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Adam Sandler’s ‘Spaceman’ used NASA artifacts to create sci-fi film’s spaceship

There is a scene in the new science fiction film “Spaceman” where Adam Sandler, playing a Czech astronaut, floats by a brown duffle bag attached to one of the walls of his spaceship.

There is nothing particularly notable about the scene and, in the context of the movie, there is nothing special about the bag. It is one of many such items that have come to be expected aboard a spacecraft.

What sets it apart is that the bag is a real piece of space equipment.

“That is a NASA surplus space shuttle suit stowage pouch,” said John Fongheiser, president of Historic Space Systems, in an interview with collectSPACE. “I think it was intended for use as on-orbit stowage for a launch and entry suit. It is made of fire-resistant PBI [polybenzimidazole].”

The bag is one of several NASA artifacts that Historic Space Systems loaned to the production team to help dress their spacecraft set.

Related: ‘Spaceman’ sees Adam Sandler shine as a cosmonaut in crisis in Netflix’s somber sci-fi film (review)

A space shuttle launch and entry suit stowage bag that was used in the filming of the movie “Spaceman.” (Image credit: Historic Space Systems)

“I wanted this spaceship to be so chaotic that I would feel restless from just watching it,” director Johan Renck, who worked closely with production designer Jan Houllevigue to conceptualize the ship, said in a statement released by Netflix. “We dealt with this spaceship in a very form-and-function way. There’s nothing aesthetic about it. It’s built by modules, nothing fanciful, very much a brutalist type of thing.”

Still, there was a desire to make the fictional ship feel authentic.

“We wanted to convey realism,” said Jakob Ihre, director of photography. “You need to feel the hardships of being in the spaceship.”

Though not modeled after any real-life spacecraft, for those who are familiar, there are visual cues to Russia’s Mir space station, the International Space Station and the shuttle.

“The studio rented all of the panels from my space shuttle forward cockpit,” said Fongheiser, referring to replicas that Historic Space Systems has produced for use in simulators found at museums and NASA visitor centers.

The movie’s cockpit does not resemble the shuttle flight deck, but the panels add a level of familiarity to an otherwise new setting.

“It was important to make life in space feel authentic,” said Ihre.

The “Spaceman” production team used Historic Space Systems’ replica shuttle flight deck panels to add a sense of realism to the film’s spacecraft cockpit set. (Image credit: Netflix)

Hence the interest in using real space artifacts, like the suit storage bag, as props.

“In addition to the space shuttle cockpit panels, the items we provided include a carbon dioxide locker door from the shuttle’s middeck floor, two Apollo command module lockers in their Skylab orbital workshop configuration, a shuttle general purpose computer status matrix indicator, a shuttle circuit breaker panel, pouches — suit stowage, wipes dispenser, waste collection and various others — and two light assemblies,” said Fongheiser.

Some of the artifacts were used as is, while others were used to produce replicas. The lights in the film, for example, were modeled after the real fixtures provided by Historic Space Systems.

“The larger lights were created from a fixture used in the aft flight deck of the shuttle orbiter, between the two overhead windows. A smaller fixture was modeled from the light mounted in the shuttle’s forward flight deck, to the left and above the commander, as well as on the opposite side,” said Fongheiser.

“The large one they reproduced in quantity, with me getting a bunch of extra shells after the production ended,” he said.

“Spaceman” is not the first movie to use authentic space hardware as set dressing. The 1995 feature film “Apollo 13” not only told the true story of the NASA moon mission by the same name, but used more than 30 artifacts — some of them having flown in space — on loan from the Cosmosphere museum in Hutchinson, Kansas. (The items were never returned after filming wrapped, so they may have been used in other movies or could still be sitting in a Hollywood prop house today.)

The “Spaceman” filmmakers used Historic Space Systems’ space shuttle light fixtures as a model to produce props to outfit their set. (Image credit: Netflix/NASA/

Historic Space Systems has supported other films, most notably the 2018 Neil Armstrong biopic “First Man,” but “Spaceman” marked the largest number of items they have loaned. Even so, the props still outnumbered the real hardware.

“With so many items it is possible that my artifacts will be lost in the clutter,” said Fongheiser. “But I look forward to playing ‘Where’s Waldo?’ while watching.”

“Spaceman” opened in select theaters on Feb. 23 and began streaming on Netflix on Friday (March 1).

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