Russian film crew flies to shoot first movie scenes in space

America won the race to the moon, but Russia still proudly claims the most space ‘firsts’, including the first satellite, first man in space, first woman, first spacewalk. space, the first multi-member crew and the first space station. .

Now, with commercial spaceflight taking off in the United States, Russia has begun a mission to mark another first on Tuesday, sending a Russian actress and director to the International Space Station to film scenes for a feature film – ” The Challenge” – about a medical emergency in orbit.

37-year-old actress Julia Peresild and director Klim Shipenko took off aboard a Soyuz spacecraft with veteran cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov.

The Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft carrying a crew of Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, director Klim Shipenko and actress Yulia Peresild blasts off to the International Space Station from the launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on October 5 2021, in this still image taken from the video. / Credit: Roscosmos / Document via Reuters

With Shkaplerov at the controls, flanked by Shipenko on the left and Peresild on the right, the Soyuz MS-19/65S spacecraft atop a Soyuz 2.1a rocket was launched just in time from Site 31 of the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan just before 5 a.m. EDT.

In doing so, Russia’s Roscosmos space agency sought to upstage any Western actors who might consider filming in space. NASA and its partners are not currently planning any such mission, officials said, despite unsubstantiated media reports claiming that Tom Cruise was considering such a project.

Russian actress Yulia Peresild, left, Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, center, and producer-director Klim Shipenko pose in front of a Soyuz simulator at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center near Moscow.  Scheduled to launch on Tuesday, Peresild and Shipenko plan to film scenes for a movie about a medical emergency aboard the International Space Station.  / Credit: Roscosmos

Russian actress Yulia Peresild, left, Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, center, and producer-director Klim Shipenko pose in front of a Soyuz simulator at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center near Moscow. Scheduled to launch on Tuesday, Peresild and Shipenko plan to film scenes for a movie about a medical emergency aboard the International Space Station. / Credit: Roscosmos

But non-government space missions are now a reality thanks to SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsules available for hire, as well as commercially developed sub-orbital spacecraft owned by Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos.

The two billionaires flew to space this summer and both are set to conduct large-scale commercial operations. William Shatner, who became a cultural icon playing Star Trek’s fearless Captain Kirk, plans to take off aboard a New Shepard rocket owned by Bezos October 12 for a top-down sub-orbital journey to the far reaches of space.

A SpaceX Crew Dragon carried four private citizens on a more ambitious flight into orbit last month and a second commercial flight, this one sponsored by Houston-based Axiom Space, will carry four private citizens to the space station in early next year.

As for the Russian film’s mission, Peresild said in a previous translated Instagram post that the crew is ready. “Although we are, of course, nervous,” she said. “And that’s why we support each other all the time. No one has had this experience yet. It’s always difficult and scary to be pioneers, but it’s very interesting!”

Peresild, left, Shkaplerov, center, and Shipenko examine training equipment before heading to the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for the launch.  / Credit: Roscosmos

Peresild, left, Shkaplerov, center, and Shipenko examine training equipment before heading to the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for the launch. / Credit: Roscosmos

If all goes well, Shkaplerov will monitor an automated two-orbit rendezvous with the International Space Station, docking with the Russian Rassvet module at 8:12 a.m., about three hours after launch.

French station commander Thomas Pesquet and his three SpaceX Crew Dragon teammates – Shane Kimbrough, Megan McArthur and Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide – as well as Oleg Novitskiy, Pyotr Dubrov and NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei, who are mounted in orbit, will be ready to welcome them on board. last April aboard the Soyuz MS-18/64S spacecraft.

Peresild and Shipenko plan to spend 12 days aboard the space station, filming in the Russian segment of the lab before returning to Earth in the Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft with Novitskiy, which will complete a 190-day mission.

Shkaplerov will remain aboard the station and return to Earth next March or April aboard the MS-29 spacecraft with Dubrov and Vande Hei, who will have spent around 330 days – almost a full year in orbit – since its April 9 launch. last.

In “The Challenge”, Peresild will play a Russian doctor sent to the station to treat a seriously ill cosmonaut. Shkaplerov, Novitskiy and Dubrov will likely attend and play small roles in the drama. Shipenko will be responsible for the lighting, make-up and camera operation.

The film is a joint project between Roscosmos, the state-owned Channel One Russia and the Yellow, Black and White film studio.

In remarks provided by Channel One, Shipenko was asked about Tom Cruise. The director said that talk of the American actor being stolen prompted the Russian team to “speed up the production, the preparation process”.

Shipenko said Cruise would have made a great addition to “The Challenge” cast.

Peresild will ascend into orbit strapped to the right seat of the crew's Soyuz MS-19/65S spacecraft.  / Credit: Roscosmos

Peresild will ascend into orbit strapped to the right seat of the crew’s Soyuz MS-19/65S spacecraft. / Credit: Roscosmos

“He would have made a great American astronaut to help our heroine meet the challenge,” Shipenko said. “That would have been great. That kind of creative collaboration would have been similar to the Apollo-Soyuz docking. Too bad Tom Cruise isn’t going to space right now, that we don’t meet him there.”

While Shipenko and Peresild will likely be welcome to visit the American segment of the station in their spare time, filming will take place primarily in the Russian segment, consisting of the Poisk and Rassvet docking modules, the Zarya and Zvezda rear modules, and the new arrivals. Nauka multipurpose laboratory module.

“This work would have been enormous even on Earth,” Peresild said. “We’ll have ten days. But it won’t be like ten days of regular 12-hour filming, more like two to three hours a day, where the cosmonauts can work with us. The rest of the time, Klim and I will shoot with just me. in the framework of.

“Our only task there is to shoot the film without interfering with the crew.”

Peresild and Shipenko were assigned to crew the Soyuz MS-19/65S in May, selected from a list of applicants after an “open competition” in late 2020, Roscosmos said. The two were selected “based on the results of the medical and creative selection.”

Training for the Soyuz flight began in June.

“We received safety training,” Peresild said. “We also received emergency training. Our duties will be simple: we must not break anything. We must also not prevent the crew from following the schedule or distract the attention of the crew members from ‘ISS.’

Shipenko was assigned the left seat of the Soyuz capsule, a position normally occupied by a professional cosmonaut or an astronaut who is extensively trained to assist the commander and able to take over in an emergency. Peresild was assigned the right seat, which requires less hands-on training on critical systems.

Shipenko, left, Peresild and Shkaplerov discuss their flight on a Russian talk show.  / Credit: Roscosmos

Shipenko, left, Peresild and Shkaplerov discuss their flight on a Russian talk show. / Credit: Roscosmos

Neither Peresild nor Shipenko had aerospace experience prior to their selection, and not everyone in the Russian space establishment was on board with the missions.

Sergei Krikalev, one of Russia’s most respected cosmonauts, a Hero of the Russian Federation, a six-flight veteran and then director of the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center, reportedly protested the mission, reportedly because civilian passengers force highly trained professional cosmonauts to wait longer for a flight.

He was not alone in his concern.

“A cosmonaut prepares for flight for many years and when the left or right seat of a Soyuz is given to a passenger, it postpones the moment of an orbit expedition for someone,” the cosmonaut told the retired Sergei Zhukov at The Times of London. .

The Russians are planning another commercial flight before the end of the year, launching Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, his assistant Yozo Hirano and cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin for another 12-day visit brokered by Space Adventures.

All three plan to return to Earth aboard their Soyuz MS-20/66S spacecraft on December 20.

That flight will be followed by another commercial SpaceX Crew Dragon flight in February, a mission mounted by Axiom that will ferry retired astronaut Mike Lopez-Alegria and three wealthy crewmates to the outpost for a 10-day stay.

NASA is making room in the space station schedule for up to two commercial flights per year by SpaceX Crew Dragons and Boeing’s not-yet-operational Starliner capsule.

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Andrea G. Henderson