Regent University just wrapped filming of scenes with actors in the Project’s Command Module! No, you didn’t miss an earlier announcement about this – Apart from a hint in an earlier article about “another university” and “another student film project,” I had not posted any details about this. Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia, has a major film department that is widely recognized and awarded for their numerous quality productions. The Director, Vince Williams, contacted the Project about filming scenes in the CM for a dramatic film about a rarely-heard aspect of the Apollo program.
Their current project, “Prepare for Launch”, is a docudrama about the life of NASA Astronaut John S. Bull. Although he never went into space, he did participate in several important tests, including the A6L space suit (forerunner of the A7L suit used on the Apollo missions), and also one I had not yet heard of prior to being contacted by Regent – a test of the Apollo spacecraft in which the entire craft was placed in a huge vacuum chamber and subjected to the same conditions it would experience in space. The scenes shot in the Command Module represent some of those tests. The film stars veteran actor Jacob Young (IMDB page https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0949646/) as John S. Bull and also McTyere Parker (IMDB page https://www.imdb.com/name/nm2069262/) as NASA Astronaut James Irwin.
The CM is still not complete, and I was frantically working to get enough of it complete so that the filming could proceed. Unlike the MSU shoot, I did have one of the crew couches completed and ready to use for the shoot. It was designed to be easily installed and removed, and could be placed in any of the three positions for filming. I also completed the Translation Hand Controller (THC), one Rotation Hand Controller (RHC), and supports for attaching them to the couch frame. One important aspect of the THC that I had to build into it specifically for the shoot was the ability to turn the handle clockwise. The original design was a simple joystick gimbal, but the script called for the handle to rotate clockwise to enable the SPS burn. I’ll post more details about these items in separate construction articles.
The script also called for the DSKY to be seen and used to prepare for a Service Propulsion System burn. The Open DSKY unit from S&T GeoTronics (http://www.stgeotronics.com) installed in the Main Display and Control panel (MDC) made this possible. After studying the script’s needs and researching the actual Apollo cue cards, I programmed a subset of the Verb 37 Noun 40 sequence to display several key steps, including the flashing Verb 99 Noun 40 indication that the computer is ready to ignite the engine. I also programmed a feature that will cue the EMS to start counting down the Delta-V change in velocity after the astronaut presses PRO. McTyere Parker, being in the Commander (CDR) position, got to operate the DSKY over and over across multiple takes, becoming proficient enough that he no longer needed my assistance!
The film is still in production, and as I write this Regent is wrapping a shoot at another location here in the South. Because of that, they have not yet been able to share any captures of their footage, but I grabbed a few behind-the-scenes shots showing off the CM and the production.
The Regent crew was super excited to see the CM first-hand. Before their arrival, writer and cameraman James Michael Douglas had never seen the MDC in detail, writing the astronaut’s lines based on audio transcripts. When he saw the CM and asked about the locations of the various switches, he was elated to find the actual switches he had previously only heard about!
Everyone also learned first-hand just how cramped the interior of the CM actually was. Most of the filming was done with the two halves of the CM separated, but a handful of scenes required them to be closed. Even with only one couch, two astronauts, and two film crew, the interior was not roomy AT ALL!! And because there were two astronauts but only one couch, scenes requiring a second astronaut to be in the CM involved some creative engineering involving stools, a mattress from a child’s bed, and several cushions and pillows to get the second actor in the right position safely. Fortunately, these shots only occurred near the ends of the scenes, so they were completed fairly quickly.
Before this shoot, I was bemoaning the fact that I was unable to complete the oxygen/water system panels (panels 351 and 352) and the upper part of the Left Hand Equipment Bay (LHEB), leaving openings that I hoped would not prevent them from making any shots they wanted. However, as luck would have it, when the two halves were mated to film certain scenes, the openings provided access for lights, the microphone boom, and various cables, actually enabling the filming rather than hindering it!
All in all, this was a fun and exciting and exhausting time for everyone. One of the crew (I think it was James Michael Douglas) commented, “I’ve never had so much fun and been so stressed at the same time!” That pretty much sums it up! I can certainly relate – I pulled two consecutive all-nighters finishing the crew couch, the hand controllers, and some other details necessary for the shoot to happen. Needless to say, I slept a LOT the day after!