William Hurt is to star as pioneering American scientist Richard Feynman in an ambitious BBC2 co-pro drama about the 1986 Challenger space shuttle disaster.

Broadcast understands that the A History Of Violence actor will play Feynman during the final years of his life, when he was involved in investigating the causes of one of the world’s worst space disasters, which killed seven astronauts.

As well as exploring Feynman’s work as part of the Rogers Commission investigation team, the film will recount his personal battle with cancer that led to his death in 1988.

Unusually, the 90-minute film has been commissioned by the BBC’s science team and will be produced by BBC Scotland in conjunction with Discovery Networks International’s Science Channel.

The yet-to-be-titled Challenger project will be filmed on location in South Africa and is poised to go into production next month after the BBC has tied down at least two other big names for the cast.

Although the drama will be ambitious in scale, a source was keen to emphasise its human aspects.

Physicist Feynman was celebrated by Dr Brian Cox in Radio 4 show The Feynman Variations.

The Challenger drama has been written by Kate Gartside, whose previous credits include Mistresses and Lark Rise To Candleford, and it will be produced by Laurie Borg (Treasure Island).

James Hawes (Mad Dogs) is the director and Mark Hedgecoe is the executive producer.

The commissioners are BBC commissioning editor for science and natural history Kim Shillinglaw and specialist factual commissioner Cassian Harrison.

This story was originally published by Broadcast.