Over the course of its running time, Ad Astra peels back the layers of Roy's supposedly admirable stoicism as it sends him on a journey across the galaxy to find his fellow astronaut father, who has long been presumed dead. Gray's interested in riffing on a normalized version of space, still wondrous but infected by the slyly insidious consumerism and cronyism that humankind brings with it wherever it may travel. There's larger social commentary here, but the root of the drama is about a man learning to embrace the emotions he's kept buried for years.
Shortly after the accident on the antenna, Roy learns the probable root of its cause: Power surges are emanating from Neptune, the last known location of his dad's mission, the Lima Project. Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones) was a pioneer in the search for alien life, mourned as a hero when he fell off the grid. But the new electrical explosions, causing waves of death across Earth, are reason to believe he's still alive. Thus, Roy must travel to Mars to send Clifford a carefully worded message and put an end to the catastrophe.
When the movie begins, Roy appears to be an overly competent errand boy. He's adept at his job because his heart rate never rises, but he's cold. (This puts the movie in conversation with Damien Chazelle's First Man, which argues that Neil Armstrong was able to accomplish as much as he did because of his emotional repression.) Gray gives the audience flashes of the romantic relationship Roy pushed away, with Liv Tyler appearing in spurts as the woman he abandoned. Roy narrates almost all the action, but not in overly expository fashion. Instead, these glimpses into his psyche are more abstract and meditative, keeping the tenor of the entire film even-keeled. Even when there are bursts of action, Roy's steadiness emanates. That is, until it doesn't.