Astronauts spend years undergoing rigorous training before they make their first trip into space. And before becoming astronauts, they usually already have years of experience in related fields, such as engineering, geology, aeronautics, physics, medicine and biology; many have doctorates or have seen military combat.
But for actor Tom Cruise, a trip to space might just be another day at the office. Cruise hopes to shoot scenes for an as-yet-untitled action film at the International Space Station (ISS) in the near future. If he succeeds, he’d become “the first civilian to do a spacewalk outside of the space station,” according to Donna Langley, chairman of Universal Filmed Entertainment Group.
In a lengthy interview with the BBC’s Katie Razzall, Langley reveals a few more details about the proposed movie, which is “still an aspiration at this stage,” per the BBC.
“Tom Cruise is taking us to space, he’s taking the world to space,” Langley tells the BBC. “That’s the plan. We have a great project in development with Tom.”
Cruise and director Doug Liman, who worked together on the 2014 movie Edge of Tomorrow, pitched the idea for the new film to Langley on a Zoom call during the pandemic. Though she didn’t share too many specific details about the plot, the general gist is that the storyline “actually takes place on earth, and then the character needs to go up to space to save the day.”
Cruise is already known for doing many of his own stunts, including some potentially dangerous ones, so it comes as no surprise that he’s willing to take a rocket to the space station for the sake of cinema. As Daniel Kreps writes for Rolling Stone, it’s unclear whether Cruise would actually go inside the ISS or just walk around outside of the orbiting laboratory.
NASA, for its part, seems willing to collaborate on the movie. Though he has since deleted the tweet, former NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine wrote in May 2020 that the agency is looking forward to working with Cruise. “We need popular media to inspire a new generation of engineers and scientists to make NASA’s ambitious plans a reality,” he wrote. Elon Musk, founder and CEO of SpaceX, which is working with NASA on a number of projects, replied that the project “should be a lot of fun!” As Deadline’s Mike Fleming Jr. reported at the time, Musk, Cruise and NASA were all reportedly working together to make the film a reality.
Despite his lack of official astronaut training, Cruise does have some cinematic experience with space and aviation. In 2013, he played a futuristic drone technician who must defend Earth against alien invaders in Oblivion. He also narrated the 2002 Imax documentary Space Station 3D. One of his most popular air-and-space-related films, of course, is Top Gun, the 1986 flick about Navy fighter pilots. Cruise also recently starred in the sequel, Top Gun: Maverick.
Since the space station’s launch nearly 24 years ago in 1998, ISS crewmembers have made just 253 spacewalks—in other words, they’re not something NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), Roscosmos or any of the other major space station partners take lightly. Spacewalks are inherently dangerous and, as such, NASA has a whole slew of rules and guidelines around them. As Paola Rosa-Aquino writes for Space.com, they’re also expensive and time-consuming—whenever possible, crewmembers try to use robotic arms to work outside the ISS.
Sometimes, though, astronauts (and Russian cosmonauts) have to go on spacewalks as a last resort. They typically have very specific reasons for leaving the space station, such as performing maintenance or installing new equipment. NASA calls these adventures “extravehicular activities.”
Wearing highly specialized suits outfitted with life support gear, crewmembers depart the space station through a special set of airlock doors. They remain attached to the space station via tethers, and they usually spend five to eight hours in space while completing their objectives.
Astronauts must complete special training before they undertake spacewalks. They spend a lot of time at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory near the Johnson Space Center in Houston. There, they practice spacewalks in a 6.2-million-gallon pool in which they neither sink nor float. For every hour a crewmember will spend on an ISS spacewalk, they must spend seven hours in the pool, per NASA. They also train via virtual reality technologies that simulate extravehicular activities.
If Cruise ever does make it into orbit, there is another thing he’ll have to keep in mind: remembering to focus in the face of the vast cosmos. And that’s not necessarily an easy feat, as NASA astronaut Mike Fincke told CNN’s Ashley Strickland last year.
“It’s really truly breathtaking,” he told the publication. “The only thing between you and the rest of the universe, seeing the whole cosmos of creation, is the glass faceplate of your visor on your helmet, and it’s just awe-inspiring.”