MOSCOW – In a historic premiere, Russia shot an actor and a film director into space to shoot a feature film in orbit – a project the country’s space chief welcomed as an opportunity to increase the prestige of the Russian space program.
Actress Yulia Peresild and director Klim Shipenko took off on Tuesday in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station, together with cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, a veteran of three space missions.
Your Soyuz MS-19 took off on schedule from the Russian space launch facility in Baikonur, Kazakhstan.
Space officials reported that the crew were feeling fine and all spacecraft systems were functioning normally.
Peresild and Klimenko are supposed to shoot excerpts from a new film entitled “Challenge”, in which a surgeon played by Peresild rushes to the space station to rescue a crew member with a heart condition. After 12 days at the space outpost, they are supposed to return to Earth with another Russian cosmonaut.
At a pre-flight press conference on Monday, 37-year-old Peresild admitted that it was a challenge for her to adapt to the strict discipline and requirements during training.
“It was tough mentally, physically, and morally,” she said. “But I think once we get there it won’t seem so difficult and we’ll remember it with a smile.”
Shipenko, 38, who has made several commercially successful films, also described her quick, four-month preparation for the flight as tough.
“Of course we couldn’t do a lot on the first try, and sometimes even the third try, but that’s normal,” he said.
Shipenko, who will complete filming on Earth after filming space episodes, said Shkaplerov and two other Russian cosmonauts aboard the station will all play roles in the new film.
The 12-day Russian mission follows the launch of the first all-civilian crew aboard a rocket and capsule developed by SpaceX, founded by businessman Elon Musk.
It was designed to get in first before a Hollywood project with actor Tom Cruise who works with NASA and SpaceX.
Dmitry Rogozin, head of the Russian state-run space company Roskosmos, was a major driving force behind the project. Rogozin described making the world’s first feature film in space as an opportunity to add to the nation’s space prestige.
“Films have long become a powerful propaganda tool,” he said in June, arguing that the new film would help counter what he called Western efforts to “humiliate” the Russian space program.
Some Russian media were skeptical of the plan, and there were also allegedly some doubts within the Russian space program.
The Russian segment of the International Space Station ISS is significantly less spacious compared to the US segment and leaves little room for filmmaking. It was expanded in July after the long-awaited move-in of the new Nauka laboratory module, which is still to be fully integrated into the station.
After arriving at the space station on Tuesday, the three newcomers will join Thomas Pesquet from the European Space Agency ESA; NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hei, Shane Kimbrough, and Megan McArthur; Aki Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency; and Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov.
Novitskiy, who will star in the film as the sick cosmonaut, will take the captain’s seat in a Soyuz capsule to bring the crew back to Earth on October 17th.