A Russian actress and a film director have rocketed to space on a mission to make the world’s first movie in orbit, a project the Kremlin says will help burnish the country’s space glory.
Yulia Peresild and director Klim Shipenko blasted off for the International Space Station in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft together with cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, a veteran of three space missions.
Their Soyuz MS-19 lifted off as scheduled at 1.55pm Tuesday (local time) from the Russian space launch facility in Baikonur, Kazakhstan and arrived at the station after about three hours.
Mr Shkaplerov took manual controls to smoothly dock the spacecraft at the space outpost after a glitch in an automatic docking system.
The trio reported they were feeling fine and spacecraft systems were functioning normally.
Peresild and Klimenko are to film segments of a movie titled Challenge, in which a surgeon played by Peresild rushes to the space station to save a crew member who needs an urgent operation in orbit.
After 12 days on the space outpost, they will return to Earth with another Russian cosmonaut.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the mission will help showcase Russia’s space prowess.
“We have been pioneers in space and maintained a confident position,” Mr Peskov said.
“Such missions that help advertise our achievements and space exploration in general are great for the country.”
Speaking at a pre-flight news conference on Tuesday (Australian time), 37-year-old Peresild acknowledged that it was challenging for her to adapt to the strict discipline and rigorous demands during the training.
“It was psychologically, physically and morally hard,” she said.
“But I think that once we achieve the goal, all that will seem not so difficult and we will remember it with a smile.”
Shipenko, 38, who has made several commercially successful movies, also described their fast-track, four-month preparation for the flight as tough.
“Of course, we couldn’t make many things at the first try, and sometimes even at a third attempt, but it’s normal,” he said.
Shipenko, who will complete the shooting on earth after filming the movie’s space episodes, said Shkaplerov and two other Russian cosmonauts now on board the station – Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov – will all play parts in the new movie.
Russia’s state-controlled Channel One television, which is involved in making the movie, has extensively covered the crew training and the launch.
“I’m in shock. I still can’t imagine that my mum is out there,” Peresild’s daughter Anna said in televised remarks minutes after the launch that she watched, teary-eyed.
Dmitry Rogozin, head of the Russian state space corporation Roscosmos, was a key force behind the project, describing it as a chance to burnish Russia’s space glory and rejecting criticism from some local media.
“I expect the project to help draw attention to our space program, to the cosmonaut profession,” Mr Rogozin said.
“We need a better visualisation of space research. Space deserves being shown in a more professional, artful way.”
After congratulating the crew on a successful docking, Mr Rogozin said he personally edited the film script to properly reflect the realities of the space flight.
“We describe some real emergencies that may happen out there,” he said.
According to the script, the cosmonaut character in the film needs an urgent surgery after being hit by space debris.
Some commentators argued, however, that the film project would distract the Russian crew and could be awkward to film on the Russian segment of the International Space Station, which is considerably less spacious compared to the US segment.
A new Russian lab module, the Nauka, was added in July but it is yet to be fully integrated into the station.
On the space station, the three newcomers joined the station’s commander Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency; NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hei, Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur; Roscosmos cosmonauts Novitskiy and Dubrov; and Aki Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.
After the hatches between the Soyuz and the station were opened, the trio floated in, beaming smiles and exchanging hugs with the station’s crew.
“I feel like I’m dreaming,” Peresild said during a brief televised hook-up with Mission Control in Moscow.
Shipenko echoed that feeling: “We have been waiting for that for such a long time, and indeed now we feel like in a dream.”
Novitskiy, who will star as the ailing cosmonaut in the movie, will take the captain’s seat in a Soyuz capsule to take the film crew back to earth on October 17.