The International Space Station is now a film set, and it served as the stage for a little extra drama Tuesday morning.
Veteran Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, actor Yulia Peresild and film producer Klim Shipenko traveled to the International Space Station on Tuesday. Peresild and Shipenko will be filming segments for the movie “Challenge” – the first feature film shot in space.
The movie will tell the story of a surgeon who has to operate on a sick cosmonaut in space because his medical condition prevents him from returning to Earth to be treated.
The three space travelers blasted off on board a Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 4:55 a.m. ET on Tuesday.
The current crew on the space station, including European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet; NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hei, Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur; Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Aki Hoshide; and Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov; welcomed the trio aboard when the hatch opened at 11:01 a.m. This brings the current crew count on the station to 10.
Live coverage of these events will be available on NASA’s TV channel and website.
“The launch will mark the expansion of commercial space opportunities to include feature filmmaking,” according to a NASA release. The film is being made under a commercial agreement between Roscosmos and Moscow-based media entities Channel One and studio Yellow, Black and White, the agency said.
It’s a short stay for first-time space station visitors Peresild and Shipenko, who will spend 12 days on the space station filming before returning to Earth on October 16. They will be joined on their return trip by Novitskiy.
Shkaplerov will stay on the space station and return to Earth in March with Vande Hei and Dubrov on the Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft. When Vande Hei lands after his 355 consecutive days on the space station, he will have completed the longest single spaceflight by an astronaut in US history, according to NASA.
A few films have been shot on board the space station, including a 2002 IMAX documentary that Tom Cruise narrated. “Apogee of Fear,” a 2012 science fiction film clocking in at about eight minutes, was also filmed in space by entrepreneur and space tourist Richard Garriott, the son of an astronaut.
But Russia is slated to become the first nation to shoot a feature film in space.
Peresild and Shipenko, who are well-known in Russia, were selected after the country’s space agency, Roscosmos, opened a competition for applicants in November. Peresild has appeared in a number of Russian films and TV series, while Shipenko’s 2020 movie “Serf” was one of Russia’s highest-grossing films.
The two civilians underwent rigorous training ahead of their space jaunt. Along with understudies, the actor and the director prepared by doing centrifuge and vibration stand tests, training flights in zero gravity, and parachute training, all of which were covered by Channel One.
The crew has practiced photography and filming and using equipment that they’ll interact with on the space station.
Other cosmonauts on board, including Novitskiy, will assist and act as part of the film crew since their resources are more limited in the space environment. The schedules of the astronauts on the space station are already well choreographed so they can work on experiments and see to necessary maintenance tasks and other priorities.
The film “is a part of a large-scale scientific and educational project, which also includes a series of documentaries to be shot about the rocket and space industry enterprises and specialists involved in the manufacturing of launch vehicles, spacecraft, and ground space infrastructure. The project will become a clear example of the fact that spaceflights are gradually becoming available not only for professionals, but also for an increasingly wider range of those interested,” according to Roscosmos.
Tom Cruise and director Doug Liman revealed in 2020 that they were working together on a movie to be filmed in space, with NASA’s cooperation. The project is being developed in collaboration with Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Reports have suggested that Cruise’s stay on the space station could also occur in October, but no definitive date for his launch has been shared – although he did chat with the all-civilian SpaceX Inspiration 4 crew during their recent trip to space.
Jackie Wattles, Olga Pavlova and Sara Spary contributed to this report.