NASA’s International Space Station is about to become a film location

Letitia Denham

Could the International Space Station (ISS) become a location for major motion pictures? It seems that the orbiting lab, which cost hundreds of billions of dollars to construct and maintain, is about to serve that role.

Recently, NASA and its international partners celebrated the 20th anniversary of the human occupation of the orbiting laboratory known as the International Space Station. To illustrate how remarkable a feat that is, a baby born the year that Expedition One boarded the then under-construction ISS would be attending college now.

The benefits that the ISS has garnered in science, technology and commercial space travel are all well-known. Indeed, while the space station was a controversial issue in the early 1990s and came within a single vote of being cancelled, the orbiting lab is now so prized that the question is not when to end the program but how much longer it should be operated. The consensus seems to be that the ISS should continue at least until 2028, which many engineers believe is the outward limit of its useful lifespan.

NASA Administrator Jim BridenstineJames (Jim) Frederick BridenstineNASA’s International Space Station is about to become a film location The case for NASA’S Bridenstine post-Election Day For sale: The Moon MORE has proposed transitioning to commercially built and operated space stations, where the space agency will be an anchor tenant. One proposal for such a successor to the ISS is being developed by Axiom Space, according to Axiom would attach commercial modules to the ISS starting in 2024. When the ISS is retired at last, Axiom would transition to its own free-flying space station, where NASA and other customers would rent space. The company also plans to arrange tourist flights on the SpaceX Crew Dragon starting late in 2021.

The ISS will soon play a role that President Ronald Reagan did not imagine when he first proposed building an orbiting laboratory back in the mid-80s. Soon, if plans come to fruition, the ISS will become a remote location site for feature motion pictures. The fact is ironic, considering that Reagan started life as a film actor.

According to Deadline, Tom Cruise is planning a film that will partly be shot on board the ISS. No details are available at this time about what the film will be about. SpaceX’s Elon MuskElon Reeve MuskNASA’s International Space Station is about to become a film location Blue Origin takes one small step toward being a competitor to SpaceX Virgin Hyperloop to build new certification center in West Virginia MORE is involved, so presumably Cruise and a small camera crew will ride to the ISS on board a Crew Dragon. Bridenstine has given his tacit blessing to the project. The film will be directed by Doug Liman, who worked with Cruise on “American Made” and “Edge of Tomorrow.”

Not to be outdone, the Russians are planning their own feature film on board the ISS. The Russian movie will be entitled “Challenge.” Little is known about the Russian project except that it will feature a woman as the main character. The film is being backed by the Russian space agency Roscosmos.

The very first film to be shot on board the International Space Station was an eight-minute short entitled “Apogee of Fear,” produced by Richard Garriott, who used some of the millions he made creating computer games to pay for a space tourism jaunt to the orbiting laboratory. Garriott used crew members on board the ISS as actors for the movie.

Films involving adventures in space have been a staple of the big screen for decades. Classics include “Destination Moon,” “Forbidden Planet,” “2001: A Space Odyssey” and the more recent, “The Martian.” None of these films were shot on location, as it were, and they depended on special effects to create the illusion of being in space. That fact may change.

When one thinks about commercializing space, one usually imagines creating goods and services that can only be possible in a microgravity environment. However, the oldest space-related product predates the age of space travel, that being films and television shows set on the high frontier. It is only natural that, as soon as it becomes affordable, those kinds of projects will be shot, in part, in the places where they’re set.

Perhaps one way a commercial space station or a future lunar base could help pay for itself would be to serve as a film studio and set. Movies, TV shows, documentaries and even virtual reality experiences can be produced and then transmitted back to Earth at little cost. Space entertainment would thus merge, in part, with space reality.

Mark Whittington, who writes frequently about space and politics, has published a political study of space exploration entitled Why is It So Hard to Go Back to the Moon? as well as “The Moon, Mars and Beyond.” He blogs at Curmudgeons Corner.  He is published in the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The Hill, USA Today, the LA Times, and the Washington Post, among other venues.

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