SpaceCamp is a 1986 movie based on a book by Patrick Bailey and Larry B. Williams and inspired by the U.S. Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama. The film stars Kate Capshaw, Lea Thompson, Joaquin Phoenix and Tate Donovan. Its screenplay was written by Clifford Green (as W. W. Wicket) and Casey T. Mitchell. The movie was directed by Harry Winer.
The movie revolves around four teenagers and a 12-year-old boy named Max who have gone to space camp for three weeks during summer to learn about the NASA space program and mimic astronaut training. There they meet Andie Bergstrom, a camp instructor and NASA astronaut who is frustrated that she has not yet been assigned to a space shuttle mission.
Things start to unravel when Max saves a sentient robot named Jinx. To return the favor, Jinx decides to send Max into space after hearing Max say during a moment of frustration that he wanted to be in space.
Jinx secretly enters NASA's computer room the night before the teens and Andie were to sit in a shuttle orbiter (Atlantis, to be exact) as it test-fired its engines (without launching). Jinx asks the computer how the launch could be forced. The computer responds that inducing a "thermal curtain failure", essentially igniting one of the solid rocket boosters, would cause NASA to have to ignite both boosters and launch the shuttle to avoid disaster. While the teens and Andie are aboard the shuttle for its engine test, Jinx forces the computer to falsely signal a thermal curtain failure. Andie finally convinces Launch Control to launch. Shortly after reaching space, voice contact is lost because the shuttle's long-range radio was not flight ready. Andie thinks they can wait until a landing window opens, but finds later that there's not enough oxygen aboard to make it home to Edwards Air Force Base or the Kennedy Space Center. Meanwhile, Tish begins using a telemetry switch to send a distress signal to NASA via morse code, but no one on the ground notices. Andie takes the shuttle higher to "Space Station Daedalus" to obtain more oxygen, and after docking begins a spacewalk. While on her spacewalk, Andie is injured trying to transfer oxygen into the shuttle. The teenagers are able to get Andie back inside the shuttle, but the time it took them to do so has caused them to miss their re-entry window and they again risk running out of oxygen. Rudy and Kathryn together remember that the shuttle once landed at White Sands, New Mexico, and Tish uses Morse code to signal NASA to let them try for a landing there. Jinx, wanting to help Max, rolls into NASA's control room, fights for attention, and the slow-to-realize Zack figures out that the robot is reading Morse code off the unattended console. Zack figures out the code, "White Sands", and begins preparations for the landing. Because Andie injured her ribs and arm during the spacewalk, Kathryn has to fly the shuttle through re-entry and landing. After struggling to stabilize the shuttle, Kathryn finally succeeds and lands the shuttle safely.
In the movie, a "thermal curtain failure" during an SRB test forces NASA into initiating a full launch of the shuttle into orbit. In reality, NASA has contingency plans to provide for a launch abort at any phase of the launch process, including the options of Return to Launch Site (RTLS), an East Coast Abort Landing (ECAL) Site, and three Space Shuttle Transoceanic Abort Landing (TAL) Sites in France, Spain, (and until 2005, one at Ben Guerir Air Base, Morocco). But, the RTLS abort has never been used and never will be, as in simulators it has a 10% success rate, due to the excessive G-forces in action during the abort, killing all on board.
There was never a Space Station Daedalus. NASA's Skylab was in orbit until 1979. The first section of ISS was put in orbit in 1998. In 1986, the time of filming, the only complete space station in orbit around Earth was the Soviet Salyut 7, and Mir had just begun construction.
The astronaut who flies the shuttle during reentry is not the pilot (on the right) as it is in the movie, but the commander (on the left). This is because the commander has the role as pilot and the pilot has the role as co-pilot.