Sophie Dia Pegrum, Filmmaker

Sophie Dia Pegrum, Filmmaker

National Geographic Explorer Sophie Dia Pegrum is a documentary filmmaker chronicling the experiences of a group of young women scientists aiming to launch Kyrgyzstan’s first satellite.


3 - 12+


Filmmaking, Storytelling, Human Geography, Astronomy

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Early Work

One of my earliest memories is of looking up at the Milky Way. From my first feature film about a young man overwhelmed with the scale of the universe to my first documentary about an artist who arranged 99 star sculptures on the Ross Ice Shelf in the Antarctic, the sky has been central to my storytelling and filmmaking. I love to explore how science and art collide!

I was working in Kyrgyzstan on a documentary about horses and nomadic life and came across a monument to cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin in a remote mountain valley. That image and a photograph of the women of the Kyrgyz Space Program struck me to the core of my visual storytelling heart. Learning about their mission to launch the country’s first mini satellite, I asked myself: “How might a small metal cube about the size of a loaf of bread become a vessel for the hopes and dreams of a generation of young women in a post-Soviet country?”

As a National Geographic Explorer and a Fulbright Fellow, I spent 10 months in Central Asia. I encountered diverse stories about how humans interact with space and sky – everything from the nomads who used the stars for navigation to the story of an abandoned planetarium in Bishkek. There is currently no official aerospace infrastructure in Kyrgyzstan, though the Kyrgyz Soviet Socialist Republic once had a very prominent "special design bureau." Thousands of people were responsible for engineering and testing parts for satellites and space vehicles, including a probe that went to Halley’s comet. Through innovation and ingenuity, the women of the Kyrgyz Space Program are aiming to pave a way from Kyrgyzstan to the stars. I am not a scientist, but I am exploring – through storytelling – where the sky and cosmos can affect all of us and the future of our world, from the technology we utilize to the wonder we feel when gazing into the stars.

Most Exciting Part of Your Work

Humans from all walks of life are doing extraordinary things, and it is a privilege to listen and share those stories in ways that amplify less heard voices and reflect my own curiosity and wonder about our amazing world. I’m really excited to share the story of the Kyrgyz Space Program and their endeavors. It’s an opportunity to experiment with creating multimedia pieces that meld documentary and fiction. The women in the Kyrgyz Space Program have overcome a lot of challenges. They began their mission knowing nothing about satellites, programming, engineering or how to lead a team. Through their own determination and ingenuity, as well as some mentorship from people like Camille Wardrop Allyne of NASA, they have now mastered what it takes to develop, program and build a satellite. After years of effort, they are confidently mentoring others, paying it forward, hoping to encourage youth and increase the number of girls graduating in STEM subjects.

Kyrgyzstan has no space exploration infrastructure, no ground stations, and women still suffer a lot of prejudice about their capabilities. Once the team raises enough funds for the international collaboration needed to launch the satellite, part one of their mission is complete. Their greater mission is about sharing their knowledge, education and empowerment. In that, they have already succeeded. The most exciting part for me has been to learn more about Kyrgyzstan, the work they are doing around sky, space and STEM, and to amplify their stories.

Most Demanding Part of Your Work

I really love what I do, but one of the most demanding aspects is the time spent trying to find funding and support for projects. Tenacity and networking is key! The funny thing is, I’m actually quite shy, though meeting and talking to people is vital to my work. Actively listening to other stories and experiences helps me to connect to people from all walks of life and I find that once I can share how passionate I am about projects, doors can open.

What Being an Explorer Means to You

The cosmos is an amazing canvas for our imagination. Creative storytelling is an exploration in and of itself, and it allows us to share ideas, encourage innovation and generate wonder for our world. As a filmmaker and a cinematographer, my work requires both technical knowledge and a sense of how to elicit awe through storytelling. I live by Descartes’ proposition that “wonder is the first of all the passions”. This project embodies many stories about how people in Kyrgyzstan engage with the sky. I hope that it can remind us how the cosmos itself can inspire us to reach further, build cultural bridges, and better understand ourselves and our universe.

Elements of Your Work That Make You Proud

I am most proud of the collaborations we are undertaking. I am also telling the story of a group I met in Kyrgyzstan teaching astronomy to other educators to inspire students to get excited about STEM. We have organized a Cosmos Story Camp for engaging underserved youth who are semi-nomadic, providing them an opportunity to look through telescopes for the first time as well as learn photography skills. I want this inaugural camp to become a template for other collaborations, combining cosmos, education and storytelling for inspiration and empowerment.

Advice to Students

Listen attentively and with curiosity, not just to the loudest stories, but to the quiet and almost invisible ones as well. Exploring mystery and telling stories can lead us to new knowledge, innovation and wonder.

Get Involved

Tell stories about things you are inspired by! To get started, put your ear to the ground and explore the world with a phone, camera or recording device. Find what excites you. No need to be highly technical in the beginning. The most important ingredient is your passion and curiosity and finding creative ways to share your stories with the world. Sometimes they are right on your doorstep.

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Kate Gallery, National Geographic Society
Bayan Atari, National Geographic Society
Last Updated

June 20, 2024

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