Revisiting the Space Super Heroes

How a seven year old could make a movie for astronauts

The author as a superhero (in disguise)

When I was six years old, in 1985, I was a superhero.

Okay, sort of.

My friends and I would act out elaborate stories in the school playground. We were the Space Super Heroes, defending the universe from a villainous, bird-like alien race called “M”. The universe was always the same; the world expanded a little bit each time. For years.

But it was more than that; at least at first. We weren’t just playing. We were entertaining bored astronauts who were sitting in their space stations far above us, stuck in metal tubes suspended in an endless vacuum, yearning for something decent to watch.

When I was seven years old, I met a cosmonaut, who politely informed me that nobody could see the movies we were acting out. I remember trying to drill down and ask him more about why he couldn’t see us, and all he kept saying was that there was no up or down in space.

Seriously, fuck that guy.

In the aftermath of this knowledge bombshell, we continued playing — superheroes don’t give up! — but now the world-building was ours and ours alone. There was no audience. While all the other kids were playing soccer, we were world-building science fiction universes, and doing it for us. How could we do anything else?

Is it ridiculous today?

I bet the 2017 version of the Space Super Heroes could absolutely have been making movies for astronauts that they could actually see.

Making the movie is obviously easy. A camera that shoots video is commodity technology. As adults, most of us carry a high definition videocamera in their pocket and don’t even think about it. I’m not sure if giving a seven year old a smartphone is on the kind side of wise, but they don’t have to be expensive, and I suspect an iPod Touch (with a more controlled internet connection) or an Android tablet might be more common for younger kids.

Standard projection movies are 4096x2160: 4K video. The Google Pixel, iPhone, Samsung Galaxy S8, HTC 10, and hundreds more phones take this out of the box.

Editing is virtually free and on-device, whether in iMovie on Apple devices, Adobe Premiere Clip on Android, or hundreds of other apps.

And then you can upload your movie to YouTube, Vimeo, or your own webspace. None of this is magic anymore; being able to shoot a television-quality video using a device that fits in your pocket and instantly upload it to a potential audience of three billion people is mundane. Instant, planet-wide distribution for your creative work? Meh. Whatever.

Okay, so what about the astronauts?

Fighting over who gets the good chair

The International Space Station has a better internet connection than most residential homes in America.

In 2013, Chris Hadfield — yes, that Chris Hadfield; let’s all take a moment and remember his Space Oddity cover — installed a new data connection in the Station with 300Mbps down and 25Mbps up. (This was four years ago, so it’s possible it’s been upgraded since then.) Not all of this is dedicated to internet; there’s science to do. The latency is also pretty high, so real-time video streaming would be difficult. Nonetheless, there’s more than enough to watch pre-recorded video over an HTTPS streaming download.

In other words, there’s a real possibility that astronauts are passing the time by watching kitten videos. Or music videos from 1978. Or Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace.

But they could be watching movies tailored for them by world-building seven year olds with a deep understanding of an astronaut’s existential boredom and deep-seated need for fun.

Take that, cosmonaut.