And … action! 1st movie in space underway with Russian crew
In 3, 2, 1 … 1st movie in space
The Soyuz 2.1a that lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Russia’s spaceport southern Kazakhstan, was theatrically decorated for the first movie to be filmed in space. It ferried Russian actress Yulia Peresild and director Klim Shipenko to the International Space Station (ISS) alongside veteran cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, who commanded the capsule. Journeys to ISS typically last between 8 and 22 hours over multiple orbits around Earth. This Soyuz employed what’s known as a 2-orbit scheme and linked up with the space station just 4 hours after launch.
Peresild and Shipenko – who aren’t cosmonauts but instead civilian passengers – said they enjoyed the sunrises and sunsets they saw during the flight. And Peresild told Channel One Russia during a welcome ceremony on the station:
I still feel that it’s all a dream, and I’m still asleep.
Shipenko agreed. He said:
Yes, it’s almost impossible to think that this all came to reality.
The Soyuz was expected to dock itself autonomously, but a communications issue prompted Shkaplerov to take manual control. Director Shipenko kept the cameras rolling during the approach and joked that the last-minute drama was staged to add suspense to the movie plot.
It was a little dramatic at the end in order for your movie to be more dramatic.
Bad luck, Tom Cruise
While cinematic sequences have long been using sound stages and computer graphics, a full-length feature film has never before been shot and directed in space. The movie, called The Challenge, will use 12 days of recording aboard the station. Its plot follows a doctor who flies to the ISS on short notice to give life-saving care to a cosmonaut struck by a heart attack during a spacewalk. According to the New York Times, Russia shifted its flight schedule to get ahead of NASA’s and SpaceX’s plans to support the launch of actor Tom Cruise, who is also slated to star in a movie in space. The action film starring Cruise – first announced in 2020 – doesn’t have a disclosed launch date yet.
Cruise made a statement about the concept of movies shot in space in a 2002 documentary:
What an incredible sight: a Hollywood special effect, you’re thinking. But no. It’s for real.
In the movie, Peresild will play the surgeon, while cosmonaut Oleg Novitsky will act as the spacewalker in need of her nursing. Shkaplerov and cosmonaut Pyotr Dubrov are also expected to make cameos. The majority of filming is expected to take place on the Russian end of the ISS. But some, of course, will be shot in the American module’s Earth-viewing cupola.
An era for civilian spaceflight
Shipenko and Peresild are expected to return to Earth in a different Soyuz spacecraft on October 17. It will also bring home Novitsky, who’s been living on the space station since April this year.
The missions of Dubrov and American astronaut Mark T. Vande Hei, however, were extended by six months to accommodate the film project. They are now expected to return to Earth in April 2022 with Shkaplerov, according to Scientific American. In doing so, the extension will make Vande Hei’s spaceflight the longest of all American astronauts in history at a record of 353 days. That beats current record-holder Scott Kelly’s run of 340 days.
The Russian launch comes on the heels of the first-ever all-civilian flight to Earth orbit: SpaceX’s Inspiration4 mission, which launched on September 15, 2021. Inspiration4 – curated by Jared Isaacman, the billionaire CEO of Shift4 payments – did not meet up with the ISS, however. Instead, the crew zoomed significantly higher than the orbiting lab and circled the planet for three days. It was a charitable spaceflight that raised more than $13 million in donations for St. Jude, the pediatric cancer research center.
What an exciting time for spaceflight!
Bottom line: A Russian spacecraft launched to the International Space Station on October 5, 2021, to begin filming what is planned to become the first movie in space. The Soyuz 2.1a ferried Russian actress Yulia Peresild and director Klim Shipenko to the station alongside veteran cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, who commanded the capsule. It linked up with the space station about four hours later.