Rockets Red Glare

by Michelle Evans, November 2000


It’s your senior year in High School. You don’t really care that much since your dad was killed trying to help you build a rocket a few years back. He was a shuttle astronaut, all prepared to push mankind into the future, and now all you can do is get in fights and skip classes because you miss him.


But your grandfather is also an astronaut; one who never made it to the Moon because a heart murmur was found two weeks before launch. Now you team up for the first project that caught your imagination in a long time: rebuilding a Redstone rocket, complete with Mercury capsule, and making it operational.


Of course it all works, but then NASA steps in and thinks that granddad is actually planning to launch himself into outer space. Can’t have that, so they shut down the whole project. Minutes later, the guy who just shut you down finds out that the Space Shuttle Endeavour has been hit by a meteorite and needs emergency supplies in just a few days or they will be stranded forever in orbit. Since other shuttles take too long to prep for launch, isn’t it a good thing that NASA knows just where they can lay their hands on a refurbished Redstone in a hurry?


In a large nutshell, this is the premise of a recent TV movie, “Rocket’s Red Glare.” It was made for the Family Channel, thus the emphasis on family drama and smart kids.


The movie, starring Robert Wagner as the grandfather, Ryan Merriman as the kid with a dream, and Marilu Henner as his mom, wasn’t too bad. Along the way there were some real groaners, the worst of which was watching them fire up Endeavour’s main engines in space (this happens to be impossible, since the large orange fuel tank is jettisoned soon after entering orbit).


On the other hand, as light entertainment goes, it was pretty watchable. The best of it was seeing the help given by the 30th Space Wing at Vandenberg AFB. The full-scale Redstone mockup and Mercury capsule were trucked to the base for filming where they were set up in a Delta launch stand and strapped together with solid boosters to get enough power to send a sub-orbital rocket into a real orbit where it could match a space shuttle. Also making appearances were many real launch personnel, along with the firing room for the actual rockets.


With cameo appearances by astronauts Al Bean and Gordon Cooper, it all looked like a lot of fun for a kid’s fantasy daydream of going into space on a nearly homebuilt rocket. If it was only that easy in real life to get into space!


Robert Wagner and Marilu Henner

Ryan Merriman plays "Todd Baker,"