Early this morning, a trio of Russians launched to the International Space Station on a Soyuz spacecraft, but two of these fliers were no ordinary cosmonauts. Included in the crew was a Russian actress named Yulia Peresild and a film producer named Klim Shipenko, who have just docked at the station to film scenes for an upcoming movie. With their arrival, they’re the first multiperson film crew to visit the ISS.
Peresild and Shipenko will stay on the station for just 12 days, filming scenes for a movie called The Challenge. The movie revolves around a Russian doctor, played by Peresild, who must travel to the space station to treat a sick cosmonaut. Producer Shipenko will be working on filming and lighting. The two flew to space along with Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, who will be living on the station until spring, conducting research for Russia’s space corporation, Roscosmos. He’ll also be helping out with the production. Shkaplerov, along with Russian cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov — who are already living on the station — will play minor parts in the film’s production.
This Russian film crew may be just the beginning of actors heading to space over the next few years. On October 12th, William Shatner is scheduled to fly to the edge of space and back on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket, though he won’t actually make it into orbit. (There have been reports that Tom Cruise may head to the space station on a SpaceX Dragon someday to shoot scenes for a movie, but nothing has been confirmed.)
Today’s mission got underway at 4:55 AM ET, with the liftoff of Russia’s Soyuz rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The trio had a short trip, travelling just two laps around the Earth before approaching the International Space Station. However, meeting up with the station didn’t exactly go as planned. While the Soyuz capsule is capable of docking with the ISS on its own, this particular approach was out of alignment, and Shkaplerov had to take over the controls of the vehicle manually. He successfully docked the capsule onto the station.
Peresild and Shipenko will film primarily on the Russian component of the space station while they’re up there. Meanwhile, on the US side of the ISS, an international crew of astronauts have been living and working together for many months. They include NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hei, Shane Kimbrough, and Megan McArthur, as well as French astronaut Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency and Aki Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. Once they’ve wrapped, Peresild and Shipenko will head back to Earth in another Soyuz in mid-October with Novitskiy.
The ISS is no stranger to visits from space tourists, and films have been recorded in space before. In the 1980s, astronauts onboard the early Space Shuttle flights brought IMAX cameras with them to record footage, which was compiled into a documentary called The Dream is Alive. And when video game developer Richard Garriott flew to the space station in 2008 as a paying space tourist, he filmed a short science fiction film called Apogee of Fear. It was the first fictional movie completely shot in space, though it was less than eight minutes long. The Challenge is set to be the first feature-length film to include scenes shot in space.