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Playing at the Mead: Space Sailors and Space Tourists

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Christian Frei's Space Tourists profiles the booming space tourism industry. © Christian Frei.
© Christian Frei.

“I think being allowed to go to space at 30 is wonderful,” says Bertalan Farkas, Hungary’s first cosmonaut, in Marian Kiss’s Space Sailors, which makes its U.S. premiere at the Margaret Mead Film Festival on Sunday, November 13. “But one mustn’t forget—if you reach your zenith so young, what will you do then?”

Space Sailors, which traces Farkas and nine other cosmonauts from their high-profile flights for the Soviet Intercosmos Program to their meteoric falls from fame after the Soviet Union’s collapse, is featured as part of the Mead Festival’s Dreams of Outer Space series, presented in anticipation of the Museum’s upcoming exhibition Beyond Planet Earth: The Future of Space Exploration.

Along with Academy-Award nominee Christian Frei’s Space Tourists, a portrait of the modern space tourism industry that will be shown on Friday, November 11, Space Sailors takes as its subjects people who undergo extreme physical and mental training for their journeys to space but must also learn how to handle life upon their return to Earth.

Shrines to the Soviet space program dot the homes of the cosmonauts profiled in Space Sailors; one even keeps a Soyuz spacecraft capsule behind a curtain in his living room as a tribute to the days before the Iron Curtain fell. Sculptures, murals, and memorials to Soviet spaceflight also appear throughout Space Tourists like a specter, and facilities that were kept secret at the height of the Space Race are retrofitted for a booming commercial space tourism industry. For some, the demise of the Soviet-era program has been a boon: Anousheh Ansari, an Iranian-American billionaire, books a space flight for $20 million, which she considers a small price to pay to make her childhood dream come true.

Yet Space Tourists also shows the consequences of the privatization of space flight for the Earth-bound, who are left to literally pick up the pieces. Scrap metal hunters chase parts from fallen spacecraft to sell to manufacturers, rural farmers build homes or shovels with rocket debris, and whole ecosystems suffer from the toxic effects of the materials.

While at the International Space Station, Ansari looks at the cosmonauts around her and says, “I wish I could stay with them.” But, as Space Sailors and Space Tourists ultimately show, even when humans venture beyond Earth, ties to the home planet only grow stronger.

Click here to see the Margaret Mead Film Festival line-up and to watch trailers, or visit to buy tickets and make a personalized schedule.

Beyond Planet Earth: The Future of Space Exploration opens November 19.