To quote Elton John, it's lonely out in space.
Luckily, the residents of the International Space Station (ISS) have an entertainment library to keep them company during their stays, which can be several months long. But some have taken issue with the cultural diet on board the ISS, complaining that our astronauts deserve a better reminder that there's intelligent life back on Earth.
The story began two years ago, when the Web site governmentattic.org made a seemingly benign request of the feds—asking for a list of the books, movies, TV shows and music kept onboard the station. The site, a repository of U.S. government files obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, received the list (pdf) from NASA in April 2008 and posted it on the Web.
The ISS's extensive catalogue of more than 100 films has drawn the most attention. Alongside the stereotypical space fare (The Right Stuff, Contact, Star Wars) and a slew of best-picture Oscar winners (Unforgiven, Crash, Dances with Wolves) are a number of Hollywood's arguably more forgettable products:
- Bad Boys & Bad Boys II
- The Fast and the Furious
- Bachelor Party
- Shanghai Knights
- Wedding Crashers
- G.I. Jane
- Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me
- Rush Hour
The list reached Shooting People, a U.K.-based collective of independent filmmakers. Dismayed by the cookie-cutter shape of the ISS's film library, the organization's creative director fired off a letter in May to NASA. "Our members would like to see Harold and Maud [sic] rather than Harold and Kumar, that Man on Wire replace Man on Fire," Shooting People's James Mullighan wrote. He offered a partial list of films suggested by the collective's members.
Last month, according to the film organization, NASA replied (pdf). An official response on behalf of William Gerstenmaier, the agency's associate administrator for space operations, explained that NASA does not dictate the onboard selections—the astronauts do. "They individually request and select films and other entertainment media which they either carry with them to orbit in their personal belongings, or on occasion, [NASA] will uplink requested video or audio files," the letter explained.
And, the official noted diplomatically, astronauts could watch the movies proposed by Shooting People—if they wanted to. "These films and others, including independent films," the letter stated, "are generally available to crew members at their request."
Meanwhile, the astronauts' music list is rather short, with a few standards—Sting, Beethoven, Elvis Presley—and a few surprises, such as an album by the rock band Modest Mouse (included, perhaps, in honor of their 1996 song "Space Travel Is Boring"). The books, as the Guardian notes, are predictably heavy on the sci-fi.
Photo of Vin Diesel, who as a star of The Fast and the Furious has a home onboard the International Space Station: Andre Portfolio on Flickr