L.A. IS ONLY 250 MILES AWAY—STRAIGHT down—but this movie location seems light-years from Hollywood. A noisy, 85-pound IMAX camera, loaded with outsize, 70-mm film, bounces off walls like a basketball. Weightless objects float by, blocking the leading lady. Welcome to the outer-space set of Mission to Mir, the 40-minute IMAX 2-D documentary shot by astronauts aboard the beleaguered Russian space station. Three years in the making, Mission was filmed before last June's collision with a unmanned cargo craft and computer glitches compromised Mir's safety. Seen on 50-to 80-foot-high IMAX screens (in special theaters around the country), Mir seems "like your garage you haven't had a chance to clean up in years," says astronaut Charles Precourt, 42, who shot some of the footage.
The film also offers a tour of once top-secret Soviet missile base Baikonur and ventures inside cosmonaut quarters at Star City outside Moscow. But the exciting scenes are inside Mir—a firsthand look at what it's like to zip yourself into a cramped bunk, lose a wayward running shoe and gather round the table for a tube of chow. Stealing scenes from the hardware is candid, fun-loving Dr. Shannon Lucid, 54, the first American to spend 188 days in space. Producer Toni Myers grades the inflight filmmakers A-OK: "They are, of course, the best learners in the world. That's why they are astronauts."