Earlier this week, a Soyuz spacecraft launched to the International Space Station with three people on board. But only one of them was a cosmonaut. The other two crew members were Russian actress Yulia Peresild and film producer Klim Shipenko. They will be on the ISS for 12 days to film scenes for an upcoming movie, called “Challenge.”
NASA says the film crew is there under a commercial agreement between Roscosmos and Moscow-based media entities, adding that “the launch will mark the expansion of commercial space opportunities to include feature filmmaking.”
Veteran cosmonaut, Anton Shkaplerov, is on his fourth flight to space. He will actually be assisting with the filming for the movie.
This brings the total on board the ISS to 10, as the three space flyers join Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency), 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. Vande Hei is currently working towards completing the longest single spaceflight by an astronaut in U.S. history, at 355 days. He’s scheduled to return to Earth in March 2022.
While astronauts have helped film previous documentaries, this is the first movie with real actors to actually be filmed in space. Russian journalist Vitaly Egorov told NPR that Russia’s space agency made no secret of filmmaking junket, saying that the project “promotes our space program and shows it hasn’t gathered cobwebs, that we’re still flying and can come up with interesting ideas.”
Some reports say NASA is working with Tom Cruise to shoot a film in outer space.
The Russian film is about a surgeon, played by Peresild who has to operate on a sick cosmonaut in space because his medical condition prevents his return to Earth. The real launch was filmed as part of the movie, with the Baikonur Cosmodrome becoming a film set.
The real docking of the Soyuz to the ISS created a little drama because of communications issues that led to Shkaplerov taking manual control of the spacecraft to complete the docking. This event added about 10 minutes to the expected docking time, which cut it close to when there was an known upcoming brief communications blackout.
“Anton, we have very little time left,” Russian mission control said. “After that, just as you trained for. You’ll be fine.”
“I can see everything really well,” Shkaplerov radioed down, shortly before safely docking.
Whether that bit of “drama” will be added to the movie is not known at this time.
When the space flyers came on board, some on Twitter wondered why Peresild was wearing a red uniform – which on the Star Trek shows and movies is the characters who are expendable and quite often end up killed.
Cosmonaut Shkaplerov is part of Expedition 66, a long-term mission expected to last 174 days, while the spaceflight participants Shipenko and Peresild will just stay onboard for less than two weeks to shoot their scenes.
They are expected to return to Earth with Novitskiy Oct. 16 on another Soyuz craft, which has been docked at the space station for several months. They will make a parachute-assisted landing on the Kazakh steppe.
Lead image caption: The Soyuz MS-19 rocket with three Russian crewmates aboard ascends into space shortly after launching under clear blues skies in Kazakhstan. Credit: NASA