Netflix’s new Elon Musk-focused documentary Return to Space is attracting mixed reviews, some of which lambast the film as fawning portraiture. But given the fact that the subject is Musk, that’s not necessarily a big surprise.
The CEO of Tesla and SpaceX (and newly minted Twitter board member) is nothing if not a perfectly modern Rorshach test. He can elicit either strong criticism or fandom in certain people. People also see in him everything from a singular and inspirational visionary to a tech bro with too much money. Plus a tendency to over-promise and rarely deliver. Or rarely deliver on time (*cough the Tesla bot *cough).
Whatever you think of him, his ambitions, or his politics, though, he’s unquestionably put a dent in the universe. And for people who don’t live and die by whatever The Discourse is saying today about him on Twitter? The Return to Space film on Netflix is actually a decent primer for anyone out there who might kind of, sort of know about Musk’s space-related efforts. But who hasn’t been paying close attention and wants to quickly catch up on the SpaceX story.
Return to Space Netflix
For the first time, Netflix’s official summary of the film explains, Oscar-winning directors Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin (Free Solo, The Rescue) “point their lenses to the sky, covering the inspirational rise of SpaceX and Elon Musk’s two-decade effort to resurrect America’s space travel ambitions.
“Offering rare access inside the first crewed mission launched from U.S. soil since the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011, this is an intimate portrait of the engineers and astronauts chosen for the historic moment. Following NASA veterans Bob Behnken, Doug Hurley, and their families in the leadup to launch, Return To Space brings viewers along for their thrilling ride to the International Space Station, and into mission control with Musk and the SpaceX team as they bring them back to Earth for a dramatic splashdown return.”
Elon Musk – SpaceX
I’m a little biased in being particularly fascinated by the SpaceX story of late. Because there were actually a couple of connections between my hometown and SpaceX’s recent Inspiration4 mission.
For one thing, that flight — which marked the first time an all-civilian crew went on an orbital mission to space — was also a fundraiser. Specifically, for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. The hospital, which does life-changing, breakthrough research and treats young patients for free, is about 20 minutes from my apartment. It operates from a sprawling campus in Downtown Memphis. And another thing that made the SpaceX mission such a thrilling moment for Memphians?
One of our own was actually part of the crew. She’s Hayley Arceneaux, a St. Jude physician’s assistant, as well as a former patient herself at the hospital. Musk even said that he would kick in $50 million toward the mission’s fundraising goal for St. Jude.
A separate Netflix limited series (Countdown: Inspiration4 Mission to Space) tracked that specific mission from start to finish.
According to SpaceX’s corporate website, meanwhile, the company has used 89 reflown rockets, and performed 150 total launches and 112 total landings. “Building on the achievements of Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy,” the site notes, “SpaceX is working on a next generation of fully reusable launch vehicles that will be the most powerful ever built, capable of carrying humans to Mars and other destinations in the solar system.”
Return to Space on Netflix tells viewers the rest (but not all) of that story.
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