Russian actress blasts off for out-of-this-world role, a space first

Chalking up a space first of sorts, a Russian actress, her director and a veteran cosmonaut rocketed into orbit and set off after the International Space Station early Tuesday to film scenes for a movie about a medical emergency aboard the lab complex.

With commander Anton Shkaplerov at the controls, flanked on the left by producer-director Klim Shipenko and on the right by actress Yulia Peresild, the Soyuz MS-19/65S spacecraft thundered away from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakstan at 4:55 a.m. EDT (1:55 p.m. local time).

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A Soyuz 2.1a rocket climbs away from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, boosting a Soyuz spacecraft into orbit carrying a veteran Russian cosmonaut, an actress and a producer-director who plan to film scenes for a movie aboard the ISS. Roscosmos/NASA

Live video from inside the cockpit showed all three crew members monitoring instruments and displays as the Soyuz 2.1a rocket accelerated out of the dense lower atmosphere through a clear blue sky.

After a problem-free eight-minute 45-second ascent, the spacecraft separated from the booster’s third stage, solar arrays unfolded and the crew set off on an automated two-orbit rendezvous with the space station.

The laboratory flew directly over the launch site about 33 seconds after liftoff, but moving at nearly five miles per second, the station leapfrogged ahead of the Soyuz and was 1,200 miles in front by the time the crew reached its preliminary orbit.

Cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy photographed the distant Soyuz exhaust plume from the space station, tweeting “we are waiting for you in 3 hours!”

Flying at a slightly lower altitude, and consequently moving faster than the space station, the Soyuz was expected to quickly catch up with the laboratory, moving in for a docking at the Russian Rassvet module at 8:12 a.m.

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Actress Yulia Peresild, left, and mission commander Anton Shkaplerov prepare for liftoff inside the Soyuz MS-19/65S spacecraft; director Klim Shipenko is out of view to Shkaplerov’s left. Roscosmos/NASA

On hand to welcome them aboard will be French station commander Thomas Pesquet and his three SpaceX Crew Dragon crewmates — Shane Kimbrough, Megan McArthur and Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide — along with Oleg Novitskiy, Pyotr Dubrov and NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei, who rode to orbit last April aboard the Soyuz MS-18/64S spacecraft.

Peresild and Shipenko plan to spend 12 days aboard the space station, filming in the Russian segment of the lab before returning to Earth in the Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft with Novitskiy, who will be wrapping up a 190-day mission.

Shkaplerov will remain aboard the station and return to Earth next March or April aboard the MS-29 spacecraft with Dubrov and Vande Hei, who will have logged almost a full year in orbit since launch last April 9.

In the movie, called “The Challenge,” Peresild will play a Russian doctor sent to the station to treat a critically ill cosmonaut. Shkaplerov, Novitskiy and Dubrov will assist while Shipenko acts as makeup artist, lighting director and cameraman.

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The Soyuz booster’s third stage separates eight minutes and 45 seconds after liftoff, putting the Soyuz MS-19/65S spacecraft in its planned preliminary orbit, on course for a two-orbit rendezvous with the International Space Station. Roscosmos/NASA

“This job would’ve been enormous even on Earth,” Peresild said before launch. “We’ll have ten days. But it won’t be like ten regular 12-hour shooting days, rather like two to three hours a day, when the cosmonauts will be able to work with us. The rest of time Klim and I will be shooting with only me in the frame.

“Our only task out there is shooting the film without interfering with the crew.”

The Russians frequently mention Tom Cruise when discussing their mission, citing widely reported but unsubstantiated claims the American actor is planning a similar trip.

“There was certain competitiveness involved,” Shipenko said in a translation provided by Channel One Russia. “It was making us speed up the production, the preparation process. Having a strong opponent you can compete with really matters. The fact that Tom Cruise is keen on his space project made him a strong competitor.”

NASA officials say no such visit to the space station is currently in the planning stages.