"The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands."—Psalm 19:1
"Space is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly hugely mindbogglingly big it is."—The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
There's an interesting philosophical duality to the subject of space which is briefly touched upon in the new IMAX documentary Hubble 3D. The universe is so "mindbogglingly" large that many believe it is statistically improbable for Earth to be the only happy accident with life on it. Yet most would also accept that Earth's living conditions (atmosphere, proximity to the sun, etc.) are so improbably specialized, it makes our planet truly blessed. We may be a speck in the universe, but we're a unique, beautifully designed speck.
The Hubble Space Telescope was designed to give us a better understanding of the Earth's cosmic context. After its launch in 1990, however, Hubble quickly became a recurring punchline due to a warped mirror that essentially left it nearsighted. A servicing mission in late 1993 corrected the problem, and after some continued tweaking over the years, many scientists now consider Hubble to be one of the most important inventions in human history. The images it delivers are astoundingly detailed, showing us the wonders of our solar system and beyond. Hubble allows us to explore the universe in ways we've never been able to before—without even leaving the comfort of our own home planet.
Hubble 3D gives us a short history of the orbiting telescope over the last twenty years before primarily focusing on the Atlantis space shuttle's mission in May 2009 to realign and upgrade the satellite one last time. Thanks to IMAX's incredible screen size and sound system, along with state-of-the-art 3D technology, we're treated to some remarkable footage that puts us in the middle of that mission—from the deafening roar of Atlantis' takeoff to the astronauts' daily activities during the shuttle's time in space.
You've probably seen footage of the astronauts' living conditions before, but few films have captured it as casually-yet-vividly as Hubble 3D: the cramped quarters, the food floating before your eyes, and yes, a reference to how the shuttle toilet works. It's also interesting to see how the astronauts train underwater for their highly specialized mechanical repairs. As the movie explains, it's as if they're required to perform brain surgery with oven mitts.
The repairs are a meticulous process, and that's Hubble 3D's only noteworthy drawback. Two-thirds of the film is spent on the shuttle mission, and like any reality show on TV these days, the film tends to oversell the drama, allowing the pacing to become bogged down by minutia. Yes, these are critical details, the astronauts' safety is central to the story, and indeed, it's still all depicted in lifelike 3D. But the movie focuses too much on things like making sure to take out circuit boards without cutting through the space suit, or ensuring forty-something screws are carefully removed one at a time, or stressing over whether or not a mechanical arm will fold back into Hubble's casing.