Entertainment

Grand Valley Alum’s Astronaut Film To Get Outer Space Premiere

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ALLENDALE (WWJ) - A documentary film by a Grand Valley State University alumnus, “I Want To Be An Astronaut,” has been uploaded to the International Space Station’s film library.

Exactly when it will get its orbital premiere is still, so to speak, up in the air. It all depends when the ISS’ tightly scheduled crew can get a little time off to view the 38-minute film.

The film follows the story of Blair Mason, a student at Chantilly High School in Virginia and captain of its FIRST Robotics team, who has wanted to be an astronaut since he was 3 years old.

Filmmaker David J. Ruck grew up in Whitehall and got a bachelor of science in film and a master of science in communications from Grand Valley in 2004 and 2007 respectively. While studying for a master of fine arts degree from American University in Washington, D.C., he got the idea for a film on youth who want to be astronauts for his thesis project.

“I wasn’t interested in the space program, really,” Ruck said. “I saw an interview Bill Maher did on HBO with Neil DeGrasse Tyson, where Maher, who’s not really a huge space fan, was talking to Tyson about NASA efforts and how he didn’t really understand what we’re doing. That became fuel for Tyson to go on, as he usually does, about all things space related and what we gain from that — I think he was talking about the James Webb Space Telescope (successor to the Hubble). He pointed out that we spent more money bailing out the banks than we have in the 50 years of the space program. That got me thinking. I was looking for a thesis film at American University, and a light just went on.”

Ruck said that back during the Apollo heyday, “when you asked kids what they wanted to be, they would say policeman, doctor, astronaut. Do they still say that? If we aren’t funding the space program the way we were, if we were no longer doing the things that were so visible and got kids excited and created a whole generation of scientists and engineers and got people interested in the space program, what are kids saying now? What got in my mind was, do kids still want to be astronauts? That became the basis of my thesis project.”

Originally, Ruck said he wanted to focus on female would-be astronauts, because in the 2012 election season “things were being said about women that I found totally offensive, and I wanted to zero in on women with these career goals.”

But he also knew that NASA was heavily involved in robotic exploration, so he started looking for high schools in his area that had FIRST Robotics teams that might hold would-be future astronauts. At Chantilly High, that’s how he met Blair Mason.

“After I met Blair, it became clear that not only did he want to be an astronaut, he had a whole vision about it,” Ruck said.

It took a while for Mason to warm up enough to Ruck to talk about his astronaut plans. But eventually he did, and the film follows Mason’s progress through high school and his acceptance into the United States Naval Academy, where he’s now a cadet — as well as the political, social and technological issues involved in America’s future in space.

Ruck sent the film’s trailer to Space Station Flight Engineer Rick Mastracchio via Facebook. The astronaut was so intrigued, he asked if it was possible to view the entire film. Working with the Johnson Space Center to facilitate an upload, Ruck was gladly able to meet his request.

The film provides a glimpse into current NASA efforts, in a post­-space-­shuttle era, through interviews with some of those who understand it best, including Charles Bolden, a NASA administrator, and John Glenn, a Mercury 7 astronaut, the first American to orbit the Earth, and a retired U.S. senator.

Ruck said making the film has convinced him that America’s — and the world’s — future depends on a robust space program, both a commercial one and a government one. He said self-sustaining colonies off Earth are a must to ensure the survival of the only known intelligent life in the universe, because “it is a mathematical certainty that a big space rock is going to hit this planet some day, and if it doesn’t wipe out all of civilization, it could wipe out a chunk of it.”

He said he’s encouraged by the re-emergence of student interest in STEM careers, talk of Mars colonies, and Tyson’s new revival of the “Cosmos” science and space TV series.

Ruck currently lives in Bethesda, Md. and is president of Rubangfilms, a small production company that focuses on subjects that involve science, exploration, history and space.

For more information about the film, visit http://www.theastronautfilm.com. View the movie trailer at https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=socKMMtUpi8. More about Ruck’s work at http://www.davidjruck.com.

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