To many, space is the last boundary (our final frontier, if you wish to quote a certain science fiction franchise) the one place that 99.9% of us will never travel to in our lifetimes, barring the space tourism industry finally taking off and several million pounds magically falling into our pockets. Regardless, since the late 1950’s and the advent of the Space Race between USA and the USSR, it has been the ultimate goal, in an attempt to colonise the universe and discover extra-terrestrial life (and if the aforementioned sci-fi franchise is to be believed, engage in intercourse with them). Despite all this excitement, there are still many aspects of both countries’ space programmes that are largely unknown. Due to the numerous levels of security and red tape that have bound all knowledge of this scientific escapade in a neat little classified package, it is only recently that the public have been granted access to some of these files, and the secrets therein.
Houston, We Have a Problem tells the story of the little known Yugoslavian space programme and how this was consequently sold to the United States in an attempt to raise them above the USSR’s Cosmonauts, as well as telling the aftermath of the sale and its impact on the Space Race. The documentary is made by Ziga Virc, and features a combination of interviews with various members of the numerous space programmes alongside archive footage to tell the story of this fascinating, and frankly, almost unbelievable tale, that is utterly captivating in its depiction.
The question of to what extent the facts presented in this documentary are true underlies a large portion of the proceedings, with the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek explaining the pretence behind the lies and how the two governments might have set the whole affair up to hide the truth from people. The director leaves the ultimate conclusion to the viewer and their thoughts on the veracity of what has been portrayed. Regardless, it’s a fun hour and a half.
Despite the possibility that the entire affair is complete hokum, there is plenty of fact nestled within the this possible fiction. The tense negotiations between the then Yugoslavian republic and the USA as well as the need for secrecy during the transportation of the components creates a rather thrilling discussion. The fact that this is all backed up by an American historian helps to lend credence to these aspects, but still leaves small, niggling doubts on how much he should be trusted, as the documentary lamely attempts to link an assassination attempt on Yugoslavian President Josip Tipos with the Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas ’63.
Ultimately, Houston, We Have a Problem is a thoroughly enjoyable documentary, even if it falls apart somewhat when studied too closely, especially the implication that the entire affair lead to the break up of the country and the civil wars that dominated the area during the 90’s. Regardless, the overall picture stands up to the general consensus of what happened during the 50’s and 60’s in relation to the Space Race and the Cold War. How much further you wish to take it is up to you, but it’s certainly worth watching, if only to see an alternative viewpoint.
Houston, We Have A Problem screened as part of the BFI London Film Festival.
It is out in cinemas next year.