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2001: A Space Odyssey – 50 Years Later

Fifty years ago today, 2001: A Space Odyssey was all the buzz, and I was preparing to see it within days on a spectacular screen at the Loew’s State Theater in St. Louis. The memory of that first viewing will always be bright, but now we have seasoned perspective from Centauri Dreams regular Al Jackson, working with Bob Mahoney and Jon Rogers, to put the film in perspective. The author of numerous scientific papers, Al’s service to the space program included his time on the Lunar Module Simulator for Apollo, described below, and his many years at Johnson Space Center, mostly for Lockheed working the Shuttle and ISS programs. But let me get to Al’s foreword — I’ll introduce Bob Mahoney and Jon Rogers within the text in the caption to their photos. Interest in 2001 is as robust as ever — be aware that a new 513-page book about the film is about to be published. It’s Michael Benson’s Space Odyssey: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, and the Making of a Masterpiece. Let’s now return to the magic of Kubrick’s great film.

By Al Jackson, Bob Mahoney and Jon Rogers


By the 1st of April, 1968 I had been working in the Apollo program as an astronaut trainer for the Lunar Mission Simulator, LMS, for 2 and a half years. I had also been a science fiction fan for 15 years at that time, so I had kept up with, as best as one could, Stanley Kubrick’s production of 2001: A Space Odyssey. The film premiered in Washington, DC on April 2, 1968 (it had an earlier test showing in New York). I think it premiered in Houston on a Friday, April 5 (a day after the Martin Luther King assassination). Boy! I sure tried to wangle a ticket for that but could not. However I did see the film on April 6, at the Windsor Theater in Houston on a gorgeous 70mm Cinerama screen. It was a stunning film since I had been nuts about space flight since I was 10 years old. A transcendental moment! A few things:

(1) Having read everything Arthur C. Clarke had written, I grasped essence of the story the first time through. I saw the film six more times at the Windsor in 1968, and once in March of 1969 on another big screen in Houston. That was the last time I have seen it in true 70mm. All was confirmed when I read Clarke’s novel a few weeks later.

(2) On Monday morning, the 8th of April, 1968 Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were scheduled in the LMS for training. I remember James Lovell, Bill Anders and Fred Haise standing around the coffee pot talking to Buzz. He surprised me by holding forth on how 2001’s narrative seemed to him a rework of ideas by Clarke in Childhood’s End, as well as Clarke’s thoughts in essays. In all the time he spent in the simulator, I don’t think we ever talked science fiction.

(3) Having been ‘embedded’ in space flight first as a ‘space cadet’ and then plunged, as a NASA civil servant, into the whirlwind that was Apollo, I had a jaundiced eye for manned space flight. I was thrilled to see a nuclear powered exploration spacecraft, a monstrous space station and a huge base on the Moon, all technically realizable in 30 or so years. But I was getting pretty seasoned on the realities of manned spaceflight, so a little voice in the back of my brain said No Way, No How is that going to be there in 30 years. It all passed into an alternate universe in 2001. Yet I didn’t imagine that no manned flight would go out of low Earth orbit in 50 years!

Half a Century of 2001

April of 2018 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the release of Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke’s science fiction film 2001: A Space Odyssey and the novel of the same name. The narrative structure of the film is a transcendent philosophical meditation on extraterrestrial civilizations and biological evolution, a theme known in science fiction prose from H.G. Wells to the present as BIG THINKS. Books, articles, and even doctoral dissertations have been written about the film. Framing these deeper speculations was a ‘future history’ constructed on a foundation of rigorously researched, then-current scientific and engineering knowledge. We address this technology backdrop and assess its accuracy. We’ll leave any commentary on the film’s philosophy to film critics and buffs.

Hailed at the time as a bold vision of our future in space, it presented both Kubrick’s and. Clarke’s predictions of spaceflight three decades beyond the then-current events of the Gemini and early Apollo programs. One’s impression now is that Kubrick and Clarke were overly optimistic. We certainly don’t have 1000-foot diameter space stations (the one shown in the film was SS Five; we never see the other four) spinning in Earth orbit and multiple large bases on the lunar surface supporting hundreds of people. And the Galileo and Cassini probes were a far cry from nuclear-powered manned missions to the outer planets.

But those extrapolations are programmatic in nature, not technology-related. One must recall that the film was conceived in early 1965, when the space programs of both the U.S. and U.S.S.R. were racing ahead at full speed. Prose science fiction of the late 1930’s through 1965 is an indicator that many writers assumed extensive spaceflight exploits were perfectly feasible (even inevitable) by the turn of the last century. (It should be noted that many prose science fiction writers such as Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke, and many others, hedged their bets and put the technological developments depicted in the film more than 100 years beyond 2001.) The many social ,economic and political circumstances that would place pressures on space program funding were not fully understood at the film’s production. This was also at a time when individual countries unilaterally pursued their own space programs.

Yet when one looks beyond the obvious programmatic “overshoot” of the film to the technical and operational details of their portrayal of spaceflight, Kubrick and Clarke’s cinematic glance into the crystal ball seems much more remarkable. There are few sources of technical material about the spacecraft in the film although we know that Marshall engineers Frederick Ordway and Harry Lange (7,8), spent nearly three years designing the technical details for the film with the help of both the American and British aerospace industries. Their considerable efforts are evident even down to the details.

Image: Discovery in Jupiter space. Credit: Jon Rogers.

Space Transport to Earth Orbit

Take the Orion III space plane. Excluding the Pan Am logo (no one would have expected Pan Am to go bankrupt only 15 years later!), the space plane ferrying Dr. Floyd into Earth orbit shares an amazing number of features with the once active space plane, the Space Shuttle. Not only does it have a double-delta wing, but the three sweep angles (both leading and trailing edges) are within 10 degrees of those on NASA’s shuttle. One also finds it intriguing (as superficial a matter as this might be) that the back ends of both vehicles have double bulges to accommodate their propulsion systems.

Watching the docking sequence cockpit view in the film is like sitting in the flight engineer’s seat on a shuttle’s flight deck. Three primary computer screens, data meters spanning the panel over the windshield, a computer system by IBM, dynamic graphics of the docking profile can be found in the Orbiters. The real Shuttle approaches not nose-first but top-first, and the dynamic images of space station approaches are displayed on laptop computers, not the primary computer screens. The laptop imagery in the Shuttles was due to the evolution in computer technology, which did not exist when the 2001 space planes were conceived.

Another implied technical feature of the Orion III docking operation is that the space plane’s crew is not doing the flying; the space plane’s computers are. While this isn’t quite the way the Shuttle docked to the space station today (the crews flew most of the approach and docking manually but their stick and engine-firing commands pass through the computers), fully automatic dockings have been the norm for Russian Soyuz and Progress for many years and for the ESA Automated Transfer Vehicle. The premise of the space plane flying itself as the crew monitors its progress was standard operating procedure for Shuttle ascents and entry.

Speaking of ascent, the film leaves us to speculate on how the Orion III achieved orbit. The book 2001: A Space Odyssey [1] fills this in—and here we find a serious divergence from the stage-and-a-half vertically launched shuttle. It is now known that the Orion III was a ‘III’ because the first stage, Orion I, was the booster (while Orion II was a cargo carrier [2a] (see note 1)]. In the novel, Clarke clearly describes the Orion space liner configuration as a piggy-back Two-Stage-to-Orbit (TSTO), Horizontal Take Off and Horizontal Landing (HTOHL) tandem vehicle launched on some form of railed accelerator sled [2a].

Image: Orion 1 and 3 mated for flight. Credit: Ian Walsh, who in addition to being a key player in designing and building the largest aperture telescope in the southwest of England is also a builder of scale models both factual and fictional.

This mid-60’s speculation for an ascent/entry transportation system is remarkably in line with (minus the rail sled) many of the European Space Agency’s extensive ’80s/’90s design studies of their Sänger II/Horus-3b shuttle [9]. (A multitude of TSTO studies in the Future European Space Transportation Investigations Programme [9] echoed the space transportation system suggested in the film 2001.) Perhaps Clarke’s prescience (and ESA’s design inspiration) stemmed not from looking forward but from looking back. Amazingly, basic physics had guided Eugen Sänger and Irene Brent—in 1938!—to define this fundamental configuration (including the rail sled) for their proposed ‘orbital space plane’ the Silbervogel.

Image: The 2001 space plane going for orbit. Credit: Jon Rogers.

It is interesting that Arthur C. Clarke wrote a novel in 1947, Prelude to Space, with a horizontal take off two-stage-to-orbit spacecraft and twenty one years later it was depicted, though one has to read the novel to find this out. The second stage in Prelude to Space is nuclear powered while the Orion III is liquid oxygen-liquid hydrogen propulsion.

In recent times it was noticed that there was another shuttle to space station V, the Russian ‘Titov’, but it can only be seen inside an office on the station.

Image: Model of the Russian Titov shuttle, a tough catch unless you’re watching the movie extremely closely. Credit: Ian Walsh.

Zero G

One of the best aspects of 2001, and certainly a significant reason most knowledgeable space enthusiasts admire it, is its artistic use of true physics. Nearly every spaceflight scene shown in 2001 conforms to the way the real universe works. (And talk about a compliment to the special effects crew of the 1968 film — the Apollo 13 team achieved most of their zero-g effects by filming inside the NASA KC-135 training aircraft as it flew parabolic arcs.) 2001 has had a lasting influence on using facts in the story telling: in recent years, Gravity, Interstellar and The Martian used reality as a canvas.

If you are in an orbiting spacecraft that’s not undergoing continuous acceleration due to its own propulsion, you can’t just walk around like you’re heading into the kitchen from the living room. Those bastions of “science” fiction pop culture, Star Trek and Star Wars, conveniently used an old prose science fiction ploy, ‘super-science’ ‘field-effect’ gravity, to permit walking (due to F/X budgets or artistic license ). However, careful comparison of the 1968 film scenes to those of crew members operating in spacecraft today quickly reveals that Kubrick dealt with the technical (and potentially F/X-budget-busting) challenge of faking zero gravity by blending scientifically legitimate speculation, real physics on the soundstage, and a touch of artistic license that collectively helped to produce visually compelling aesthetics.

In 2001, when the crew move about in non-rotating parts of their spacecraft, they walk (and even climb up and down ladders) on Velcro (or some similar material) with special footwear. We first see this in the Orion III ‘shuttle’, when a stewardess walks in zero g using grip-shoes. In fact, one of the more visually interesting sequences (the stewardess heading up to the cockpit in the Aries IB moon shuttle) gains its impact with the idea — the stewardess calmly walks her way up a curving wall until she’s upside down. Station astronauts must fidget anxiously when they watch this scene since they would accomplish a similar trip today in seconds with just a few pushes. In today’s spacecraft, you don’t walk anywhere; you float.

DCF 1.0

Image: Jon Rogers on the right, with Jack Hagerty, who along with Ian Walsh added comments and suggestions for this essay. Some background on Jon Rogers: An A.I.A.A. member for many years, Jon started his career as QA inspector on Apollo Hi-Gain antenna system, built microcircuits for the Space Shuttles, and was Sr. Mfg. Engineer on the GOES, INTELSAT-V, SCS1-4 Satellites. Mr. Rogers has written articles, co-authored/illustrated the Spaceship Handbook, and presented to the A.A.S. national convention, on the early history of spaceships. He received his degree from SJSU in 2000. Credit: Al Jackson.

Kubrick adopted the concept (not necessarily an unreasonable one for the mid-60s) that routine space flyers would insist on retaining the norms of earth operations, including walking, while in zero gravity. (In fact, most crewmembers do prefer at least a visual sense of a consistent up-and-down in spacecraft cabins.) While this helped him out of a major cinematic challenge, it predated the early 70’s Skylab program, when astronauts finally had enough room to really move around and learn the true freedom of zero gravity. You’ll note too that the flight attendant’s cushioned headgear also helped avoid the likely impossible task of cinematically creating freely floating long hair, a common sight in today’s downlink video.

2001 was probably the first space flight film to actually use zero g to depict zero g. In the scene where astronaut Dave Bowman re-enters the Discovery through the emergency hatch, the movie set was built vertically. This allowed actor Keir Dullea to be dropped, and thus undergo a second or two of freefall, before the wire harness arrested his plunge. (Note 5)

Of course, today’s space flyers use velcro to secure just about everything else. Cameras, checklists, pens, food containers — you can tell the space items apart from their earthbound cousins by their extensive strips of fuzzy tape. Unfortunately, this convenient fastener’s days in the space program may be numbered for long-duration flight. Velcro, composed of tiny plastic hooks, eventually wears out and small pieces break off and can become airborne hazards to equipment and crew. Consequently, long-stay crews keep equipment and themselves in place with other fastening techniques: Magnets, bungee cords, plastic clips, or even just simple foot straps.

Image: Bob Mahoney. Passion for spaceflight propelled Bob Mahoney through bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in aerospace engineering at the University of Notre Dame and the University of Texas at Austin, respectively. Love of writing carried him into lead editorships of his high school’s literary magazine and Notre Dame Engineering’s Technical Review. Bob discovered an outlet for both of these passions while serving nearly ten years as a spaceflight instructor in the Mission Operations Directorate at Johnson Space Center. While working at JSC, he taught astronauts, flight controllers, and fellow instructors in the disciplines of orbital mechanics, computers, navigation, rendezvous, and proximity operations. His duties included development of simulation scripts for both crew-specific and mission control team training. Bob supported many missions, including STS 35, the first flight of Spacelab post-Challenger, and STS 71, the first shuttle docking to Mir. As Lead Rendezvous Instructor for STS 63, the first shuttle-Mir. rendezvous, and STS 80, the first dual free-flyer deploy-and-retrieve, he ensured both crew and flight control team preparedness in rendezvous and proximity operations.

Artificial Gravity

Kubrick and Clarke’s other method of fighting zero g was well-established in the literature of the time: centrifugal force. The physiological effects of zero g on humans had been a worry from the early days of theoretical thinking about spaceflight. Some thought it might be beneficial, but many worried that since the human body evolved in one g, long exposure to no or reduced gravity might be detrimental. In the film, both the large space station orbiting Earth and the habitation deck of the Jupiter mission’s Discovery spacecraft rotate to create artificial gravity for the inhabitants. While Gemini 11 achieved this during an experiment, the general trend in space operations has been to live with zero gravity (properly termed microgravity) while combating its effects on the human body through exercise. This path was chosen for two reasons: A rotating spacecraft’s structure must be significantly sturdier (and thus more massive, and thus more expensive to launch) to handle the stresses of spinning, and the utility of zero g seems to outweigh its negative aspects. Yet one must note that research on the ISS has indicated there are limits to how much exercise and other similar countermeasures can counteract physical deterioration. Living in zero g for extended periods of time, for interplanetary flight, now no longer seems possible. This is one aspect of space medicine research that makes the ISS such an important laboratory.

Ordway and Lange designed the Discovery’s crew quarters centrifuge realistically to simulate/generate 0.3 g while counteracting Coriolis forces, but a 300-foot diameter wheel was just not feasible as a set. Nevertheless, Vicker’s aircraft built the fully working prop with remarkable accuracy. (6) The space station interior set did not rotate, but consisted of a fixed curved structure nearly 300 feet long and nearly 40 feet high. (2) The curve was gentle enough to permit the actors to walk smoothly down the sloping floor and maintain the desired illusion.


A bit of a miss here, more dictated by the design of ‘space food’ in the 1960s than anything else. Whereas the Council of Astronautics’ Chief Heywood Floyd sips liquid peas and carrots through straws on the way to the Moon and the Jupiter-bound Discovery crew eats what could best be described as colored paste, today’s astronauts get to eat shrimp cocktail and Thanksgiving turkey dinners. Of course, these are either dehydrated or military-style MREs (Meals Ready to Eat), but they beat the zero-g mess problem simply by being sticky via sauce or gravy. The most accurate culinary prediction of Kubrick and Clarke was the lunar shuttle bus meal: sandwiches. However, when an ISS crewmember prepares that old staple peanut butter and jelly, he or she uses tortillas in place of bread. Like worn-out Velcro, bread makes too many crumbs, and crumbs can get into the electronics.

The galley on Discovery, however, has its counterpart on the Shuttle. While it didn’t automatically dole out an entire five-course meal based on crewmember selection (astronauts did this manually before liftoff back in Houston, and then their meals get packed in storage lockers), the shuttle galley did let them heat up items that are supposed to be hot and rehydrate that shrimp cocktail. The zero-gravity toilet instructions shown in the film, an intentional Kubrick joke, are much longer than the shuttle’s Waste Containment System crew checklist.


While the Orion III space plane’s external propulsion elements hint at systems a few years beyond even today’s state-of-the-art (possible air intakes for a scramjet and a sloping aerospike-like exhaust nozzle), the spherical Aries 1B moon shuttle has rocket nozzles which would look perfectly at home on the old lunar module. Kubrick was smart not to show exhaust as they fired, only lunar dust being blown off the lunar surface landing pad. Ordway has indicated that the propellants were LOX/LH2 and thus the exhaust would be extremely difficult to see in a vacuum in sunlight. Even the MMH/N2O4 shuttle jet firings washed out during orbital day.

One particular propulsion depiction potentially unique to 2001, which Kubrick likely used more for cinematic aesthetics as well for the sake of realism, is the roar, whine, or boom of engines in the space vacuum. Even Apollo 13 fell down here, going for the rock ’n’ roll excitement of the service module’s jets pounding away with bangs and rumbles in external views. (Arguably Kubrick’s most inspired move ever was to overlay Johann Strauss’s ‘The Blue Danube’.) Something that almost all fictional space TV and movies miss is the cabin noise of those jets firing, however. Unlike the vacuum outside, a spacecraft’s structure can carry sound and the Shuttle crews do hear their jet firings; at least the ones up front near the cabin. They are quite loud — crewmembers have compared them to howitzers going off. (The 2013 film Gravity did use ‘interior’ sounds well, subtle enough that one does not catch it at first. Sounds transmitted through space suits and ship structures, and a clever use of the vacuum!)

2001’s one big cinematic overshoot propulsion-wise is the nuclear rockets of the interplanetary Discovery. While deep-space probes such as Voyager, Galileo, and Cassini employ RTG units to generate electricity with the radioactive heat of their plutonium, no nuclear propulsion has ever flown in space to date, primarily because there has been no return to research on nuclear propulsion. (Note: The U.S. NERVA nuclear thermal rocket program was not canceled until 1972, a full four years after the movie’s release.)

The Discovery was powered by a gaseous fission reactor for rocket propulsion. The highest reactor core temperature in a nuclear rocket can be achieved by using gaseous fissionable material. In the gas-core rocket concept, radiant energy is transferred from a high-temperature fissioning plasma to a hydrogen propellant. In this concept, the propellant temperature can be significantly higher than the engine structural temperature.

Regarding the depiction of that nuclear propulsion in the film, Discovery was actually missing a major component: massive thermal radiators. As any nuclear engineer could point out (and described properly in the novel), these huge panels would have dominated the otherwise vertebrae-like Discovery‘s structure like giant butterfly wings. Even the decidedly non-nuclear fuel-cell-powered Shuttle and solar-cell-powered ISS sport sizable radiators to dump the heat of their electricity-powered hardware. Ordway and Lange were quite aware of the need for such radiators and appropriate models were built, but in the end aesthetics carried the day, so the cinematic Discovery coasted along (silently) somewhat sleeker than known physics demanded. (One interesting tidbit here: some Glenn Research Center engineers redesigned the Discovery recently as an engineering exercise.(10))

Image Credit: Jon Rogers.

Cabin Interior

Speaking of sound, 2001 may be the only fictional film to convey the significant background noise in a spacecraft cabin. Every interior scene in Discovery is colored with a background hum, most certainly meant to be the many spacecraft systems running continuously, including air circulation fans. Crews have reported that the Shuttle cabin is a very noisy workplace, and some portions of ISS were once rumored to merit earplugs.

As already noted, the Orion III cockpit is remarkably similar to the Shuttle cockpit. One notes that all of the cockpits in the film are “glass” cockpits, where all information is displayed on computer screens (versus the dials and meters typical of 1960s technology). But this time it was the real-world Shuttles that caught up with the film (and a significant portion of the world’s airliners). During the 1990s the orbiter’s cockpit displays (including many 1972-era dials and meters) were entirely replaced with glass-cockpit technology.


Nope. Still can’t do that today. Suspended animation is an old story device in prose science fiction, not seen as much these days. About the only progress there is therapeutic hypothermia which may be a step towards ‘hypersleep’.

In fact, the Salyut, Mir, and ISS programs were geared toward keeping crew members active for longer and longer durations, not asleep. The concept of conservation of crew supplies is reasonable enough, but even in 1968 multiyear missions did envision years-long expeditions with enough self-contained logistical support. The sleep stations shown on Discovery, however, appear to offer crewmembers the same small volume as those on the Shuttle or ISS.


This is a technology that really tends to hide behind the flashier and more obvious equipment but is so critical that it should never be taken for granted. Unfortunately, by using it as a device serving the subplot involving HAL and the Discovery crew, Kubrick and Clarke committed a serious misstep in predicting the technology of today — er, yesterday. If you recall, the first sign of HAL’s neurosis is his false report that the AE-35 unit (the electronic black box responsible for keeping Discovery‘s antennae suite pointed at Earth) is going to fail. Mission Commander Dave Bowman must take a spacewalk to haul it inside after replacing it with a substitute. After finding nothing wrong with it, the crew (acting on the ominous suggestion of the erroneous HAL computer) decides to put the original unit back.

Here’s the problem: a system as critical as the communications pointing system would not have a single-point failure, especially in a manned spacecraft flying all the way to Jupiter! In fact, a Shuttle launch was scrubbed because one of two communications black boxes was not working properly. The Shuttle was designed with fail-operational fail-safe redundancy. In other words, if a critical unit fails, the shuttle can still support mission operations. If a second, similar unit fails, the shuttle can get home safely. Realistically, such a failure in a sophisticated Jupiter-bound manned spacecraft would call for simple rerouting of the commands through a backup unit, with at least one more unit waiting in reserve beyond that. This wouldn’t be a very dramatic turn, but such a sequence would better parallel the occasional Shuttle and ISS systems failures that have thus far been irritating but not showstoppers. (Of course, not all those many years ago Mir lost all attitude control when its one computer failed, so perhaps the premise isn’t too far fetched…) Once again, though, this technical ‘glitch’ was dictated by the cinematic narrative. Is it not interesting, however, that our premier unmanned Jupiter probe, Galileo, suffered a crippling failure of its primary communications antenna?

On the spinning space station, Dr. Floyd makes an AT&T videophone call to his daughter. Today’s space station inhabitants do, in fact, converse with their families over a video link, but it’s reasonably certain that their calls don’t cost $1.70 and get charged to their calling cards.

Spacesuits & EVA

This is the issue wherein 2010, that bastard child, really makes “hard” science fiction fans hang their heads low. 2001 presented spacesuits (especially those on the Jupiter mission) that were sophisticated, logical in design, quite impressive in capability, and perfectly believable for an advanced space program. 2010‘s American spacesuits look like they rolled off the EMU rack at Johnson Space Center!

The single component of the 2001 suits worn by Dave Bowman and Frank Poole most analogous to the EMUs today is the built-in jet maneuvering pack. Small, unobtrusive, minimal — that pretty much sums up the SAFER unit developed for station EVA. The 2001 suit does reflect the modularity concept of the Shuttle-era suit as well: helmet and gloves attach to the main suit with ring seals, but Ordway and Lange did not anticipate the move towards “hard shell” design (the American suit’s rigid torso, the Russian back-door-entry Orlan). The cinematic suits appear much more akin to the old Mercury and Gemini configurations, or even the recent advanced design of Dr. Dava Newman at MIT. (Note 3)

One notes there is a glaring design failure in the Discovery EVA suits. There is an external oxygen hose from helmet to backpack. This does not exist in Harry Lange’s initial suit designs and that hose does not exist on Heywood Floyd’s suit and the other suits on the visit to the Lunar Monolith. It was a bit of cinematic drama that could have been taken care of with a suit tear, a rare oversight by Kubrick. Real space suits just don’t have a vulnerable oxygen supply tube from the backpack EMS unit to the suit helmet (we see Frank Poole fighting to reattach his). Even in 1965 Apollo space suits had much more secure fittings.

While not a matter of technical prognostication, we can’t help but mention that the EVAs shown in 2001 remain the most realistic fictional depiction of spacewalking ever put on film. (That is, until the 2013 film Gravity.) The fluidity of motion and the free-floating grace of the crewmembers as they move completely in line with real physical laws is nearly identical to what you see downlinked on NASA TV. Not impressed? Compare Bowman’s approach and arrival at the Discovery’s antenna in 2001. How’d Kubrick pull it off? Skilled stuntmen suspended from cables filmed from below—that was the key. Filming at high speed and then slowing the footage for incorporation in the film also helped. (In Apollo 13 extensive use was made of flying parabolic arcs in a Boeing KC-135 — that was real zero g. Alfonso Cuarón used ‘motion capture’ and computer generated imagery in Gravity.

One EVA item in 2001 that today’s engineers and astronauts would love to have but don’t is the space pod: that ball of a spacecraft with the pair of multi-jointed arms out front. Such a vehicle would eliminate the need for some suited EVAs (the crewmember could just stay inside the pod) and would make others much easier (since the pod, under the control of the ship’s highly intelligent computer, could help out). But if you think about it, we’re really not too far off with the Shuttle and ISS remote manipulator systems (the Canadarms) These now (especially with the recent addition of DEXTRE with its two multi-jointed arms) permit the accomplishment of some tasks outside the spacecraft without EVA, and they have proven themselves capable EVA assistants under the control of a highly intelligent computer—namely, a crew member back inside the spacecraft cabin!

The most glaring difference in EVA, however, lies in protocol. During the EVAs in 2001, a single crewmember conducts the EVA. This is just not done today. Both Americans and Russians always leave their spacecraft in pairs (and in rare circumstances, as a trio) for safety’s sake — if one crewmember gets in trouble the other can come immediately to their aid. However, practically speaking, both crew members did have a companion: HAL the computer, controlling the space pod. But, of course, the solo EVA, the single-point communications failure necessitating the EVA, and HAL’s control of the space pod, collectively set up the greatest drama in the film: HAL trying to kill off all his crewmates.

Image Credit: Jon Rogers.

Artificial Intelligence

Given the many different levels at which the space program (and society as a whole) use computers today, it is within this niche that the film’s accuracy is most difficult to gauge.

Certainly, we have computers that can talk, and Shuttle and station crews have experimented with voice-activated controls of some systems, but these are superficial similarities. More importantly, we find a better comparison in the command and control realm: during large portions of a Shuttle’s mission, the fail-operational fail-safe primary & backup computer suite of five GPC computers did control the vehicle just as HAL completely controlled Discovery. (In fact, as a particularly curious side note, the programming language for the Shuttle’s primary computers is actually termed HAL/S, for Higher Assembler Language/Shuttle, but this just might be a not-so-subtle homage to the film by the software development team.) Unlike a lot of prose science fiction, 2001 did anticipate flat screen TVs and what seem to be IPADs!

The film was created at a point in history when the computer’s invasion of our society (including spaceflight) might have taken one of two paths: bigger and more powerful mainframe computers that would interface everywhere through an extensive but centrally controlled communications network, OR smaller and smaller special-purpose computers that each would do a little bit of the work. HAL certainly represents the pinnacle of achievement for the former — an artificial intelligence that had control of every single aspect of the Discovery‘s operations. The distributed PC network controlling the ISS today reflects the latter.

Yet the depiction of the HAL 9000 (Heuristically programmed Algorithmic Computer) in 2001 remains one of the film’s most eerie elements. For their description of artificial intelligence, Kubrick and Clarke only had the terminology and the vision of the mid-1960’s as their guide. At that time the prevailing concept expected ‘AI’ to be a programmed computer. Thus the term ‘computer’, with all its implications of being a machine, occurs repeatedly.

But in the last 50 years no true ‘strong’ AI has emerged. Today’s corresponding term would be ‘strong AI’ (11); their use of mid-1960’s terminology obscures the fact that Kubrick constructed an AI that is unmistakably ‘strong’, that is, capable of “general intelligent action.” How this would have been achieved Kubrick and Clarke left to the imagination of the viewer and the reader.

As HAL seems to be a ‘strong AI’, capable of feeling, independent thought, emotions, and almost all attributes of human intelligence, anyone viewing the film today should forget the film’s and novel’s use of the terms ‘computer ‘and ‘programming’. HAL seemed able to reason, use strategy, solve puzzles, make judgments understand uncertainty, represent knowledge including common-sense knowledge, plan, learn, communicate in natural language, perceive and especially see, have social intelligence, be able to move and manipulate objects (robotics), and integrate all these skills toward common goals. These attributes are possible not through programming as much as through ‘evolving’ or ‘growing-learning’ … a ‘solid-state intelligence’. That is why it is amazing to watch the film today (despite its use of clunky, ill-suited words like computer and program) and realize that HAL was a TRUE AI. HAL likely will exist in a universe which we have yet to realize, but one has no idea when! (See note 4.)

Some Reverse Engineering

From the moment we meet HAL we are given to believe that this particular AI has total control of everything in the Discovery. He can take action — open pod doors, open pod bay doors, even adjust couch cushions! — at a crewmember’s spoken word. Yet after HAL kills Frank Poole and the hibernating crewmembers followed by Dave Bowman’s return to the Discovery, what do we see? A manual, emergency airlock/entrance.

What is that doing there? Directly, to provide the film with an ‘action scene’, but the implications are deeper. Ordway/Lange of the Discovery knew their spaceships! A ship that substantial on an important mission must have redundancy; if not in the communications system, then at least to back up the onboard AI! Ordway wrote a memo to Kubrick about ship redundancy (7a). What if HAL had been ‘holed’ by a very freak meteor hit? What if an ultra-high-energy cosmic ray bored a damaging track through one of HAL’s solid state modules? Any of a number of possible unpredictable second- and third-order failures might occur, so the crew might be forced to take care of the ship and mission ‘on their own.’

And it is here, in the consideration of backup systems, where we catch Kubrick and Clarke, the storytellers, at odds with Kubrick and Clarke, the prognosticators of realistic spacecraft design. We find Bowman and Poole discussing how to partially shut HAL down by leaving only primitive functions operating. That could only be an option if the human crew could control the Discovery manually (or rather more practically, semi-manually) with a lot of help from still-working automated systems. This issue is more explicit in the movie and implicit in the film.

In fact Kubrick mildly trumps Clarke technically and dramatically in the film’s narrative structure (wherein Bowman leaves the ship to rescue Poole, setting up the emergency airlock action scene). In the novel, Clarke merely has HAL ‘blow down’ the Discovery by opening the pod bay doors. However, examining Lange and Ordway’s drawings of the Discovery’s living quarters reveals at least two airlocks between the pod bay and the centrifuge (7,7a,8,9). Independent double and triple overrides (over which HAL had no control) would have come into play to prevent this very scenario from happening, mechanically or insane-AI-instigated.

How about HAL’s control of Dave’s pod? Actually one can capture a frame in the pod (‘N/A HAL COMLK’) that shows that Bowman, even though he left his helmet behind, had the sense to cut HAL’s control of the pod. It is impressive but not surprising that Kubrick and his team thought to include such a detail.

When Comes the Future?

While Kubrick and Clarke’s iconic 1968 vision of spaceflight’s future may have been far off the mark in terms of how much we would have accomplished by the turn of the millennium, its accurate anticipation of so many operational and technological details remains a fitting testament to the engineering talent of their supporting players, especially Fred Ordway and Harry Lange. The astounding prescience in their projections of the specifics of space operations decades beyond the then-current real spaceflight of Gemini and Apollo, even when constrained by storytelling aesthetics, offers the promise that their spectacular rendering of a spacefaring society may still come to pass.

With the United States and other nations now finally developing systems to return human crews to the Moon and enable travel beyond, and with commercial entities actively pursuing private spaceflight across a spectrum of opportunities long considered a matter of fantasy, perhaps we can take heart in the possibility that by the time another fifty years have passed, Kubrick and Clarke’s brilliant, expansive, and yet convincingly authentic future may finally become real in both its details and its scope.

Selected Bibliography

(1) 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke, based on a screenplay by Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke. Copyright 1968. The New American Library, Inc.

(2) The Making of Kubrick’s 2001, edited by Jerome Agel. Copyright 1970 The Agel Publishing Company, Inc. The New American Library, Inc.

(3) 2001: filming the future, by Piers Bizony. Copyright 1994. Aurum Press Limited.

(4) The Lost Worlds of 2001, by Arthur C. Clarke. Copyright 1972. The New American Library, Inc.

(5) The Odyssey File, by Arthur C. Clarke and Peter Hyams. Copyright 1984. Ballantine Books.

(6) “2001: A Space Odyssey,” F.I. Ordway, Spaceflight, Vol. 12, No. 3, Mar. 1970, pp. 110-117. (Publisher: The British Interplanetary Society).

(7) Part B: 2001: A Space Odyssey in Retrospect, Frederick I Ordway, III Volume 5, and American Astronautical Society History Series, Science Fiction and Space Futures: Past and Present, F.I. Ordway, Edited by Eugene M. Emme, 1982, pages 47 – 105. (ISBN 0-87703-173-8).

(7a) Johnson, Adam (2012). 2001 The Lost Science. Burlington Canada: Apogee Prime

(7b) Johnson, Adam (2016). 2001 The Lost Science Volume 2. Burlington Canada: Apogee Prime.

(8) Jack Hagerty and Jon C. Rogers, Spaceship Handbook: Rocket and Spacecraft Designs of the 20th Century, ARA Press, Published 2001, pages 322-351, ISBN 097076040X.

(9) Dieter Jacob, G Sachs, Siegfried Wagner, Basic Research and Technologies for Two-Stage-to-Orbit Vehicles: Final Report of the Collaborative Research Centres 253, 255 and 259 (Sonderforschungsberiche der Deutschen Forschung) Publisher: Wiley-VCH (August 19, 2005).

(9) Realizing 2001: A Space Odyssey: Piloted Spherical Torus Nuclear Fusion Propulsion NASA/TM-2005-213559 March 2005 AIAA-2001-3805.

(10) Searle, J. (1997). The Mystery of Consciousness. New York, New York Review Press.

(11) The film 2001: A Space Odyssey, premiere date April 6 1968.


(1) Acknowledgments: Thanks to Ian Walsh, Jack Hagerty and Wes Kelly , personal communications. Also, Special thanks to Douglas Yazell and the Houston section of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics for hosting the first edition of this article in 2008.

(2) In the mid 1960’s many of the SETI pioneers were afraid that revelation of the existence of an advanced extraterrestrial civilization might cause a social disruption; many others disagreed with this. Kubrick and Clarke decided to keep this as a plot device.

(3) There is an amusing bit of homage to George Pal in the film. In the 1950 movie the commander’s suit is red, the 2nd in command has a yellow one, all the rest are blue. Same is true in 2001! [8]

(4) The novel 2010 explains HAL’s ‘insanity’ in terms of his keeping the discovery of the TMA-1 monolith a secret for reasons of national security. (note 2) (Whatever that means.) This contradiction against his programming to never report erroneous information created a “Hofstadter-Moebius loop,” which reduced HAL to paranoia. Since nothing explicit is presented in the original film, and taking the characterization of HAL as a strong AI (for all intents and purposes making him ‘human’), HAL could have just as well gone bonkers for no good reason at all!

(5) A technical point about the emergency entry into the Discovery. Where did the pod hatch go? One notes that the pod doors slide ‘transversely’, i.e., they don’t swing in or out. In the airlock entrance scene Dave launches himself from ‘frame right’; normally the pod door slides open toward frame right (we’re seeing the rear of the pod in the scene). Thus the door’s guide track ran on both sides of the pod’s hatchway. Thus the normal open/close mechanism wouldn’t have to be retracted out of the way in an emergency. The pyros would be on the attach points where the door joins the mechanism, and in an emergency they’d blow the door further around the track, i.e., ‘frame left’, out of the way, while the regular mechanism stays put. (Thanks to Jack Hagerty for this observation.)

(6) 2018 is also the 30th anniversary of the viable ‘traversable wormhole’ by Morris and Thorne, this gives the ‘Star Gate’ in 2001 some physics which it did not have in 1968. M. S. Morris and K. S. Thorne, “Wormholes in spacetime and their use for interstellar travel: A tool for teaching General Relativity”, Am. J. Phys. 56, 395 (1988).


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Andrew Palfreyman April 2, 2018, 11:26

    NASA is planning another manned space station in cislunar orbit. And STILL no centrifugal gravity :(

    • Michael Spencer April 2, 2018, 13:26

      NASA has, according to a source on The Space Show recently, determined that 2 hours’ exercise 6 days a week adequately protects astronauts, based on the time it takes for them to recover normal neuro-muscularature after return to Earth, even for year-long stints.

      The issue of exercise needed to prepare for Lunar or Mars gravity wells is undecided at this point.

      • Abelard Lindsey April 3, 2018, 16:20

        The problem is not limited to neuromuscularity. There are cardiovascular changes as well. Contrary to popular thought, the long term physiological effects of zero-g have not been fully investigated.

        • ljk April 5, 2018, 10:05

          I am not certain who’s popular thought this is contrary to, but this NASA book from 2012 makes it pretty clear how much we have yet to learn in regards to human physiology in space:


          Only a very few people have been in space for over one year at a stretch. Only a handful have gone past Earth orbit to the Moon and that last happened in 1972 and for only a few weeks at most. No worlds have been colonized yet and no human has been born in space.

    • Marshall Eubanks April 10, 2018, 18:14

      The crew stays on the Deep Space Gateway / Lunar Orbital Platform are not supposed to last more than a month at a time, so there is no need at present for artificial gravity on the LOP. Of course, this habitat is supposed to be a test bed for travel to Mars, which _will_ take longer than a month, so this issue has not been resolved, just kicked down the road at little.

  • ljk April 2, 2018, 12:58

    This NYT article from March 30, 2018 taught me a number of things about how Kubrick chose the voice for HAL 9000:


    Just like now iconic soundtrack, Kubrick went with a totally different voice actor towards the end of film production after another actor had already done al of HAL’s lines. In both cases it turned out to be the right choice but I can only imagine what the original folks felt like.

    An excellent piece on 2001 to all concerned and I will add my two thousand and one cents in a while.

  • Tom Mazanec April 2, 2018, 13:34

    This issue is more explicit in the movie and implicit in the film.
    film vs. movie?

    • Al Jackson April 2, 2018, 16:30

      If you mean we don’t speak about the film’s story narrative , yes that is intentional , there are books written about that.

      I had always wondered if Kubrick originally wanted to do Clarke’s Childhood’s End. In the book Stanley Kubrick: A Biography by Vincent LoBrutto (1998) he says that Kubrick’s was interested in that Clarke novel but never says what happened about getting the option was a problem or if Kubrick’s changed his mind. In Clarke’s Lost Worlds of 2001 he has a diary entry , when writing , (he would write the novel and give pages to Kubrick who would write the screenplay with a ton of give and take every day when they were in New York) he had an entry about Kubrick asking Clarke to make the ‘monolith makers’ the Overlords. Nothing came of that but the end of the film does seem an abstracted shadowing of the ending of Childhood’s End.

  • Marcel F. Williams April 2, 2018, 13:56

    Future space tourist will probably want to travel into space to experience a microgravity environment. But there could be a huge economic advantage if personal maintaining and managing microgravity habits could stay in simple– artificial gravity– habitats orbiting nearby when the microgravity habitats were unoccupied.

    A simple linear rotating space station with pressurized habitats located at each end, could comfortably accommodate astronauts in orbit for several months or several years under perhaps 0.5g of simulated gravity. Such artificial gravity habitats (perhaps 65 tonnes in mass) could be deployed to LEO with a single super heavy lift vehicle launch.

    That would mean you wouldn’t have to launch space station management and maintenance personal every time you transported tourist into space. This would allow a lot more seats for paying tourist– making a lot more money for private space companies involved in the space hotel business.

    Artificial gravity habitats would also be economically advantageous for governments that want to have a continuous military presence in space without the expense of having to transport military personal to and from orbit every few months. Instead, military personal could stay in orbit for years without any deleterious effects to their health before returning to Earth.


    • Alex Tolley April 2, 2018, 15:38

      We still have to deal with the effects of radiation that does degrade the body. My guess is that this will initially be mitigated to some extent by drugs that improve DNA repair, increase apoptosis, and improve the immune system to reduce the chances of cancers developing. But the damage to cells will accumulate.

      Clarke’s books even until 1968 have no mention of the radiation hazard in space, even though the Van Allen belts were discovered in 1958 and the hazard was known, although the effects could only be speculated based on existing knowledge of em radiation and the atomic bomb.

      • Gregory Benford April 2, 2018, 22:18

        Easier to just use reserve water as a spherical shell. Safety for radiation demands 6 m column length water, so a 1oo m sphere with 6 m column length water means 100,000 tons–& you have a big orbital hotel. A thousand BFR launches & you’re done.

        • Alex Tolley April 3, 2018, 15:46

          Safety for radiation demands 6 m column length water, so a 1oo m sphere with 6 m column length water means 100,000 tons–& you have a big orbital hotel. A thousand BFR launches & you’re done.

          That should keep room prices nice and high to keep the riff-raff away from the superwealthy elites. ;)
          It also suggests that budget hotels should source their water from elsewhere, like Ceres. Electric or solar sail propulsion would be a good solution to fly those icebergs back to cis-lunar space.
          Who knew that the space hospitality industry would be so difficult?

        • Marshall Eubanks April 10, 2018, 18:17

          Why on Earth (er… space) wouldn’t you get all of that water from in space? I think a shell 1 – 2 meters think would actually suffice, but, either way, water extraction and a solar sail barge at an asteroid would IMO make more sense.

      • J. Jason Wentworth April 3, 2018, 4:27

        Clarke was definitely an optimist where radiation was concerned. In “The Promise of Space,” he wrote (after discussing how zero g [the term then] turned out to not be dangerous for up to several weeks, at least, and then mentioning the possible need for “storm cellars” aboard interplanetary spaceships), “judging by the way the other space bogeys have evaporated, no one will be surprised if solar flares turn out to be more spectacular than dangerous.” Regarding “2001: A Space Odyssey” (the film, at least [I haven’t read the novel]):

        The scene in which Dave Bowman made the “vacuum-dive” from the pod into Discovery One had one, and possibly two, errors:

        He held his breath before blowing the pod hatch, which would have invited lung ruptures (breathing deeply to infuse as much oxygen into the blood first, then letting his lungs empty to vacuum before jumping, would have given him up to about 15 seconds of useful consciousness without risking burst lungs–enough time to slam the airtight hatch shut. Also:

        Before Dave Bowman could have manually opened the emergency airlock hatch to make his jump from the pod into the ship, HAL could have fired Discovery One’s attitude control thrusters (and/or engaged her reaction wheels, if any) to rotate the ship, making such a manual ingress impossible. Maybe HAL figured that Dave–not having his suit helmet–either wouldn’t try it, or would fail in the attempt, or perhaps HAL, being human-like, felt guilt for his murders and decided to let punishment befall him (like how some criminals, if their consciences overcome them, deliberately make mistakes so that they will be caught)?

        • ljk April 3, 2018, 9:54

          Ever see the 1982 documentary The Atomic Café? The dangers of radiation were downplayed right into the 1960s, both from lack of knowledge on the subject and from deliberate manipulation of the data. Clarke was no doubt influenced by this, with maybe a dollop of wishful thinking added.


          • Alex Tolley April 3, 2018, 15:50

            There was also a lot of fear about radiation too, well expressed in movies, especially in the 1950’s. “Mutant bug” B movies were endemic. (I still like “Them” and watch it occasionally).

            • ljk April 5, 2018, 10:15

              That is always the problem, people reacting to such things either at one extreme or the other rather than trying to do some homework and working their way towards the middle ground.

              Because the military and politicians downplayed the dangers of radiation, they contributed to the extreme reaction in the other direction which has hampered utilizing nuclear power in good ways.

              This in turn is one reason why we have not yet had a nuclear-powered spaceship despite all the progress we were making fifty-plus years ago.

          • J. Jason Wentworth April 3, 2018, 22:46

            No, but I *have* heard of it, thanks to the Conelrad website http://www.conelrad.com/index.php , which covers the frequent downplaying of the dangers (including from the atmospheric nuclear bomb tests, for which the winds “always blew in the right ways…”).

        • Alex Tolley April 3, 2018, 12:05

          And to think Clarke had written so many times about being able to survive briefly in vacuum, even including it in his early short story, “Take a Deep Breath” (1957) in “The Other Side of the Sky”. This scene had to be Clarke’s idea to demonstrate this idea.

          • Al Jackson April 4, 2018, 4:54

            Curious thing that Clarke did not use what in the film in the book, not clear why. I remember once looking up the ‘how long to survive in a vacuum’ question. I seems to depend on your body mass but a rough estimate is about 60 seconds. I have never put a watch on the sequence in 2001 but it is less than that. Knowing the way Kubrick worked Ordway probably had a memo for him about it, I know studies had been done.

  • ole burde April 2, 2018, 14:49

    ”This path was chosen for two reasons: A rotating spacecraft’s structure must be significantly sturdier (and thus more massive, and thus more expensive to launch) to handle the stresses of spinning, and the utility of zero g seems to outweigh its negative aspects.”…..
    What stresses ?
    Anything sent to space have to handle much bigger G-forces for launch , and much bigger structural demands for containing pressure.
    Utility of zero G ?
    The rotating part would be ofcourse be for living quarters where zero g have no advantage .
    These two statements only makes sense as an expresson of the stubborn refusal to admit a strategic mistake , the kind which can be seen in countless organisations ,whereever effective compettion has been walled off . ..and so we must wait for Elon Musk or the Chinese to provide this competition before the Dinosaurs can be remooved

  • brightdark April 2, 2018, 15:11

    I have liked the explanation Dr Chandra gives in the movie version of ‘2010’:
    “HAL was told to lie… by people who find it easy to lie. HAL doesn’t know how, so he couldn’t function. He became paranoid.”

    HAL gets rid of the crew so he doesn’t violate his basic programming: tell the truth always and don’t hold anything back.

    • ljk April 2, 2018, 16:34

      Here is a thought: Suppose HAL 9000 succeeded in bumping off all the human crew members of Discovery 1. What would he have told Mission Control what happened? The truth? Or that some accident befell all five of them and he had to take over as HAL was programmed to do in the event of a crisis?

      Did Discovery 1 have the equivalent of some kind of “black box” that would automatically record every moment of activity and function aboard the spaceship? Would Mission Control have some way to remotely access its data, since if a disaster happened to the ship in deep space there would be virtually no other way to recover it to find out what happened, at least not any time soon? Would this black box be tamper proof, or would HAL with his prodigious capabilities be able to hack it and reconstruct the data in his favor?

      Even if the folks back home had no way to directly find out what happened to the Discovery crew if HAL’s plot had worked, their suspicions had already been raised by HAL’s mistake with the AE-35 unit – although I think it is remarkably absurd that they thought all HAL units were “foolproof and incapable of error.” Talk about tempting fate.

      If Mission Control did suspect HAL had committed foul play, could they remotely take over control of the spaceship and/or shut down HAL? Even if they had this unreasonable faith in their “infallible” AI, would they not have had some contingency plan to remotely take control of Discovery in case something went really wrong across the board?

      One big reason for such a remote control plan would be in case the nuclear-powered ship might have ended up on a collision course with TMA-2, a.k.a Stargate. I am sure the powers-that-be on Earth would not want to do anything that might seem like a hostile act against an obviously more advanced and powerful alien species.

      Here is another related question I have had about 2001 for a long time: How would HAL 9000 have carried out the mission with the bigger Monolith around Jupiter (or on Saturn’s moon Iapetus in the novel)? The aliens were clearly expecting an organic human being to come through the Stargate: They even had a big blue luxury apartment set up for him. Would HAL have driven the entire Discovery through the Stargate, or sent in a pod as a proxy (which he did have control over, at least on this side of the gate)?

      Lots to speculate here. Might make for a very interesting video game too.

      • Al Jackson April 2, 2018, 19:04

        A note: Dialog with HAL in the BBC interview almost makes it sound like HAL has total control of the Discovery.
        Well , Frank and Dave talk about the procedures to be taken (they must have trained for it) of how of ‘disengage’ HAL. Also there is that manually operated emergency entrance.

        In Lost Science of 2001 , in the refs, there is a memo from Ordway to Kubrick that the Discovery has to have backup and redundant systems. Ordway and Lange worked very hard on the technical aspects of the film. The book about Lange’s technical concepts is amazing. Only about 25% of the stuff Ordway and Lange came up with made it to the movie. It is not even known how much background documentation they did.

        • ljk April 3, 2018, 10:10

          According to Frank while he and Dave were talking in the pod, HAL did have access to and control of just about every part of Discovery, with the obvious exception of the manual airlock. And as was noted in the article, Dave could and did take control of the pod from HAL.

          As I said earlier, I just wonder if Mission Control had any way to remotely take over Discovery in case the crew were incapacitated, which would include HAL. Because otherwise you have a big nuclear-powered spacecraft plunging through space with no one at the helm and a mysterious alien artifact that might be in its path.

          The film sequel 2010 made explicit what was certainly not clear in 2001 but discussed in the novel about HAL not being able to handle lying to the awake crew about the real mission of Discovery. To me that almost seems like a McGuffin: Could they not have put something in HAL’s programming which circumvented such seeming contradictions, if for no other reason than to tell HAL that the awake humans could not know about the alien artifact at Jupiter for their own safety?

          Because thanks to HAL’s portrayal, we have been left with old trope that AI will automatically go bonkers and either try to control or kill humanity just because that is its “nature”. Same goes for aliens, which in fiction either want to save or destroy us because that’s what aliens supposedly do. People are already ignorant and paranoid enough about these subjects without adding fuel to the fire.

          I read the story that Isaac Asimov saw 2001 with Clarke and began ranting in the theater that HAL broke his Three Laws of Robotics, which are all about machines not allowing a human to come to harm above all else. Is this a true story?

          • Al Jackson April 4, 2018, 5:04

            Somewhere , can’t find the reference, Clarke did note that he and Asimov has a conversation about ‘Laws’ and HAL , as I remember Clarke told Asimov that HAL’s AI-ness took him beyond programmed Robot intelligence, so to speak.

            You know there are two paragraphs early in the novel describing HAL”S ‘intelligence’ as having been evolved, not programed. Clarke has to frame the argument a little abstractly but I think he got it from Minsky.

            • Alex Tolley April 4, 2018, 12:00

              …describing HAL”S ‘intelligence’ as having been evolved…

              That is interesting. Minsky was a symbolic logic advocate and was instrumental in undermining neural approaches using Perceptrons (they could not handle XOR conditions). Neural systems evolved to neural networks and to the deep nets of today.

              Paradoxically, Minsky also wrote “The Society of Mind” which looks rather more bio-inspired and neural to me even though it is just conceptual.

      • J. Jason Wentworth April 3, 2018, 4:49

        The Space Shuttle GPCs’ software was certified as error-free, the only software in the world which, to my knowledge, was so certified. This is a far cry from HAL 9000, of course, but it suggests that such a state of affairs in an AI computer might be possible. I doubt, though, whether such a computer–which could argue back, balk, or even engage in mutiny–would ever be placed in control of a manned spaceship, as that would be asking for trouble, but:

        In cases where such a computer would be the only solution, they could be employed. AI computers would be ideal for robotic interstellar messenger probes (Bracewell probes), which must think for themselves and decide what to do (because the signal time delays would make Earth control impossible). Digital AI computers may not be practical or even possible, but there is another possibility for creating such machines:

        Rupert Sheldrake, a British biologist, has pointed out that analog computers “enable complex, self-organizing patterns of activity to develop through sometimes chaotic, oscillating circuits.” He also noted that in 1952, William Ross Ashby, a British cybernetics researcher, published a book titled “Design for a Brain,” in which he showed how analog cybernetic circuits could model brain activity. More recently (as Sheldrake also noted), Mark Tilden developed insect-like robots that demonstrated self-organization—and even learning and memory—despite the fact that these devices contain fewer than ten transistors and have no computers in them, and:

        BEAM (Biology Electronics Aesthetics Mechanics, or Biotechnology Ethology Analogy Morphology) robotics, a “reaction-based” type of machine building, was inspired by Tilden’s work. (In the nearer term, analog logic circuits-containing robots such as Tilden’s would be useful as rovers, “hopper” rovers, winged and aerostatic aerobots, instrumented boats, and submersibles for exploring planets, moons, asteroids, and comets in our own Solar System. In the future, stellar rendezvous starprobes could deposit similar robots on the worlds orbiting their target stars, and relay the robots’ findings to Earth.) In addition:

        A network of such analog devices might also possibly (perhaps in combination with some digital subsystems) function together to form a type of STAR (Self-Testing And Repairing) computer, which could control interstellar spacecraft. Since about 1961, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory had conducted research on a digital STAR onboard computer, which later in that decade found favor for the planned four-spacecraft Grand Tour mission, for which a non-flight “study model” called TOPS (Thermoelectric Outer Planet Spacecraft) was built. Kenneth Gatland, and the Soviet engineer B. Volgin (as is mentioned on page 244 of the former’s book, “Robot Explorers”), both discussed the need for interstellar spacecraft to have self-repairing computer systems that could also learn and make decisions for themselves.

        • Alex Tolley April 3, 2018, 16:05

          HAL900 was a heuristic software design. I cannot see how it could never make a mistake. I suspect that the assumption was that Boolean logic that is deterministic and would have been encoded as an expert system would always produce the expected answers. We now know how brittle such systems are. If HAL was being designed today, it would certainly incorporate neural networks as part of its intelligence.

          Perfect, foolproof computers are such an old idea, especially wrong if they are to exhibit AGI as HAL apparently does.

          • J. Jason Wentworth April 3, 2018, 23:50

            Maybe the algorithms could be inerrant, but their interactions could yield incorrect final results. Clarke, however, seemed to have accepted the possibility of error in such AIs. The Starholmer’s Bracewell probe in “The Fountains of Paradise,” called Starglider, functioned according to general instructions programmed into it ~60,000 years earlier (it had flown by several other stars before passing through our Solar System), and it made a few mistakes, although they were minor.

            • Alex Tolley April 4, 2018, 11:53

              “The Fountains of Paradise” was published in 1979, long after the 1960’s technology euphoria wore off and deep into the pessimism of the 1970s. Clarke was learning the vagaries of computers from his Kaypro [?]. “3001: The Final Odyssey” (1997) has suggestions that the monolith was malfunctioning too. Funnily enough, we are in the midst of technology euphoria again, especially in AI. I’m waiting for the Gartner post-hype “trough of disillusionment” to reassert itself.

              • ljk April 5, 2018, 10:31

                The 1970s were generally pessimistic when it came to space after the euphoria and then abandonment of Apollo, but the decade did spawn some very high-end space plans.

                These included:

                Project Daedalus by the British Interplanetary Society (BIS) with the concept of a nuclear fusion-powered interstellar probe run by a semi-intelligent AI (their words):


                The Space Settlement concept, which envisioned giant space colonies not on other planets but in huge artificial structures circling Earth at the LaGrange points:


                In their times Daedalus was considered possible by circa 2050, while the Space Settlements were touted as starting as early as the 1990s. An entire article in the July, 1976 issue of National Geographic Magazine was devoted to the concept, which was to be fully realized by 2026.

                The nice thing is that after decades of unfulfilled promises we may finally be seeing all of our earlier space dreams come true. I was worried they might either never happen or happen far into the future.

    • Al Jackson April 3, 2018, 9:41

      2001 abounds with mysteries, there is one I have never been able to ferret out. There are notes in Clarke and Ordway’s remembrances of something about heated arguments at daily production meetings, however neither Clarke or Ordway is explicit about it.
      Two bits of possible evidence. Hal’s deadly action in the novel differ from that in the film. In the movie HAL just does not let Dave back in, in the novel HAL opens the POD Bay doors and the airlock to POD Bay. Dave has to dive into a safety ‘locker’. Not clear why the narrative differs since Clarke keep revising the novel to the film story even when he was in Sri Lanka.
      Further Kubrick never explains HAL’s ‘motivation’ in the film Clarke makes it explicit , well almost explicit, in the chapter Need to Know in the novel and later in 2010.
      The main mystery is why did Kubrick call one the subject matter experts , on the film, to England to talk about AI and HAL again. That was AI expert Marvin Minsky. In the Legacy of Hal Minsky is interviewed and tells the story of meeting Kubrick and going to the set but not once does he relate what Kubrick wanted to talk about.

    • ljk April 3, 2018, 12:09

      If I had only the film version of 2001 to go on, I would think HAL acted as he did because the astronauts were planning to shut him down for that one error with the AE-35 unit and this would have been a threat to the mission, for which HAL had the greatest enthusiasm. I did not get the impression that HAL was having some kind of internal conflict between telling the truth and lying.

      Yes, there was that scene with Dave Bowman where HAL kept implying about odd things regarding the preparations for their mission, but it was pretty obvious that Dave did not catch on to any subtext in HAL’s comments. I would have interpreted this scene as HAL trying to point Dave towards the real reasons they were flying to Jupiter without breaching security, but up front I would not have picked up on this being a serious conflict for the AI.

      The reason would be what I said earlier, that the safety of the human crew would have been paramount for HAL for the success of their mission and their not knowing about the alien intelligence was deemed mandatory by the folks in charge back on Earth.

      Now going back to other sources, the 2001 novel stated that HAL considered being shut down tantamount to a death sentence, since he never even slept, so the astronauts’ clearly sneaky behavior in the pod could only be interpreted by HAL as a murder plot, which in turn would have threatened their mission, which was too important for them to jeopardize.

    • Robert April 4, 2018, 12:58

      So HAL can’t lie but can figure out how to kill? And HAL apparently can communicate with a super alien intelligence who also didn’t bother to stop the killing. That’s as illogical to me as is the concept of true artificial intelligence. I’m not sure why people, actually believe that’s possible but maybe it’s a product of believing that humans are mere machines so naturally then one can assume a conscience intelligent machine is possible. Still, it was an all time great movie.

      • Alex Tolley April 4, 2018, 14:54

        HAL/Bowman doesn’t ever really communicate with teh monolith builders, although in their combined Halman state they do partially understand how the monolith works.

        Lying is rather different than killing. It requires deception and, to some extent, a theory of mind. Killing is purely operational, and in HAL’s case, analogous to the paperclip problem of intelligent agents.

        • Alex Tolley April 5, 2018, 1:57

          It does seem to me that HAL could be trying to lie when he tells Bowman that he is now well again and able to function. The lie is so transparent that it hardly seems like a lie.

          • ljk April 5, 2018, 10:51

            That HAL might have even seriously considered his “reassurances” to Dave about getting better would somehow placate the astronaut just shows how bad the AI’s neuroses had gotten by then – and perhaps the limits of HAL’s abilities to understand his human coworkers.

            Though as we have seen with later chess playing computers in our reality, they can analyze literally billions of moves against their human opponents. One might think that an Artilect as sophisticated as HAL would be able to do the same and even better, but if the whole neurotic thing is true, then HAL’s decision making functions may have been even more degraded. I may even be borrowing this from the Star Trek episode The Ultimate Computer with M-5, but might HAL have felt some form of guilt for killing and attempting to murder the very people he was supposed to support and protect and thus his belated attempts to placate Dave?

            As I stated earlier in this thread, if HAL 9000 had succeeded in killing all the humans on Discovery, what would he have told to Mission Control as an explanation for all five men suddenly dying? Would he have kept lying or would he have told them the truth with the explanation that their actions threatened him and therefore the mission? And what would MC have done in response? Surely they would have been less than thrilled that a homicidal and mentally unstable machine in control of a big nuclear-powered spaceship would be the sole Earth “ambassador” to an unknown alien power.

            That the room containing his logic circuits could not be kept locked and sealed off by HAL himself may also indicate that those who designed and built HAL and Discovery may not have fully trusted the artificial intelligence despite its series previous track record.

            • ljk April 5, 2018, 11:13

              To add to the above: It was pretty obvious that HAL did not feel (or at least did not consciously realize) any remorse when he thought Dave was going to be left trapped in the pod with no way back into the Discovery.

              Just listen to how the tone in HAL’s voice changed when Dave famously asked him to “open the pod bay doors”:


              So HAL’s reaction once Dave did get back in and was clearly heading for his “brain” with a singular purpose may have been little more than a last-minute appeasement to stave off the inevitable.

              As a purely academic exercise, I wonder if HAL had any other measures at his disposal to stop Dave or any other human from attacking his logic center? He could have vented all the ship’s air like he did in the novel version, but Dave only made his mistake of forgetting his space helmet just once. Cutting off all the ship’s power or at least life support might have worked if HAL could also have locked his brain’s door, but that room had manual access. Note that HAL could also not lock any of the doors between Dave and his brain room, otherwise I am sure HAL would have sealed them off.

              I also have no idea if there was any way to “self-destruct” Discovery, but that would have been a bit extreme in any event.

              I saw on one blueprint that the habitation section of Discovery could be explosively disconnected from the rest of the ship, probably in the event of a nuclear emergency, but I am not certain if that would do much good in terms of HAL saving himself from the wrath of Dave.

        • Robert April 5, 2018, 12:00

          That’s analogous to the ‘grey goo’ problem in nanotechnology where nanoscale replicators turn everything into more nanoscale replicators. Only the replicating machines were mindless robots merely following programming. We don’t even need AI to do real damage……


  • ljk April 2, 2018, 15:14

    Another place where 2001 took artistic license over reality was in the depiction of the lunar landscape itself. While not quite the jagged peaks that Chesley Bonestell and most other space artists both before and after him depicted the appearance of lunar mountains, the Moon’s surface in 2001 was a lot rougher than what we have since come to know it as.

    The original thinking was that since there was no atmosphere and therefore no actual climate on the Moon, the lunar mountains would be uneroded peaks left virtually untouched since their creation. What they did not count on was that the face of the Moon was affected by erosion, but instead of wind and rain it was due to meteoroids of various sizes over eons. This is why the mountains as seen by the later Apollo missions which landed in the lunar highlands are all smooth and rounded; they also look deceptively like low hills. Some of the Surveyor missions which landed within camera view of mountains also revealed them to be smooth rolling hills rather than dangerously pointy.

    Now I know the makers of 2001 knew the true nature of the lunar mountains because Arthur C. Clarke of all people authored a book from the Time-Life Science series titled Man and Space, first published in 1964. In it is a graphic showing that the lunar mountains are smooth and round rather than jagged points for the very reason I stated above.

    So Kubrick et al did know what the lunar surface generally looked like even before the first machines with working cameras landed there, but I am guessing that because 1960s pre-Apollo audiences were so used to seeing the Moon as craggy and sharp (like in Destination Moon from 1950), they opted to go with the old-fashioned look.

    • ljk April 2, 2018, 15:32

      I cannot believe I forgot to add this tidbit: I once wrote to Clarke about Man and Space and he mentioned in his reply that he was moonlighting with that book while working on some little space film at the same time….

    • Al Jackson April 2, 2018, 16:38

      There are essays about ‘physics mistakes’ Kubrick made in 2001 , especially some zero g ones. Kubrick would get 998 things right and be condemned for nits. (Not talking about the lunar landscape here.) Interesting one is the heat radiators on the Discovery , Kubrick understood very well the engineering physics but aesthetics trumped.

      • J. Jason Wentworth April 3, 2018, 5:02

        I wonder, Al, if a lot of astronautical engineers, astronomers, and space scientists find science fiction movies–even “2001”–difficult to watch (being unable to suspend disbelief so that they can simply enjoy them, that is) because the errors and omissions are so obvious to them? Carl Sagan could never get into “Star Trek” for that reason (“Thoughtful friends tell me I should enjoy it as allegory”), and my father–a fire chief–could never enjoy the 1970s action/adventure series “Emergency” (which was about firefighters and paramedics) because so many errors jumped out at him.

        • Al Jackson April 3, 2018, 10:00

          It really depends of how sensitive one is of small errors. Don’t know many technical people who had that kind of problem with 2001.
          Can tell you that among science fiction reading fans in 1968 2001 was a step function. We had watched some good SF films in the 1950’s , Destination Moon to Forbidden Planet, but then we were swamped by Queen of Outer Space to Plan Nine from Outer Space , gad! many others …. so anything that might kill the Z SF film was welcomed.

          • J. Jason Wentworth April 3, 2018, 22:58

            That’s interesting; I had wondered if might have been a “left-brain thing” (being detail-oriented, which might hinder enjoyment of a technically-imperfect film), but I was just guessing. “Frakenstein Meets the Space Monster” is another of those unforgettable (unfortunately…) science fiction films. :-)

    • Alex Tolley April 2, 2018, 17:40

      Now I know the makers of 2001 knew the true nature of the lunar mountains because Arthur C. Clarke of all people authored a book from the Time-Life Science series titled Man and Space, first published in 1964.

      And yet, despite this, the illustrations on p142 & p144 by Ed Valigursky show quite a rugged landscape with fairly jagged hills without soft rounded forms. Those illustrations leave a far stronger impression than the earlier, tiny illustrations comparing the old jagged landscape conception with the new knowledge of softly rounded hills. Which is the visually more interesting is obvious, IMO. Kubrick probably made the decision on how to depict the Moon based on that. I believe that the decision to add stars even in a bright landscape was made because of prior audience expectations. What is space without bright, unwinking stars? The movie “Gravity” shows stars, even in a scene where the sun is facing the camera! At least the brightness of the stars is very reduced compared to earlier movies.

      • J. Jason Wentworth April 3, 2018, 5:11

        …And don’t forget the crater-free asteroids that are seen–briefly–in “2001” (I have a copy of “Man and Space” as well, and remember the lunar surface depiction discrepancies, although some “outlier” lunar locales are pretty rugged in real life). Until (relatively) recently, even astronomy books depicted asteroids without craters, and with radar, no spaceship would be allowed to pass so close to them (and the main belt zone is much, much more thinly-populated than most science fiction works depicted).

      • ljk April 3, 2018, 10:18

        Don’t get me started on Gravity, an incredibly anti-space film which threw physics and logic out the window at its convenience.

        • J. Jason Wentworth April 3, 2018, 23:04

          If you ever watch “Land of the Giants” (Irwin Allen’s last [1968 – 1970] science fiction TV series, after “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea,”, “Lost in Space,” and “The Time Tunnel”), “Gravity’s” scientific fidelity may look exemplary by comparison. :-)

          • Ljk April 4, 2018, 21:41

            I know there are plenty of terrible science fiction films and television series which do not deserve to have the word science in their description.

            What I really object to are those films which purport to be scientific and parade their science and technical advisors in the press, only to push them aside when reality gets in the way of their “vision”. Interstellar and Gravity are but two who are quite guilty in this area.

            As bad as those series you mention above were, they did have a big influence on my interest in science fiction and real space science as a kid.

  • Alex Tolley April 2, 2018, 15:23

    Excellent article.

    There is a good review and critique of the computing systems in “HAL’s Legacy” ed. David Stork. In particular, designer Donald Norman critiques the computer displays as providing as a poor interface for humans.

    I once tried to determine how realistic the Aries II Moon shuttle was in terms of fuel and propulsion for the lunar trip. IIRC, it was doable – just.

    As noted in the article, there is a lot of context for the designs and equipment in other stories by Clarke that predate 2001. As noted, the Orion space shuttle was presaged in “Prelude to Space”. The space pod is rather similar in function to the hard “bottle” suits that Clarke often used, perhaps most memorably in the short story “Summertime on Icarus” (1960). The final design for Discovery is clearly a descendant of the dumbbell ship design first shown in his first non-fiction book: “Interplanetary Flight”(1950) and used in the novel “The Sands of Mars” (1951). “The Exploration of Space” (1951) has a plate from “Destination Moon” showing the spacesuits. IMO, the ghastly “space food” meals were definitely not a Clarke idea as he had long suggested that meals would be as much like those on Earth as possible, using sticky sauces to glue the components together and on the plate. [A quick perusal of my library only finds his first mention of real food in space in the chapter “Vacation in Vacuum” in “The Challenge of the Spaceship” (1955).]

    To me, the designs of the spacecraft in 2001 hold up quite well after 50 years. Certainly far better than the SciFi movies that preceded it, and arguably many that succeeded it. The design style was a radical departure from earlier films and the design elements influenced spaceship design for decades. 2001 retains the basic A,B, & C ship designs described by Clarke in “Interplanetary Flight” as the logic was clear and arguably remains intact.

    • ljk April 3, 2018, 10:24

      A variation of those EVA bottle suits were also seen in Walt Disney’s Man in Space series in the 1950s along with an early version of a space plane and a giant wheeled space station.


      • Alex Tolley April 3, 2018, 18:22

        Just as the spaceship is analogous to the submarine, the EVA bottle suit is analogous to the deep submersible vessel (DSV). Modern DSVs may have a clear bubble chamber for the pilot with external propulsion and manipulators.

        SciFi movies still insist that the protagonists go outside their spacecraft in the equivalent of a diving suit. Just as atmospheric hard suits and DSVs remove the need for decompression chambers for traditional diving gear, pods and EVA bottle suits remove the need for the time to don a spacesuit and wait for the occupant to adjust.

        What was not appreciated until relatively recently was the usefulness of remotely piloted vehicles – from drones in the air to ROVs in the ocean. Increasingly, it makes sense for the pilot to stay inside his craft and remotely pilot a vehicle. Donning AR gear and force feedback gloves, an astronaut may well be able to skip EVAs almost entirely. Had Frank Poole had this available, HAL would have needed to try another ruse to kill the crew. By the time we have humans piloting deep space vehicles, I suspect such remote piloted vehicles will be common equipment.

        • J. Jason Wentworth April 3, 2018, 23:12

          Discovery One’s pods were also similar to von Braun’s “work globes” (which either pre-dated or post-dated the bottle suits, but not by much). In the late 1950s Golden Book “Space Flight,” the wheel space station was built by “regularly-suited” astronauts and two work globes (each receiving power and air from a delta-winged, conical third stage rocket ship floating nearby); the globes had jointed metal arms and legs with “hands,”, large circular windows, and each seated one man.

    • Curt Wohleber April 3, 2018, 11:03

      “In particular, designer Donald Norman critiques the computer displays as providing as a poor interface for humans.”
      I read an interesting article a year or so ago about interfaces in film and TV. Apparently, it’s difficult to make something that both looks interesting and meaningful when seen fleetingly on screen AND is an actually useful interface. I think LCARS from Star Trek is a good example of something that looks functional and cool as long as you don’t subject it to close scrutiny. Which is fine, because most people won’t. Similarly, those square screens in 2001 with “NAV,” “VTM” and other three-letter abbreviations in big type seemed simultaneously pointless yet somehow convincing.

      • ljk April 3, 2018, 12:48

        Here is a Web site on interfaces in 2001 with some beautiful screen shots:


        SciFi Interfaces has a lot of good details on the various interfaces found in science fiction films and television series. They have some on 2001, but not as much as I hope and you have to dig for them. But here is the link just the same:


        Here is a Web site devoted to typeset in 2001, complete with all those tiny instructions we see throughout the film, including the ones for using the bathroom on the Aries:


      • J. Jason Wentworth April 3, 2018, 23:25

        The computer monitors on the bridge of the interplanetary freighter Valley Forge (in “Silent Running”) had mostly gibberish on them. The one that Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern) used to set up the ship’s passage through Saturn’s rings (which were multi-colored and gaseous! [Douglas Trumbull was unable to depict them well enough for “2001,” so Jupiter was ‘used’ instead]) only depicted the word “Saturn” understandably, but:

        The worst “offenders” where nonsensical displays are concerned may be Irwin Allen’s. On the screens aboard the Flying Sub (“Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea”) and the Spindrift (“Land of the Giants”), the ‘display’ consisted of an oscilloscope waveform, which the actors ‘read’ as remote objects, distances, and so on. (Mr. Spock’s hooded Science Console screen on the U.S.S. Enterprise’s bridge was, wisely, hidden, with its display’s appearance left to the imagination.)

        • ljk April 5, 2018, 13:29

          Silent Running – now there is a film with an amazingly absurd premise: In the year 2008, all flora and fauna on Earth are gone except for those few preserved in biodomes attached to converted space freighters circling way out by Saturn, which is 800 million miles from Sol.

          Apparently all of humanity is not only still alive on Earth after such an ecological catastrophe but quite content with the way things are, except for one man (named Freeman, hint hint) aboard the spaceship Valley Forge who rants against the loss of nature. Soon he will become ever more upset when the order is given to nuke (yes, nuke) all the domes and return the spaceships to commercial freighter service.

          All this does not mean the film is unwatchable. It is actually rather entertaining, riveting in many parts, and even moving. Just so long as you can look past the layers of illogic in the service of a very blunt message.


          • J. Jason Wentworth April 7, 2018, 11:00

            …I guess everyone on the Earth of “Silent Running” was eating hydroponically-grown Chlorella and Duckweed fare, and maybe also processed insects (some people are now even selling–and eating–cricket flour food items, such as “Chirps Chips,” see: http://www.google.com/search?ei=MtDIWuHTHI_ysAWLlpmIBw&q=chirps+chips&oq=Chirps+Chips&gs_l=psy-ab.1.0.0l10.3061.13221.0.15614.….0…1c.1.64.psy-ab..0.12.1386…0i131k1j0i67k1j0i46i67k1j46i67k1j0i131i67k1.0.KrNuG9HSfUA [I’ll pass on that…]). Also:

            Carl Sagan found “Silent Running” frustrating (“The engineers of that time can build interplanetary cities, but have forgotten that plants need sunlight…”). Also, where were the rocket engines on the American Airlines space freighters (their roar was unmistakable)? The Valley Forge’s gyros also made a lot of noise as they spun up before engine burns, and the power source for the “Sun replacement lamp grow lights” (for the plants that Dewey tended in the ship’s last bio-dome, left out near Uranus) must have tapped into Hoyle’s Steady State Theory’s Hilbert Space to keep running… I love the film visually and emotionally, but it (it was special effects expert Douglas Trumbull’s first directing gig) seemed to have been made partly “with stunning special effects, for the sake of astonishing the audience.”

    • Alex Tolley April 5, 2018, 1:59

      The idea of food held together and onto the plate in zero g is included in the novel, when Floyd is on his way to the Moon in the Aries II.

    • J. Jason Wentworth April 5, 2018, 7:21

      Clarke’s “A, B. and C” family of fully-reusable space vehicles (“Type A”–possibly winged–for Earth-to-LEO and back, “Type B” for lunar orbit-to-lunar surface and back to lunar orbit [initially carried to LEO by a Type A ship, possibly transported to lunar orbit by a Type C ship], and “Type C”–a true spaceship–for space-only, inter-orbit travel) still makes sense for a cislunar and interplanetary transportation infrastructure, and:

      SpaceX’s BFR is a Type A, B, and C ship all in one, depending on how it’s configured, if it’s refueled in orbit from a tanker BFR, and how much payload mass it carries. Even the smaller Falcon 9 and/or Falcon Heavy–if the expendable second stage that they use was replaced by a reusable, aerospike (plug nozzle, altitude-compensating) modular rocket engine-equipped second stage that was similar in configuration to Philip Bono’s SSTO (Single-Stage-To-Orbit) spaceships–could serve all three A, B, and C functions, if the second stage was tanker-refueled in orbit. Also:

      Bono’s SSTO spaceships were also capable–with LEO refueling–of traveling to the Moon’s surface and back to Earth (Project Selene), and of delivering a MEM (Mars Excursion Module) to Mars orbit and Mars’ surface, then returning the crew to Earth (Project Deimos). His designs had conservative mass margins. In addition, several historic and existing launch vehicle stages *already* had/have the capability of achieving orbit by themselves, with small payloads (as expendable SSTO vehicles). In addition:

      Gary Hudson also showed (see “A Single-Stage-To-Orbit Thought Experiment” *here*: http://www.spacefuture.com/archive/a_single_stage_to_orbit_thought_experiment.shtml ) that several combinations of historic and/or existing rocket engine and stage tankage hardware (such as Saturn S-IVB or Shuttle External Tank hardware, fitted with up to six Space Shuttle Main Engines) could–even allowing for “worst-case” thrust structure and payload fairing masses–orbit between 60,000 and 100,000 pounds of payload mass (in expendable mode), and could still orbit useful payloads if flown as reusable vehicles. Since SSTO rockets can achieve this, TSTO (Two-Stage-To-Orbit) ones–even fully-reusable, vertical-landing ones–can do even better, as the SpaceX BFR’s performance specifications show. Clearly, fully-reusable launch vehicles and spaceships are now feasible; it’s only a matter of money and engineering development, *not* breakthroughs of any kind, that are needed to bring such vehicles to fruition.

      • Alex Tolley April 5, 2018, 11:10

        It is interesting that the BFR could be all those ship versions, harking back to those movie spaceships inspired from the V-2 era and even earlier (e.g. “Frau im Mond” (1929)). I will be very interested to see how that pans out.

        However, I think that in the long run, the “C” ship for space travel makes the most sense. It can be truly large, like ocean ships. It can use high Isp engines (nuclear/electric) to increase mass fractions and venture into really deep space. Size will allow large carousels for artificial gravity. Its configuration will not be constrained by aerodynamics. Even if we develop constant thrust engines that deliver up to 1 g, the sheer size will allow a level of comfort and luxury that will be impossible for an Earth-launched craft.

        Potentially these ships will be worldlets and even generation ships.

        The BFR landing and refueling on the Moon is almost heroic. It is the approach abandoned by Nasa for the original Moon landings even with a Saturn V launcher. Impressive as the BFR would be, I see it more as the easiest way for Musk to achieve his goal of Mars colonization, not as the economically best approach in a mature competitive market.

        • J. Jason Wentworth April 7, 2018, 10:33

          I agree–and if they were built as Dr. John S. Lewis’ proposed “re-built 800-meter carbonaceous asteroid with Earth gravity carousel” interplanetary cycling spaceships, neither radiation nor long-term microgravity would be concerns; in fact, their radiation protection would exceed that on the Earth’s surface, and 1 g artificial gravity would be continuous. Also:

          He discusses these in his book “Mining the Sky”; he advocates such Earth-Mars Cyclers, which would use water-fueled thrusters for minor orbital adjustments (they would have comfortable accommodations for over 200,000 passengers) and smaller, intra-asteroid belt converted asteroid Cyclers, to regularly transport people and cargoes between the main ports of call. Smaller (but still quite large) nuclear-electric propulsion Type C inter-orbital spaceships–which would be large enough to have centrifugal gravity and ample radiation shielding) could go anywhere, at almost any time, with smaller payloads (much like with solar sails, minimum-energy trajectories wouldn’t be absolute necessities for NEP spaceships, as they are with chemical rockets).

  • ljk April 2, 2018, 15:34

    Two articles on 2001 in this week’s edition of The Space Review:

    Fifty years after the future arrived: the astronauts of 2001: A Space Odyssey

    On this 50th anniversary of the premiere of 2001, Dwayne Day examines the movie from the perspective of the actors who played the two astronauts on the Discovery.

    Monday, April 2, 2018


    Review: Space Odyssey

    Fifty years ago today, the film 2001: A Space Odyssey had its world premiere in Washington. Jeff Foust reviews a book that describes in great depth the epic production of this space epic.

    Monday, April 2, 2018


    • J. Jason Wentworth April 3, 2018, 5:37

      Thank you–I’m glad that Gary Lockwood also mentioned his part (as Captain Kirk’s friend Gary Mitchell) in the second “Star Trek” pilot episode. Keir Dullea (and Walter Koenig, who played Pavel Chekov on “Star Trek”) also starred in the 1970s Canadian science fiction television series “The Starlost” (in one episode, Dullea’s character, Devon, undertook a very long space walk outside Earthship Ark, the out-of-control generation starship, which some fans think was an homage to his “2001” EVA).

      • ljk April 3, 2018, 12:56

        Funny how in that second Star Trek pilot Gary Lockwood’s character was evolving into his own version of the Starchild thanks to outside cosmic forces, but Kirk and company weren’t too happy about it.

        • J. Jason Wentworth April 3, 2018, 23:27

          Maybe in the alternate Spock’s timeline, Gary Mitchell’s new abilities are appreciated rather than feared… :-)

          • ljk April 5, 2018, 14:43

            Did you notice how in Star Trek they weren’t too fond of computers that got too smart? Same for humans trying to evolve. Twenty-third Century progress being hampered by Twentieth Century paranoia and ignorance.

  • ljk April 2, 2018, 15:43

    Who remembers this actual kids menu from Howard Johnson’s which had a product placement cameo in 2001 – and has since gone the way of Pan-Am airlines:


    • J. Jason Wentworth April 3, 2018, 5:50

      I didn’t, unfortunately (although I have an excellent excuse–I was not quite two years old at the time…). But Howard Johnson’s, which is still in business as a chain of hotels and motels (and was one of the first companies to do product placement in a movie, in “2001” [see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Howard_Johnson%27s ]), ought to offer reprints of that kids’ menu (with suitable modifications for today’s offerings) at their hotels’ restaurants.

      • J. Jason Wentworth April 3, 2018, 6:06

        Pan American still exists, by the way (my Aunt Jane worked for them for many years). They were brought back once, then “put on ice” after a few years, but they still exist as a “holding company” (if I’m recalling the correct term for it). I read that there are plans to revive and expand Pan Am, when the time and circumstances are right. Also (regarding their space connections):

        Pan American, like the original Bell Telephone (which, of course, also had a product *and* service placement in “2001”), was/is more than just a regular company, having been called upon to perform various unusual services for the U.S. government. They once handled range operations, security, and catering at all of the Atlantic Missile Range sites (and Bell Telephone handled communications and data-handling services at the Cape; a friend of mine did that work there), and Pan Am also designed overseas military airfields during World War II (my aunt was involved in that work during the war).

  • Gary Wilson April 2, 2018, 15:45

    An amazing book brilliantly transferred to film by Kubrik. If only we moved ahead as fast as Clarke in his fictional stories. Surely a 50 year plus wait between manned landings on the moon and Mars is far too long. Decades of dithering are to blame as well as foolish wars in which trillions were squandered and led to nothing but international destabilization. A bit of bitterness appearing in my last couple of posts but we should have done so much better.

    • Gerald Cecil April 2, 2018, 20:44

      The dithering and wars arguably arose because of our inability to deploy nuclear power in a form that the public would accept, compelling us to burn carbon rocks for electrical power and become embroiled in clashing religions. Too bad the reactors we so expensively built were merely scaled-up nuclear submarine powerplants. Now, 50 years later we know how to do nuclear power properly with a molten salt loop that can’t vent or spill, but only China is building that potent electrical power for the 21st century.

  • Al Jackson April 2, 2018, 18:35

    As a film art form 2001 is an interesting story. The most prestigious poll of best films was started in 1952 by the British Film Institute. It takes the poll every 10 years. There are two polls one of film critics and film historians and the other is film directors. In 2012 2001 moved into the top ten best films of all time.

    In 1967 2001:A Space Odyssey was not nominated for an Oscar as best film. The winner that year was Oliver! Oliver! A good movie, is not in the 100 best films of all time of the British Film Institute.

    • ljk April 3, 2018, 10:30

      2001 was not even nominated for a Best Picture award at the 1969 Oscars. It did give Kubrick his only Oscar win – which just shows how much the Academy Awards are really about popularity over quality:


      • Alex Tolley April 3, 2018, 16:11

        These days it is more about lobbying the committee than popularity ( based on box office receipts?). Box office popularity and Rotten Tomatoes ratings would suggest superhero movies would clean up best picture awards every year.

        • Ljk April 4, 2018, 21:45

          No science fiction film has predicted our probable future better than Idiocracy.

          • Alex Tolley April 5, 2018, 23:00

            I am hopeful that the US will have another “Sputnik moment” and reverse course again, emphasizing the need for education with strong STEM (better STEAM) skills with a broad range of science and technology jobs offering high pay and recognition. Europe doesn’t seem to have the malaise the US has, nor other countries, most especially China.

    • J. Jason Wentworth April 5, 2018, 6:17

      I thought “2001” was edged out by “The Producers” (the Mel Brooks film which featured the bizarre song “Springtime for Hitler” [complete with singing storm troopers–imagine aliens trying to figure out *that*, if it had been included on the Voyager Interstellar Record…]). I recall reading Clarke’s comment (in his book “1984: Spring–A Choice of Futures”) about how he regretted not being able to read his Oscar acceptance speech for “2001,” which he had devoted quite some effort to and was proud of.

      • Alex Tolley April 5, 2018, 10:50

        The 1969 Oscar nominees and winners can be seen here:


        • J. Jason Wentworth April 7, 2018, 10:03

          I hadn’t known Gene Wilder was in “The Producers.” Cliff Robertson’s part of “Charly” (in the film of the same name) was also science fiction, as that movie was an adaptation of Daniel Keyes’ novel “Flowers For Algernon,” in which Charlie Gordon (a mentally retarded man with an I.Q. of 68) gains one of well over 200 as the result of experimental surgery, researches his own malady, then loses his newly-gained brilliance.

      • ljk April 5, 2018, 11:31

        Is there a copy of Clarke’s Oscar acceptance speech somewhere? Did Kubrick write one as well, even though he was not at the 1969 Academy Awards ceremony?

        FYI: The Producers did indeed beat out 2001 in the category of Best Story and Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen.

        Again, I know I am biased but that Kubrick was not chosen for Best Director ever shows just how much the Oscars were and are a popularity contest over recognizing true artistic talent. With a helping of contemporaries not recognizing true masterpieces and masters in their time.


        • Al Jackson April 5, 2018, 21:36

          It is amazing that 2001 was not even nominated for cinematography! Every cinematographer alive today says that film was their greatest influence. The other were good films in 1968 but none of them had the lasting merit that 2001 had.

        • J. Jason Wentworth April 7, 2018, 10:07

          Clarke’s never-delivered speech may be in his book “1984: Spring–A Choice of Futures” (see: http://www.amazon.com/Choice-Futures-1984-Arthur-Clarke/dp/0246123060 [it’s well worth reading for everything else in it, too]).

  • H. Floyd (no relation) April 2, 2018, 19:19

    Brilliant article! I’d love to get engineers together with neuroscientists to discuss Kubrick’s anthropological overture to the technological drama. When I first saw 2001: A Space Odyssey (with adult eyes), I didn’t understand why a film about space and technology spent so much seemingly disjointed narrative on “The Dawn of Man.” Now I am convinced that that question is where Kubrick hid the freshest marrow for thought — our alienating journey into the future is tied at every corner to intimate spaces within the primate cranium. Kubrick’s insight that our cognitive evolution is imprinted onto everything we touch, yet expresses itself as a confounding mystery, was ahead of its time in any artistic genre. You see frustrated hints of this thought-arc in the set designs of Dr. Strangelove, and it’s no surprise that Kubrick ultimately turned to science fiction to work it out.

    So it’s even more tantalizing to imagine, as articles like this excite us to do, how Kubrick might have expanded on the motifs and entendres connecting Act One with the Space Odyssey — watering hole diplomacy; transformations from prey to predator; perception versus sight; and so on — if he had known in 1968 all that we’ve learned since about the unique impulse for Discovery.

  • Chris S April 2, 2018, 20:15

    > (One interesting tidbit here: some Glenn Research Center engineers redesigned the Discovery recently as an engineering exercise.(10))


    > (10) Searle, J. (1997). The Mystery of Consciousness. New York, New York Review Press.

    Kindly provide a cite for the curious.

    • ljk April 3, 2018, 13:31

      Here is the document online in PDF format, for free:


      Speaking of documents linked in the Selected Bibliography part of this article, I hope the Amazon price for 2001: The Lost Science Volume 1 is just a huge error, because I am not paying $2,099.00 for it no matter how good the book is! Volume 2 is a much more reasonable if not exactly cheap $49.95. Plus the link to Volume 2 actually goes to Volume 1.

      • Alex Tolley April 3, 2018, 21:06

        Oooh! I can sell my copy for $2000! I suspect it is the pricing algorithm error again. You see this sometimes when an outrageous price is quoted. usually, it corrects itself in due time.

  • David Herne April 2, 2018, 21:12

    Haven’t read this yet, it is early morning here but I have to say that no subject runs closer to my heart than 2001 A Space Odyssey. I saw the film on release in 1968 as a twelve year old and clearly remember thinking, as the movie drew to a close, “please don’t end, please don’t end”! The other ‘great’ contemporary influence in my life was the Vietnam war, always in the news and movie reels (remember those).

    I will read this with relish.

  • Paul Titze April 2, 2018, 22:03

    Hi Paul,

    Interesting article. Long term space exploration can only become viable if solutions are found to counteract space radiation and if an artificial 1g environment is created within the space habitat. The human body has adapted to live on Earth’s environment the last several millions of years. Exercise, medicine etc to counteract the long term effects of microgravity (and space radiation) just ain’t going to cut it. Passive and active solutions for space radiation protection need to be developed.


    Cheers, Paul.

  • Scott Guerin April 2, 2018, 22:32

    Great article, excellent comments all around.

    The anniversary brings back so many memories. I bugged my mom for the movie tickets and book, and I’ve seen it more times than any other film (sometimes in highly altered states too!)

    I’m a designer of science and history exhibits largely because of Robert McCall’s paintings for the book and movie posters http://www.mccallstudios.com/2001-a-space-odyssey/ …they still give me a thrill.

    While at my basement chemistry set, I played the cassette tape of the often spooky soundtrack, and later, as a father, tossed our infant daughter in the air to what my wife and I dubbed the “Nude Danube”

    I point all to this critical take on the movie’s meaning http://reflectionsonfilmandtelevision.blogspot.com/2014/01/cult-movie-review-2001-space-odyssey.html

    And lastly, I point the Instagrammers here to my 2001/SpaceX meme:

  • Michael Spencer April 3, 2018, 10:49

    Paul –

    Like many here, I’ve been a regular reader for many years, anticipating and reading piece in a moment of quite from the day.

    So, you’ll forgive me… but on re-reading this post, I don’t think I’ve been ever been more delighted.

    This evening, I’ll fire up the DVD player to watch 2001, again…

    • Paul Gilster April 3, 2018, 12:22

      Thank you for the kind words, Michael! And yes, 2001 is definitely a move that repays watching over and over again. It will soon be showing again in my household, perhaps tonight…

  • ljk April 3, 2018, 11:05

    2001: A Space Odyssey is often perceived as an overly optimistic film about space exploration and colonization, especially from the vantage point of the actual 21st Century, which has seen so little of what was predicted in the film come to pass (no Moon base, no manned nuclear-powered spacecraft to Jupiter, no true AI, etc.).

    However, we need to note that the space future Kubrick et al laid out was based on real NASA plans for space from the early 1960s, right up to the nuclear-powered manned spacecraft expedition to Jupiter: Orion was the original design for Discovery, which was a viable project until its cancellation in 1965.

    Imagine Discovery shooting nuclear bombs out its aft and detonating them against a pusher plate. Now imagine HAL having access to such weapons!



    From such a vantage point, when we were getting ready to place humans on the Moon with Apollo and Von Braun talked about manned Mars missions in the early 1980s, the timeline seemed both plausible and logical.

    2001 actually had its feet in both cultural worlds when production began on it circa 1964. There was the optimistic, shiny future of earlier decades, where technology and science were going to solve all our problems and colonizing space was a given part of this attitude. Then society changed and radicalized: Fears of nuclear war and destroying Earth’s environment among other factors led to much more pessimistic thinking about science and technology. Space seemed like a playground for the rich and the military, unconcerned about all the issues on the ground.

    2001 reflects this latter attitude as well if you look at it: Robotic, bland humans exploring space with all the enthusiasm of a businessperson on a terrestrial business trip. Meanwhile our technology is outpacing its creators, ready to destroy humans if we get in its way. The very first spacecraft we see in Earth orbit when the scene transitions from that famous flung bone to space is not a vessel for scientific exploration but a nuclear weapons platform.

    In the novel version of 2001 we are given a background on the aliens who made and sent the Monolith. They went through their evolutionary machine phase before becoming something like energy/mind beings. This and their development of Bowman into the Starchild is our primary hope for a future that does not end in our demise, according to the film.

    No wonder some people called 2001 a ten million dollar religious film.

    • Alex Tolley April 3, 2018, 16:19

      Don’t forget that the movie was made at the height of the Cold War and barely 5 years after the Cuban Missile Crisis. The theme of human-instigated global nuclear destruction was on a lot of people’s minds.

      The Starchild also echoes the transcendence of the Earth children in “Childhood’s End”, which in turn was influenced by Stapledon’s “Star Maker” and arguably Christ’s resurrection. OTOH, it was claimed that 2001 was a modern retelling of “The Odyssey”. So many possible interpretations.

  • ljk April 3, 2018, 13:52

    Here is some early artwork and details on the USS Discovery as an Orion nuclear pulse spaceship, which when 2001 was first being developed was a possibility by that year:





  • Abelard Lindsey April 3, 2018, 16:34

    My understanding is that “2001” production started in 1964 and the movie was originally intended for a 1966 release. The culture depicted in the movie is definitely pre-1960’s social culture. It seems to be that the spring of ’68 release was a little late.

    To me, the movie depicts an overview of what I call the Clarke/Von Braun space scenario that was envisioned in the late 50’s to mid 60’s. They really did expect the classic “wheel” space station (Von Braun’s 1950’s design) as well as Moonbase Alpha (my name for it) with the first manned missions to Mars occurring in the 1980’s or 1990’s. Of course none of this has happened. This scenario is reiterated in the novel (and movie) “2010” that came out in the early 80’s!!

    The third book “Odyssey Three” came out in 1986 or so. It takes place in 2061 when Halley’s makes its next dive into the solar system. Clarke had the sense to revise history where he had the events of “2001” taking place sometime in the 2030’s.

    Now how many of you here think we’re going to be sending people to the outer solar system in the 2030’s?

    • ljk April 5, 2018, 11:35

      I don’t know about humans exploring the outer Sol system in the 2030s, but we may have humans on the Moon and Mars in the 2020s:


      • Abelard Lindsey April 5, 2018, 18:50

        I’ll believe it when I see it. Space X seems successful enough. But Musk seems to have bitten off more than he can chew with Tesla and Solar businesses.

        • ljk April 6, 2018, 9:50

          At least Musk has a plan and a deadline, not to mention the knowhow and resources. NASA still talks about sending humans to Mars sometime in the 2030s but almost as a guess and the SLS won’t even be ready for a test launch until 2022, if that.

          Not sure what China and Russia are up to in these areas outside of numerous claims, but China may have at least a lunar base before the end of the 2020s. They will soon have the first working vehicle on the lunar farside next.

  • Abelard Lindsey April 3, 2018, 17:12

    What I liked most about the film was 1) the space craft moving around to the “Blue Danube” waltz and 2) the eerie emptiness that takes over as the background from the Moonbase scene through the rest of the movie. As far as I know, no other film and only one TV show has depicted space this way. That show was “Space 1999”. I read some years later that some of the people who helped make “2001” also made “space 1999”. Yeah, the plot of “Space 1999” was silly. But I liked the way the show depicted the eerie emptiness of space.

    • J. Jason Wentworth April 3, 2018, 23:43

      YES! I’ll never forget Voyager 1 (with its problematic Queller drive) moving through the empty void–with only one star or distant planet visible in the background–and the three pursuing Sidon ships, dimly-illuminated, gradually approaching the far-off Moon, which isn’t even visible at that range. The technical details of the show were inaccurate, but the “eerie emptiness of space,” as you well-expressed it, was palpable; incidentally, *here* is a 6:55 series-ending episode http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gh4f2Gkee3I , “Final Message From Moonbase Alpha,” that was beautifully done.

      • ljk April 5, 2018, 14:46

        I found the scenes of Discovery arriving in the Jupiter system just before Dave took the pod into the Stargate to really capture the feel of being a speck in the Cosmos. 2010 came close a few times, but nothing rivaled that scene for being truly out in the void.

  • James Stilwell April 4, 2018, 10:59

    Don’t overlook that Kubrick evolved from HAL to developed David, the robot boy in AI who was programmed to love…Spielberg finished it…The film should have ended on an up-note…rather than David finally going to sleep…for all eternity…But that’s life…

  • Greg April 4, 2018, 22:46

    A brilliant film by a brilliant filmaker. I’m an aerospace engineer and a pilot. 2001 is the only space movie I’ve ever seen that rings true. His attention to detail, his abilty to paint at a landscape on the screen, the waltz of the shuttle and the space station, the final approach and landing on the moon, all evoke the feeling of flight, in this case spaceflight. No silly score, no “action scenes”, no “dramatic dialogue”, no preachy message – just a spartan, clean, genuine approach that communicates directly with the viewer’s psyche. That he may have gotten some details wrong is irrelevant. The overall result is remarkable, genuine and moving.

    I was 14 years old in 1968 when I saw the film and was already caught up in the space race to the moon. But after seeing the film I was nevertheless blown away – and in a way that my young mind did not really understand but intuitively I sensed that that I had been introduced to something profound. And of course I had.

  • ljk April 5, 2018, 12:57

    Alabama’s huge connection to ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’

    Updated Apr 3; Posted Apr 3, 2018

    By Matt Wake,

    Wearing a topcoat, Frederick Ordway III walked out of a snowy 1965 New York evening and back inside the Harvard Club to take a phone call.

    The person on the other line calling for him was film director Stanley Kubrick.

    The phone call lead to Ordway becoming chief technical consultant and scientific advisor on Kubrick’s film next, “2001: A Space Odyssey.” In that role, Ordway helped make sure director Kubrick’ space-travel themed film was as realistic and scientifically accurate as possible.

    Even now 50 years after its April 3, 1968 release, “2001” remains arguably the greatest science-fiction film ever. And, Ordway’s work – as well as that of Huntsville artist Harry H.K. Lange, during preproduction in New York and filming in Borehamwood, England – is a key reason why Kubrick’s film feels so immersive.

    Full article here:


    To quote:

    Ordway eventually donated his sizable personal science-fiction collection to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, the collection arriving there in two batches – the first and larger one in 2001 and a second in 2014. The collection consists of correspondence, blueprints, designs, set photos, memorabilia and other ephemera. Ordway’s collection is currently available at the Space & Rocket Center for research by appointment only, although some pieces have been displayed in the museum’s past exhibitions.

    According to Buckbee, the U.S. Space & Rocket Center almost was home to an amazing “2001: A Space Odyssey” cache.

    “When he worked on that movie with Stanley Kubrick,” Buckbee says, “Fred had worked out a deal with him to bring those (film) props to Huntsville, and we were going to put them in one wing of our museum here. And would you believe Stanley Kubrick had every one of those props destroyed? I almost cried when I heard that from Fred.

    “Kubrick of the opinion that, ‘I don’t want anybody to see what I created and be able to investigate it” or pick at it or whatever, so he destroyed every one of those props. You can imagine what those props would have looked like in a museum. We had the space all set aside and Fred was working on getting them and I was working on transportation and lo and behold ol’ Stanley had those damned things destroyed. It was all over.”

  • ljk April 5, 2018, 13:03

    ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ Turns 50: Why Haven’t Humans Been to Jupiter Yet?

    By Elizabeth Howell, Space.com Contributor | April 3, 2018 01:01 pm ET


  • ljk April 5, 2018, 13:07

    What ‘2001’ Got Right

    By Michael Benson

    Mr. Benson has authored five books on astronomy and planetary exploration.

    April 2, 2018

    FRANKFURT, Germany — It’s a testament to the lasting influence of Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke’s film “2001: A Space Odyssey,” which turns 50 this week, that the disc-shaped card commemorating the German Film Museum’s new exhibition on the film is wordless, but instantly recognizable. Its face features the Cyclopean red eye of the HAL-9000 supercomputer; nothing more needs saying.

    Full article here:


    To quote:

    Indeed, with its prehistoric “Dawn of Man” opening and a grand finale in which Dave is reborn as an eerily weightless Star Child, “2001” overtly references Nietzsche’s concept that we are but an intermediate stage between our apelike ancestors and the Übermensch, or “Beyond Man.” (Decades after Nietzsche’s death, the Nazis deployed a highly selective reading of his ideas, while ignoring Nietzsche’s antipathy to both anti-Semitism and pan-German nationalism.)

    In Nietzsche’s concept, the Übermensch is destined to rise like a phoenix from the Western world’s tired Judeo-Christian dogmas to impose new values on warring humanity. Almost a century later, Mr. Clarke implied that human evolution’s next stage could well be machine intelligence itself. “No species exists forever; why should we expect our species to be immortal?” he wrote.

  • ljk April 5, 2018, 14:51

    Quoting from the main article:

    (3) There is an amusing bit of homage to George Pal in the film. In the 1950 movie the commander’s suit is red, the 2nd in command has a yellow one, all the rest are blue. Same is true in 2001! [8]

    The Major Matt Mason action figure series about a group of lunar explorers complete with their own base and cool machinery, which came on the scene two years before 2001, also had its astronauts in a primary color scheme with their space suits:


    • Abelard Lindsey April 5, 2018, 18:53

      I remember having “Major Matt Mason” figures and accessories when I was 6 years old.

  • ljk April 7, 2018, 21:23

    A few fun (little-known) facts & stories about the “the proverbial ‘really good’ science-fiction movie” (2001: A Space Odyssey of course!)

    Gautham Shenoy

    April 7, 2018


    Fifty years ago, this week, one of the finest films of all time – science fiction or otherwise – was released. Since then, it has only grown in stature with each passing year. Almost everyone who likes watching movies has watched it at least once. Anything written about the film usually abounds in superlatives and hyperbole, all deserved, and it’s one of the few films with which the word ‘revered’ goes quite well.

    And as with many classics, so it is with 2001: A Space Odyssey, that the behind-the-scenes stories are equally fascinating. More so in this case because you had two people, each considered a ‘great’ in their respective fields – Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke – almost in a Lennon-McCartney-esque creative relationship, coming together to work on a project, with the greatest respect and mutual admiration for each other, but not without their disagreements and many moments of friction.

    The result of this collaboration – and its legacy and influence – is there for all to see. So, without further ado, here are a few stories about Clarke and Kubrick during their journey to make a movie and a book called 2001: A Space Odyssey.

    “Isn’t he a nut who lives in a tree in India someplace?”

    Back in 1964, Stanley Kubrick who’d recently developed an interest in extra-terrestrial life was looking to collaborate with someone from the field of sci-fi. When the name of Arthur C. Clarke – then living in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka – name was suggested to him, Kubrick is said to have remarked, “Isn’t he a recluse, a nut who lives in a tree in India or someplace?” as per his biographer Vincent LoBrutto. Nonetheless, Kubrick would get over his reservations and write to Clarke to discuss the possibility of making the proverbial ‘really good’ science-fiction film. Clarke would reply writing about how he admired Kubrick’s movies, no doubt chuffed about getting a chance to work in Hollywood. They would soon meet and promptly have their first disagreement when Clarke found out Kubrick already had a plot in mind that also involved an alien virus that increased people’s libido.

  • J. Jason Wentworth April 9, 2018, 6:25

    Clarke’s and Kubrick’s UFO sighting in New York City (in 1965, if memory serves; Clarke had already seen–and explained–nine or so UFOs himself) made both of them wonder if their movie was about to be upstaged by real extraterrestrials! It turned out to be an Echo 1 transit seen under unusual optical conditions (it wasn’t listed in the papers for that night, but an earlier one was), but this didn’t become known until after they’d submitted an official sighting report to the USAF’s Project Blue Book. Several discussions with the Air Force and some hard work by the Hayden Planetarium computer were required to solve the sighting mystery, and:

    They feared that the public and/or the motion picture industry might interpret the report as being a publicity stunt for the movie. Kubrick also wasn’t on the best of terms with the USAF, after the B-52 cockpit–whose appearance was still classified when “Dr. Strangelove” was released–was reproduced with almost perfect accuracy in the movie (he was questioned about it, but they couldn’t pin anything on him [some airman likely took some unauthorized pictures for him]), but he decided to file the report with Clarke anyway. For “2001,” he hired an actual USAF air traffic controller, who portrayed Discovery One’s Earthside flight controller.

    • ljk April 9, 2018, 9:11

      I read that Kubrick got his interior shots of a B-52 from a British military aviation magazine (Jane’s?).

      Tom Clancy was also questioned about his detailed knowledge of nuclear submarines in his novel The Hunt for Red October. He said he got all his information from the Naval library. Apparently the 1989 film version was a little too accurate in its depiction of a US nuclear submarine, so they were asked to change certain details. If only more science fiction films could be accused of too much accuracy.

  • ljk April 9, 2018, 12:47

    From the Far Side –“2001 -A Space Odyssey and Ancient Alien Visitation”

    April 07, 2018


  • ljk April 9, 2018, 13:11

    02 April 2018

    The 50th Anniversary of “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968)

    The amazing film 2001: A Space Odyssey premiered in Washington, DC, on this date in 1968. In 2016 I wrote a series of posts about the film and how existing and foreseeable space technology might yet make the journeys it depicts possible. Enjoy!


  • ljk April 9, 2018, 13:50

    A must Web site for the serious 2001 fan:


  • ljk April 9, 2018, 13:55

    2001: A Space Odyssey How we made


    How we made 2001: A Space Odyssey

    By Phil Hoad

    Rock Hudson walked out of the premiere, Hal was originally a cockney, and Stanley Kubrick used one of the model spaceships to pay his daughter’s tutor … the makers of the sci-fi classic share their memories. [I have read that the story about the tutor is false.]


    Stanley Kubrick ‘risked stuntman’s life’ making 2001: A Space Odyssey

    Director refused to stop filming as stuntman Bill Weston lost consciousness, new book claims.


  • ljk April 9, 2018, 14:03

    The 2001 Archive:


    Since 1994, the Internet’s original resource for information and insights on the classic science fiction film, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

  • Henry Reardon April 9, 2018, 21:28

    I believe that this sentence of the article is mis-worded:
    “This issue is more explicit in the movie and implicit in the film.”

    I think the author of the article meant to say “This issue is more explicit in the BOOK and implicit in the film.” (or perhaps “This issue is more explicit in the film and implicit in the book.”)

    It makes no sense to compare the film/movie to itself.

  • ljk April 10, 2018, 9:11

    Untold AI

    9 Apr 2018

    by Christopher Noessel


    So last fall I was invited with some other spectacular people to participate in a retreat about AI, happening at the Juvet Landscape Hotel in Ålstad, Norway. (A breathtaking opportunity, and thematically a perfect setting since it was the shooting location for Ex Machina. Thanks to Andy Budd for the whole idea, as well as Ellen de Vries, James Gilyead, and the team at Clearleft who helped organize.) The event was structured like an unconference, so participants could propose sessions and if anyone was interested, join up. One of the workshops I proposed was called “AI Narratives” and it sought to answer the question “What AI Stories Aren’t We Telling (That We Should Be)?” So, why this topic?

    Sci-fi, my reasoning goes, plays an informal and largely unacknowledged role in setting public expectations and understanding about technology in general and AI in particular. That, in turn, affects public attitudes, conversations, behaviors at work, and votes. If we found that sci-fi was telling the public misleading stories over and over, we should make a giant call for the sci-fi creating community to consider telling new stories. It’s not that we want to change sci-fi from being entertainment to being propaganda, but rather to try and take its role as informal opinion-shaper more seriously.

  • ljk April 10, 2018, 13:35

    11 Things You Didn’t Know About ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’

    By Michael Benson // April 3, 2018


  • ljk April 11, 2018, 14:52

    How influenced was Kubrick when making 2001 by the 1957 Soviet SF film Road to the Stars:



  • ljk April 13, 2018, 9:27

    Are emotions essential in order to have a truly conscious, thinking being? Would HAL 9000 without emotions still be HAL?

    Robot cognition requires machines that both think and feel

    For more than two millennia, Western thinkers have separated emotion from cognition – emotion being the poorer sibling of the two. Cognition helps to explain the nature of space-time and sends humans to the Moon. Emotion might save the lioness in the savannah, but it also makes humans act irrationally with disconcerting frequency.

    In the quest to create intelligent robots, designers tend to focus on purely rational, cognitive capacities. It’s tempting to disregard emotion entirely, or include only as much as necessary. But without emotion to help determine the personal significance of objects and actions, I doubt that true intelligence can exist – not the kind that beats human opponents at chess or the game of Go, but the sort of smarts that we humans recognise as such. Although we can refer to certain behaviours as either ‘emotional’ or ‘cognitive’, this is really a linguistic short-cut. The two can’t be teased apart.

    Full article here:


  • ljk April 13, 2018, 9:53

    Let us not forget what is still one of the best cinematic satires of 2001 from 1974, Dark Star:


  • ljk April 17, 2018, 9:15

    Review: Rocket Men

    by Jeff Foust

    Monday, April 16, 2018

    Rocket Men: The Daring Odyssey of Apollo 8 and the Astronauts Who Made Man’s First Journey to the Moon

    by Robert Kurson

    Random House, 2018

    hardcover, 384 pp.

    ISBN 978-0-8129-8870-3

    Fifty years ago, many people were transfixed by the new movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, whose scenes included flights to the Moon and bases there (see “Review: Space Odyssey”, The Space Review, April 2, 2018). That included many members of NASA’s astronaut corps, who were preparing for real flights to the Moon on Apollo missions.

    An exception, though, was Frank Borman. “That stuff was science fiction, Borman told his colleagues,” as recalled in the new book Rocket Men. “America had real people to get to the Moon.”

    Full review here:


    Let us not forget the brave mission of three other men who flew in a spacecraft launched from Florida and circled the Moon one century before Apollo 8….


  • ljk April 17, 2018, 11:55

    2001: A Space Odyssey star says sets ‘made Disneyland look like a country fair’

    By Clark Collis

    March 31, 2018 AT 03:01 PM EDT

    The science fiction classic 2001: A Space Odyssey was released 50 years ago. But actor Keir Dullea — who played the computer-battling astronaut David Bowman in the film — has no problem recalling his collaboration with legendary director Stanley Kubrick on the project.

    “Working with him was an extraordinary experience,” says Dullea. “You couldn’t help but realize you were in the presence of genius. Just to see the concept happen before your eyes. I was arriving at these sets that made Disneyland look like a country fair.”

    Full interview here:


    To quote:

    The Canadian actor Douglas Rain would ultimately voice the computer, HAL. Who read the character’s lines during the shoot?

    There was a wonderful actor by the name of Nigel Davenport that Stanley hired, and he was on the set with us, off camera, doing the voice of HAL. But quite soon after shooting began, Stanley decided he didn’t want a British voice. He said, “I’ll worry about it in post-production,” and he turned to his first assistant director, Derek Cracknell, and said, “Derek, you do the voice of HAL. For the rest of the film, the voice of HAL was something like [adopts Cockney accent], “Can’t do that, Dave!”

    That’s a pretty good Michael Caine you’re doing there.

    It was a little like Michael Caine.

    • Mark Zambelli May 24, 2018, 12:01

      “You’re only supposed to blow the pod-bay-door off!”,
      “Stars…fahzens of ’em!”

  • ljk April 17, 2018, 12:00

    The director of the anti-space exploration film Gravity on how 2001: A Space Odyssey influenced him:


    To quote:

    I have seen 2001: A Space Odyssey many times throughout my life, and when the notion of Gravity took shape, I watched every non-fantasy space film I could find. I revisited many, some brilliant, but I consciously decided not to revisit 2001: A Space Odyssey as I knew that it would paralyze me. I used to joke that it would be like taking a shower next to Dirk Diggler. A year after Gravity I watched 2001: A Space Odyssey again and I was so glad I didn’t do it before.

    Even if I was trying not to think about Dirk, err 2001: A Space Odyssey, it’s clear that its ghost was haunting me. Even if I was trying to only reference real footage from space, it’s clear that the ghost of 2001: A Space Odyssey was haunting me. With his obsessive attention to detail and meticulous research, Kubrick was replicating reality but by doing this he was creating a new reality.

    It’s impossible not to see a floating object and not to think of the biro pen in the Pan Am shuttle, not to think of Sandra Bullock floating away into the void without referencing Frank Poole’s spiral into the abyss. I was aware of the image of Ryan Stone in fetal position because rebirth was a main theme of the film, but isn’t rebirth also the theme of 2001: A Space Odyssey with its beautiful ending of the star child?

  • ljk April 17, 2018, 12:10

    [The Daily] 2001: A Space Odyssey at Fifty

    By David Hudson

    Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey saw its world premiere on this day, April 2, in 1968 at the Uptown Theater in Washington, D.C. Two days later, it opened in two more theaters, one in Hollywood and one in New York. Kubrick cut nineteen minutes before 2001 rolled out in five more cities in the U.S. and, on the following day, five more overseas. It wouldn’t be until the fall of 1968 that the film would see a wide release with 35 mm prints making their way across the country. But audiences in that first round of cities would have been viewing 70 mm prints and, as you’ll have heard, Christopher Nolan will be in Cannes on May 12 to present a new one, “struck from new printing elements made from the original camera negative,” as the festival’s announced.

    “This is a true photochemical film recreation. There are no digital tricks, remastered effects, or revisionist edits. The original version will be presented to recreate the cinematic event audiences experienced fifty years ago.”

    Good news from Michael Nordine at IndieWire: “You don’t have to go to Cannes to see 2001: A Space Odyssey in all its 70 mm glory. Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi masterwork will also return to select theaters beginning May 18.” So this entry will gather all things 2001 for as long as this year’s anniversary is being celebrated.

    Full article here:


    To quote:

    Update: “It’s not possible to imitate a single thing from 2001—it’s taboo, private territory,” Claire Denis tells the Guardian’s Phil Hoad. “My own thinking had to prevail when making my forthcoming science-fiction film High Life: it would be stupid to use 2001 as a departure point. They’re completely different: asking me about them is like asking whether I’d like to eat a sandwich or go on a trip to Australia.”

    Updates, 4/3: “I saw it again a few days ago, inspired by Michael Benson’s terrific new book, Space Odyssey: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke and the Making of a Masterpiece,” writes John Powers for NPR, where you can read an excerpt. “Though Benson is afflicted with what a friend calls the ‘Stanley syndrome’—he never stops telling you that Kubrick is a ‘genius’ and ‘a perfectionist’—his book is filled with nifty stories. My favorite is when the control-freak director asks Lloyd’s of London if they could insure him in case NASA spoiled 2001’s plot by discovering extraterrestrial life before the movie came out. . . . Like many classics, 2001 isn’t always a good movie,” Powers finds, but watching it now “can bring on a melancholy nostalgia for the era that spawned it, an optimistic time in which Americans believed the future was limitless.”

    “Tucked in a downstairs corner of the maze that is the London College of Communication is the Stanley Kubrick Archives,” writes Lucy Orr for the Register. “I managed to get to grips (touch gently with gloved fingers) with one of the first draft scripts of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Bound in black and looking very much like the monolith from the film, I was surprised by the extent to which this script differs from what we see and hear in the finished film. One of the most striking divergences is the presence of a benevolent second HAL, determined to thwart his evil twin.”

    Update, 4/15: “Astronomers last week announced official names for the principal mountains and valleys of one of the solar system’s remotest objects, the tiny world of Charon,” writes Robin McKie for the Observer. “Kubrick Mons and Clarke Montes are now two of Charon’s major mountains. It is a fitting honor.”

  • ljk April 17, 2018, 13:09

    The cinematic star children of 2001: A Space Odyssey

    A look at the Kubrick classic’s enduring influence on film and TV.

    Piya Sinha-Roy and Maureen Lee Lenker

    April 16, 2018 AT 04:35 PM EDT


  • ljk April 17, 2018, 13:22

    April 23, 2018 Issue

    “2001: A Space Odyssey”: What It Means, and How It Was Made

    Fifty years ago, Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke set out to make a new kind of sci-fi. How does their future look now that it’s the past?

    By Dan Chiasson


    To quote:

    When they weren’t working, Clarke introduced Kubrick to his telescope and taught him to use a slide rule. They studied the scientific literature on extraterrestrial life. “Much excitement when Stanley phones to say that the Russians claim to have detected radio signals from space,” Clarke wrote in his journal for April 12, 1965: “Rang Walter Sullivan at the New York Times and got the real story—merely fluctuations in Quasar CTA 102.” Kubrick grew so concerned that an alien encounter might be imminent that he sought an insurance policy from Lloyd’s of London in case his story got scooped during production.

  • ljk April 17, 2018, 13:25

    Richard Brody

    Hearing and Seeing “2001: A Space Odyssey” Anew


    To quote:

    Does “2001” suggest that there’s an incommensurable gap between those who experience outer space and those who remain on the ground—or simply between those with the intelligence and moxie to fulfill great missions and the run of humanity’s mill? What surprised me now, at many decades’ remove from my prior viewing of the movie, was how the astronauts’ lives lacked specificity. They offer no trace of ribald trench humor, no chitchat about back home, no reminiscence, no desire beyond the immediate purview of the mission; the closest thing to life is the praise of the prepackaged sandwiches. Is Kubrick suggesting that there’s as much of a gap between the post-simians of the Dawn of Man and the 1968-style man in the street as there is between his contemporaries and the intrepid outer-space voyager? Does the inner life of the astronaut get more or less blanked out by the unprecedented grandeur of cosmic travel?

  • ljk April 23, 2018, 12:48

    Review: Dream Missions

    The history of spaceflight has been filled with visions of giant space stations, elaborate Mars expeditions, and massive launch vehicles; dreams that usually fail to become reality. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines those concepts and why they remain dreams to this day.

    Monday, April 23, 2018


    To quote:

    One thing space enthusiasts certainly don’t do is dream little dreams. Over the last six decades of the Space Age—and, for that matter, long before the launch of Sputnik—individuals, organizations, and companies have put forward proposals for grandiose space projects, from reusable spaceplanes to space colonies to space stations. They have, by and large, remained only dreams.

    In the opening of Dream Missions, Dutch engineer and author Michel van Pelt references a talk given at a 1966 symposium by Krafft Ehricke on the “Space Age in Fiscal Year 2001.” In Ehricke’s vision, by 2001 there would be “manned vehicles of relatively luxurious and sophisticated design” traveling throughout the solar system, from Mercury out to Saturn, while reusable launch vehicles offered transportation from Earth to orbit for as little as $10 per pound. Those achievements, which he thought were just 35 years away then, seem many decades in the future today.

    While the failures of individual projects are included in each chapter, van Pelt tries to offer an overarching perspective in the book’s concluding chapter. He concludes that many of the failed concepts covered in the book required a “perfect storm” of circumstances to be achievable, something that in retrospect clearly happened for Apollo but which has not been duplicated. (One argument van Pelt doesn’t make, but could be taken from that assessment, is that the fast pace of achievements in the early Space Age enabled by Apollo’s perfect storm skewed perceptions of what was feasible in spaceflight without realizing those conditions were short-lived.) He also notes that spaceflight advocates often gloss over the challenges of their grandiose proposals, and the funding required to enable them.