How NASA Helped Send ‘Fast & Furious’ to Space

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Ludacris Tyrese F9
Ludacris and Tyrese got to space in a Pontiac Fiero in "F9: The Fast Saga." (Universal)

Your tax dollars are hard at work in “F9: The Fast Saga,” the latest chapter in the “Fast & Furious” series. NASA scientists helped director Justin Lin figure out how to send a Pontiac Fiero driven by Roman (Tyrese) and Tej (Ludacris) into space.

Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his “family” have come a long way since they were street racing back in SoCal around the turn of the century. The stunts have been getting bigger and more outrageous in every sequel, so cars in space seems like an inevitable progression for Dom’s crew.

The theatrical release of “F9” has been delayed for over a year by the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s the biggest test yet to see whether audiences are ready to go back to the movies in full force.

It’s no secret that Diesel didn’t enjoy working with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, so Johnson’s government operative, Luke Hobbs, has been written out of the series. Hobbs got his own spinoff movie with criminal Deckard Shaw in “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw,” so the focus is back on Dom this time.

Diesel’s been running his mouth about how, as the series’ producer, he had to confront the Rock about lazy acting habits, so it’s doubtful that Hobbs will return for the final two movies in the saga.

John Cena shows up this time as Dom’s evil brother. You’re not understanding how “Fast & Furious” movies work if you’re wondering why Dom, a street-racing kid from Echo Park, has never mentioned his younger brother before, not to mention how that younger Echo Park kid managed to become an international assassin and renowned thief without popping up in an earlier movie.

But we’re here to talk about space. According to an interview with director Justin Lin at Vulture, the space plotline began as a joke. Producer Josh Henson and visual effects supervisor Alexander Vegh made a prank pitch to Lin.

Henson explains, “Kind of as a joke, we put together a pitch that looks like, ‘Okay, Dom and the gang go to the moon, and they race cars; they’re racing cool rovers on the moon and Dom wrecks his rover. And the bad guy’s about to get away, but he’s just at the Apollo 11 site. And he finds the original moon rover, and he’s racing. We kind of did it as a joke, and we pitched it to Justin, and we had a good laugh. But then Justin’s like, ‘Well, maybe there’s something there.’”

“Fast” fans know that Lin saved the series with his 2006 movie “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift,” which reignited the series with none of the actors from the first two movies except for a brief cameo by Diesel. For the rocket sequence in “F9,” he brought back the “Tokyo Drift” crew of Earl, Sean and Twinkie (Jason Tobin, Lucas Black and Shad “Bow Wow” Moss) to build and design the Fiero space car.

In real life, Lin wanted real science to fuel his space stunt, so he called the NASA crew for advice. “Going to space was not something I took for granted or I was very flippant about,” Lin said. “It is something that I did have a lot of conversations about. A lot of conversations. And it went from rocket scientists laughing, going, ‘What the f**k?’ to us saying, ‘Well, can this really happen? If other rocket scientists have to get up there and the capsules are coated with these polymers? Blah blah blah.’ This is something that was thought-out. If anything -- logistically, scientifically -- it’s one of the most sound action-set pieces in our franchise.”

There were dozens of questions. Would homemade space suits really keep Tej and Roman from suffocating in space? How much fuel does a Fiero need to get to space? What’s to keep the car from burning up on reentry? “That Fiero, if you look at it, has been reinforced. It has been built out. And actually, they’ve been testing it,” Lin insists. “Earl, Twinkie and Sean are not making this up. They work at a propulsion lab. They are rocket scientists!”

Will “F9” bring audiences back to theaters? If it does, will the movie inspire a new generation of rocket scientists to sign on with NASA so they can invent space cars that will allow future generations to launch themselves into orbit? Most importantly, after you’ve sent a car into space, what’s left for the next movie?

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