Film / Space Camp

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"God damn it, launch us or we're gonna explode!!"
"My god...we have lift off."

SpaceCamp is a family adventure movie from 1986 about a group of kids at the titular real life U.S. SpaceCamp who unexpectedly get launched up into space for real. However the shuttle was still in pre-flight prepping and thus wasn't prepared for any kind of full mission. With only a limited air supply and virtually no communication with Earth, the kids and their instructor (played by Kate Capshaw) must work together to get home safe and sound.

It was released amid a marketing nightmare that came about from the 1986 Challenger shuttle disaster that claimed the lives of seven American astronautsnote  and grounded the shuttle program indefinitely until the cause could be determined and rectified. It didn't help, either, that the malfunction in the film partly resembled the malfunction in life.

Many contemporary reviews were colored by the disaster. More recent reviews don't treat it much better. But some saw past the disaster and were moved by it: in a 2012 interview, Lea Thompson said many fans told her they were inspired by the film.

SpaceCamp provides examples of:

  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Although in this case it's more Artificial Stupidity rather than Artificial Malevolence.
  • Activation Sequence: After hearing Max's wish to go into space, Jinx goes to the NASA main network, which he activates in a scene where the top of his main body lifts up with flashing lights coming out of it, while the computers activate one by one, their lights and screens coming on. He does it a second time later, but since we've already seen in by that point this one only lasts about five seconds as opposed to more than thirty.
  • Almost Out of Oxygen: A major plot point. Twice.
  • Arc Words: "Max and Jinx, friends forever."
  • Ascended Fanboy: Max is an avid fan of Star Wars and will make numerous references to the franchise in nearly every scene he appears in.
  • Attention Deficit... Ooh, Shiny!: Tish is in the middle of explaining her idea of sending Morse Code to NASA when she sees something interesting out the window.
    "Whoa. Is that India we're coming up on?"
  • Batman Gambit: Jinx the robot tries to get Max into space while he's on the space shuttle "to fulfill his wish". He hacks into NASA's network and figures out how to fire up one of the shuttle's booster rockets, which on its own will cause the shuttle to shoot up briefly, then crash. However, his gambit is the operators at the control room will see the one booster firing up and choose to fire up the second booster to avoid killing everyone on board. Sure enough, it works.
  • Big "OMG!": Max floats off into space behind a rogue oxygen tank, but he does this when he breaks off a satellite dish panel he grabbed to stop himself.
    Andie: You think you're scared now? Wait 'til your parents get the bill for breaking Daedalus.
  • Chekov's Gun: Or in this case, Tish's belt, which is used to help Max fit inside the space suit so he can help Andie bring back the oxygen tanks.
  • Conveniently Close Planet: The shuttle is launched outside of its launch window into an unplanned orbit — but they still manage to make it to the unoccupied space station for oxygen supplies.
  • Cool Car: Kevin's Jeep and Zach & Andie's Porsche Speedster.
  • Cool Plane: A couple of examples.
  • Cool Spaceship: The Space Shuttle Atlantis.
  • Did Not Think This Through: JINX apparently never considered that sending an unprepared shuttle, specifically one with just one tank of oxygen and short-range radio only, into space with people on board might not be the best idea. It only occurs to him after Atlantis is already in orbit, by which time it's too late to do anything about it.
  • Edutainment Show: To a degree. It explains various things related to SpaceCamp, the astronaut program, and the shuttle itselfnote .
  • The '80s
  • Entendre Failure: Jinx the robot.
  • Eureka Moment: After they miss the re-entry window, Kathryn realizes the same alternative landing site that Rudy vaguely remembered: White Sands, New Mexico, which Rudy got mixed up with White Plains, New York.
    • When Zach starts to realize Jinx is spouting out letters, not just breaking down again.
    Jinx: C-O-M-E-I-N-C-O-N-T-R-O-L-C-O-M-E-I-N-C-O-N-T-R-O-L Come in, Control! Max's code!
    Zach: Morse code?
    Jinx: Max's code!
    Zach: Damn it, they're talking to us!
  • Everyone Knows Morse: Tishnote  thinks to use a telemetry switch to send Morse code in place of the nonfunctional radio. But it takes quite a while for anyone in the control room to notice: before Jinx identifies it, it's lost among all the other blinking lights.
  • Field Promotion: Andie takes the pilot seat over from Kathryn when Atlantis is launched. She later kicks Kevin out of the commander seat in favor of Kathryn for the orbit change burn to Daedalus. In the end, Kevin and Kathryn would return to their original seats as commander and pilot following Andie's injury.
  • Freaky Fashion, Mild Mind: Tish, full stop. Under the '80s Hair and Valley Girl look is a genius with a Photographic Memory and a perfect SAT score.
  • Gone Horribly Right / Be Careful What You Wish For: "I wish I could go up into space."
    • Andie was also wishing to go into space when she got scrubbed from the next launch; like Max, she ended up getting her wish anyway.
  • Instant A.I.: Just Add Water!: See Reed Richards Is Useless.
  • Jerkass: Kevin. At the beginning of the film, he switches his credentials with those of another attendee, just so he could get to be with Kathryn. Also, in another scene, after he and Kathryn were discovered to be making out at the launchpad, he yells at Max for Jinx spilling everything.
  • Lesser of Two Evils: The Mission Controller has to choose between letting the the booster fire alone when it overheats, which will pitch the rocket over on its nose, crushing the shuttle and instantly squashing everyone on board into a pancake, or launching a not-fully-flight-ready shuttle with children on board into space and an extremely uncertain outcome.
  • Like Reality Unless Noted: In some ways the tech and abilities of the NASA shown in the movie are ahead of us - there's a sentient robot, a space station already up in orbit with the necessary oxygen tanks - but unless the plot demands otherwise, everything is mostly at the level it was when the film was released.
  • Literal-Minded: Jinx the robot, who obeys any words to him that sound vaguely like a command. His ruthlessness to fulfill them makes him a...
  • Machine Monotone: Both JINX the robot, and the voice given to the computer he communicates with.
  • Mood Whiplash: The kids go from excited to panicked very quickly when the thermal curtain fails.
  • New Rules as the Plot Demands: No one seems to question Kevin for swapping his credentials with a Japanese kid just to get on the same team as Kathryn.
  • Nobody Poops: Averted. Max has to figure out the shuttle's space toilet.
  • No OSHA Compliance: NASA straps seven kids on the space shuttle unsupervised by a NASA employee, and seals the door. This is negligent even without being accidentally launched, no matter how good their grades at SpaceCamp were.
    • Handwaved in the film; when Zach is pinning up the announcement he mentions the Camp trying to get permission to have campers in the test. After all, accidental launches only happen once in 4 billion years, right?
  • Oh, Crap!: When Jinx initiates the thermal curtain failure on one booster, everyone in Mission Control and the astronaut instructor on board the shuttle have a collective one. The situation's dire nature is punctuated by how Andie commands a launch while at least two of her campers on-board are openly panicking.
    Andie: Ignite Booster A, goddamnit! LAUNCH US, OR WE'RE GONNA EXPLODE!
  • Product Placement:
    • Rudy mentions Big Macs
    • Kevin mentions 7-Eleven, and drives a Jeep.
  • Reality Ensues: After the initial euphoria of orbital flight, Max says he wants to go home, and the questions start as the kids try to wrap their heads around exactly what happened. Andie takes charge immediately, telling them they will get home.
  • Recycled Trailer Music: The main theme became stock trailer music for years afterward.
  • Red Wire Blue Wire: A modified version, to connect the oxygen tank.
    • They both look at the plans, and are sure that their blue hose is the only correct one. Perhaps they were both correct and the blue hoses are both for oxygen?
  • Reed Richards Is Useless: SpaceCamp has a sentient, AI robot which is capable of bypassing fail-safes to launch a shuttle, but NASA is still counting on the shuttle and mindless computers. Possibly justified: it's pointed out that Jinx is not used more prominently because he tends to make mistakes.
  • Robot Buddy: Take a guess.
  • Scenery Porn: The first couple of minutes after they reach orbit consists of the Blue Team, including Andie, taking some time to watch Earth beneath them (specifically Europe and northern Africa) as they approach their first on-orbit sunset. It acts as a good emotional buffer before Reality Ensues, allowing them to tackle the task of getting back home from a more rational perspective.
    Kathryn: I could lose the liftoff, but this is incredible!
  • Shout-Out: Count all the Star Wars references.
  • Shown Their Work: The re-entry sequence has been praised as one of the most realistic depictions of the shuttle returning to earth ever filmed.
  • Spiritual Successor: 2013's Space Warriors is this to SpaceCamp (somewhat).
  • Tap on the Head / Hard Head: Andie.
    • Actually handled relatively accurately. She is heard wearily on the radio shortly after she was knocked out, suggesting she wasn't out for long. When she is rescued, she is treated for a shoulder injury, explaining why she couldn't assist in her own rescue.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Kevin, upset that he was ratted out for his "date" with Kathryn, takes his frustration out on Max when he finds out Jinx did it, focusing on the kid's incessant Star Wars Fan Boyism.
    • Not long after, Andie rips into the Blue Team when a mission simulation goes bad.
    Andie: QUIET! I don't want to hear about it. I can't hear it. You know why? Because you're all dead. You just burnt up on re-entry. Don't you understand what that means?! You're all dead, because you didn't work together as a team.
  • Things Get Real: That simulation Kevin and his team failed? They end up having to deal with a real situation very much like it in their actual flight.
  • This Is a Work of Fiction: A disclaimer in the ending credits reads "The National Aeronautics and Space Administration's cooperation and assistance does not reflect approval of the contents of this film or the treatment of the characters depicted therein." (i.e. "Don't assume NASA's people necessarily behave the way you saw some of them behaving in this movie; some of that was just written that way to keep the story interesting.")
  • Too Dumb to Live: In context, anyway. Surely, Rudy—who was put in charge of "equipment function and operation"—would've figured out by then that the Shuttle's on-orbit propulsion system was not the same as the launch propulsion system before suggesting it as a source of oxygen.
    Rudy: What about the propulsion system? We could breathe the liquid oxygen from there.
    Tish: The propulsion system uses nitrogen tetroxidenote , Rudy. We wanna breathe, not dry clean our lungs.
  • Unusual Euphemism: From Kevin to Andie.
    Kevin: Hey! Great boosters!
  • You Wouldn't Believe Me If I Told You: When Ray is complaining to Zach, asking what to tell the press (who saw the unannounced launch just like everyone else within range), Zach recommends something like a Sarcastic Confession without the sarcasm (since the whole situation sounds crazy enough without any).
    Zach: Tell'em the truth: we launched my wife and five kids from the SpaceCamp. They'll never believe it.

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