Moon landing at 50: Star Wars and space exploration

A half-century ago, in a galaxy not so far away …

The Apollo 11 crew’s moon landing — which happened 50 years ago this week — sparked a sense of scientific appreciation and wonderment nearly a decade before the release of the first Star Wars movie.

In the years since Neil Armstrong first stepped onto the moon’s surface in 1969, we’ve been looking to the skies and the silver screen in awe.

Beyond A New Hope in 1977, other influential movies released in the years after the moon landing include Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Alien.

Star Wars movies have inspired our understandings and appreciation of space. Kepler-16b, a planet with two suns, was named Tatooine because it resembled Luke Skywalker’s home planet.

“The reality of its two suns was so startling, George Lucas himself agreed to the astronomers’ nickname for the planet,” according to NASA.

There’s also a strong resemblance between a TIE fighter and the International Space Station as it was seen behind the space shuttle Atlantis in 2007.

“Upon seeing this video, one of the managers remarked that we’d rather have a TIE Fighter than an imperial cruiser back there,” lead Flight Director Cathy Koerner said at the time.

NASA has its droids, too, including one named Robonaut 2. And then there’s Saturn’s moon, Mimas, which resembles the “Death Star” with its massive crater. But Lucas didn’t know that during the filming of the first Star Wars movie — the resemblance was only discovered during the Voyager spacecraft’s flight past Saturn in the early 1980s.

The space agency went as far as writing a Star Wars-themed blog post in 2015: “The Application Awakens: 7 Reasons You Should Apply to #BeAnAstronaut.” Reason 4: Trust your coworkers with your life.