An actress and director have lifted off in a rocket on its way to the International Space Station (ISS) as Russia looks to score symbolic points against US competitors by making the first movie in orbit.
Russian actress Yulia Peressild, 37, and director Klim Chipenko, 38, are accompanied by a veteran cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, with the trio taking off on Tuesday morning from the Russian cosmodrome in Baikonur, Kazakhstan.
Russia’s space agency Roscosmos tweeted the crew had successfully taken off and were in orbit.
They will have 12 days to shoot the space sequences of a film currently titled ‘The Challenge’ – a movie with an undisclosed budget, which will feature a doctor whose mission is to save a cosmonaut.
At a press conference on Monday, the director and actress appeared relaxed.
This first feature film in space will be an “experiment”, said Chipenko, who will operate the camera, make-up and lighting in the cramped space of the Russian segment of the ISS.
“I have no one to ask for advice. I don’t have any cameramen to ask how to shoot in the light of the window,” he said.
Roscosmos looking to rebuild reputation
Russia is looking to get ahead of its rival the United States, in this lesser-explored part of the space race – movie making in space.
But beyond this artistic first, this trip should allow Moscow to score points against the US amid growing tensions.
The film could help to restore Russia’s space agency Roscosmos’s reputation, which has been tarnished by corruption scandals, serial failures, and the loss of the lucrative monopoly on manned flights to the ISS thanks to Elon Musk’s Space-X.
For Roscosmos, it is a question of “triumphing over NASA and Space X” and “diverting attention from (its) problems”, political scientist Konstantin Kalachev told AFP.
The Russian agency abruptly revealed its film project last year, after it was announced actor Tom Cruise, the star of the “Mission Impossible” saga, was to shoot on the ISS.
While images have always accompanied missions into space, from the first steps on the Moon in 1969 to the social networking posts of French astronaut Thomas Pesquet, a feature film has never been shot in orbit.
The two first-time space travellers, two figures from the Russian film industry, underwent accelerated training to learn how to withstand the violent acceleration of lift-off or to move in zero gravity.
And in a sign of the importance of this project for Russia, the film’s producers are Dmitri Rogozine, director of Roscosmos and former deputy prime minister, and Konstantin Ernst.
The latter has staged some of the greatest moments of Vladimir Putin’s reign: military parades, presidential investitures, and the ceremonies of the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014.
In April, on the 60th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s first manned flight into space, a symbolic victory of the Soviet Union over the United States at the height of the Cold War, Putin proclaimed that Russia must remain a great space power.
The country therefore intends to join the space tourism race, which has accelerated in recent months with the flights of American and British billionaires Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson.
In December, it is due to launch a Japanese billionaire into space.