From Iceland — The Islanders: To The Moon And Back

The Islanders: To The Moon And Back

Published March 9, 2023

The Islanders: To The Moon And Back
Photo by
Art Bicnick

Iceland-based wildlife photographer Karim Iliya is nothing short of a nomad. One day he’s free diving with humpback whales in French Polynesia, the next he’s catching waves on a surfboard in Hawaii. But Karim’s next adventure is really out of this world. Together with eight other creatives and eccentric Japanese entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa, Karim is getting ready for the first civilian lunar orbital mission scheduled to take place at the end of 2023. 

I’ve always been fascinated by space. As a kid, I would try and learn about space and planets. In university, I took astronomy and relativity classes to learn about moons, our solar system, the Big Bang and how things formed. But of course, we take different routes in life. The route I took was photography and filmmaking.

And then at one point, a friend sent me a link to the dearMoon project. I didn’t think there was any chance of actually being accepted, but I applied and I did my best. Through a series of different interviews, videos and text, I found out that I was selected for the dearMoon crew.

Booking a seat to space 

Approximately one million people applied for the trip. It’s crazy to think about the odds of actually being selected from among that group of people. The crew that’s going up will be the first group of artists to go into space. In the past, most of the people who’ve gone to space have been scientists, engineers and pilots. It’ll be amazing to see what happens when you send a group of artists to space to try and create works that will inspire people back on Earth, providing us a new perspective of our own planet and existence. 

The mission is currently scheduled to last six days — three days to get to the Moon and three days back. We’ll be launching from Earth, doing a loop around the Moon and coming back down to Earth.

Photo by Art Bicnick

The countdown to liftoff

I’m very excited to see what the training programme entails and what the preparation to go and basically live for a week in space will involve. Space is a crazy place to be. You’re in an environment with microgravity where you’re floating around, so you have to learn everything: how to eat, sleep and bathe — all of the things that we normally take for granted here on Earth. Lighting is different, the way that the light shines from the Sun and hits the Earth and bounces back — how will that play into photography and filmmaking? All of these are really interesting challenges that I look forward to navigating.

“It’s kind of a wild concept to tell people that you’re going up into space and leaving the planet.”

We are living on this amazing, perfect planet, which has everything that we need to survive — an atmosphere that protects us from the harmful radiation, cold and vast emptiness of space. And when you go up into a rocket ship, a lot can happen. I am confident in the team at SpaceX that the rocket will be incredibly advanced and able to keep us alive and healthy. For now, I’m not scared, but when I actually get up to the rocket and strap in, I’m sure that I will be a little bit nervous. 

Cosmic shots

For me, it’s not about going into space and looking toward the stars. It’s actually about going up and looking back at Earth. I spend a lot of my time, effort and work trying to document wild animals and spaces in an effort to protect them. I hope when I’m up there, I can gain an overall perspective and use it to make images that will inspire us to do a better job back here on Earth. 

Photo by Art Bicnick

When I tell people I’ll be flying around the Moon in a rocket ship, it’s hard for other people and me to process. I’ve been taking it in little bits and pieces when I look up at the Moon, see changes in the tides, or even when I’m watching fireworks being launched up into the air. I think of myself sitting at the front of a rocket and blasting off. It’s kind of a wild concept to tell people that you’re going up into space and leaving the planet. Not a lot of people have done it and I think most people are interested to know more. I’ve heard the Moon is made of cheese. So I will go up there and find out.

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