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The science of 'Drag Me Down': a roundtable on One Direction at NASA

One Direction debuted the video for their first single without Zayn Malik early this morning, and to the surprise and general awe of the entire Verge newsroom, it appears to be filmed not only in our very own United States but also in one of our very own NASA facilities. The basic premise is that each member of One Direction is in training to be an astronaut (they have GEDs), and subsequently is launched into space.

Their videos almost always have elaborate set pieces and crazy production values: "Steal My Girl" takes place in the desert and has easily hundreds of professional dancers (also Danny DeVito), the backdrop for "Midnight Memories" is the entirety of London and its population, and "You and I" has a bigger CGI budget than Game of Thrones (probably). This was the next logical step after taking over an entire city. They'll probably film their next video on Mars.

Kaitlyn Tiffany: After moving past my fury that the science team at The Verge didn't manage to get me an invite to the set, I dragged The Verge's go-to space experts into a Google doc to explain all the cool NASA stuff in "Drag Me Down."

First question: Is this a real NASA facility? Not that it matters especially because I would watch Niall Horan bounce around in shredded skinny jeans on really any stretch of concrete.

Loren Grush: Yes, One Direction is disrupting the lives of engineers at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. And I believe they're also hanging out at NASA's JSC airplane hangar at Ellington Field, also outside of Houston. Those planes are T-38 Talons, which are supersonic jets NASA uses to train astronauts.

Kaitlyn Tiffany: Well, this is honestly the least fun One Direction music video I've ever seen, so I guess all this "trouble" they caused the engineers was for naught. It seems like the mood would have been lifted by them losing resident Brooding Demon Zayn Malik in March, but Harry Styles is doing so much brow furrowing here that I think I may cry. Have you seen the video for "Kiss You"? It is 100 percent raw joyful boyishness, and no science. I long for the days when my boys were too happy for science.

Sean O'Kane: I want to know how this all came together. I know NASA is generally considered thirsty, but did they really approach One Direction to do this? Who makes that phone call? And why does One Direction pick up? "Hi, Niall, it's your manager reminding you to call NASA back. I won't remind you again."

Kaitlyn Tiffany: Sean, I thought it was clear that I would be asking the questions here. Rude. As everyone knows, all of the big One Direction music videos, as well as their excellent tour documentary This is Us, and their lives, are directed by Ben Winston. Either he made the call because he's very good at interpreting lyrics so literally that it's painful (see: "You and I," in which the band members shapeshift into each other's bodies for no reason), or NASA made the call after seeing how good Louis Tomlinson looked in a super cheesy-looking fake spacesuit in the band's latest perfume ad.

Sean O'Kane: I am fully confident in saying that it was the latter.

Kaitlyn Tiffany: Okay, that's settled. Next pertinent question: Is that a real rocket launch? Is One Direction really in a rocket? Did One Direction launch themselves into space to avoid the crushing sadness of their lives as overworked and heinously stalked pop stars?

Loren Grush: It looks like the video producers just ripped off the footage from this super cheese video NASA made last year for the first test of their Orion crew capsule. The Orion is the vehicle that may carry astronauts to Mars.

The rocket launch is a 3D rendering of a Delta IV launch, but they made the rocket blue for some reason? I guess blue is more emotional than orange. Or maybe they ran into copyright infringement with United Launch Alliance? Can you copyright a fake rocket launch?

Sean O'Kane: We need to talk about this for a minute. The Delta IV is a rocket operated by the United Launch Alliance, which is a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin. NASA is hard at work at its next big-ass-rocket-that-could-take-us-to-Mars-or-probably-just-the-Moon, which is called the Space Launch System. If you're going to use a fake video of a rocket launch, why wouldn't you use the fake video of your own mega rocket?

Loren Grush: Sean, NASA's budget is limited. They don't have time to make extra rocket videos for One Direction. They've got Mars to work on.

Sean O'Kane: Okay, so the option is to bring in their good buddies from the military-industrial complex I guess. There you have it, InfoWars. One Direction is now one step away from controlling all of our ICBMs.

Loren Grush: We're headed in one direction... to fascism.

Kaitlyn Tiffany: Let me explain something to you, science friends. One Direction isn't even from the United States, so any apparent shilling of our late-stage capitalist, industry-obsessed, shoot-'em-up ethos is not their fault or intention. In fact we should be thanking them for inspiring young women to become astronauts and rocket scientists and cinematographers who can fake rocket launches. NASA sure is:

Oh! Can you also explain me to the robot that Harry Styles hangs out with just before One Direction is launched into space in a very real rocket launch?

robonaut and harry styles

Loren Grush: That's Robonaut 2. It's a humanoid robot designed to help out the astronauts on the International Space Station. A version of Robonaut 2 is up in space right now, but One Direction only got to hang out with the one stuck here on Earth. Just so you know, I've also shaken Robonaut's hand, so basically Harry Styles and I have touched.

Kaitlyn Tiffany: Loren, I don't really know what kind of fight you're trying to start here, but I went to the second-ever live performance of "Drag Me Down" (in Pittsburgh) this summer and on several occasions made improbable eye contact with Harry Styles from my seat about three zillion feet from the stage. So basically Harry Styles and I are married.

Sean O'Kane: Wait, is Harry Styles the one that left? One of them left, right?

Loren Grush: Sean.

rover and louis tomlinson

Loren Grush: Another humble brag: I've totally driven the rover that one guy is driving (sorry don't know his name, don't care). It's called the Multi-Mission Space Exploration Vehicle, and it's designed to explore foreign terrain like on the Moon and Mars. I got to take it for a spin on the grass outside JSC. Yeah, that's not a humble brag, that's just a brag.

Kaitlyn Tiffany: Okay not to be rude, Loren (although this conversation was already getting pretty rude), but I saw Harry Styles wearing that jacket in person one time.

Loren Grush: You win. Also, I bet that's the most driving action the MMSEV gets this year. #nobudget

Sean O'Kane: Bones.

Kaitlyn Tiffany: Sean.

Loren Grush: Ugh, I keep forgetting to stop the video and Taylor Swift starts auto-playing.

Kaitlyn Tiffany: The struggle to avoid "Bad Blood" is real, at least we can agree on that.

Loren Grush:

loren on a rover

loren and her mom and a rover

Kaitlyn Tiffany: ALRIGHT LOREN, WE GET IT.

More important: Why am I looking at Liam Payne’s armpit hair? Why am I looking at his sweat? How is this happening to me? And why is he on a treadmill? Why would an astronaut have to do cardio training just to sit around in a metal cylinder in space?

liam payne armpit

Loren Grush: Oh my God, Kaitlyn. Astronauts have to do a TON of cardio. Space doesn’t have gravity, so you lose bone and muscle mass much faster than you do on Earth. If you don’t exercise, your muscles can atrophy.

Sean O'Kane: Also you have to run from all the space aliens, so you need to be in shape.

Kaitlyn Tiffany: Oh, right. Well, I've learned nothing because I was just watching this video on repeat the whole time you were talking. Let's embed it again just for kicks and giggles.