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Mir Seeing Stars

Wed., Nov. 5, 1997

The year is 1999, and it’s a sad day for Russia’s space program. The Russians are turning out the lights on their beloved Mir space station and bringing home the last cosmonaut.

But wait. There’s one last snag. A renegade cosmonaut insists on remaining aboard, declaring he will orbit the Earth for the rest of his days. Ground controllers order him home, then plead and beg but can’t persuade the maverick spaceman to abandon ship.

The last-ditch plan: Send up a woman to lure him back.

As if there hasn’t been enough high drama on the Mir in recent months, Russian film director Yuri Kara is pushing to make a movie - with real actors aboard the space ship - before the Mir is discarded in about two years.

“In the next century, directors will shoot films on the moon and maybe even on Mars,” Kara said. “Someone has to be the first to film in space. Why not me?”

Even more remarkable, the cash-strapped Russian Space Agency supports the proposal, believing it will bring an infusion of funding and good publicity.

“It will certainly attract people’s attention,” said Sergei Gorbunov, spokesman for the Russian Space Agency.

Space officials have yet to give the final go-ahead, but the idea is getting serious consideration, Gorbunov said. The director’s biggest obstacle probably will be getting financing for the project.

“You don’t have to go to space to film a space flight,” Gorbunov. “You can do it using computer simulation or aboard a plane. But if Kara wants to make it in space and he’s got the money, well, it’s his choice.”

Once supersecretive, the Russian Space Agency is now willing to consider almost any offer for the right price. Russians may still be grappling with free-market fundamentals here on Earth, but space officials have proved innovative cosmic capitalists.

The Americans are paying $472 million over five years to rent space on the Mir. The Japanese paid millions to send up a journalist. Several Russian cosmonauts already have in-space acting experience, appearing from the Mir in commercials for Pepsi, Omega watches and Israeli milk.

The movie project, aptly titled “Space Flight Has a Price,” will require at least $20 million to send two actors to the Mir, millions more to finish. A financier has yet to step forward.

“I hope I will find someone a little bit crazy who will see this as a one-ofa-kind opportunity,” said Kara, a director of several popular films.

He would love to land a Hollywood superstar and make the film in English to improve prospects for international distribution.

At the Venice Film Festival in August, he offered the female lead to British actress Emma Thompson, who declined. Also on his wish list is Tom Hanks, with his proven appeal as an astronaut in “Apollo 13,” and John Travolta, a licensed pilot who has expressed interest in space travel.

To date, the only actor to sign on is Vladimir Steklov.

Steklov, an animated, carrottopped 47-year-old, is the only Russian actor to pass the medical tests conducted by Russian space officials.

If Steklov heads skyward with an actress, they would travel in a Soyuz capsule that only has room for three people - and one would have to be a real-life cosmonaut.

Kara would have to direct his space epic from Mission Control while watching a giant television screen that sends back pictures from the Mir. Cosmonauts on the Mir would serve as cameramen; filming would take about two weeks.

The movie is based on the novel “Cassandra’s Brand,” by Soviet writer Chingiz Aitmatov, a citizen of the ex-Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan.

The science-fiction thriller features a rebel cosmonaut who wants to stay in space and become the first “space monk.” Eventually, the Russian and American governments agree they must bring the cosmonaut down, inspiring the plan to send up a love interest.

“Of course, the script has a happy ending,” Kara said with an enigmatic smile.


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