Indiana Jones and the Right Stuff

To start, I know I may be the only human being on Earth for whom the most recent Indiana Jones film ranked very high in the series – perhaps second only to the original Raiders of the Lost Ark.  I love sci-fi, and some of the visuals nonwithstanding (and the fact that we trudge across some of the same territory,) I realized one of the things that tickles me most about it and the entire film series:

The Indiana Jones films represent one of the very, very few successful film franchises to popularize a Scientist-Hero. Think about it.  Science explores the unknown, which is scary, and films usually reflect this fear of venturing into the dark spaces of our understanding.  Hence, 99.9% of the time, scientists are bad guys.  -Guys that have “gone too far” or who are delving into what they shouldn’t because they’re power-hungry or insane.  Indiana Jones films, on the other hand, present quite the opposite and a much more realistic view of the impulses that make scientists want to become scientists.  And, by championing the skills of resourcefulness, quick thinking, and strong academic training, the films have all but set a roadmap for future explorers on the Final Frontier.

That’s right – it occurred to me that with his unique experience, ol’ Indy is shaping up to be a perfect 21st-century-style Astronaut Candidate.  Follow me for a few moments.  First, for context, take a look at this historical Apollo-era training program image for a clear visual echo of Indy-in-a-spacesuit:

So, what do we want out of our astronauts these days – or more particularly – for future planetary missions, and how does that relate to depictions of Dr. Jones?

Eagle Scout.

Sure, we’ll start here.  Since when has any film depicted a Scout as a protagonist?  Can we guess where young Henry Jones, Jr. developed his outdoor skills, confidence, and a portion of his resourcefulness?  That’s right – the good ol’ Boy Scouts of America.  It’s no surprise, then, that a vast portion of Astronauts both past and present have amongst their achievements Eagle Scout.

Field experience.

NASA is looking for candidates who have been out in the field performing technical work.  They want to know an astronaut has the practical know-how to conduct operations and overcome typical fieldwork challenges.

In a memorable line from Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Indy exclaims, “…you’ve got to get out of the library!”


NASA has looked favorably upon Astronauts who are or have been teachers – people well-suited to return to Earth and share their experiences to inspire the next generation of explorers.  A PhD is also a big plus, and many astronauts have one.

This looks to be a trend that will only strengthen in the future.  Being able to pass the knowledge forward is an invaluable skill the farther out we explore.

Research Skills.

Astronauts will need to be able to take existing research and draw from it to make new conclusions or statements.  In many instances they will need to be able to do this quickly and under pressure due to equipment limitations (or NAZIs).

Government/Military Experience.

This also can’t hurt.  Because of the involvement of many agencies in breakthrough exploration, many astronauts have a military background, and the ones who don’t are well-served by experience to government programs and being able to liase with government representatives.

Physical Conditioning.

Astronauts need to be able to withstand the intense physical forces associated with launch operations and space travel.  -G-Forces, vibration, acceleration and deceleration.  This training is achieved by physical training of many colors, not the least of which is Sandia-style rocket sleds.

Ol’ Indy has been there, and even maintained consciousness the whole time.

Flight Training.

Well, let’s face it.  Even though aerodynamics mean about as much in space as Shakespeare means to a concrete slab, NASA values flight experience in its astronauts.  The sorts of systems and forces at work relate to launch and re-entry, and the ability to operate an aircraft under pressure (a la w/snakes twirling around your feet) is a plus.

Radiation Knowledge.

As astronauts by very definition venture beyond Earth’s protective magnetic field, exposure to radiation is a regular threat.  Understanding how it works and how to protect oneself should be key prerequisites.

Prior Spacecraft Experience.

With the commercial spaceflight industry ramping up, experience with spacecraft systems can only be advantageous, irrespective of whether or not the spacecraft systems and flight architecture are domestic or foreign.


While the above qualifications put Dr. Henry Jones, Jr. in the running, his experience with astrobiological artifacts ranks Indy at the top of the stack.  If, that is, the experience is declassified so he can put it on his application.

See what I mean?  Our next Indiana Jones film might be wise to capitalize on Indy’s experience and place him with John Glenn…  The timeline should have the next sequel set at the height of the Space Race…  What about:  Uncovering evidence of lost Atlantean technology in a secret chamber under the Sphinx’s left paw (which Plato has allegedly purported to exist!), leading our globetrotting explorer in a race against the Commies to a secret moonbase on the dark side of the Moon (also purported to exist!) for the very fate of the Planet Earth!  …ahem.

Anyway, was this an amusing analysis/exercise?  Perhaps – and I hope you enjoyed it.  But the important thing to me is that these films champion qualities that make not only for good astronauts, but also for good scientists and thoughtful and prepared individuals – something our country is in desperate need of.



[[All images credit Paramount]]

One thought on “Indiana Jones and the Right Stuff

  1. Loved the journey into the psyche of selecting our “super heroes” as those with brains and a limitless passion for learning. Bravo!

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