Space Cowboys is a movie directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland, and James Garner, released in 2000. It tells the story of a four-man team who, while test pilots for the USAF in the 1950s, missed out on their chance to join the American space program, but who get another chance 40 years later.It turns out that one of them had devised a satellite system that was stolen by Soviet spies. They ended up using it for their own satellite, which they say is a large communication satellite, too large to be carried back to Earth in a shuttle. Seventeen years after its launch, its orbit is decaying, and the Russians are being surprisingly insistent on having the satellite fixed, saying that its loss could cause a catastrophic breakdown in Russian communications, and at worse, touch off a civil war. The only person who can do the job is the original designer - who agrees, but only if his three old buddies come along as well. Hilarity Ensues as NASA must prepare the oldsters for the trip.Not to be confused with Space Truckers, or stories that contain cowboy-style people in space - see Space Western.
The satellite's orbit is decaying because it's heavy. In real life, a satellite's orbit decays due to drag from the outer atmosphere; a heavy satellite's orbit would decay more slowly than a light satellite's orbit. The "Too Heavy" part may have been a cover, given the satellite's realpurpose.
A tour guide states that in order to reach the Moon, you only have to get something (in this case, a hypothetical baseball) halfway there, since the Moon's gravity would take it the rest of the way. This comes up again at the end, when there is not enough fuel available to get the satellite all the way to the Moon, but it's supposedly okay because there's enough, given a Heroic Sacrifice, to make it halfway. While it is true that you only need to get something partway to the Moon before the Moon's gravity will carry it the rest of the way in, the distance required is closer to 95%, not halfway.
Badass Preacher: "Tank" Sullivan (James Garner), Air Force test pilot turned Baptist minister.
Black Box: The only reason NASA even deigns to contact Corvin is because he is the only man still alive familiar with Skylab's and thereby the satellite's revolutionary yet antiquated guidance system. It does invert the usual reasons for this trope. The system isn't a black box because it's revolutionary and advanced, it's a black box because it's so obsolete no-one can figure it out.
Blind Without 'Em: Jerry (Sutherland). He nonetheless passes the NASA eyesight test by memorizing the letters. Later on, he gets custom-made Cool Shades.
First, the whole point of the story. See Black Box. Frank apparently got involved in the Apollo Applications Program, and designed the guidance system for Skylab. That's what was used on the satellite that they need to repair so urgently. And he's the only one left alive that knows anything about it.
Second, their own skill as pilots, which proves early on not to have decayed much over time. It ultimately helps them through the Reentry Scare.
Contemplative Boss: When Gerson summons Corvin (Eastwood) and Hawkins (Jones) to his office after they have crashed yet another prototype, he stands with his back to them, looking out the window, and pointedly asks why he's seeing smoke in the distance.
Conveniently Close Planet: The satellite's boosters fire on a trajectory that conveniently gets to the moon - and quickly enough that Hawk's air doesn't run out.
Frank actually gets this from his wife in their last moment of normal life before the NASA officials showed up. They briefly thought he was assaulting her before realizing they were a married couple playing around.
Evil Is Petty: Bob Gerson is just plain mean to everyone, especially Frank, for no apparent reason other than his own bitterness.
Genre Shift: From a light-hearted comedy to a compelling drama, just over half way through. Handled quite well.
Heroic Sacrifice: The bittersweet yet heartwarming ending: after Hawk manually ignites the rockets on the Russian satellite and "pilots" it to the moon, finally getting to make the journey. The closing moments show him lying in the wreckage gazing down on the Earth as Frank Sinatra's "Fly Me to the Moon" plays.
Idiot Ball: Ethan Glance grabs it, tucks it under his arm, and runs all the way to the endzone.
In Space Everyone Can See Your Face: Averted, most impressively in the final scene mentioned above, where all we see is Hawk's reflective faceplate - arguably making it more poignant.
Jerk Ass: Bob Gerson, played magnificently by James Cromwell.
Leno Device: Team Daedalus take a break from their training at NASA to make an appearance on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno. The actors appeared in character on the show and it doubled as promotion for the film.
Looping Lines: The opening sequence has Eastwood and Jones doing a fairly obvious dub job over the younger actors.
Missed the Call: Team Daedalus never got to go into space back in the day because NASA decided to use monkeys instead.
Mother Russia Makes You Strong: a non-human example (so it may be another trope), but IKON, for a communications satellite, is a gigantic and intimidating thing. Granted, it's not really a communications satellite...
Naked People Are Funny: All four must strip naked for their physical examination. When the (female) doctor enters the room, they cover their private parts in embarrassment, except Jerry who allows her to get an eyeful. And she obviously likes what she sees.
Older and Wiser: Averted. Older the protagonists may be, but they still behave, by their own admission, like "kids who never grew up".
Putting the Band Back Together: Corvin insists on reuniting Team Daedalus and going into space as the price for his co-operation, so NASA sends out two people to round them up.
Reentry Scare: Comes together with a Chekhov's Skill during the earlier flight simulator scene: in a some variety of Technician Versus Performer, or Good Old Ways, or any of the related tropes, the Team Daedalus manage to "land" the "Space Shuttle", but only after the computer is disabled and they have to do it manually. The younger generation astronauts find this nigh-unbelievable.
Vomit Indiscretion Shot: A young man wants a ride on Hawk's bi-plane for his birthday. Everyone, from Hawk to the audience (but not his girlfriend, thanks to Hawk), learns that the kid does not have a strong stomach.
Younger than They Look: Tommy Lee Jones is 11 years younger than Donald Sutherland, 17 than Clint Eastwood, and 19 than James Garner, yet is portrayed as being around the same age bracket as them (though he is the youngest member of Team Daedalus). Jones was 54 when starring in a film where there was a Running Gag of all the leads' old friends having passed away from age and the like.