CALS Blasts into Space with NASA, Astronomy, and a Visionary Sci-Fi Artist

Whether you’re a seasoned astronomy buff or a kid just discovering the allure of outer space, this summer at CALS will bring a universe of fun events centered on space and space flight. Many programs across our 15-branch system will focus on the CALS Summer Reading theme, “A Universe of Stories.”

Thanks to a grant from the NASA Space Grant Consortium, the library system will host two special presentations in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo manned spaceflight program. Astronomer and science communicator Phil Plait (Bad Astronomy) will appear in person with his trademark blend of humor and science. In addition, art lovers and sci-fi fans will get to see a new, award-winning film about Chesley Bonestell, the prophetic artist whose iconic paintings defined “space” in the American imagination.

CALS is delighted to partner with the Central Arkansas Astronomical Society (CAAS), the group that originally applied for the NASA grant that will bring these quality programs to Central Arkansas. The astronomical society is known for its popular star parties that attract a diverse crowd of all ages and ethnic backgrounds.

“We hope the wonder of studying space will encourage young people more generally to enjoy science,” said Darrell Heath of CAAS.

Phil Plait: Popular Science with Laughs

June 15

Dr. Phil Plait’s visit will celebrate space flight and the Apollo program with an entertaining multimedia presentation packed with humor and backed by solid science. “Strange New Worlds: Is the Earth Special?” will come to the CALS Ron Robinson Theater on June 15 at 7:00 p.m. Admission is free.

Plait began a career in public outreach and education with the Bad Astronomy website and blog, debunking bad science and popular misconceptions. His book Bad Astronomy was released in 2002, followed in 2008 by Death from the Skies! Most recently, he wrote and hosted Crash Course Astronomy, a 46-part educational web series that has over 20 million views. He has been a featured speaker at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, the Space Telescope Science Institute (home of Hubble), the Hayden Planetarium in NYC and on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, Syfy, NPR, and many other venues. His writing has appeared in Discover magazine, Sky and Telescope, Astronomy magazine, and more. (Sponsored by the Arkansas Space Grant Consortium and Central Arkansas Astronomical Society)

Chesley Bonestell: A Brush with The Future

July 26

​Admission is free to this special screening of a film that blends art and science to explore the uncanny, prophetic artwork of Chesley Bonestell. His paintings of planetscapes and space scenes became classics of 1950s and 1960s science fiction. Bonestell’s style was imitated countless times and is instantly recognizable even by those who don’t know his name.

Long before space travel caught up with Bonestell’s imagination, he painted scenes that later proved eerily accurate. The film’s tagline captures the mystery of his work: “He painted the future. How did he know?” The film traces his progress from a career in architecture to artistic prominence at a time when the popular imagination had been captured by the possibility of space flight. Bonestell started his work in a world still waiting for Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, and not yet equipped with satellites to capture close-ups of planets or images of the galaxy. The story of his career and his decades-long influence makes for absorbing viewing for science lovers, artists, and sci-fi fans who have been admiring his work on book covers and at fan conventions for years.

Chesley Bonestell: A Brush with the Future premiered in May 2018.​​ The film won “Best Documentary” at both the Comic-Con International Independent Film Festival and the Boston Science Fiction Film Festival. (This screening is sponsored by the Arkansas Space Grant Consortium and Central Arkansas Astronomical Society.)

More star-studded screenings from CALS

Other CALS events celebrating space flight and the Apollo program will include screenings of Apollo 13 and Hidden Figures. After viewing these films, you might be inspired to check out some of the free telescopes available through CALS to do a little star-gazing of your own!

Apollo 13

July 20

Nominated for 9 Academy Awards, Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 is the true story behind the ill-fated moon mission.  In 1969, the entire world watches as the astronauts aboard Apollo 13 face an uncertain fate after an oxygen tank explodes, sending the spacecraft tumbling out of control.  With the clock ticking, the astronauts and the engineers at mission control must find a way to avert disaster.  This remarkable story in Apollo history teeters on the brink of disaster but instead becomes a triumph of perseverance, teamwork, and sheer ingenuity.

Made in 1995, the film holds up remarkably well for today’s audiences, and the stunning visuals demand to be seen on a big screen.  With its demonstration of real-life courage and determination, Apollo 13 became one of the most uplifting and hopeful Hollywood blockbusters of its time. The cast includes Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Gary Sinise, Bill Paxton, Ed Harris and Kathleen Quinlan.

Hidden Figures

July 30

In the 1960s, the hotly contested space race with Russia had most of America holding its breath to see if an American would fly into space before a Russian . . . and return alive. As the nation also struggled with racial prejudice and segregation, three brilliant African American women beat the odds to find jobs at NASA. Their striking mathematical talent became the key to helping astronaut John Glenn launch into orbit and return safely to Earth. Hidden Figures is the story of these women, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, and Katherine Gobels Johnson, who were subject to discrimination and forbidden to use most bathrooms at work at the same time that they were making history. Their perseverance, intelligence, and steadfast belief in their worth and gifts despite opposition and disdain makes Hidden Figures a must-see for both adults and young people. Nominated for numerous Oscars and other major awards, this 2016 film celebrates African American heroes of the past as it reminds us that what seems impossible can become possible.


Article by Rosslyn Elliott and Darrell Heath