NASA officials hyped a press conference yesterday about a new discovery via the way they know best: Trot out the Star Wars references.
People connected with the movie and SFX gurus Industrial Light & Magic were on the panel to discuss how the Kepler space telescope had discovered a planet with two suns. Because, you know, the non-scientist's expertise was needed to explain to the media how there was once a science-fiction film with two suns.
It wasn't the first time NASA has played the Star Wars card, and it likely won't be the last. And we just don't mean the photo ops or the tie-ins between the movie franchise and space-museum displays.
Here are five times NASA's played the Star Wars card in press releases:
5. A Saturn moon looks vaguely like the Death Star From a release last year: "Cassini collected the data on Feb. 13, during its closest flyby of the moon, which is marked by an enormous scar called Herschel Crater and resembles the Death Star from Star Wars."
4. We'll even latch onto the prequels A May 1999 press release was predicated entirely on how NASA technology was like that seen in the upcoming masterpiece The Phantom Menace:
Speed checked by radar Who's directing traffic? In the 21st century, the U.S. skies could look a little bit like a scene in "Phantom Menace" where everyone seems to by flying around town. NASA's Advanced General Aviation Technology Experiment is developing the tools that could make it possible.
No Jar-Jar references, however.
3. Sure, we'll take up a lightsaber if it gets us some pub In 2007, the space shuttle Discovery took up the lightsaber prop from Return of the Jedi on a mission because....because....ummm...
Astronaut Jim Reilly, who flew three missions and has conducted eight spacewalks, said there is a symbolic tie between the lightsaber and the real-life work NASA does in space.
"There's a kind of a fine line between science fiction and reality as far as what we do and it's only just time really because a lot of what we're doing right now was science fiction when I was growing up," he said. "I think it's a neat link because it combines two space themes all at one time."
Here's what it looked like, packed:
2. Double promotion The space robot that looks quite human is called Robonaut 2, which can be shortened to....R2!! Imagine!
NASA took the opportunity to trumpet this advance with heavy product placement: The headline on the press release was "Star Wars Meets UPS as Robonaut Packed for Space." Brought to you by Valvoline, it somehow didn't add.
1. Hyperdrive, emphasis on the "hype" How do you get anyone to finish a press-release sentence that begins "Scientists and engineers at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., are developing propulsion technologies" ?
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Easy. Tack on the magic words!
Scientists and engineers at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., are developing propulsion technologies closely akin to the "hyperdrives" of "Star Wars" fame.
Don't forget the scientist quote! "Achieving the level of technology portrayed in 'Star Wars' is quite a challenge. It will require very powerful fission, fusion or antimatter-driven rockets for rapid travel within interplanetary space," George Schmidt, deputy manager of Marshall's Propulsion Research Center, said in the release.
In other words, forget about it unless you want to actually up NASA's budget.