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EXPLAINED: Gravity-Defying Stunt? How Russia Pipped US, Tom Cruise In New Space Race Of Shooting Stars

After 12 days on the space outpost, Peresild and Shipenko will return to Earth with another Russian cosmonaut. ( Credits: AP)

After 12 days on the space outpost, Peresild and Shipenko will return to Earth with another Russian cosmonaut. ( Credits: AP)

Russia has pipped the US space programme again, this time on a mission to shoot the first full-length movie in space

If ordinary folks are hurrying to space, can Hollywood be far behind? But even before Hollywood, it is the Russian space programme that has now sent a crew of two film professionals to the International Space Station to shoot what will be the first full length commercial movie in space. As some would point out, that is sort of in keeping with the usual script given how the Russians have notched up several firsts in the first race.

What Is The Movie The Russians Are Shooting?

Called ‘Vyzov’, or ‘Challenge’, the collaboration of Russian space agency Roscosmos, the country’s Yellow, Black and White studios and the state-owned Channel One Russia, is set to be the first full-length film to be shot in space.

The crew of three that lifted off on October 5 from the Baikonur spaceport in Kazakhstan comprised veteran cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov and two civilian passengers, actor Yulia Peresild and director Klim Shipenko. The trio docked with the International Space Station (ISS) a little over three hours later. Their arrival was not without a little drama as the Soyuz capsule, capable of docking autonomously with the ISS, had to be piloted manually by Shkaplerov following a technical glitch.

That reportedly prompted the director of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, to message to Shkaplerov that the docking “was a little dramatic at the end in order for your movie to be more dramatic".

The part that is to be shot during the 12-day stay of the two-member film crew on ISS features a doctor, played by Peresild, arriving at the space station to attend to an emergency involving a cosmonaut and space debris. Given that there are limited hands available to help with the shooting, Shkaplerov is said to be tasked with assisting in the production while also carrying out his cosmonaut duties. He will also play a cameo in the film along with two other Russian cosmonauts — Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov — who were already in ISS.

Why Is Russia Shooting A Movie In Space?

Russia, and the erstwhile USSR, have multiple firsts to their name in respect of their space programme. From the first satellite, animals, man and woman in space to the ferrying the first paying traveller — US entrepreneur Dennis Tito — to the ISS in 2001. Shooting the first full length film in space would add another feather to its cap at a time when there is feverish interest around commercial space travel thanks to companies like Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s SpaceX, all of which are pushing to bring space travel closer to ordinary humans.

Commenting on the movie mission, the Russian government said that it showcases the country’s capabilities when it comes to accessing space. “We have been pioneers in space and maintained a confident position. Such missions that help advertise our achievements and space exploration in general are great for the country,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said.

Announcing the movie in September last year, Roscosmos had said it is “aimed to popularise Russia’s space activities, as well as glorify cosmonaut profession".

Russian space boss Rogozin, for his part, is reported to have said that he had provided inputs in the script to capture the realities of space flight. “We need a better visualisation of space research. Space deserves being shown in a more professional, artful way," he said after the launch of the Russian film crew.

What About Tom Cruise’s Space Movie?

Actually, it was Nasa that had been the first to declare its intention to facilitate the shooting of a movie in space. In May last year, the US space agency’s administrator Jim Bridenstine had said that SpaceX was going to fly Cruise to the ISS for the shoot.

“I will tell you this: Nasa has been in talks with Tom Cruise and, of course, his team, and we will do everything we can to make it a successful mission, including opening up the International Space Station,” Brindestine had said. Asked about the movie plans, Musk had told a TV news programme that SpaceX was “supportive". As for Nasa, he had said, “I think Nasa is supportive of anything that captures the imagination of the public."

In fact, Bridenstine is said to have remarked that the reason Nasa created “this commercial marketplace" for space travel was so that private players can attract other customers besides the US government, which would in turn drive down costs for space exploration and increase access to space for all.

Reports say that the US movie is being developed by Cruise along with director Doug Liman. News agency Associated Press quoted Liman as saying that “there’s just a lot of technical stuff that we’re figuring out" in connection with the film.

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first published:October 10, 2021, 15:10 IST