Spaced out

So the undeserved hubbub over intergalactic summer blockbusters like Armageddon and Deep Impact has, rightfully, burned out faster than a dying comet. In fact, these overblown tripefests of quasi sci-fi and soapy drama have become punching bags for critics everywhere who need a quick illustration on just how obtuse and extravagant Hollywood has grown in recent years. Why pay writers for good stories and interesting dialogue when you can spend that budget on two hours of cosmic shrapnel and heroic, swarthy astronauts?

Despite such insipid films--OK, Deep Impact wasn't awful; neither was Contact; but Lost in Space worse than sucked--our collective interest in the universe outside our little atmosphere is still burning strong. Witness the pervasive coverage of Sen. John Glenn's recent return to space, as well as the millions holding their breath for the opening weekend of The Phantom Menace. Call it naked ambition, call it mankind's pioneering instinct, call it driving curiosity, but we earthlings just can't seem to shake the stars from our eyes. Most of us would cut off our left big toe (at least) for the opportunity to circle the earth in a space shuttle.

This kind of ongoing interest, by the way, is just what NASA needs right about now. The real-deal space center with real-deal astronauts has suffered increasing budget cuts at the hands of a not too interested government, and these engineers and pioneers can use every ounce of public fascination in their astronomical projects. If you've ever been down to Clear Lake, that space-centered, south-of-Houston town mired in The Right Stuff lore, you've seen the rockets. There they jut, huge and phallic, up through the pristine blue sky, or sit dormant across the tarmac--the towering promises of mankind's manifest destiny. If those beacons don't lure you into the waiting arms of the NASA visitor center, then you've missed quite a ride; the running history of our precarious relationship with outer space is the surest testimony that this race possesses brains and a spiritual soul.

For those who haven't visited NASA in Houston, a fresh and non-fiction opportunity hits Dallas April 5 at Richland College: Views From Space: Selected Objects From the NASA Johnson Space Center.

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The exhibit, housed in the college's Lago Vista Gallery, will feature all kinds of genuine NASA paraphernalia: large and detailed Space Shuttle photographs of the earth's surface, objects and castings from lunar landings, a circa-1969 Apollo space suit as worn by our original moon-walkers, a scale model of the Space Shuttle Orbital, and so on. For those of us who feel that driving down to Houston is about as convenient as committing to cosmonaut bootcamp, this in-town attraction makes for a cheap, easy, and informative hour of space-obsessed time.

--Christina Rees

Views Form Space: Selected Objects from the NASA Johnson Space Center is on view in the Lago Vista Gallery at Richland College from April 5 through May 7. 12800 Abrams. Admission is free. For more info, call (972) 238-6339.

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