MOSCOW — In a historic first, Russia has launched an actor and a film director into space to make a feature film in orbit — a project the nation’s space chief has hailed as a chance to raise the prestige of Russia’s space program.
Actor Yulia Peresild and director Klim Shipenko blasted off Tuesday for the International Space Station in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft together with cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, a veteran of three space missions.
Their Soyuz MS-19 lifted off as scheduled from the Russian space launch facility in Baikonur, Kazakhstan.
Space officials reported that the crew was feeling fine and all spacecraft systems were functioning normally.
Peresild and Klimenko are to film segments of a new movie titled “Challenge,” in which a surgeon played by Peresild rushes to the space station to save a crew member who suffers a heart condition. After 12 days on the space outpost, they are set to return to Earth with another Russian cosmonaut.
Speaking at a pre-flight news conference Monday, 37-year-old Peresild acknowledged that it was challenging for her to adapt to the strict discipline and rigorous demands during the training.
“It was psychologically, physically and morally hard,” she said. “But I think that once we achieve the goal, all that will seem not so difficult and we will remember it with a smile.”
Shipenko, 38, who has made several commercially successful movies, 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.
Shipenko, who will complete the shooting on Earth after filming space episodes, said that Shkaplerov and two other Russian cosmonauts on board the station will all play parts in the new movie.
The 12-day Russian mission follows the launch of the first all-civilian crew aboard a rocket and capsule developed by SpaceX, which was founded by businessman Elon Musk.
It is designed to get in first before a Hollywood project featuring actor Tom Cruise working with NASA and SpaceX.
Dmitry Rogozin, head of the Russian state space corporation Roscosmos, was a key driving force behind the project. Rogozin described making the world’s first feature film in space as a chance to raise the nation’s space prestige.
“Movies long have become a powerful instrument of propaganda,” he said in June, arguing that the new film would help counter what he described as Western efforts to “humiliate” the Russian space program.
Some Russian media were skeptical about the plan and there were reportedly some doubts inside the Russian space program as well.
The Russian segment of the International Space Station is considerably less spacious compared to the U.S. segment, leaving little room for filmmaking. It was expanded in July after the long-awaited arrival of the new lab module, the Nauka, which is yet to be fully integrated into the station.
Once they arrive at the space station on Tuesday, the three newcomers will join Thomas Pesquet of the 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.
Novitskiy, who is set to star as the ailing cosmonaut in the film, will take the captain’s seat in a Soyuz capsule to take the crew back to Earth on Oct. 17.