A new documentary about space tourist Richard Garriott's flight to the International Space Station is hitting theaters now, but the sci-fi movie he made aboard the orbiting lab remains under wraps.
"Man on a Mission," which opens today (Jan.13), chronicles Garriott's journey to the station in October 2008, a trip that cost him $30 million of his own money. While up there, the video-game designer made a playful eight-minute film called "Apogee of Fear," with some standout acting assistance from a Russian cosmonaut and two NASA astronauts.
"Apogee of Fear" is the first science-fiction movie ever made in space, Garriott said, and he would like to let the public see it. There has been some demand, with the Smithsonian Institution even asking to put the film in its permanent archives because of its historical value.
But NASA hasn't given the necessary go-ahead, according to Garriott.
"NASA has, so far, decided that since it's filmed onboard NASA hardware and uses NASA astronauts as actors, they have resisted me releasing it publicly," Garriott told SPACE.com Wednesday (Jan. 11). [Photos: The First Space Tourists]
The first sci-fi movie ever filmed in space
Garriott's not fighting mad about the movie's current underground status, but he wants "Apogee of Fear" to come out. In an interview with SPACE.com at a conference last year, he said the film shows a more light-hearted side of astronauts and life aboard the space station, so it could serve as something of an education and outreach tool.
Asked to speculate about why NASA wouldn't give permission to release the film, Garriott offered up a few ideas.
"It's too playful," he told SPACE.com. "It's just not their message."
He doesn't think the space agency actively dislikes "Apogee of Fear" or wishes to suppress it. Rather, he believes NASA simply sees no reason to support it.
"It's just that the default answer is no," Garriott said.
A private screening
After his talk at the conference last year, Garriott gave a private screening of "Apogee of Fear." That is, he showed the eight-minute movie on his laptop to a half-dozen or so folks who had stuck around to ask him questions or introduce themselves.
"Apogee of Fear" is without question the best science fiction film ever made in space. It begins with NASA astronauts Mike Fincke and Greg Chamitoff waving affably to Garriott through a window as the space tourist departs the orbiting lab and heads back home to Earth.
Then they turn to each other and express profound relief that he's finally gone.
"Man, am I glad we finally got rid of that guy," Chamitoff says.
Cut to several days later, and Fincke and Chamitoff are actually starting to miss Garriott. Without him around, Chamitoff is having trouble juggling, and the two astronauts are finding it difficult to settle their recurring arguments about who is upside-down and who is right-side-up.
But then an ominous declaration breaks the wistful chatter: Cosmonaut Yuri Lonchakov announces that oxygen use aboard the station is higher than it should be.
"Let's just think of what might be the obvious reason," Chamitoff says. "Maybe it's aliens."
The spaceflyers conclude that an unwanted visitor has found its way aboard the station, and they begin a search to root him or her out. And what they find will shock and amaze you! Well, not really, though there is an interesting double twist.
But if you want to know how it ends, you'll have to wait and see it yourself. And Garriott needs NASA's help to make that possible.
SPACE.com managing editor Tariq Malik (@tariqjmalik) contributed to this story. You can follow SPACE.com senior writer Mike Wall on Twitter: @michaeldwall. Follow SPACE.com for the latest in space science and exploration news on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.