Home News Russia to Open New Frontier in Space, Shooting First Full-Length Movie

Russia to Open New Frontier in Space, Shooting First Full-Length Movie


MOSCOW — The first satellite in space, the first dog, the first man, the first woman and now — if all goes as planned — the first movie.

Russia took a step closer on Thursday to claiming another record in space when a commission of medical and safety experts approved a plan for an actress and a director to blast off early next month to film the first full-length, fictional movie in space.

The movie, called “The Challenge,” tells of a female doctor launched on short notice to the International Space Station to save the life of a cosmonaut. If filmed on schedule next month, it would beat Hollywood to low-Earth orbit.

NASA announced last year plans by Tom Cruise to film on the station. Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, then announced its moviemaking ambition.

At a news conference in Moscow before departing for the launch, the Russian actress, the director and their doubles — both roles have backups, lest a last-minute health problem derail the project — spoke enthusiastically about a new frontier in show business. They said they hoped to portray weightlessness as never before in fiction and, through the skills of a professional actress, the emotions of floating freely and seeing Earth from the heavens.

“For the first two seconds it’s scary,” said Yulia Peresild, who is on track to become the first actor in space, of her training on an airplane flight that briefly created a microgravity environment. “After that, it’s beautiful.”

Ms. Peresild and Klim Shipenko, the director on the primary crew, plan to fly up and back in a Soyuz capsule and spend 10 days filming in the Russian segment of the space station. It is not clear when NASA plans to start its space film project, but Russian officials were concerned enough to shift a schedule of missions to accommodate the pair’s hasty launch.

Blast off is planned for Oct. 5. The approval Thursday by a commission at the Yuri Gagarin Center for Cosmonaut Training cleared an important hurdle for the movie. Much like the character she will play, Ms. Peresild, who is 37, was hustled through training that began this spring after an audition. She has no background in space or aviation.

The daughter of a painter and kindergarten teacher, Ms. Peresild had already achieved stardom in Russia. She has performed in blockbusters, art films and television series, and has for years acted at the Malaya Bronnaya theater in Moscow.

The Russian plan to blast an actress into space follows a flurry of flights by nonprofessionals this year, including those of the owner of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, on a rocket built by his company Blue Origin, and four passengers in a capsule made by Elon Musk’s company SpaceX, which launched Wednesday.

For the Russian movie, Anton Shkaplerov, an experienced cosmonaut, will pilot the three-seat Soyuz spaceship. All members of the mission trained for in-flight emergencies with Russia’s accident-prone space gear, whether in the capsule or the Russian segment of the station, which has been leaking air and earlier this year did a back flip in orbit after thrusters on a new Russian module misfired.

“I am not afraid,” Ms. Peresild said of her spaceflight, though she also said that “fear is normal.”

Ms. Peresild conceded that she will face limitations filming in space. She will do her own makeup, for example, and work without lighting or sound crews.

Mr. Shipenko said his aim was to bring to life the experience of space through the eyes of an ordinary person, the doctor character played by Ms. Peresild. “We want every person to be a little like our hero,” he said, experiencing through her performance the feeling of space travel. Three cosmonauts will play bit parts.

Filming extended scenes of an actress in weightlessness will be a novelty for cinematography, said Anton Dolin, a film critic and chief editor of Film Art, a magazine of movie criticism. But after one movie claims the title of the first filmed in space, he said, and the novelty wears off, it is unclear whether future projects would “justify the costs and risks.”

Astronauts and cosmonauts have, of course, filmed documentaries for decades. The Apollo moon missions pioneered live television broadcasts.

Modest, earlier attempts at filming fiction in space have been made, said Robert Pearlman, editor of CollectSpace.com, a space history news site. Richard Garriott, an entrepreneur who flew as a tourist in 2008, filmed a seven-minute short called “Apogee of Fear,” with astronauts and cosmonauts woodenly acting parts. A 1984 Soviet movie, “Return from Orbit,” included scenes filmed in space.

But “The Challenge” would be the first feature-length fiction movie shot in space, and “the first to fly an actor and director to space for the purposes of doing so,” said Mr. Pearlman.

And that, he said, will come with “some bragging rights involved.”

Oleg Matsnev contributed reporting



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