First Orbit, the new movie that relives the famous orbital journey that Yuri Gagarin took as the first man in space back in 1961 is to receive a planet wide premiere on youtube.com/firstorbit  this Tuesday 12 April 2011.

First Orbit broadcast roll requests and Christopher Riley interview requests should be sent to Rufus Stone T: +44 (0)20 7287 9601 E: rufus.stone@sisteris.com

Press Release

First Orbit – Around The World in 108 Minutes

The Attic Room is proud to announce the global premier of ‘First Orbit’, a feature length film event that weaves historic audio recordings of the first Cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, with new footage of his orbital route. To coincide with the 50th anniversary of man’s first journey into space, the film will premiere globally for free on YouTube at sunrise on 12 April and will be accessible from anywhere in the world.

In collaboration with the European Space Agency and the astronauts onboard the International Space Station, filmmaker Chris Riley has captured the magnificence of Gagarin’s original orbit. Filmed by astronaut Paolo Nespoli, ’First Orbit’ delivers breath-taking digital, full high-definition views of the Earth from above. The footage matches the orbital path of the International Space Station as closely as possible to that of Gagarin's original route, allowing viewers to see incredible vistas of the Earth through the Space Station’s new giant cupola window.

Director, Chris Riley says “We have woven historic Vostok I mission recordings of Gagarin (subtitled in English) with new shots captured by Paolo Nespoli, and edited them to an original score by composer Philip Sheppard, creating a spellbinding film which I’m thrilled to be able to share with people around the world for free on this historic anniversary.”

In addition to the First Orbit film premiere release on youtube.com/firstorbit and firstorbit.org, the Yuri's Night network is organising hundreds of parties across the world to watch the film on 12 April to celebrate the incredible achievement of Yuri Gagarin becoming the first man ever to travel into space.

Notes To Editors

  • Christopher Riley Director and Producer – First Orbit, worked on data from NASA’s Spacelab 1 project, flown on an early Shuttle mission, for his Ph.D. at Imperial College, London before embarking on a career making science documentaries for the BBC. He has worked with NASA’s film archive for the past fifteen years on projects ranging from the BBC’s landmark series ‘The Planets’ to the highly acclaimed feature documentary film ‘In the Shadow of the Moon’. He created his first video installation from this material for the 40th anniversary of the first Moon landing, during the summer of 2009. ‘Apollo Raw and Uncut’ played in gallery spaces in Europe and North America; the first time the entire 23 hours of Apollo’s mission flight film archive had been screened in public. ‘First Orbit’ was conceived as Riley’s second major installation film and is in the tradition of experimental documentaries like Baraka and Koyaanisqatsi.
  • Paolo Nespoli Director of Photography – First Orbit, is a European Space Agency astronaut. He was born in 1957, the year that Sputnik was launched, and went on to study aerospace engineering in Milan and New York. Paolo was selected as an astronaut in 1998 and made his first space flight onboard Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-120) in October 2007 on a 15-day mission working on the construction of the International Space Station. He returned to the Space Station in December 2010 as a member of Expedition 26 for a six month stay in orbit, conducting experiments in fluid physics, radiation, biology and technology demonstrations, as well as public outreach work like the First Orbit film.
  • First Orbit was made in collaboration with the European Space Agency and the Expedition 26/27 crews of the International Space Station.
  • The film ‘First Orbit’ was created by matching the orbital path of the International Space Station, as closely as possible, to that of Gagarin's Vostok 1 spaceship.
  • The film can be viewed on 12th April on YouTube and at more than 200 “Yuri's Night” parties being held around the World to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of human space flight.  For more information visit www.firstorbit.org

Yuri Gagarin & Vostok 1

  • Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin was a Soviet Cosmonaut who, on 12th April 1961, became the first human to journey into outer space, launching into orbit aboard the Vostok 1 spacecraft. His call sign for the flight was 'Cedar' - meaning Siberian Pine. Ground Control referred to themselves as Dawn.
  • Yuri’s pioneering flight around the world took just 108 minutes.
  • Unsure of the effect of space flight on a human being, the spacecraft's controls were run by an automatic system, with Gagarin only permitted to take control in an emergency.
  • The flight of Vostok 1 began at 06:07 Universal Time (UT or GMT), boosted into orbit by a Vostok-K series rocket.
  • He was back on Earth, having circumnavigated the globe, by 07:55 UT. 

How the film ‘First Orbit’ was made

  • Whilst the film archive of Gagarin’s training, preparations and subsequent world tour extensively, footage of the flight itself hardly exists. 
  • Chris had always wondered what Yuri’s view of the Earth had looked like and when a new giant-windowed cupola was added to the International Space Station in early 2010, he came up with the idea of filming a new view of what Gagarin would have seen fifty years earlier.
  • The International Space Station orbits the Earth approximately every 90 minutes, but doesn't always follow the same route as Gagarin took. So to find out when filming opportunities might occur, the European Space Agency (ESA) teamed Chris up with German orbital mechanics guru, Gerald Ziegler.
  • Ziegler discovered that the International Space Station covered similar ground to Gagarin's Vostok 1 spaceship every week or so. But to complicate things further, the film makers needed to film at exactly the same time of day that Gagarin made his flight; passing over Gagarin’s launch site, near the Aral Sea, at 06:07 UT and on into the night side of Earth over the Pacific Ocean at 06:37, before emerging into sunlight again over the Southern Atlantic at 07:10 UT and passing across the whole African continent and the Middle East, returning to the ground at 07:55 UT, just north of the Caspian Sea.
  • Further calculations confirmed that opportunities to film this trajectory, with the correct sun angles, from the International Space Station at this exact time of day only came round every six weeks or so.
  • The second challenge was fitting these filming opportunities into crew time on board the Space Station. The astronauts have a busy schedule; conducting a packed programme of experiments, Earth observations and activities like sleep, exercise and meal times. This meant that accommodating the extra filming request for First Orit was yet another challenge for the ESA mission directors.
  • After a brief test shoot in November 2010, conducted by NASA's Expedition 25 astronaut Doug Wheelock, European Space Agency astronaut Paolo Nespoli filmed most of the footage for the project in early January 2011. This new footage showed the Earth as Gagarin would have seen it almost exactly fifty years before.
  • Mission directors Roland Luettgens and Giovanni Gravili worked closely with the team to turn the filming opportunities Gerald Ziegler had identified, into precise technical notes which translated Chris's camera directions into instructions for the crew.
  • What Paolo has recorded for ‘First Orbit’ is an eye-witness view of the Earth from space. "You can see scratches and blemishes on the windows", says Chris, "and we’ve purposefully kept some of the moments when Paolo moves the camera in the film too, just to remind us that this footage has been recorded by human beings up there rather than unmanned robotic satellites."
  • Paolo never appears in the film himself, but as the Space Station flies into the night side of the Earth over the north Pacific, viewers can catch a glimpse of him reflected in the window as he floats towards the camera to adjust it.
  • "Gagarin flew over a lot of ocean during his mission,” Chris reminds us, "and on the days Paolo filmed, there were some stunning cloud formations hanging over these deep blue vistas. But one of my favourite views from ‘First Orbit’ occurs as we cross the Sahara Desert and head up towards the Middle East. There's the whole of North Africa and the glowing red Sahara and the winding dark Nile River laid out beneath us - just as Gagarin would have seen it as he made his final approach towards the landing site. Completely coincidently, as Paolo filmed this final leg of the flight, the camera lost its focus on the Earth and started to blur the view - giving the illusion of descending back into the atmosphere as Vostok 1 did during re-entry. "It was perfect for the end of the film," Chris reflects.
  • "On this final flight path back towards his landing site, the scenes we shot for ‘First Orbit’ are slightly to the east of the original Vostok 1 trajectory," admits Chris, "but because we are so high up, the vista was pretty similar to that of Gagarin's vantage point."
  • One last difference, which the film makers have added, is the Moon. "When Gagarin flew into the night side of the Earth on the 12th April 1961, it was a crescent Moon" says Chris. "According to his autobiography, Road to the Stars, Gagarin tried to look for the Moon out of curiosity, to see what it looked like from space. But unfortunately it was not in his field of view.  So we added the Moon in for him this time!” 
  • The finished film is being given away through the website www.firstorbit.org and streamed to the world in a global YouTube premiere on the 12th April. “We hope it will be used as a central part of people's celebrations around the world on the 12th April” says Chris.

The Music

  • The music is all composed by Philip Sheppard and comes from his album Cloud Song. First Orbit's producer Chris Riley first worked with Philip in 2006 on the Sundance Award-winning feature documentary film 'In the Shadow of the Moon' and since then Philip had been working on a new suite of music inspired by spaceflight. The result is a mesmerising combination of imagery and music, which aim to convey the spectrum of emotions that went through Yuri's mind.

The Vostok 1 Mission Audio

  • Audio recordings of Gagarin's flight were made onboard the Vostok 1 spacecraft and back on Earth from the intermittent radio communications captured during his flight.
  • With the help of Dr Iya Whiteley from the human performance company IACE, the British Council, the Russian Space Agency – Roscosmos and The Russian State Archive of Scientific and Technical Documentation, we have tracked down the original Vostok 1 mission audio recordings, digitally restored and translated them and woven them into the film.  We believe this is the first time the complete Gagarin Mission audio has been heard outside of Russia.

Credits and Partners

  • Without the generous support of the European Space Agency (ESA) 'First Orbit' would never have been made. Their scientists, engineers and public affairs staff were invaluable partners in this project from start to finish.
  • Other partners include YuriGagarin50 (YG50) in the UK and Yuri’s Night network.
  • Without composer Philip Sheppard's spellbinding music, the film would lack its emotional impact, and we are extremely grateful for his enthusiastic support.
  • Iya Whiteley, from the human performance company IACE, generously gave her time to help us track down and translate the original mission archive audio recordings from the Vostok 1 flight.
  • Additional audio archive research was supported by Andrea Rose and Alexandra Smirnova at the British Council, Vitaly Davydov and Tatiana Fomicheva at Roscosmos, Alexander Shaposhnikov and Vladimir Smirnov at The Russian State Archive of Scientific and Technical Documentation.
  • Film editor Tabitha Moore created our opening titles in her spare time, juggling our demands with her own very busy schedule.
  • Stephen Slater, the film's editor, took on the onerous task of grappling with formats, resolutions, frame rates and world atlases to unravel the folders of media files we were sent from the Space Station, and turn them into a coherent film which accurately and beautifully charts the flight of Vostok 1.
  • Additional orbital views of the Earth were sourced and supplied by NASA, where we are particularly grateful to Jody Russell, Gayle Frere, Mike Gentry, Silvia Gederberg, Sheva Moore, James Hartsfield and Kylie Clem.
  • John Bradley at IT Centa has generously given his time to create firstorbit.org.
  • The Yuri's Night 2011 Executive Team have helped us promote the film to their network, and The Department of Humanities, Imperial College, London, Radio Zero in Portugal, d::gen CHECK network, collectSPACE, Redstation Limited, the KiwiSpace Foundation in New Zealand and the Victorian Space Science Education Centre in Australia, the Mullard Space Science Laboratory, the Foundation for Space Development, South Africa, and the South African Space Association are supporting us in our digital distribution of the film.

For further information, hires images and broadcast roll

Please contact Rufus Stone or Sarah Millar. T: 44 (0)20 7287 9601        

Email: rufus.stone@sisteris.com or Email:sarah.millar@sisteris.com

Sister is a consumer communications agency.

For further information, hires images and broadcast roll

Please contact Rufus Stone or Sarah Millar. T: 44 (0)20 7287 9601        

Email: rufus.stone@sisteris.com or Email:sarah.millar@sisteris.com

Sister is a consumer communications agency.

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