Hanks, Howard Announce Plans for “Orphans of SpaceShipOne” Doc

SpaceShipOne lands after its historic spaceflight on June 21, 2004. (Credit: Ian Kluft)
SpaceShipOne lands after its historic spaceflight on June 21, 2004. (Credit: Ian Kluft)

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. (April 1, 2016) — Filmmaker Ron Howard and actor/producer Tom Hanks have announced plans for a new documentary titled, “Orphans of SpaceShipOne,” that will focus on the long gap in private spaceflight after the successful commercial flights of 2004.

“Nearly 12 years have passed since that historic breakthrough without a single privately funded commercial spaceflight,” Howard said. “Millions of people who thrilled at the exploits of Mike Melvill, Brian Binnie and Burt Rutan are wondering what went wrong.”

Hanks pointed out that on April 22, as much time will have passed — 4,225 days, or 11 years, 6 months and 22 days — since the announcement of Virgin Galactic and SpaceShipTwo as it took for NASA to complete the entire Apollo program starting from President John F. Kennedy’s moon landing proposal in May 1961.

“That’s all it took from JFK’s speech to the splashdown of Apollo 17 in December 1972, with Mercury and Gemini in between. It’s incredible that commercial spaceflight has taken this long,” said Hanks, who starred as Jim Lovell in Apollo 13 and co-produced the HBO miniseries, “From the Earth to the Moon.”

The actor admitted there had been some progress, most notably with Blue Origin flying suborbital capsules that will eventually carry paying passengers. Crewed test flights won’t begin until next year, with passenger flights likely in the 2018 time frame.

Virgin Galactic’s schedule for commercial flights is uncertain. The company expects to begin test flights of its second SpaceShipTwo vehicle later this year.

“How did three years turn into 13 or 14?” Howard asked. “It’s a great question that really needs to be asked.”

Michael Potter, an independent filmmaker who produced an earlier documentary, “Orphans of Apollo,” about the disappointment that followed in the wake of the Apollo moon landings, will serve as an associate producer and special consultant.

“The moon race and the Ansari X prize were both competitions to complete a technological milestone by a tight deadline,” Potter said. “The questions is what do you do once the race is over? Do you built a strong enough base to continue onward?”

The documentary will make its debut at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2017. It will be produced by Howard’s production company, Imagine Entertainment. Brian Grazer will serve as co-producer.