Russians Give New Meaning to Shooting on Location

Russians Give New Meaning to Shooting on Location

A Russian space crew is giving new meaning to shooting a film on location. Actress Yulia Peresild and film director Klim Shipenko are on board the International Space Station in Earth orbit today beginning a 12-day shoot for their movie The Challenge. A professional cosmonaut was at the controls during launch and docking, but the film crew is grabbing all the headlines.

Soyuz MS-19 lifted off on time at 4:55 am EDT from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and docked with the ISS just over 3 hours later at 8:22 am EDT. Docking was 10 minutes late because the automated Kurs docking system failed and mission commander Anton Shkaplerov had to perform a manual docking. He is a professional cosmonaut and veteran of three spaceflights.

Soyuz MS-19 lifts off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, October 5, 2021, 4:55 am EDT. Screengrab from NASA TV.


Hatches between the Soyuz and the ISS opened at 11:00 am EDT after leak checks and other routine arrival operations. The three-person Soyuz MS-19 crew joined the three-person MS-18 crew (Russia’s Oleg Novitsky and Pyotr Dubrov and NASA’s Mark Vande Hei) and the four-person Crew-2 (NASA’s Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, JAXA’s Aki Hoshide, and ESA’s Thomas Pesquet).

The ISS crew, October 5, 2021 (L-R): front row, Yulia Peresild, Anton Shkaplerov, Klim Shipenko; middle row, Oleg Novitsky, Pyotr Dubrov; back row, Shane Kimbrough, Thomas Pesquet, Megan McArthur, Mark Vande Hei, Aki Hoshide. Screengrab.

Since the beginning of the Space Age, which country scores a space “first” has been an important metric for national prestige in the United States and Soviet Union/Russia.

In human spaceflight, the Soviet Union gets credit for quite a few including the first man in space, the first woman in space, the first spacewalk by a man, the first spacewalk by a woman, and the first space station. Now it has another — the first professional actress and film director making a fictional, commercial movie in space.  (The United States has quite a few, too, including landing the first — and so far only — astronauts on the Moon and returning them safely to Earth.)

Russia’s sudden decision to launch Peresild and Shipenko came after rumors began circulating that Tom Cruise would visit the ISS. Although then-NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine confirmed NASA was working with Cruise, no official plans have been announced yet.

And so it is that Russia wins this space first, too, for whatever intangible value that confers.

Soyuz MS-19 crew (L-R): Yulia Peresild (actress), Anton Shkaplerov (professional cosmonaut), Klim Shipenko (film director). Credit: Roscosmos

Peresild and Shipenko are not the first “space tourists,” or “non-professional astronauts,” or “private astronauts,” or “spaceflight participants” — a variety of terms are used  — to launch into space or to the ISS.

Russia launched seven to the ISS (four from the United States, one each from Canada and South Africa, and one Iranian-American) between 2001 and 2009, one of whom flew twice, so a total of eight flights. Russia stopped launching tourists until now because NASA bought the extra Soyuz seats to take its own crews back and forth after the space shuttle was terminated. With SpaceX’s Crew Dragon now available for NASA, Russia is resuming these flights.

NASA eschewed the idea of space tourism for years, but in 2019 finally embraced the idea and established a pricing policy for how much visitors must pay to use its facilities on the ISS. The first U.S.-sponsored private astronaut mission to the ISS, Ax-1, for the company Axiom Space, is scheduled for February 21, 2022 on a SpaceX Crew Dragon.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon operates autonomously and just took four private astronauts to Earth orbit last month on the Inspiration4 mission. They did not dock with the ISS and no professional astronauts were aboard — a “first” in the U.S. column.

Two U.S. companies, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin also launch people to space on suborbital rockets, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin.

Blue Origin will launch actor William Shatner, Star Trek’s original Captain Kirk, to space on October 12 on the New Shepard-18 (NS-18) mission. For the few minutes NS-18 is above the air/space line, there will be two professional actors in space, a first the two countries can share.

Apart from the novelty of shooting a commercial film in space and the unending competition to be “first,” Soyuz MS-19 is not very remarkable in the overall history of human spaceflight other than as a sign of the increasing commercialization of space.


This article has been updated.

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