Russia has rocketed past “Top Gun” star Tom Cruise in the race to launch cinema in outer space.
A Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft blasted off at 4:55 a.m. ET on Tuesday in Kazakhstan with a crew of Russian actors, producers and, of course, legitimate cosmonauts (as they’re called in the country), on their way to the International Space Station to begin filming scenes for “The Challenge.”
The show to appear on Russia’s Channel One is the first feature film to be shot in outer space — and well before Cruise, 59, had the chance to produce his $200 million space-based action flick. The Hollywood daredevil brokered a deal between NASA and Elon Musk’s SpaceX last year to bring the film, with direction from Doug Liman (“American Made”), to the big screen.
Channel One broadcasted the launch live, featuring actor Yulia Peresild, 37, director Klim Shipenko, 38, and veteran cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, 49, which they aired across multiple viewing platforms and languages. Upon docking around 8:12 a.m. on Tuesday, they’re scheduled to spend 12 days at the already crowded space station, with crews from NASA, European Space Agency, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and Russia’s space agency Roscosmos, as part of the Expedition 65, according to NASA’s space station blog.
The show’s storyline follows as a Russian doctor (Pereslid) is sent to the ISS to save the life of one of the cosmonauts onboard. Expedition 65 crew members will also be depicted in the film.
The project marks the “expansion of commercial space opportunities to include feature filmmaking,” NASA said in a statement on Tuesday, though it’s been said that Russia’s rush to bring outer space to the silver screen was spurred, in part, by rumors that the US’s Tom Cruise may get there first.
The two nations have of course rivaled each other in the ongoing space race, beginning in the 1960s as the then Soviet Union became the first to put humans in space, but fell behind in 1969 when the US made Neil Armstrong the first person to walk on the moon.
Cruise and Liman are reportedly scheduled to make their first trip to the ISS sometime before the end of 2021. NASA’S administrator Jim Bridenstine said last year that the agency is “all in” on the production, adding that if Cruise can “[inspire] the next generation Elon Musk … then we’re all for it.”
Director Shipenko and actor Pereslid were said to have endured extensive physical training for the production, such as zero-gravity fights and parachute training, Reuters reported on Tuesday.
Shipenko, known recently for his work on Russian comedy “Son of a Rich” (or “Serf,” translated directly) in 2019, appeared at a press conference on Monday, and described their demanding, monthslong schedule in the lead-up to Tuesday launch.
He explained, “We underwent an accelerated course of many important elements that the cosmonauts study over many years. We tried to master them in four months.”
Despite this, he described the prospect of civilians in space as “a rather feasible task.”
“Of course, this is very fast,” Shipenko said of the timeline. “We had a lot of theory, practice, endurance, sports — everything imaginable. It seems to me, this is a rather feasible task — naturally not to become a cosmonaut at the level of Anton and other professionals, but to prepare as a participant of a space flight.”
He added, “The entire time we worked very hard. Despite our cheerful disposition and smiles, we got very tired. Had I been told this once again, of course, I would come here understanding the matter. But I still would come.”
Meanwhile, Musk was recently touting the premiere of his reality series “Countdown: Inspiration4 Mission to Space,” which documents the training and launch of SpaceX’s all-civilian orbital space journey — the first in history. The team of four made a successful water landing off the coast of Florida last month, serving as proof-positive for the safety and success of the burgeoning commercial space flight business.