There's been a lot of discussion around "anti-science" rhetoric and beliefs in recent years, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and all of the socio-political discussions around the virus. Adam McKay's newest Netflix film, Don't Look Up, feels like one big allegorical diatribe against science "naysayers" who would rather eschew factual evidence and data in lieu of personal beliefs/agendas. But since it does so with a heavy dose of comedy, fans are wondering how much of the content in the film is real, like the Planetary Defense Coordination Office.
Is NASA's Planetary Defense Coordination Office real?
Abso-freaking-lutely. The patch that is highlighted in the popular Netflix film belongs to an actual agency, and in case you were wondering if it it's legit, yes — the film even provides a meta moment to inform the audience that it totally exists.
In one scene, Leonardo DiCaprio's character, Randall Mindy says, "I'm on hold. She is calling Dr. Oglethorpe, who is that?" Jennifer Lawrence's character, Kate Dibiasky says, "Dr. Oglethorpe, head of the Planetary Defense Coordination Office." Which prompts the response from Leo: "Is that a real place?"
Then, on-screen text pops up to inform the audience that yes, the Planetary Defense Coordination Office is a real division of NASA, and that the patch in the movie is actually the one utilized by the agency.
Geeky reported that an actualy astronomer and climate change scientist Amy Mainzer worked as a consultant for the film.
In an interview with collectSPACE, Amy said, "Obviously this is a sci-fi movie, right? We are getting into sci-fi territory very quickly, because obviously we don’t know of a gigantic comet that is about to hit Earth. That is not real. So fortunately, that’s the big news, right?"
She continued, "But the Planetary Defense Coordination Office is very real, and it didn’t really exist until relatively recently." This particular office didn't come into existence until January of 2016.
NASA created the division to work with its international allies in order to create Earth defense strategies, and it also serves to manage NASA's Near-Earth Object Observation initiative, which was founded in 1998.
"You’d think it would be a no-brainer to have a full program to search for asteroids and comets, but even that has been a long time coming. People have been working on it for a long time, but I would say with very modest resources, considering what it takes to go out there and solve this particular problem. So we are finally getting to the point where we are conducting a much more comprehensive study of these objects," Amy said.
The events of 'Don't Look Up' are loosely based on a true story.
Mainzer's team actually discovered the massive NEOWISE comet in 1997. It's the basis of that staggering find that helped inform Don't Look Up.
"I did a lot of work on the design of an orbit and I actually modeled some aspects of the comet in the movie after Comet NEOWISE to be realistic. I tried to choose something that would fit the needs of the movie, but also not stray too far from reality," she said.
Mainzer said that she was very happy to work on the film and it's pro-empirical evidence stance: "We need to make science-based decisions. It’s important because, if we don’t, we’re not going to end up with the best possible outcomes for a host of different problems, be it the threat of asteroids and comets or climate change or extreme weather. Or the pandemic. We have scientific decisions to make and it couldn’t be more important than doing it now."
Don't Look Up is currently streaming on Netflix. You can watch it with a subscription by heading here.