Russian film crew blasts off into orbit to make first movie in space

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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 country’s space chief has seen as an opportunity to raise the prestige of Russia’s space program .

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Actor Yulia Peresild and director Klim Shipenko blasted off Tuesday to the International Space Station in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft with veteran cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, a veteran of three space missions.

His Soyuz MS-19 lifted off as scheduled from the Russian Space Launch Facility in Baikonur, Kazakhstan.

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Space officials said the crew was feeling well and that all spacecraft systems were operating normally.

Peresild and Klimenko are the film segments of a new film titled the challenge, in which a surgeon played by Peresild travels to the space station to rescue a crew member suffering from a heart ailment. After 12 days at the space outpost, they are set to return to Earth with another Russian cosmonaut.

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Speaking at a pre-flight news conference on Monday, Peresild, 37, admitted that it was challenging for him to adapt to the strict discipline and harsh demands of training.

“It was psychologically, physically and morally difficult,” she said. “But I think once we achieve the goal, all that will not seem so difficult and we will remember it with a smile.”

Shipenko, 38, who has made several commercially successful films, also described her fast-track, four-month preparation for flight as daunting.

“Of course, we couldn’t do much on the first try, and sometimes even on the third try, but that’s normal,” he said.

Shipenko, who will finish shooting on Earth after filming the space episode, said Shkaplerov and two other Russian cosmonauts on the station will play roles in the new film.

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 achieve a first before Hollywood project featuring actor Tom Cruise, working with NASA and SpaceX.

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Dmitry Rogozin, head of the Russian state space corporation Roscosmos, was a major driving force behind the project. Rogozin saw the making of the world’s first feature film in space as an opportunity to enhance the country’s space prestige.

“Movies have long become a powerful means of propaganda,” he said in June, arguing that the new film would help what he describes as Western attempts to “humiliate” the Russian space program.

Some Russian media were skeptical about the plan, and reportedly there were some doubts within the Russian space program as well.

The Russian section of the International Space Station is significantly less spacious than the American section, leaving little room for film production. This was expanded in July following the long-awaited arrival of the new lab module, the ferry, which has not yet been fully integrated into the station.

Arriving at the space station on Tuesday, the three newcomers will join Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency; NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hey, Shane Kimbrough and Megan MacArthur; Aki Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency; and Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Novitsky and Pyotr Dubrov.

Nowitzki, who is set to star as the ailing astronaut in the film, will take the captain’s seat in a Soyuz capsule to transport the crew back to Earth on October 17.

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