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In an early scene in "Ad Astra," the new space epic starring Brad Pitt, the camera pans by a small snow globe with an Apollo astronaut inside.
"I always wanted to be an astronaut, for the future of mankind and all," Pitt, as Roy McBride, says, reflecting on his past. The snow globe, an apparent souvenir of McBride's childhood, also serves as one of several nods to real space exploration in the film, which director James Gray said was less sci-fi as "science-future-fact."
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"I sort of look at it as an alternate reality, a near future, as if the sixties' space programs that were so awesome, but that slowed down through the decades, would not have slowed down," explained Ethan Gross, who wrote the "Ad Astra" screenplay with Gray, "and so would have kept going, and the moon would have been continued to be visited and built up and we would have gone beyond, to Mars. And then, therefore, by probably 50 or a 100 years from now, maybe, then we'd have the world of 'Ad Astra.'"
Gray's own passion for space history and its aesthetic, informed by his watching space documentaries, helped shape the near future as presented in the film.
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"We really looked to that kind of look for the technology and for the science fiction of it, even though it's a future movie," Gross told collectSPACE.com in an interview.
The film never reveals a direct timeline between the past that inspired it and the events that Pitt's McBride experiences, but "Ad Astra" includes several references to real space history.
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Spoiler warning: While the following avoids revealing any of the major plot points of "Ad Astra," it does include some minor details.
The SpaceCom emblem worn in "Ad Astra" bears more than a passing resemblance to the real U.S. Space Command seal.
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Roy McBride may have...
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