The space-to-ground radio crackled recently with a message from Mission Control to NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria and his two crewmates at the international space station.
“Mike, unfortunately, you’ve been called over to Dean Wormer’s office,” radioed Mission Control, using the name of the bad guy from “Animal House.” And then, borrowing a line from the movie, Mission Control said the crew had apparently been put on “double-secret probation.”
“Seven years of college down the drain,” radioed back Lopez-Alegria, responding with another “Animal House” line, uttered by John Belushi.
Ever since Lopez-Alegria arrived at the space station last September, all kinds of movie dialogue has been flying back and forth between Mission Control and the movie buff living 220 miles (350 kilometers) above Earth.
“He’s a big movie fan, and he loves quoting movie lines,” said astronaut Garrett Reisman, who trained with Lopez-Alegria.
Movie trivia clues
Each week he has been in space, Lopez-Alegria has picked a “movie of the week.” He sends down snippets of music or dialogue from the space station’s DVD collection and sends clues in e-mails or radio transmissions until flight controllers correctly guess the film.
Last month, Lopez-Alegria chose “Caddyshack” before he and flight engineer Mikhail Tyurin made a spacewalk during which the Russian cosmonaut hit a golf ball as a publicity stunt for a Canadian golf club manufacturer.
Flight controllers on the ground got in the act recently when Lopez-Alegria picked “Best in Show,” the spoof on dog shows, as his movie of the week. Members of the flight control team turned pictures of themselves with their pets into a Power Point presentation set to the song “Who Let the Dogs Out?”
The space station has a DVD player, a library of DVDs and computers on which movies can be watched. Lopez-Alegria often watches movies during his daily, two-hour exercise routine.
He showed a fondness for quoting movie dialogue while he was undergoing training.
During spacewalk training in an enormous swimming pool at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Reisman gave Lopez-Alegria some directions. Lopez-Alegria retorted with a line from the stoner comedy “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle”: “Are you king of the forest?”
Another time, during a ground exercise simulating a fire at the space station, Lopez-Alegria announced he and Reisman would have to abandon ship. Reisman pulled a line from “O Brother Where Art Thou?”: “Wait a minute. Who elected you leader of this outfit?”
“I think in generations past, we might be quoting poetry or Shakespeare,” Reisman said. “It seems like movie lines are where our touchstone is.”
But Lopez-Alegria’s movie obsession does more than amuse. It sometimes relieves the stress of an isolated, fishbowl existence at the station and creates a connection between the astronaut and the flight controllers.
“You have crews on board for months at a time and we’re down here and sometimes there’s a little bit of a disconnect,” flight controller Christine Reichert said from Houston. “With him, there’s always a connection.”