Russia opens new frontier in space and makes first full-length movie

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MOSCOW — The first satellite in space, the first dog, the first man, the first woman, and now — if everything goes according to plan — the first movie.

Russia came a step closer to claiming a new record in space on Thursday when a committee of medical and security experts approved a plan for an actress and director to film the first full-length fictional film in space early next month.

The film, called “The Challenge”, tells of a doctor who was launched at short notice to the International Space Station to save the life of a cosmonaut. If filmed on schedule next month, it would beat Hollywood into low Earth orbit.

NASA announced Tom Cruise plans to film at the station last year. The Russian space agency Roscosmos then announced its ambition to make films.

At a press conference in Moscow before heading for the launch, the Russian actress, the director and their doppelganger – both roles have backups, otherwise a last-minute health problem would derail the project – raved about a new frontier in show business. They said they hoped to portray weightlessness in fiction like never before and, through the skills of a professional actress, the emotions of free-floating and seeing the earth from the sky.

“The first two seconds are scary,” Yulia Peresild, who is on track to become the first actor in space, said of her training on an airplane flight that briefly created a microgravity environment. “After that it’s beautiful.”

Ms. Peresild and Klim Shipenko, the director of the primary crew, plan to fly there and back in a Soyuz capsule and spend 10 days filming in the Russian part of the space station. It’s not clear when NASA plans to launch its space film project, but Russian officials were concerned enough to shift a schedule of missions to accommodate the pair’s rushed launch.

The blast is scheduled for October 5. Thursday’s approval by a committee of the Yuri Gagarin Center for Cosmonaut Training cleared a major hurdle for the film. Like the character she will play, Ms. Peresild, who is 37, was put through the training that began this spring after an audition. She has no background in space or aviation.

The daughter of a painter and kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Peresild, had already achieved stardom in Russia. She performed in blockbusters, art films and television series, and played for many years at the Malaya Bronnaya Theater in Moscow.

Russia’s plan to blast an actress into space follows a series of flights by non-professionals this year, including that of Amazon owner Jeff Bezos, on a rocket built by his company Blue Origin, and four passengers in a capsule made by Elon Musk’s company SpaceX, which launched Wednesday.

For the Russian film, Anton Shkaplerov, an accomplished cosmonaut, will pilot the three-seat Soyuz spaceship. All members of the mission trained for in-flight emergencies with Russia’s accident-prone spacecraft, whether in the capsule or in the Russian segment of the station, which leaked air and back-flips into a plane earlier this year. orbit after thrusters on a new Russian module failed.

“I’m not afraid,” Ms. Peresild said of her spaceflight, though she also said “fear is normal.”

Ms. Peresild admitted she will face limitations when filming in space. She does her own make-up and works without a light or sound crew.

Mr. Shipenko said his goal was to bring the experience of space to life through the eyes of an ordinary person, the doctor character played by Ms. Peresild. “We want everyone to be a little bit like our hero,” he said, experiencing the feeling of space travel through her performance. Three cosmonauts will play supporting roles.

Filming elaborate scenes of an actress in zero gravity will be a novelty for cinematography, said Anton Dolin, a film critic and editor-in-chief of Film Art, a film criticism magazine. But after a movie claimed the title of the first movie filmed in space, he said, and the novelty wears off, it’s unclear whether future projects would “justify the costs and risks.”

Astronauts and cosmonauts have, of course, been making documentaries for decades. The Apollo moon missions pioneered live television broadcasting.

There have been modest previous attempts to film fiction in space, says Robert Pearlman, editor of CollectSpace.com, a space history news site. Richard Garriott, an entrepreneur who flew as a tourist in 2008, filmed a seven-minute short film called “Apogee of fear”, with astronauts and cosmonauts acting stiff. A 1984 Soviet movie, “Return from Orbit,” featured scenes filmed in space.

But “The Challenge” would be the first feature film shot in space, and “the first for an actor and director to fly into space to do so,” said Mr. Pearlman.

And that, he said, will come with “some bragging rights.”

Oleg Matsnev contributed to the report


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