
You know, you storyboard. I--in this case, I did it with a storyboard. I was--each shot, and it's weirdly boring to shoot. Because you'll say to Brad on the stage, you know, "Okay, and now you turn around." And Brad will go, like this, "Cut."
"Okay, take two."
"Cut." You know what I mean? As oppose--and it's funny, because they always give awards to editing action scenes, but editing a scene between two actors in dialogue is much more difficult, because of the way you shoot these scenes is so piecemeal.
And I've always felt that really those scenes are directed before they're shot in a way that is unlike more traditional scenes between two people, which I think is infinitely harder.
MS. HORNADAY: Interesting, fascinating.
We do have a question from Jeremy on Twitter to Dr. Noble: "When do you think the average person will go to the moon," in terms of space tour--in other words, space tourism, when are we going to see that?
DR. NOBLE: I mean, I would love it to happen in my lifetime. I mean, we'll see. With, you know, Artemis--is planning for our first return to the moon in 2024. We plan to have a sustained presence there. We're hoping that our commercial companies--you know, some of those are already talking about space tourism. And so, I'm hoping it will happen soon.
MR. PITT: Isn't there also--they're working on a rover that will launch next year toward--to Mars that would collect samples. And then, they're working on a return of those samples, which would then pave the way for the return of humans?
DR. NOBLE: Very good, yes.
MR. PITT: Thank you.
DR. NOBLE: Mars 2020 rover launching next year.
MS. HORNADAY: You did learn something new in this movie.
MR. GRAY: He does no research. He never reads anything.
DR. NOBLE: And in fact, if you're interested in naming the rover, if you've got kids in school, school-age kids right now, we have a contest open that you can put in, write a little essay, and name the rover.
MR. PITT: There you go.
MS. HORNADAY: Well, unfortunately, that's all the--
MR. PITT: Wait, I have one more question.
MS. HORNADAY: Yes, of course.
MR. PITT: May I? For our experts?
MS. HORNADAY: We're here to learn.
MR. PITT: Seriously, who was more believable, Clooney or Pitt?
MS. HORNADAY: They're hesitate--they're hesitating.
MS. AITCHISON: I haven't seen your film, yet.
MR. GRAY: It's--hands down, it's him.
MS. HORNADAY: All right. That's for a future discussion.
Come back, please, and join us for this discussion of who's better, Clooney or Pitt.
MR. PITT: I know the answer. It was Damon.
MS. HORNADAY: I'd say Bullock, but okay.
That is all the time we have. I'm so sorry.
Thank you, Lindsay, Sarah, James, and Brad so much for joining us today.
Thank you all for being here this afternoon.
MS. HORNADAY: To watch highlight clips from today, find a list of upcoming programs, go to WashingtonPost.com/PostLive. Thank you all. Thank you all. Be well.
[End recorded session]