Stars to the Stars

Paula LabrotBy Paula Labrot

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Stars to the Stars
Photo by NASA From left: Russian actress, Yulia Peresild, director Klim Shipenko, and cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov flying to the International Space Station is the latest space race: The first film to be made in space. They hope to beat out Tom Cruise, who is also trying to produce a movie in space.
William Shatner may have been the oldest person to travel to space, but he is not the first actor. On October 5, in an historic first, a Soyuz space capsule carrying a cosmonaut, a Russian actor and a Russian film director, blasted off the planet to shoot the first feature movie made in space. The Challenge is the story of a woman doctor who must go to space to save a cosmonaut’s life. The “set” is the real International Space Station (ISS), 220 miles above Earth. Cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov flew actress Yulia Peresild and director Klim Shipenko to the ISS in a space capsule to film scenes for the movie. Stiff Competition for the Part Yulia Peresild, mother of two, was already an established actress when she applied for the part in The Challenge. Born in 1984 in a border town, Pskov, in the northwest of Russia, she always dreamed of getting away from the violence surrounding her. “Shootings, fights, drunkards and junkies. I saw it all,” she said. “Someone could easily take out a pneumatic gun and open fire inside a club. You could get them in kiosks, right next to the Bounty bars. We were a border city, after all.” She packed up, left and sat exams in Moscow for theater college while sleeping in train station bathrooms. The girl with a dream rose to become an international star. Peresild beat out a lot of competition for the privilege of being the first actor in space. There were 3000 applicants. According to Yekkaterina Sinelschikova, writing for Russian Beyond, “The list included pilots, psychologists and scientists. She passed creative and medical exams before committing to the three-month cosmonaut training, which included the centrifuge, survival in the wilderness (in case the capsule lands off target), flying in zero gravity and other fun stuff.” The Director Klim Shipenko has directed several films including Salyut-7, the story of how Russian cosmonauts traveled to the badly damaged Salyut-7 space station which had gone radio silent back in the 1980s. The heroic cosmonauts made it functional again. Shipenko, along with Peresild, underwent the months of accelerated and rigorous cosmonaut training, including learning to sleep vertically in weightlessness. At six feet, two inches, Shipenko is unusually tall for space travel. At the time of launch on October 5, Shipenko was ready to call “action” in space. He acted, not only as a director, but, also, as cinematographer, make-up man, and gaffer. He jokes about knowing he can now make a movie by himself. A Few Glitches Every good story has to have obstacles for the protagonists to overcome, and filming The Challenge definitely had its own moments of tension. When the crew arrived at the ISS, there was a glitch in the docking mechanisms of the capsule. Cosmonaut Shkaplerov had to connect to the ISS manually. Due to the effects of weightlessness, people’s faces tend to swell up in space. Yulia Peresild is quoted, “This is a sore point. We thought about this a lot, we have life hacks from astronauts. On the other hand, you understand that weightlessness is weightlessness. You will see me on Earth in my usual guise, but then bear with me.” On the return trip, after 12 days in space, cosmonaut Oleg Novitskywho had been on the ISS for six months, was tasked with bringing the actress, director and footage back to earth, while Shkaplerov would be left to take his place. According to The Guardian, “when Russian flight controllers on Friday conducted a test on the Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft. the ship’s thruster fired unexpectedly and destabilized the ISS for 30 minutes.” The Soyuz M-18 space craft left on schedule, however, and Novitsky, who had played the part of the cosmonaut needing medical help in the story, ferried his historic crew back to Earth, landing in the desert in Kazakhstan. Mission(s) Accomplished The challenge of being the first to make a feature film in space is not just an artistic endeavor. As with everything these days, it is also political. The Soviets have a long list of firsts when it comes to space travel, but it has been falling behind the United States and China in the global space race. According to the BBC, “for Roscosmos (Russia’s space agency), the film must restore a reputation tarnished by corruption scandals, serial blackouts and the loss of the lucrative monopoly of manned flights to the ISS.” And then…there is Tom Cruise. Cruise is trying to produce a movie in space in collaboration with NASA and Space X. Roscosmos so wants to be first! It’s a new kind of space race. As for Peresild and Shipenko, they have found their place in history. Peresild wishes she had more time on the ISS, Shipenko wants to make a movie on Mars and Roscosmos is building up space tourism dollars, scheduling trips for Japanese billionaires into space. Vamos a ver!
Paula Labrot

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October 29, 2021