Back in 1969, there was a little something going on called Apollo 12 – the second manned mission to the surface of the moon. Not long after launch, something went wrong: the ship was struck by lightning, scrambling the telemetry being received by instruments. It could easily have led to the entire mission being aborted. A NASA engineer named John Aaron recognized something that nobody else did, and was able to issue an instruction that led to the flight being salvaged. I am no aeronautical engineer so I have no exactly what Aaron did, or how it fixed things, but his quick thinking and cool head led to him being given the nickname of “Steely-Eyed Missile Man” by his colleagues.
Aaron was played, after a fashion, by Loren Dean in the movie Apollo 13, directed by Ron Howard back in 1996. If you’ve seen that movie, he’s the guy who works with Gary Sinise’s Ken Mattingly to figure out the startup procedure for the command module so that it can be fully powered for earth re-entry on what was very limited battery strength. The commentaries I’ve listened to say that Dean’s character (who is possibly referred to as John Arthur – it’s difficult to know for sure) is very loosely based on John Aaron, but it’s clear by his role in the operation that it’s supposed to be the same guy. That movie also uses the phrase “steely-eyed missile man” but this time in relation to the engineer who devises a method to attach Carbon Dioxide filters from the Command Module work with the receptacles in the Lunar Module.
Just a couple of days ago, I heard the phrase again, this time in the new movie The Martian, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon. If you haven’t seen it, you should definitely check it out. It’s been getting very high reviews and was a fully engaging and enjoyable film to experience.
Amusingly, the “Steely-Eyed Missile Man” compliment is in this case given to a character played by Donald Glover, aka Troy from Community. Even more amusingly, Donald Glover is playing a guy who is a bit like Abed from Community – oddly anti-social and awkward, but very perceptive and intelligent, who also reveals himself as a fan of Lord of the Rings. He has a small but pivotal role in the movie as Rich Purnell, who figures out a way to use NASA’s existing resources to save Matt Damon’s Mark Watney, who is stranded on Mars after an accident. Purnell’s plan is actually shot down by the NASA director (Jeff Daniels) as too risky because it puts the other five members of Watney’s crew at greater risk, but fortunately a NASA mission controller played by Sean Bean (who was previously Boromir in Lord of the Rings) leaks Purnell’s plan to the crew and they decide on their own to force the issue to undertake Watney’s rescue. The crew, incidentally, includes characters played by Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, and Michael Pena.
So, to summarize, this movie is about Troy Barnes and Boromir going over the head of that psycho crime-boss from Looper to give instructions to the adult Murph from Interstellar, who is commanding a crew that includes Bucky Barnes, Sue Storm and Ant-Man’s good friend Luis so they can go and rescue Will Hunting (or to put it another way, that astronaut who went crazy after being left alone on that other planet, also in Interstellar.)
Man, it’s a crazy thing that science fiction and geeky super-hero stories have gotten so popular – these guys are everywhere.
You know what? This post was supposed to be a review of The Martian, but it has already taken too many left turns. I’m going to leave it for now and put up a normal commentary on the The Martian tomorrow. Until then…