Shooting stars: Russians beating US in race for first film shot in space

Actor and director on International Space Station push ahead of Hollywood project led by Tom Cruise

The list of “firsts” in orbit under the Soviet space programme is legendary: first satellite, first dog, first man, first woman.

Now another looms after Russia sent an actor and a director to the International Space Station (ISS) as part of plans to make the first film in orbit – and once again put one over on the Americans.

The arrival of the actor Yulia Peresild, 37, and the director Klim Shipenko, 38, at the ISS seems likely to beat a Hollywood project announced last year by Tom Cruise, Nasa and Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

“Welcome to the ISS!” said Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, on Twitter, before going on to tweet images of Peresild and others entering the station for a 12-day mission to film scenes for a feature called The Challenge.

Peresild checking herself before takeoff.

The film’s plot, which has been mostly kept under wraps along with its budget, was said by Roscosmos to centre on a female surgeon who is dispatched to the ISS to save a cosmonaut.

Anton Shkaplerov, a veteran of three space missions who travelled with the actor and director, is said to have a cameo role, along with two other Russian cosmonauts aboard the ISS.

The head of the US space agency revealed last year that Cruise was in talks with Nasa about working on a film shot in outer space.

“We need popular media to inspire a new generation of engineers and scientists to make Nasa’s ambitious plans a reality,” tweeted the then Nasa administrator, Jim Bridenstine.

The tweet followed a report that Cruise was working with Musk, the founder of SpaceX, to make what would be the first feature film shot in space.

Last month, Cruise got a sneak preview of what it is like to circle Earth in a SpaceX capsule when the actor took part in a call with the four space tourists orbiting more than 360 miles high in the company’s first privately chartered flight.

Peresild, Shkaplerov and Shipenko.

Now however, the arrival of a Soyuz MS-19 spaceship carrying Peresild and Shipenko means the Russian plans are likely to trump those of Nasa, Cruise and company.

The ISS crew, which also includes a French and a Japanese citizen and three Nasa astronauts, welcomed the newcomers when the hatch opened on Tuesday.

“It was difficult psychologically, physically and emotionally … but I think when we reach our goal all the challenges won’t seem so bad,” said Peresild – who was selected out of 3,000 applicants for the role – at a pre-flight press conference on Monday.

Peresild, whose previous roles have included playing the Soviet sniper Lyudmila Pavlichenko in 2015’s Battle for Sevastopol, and Shipenko are expected to return to Earth on 17 October. They will board the return capsule with the cosmonaut Oleg Novitsky, who has been on the ISS for the past six months.

“I’m in shock. I still can’t imagine that my mom is out there,” said the actor’s daughter, Anna, in remarks televised in Russia.

The Soyuz MS-19 spaceship blasting off from Baikonur, Kazakhstan.

Shipenko, who has made several commercially successful films and who will complete the shooting on Earth after filming the movie’s space episodes, also described their fast-track, four-month preparation for the flight as tough.

“Of course, we couldn’t make many things at the first try, and sometimes even at a third attempt, but it’s normal,” he said.

Shkaplerov took manual control of the spacecraft carrying them to dock at the space outpost after a glitch in an automatic system at the end of their three-and-a-half-hour journey from Baikonur, Kazakhstan.

With Russia falling behind in the global space race and facing tough competition from more innovative and well-resourced ventures in US and China, the initiative has been lauded by the Kremlin.

“Space is where we became pioneers, where despite everything we maintain a fairly confident position,” said a Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov.

Last month, SpaceX completed the first all-civilian mission to space, taking four astronauts into a three-day orbit around the Earth.

The trip followed the missions of Richard Branson, who spent several minutes in weightlessness in July, and the Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who completed a similar mission days later.

This month, the actor William Shatner, now 90 and known for his portrayal of Captain Kirk in Star Trek, will fly to space on a mission with Bezos’s Blue Origin.

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