NO, WE’RE NOT CLOSE to having Scotty beam us up in the Enterprise transporter system like on Star Trek, but some of the otherworldly objects of science fiction aren’t so alien in the real world today. That’s the basis of the New Mexico Museum of Space History’s new exhibit, Sci-Fi and Sci-Fact, opening December 15, which examines the relationship between books, movies, and television shows and scientific discovery. Here are three things to look for when you explore.
Check out a replica of a two-way wrist radio from a 1940s Dick Tracy comic strip, displayed next to an Apple Watch, or a 1960s Star Trek communicator beside a modern flip phone. “Science fiction envisions something, and eventually it becomes science fact,” says museum executive director Chris Orwoll. Similarly, scientific discoveries inspire writers, producers, and directors. “They’re always influencing each other.”
No sci-fi blockbuster is complete without a slick, space-suit-wearing protagonist, and while on-screen gear may look the part, the concerns of filmmakers are very different from those of NASA. Take that helmet light illuminating Matt Damon’s face in The Martian, for example. “That would blind you,” Orwoll says. “But it’s totally necessary for a camera.”
In addition to Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo space suits showcased in the museum’s Human Spaceflight Gallery, the exhibition includes a costume from The Big Bang Theory, modeled after the actual Russian Sokol suit, that engineer Howard Wolowitz (played by Simon Helberg) wore on his trip to the International Space Station. Stranger Things fans will recognize the yellow biohazard protection that Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) used to traverse the Upside Down.
The exhibition presents a continuum of influential sci-fi stories through multiple mediums, from early-20th-century pulp magazines and comic strips to today’s TV and movies. Take Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, about traveling to the moon with the help of a giant space gun. The copy of the book in the museum belonged to NASA astronaut Alfred Worden, a pilot for the Apollo 15 lunar mission in 1971, and Verne’s tale was eerily accurate, including details like launching from Florida. But for Orwoll, sci-fi has a grounding in our earliest tales. “You go back to ancient storytelling, which is a medium of science fiction,” he says, noting that myths and observational science have helped make sense of our mysterious world.