When I was a kid, I inherited my uncle's collection of newspaper clippings about space exploration. I found it both interesting and inspiring to carry on a tradition of tracking the Space Race from the 50s and 60s through modern times. Unfortunately, it rapidly became time consuming as more and more articles were written about the space shuttle and space exploration in general.
Then the rest of real life distracted me. It was too hard to keep investing in something that just wasn't as exciting. Where were the manned space stations the size of cities? The helpful flying robots? The visitation to strange alien planets?
Eventually, I gave up. And that pretty much sums up the state of space exploration today.
It's easy to forget the magic and wonder of the moon landing. 600 million people watched the event around the globe. SIX HUNDRED MILLION. There isn't any televised event in my experience to date that I can compare to that.
Of course, the moon landing was about much more than just flying to the moon. It represented democracy as a viable product of superior technology over communism. It represented the triumph of the human spirit over the daunting physical barriers of the void. And it represented the arrival of science as a force to be reckoned with, achieving something thought impossible. In essence, it was the biggest PR moment in the history of science, and the whole world was watching.
The reason the whole world saw anything besides static is because of a little town known as Parkes, Australia. Located opposite the U.S. on the globe, Parkes is ideally positioned to pick up signals from the moon landing. Surrounded by a sheep paddock, three scientists find themselves tasked with the awesome job of acting as backup to the U.S. broadcasting system.
Thus we have an ideal character study, with four personalities in very cramped conditions under extreme pressure. There's Cliff Buxton (Sam Neil), the sad professor and patriarch of his little group. Cliff lost his wife a year before and is finally learning to let go. We have the fiery-tempered Ross "Mitch" Mitchell (Kevin Harrington), who bristles at American arrogance. Then there's the shy but brilliant Glenn Latham (Tom Long), who has a crush on Janine Kellerman (Eliza Szonert) but doesn't have the courage to ask her out. Finally, there's Al Burnett (Patrick Warburton), the NASA representative and American icon--always in a black suit, with the trademark black-rimmed glasses and disapproving glare.
You wouldn't expect much excitement or action from a huge piece of equipment that moves at a few feet a minute, but The Dish manages to convey just that. It starts out slow, but there's a master plan: the contrast between the titanic machinery of the dish with the rolling countryside, the flat colors with the bright palette of the small town, the sophisticated scientists with the lovable country folk. Throughout, we're reminded that this is science at its best and worst. It's a miracle that anybody really does make it to the moon…and yet we can barely keep one broadcasting station running.
And that's the message of The Dish: When you think about it, the world is a very tiny place in this great big cosmos. If everyone kept that perspective, they might try getting along better.
In these turbulent times, we could all learn something from The Dish.