It’s widely agreed that actor Tom Cruise is one of the most devoted action filmmakers of our time, performing his own death-defying stunts and consistently pushing the envelope on what is possible. Now it seems he is trying to outdo himself again, as it’s been reported that Cruise is partnering with Elon Musk’s SpaceX and NASA to shoot the first feature-length film in space.
Very little is known about the project at this point, except that it won’t be part of the Mission: Impossible franchise and that Cruise is still actively shopping it around to different studios, presumably ones that can afford what will almost surely be an astronomical production budget.
On Tuesday, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine confirmed the news with a tweet.
NASA is excited to work with @TomCruise on a film aboard the @Space_Station! We need popular media to inspire a new generation of engineers and scientists to make @NASA’s ambitious plans a reality. pic.twitter.com/CaPwfXtfUv
— Jim Bridenstine (@JimBridenstine) May 5, 2020
The challenges of surviving in space–much less making a film there–are daunting. First, of course, you must get into space; overcoming gravity is an exceedingly expensive task. Once there, Cruise and his team of filmmakers will be at risk from space debris (made so viscerally famous in the movie Gravity) as well as the threat of cancer, cataracts, and Alzheimer’s from space radiation.
One of the most daunting risks is the physical rigor of working in zero gravity, which includes the rapid loss of muscle tone and the destruction of immune cells and red blood cells, which is, among other things, bad for the heart.
Then you must produce breathable oxygen and collect and recycle wastewater. Astronauts on the International Space Station, for example, distill their urine to collect 85% of its water.
But if there’s any actor primed psychologically and physically for such hardship, it is Cruise, who in recent years has severely injured himself several times and risked his life on stunts so incredible they’re hard to watch without cringing. This includes Cruise free-falling 2,000 feet and hanging on to the side of an aircraft as it lifted off.
Some of his stunts were so dangerous that his stunt coordinator initially refused to sign off on them.
According to Deadline, “There has never been a leading man (Jackie Chan might dispute this) who puts himself at risk as often as does Cruise, in the name of the most realistic action sequences possible. If he is successful shooting a project in Musk’s space ship, he will be alone in the Hollywood record books.”
The newest gambit for Cruise would make Hollywood history…but is it possible? The logistics of filming a feature-length film in space are immensely complicated, to say the least. But if there’s any entrepreneur primed for such a challenge, it’s Elon Musk, whose bold though eccentrically futuristic visions–for everything from electric cars and underground transportation tunnels to creating a private sector analog to NASA and eventually colonizing Mars–have few modern rivals.
While there have been science documentaries shot in space–such as the 2016 “A Beautiful Planet,” which was filmed onboard the International Space Station (ISS)–Cruise, Musk, and NASA would be pulling off a first.
At least one former NASA astronaut, Marsha Ivins, a veteran of five space missions, says it’s simply not possible.
“As long as NASA has purview over the space missions, I can pretty much tell you the answer is going to be no. Because that’s not what NASA’s funded space program is about. It’s about science.”
The cost of transportation and insurance alone would make it extremely difficult.
“Just the mere fact of getting that much equipment and people up into space would be cost-prohibitive in my mind,” said producer Dylan Reiff, who specializes in negotiating insurance plans for films. “They’d have to just bring the director and the [director of photography] and the talent they were filming.”