Dan Rattiner's Stories

Bad Movie Plot: Spaceship Landing on Comet Gets Half a Star

The movies that the world wants to see are made in Hollywood. And there is a reason for it. American screenwriters understand love, tension and the underdog triumphing over great odds. Others do not.

A perfect example of this is the story of the European spacecraft Philae landing on a 2.5-mile diameter comet named 67P-Churyumov-Gerasimenko, or 67P for short.

First thing wrong is the name 67P. If you are going to land something on a comet, choose a comet with a name people can relate to. There are plenty of comets out there. Thor 26 would have been a good name.

Secondly, consider the trajectory of the comet. They needed to choose one heading for earth that would hit here sometime in the not-so-distant future to destroy life as we know it. 67P is not that comet. 67P has a harmless oval trajectory around the sun that never crosses the orbit of the Earth at all. It’s not a danger to anybody.

A third objection I have to this project is the launch. The launch took place on March 2, 2004 in Kourou, French Guiana. Two things wrong with this. One is that the launch site should have been Cape Canaveral or Vanderberg Air Force base in California. Those are launch sites we know. Who ever heard of Kourou? And the other thing is the date of the launch. There was surely some hoopla in 2004 about it, but who remembers? The launch should have been within a week of the landing. That would have enabled interest to build.

Then there was the voyage out there. It’s a great story line that the spaceship had to do a slingshot around the Earth to get up enough speed to catch up and be racing alongside the comet. But THREE slingshots? And then one more around Mars?

First of all, why Mars? If you insist on Mars coming into the picture, then there has to be a subplot. The Martians object. Our President talks to them. But it’s no dice. Cut to kidnapping and then rescue and then a will-do-it-anyway decision by earth, since this is a do-or-die thing anyway. But there is no subplot. Furthermore, four slingshots suggest a poky little engine on the rocket. Why bother? Nobody is impressed by shoddy planning like this. The launch should have had fire and smoke and an
ear-shattering roar.

Finally, there is the landing. The rocket is alongside 67P, and the two are racing along, eyeball to eyeball, at which time the mothership is going to drop Philae down to the comet’s surface, on a flat place they’ve chosen with plenty of sunshine. They need the sunshine for the solar panels. Also, because this little comet has just a smidgen of gravity, Philae has to fire thrusters to pin itself to the flatland, and then, while flattened, it has to fire two harpoons into the ground to secure it. Wonderful! Great drama! I love it!

But then everything goes wrong. The thrusters fail, Philae bounces along, the harpoons never fire and then it’s learned Philae has bounced into darkness, in the shadow of a hill or maybe up in a tree, and nobody knows what’s happened. Must be in among some branches or something. And so, instead of using its solar power to broadcast information far into the future, it’s only able to broadcast a few hours. After that, its battery dies.

There’s no proper ending here. There needs to be a rescue team, arriving just in time before the timer clock ticks down. The rescue team needs to climb down ropes to make things right. And there needs to be a successful battle with aliens. After which, the Earth is saved.

None of that is here.

I give it half a star.

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