“Man on a Mission” offers an up-close and personal look at space travel through the somewhat flamboyant persona of computer-game mogul Richard Garriott, looking to follow in his astronaut father’s intergalactic footsteps. Disqualified from NASA for nearsightedness, Garriott paid millions to hook up with the Russian Soyuz spacecraft on its journey to the Intl. Space Station, and helmer Mike Woolf records his every step, from months of intensive training at the former Soviet Star City to varied weightless adventures in space, in exhaustive detail. A must-see for stargazers of all ages, the docu debuts Jan. 13 in limited release.
When it became clear that his dreams of being an astronaut like his dad were doomed to failure, high-schooler Garriott turned to virtual adventure, inventing and marketing groundbreaking role-playing games in fantasy universes (the Ultima series). They quickly made him a multimillionaire, and his Ultima alter ego, Lord British, a legend. Indeed, when Garriott finally dons a genuine space suit, it looks like the ultimate role-playing getup.
Garriott invested heavily in private companies engaged in space tourism, which he saw as the future of extraterrestrial exploration. Helmer Woolf includes an excerpt from Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report” with Garriott as the quintessential self-made millionaire, extolling the virtues of private enterprise on- and off-planet.
Aside from a hefty $30 million pricetag, Garriott’s trip to the ISS in the company of two real astronauts — one Russian, one American — required him to learn Russian and undergo grueling months of physiological testing and preparation for any contingency, particularly considering the problems that plagued the prior two Soyuz touchdowns. Garriott’s father, Owen, is on hand at all earthbound stages of the training, as well as at the Russian command center while his son is in space. Once in orbit, with Garriott manning his own camera, the footage becomes more whimsical; playing with one’s food takes on an entirely new dimension.
Though Garriott’s piggybacking on the Russian space program is fueled by personal obsession, there is something disturbing about the way this hitchhiker commands centerstage at every phase. He acts as the film’s guide to Star City and its history, introduces a timeline of space travel to illustrate the underappreciated contributions of Russian cosmonauts, and supplies running commentary on all his experiences aboard the Soyuz and the ISS. Woolf never really establishes a viewpoint outside that of his unquestioned star; shots of other astronauts’ families serve only to highlight Garriott’s ringmaster role.