More than 60 years after the Soviet Union beat the U.S. into orbit with the launch of its Sputnik satellite, a new space race is heating up between the two rivals. And once again, the Russians are claiming bragging rights with plans to produce the first feature film shot in outer space, ahead of Tom Cruise’s upcoming $200-million space epic.
“The Challenge” is the story of a Russian doctor who’s sent to the International Space Station to save the life of a cosmonaut. If all goes according to plan, the production team will lift off next month on a 12-day mission to pull off the historic first.
A collaboration between Russian space agency Roscosmos, public broadcaster Channel One, and leading studio Yellow, Black and White, “The Challenge” will be directed by Klim Shipenko, whose blockbuster comedy “Son of a Rich” is Russia’s highest-grossing film of all time. The movie stars Yulia Peresild, a veteran screen and stage actor who was cast after a country-wide talent search last spring.
The production team received a crash course in space travel earlier this year at the Yuri Gagarin Center for Cosmonaut Training. On Thursday, a commission of medical and safety experts from the center gave the project approval to go ahead.
Shipenko and Peresild are scheduled to blast into orbit on Oct. 5 in a Soyuz spaceship piloted by Anton Shkaplerov, a veteran cosmonaut, with a backup crew on standby in the event of any last-minute medical problems.
At a news conference in Moscow on Thursday, Peresild said it was “too late” to be afraid of the cosmic task ahead. “If you’re afraid of wolves, you shouldn’t go into the forest,” she told reporters, adding: “There is just no time left for fear.”
Shipenko fielded questions about the crew’s diet in outer space, insisting they’ll have more variety than in an Earth-bound restaurant, and quipped about learning to use a spoon in zero gravity.
Last year NASA announced that it was partnering with Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Tom Cruise to shoot a movie that would be partly filmed aboard the International Space Station. Directed by Doug Liman, the untitled pic was rumored to have a budget of $200 million.
Roscosmos then announced its own plans to shoot an out-of-this-world feature, hoping to achieve liftoff before its Hollywood counterpart.
Konstantin Ernst, CEO of the movie’s commissioner Channel One, played down the notion of a new space race heating up the cosmos, noting that “cinema isn’t sports.”
“We certainly would have preferred arriving at the International Space Station at the same time with Tom Cruise. We would have enjoyed shooting the film together much better,” Ernst told Variety.
The Russian super-producer drew a comparison to the first manned international space mission, which was conducted jointly by the U.S. and the Soviet Union in 1975, adding: “Since we have got a chance to travel there earlier, we will certainly use it.”
Channel One will broadcast the launch on Oct. 5 and offer livestreams in multiple languages across its web platforms. Ernst described it as “a breathtaking reality show and a chance to attract millions of TV viewers.
“At the age of 12, I was a member of the young cosmonaut club hoping to fly into space,” he added. “For me personally, this is a childhood dream coming true.”
It remains unclear when Cruise’s untitled feature will take off, but the duelling missions come amid a growing wave of amateur space exploration. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos blasted off earlier this year in a rocket built by his company Blue Origin, and on Wednesday, Musk’s SpaceX sent four Americans into orbit in what was the first space flight without a professional astronaut onboard.