Russia is set to launch what will be the first commercial film crew to the International Space Station (ISS) tomorrow morning – beating NASA, SpaceX, and Tom Cruise. In the latest space race, Russia will add to its list of firsts – satellite, dog, man, and woman – to also become the first nation to film a feature-length movie in space.
Director Klim Shipenko and actor Yulia Peresild will spend 10 days onboard the ISS filming scenes for the Russian movie Challenge, said to be a space drama focusing on a female surgeon's mission to the ISS to perform surgery on a cosmonaut too ill to return to Earth.
Hollywood superstar Tom Cruise, famous for carrying out his own stunts, is thought to be planning to film on the ISS too after former NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine confirmed last year the agency was “excited to work with @TomCruise on a film aboard the @Space_Station!".
Since that announcement, there has been little information forthcoming, though it had been rumored Cruise would launch on a SpaceX mission this month. Perhaps they changed their mind when Russia pipped them to the post.
This won't be the first movie shot in space though, as footage filmed by Richard Garriot (whom IFLScience spoke to recently) during his time aboard the ISS in 2008 as a private citizen became the 8-minute long Apogee of Fear. However, it will be the first time a trained film crew will shoot footage for a feature-length movie in space. The three cosmonauts onboard will also play bit parts.
Russia launched its search, stating that "we need to find more than just an actress – we need a real superhero" in November 2020. As this is not just any acting role, the right person had to fulfill some serious physical requirements, including being able to run 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) in 3.5 minutes or less, swim 800 meters (2,625 feet) freestyle in 20 minutes, and dive from a 3-meter (10-foot) springboard. In fact, acting experience wasn't strictly necessary, though Peresild has appeared in popular Russian TV shows and movies. Launching to the literal stars is one way of reaching international stardom.
Interestingly, 26-year-old pilot Galina Kairova didn't get selected for the role but did get recruited to continue cosmonaut selection at Roscosomos.
Unlike the recent Inspiration4 mission, the first all-civilian crew to go to space, the director and actor will be accompanied by an experienced cosmonaut, Anton Shkaplerov, making his fourth flight. Both Peresild and Shipenko have undergone training for their space trip, including a parabolic airplane flight to simulate microgravity, centrifuge tests, and parachute training.
“For the first two seconds it’s scary,” Peresild, who will become the first actor in space, said of the microgravity flight in a press conference. “After that, it’s beautiful.”
It's not just Peresild who will be making a new record though.
The brief sojourn to space has caused a reshuffle of scheduled departures from the ISS. NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei and cosmonaut Petr Dubrov have given up their seats to the film crew on the return Soyuz, extending their space trip to nearly a year to return in March 2022. This means Vande Hei will break veteran astronaut Scott Kelly's record of longest single space flight at 353 days.
The Soyuz will be launching from Kazakhstan at 4:55 am ET on October 5. NASA will be live streaming the launch, with a scheduled opening of the hatch to welcome the new crew members at 9:30 am ET.