What We’re Learning About That Upcoming Russian ‘Movie in Space’

What We’re Learning About That Upcoming Russian ‘Movie in Space’
Members of the ISS-66 mission. From left to right: actor Yulia Peresild, commander Anton Shkaplerov, and film director Klim Shipenko. (Image: Roscosmos)

A Russian actor and director are currently in training as the pair prepare to film scenes aboard the International Space Station later this year. New details are emerging about the project, such as the movie’s plot — and how Russian cosmonauts will be expected to take part.

The working title of the film is Vyzov, which means “challenge” in English, and if all goes as planned, it will be the first movie to feature scenes shot in space. Klim Shipenko, 37, is directing the film, and it will feature Yulia Peresild, a 35-year-old actor chosen from thousands of participants who submitted online applications for the starring role. The current plan is to have Shipenko and Peresild travel to the ISS in October aboard a Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft.

Yulia Peresild, who will portray Zhenya in the upcoming film, is currently preparing at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre. (Image: Roscosmos) Yulia Peresild, who will portray Zhenya in the upcoming film, is currently preparing at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre. (Image: Roscosmos)

Shipenko, along with executive producer Konstantin Ernst of Channel One Russia, recently participated in a funding pitch, during which the team asked Russian funders for 400 million rubles ($7 million), as SpaceNews reports. The film is being produced by Channel One, Roscosmos, and Yellow, Black and White (a television film studio), but apparently more money is needed to move things forward.

It was during this funding pitch that the team disclosed several new details about the project, including the plot. As Tony Quine writes at SpaceNews:

Shipenko revealed the script is still being fine-tuned, but the plot involves a cosmonaut who suffers a cardiac arrest during a spacewalk and, although he survives, he will require surgery to ensure he can handle the Soyuz return to Earth. A female cardiac surgeon, named Zhenya, has to be sent to the ISS to perform the procedure with only a few weeks to prepare for the trip.

Sounds like a real humdinger. But as Roscosmos admitted last year, the “movie is aimed to popularise Russia’s space activities” and to also “glorify [the] cosmonaut profession.”

Shipenko and Peresild, along with their respective backups, Alexey Dudin and Alena Mordovina, began their training at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre on May 24, 2021. Roscosmos cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov will command the ISS-66 mission, scheduled to launch in October 2021. Oleg Artemyev is serving as Shkaplerov’s backup. Roscosmos says both Shipenko and Peresild are fit and healthy enough for spaceflight. Should the plan to film a movie in space fall to shit, cosmonauts Sergei Korsakov and Dmitry Petelin will be ready, as they’re listed as the “reserve” crew for the ISS-66 mission. Shkaplerov will stay on the ISS for six months, but the film crew of two will bail after spending just 12 days in space.

The training program for the film crew and their backups is a bit different than the one offered to full-blown cosmonauts, but it seems challenging nonetheless, given its emphasis on safety. As Roscosmos explains:

The movie crew will get acquainted with the design, on-board systems, equipment of the Soyuz MS crewed spacecraft and the Russian segment of the International Space Station. They should know the way the spacecraft and the station crew activities are organised, study the emergency actions algorithm (depressurization, fire, atmospheric toxicity). In addition, the actors and directors will be prepared for possible emergencies that may occur during the landing of the ship in different climatic and geographical zones. The trainings are planned on the Il-76 MDK aeroplane laboratory offering short-term weightlessness conditions to train the skills necessary for spaceflight. The training process includes biomedical and physical aspects. Before leaving for the Baikonur Cosmodrome, the prime and backup crews will take part in complex examination trainings.

Shipenko is hoping to acquire about 35 to 40 minutes of screen time while in space, as he explained during the funding pitch. SpaceNews says these will be the first shots taken for the movie. Once on the ground, filming will continue until May 2022, with release of the film happening no earlier than late 2022.

Shipenko said he’ll serve as the camera operator and makeup artist during the space-based film shoot, in addition to performing directing duties. Interestingly, cosmonauts Oleg Novitsky and Pyotr Dubrov — onboard the ISS since this past April — will be expected to act and appear in the film. No word if crewmembers with NASA, ESA, and JAXA will be asked to join the party.

The project is not without problems, however. In addition to needing more money, the producers are upset that the Russian media isn’t paying much attention, as Ernst admitted during the funding pitch.

The project isn’t getting much love from Russian scientists, either, who are complaining that the movie is diverting valuable resources normally used for space exploration and scientific research. It got so bad that Roscosmos removed Sergei Krikalev, director of crewed programs at Roscosmos, from his senior management position in June after he expressed his opposition to the project. Krikalev, who accrued more than 800 hours in space during his illustrious career as a cosmonaut, was eventually reinstated following complaints from Russian media and many of his peers, including other cosmonauts.

An interesting side effect of this pending mission is that Dubrov and NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei will have to spend an entire year on the ISS. The men are currently aboard the space station, and both were supposed to spend six months in space, but they’ll have to give up their return seats to the Russian film crew. So yeah, trains don’t leave ISS station very often, resulting in the extended stay.