Road to the Stars was one of the most amazing special effects accomplishments in film history. Pavel Klushantsev began working on the colour film in Leningrad in 1954. His aim was to explain and realistically portray the coming age of space exploration. With technical advise from Tikhonravov (who was secretly developing the Soviet Union's first manned spacecraft at the time), Klushantsev showed tremendous ingenuity in explaining and portraying man's conquest of space. The film was nearing completion when Sputnik 1 was launched. Klushantsev hurriedly filmed a sequence illustrating this feat, and the film was released internationally a month later.
The film begins in Kaluga, following the life of Tsiolkovskiy, as he finds the basic technical solutions to spaceflight. Each discovery is explained in layman's terms. The early experiments of GIRD are restaged.
The final section of the film portrays the launching of the first Soviet man into space, the first space station, and the first landing on the moon. In creating this footage Klushantsev created marvellous special effects, using techniques copied by Stanley Kubrick ten years later for 2001: A Space Odyssey. Indeed, some sequences in 2001 seems a shot-for-shot duplication of Road to the Stars…..
A large three stage rocket puts the first three-man crew into space. The launch site seems to be in the Crimea, which certainly would have been a great advantage to the Soviet program compared to the selected Baikonur site. The scene of the crew, waving farewell from the platform at the top of the rocket, is eerily similar to scenes later played out in real life for Voskhod and Soyuz launches. The crew wear soft leather flying outfits in the pressurized cabin - reflecting the view of Soviet engineers that spacesuits were only needed for spacewalks. As in Von Braun's early designs, the lower stages are retrieved for re-use. The winged third stage achieves orbit. The crew floats about the padded cabin before venturing outside of the spacecraft for man's first spacewalk. An awestruck cosmonaut in full space suit watches a space sunrise.
The crew makes a deorbit burn, and reenters the atmosphere in a long glide as advocated by Von Braun. The spaceplane/seaplane lands in the Black Sea and the crew is picked up by motorboat and brought back to the cheering crowds on the beach.
Shortly thereafter, whole fleets of rockets are being launched to convey space station elements into orbit. Teams in space suits construct the revolving station. Shots of the crews at work, and the interior and exterior of the revolving station, are again very similar to those later used in 2001.
An earth-orbit-to-lunar-surface shuttle is built and refuelled at the station. Departing from the despun section, it travels to the moon, taking the two-man crew to the first lunar landing. The entire landing sequence is very similar to that in 2001. It includes a jaw-dropping shot of the shuttle in lunar orbit as the terrain rolls by beneath it.
After landing on the surface, the first crewman walks down the ladder and puts the first footprnt on the lunar surface. The scene is very close to the reality of Neil Armstrong stepping onto the moon 13 years later. Even the consistency of the lunar surface is precisely right.
A few final shots show the future lunar base, and manned exploration of Mars, the moons of Saturn, and 'beyond the infinite'.