Space Camp

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Space Camp is a family adventure movie from 1986 about a group of kids at a space camp who unexpectedly get launched up into space for real. However the Shuttle was still in pre-flight prepping 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.

The movie is largely forgotten today and was critically panned upon its first release, due to the marketing nightmare that came about from the 1986 Challenger shuttle disaster that claimed the lives of seven American astronauts 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.


Tropes used in Space Camp include:


  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Although in this case it's more Artificial Stupidity rather than Artificial Malevolence.
  • Almost Out of Oxygen: A major plot point. Twice.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 supplies.
    • Justified: the space station is placed at the most commonly used altitude and orbital declination for Shuttle flights precisely because it is the most commonly used altitude and orbital declination for Shuttle flights. With that part already taken care of, making orbital rendezvous could easily be done with the maneuvering jets and a little time.
  • Creator Killer: This was the final film to be made by ABC Motion Pictures.
  • Did Not Do the Research: There are a number of instances regarding flight procedure and technical aspects of the space shuttle.
  • Everyone Knows Morse: One of the campers 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 that one of their console lights is rapidly blinking in an irregular pattern...
    • Averted in that no one on board, not even the trained astronaut, actually knew Morse Code beyond a simple 'SOS' -- except for the one camper who has a photographic memory and had randomly picked up knowledge of Morse from general reading. For another, nobody on the ground can recognize the Morse signal at first... except for the artificially intelligent robot, which of course has perfect pattern recognition within the limits of its programming.
  • Entendre Failure: Jinx the robot.
  • Five-Man Band:
  • Gone Horribly Right / Be Careful What You Wish For: "I wish I could go up into space."
  • Hey, It's That Guy!: The character Andie was played by Kate Capshaw from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
    • The character Kathryn Fairly was played by Lea Thompson, best known for playing Loraine McFly.
    • Tom Skerritt from Top Gun
    • Joaquin Phoenix's film debut.
    • Not to mention Rudy is played by Lamar.
  • Instant AI, Just Add Water: See Reed Richards Is Useless.
  • 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.
  • Like Reality Unless Otherwise Noted: In some ways the tech and abilities of the Space Camp NASA are ahead of us - there's a sentient robot, there's a space station already up in orbit with the necessary oxygen tanks - but when the plot demands it everything was at the level it is when the film was released.
  • Literal-Minded: Jinx the robot, who obeys any words to him that sound vaguely like a command. His ruthlessness to fulfill them makes him a...
  • 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 Space Camp were.
    • They were supervised, by a trained astronaut. Only her being injured during the orbit made their situation any kind of drama at all, as she was a fully qualified Shuttle pilot.
  • Red Wire Blue Wire: Yep, to connect the oxygen tank.
  • Reed Richards Is Useless: Space Camp has a sentient, AI robot which is capable of bypassing failsafes to launch a shuttle, but NASA is still counting on the shuttle and mindless computers.
    • Justiifed: its specifically mentioned in-dialogue that the robot is not used for space service both because it interprets commands too literally (which fact also drives the entire plot of the movie) and because its circuitry is too delicate to actually survive the level of ionizing radiation in space, a design flaw they gave up on trying to fix after multiple failed attempts.
    • Also Truth in Television: the total amount of computing power available from the Space Shuttle's onboard systems wouldn't add up to an iPhone. The electronic system on NASA spacecraft are unbelievably primitive by modern standards, for the simple reason that they are also unbelievably robust. A program, or a CPU design, has to be out there in service for a long long time before they finally work out all the bugs, and since the first bug on a spacecraft is the one that will kill you, well, there you go.
      • There are few surprises from 10-year old hardware, and it's better to have hardware support for safety measures than not. But a part of it is simply because of the physical limitations: as IC elements get smaller, it's going to be more vulnerable to ionizing radiation, increasing the risk of glitch or damage. Of the Intel CPU, 8086 (1978) from those shuttles has minimum feature size of 3200 nm; skipping a bit, 800nm are 80486 (1990+), early P5 Pentium (1993) and late 80386EX (1994, embedded version); then 600nm - with 80486DX4 (1994), and more Pentiums, then it snowballs and "modern" CPU on 65 nm process or smaller are far off this scale. 80386EX is used in many satellites, but satellites are not habitable, nor do any time-critical manoeuvring even if capable of minor orbital corrections.
  • Robot Buddy: Take a guess.
  • Shout-Out: Count all the Star Wars references.
  • Tap on the Head / Hard Head: Andie.
  • The Eighties
  • Things Get Real
  • Too Soon: The film was released just months after the space shuttle Challenger disintegrated after takeoff.
  • John Williams: He provided a very stunning score for this film.
  • What Could Have Been: In the original script, a Russian Shuttle with Russian Kids would have rescued them. Remember this is still the time of the Soviet Union.