It's not often that the Hallmark Channel gets a shout-out on Science 2.0 but when they send young people into space, I'm in. I got an email about an upcoming movie and it intrigued me so the publicist not only put me in touch with interesting people to interview, they sent along an exclusive clip just for you.  Bonus: There is also a sweepstakes and we all love to win free stuff.

The movie is called Space Warriors (Friday, May 31st, 8PM/7PM Central Time) and it is about a group of competitive young people at an elite space camp who are vying for a seat on the space shuttle. Like all the best movies about young people, it's empowering. Most young people won't get to go into space but if they happen to be the only ones who can save astronauts 200 miles above Earth, well, there's your film.

We're fans of outreach and generating the interest of young people in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields. So the publicist for the movie put me in touch with one of the young co-stars of the film, Thomas Horn. Horn is one of those stories almost out of a Hallmark Channel movie himself. He came out of nowhere and landed a part in movie with Tom Hanks that got an Academy Award nomination. He's a smart fellow (1) who doesn't live in Hollywood, so his parents are not the Lohans or the Kardashians seeking vicarious fame through their kids, but he was instead spotted by a producer who was interested in making a film adaptation of Jonathan Foer's 2005 novel "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" and happened to be watching Kids Week on Jeopardy! and saw a young fellow win the competition with a bold bet and nerves of steel. Despite a lack of acting experience, Horn was cast in the movie and got numerous accolades for his performance - rare for a first-time actor of any age.  Nerves of steel are also exactly what astronauts of any age need.  Astronaut training does not give you a break because you are young. Space just does not care.

So I asked him a few questions about the movie and science. But first, take a look at a clip.

If you have ever been in a centrifuge, you know why the instructor in the clip below tells them to keep breathing. At high G's your blood has difficulty fighting the forces acting against the heart and it 'settles', meaning it is not going to your brain and you pass out, so you have to force the process even though instinctually you will want to hold your breath. Also, keep your knees together.

Since the premiere is tomorrow and schedules are always tricky, I sent questions to Horn via email.

Thomas Horn in "Space Warriors". Credit and link: Hallmark Channel 

Science 2.0: You are playing a character who is a bit of an astrophysics junkie. Is space an interest of yours or do you have a stronger affinity for another field of science?

Thomas Horn: Space is interesting, but chemistry is fascinating.

Science 2.0: As the enduring popularity of "Star Trek" shows, people love space - yet they also love TV shows with knights and dragons and no one really wants to fight knights and dragons. Do you and the scientifically literate people you hang out with think of space travel or even living in space as part of the roadmap of humanity, or is it more just fantasy?

Thomas Horn: I think that space travel will become more and more common in the future, but it will probably be at least 500 years before it is an integral part of our lifestyle. I think it also depends on political developments, because the short-term ROI for space ventures hasn't been very high so far.

Science 2.0: Lots of young actors either take time off to attend college or attend in tandem with their work. You're a bit of a polymath so if you picked today, would your major be science, engineering or one of the humanities?

Thomas Horn: Thank you! I've never been called a polymath before! I will probably major in the humanities, just because there are so many people better at science and engineering than I am. Political science or history sound interesting.

Science 2.0: You're outside the age of traditional Space Camp but they have an older version too. Did you get a chance to attend built into your contract? That sounds a lot more interesting than getting M&Ms all the same color or other perks celebrities request. If not, was there any training or observation to get into the feel of doing a rescue in space?

Thomas Horn: I wish I had been able to attend, but I couldn't find time. However, my co-stars and I did listen to lectures about the science behind space flight, and we got to sample many Space Camp activities.

Science 2.0: As a voice of the generation that will shape our science and space policy in the near future, is there a key program or problem that you would like to see the science community start working on right now? I know that's putting you on the spot but the administration reads Science 2.0 so it may reach the right ears.

Thomas Horn: I think clean energy and energy efficiency is really important right now. Wherever I go, people tell me that the weather in the past few years is very different from the way it was before. In LA, they say it is colder. My grandparents in Croatia find that summer is a lot warmer, and scientists agree. I try my best to conserve, but one person can only do so much. It's sad.

The publicist (2) also put me in touch with Tim Hall of the actual Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama. Now in its third decade, Space Camp is part of the American cultural lexicon, it was rightly established in Hunstville, Alabama, home of Marshall Space Flight Center, still the largest NASA center and devoted to civilian rocketry and spacecraft propulsion.  The best reason to think about Space Camp today and tomorrow when you watch the movie is that they are part of the sweepstakes I mentioned - enter the secret word that appears and if you win, you and your family get to go to Space Camp for free.  Awesome. 

Credit and link: Space Camp

Science 2.0: If I ask people in science about Space Camp, they all love Space Camp. But they had forgotten about Space Camp before I asked them about it. Space exploration was on the minds of almost all of the Apollo generation yet the public seems more comfortable with cute robots in space now. Do you see a roadmap for manned space exploration that is bolder than what we have on the schedule right now?

Tim Hall: I definitely see changes coming down the pike for Manned Space Exploration. Here’s why; NASA, (our Federal Government) has a plan to have its first unmanned launch of Space Launch Systems in 2017. The first Manned SLS launch is scheduled for 2020. With that said, I believe we are on the cusp of MAJOR changes/initiatives due to the privatization of space. There are multiple companies selling ‘trips’ into space. As we draw closer to commercial space flight vehicles taking people into space we will see many new, exciting changes. There is quickly becoming a ground-swell of support for the privatization of space. We can look at the successes of Space-X and their ability to supply the International Space Station with supplies. Their dragon capsule has worked beautifully. It is a success.  

Science 2.0: Over 600,000 people have attended Space Camp since it opened. The overwhelming majority say it made them more interested in science but a whole lot of young people were inspired by the idea of Space Camp even if they didn't get to go. How do you quantify its value in science outreach or inspiring participation in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math?

Tim Hall: The easiest way to look at the success of the program is for us to go to major U.S. corporations and find our alumni. And interestingly enough, many of the young people who came to Space Camp years ago are now working for those cutting-edge companies like Sierra Nevada, Space X, Bigelow Aerospace, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic and others. When we make site visits to those locations, we often hear those magic words, “Hey, I came to Space Camp when I was in the 5th grade.” We have also conducted some national research that shows a visit to Space Camp led to those young people taking more math and science or engineering courses. That education, in turn, led them down a path of excellence that helped them land a job in engineering or even in the space industry.

We have an amazing database that points to achievements and success among the young people who attended Space Camp and we’re proud of that! More than 88% of those questioned (it included more than 2,500 respondents) stated the Space Camp experience encouraged them to take more STEM courses. And more than 66% said Space Camp was the inspiration for a decision to enter these fields!

Science 2.0: Since you are in Huntsville, do you have a favorite Wernher von Braun quote? 

Tim Hall: One of our most favorite quotes here we share is when von Braun said, “All one can really leave one’s children is what’s inside their heads.” I think that’s pretty powerful!

Science 2.0: We know what Space Camp looked like in 1982 and how the experience is now. What will it look like in 2042?

Tim Hall: In 2042, it’s my belief that people will be coming to Huntsville to actually prepare for their personal space travel. I think this will be a training ground—a proving ground. Knowing they will soon be heading into orbit, I’m confident that we will be the premiere site where they will come for hands on training before they begin their formal training to take their trip. We have already begun the process of upgrading our facilities/simulators for the young people who attend Space Camp. We are looking at missions that go back to the moon, go to Mars or land on a asteroid. After all, that’s what NASA is considering. Why would we not be in line with their efforts? I have NO DOUBT the U.S. Space&Rocket Center will be a world class leader in training space flight participants for the future!

"Space Warriors" blasts off (yes, I am that clever) tomorrow at 8PM on the Hallmark Channel.  


(1) Woe to the journalist who patronizes this guy, as USA Today writer Susan Wloszczyna found out:
Jokingly asked if he is going to answer questions in the form of a question, Jeopardy!-style, Horn simply rolls his eyes, slightly grimaces and remains silent. He also would rather keep some personal info under wraps. Though he confirms he has a younger brother, he refuses to divulge his name. "Next question," Horn says, before explaining the obvious: "I'm kind of a private person in a way."

(2) Thanks Simone!