A Russian film team is setting off tomorrow with an ambitious goal to become the first crew to pull off a feature film in outer space. If successful, it will be a welcome dose of prestige for Russia’s space program at a time when its leader feels it is being belittled and disregarded. 

Yulia Peresild and director Klim Shipenko will take off alongside cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov for a 12-day posting to the International Space Station (ISS). Their film, titled “Challenge,” will be about a medical emergency in space that requires a surgeon into orbit to treat a crew mate with a heart condition. 

BBC previously reported that Peresild and Shipenko have been training since June 1 in what the famous Russian actress described in grueling terms. The training regimen included flights onboard a zero gravity plane, parachute training and a series of other tests to prepare her and Shipenko for space travel.

The film is being supported directly by Roscosmos, Russia’s state space agency, with agency head Dmitriy Rogozin set to be listed as one of the movie’s co-producers. On its website, Roscosmos touts the endeavor as a  "joint scientific and educational project" and said that the accelerated training provided to Pereselid and Shipenko will carry over to future selection to candidates for space travel who are not astronauts. 

Viewers in Russia will be able to watch coverage of the project on Russian state television Channel One in a sign of the value the government may see in the film. In a sign of the anticipation, Roscosmos even has a countdown timer on its website to track when the crew heads into orbit.

The United States' NASA will also be broadcasting the film crew's trip to the ISS, according to the station's Twitter account.  

Since the days of the Soviet Union, Russia has been a pioneer in outer space travel. It was responsible for launching the first satellite, Sputnik 1, into orbit in 1958. It was followed three years later in 1961 by the first man to go to space, Yuri Gagarin. While the space program fell into disarray in the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse, the Soviets’ leadership in outer space remains a source of pride for Russia today.

Rogozin, who is under personal U.S. and EU personal sanctionse, is considered a strong supporter of "Challenge." In June, he touted the film as a means to raise the prestige of the Russian space program and help challenge perceived Western efforts to “humiliate” it.

Russia is not the only country that signaled an interest in completing the first film in space. In May 2020, NASA and actor Tom Cruise announced a partnership to film a movie in space, but a launch date has not yet been revealed. This announcement appeared to resonate with Roscosmos, which declared its own plans for “Challenge” not long after.  

Rivaly in space has been the stuff of film scripts long before Yuri Gagarin's orbit of Earth; now Moscow aim to score another first, but this time it's the movie itself that will be shot in space Rivaly in space has been the stuff of film scripts long before Yuri Gagarin's orbit of Earth; now Moscow aim to score another first, but this time it's the movie itself that will be shot in space Photo: AFP / Dimitar DILKOFF

Travel to outer space for non-scientists has been a much discussed topic after billionaires Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson flew into orbit over the summer. While both touted the importance of their flights as breaking ground for future space tourism, it has been criticized as an example of the powerful indulging whims inaccessible to others. 

On Sept. 21, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres ripped into the billionaires’ race to space, deriding it as “joyriding to space while millions go hungry on Earth” during his opening remarks at the U.N. General Assembly.