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26 March 2010
Media - Tourism (Good)
Man on a Mission
Is accomplished
by Carol Pinchefsky
Richard Garriott has the best geek cred, ever. Not only was his father an astronaut, but also he earned a not-so-small fortune writing videogames. Garriott plays with the most awesome toys (he owns a freakin’ Sputnik), lives in the coolest house (featured on HGTV and MTV’s Cribs), and has the most fun of anyone you’ll ever meet.

Now he has a documentary to prove it.

Directed by Mike Woolf, Man on a Mission charts Garriott’s experience on the International Space Station ( ISS) and his life leading up to it. The action flows thanks to Woolf’s sense of restraint, and the movie presents Garriott’s journey in an entertaining yet informative way.

The documentary has won an audience choice award at the South by Southwest Film Festival—and deservedly so. With footage that was candid but not exploitive, stirring but not overly sentimental, Man on a Mission strikes a balance that documentarians worldwide should envy.

The film also deserves praise for not ramping up tension. Garriott’s journey suffered a few minor pitfalls—including a failed attempt to undress and dress in a tiny capsule with two other men. Some situations are indeed stressful, yet the movie presents facts without inducing anxiety. Producers of reality television shows, take note.

We get to see the rigors of training from nausea-inducing activities to monotonous food. We watch the rituals of the Russian space program, handed down from cosmonaut to cosmonaut. Most importantly, we get to see Garriott having the fun he’s so very good at. How did he spend his time in space? Among other activities, he held an art show.

Although Man on a Mission is entertaining through and through, the highlight is the time spent on the ISS. We see the differences between the Russian and American modules of the ISS. The Escheresque orientation of the astronauts. For space enthusiasts, watching this movie is literally watching a dream come true.

Best of all, the movie comes out in favor of space tourism. Mike Fincke, commander of Garriott’s flight, Expedition 18, said that if private enterprise could fund flights to space rather than taxpayers, NASA will have done its job. It was a wonderful revelation in an already excellent documentary.

Garriott’s glowing enthusiasm for his spaceflight experience was dimmed only by the toilet facilities (more on that later). And our glowing enthusiasm for this film is dimmed only by the so-so animations of spacecraft. One would think that a videogame entrepreneur such as Garriott could find better animators.

Another quibble: interviewees talked about how important it was for astronauts and cosmonauts to have their sons watch their launch to space. To use an expression, what are their daughters, chopped liver?

But that fades in the light of Garriott’s genuine enthusiasm and the filmmakers’ skills in assembling a documentary that makes space a joyful, craveable experience.

Even though we’re earthbound, we were uplifted by Man on a Mission.

Note: Make sure you stay to watch the credits. As they roll, Garriott describes his efforts with the space toilet. Even with delicate analogies, he manages to be crude, funny, and informative, all at the same time.
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Carol Pinchefsky 26 March 2010
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