In 2008, Richard Garriott joined the ranks of a handful of independently-funded “space tourists”. The British-American video game designer raised $30 million to fund his 12-day trip to the International Space Station. His trip is the focus of a new documentary opening today (January 13), “Man on a Mission”. Garriott wasn’t satisfied just to be filmed while on his cosmic journey, though. While on the space station, he realized the fantasy of tons of science fiction nerds: he made a science fiction movie set and filmed in space. Unfortunately, you may never see it because NASA is resisting its public release.
Gariott’s eight-minute short film is called “Apogee of Fear” and stars two NASA astronauts and a Russian cosmonaut. Space.com has a run-down of the plot of “Apogee of Fear”: The film opens with Gariott departing the space station and waving to the astronauts, who immediately begin to express how glad they are to get rid of him. They begin to miss him after a bit and start squabbling, but their arguments are interrupted when the cosmonaut announces that they are using oxygen at an unusual rate.
The most obvious reason? Aliens. So the crew goes off to search the space station for their stowaway.
Gariott showed “Apogee of Fear” to a small group at a Space.com conference last year, but that’s the only real “release” its had – or is going to have in the near future. Despite the fact that even the Smithsonian has recognized its signficance and wants to house it, NASA is resisting release of the film. According to Gariott, they don’t seem to have any active dislike or opposition to the film – they just won’t put any kind of support behind it or give the go-ahead for release. Gariott thinks his little film’s light-hearted portrayal of the more playful side of life in space might be at the core of this: “It’s too playful…It’s just not [NASA’s] message.”
It’s really not too surprising that NASA may not want a silly, tourist-made film shot aboard the space station getting a wide release. In any situation where an agency’s funding is being cut, the agency will want to closely monitor and control its image. Real-life astronauts comically squabbling and hunting for an alien aboard their craft is probably not the image NASA is shooting for. On the other hand, anything that can get or keep the public excited about the space program could be an asset to NASA.