Astronaut Terry Virts Directing Movie About His Round-the-World Speed Record Attempt

Col. Terry Virts Headshot - Publicity - H 2019
Courtesy of One More Orbit

Col. Terry Virts, a former NASA astronaut and International Space Station commander, is making his directorial debut with a documentary tied to an ambitious world record attempt.

On Tuesday at 9:32 ET — the same time and day that Apollo 11 took off 50 years ago — Virts and a crew will depart from Cape Canaveral in Florida on a Gulfstream G650 ER, an extended-range version of Gulfstream’s G650 jet, in an attempt to break the round-the-world speed record for any aircraft flying over the North and South Poles. In doing so, they also hope to pay tribute to the start of the historic Apollo 11 mission to the moon.

Dubbed "One More Orbit," the attempt will be the subject of a technically challenging live stream as well as an Untitled Pictures documentary with Virts serving as director. 

For the world record attempt, Virts and the crew will travel at a target speed of roughly 520 mph with refueling stops planned in Kazakhstan, Mauritius and Chile. "The record will hinge on how fast we do the ground stops," he says. "It's going to be like a Formula One or NASCAR pit stop."

Col. Virts was one of numerous astronauts that over the years were trained by cinematographer James Neihouse to help lens images from the ISS that have been used for archival purposes and for Imax documentaries such as Blue Planet. Neihouse is now director of photography on this week's production. Virts relates that lensing the Imax doc "was my favorite thing I did in space. Also the most important, because so many people will see it and be inspired by it."

Virts, Neihouse and cinematographers Richard Crudo and Jannicke Mikkelsen are featured in a remote The Hollywood Reporter Behind the Screen podcast from Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral.

Virts reports that after the world record attempt, editing on the documentary will begin, and he aims to debut a trailer at the European Living Legends of Aviation gala in Austria on July 20.

It is just one of several projects that Virts has in the works. He also is developing an idea for a TV series that he describes as a "kind of Anthony Bourdain with a space angle. ... I had a chance to see the world from space. I'd like to visit the places I saw."

Also participating in the podcast is cinematographer Jannicke Mikkelsen, who reports that "during testing today, we broke an unofficial world record by streaming via satellite [for the length of time and at the high altitude]. Everything we do from here on out will be a world record."

Former American Society of Cinematographers president Crudo is also part of the team, and in the podcast, he explains the longtime cooperation between Hollywood cinematographers and the space program. In fact, Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins were named honorary ASC members.

During the conversation, Virts also discusses the direction of and advances in space exploration, including the collaboration between NASA and private companies such as SpaceX.

Hosted by THR tech editor Carolyn Giardina, Behind the Screen features conversations with directors, cinematographers, editors and other artists behind the making of motion pictures and series programs.

Hear it all below on Behind the Screen — and be sure to subscribe to the podcast to never miss an episode.