‘Hubble' is an educational blast

The most thrilling part of “Hubble” isn't the view from inside the Orion Nebula, though its valleys of cotton candy-looking swirls look peacefully beautiful.

It also isn’t watching the crew of Atlantis STS-125 delicately and painstakingly remove nearly three dozen screws while floating in space, though your admiration for the accomplishments of these astronauts will (and should) swell greatly.

No, the moment that is worth the price of an IMAX ticket arrives with the shuttle liftoff, as engines roar to the point that the seat nearly vibrates and exhaust clouds envelop the screen so completely, you can almost smell it.

The heart of “Hubble,” narrated with appropriate studiousness by Leonardo DiCaprio, follows the 2009 mission of the Atlantis crew as they travel to the Hubble Space Telescope to repair its injuries.

For months before the launch, the seven-member team trained at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, burrowing four stories underwater – to simulate weightlessness – and making mock repairs to a life-size model of Hubble, then nearly two decades old.

The astronauts are a fun bunch for film, playing Jack Johnson’s “Upside Down” inside the shuttle – seemingly without irony -- and sharing tips that mere mortals will never need to utilize, but will still prompt a chuckle.

The last thing an astronaut does before putting on his or her helmet? Scratches.

Want to know about those pesky bathroom issues in space? It’s all about suction, according to one pro.

The film, which is helmed by the same team behind 2002’s “Space Station 3D,” including director Toni Myers, doesn’t shirk the controversial elements of space travel. Old news footage bemoans the initial lack of Hubble's capabilities, while snippets from a congressional debate about whether it was worth maintaining the telescope are a sad precursor to the eventual closing of the NASA’s Space Shuttle program this year.

But watching the Atlantis crew replace and repair Hubble parts during five spacewalks is astonishing and DiCaprio’s planetarium-like coda to the mission puts our place in the universe into thoughtful perspective.

Expect to walk out of the movie feeling very small.

Movie preview


Directed by Toni Myers. Rated G. At IMAX Theatre at Fernbank Museum of Natural History (through Jan. 1). Running time: 43 minutes.