Steven Spielberg and His Cargo Space On Board The Space Shuttle

steven spielberg nasa getaway space shuttle

Back in 1978 hot off the success of Close Encounters of the Third Kind there were strong rumours that the director, Steven Spielberg was working on a sequel.  Columbia Pictures were eager for a sequel, Spielberg not so much, but at the same time he didn't want anyone else going anywhere near his UFO masterpiece.  A sequel was planned, a working title or titles I should say were pencilled in.  'Watch The Skies' later to become 'Night Skies' produced many rumours at the time and one particular story was surfacing in more than one publication.  Steven Spielberg had booked cargo space on the inaugural flight of NASA's brand new project, the Space Shuttle.

Starburst - May 1978
Flicking through a copy of Starburst magazine from May, 1978 I came across a couple of lines in the 'Things to Come' section and it mentions Steven Spielberg is planning on sending a camera up into space aboard the Space Shuttle to get shots for the sequel to Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Its not alone too.  The Washington Post from January 1978 also mentions Spielberg booking cargo space and putting a deposit down of $500.  The Washington Post state "Spielberg will orbit a camera to photograph the earth and moon from the shuttle to achieve special effects for a sequel to his movie, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."

So two publications with the same story.  Fast forward a few years and we get this gem of a video from 1981 showing Steven Spielberg (they spell his name wrong) being interviewed and asked about his "getaway special."  In the interview Steven Spielberg isn't sure what he's going to do with the valuable cargo space on the shuttle and will probably take another eight months to think about what to do with it.  A camera is still being mentioned but not for footage to a Close Encounters sequel but perhaps to film the other "getaway special" canisters.

So what was a getaway special or GAS?  During the 80's NASA came up with a way to fill the payload bay on board the Space Shuttle.  After all the bay would most often have valuable cargo space to spare so offered the space to individuals and organisations to literally get their experiments on board and for a relatively low price.  Steven Spielberg was giving such a space.

What did Steven Spielberg eventually do with his GAS?  Well, I've been trying to find that out and it seems that even though Spielberg was allocated the space I really get the impression that he really didn't know what to do with the cargo space or didn't want to waste such a valuable opportunity.  The rumours started in 1978, the video above was from 1981 and even then he states he needs more time to think about it.  During my research I did come across this article from People magazine dated June 20th, 1983.  The article talks to the first female American in space, Sally Ride.  In the article Steven Spielberg is briefly mentioned.  It says:

“This mission has a lot of historic firsts,” NASA spokesman John Lawrence coyly announced as the session began. But the television crews and tourists had not convened to hear about Indonesia’s new communications satellite, or the radish seed experiment designed by two Cal Tech students and placed on the shuttle by the largesse of movie wizard Steven Spielberg. All eyes brushed past shuttle commander Robert Crippen, Capt. Rick Hauck and crew members John Fabian and Norm Thagard. Instead, they focused on Ride, 32, the living proof that the Brotherhood of the Right Stuff is now admitting sisters.

So it seems that after much deliberation Steven Spielberg gave his GAS away to two students.   Checking NASA's payload experiments history, the experiment was on board Discovery and was launched June 17th,1985 mission designation STS-51G.  The project was simply entitled Radish Seed Root Study.  So a little anticlimactic it seems but still an important experiment no doubt for the long term plans of manned space flights and future off world colonisation.   Checking the other payloads from the Getaway Specials there were a number of occasions movie cameras were sent up including Imax and a Cinema 360 camera.

So just like there was no sequel to Close Encounters (we all know that eventually gave way to another alien visiting movie from Steven Spielberg, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial) there was also no camera with Spielberg's name on board the Space Shuttle.  But we did get radish seeds in space thanks to the director.

Rob Wainfur

The Bearded Trio - The Site For Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, John Williams and a whole lot more.




  1. As a lifelong fan of Steven Spielberg there's always something new to discover and I never knew about the planned space shuttle filming for a proposed sequel to CEOTTK. That would have captured my childhood imagination with the same vigour as Spielberg's movies themselves.

    Ultimately, the sequel would become E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and the rest is cinematic history...


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