The International Space Station is now a film set, and it served as the stage for a little extra drama Tuesday morning.
Veteran Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, actor Yulia Peresild and film producer Klim Shipenko traveled to the International Space Station on Tuesday. Peresild and Shipenko will be filming segments for the movie “Challenge” – the first feature film shot in space.
The movie will tell the story of a surgeon who has to operate on a sick cosmonaut in space because his medical condition prevents him from returning to Earth to be treated.
The three space travelers blasted off on board a Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 4:55 a.m. ET on Tuesday.
The speedy Soyuz delivered them to the space station around 8:22 a.m. ET, despite unexpected communications issues that led to Shkaplerov taking manual control of the spacecraft to complete docking with the space station. This added about 10 minutes to the expected docking time.
“Ratty data” from the Kurs automated rendezvous system occurred when the Soyuz was about 75 meters away from the space station, according to the live NASA broadcast. Russian mission control directed Shkaplerov to take manual control of flying of Soyuz for the final approach to docking.
Russian mission control was worried about the amount of time left they had to communicate with the crew on the Soyuz spacecraft ahead of docking since it would be briefly pass out of range with ground control stations.
“Anton, we have very little time left,” Russian mission control said. “After that, just as you trained for. You’ll be fine.”
“I can see everything really well,” Shkaplerov assured them shortly before safely docking.
The spacecraft is usually capable of docking itself, and manual docking is rare. There was also an issue with Kurs, the docking navigation system, in July, when Russia’s newly docked Nauka module accidentally fired its thrusters, spinning the space station out of control.
Peresild and Shipenko used their cameras to film the approach of their Soyuz to the space station.
“It was a little bit dramatic at the end, in order for your movie to be more dramatic,” said Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin, as Russian mission control joked with the crew after docking.
The current crew on the space station, including European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet; NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hei, Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur; Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Aki Hoshide; and Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov; welcomed the trio aboard when the hatch opened at 11:01 a.m. This brings the current crew count on the station to 10.
“Everything was new to us today, every 30 seconds brought something entirely new,” said Peresild after arriving on the station. “It is almost impossible to think that this all came to reality. i also feel like I’m still dreaming.”
Shkaplerov addressed manual docking to the station after arriving.
“We had a small delay,” he said to Russian mission control. “Thank you to you who taught us how to make decisions. Everything went just fine, and now we’re looking forward to our work on orbit. (Peresild and Shipenko) helped. They knew what to do, they were aware of the situation. Everything was done exactly the way it was required by their training.”
“The launch will mark the expansion of commercial space opportunities to include feature filmmaking,” according to a NASA release. The film is being made under a commercial agreement between Roscosmos and Moscow-based media entities Channel One and studio Yellow, Black and White, the agency said.
It’s a short stay for first-time space station visitors Peresild and Shipenko, who will spend 12 days on the space station filming before returning to Earth on October 16. They will be joined on their return trip by Novitskiy.
“There is enough room in space for everything,” said Russian President Dmitry Peskov. “It is important to observe proportions. We follow such flights together with all Russians, we are also worried about the astronauts and wish them a successful continuation of the flight. After all, space is where we became pioneers, where we, in spite of everything, maintain a confident position.”
Shkaplerov will stay on the space station and return to Earth in March with Vande Hei and Dubrov on the Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft. When Vande Hei lands after his 355 consecutive days on the space station, he will have completed the longest single spaceflight by an astronaut in US history, according to NASA.
A few films have been shot on board the space station, including a 2002 IMAX documentary that Tom Cruise narrated. “Apogee of Fear,” a 2012 science fiction film clocking in at about eight minutes, was also filmed in space by entrepreneur and space tourist Richard Garriott, the son of an astronaut.
Tom Cruise and director Doug Liman revealed in 2020 that they were working together on a movie to be filmed in space, with NASA’s cooperation. The project is being developed in collaboration with Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Reports have suggested that Cruise’s stay on the space station could also occur in October, but no definitive date for his launch has been shared – although he did chat with the all-civilian SpaceX Inspiration 4 crew during their recent trip to space.
But Russia is slated to become the first nation to shoot a feature film in space.
Peresild and Shipenko, who are well-known in Russia, were selected after the country’s space agency, Roscosmos, opened a competition for applicants in November. Peresild has appeared in a number of Russian films and TV series, while Shipenko’s 2020 movie “Serf” was one of Russia’s highest-grossing films.
The two civilians underwent rigorous training ahead of their space jaunt. Along with understudies, the actor and the director prepared by doing centrifuge and vibration stand tests, training flights in zero gravity, and parachute training, all of which were covered by Channel One.
The crew has practiced photography and filming and using equipment that they’ll interact with on the space station.
Other cosmonauts on board, including Novitskiy, will assist and act as part of the film crew since their resources are more limited in the space environment. The schedules of the astronauts on the space station are already well choreographed so they can work on experiments and see to necessary maintenance tasks and other priorities.
The film “is a part of a large-scale scientific and educational project, which also includes a series of documentaries to be shot about the rocket and space industry enterprises and specialists involved in the manufacturing of launch vehicles, spacecraft, and ground space infrastructure. The project will become a clear example of the fact that spaceflights are gradually becoming available not only for professionals, but also for an increasingly wider range of those interested,” according to Roscosmos.
Jackie Wattles, Katharina Krebs, Olga Pavlova and Sara Spary contributed to this report.