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Richard Dreyfuss and Krista Bridges in "Astronaut." (Brock Hodgkinson/TNS)

The now defunct Pan American World Airways started booking flights to the moon in 1964 and approximately 100,000 passengers had signed up to take the lunar excursion before the company stopped taking reservations seven years later. Pan Am enrolled applicants in its First Moon Flights Club with each membership card getting a number based on the date of the request.

One of the names near the top of that list is Oscar-winning actor Richard Dreyfuss.

"When we landed on the moon in 1969, I had reservation number 86. One of my best friends has reservation number 11," Dreyfuss says. "We all really believed in this as being necessary to be human to allow that kind of stuff in our lives."

The fact that Pan Am no longer exists combined with Dreyfuss being 71 years old makes the odds of him going into orbit extremely slim. But, while he may never get to be an astronaut in real life, Dreyfuss can certainly has more of a chance to play one in films as he does with his latest work in "Astronaut."

In the film, Dreyfuss plays Angus, a widower who has accepted the reality that his dream of becoming an astronaut has crashed and burned. It is at that moment when a national competition is announced with the winner getting a ticket to go into space on a vehicle built by a private firm. Angus is hesitant to make one last attempt at fulfilling his dream because he's years past the age limit for contestants.

Dreyfuss was attracted to the project by its upbeat themes about family, dreamers and growing older.

"I have been saying for years that we needed happy endings. I was really tired and frustrated by the insistence of everything turning dystopian and sad and some loss of some kind," Dreyfuss says. "I think it is just as important to deliver a happy ending as it is to deliver the ending of any kind of story.

"So, here was a film that delivered a happy ending on four or five different levels and I was in favor of doing it from the moment I read it."

The theme of how important it is to dream big was easy for Dreyfuss to understand because he has been pushing himself to think in grand terms since he started acting at a very young age at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills Arts Center and Westside Jewish Community Center. When he was 8 years old, his family moved from New York to Los Angeles and that's when he told his mother he wanted to be an actor and she told him just don't talk about it but do something.

By age 15, he had landed his first professional acting job and that set him on the path to starring in some of the best known films of all time: "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," "Down and Out in Beverly Hills," "American Graffiti," "Jaws" and "Poseidon."

"I had a dead certainty of my success and it never occurred to me – not even for 30 seconds – that I would not prevail," Dreyfuss says.

The key to making that happen is that no matter whether he is working with a legendary director like Steven Spielberg or a first-time director in the case of Shelagh McLeod with "Astronaut," all Dreyfuss asks for is a creative and encouraging atmosphere on the set. He considers his ease at being a team player to be one of the strengths he brings to each job.

Some of his jobs have earned him more attention than others. Dreyfuss won the Oscar for best actor in for the 1977 release "The Goodbye Girl" and was nominated in 1995 for" Mr. Holland's Opus." In some ways being nominated for an Oscar gave Dreyfuss a sense of what it would be like to participate in a contest like the one in "Astronaut." Both start with a large group that is cut down to a small number with one becoming the winner of an out-of-this-world prize.

"The thing about the Oscar race is whether or not it is real. Is it a race? It's bizarre to me while at the same time it's as real as real can be," Dreyfuss says. "It's not a race because you really aren't working against someone else's best work. But, when I was nominated, I asked who else was nominated.

"When they told me, I said, 'I'm going to win this.'"

For the record, the other nominees that year were Woody Allen ("Annie Hall'), John Travolta ("Saturday Night Fever"), Marcello Mastroianni ("A Special Day") and Richard Burton ("Equus").

And exhilaration of winning that his character feels in "Astronaut" is the major element that Dreyfuss wants the audience to feel when they see his latest movie. The film is scheduled to be released in theaters and through video on demand starting Friday.