Would you like to buy a space station?
Orphans of Apollo is now available on DVD at
A behind-the-scenes documentary on the unsuccessful effort to turn Russia’s Mir space station into a money-making operation serves as a cautionary tale for the private sector’s present-day space ambitions.
To many in the entrepreneurial NewSpace community, Walt Anderson is something of a folk hero. A self-made multimillionaire who built his fortune in the telecom industry, he invested much of that wealth in a variety of space ventures in the 1990s, from Rotary Rocket to LunaCorp. His highest-profile venture, though, was an audacious plan to take over the Russian space station Mir — which was being abandoned by the Russian space agency so it could focus on the International Space Station — and turn it into a commercial outpost in orbit.
Potter’s film is at its finest as it recounts the negotiations that with Russian space officials over commercial use of a station built by Soviet socialists. In addition to recollections from Gardellini, Tumlinson, Manber and others, there is rare video clips shot during trips to Moscow and negotiating sessions. It’s a nice behind-the-curtain look into how international deals get done. Potter does a good job of getting you caught up in the excitement of the quest.
Captivating both visually and intellectually, Orphans of Apollo presents an inside look at the challenge of conquering space from outside the context of a governmental space agency. It shows that political and financial influences can reach far beyond the Earth’s atmosphere, but that imagination and determination are as powerful as any rocket fuel.
The movie takes us on a rollercoaster ride through this attempt at space commercialization. I knew many of the people in the movie during that time. I remember being amused by what they were trying and amazed they got so far.
Orphans of Apollo is not another Battlestar Galactica special (although that would be outstanding), but a documentary contemplation of privatized space travel. It gathers the “anarcho-capitalists” who tried to lease and restore the ailing Mir space station prior to its eventual demise. Given that the movie itself bears the whiff of an outlandish vanity project, it achieves a rare affinity between subject and presentation.