Fifty years ago, on July 20, 1969, NASA’s Apollo 11 spaceflight successfully landed on the surface of the Moon. Despite an onslaught of theories over the five decades since Neil Armstrong’s first steps, disputing the veracity of the iconic moon landing, the event made real the idea of space exploration and incited curiosity and wonder in the minds of the world. Space, the final frontier, was no longer out of reach for humankind. Fast forward fifty years, and that interest towards space exploration has hardly dwindled, despite no human presence on the Moon since Apollo 17 in 1972. To mark the semi-centennial anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre hosted an evening of exploration in its Planetarium.
Under the darkened dome, the crowd milled about, peering over the railings at the centre of the circular room to the long-retired laser machine once used in the Space Centre’s laser shows. The beginning of the evening’s event grew near, and the audience found their seats without any urging from Michael, from the Space Centre and host of the event.
Beginning with an acknowledgement of the unceded lands of the Musquem, Squamish and Tseil Waututh peoples upon which the Space Centre resides, Michael then launched into an introduction to the focus of the event: the Moon. Going way back into the multitude of legends and stories told by people groups across the globe that drew their mythological inspiration from gazing upward at the celestial bodies passing by, Michael was visually accompanied by images of constellations sweeping across the large dome overhead. Before long, Michael was elucidating NASA’s space program in the ‘60s, as well as the subsequent programs to explore and potentially colonize planets and heavenly bodies beyond our own planet’s atmosphere, all of which was complemented by images streaking around the dome. The images, I will say, were entertaining, not only because they helped illustrate some of Michael’s talking points — they were also, at times, dramatically outdated, looking like animations from ‘90s PBS shows, with the imperfections of early computer animation rendering on full display.
Interspersed throughout Michael’s exposition were performances by Elastic Stars, the Vancouver psych outfit fronted by bassist, comedian and (in this band) guitarist, Colin Cowan. Joined by Johnny Payne on drums, Jenn Bojm on bass and Joshua Zubot on violin, Cowan led the Elastic Stars through a spacey set of songs, from a selection of the most interstellar tunes from the Elastic Stars catalogue to covers of songs from the era of Apollo 11, including their incredibly on-the-nose version of Bowie’s “Space Oddity.”
While the information was interesting and the music well-suited to accompany it, the most notable parts of the evening were the moments when Michael and Colin joined forces in clearly unplanned, and markedly one-sided improv. During Michael’s lectures, Colin chimed in from time to time interrupting Michael’s flow, and forcing him to go off script or pretend he didn’t hear Colin’s ad lib. These moments, though sparse throughout the evening, kept the night from feeling too polished and impersonal, like a live version of an episode of NOVA.