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Film / SpaceCamp

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"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:

  • Accidental Astronaut: A group of children is attending the titular space camp to learn about the NASA space program and experience astronaut training. When a malfunctioning robot hears one of them wish to go into space, it hacks the NASA computers and launches them into orbit while they're aboard a space shuttle.
  • 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. As noted, the orbiter was not flight-ready, so they had a limited amount of oxygen on-board. Though they are able to recharge from Daedalus, missing the re-entry window to save Andie put them back in the same boat, as they did not have enough oxygen to make the next re-entry window for Edwards AFB.
  • Arc Words: "Max and Jinx, friends forever."
  • Artistic License Physics: A Space Shuttle launch was never 3 gnote  of acceleration during the entire launch. Forces during the SRB portion would typically be no higher than 2.5 g prior to their burnout, falling back to normal acceleration at SRB separation. Forces would gradually increase during the main engine burn, only peaking at 3 g just past T+7 minutes, at which point the orbiter's main engines would begin to throttle down to keep acceleration from going any higher to prevent injury to the crew. Still, the sudden jolt of SRB ignition would've definitely thrown an unrestrained Kathryn back in the flight deck as depicted.
  • 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. Kevin even plays the part of Obi-Wan Kenobi to help Max get the courage to help Andie. This was after earlier in the film calling him out on his immaturity and his over-the-top fandom specifically.
  • 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.
    Tish: Whoa. Is that India we're coming up on?
  • Avoid the Dreaded G Rating: "Shit" is uttered twice (once by Rudy, once by Andie), and "goddamn" is also used at least once.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Benevolent A.I.: Jinx, the robot that Max befriends.
  • 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.
  • Bowdlerise: The version of the film released by Feature Films For Families on VHS removes all the profanity, with the VHS cover actually advertising this version as "The Incredible Adventure Now Made Even Better For Families!".
  • Chekhov'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. Credit Kathryn for getting the idea.
  • 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:
  • Cool Spaceship: The Space Shuttle Atlantis.
  • Cool Shades: Kevin and Andie wear Ray-Bans.
  • 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.
  • The Easy Way or the Hard Way: Andie lays down the law to Kathryn after the incident with Kevin, telling her how she can become a Shuttle commander. This also explains why Andie made her the pilot instead of the commander on the Blue Team.
    Kathryn: Why are you so hard on me?
    Andie: Because someday, you're goin' up. But the only way you will is if you have every drill here down better than everyone else. There's no room for mistakes. Every 'i' dotted, every 't' crossed. That's the way I learned it. That's the way you'll learn it. You copy?
    Kathryn: I copy.
  • Edutainment Show: To a degree. It explains various things related to SpaceCamp, the astronaut program, and the shuttle itself.note 
  • Emergency Refuelling: The class gets launched into space accidentally. The ship has enough fuel to safely return to Earth, but not enough oxygen. Their only choice to make it home alive is to swing up to the still-under-construction space station to swipe from the reserve supply handily strapped to the outer framework. Predictably, things go wrong.
  • "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. NASA makes their presence known by having every single light in the cabin blink in Morse.
  • Failure Is the Only Option: A meta example when Kathryn is strapped into the multi-axis trainer and instructed to stop its spinning. The machine is real; Space Campers are actually subjected to it at some point during their time at camp. However, the joystick she uses to try and counteract the rotation is a Hollywood prop, added for the film, that controls nothing. Neither Kathryn nor anyone else placed in the simulator would have any chance of "recovering from the spin".
  • 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.
  • Foreshadowing:
    "We are T minus 19 days and counting towards main engine test of Atlantis...".
  • 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.
  • Friend-or-Idol Decision: Not knowing Andie is stuck outside, NASA attempts to bring the shuttle down on auto-pilot. Kathryn finds the override, but if they override, they will miss the window to Edwards. Kathryn has a Heroic BSoD and Kevin overrides the controls at the last second, becoming the Mission Commander of the team again.
  • Instant A.I.: Just Add Water!: Jinx is a malfunctioning but sentient AI robot.
  • 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, causing it to crash and explode; 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 Genie: Jinx sends the kids into space when he hears one wish to go there, no matter the consequences.
  • Literal-Minded: Jinx the robot, who obeys any words to him that sound vaguely like a command.
  • Living Out a Childhood Dream: Since Andie Bergstrom was a child, she dreamed of traveling into space. As an adult, she became an astronaut but she never was assigned to a shuttle space mission; instead, she became the instructor of a group of teenagers at the space camp. Her dream unexpectedly comes true when launch control is forced to launch the shuttle with Andie and the kids inside. Of course, she's not happy because they have little oxygen and no supplies when she has to keep everybody alive as they figure out a way of returning to Earth.
  • 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.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Almost invoked with Kathryn. When Andie needs to connect the new oxygen tank, she asks Rudy, the camper assigned as a system engineer which valve to use. When he makes a slight mistake, Kathryn gets fed up and grabs the manual from him, telling Andie to use a different valve. When Rudy insists that he's right, Andie uses his advice and they get their oxygen filled properly. As the others celebrate, Kathryn has a BSoD, realizing she almost blew up the shuttle.
  • 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. It's 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! LIGHT IT OR WE'RE GONNA EXPLODE!
  • Product Placement:
    • Space Camp itself is real.
    • Rudy mentions Big Macs.
    • Kevin mentions 7-Eleven, and drives a Jeep.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: The novelization of the film mentions the Challenger disaster during the launch incident.
  • 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.
    • Also given another reason in-story: Jinx's design is apparently lacking sufficient shielding to allow it to operate in space for more than two hours.
  • Robot Buddy: Jinx acts like this for Max for roughly the first third of the film until it unwittingly rats Kevin and Kathryn out.
  • 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 the consequences followed, 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).
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: 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.
  • Tap on the 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.
      Kevin: You're just an ordinary kid, and so am I, and maybe nobody lives happily ever 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.
  • 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.note  Possibly justified by the severity of the situation, as he may have been simply thinking out loud.
    Rudy: What about the propulsion system? We could breathe the liquid oxygen from there.
    Tish: The propulsion system uses nitrogen tetroxide, Rudy. We wanna breathe, not dry clean our lungs.
  • Unusual Euphemism: From Kevin to Andie.
    Kevin: Hey! Great boosters!
  • Virtual Assistant Blunder: The robot Jinx takes what it hears literally. After hearing Max say "I wish I could go to space", it interprets this as a command and hacks the space shuttle while Max is aboard so it will initiate takeoff.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: So what exactly did happen to Hideo Takamini, the camper whose place on the Blue Team was usurped by Kevin? He's never seen again after Kevin swipes his badge and is never mentioned after the confusion at the first roll call.
  • 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).
    Brennan: How am I supposed to keep a lid on this? People for 500 miles know the shuttle went up!
    Zach: Tell'em the truth: we launched my wife and five kids from the Space Camp. They'll never believe it.