Russian crew wraps trailblazing movie in space, safely returns to Earth

After filming the first movie in space, Russian actress Yulia Peresild, producer-director Klim Shipenko and cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy have safely returned home.

After saying farewell to the rest of the astronauts and cosmonauts on the International Space Station and closing the hatch at 4:41 p.m. ET on October 16, their Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft undocked from the station at 9:14 p.m.

The spacecraft experienced deorbit burn at 11:42 p.m., and they made a parachute-assisted landing on the steppe of Kazakhstan at 12:35 a.m. ET (10:35 a.m. Kazakhstan time) on October 17.

Head of Roscosmos Dmitry Rogozin was there to greet the crew as they were removed from the capsule. Film crews were rolling to shoot additional scenes for the movie at the landing site.

Helicopters will retrieve the crew and deliver them to Karaganda, Kazakhstan, and then they’ll head to the training base in Star City, Russia, via an aircraft. Peresild and Shipenko will undergo a 10-day rehab program to help them readjust to their return to Earth after spending 12 days in space.

The crew’s return to Earth comes on the heels of a scheduled thruster firing test of the Soyuz spacecraft Friday morning while it was still docked with the space station. At 5:13 a.m. ET Friday, the thruster firing continued unexpectedly after the test was scheduled to end. This resulted in a loss of orientation control for the space station.

“Within 30 minutes, flight controllers regained attitude control of the space station, which is now in a stable configuration,” according to NASA. “The crew was awake at the time of the event and was not in any danger.”

The agency and Roscosmos are working together to understand the cause as flight controllers evaluate the data. The space station also experienced a “spacecraft emergency” in July.

Peresild and Shipenko traveled to the space station alongside veteran Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov on October 5, encountering a bit of real-life drama — in the form of communications issues — while docking to the space station. Over the course of 12 days, they filmed their movie, “Challenge,” the first feature film shot in space.

The movie will tell the story of a surgeon, played by Peresild, who has to operate on a sick cosmonaut in space, portrayed by Novitskiy, because the cosmonaut’s medical condition prevents him from returning to Earth to be treated. Filming for the movie continued during the crew farewells and hatch closing.

The film is being made under a commercial agreement between Roscosmos and Moscow-based media entities Channel One and studio Yellow, Black and White.

Shkaplerov will stay on the space station and return to Earth in March with NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei and Roscosmos cosmonaut Pyotr Dubrov on the Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft. When Vande Hei lands after his 355 consecutive days on the space station, he will have completed the longest single spaceflight by an astronaut in US history, according to NASA.

Novitskiy’s return to Earth on Sunday morning comes after spending 191 days in space on his third mission, and he will have logged 531 days in space across three separate flights.

In addition to Shkaplerov, Vande Hei and Dubrov, the current crew on the space station includes European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet; NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur; and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Akihiko Hoshide.

Filming in space

A few films have been shot on board the space station, including a 2002 IMAX documentary that Tom Cruise narrated. “Apogee of Fear,” a 2012 science fiction film clocking in at about eight minutes, was also filmed in space by entrepreneur and space tourist Richard Garriott, the son of an astronaut.

Tom Cruise and director Doug Liman revealed in 2020 that they were working together on a movie to be filmed in space, with NASA’s cooperation. The project is being developed in collaboration with Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Reports have suggested that Cruise’s stay on the space station could also occur in October, but no definitive date for his launch has been shared — although he did chat with the all-civilian SpaceX Inspiration 4 crew during their recent trip to space.

But Russia has become the first nation to shoot a feature film in space.

Peresild and Shipenko, who are well-known in Russia, were selected after the country’s space agency, Roscosmos, opened a competition for applicants in November ((2020?)). Peresild has appeared in a number of Russian films and TV series, while Shipenko’s 2020 movie “Serf” was one of Russia’s highest-grossing films.

The two civilians underwent rigorous training ahead of their space jaunt. Along with understudies, the actor and the director prepared by doing centrifuge and vibration stand tests, training flights in zero gravity, and parachute training, all of which were covered by Channel One.

Other cosmonauts on board, including Novitskiy, assisted and acted as part of the film crew since production resources were more limited in the space environment.

The film “is a part of a large-scale scientific and educational project, which also includes a series of documentaries to be shot about the rocket and space industry enterprises and specialists involved in the manufacturing of launch vehicles, spacecraft, and ground space infrastructure. The project will become a clear example of the fact that spaceflights are gradually becoming available not only for professionals, but also for an increasingly wider range of those interested,” according to Roscosmos.

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