Return to Space (2022) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): It’s awesome to return to space, but…

Netflix documentary film “Return to Space”, which was released yesterday, is engaging whenever it focuses on those numerous technicians and engineers working together for the common goal set by their wealthy but controversial employer. Yes, it is certainly awesome to return to space, and I am glad to see that these folks actually make some substantial progress for the future, but I cannot help but feel ambivalent about that whenever the documentary looks at their infamous employer.

That figure in question is none other than Elon Musk, who incidentally became the biggest shareholder of Twitter several days ago. Considering how this billionaire figure has received a fair share of both admiration and contempt, the documentary has already been regarded as a mere promotion piece for him and his company SpaceX, but the overall result thankfully stays away from him as much as possible, and it compensates for his hovering presence over the documentary to some degree via those wonderful moments captured from space.

During the early part, the documentary gives us some background information on Musk and his company’s ambitious private space project, which was started in the early 2000s. Around that time, NASA had been shutting down its space shuttle programs due to their enormous cost, so it started to consider the privatization of space programs, and that was where Musk and his company entered. Although he only had lots of money, Musk became quite interested in venturing into aerospace industry after meeting a German aerospace engineer named Hans Koenigsmann, and that eventually led to the foundation of SpaceX. Not so surprisingly, their first several attempts were not successful at all, but Musk’s engineers and technicians kept trying nonetheless as learning more from these big failures, and they finally succeeded in launching their rocket into space without any serious glitch.

The documentary pays some attention to why their eventual success was a revolutionary forward step in the aerospace industry. Unlike those rockets used for space shuttle launches, the rocket developed by the engineers of SpaceX can actually be recycled again and again, and, above all, it also can land back in the launching spot after it succeeds in sending the module into space. Thanks to this new technological advance, the cost for space rocket launch became quite cheaper than before, and that was how Musk came to be regarded as another technology innovator after Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.

After that point, NASA came to lean more into collaborating with private corporations, and, of course, some notable figures including Neil Armstrong became quite concerned about that. Maybe aerospace technology will be much more advanced within a short period via this change, but Armstrong warned about the possible dark sides of privatization, and, as shown from one interview clip, Musk was quite hurt by the opposition from a man whom he supposedly regarded as one of his heroes.

The documentary does not overlook at all how Musk has often behaved like your average privileged Caucasian male jerk during recent several years, but it understandably regards this as mere eccentricities which come with his, uh, visions. I heard that he has Asperger’s syndrome, and that may explain a lot, but, folks, he still looks like an arrogant free-range rude in my inconsequential opinion. To be frank with you, as a guy who also has Asperger’s syndrome, I did often hurt others’ feelings due to my incorrigibly brutal honesty throughout 39 years of my life, but I also have been a bit more socially adjusted after learning valuable lessons from my many big mistakes, and that is why I have more contempt toward him these days.

Although Musk’s presence constantly distracted me during my viewing, I must confess that I also found myself observing the gradual progress of his pet space projects with some curiosity and admiration toward his numerous technicians and engineers. As far as I can see, these people really wanted to make some technology advance for our world, and their enthusiasm touched me a bit, but then I wondered whether their achievement will be just for Musk and some few other rich folks in the end.

The documentary also focuses a lot on two NASA astronauts, who are also quite engaging to observe as they prepare a lot for the launch and then handle the launch process with calm professionalism. While they are casual on the surface, they are also well aware of how things can go wrong at any moment, and that is particularly evident from when their space module is about to go through the docking process with the International Space Station. The process must be as precise as possible, and they and others are all relieved a lot once the process is completed.

Overall, “Return to Space”, which is directed by Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, may not give you anything new if you are familiar with its main subjects, but it is not a total waste of time mainly thanks to its close and vivid presentation of those space projects of SpaceX. I have some reservation on where this technological/commercial advance will eventually take us during next several decades, but space remains awe-inspiring as usual for all of us, and I can only hope that the human race will truly deserve to go further into space. Sure, it will be wonderful to be an interplanetary species, but shouldn’t we fix our suffering planet first?

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