1 of 6 | Russia plans to launch an actress and film director to the International Space Station aboard a Soyuz rocket like this Oct. 5 to make a full-length feature film in space. File Photo by Bill Ingalls | License Photo
Sept. 27 (UPI) -- Russia and the United States are ready to cross new frontiers for filming movies in space as a way to promote growing commercialization of orbital spaceflight and beyond.
Russia's space agency, Roscosmos, plans to launch a Russian actress, film director and cosmonaut to the International Space Station early next month to produce the first full-length feature film shot in space, with a working title of The Challenge.
Russian film director Klim Shipenko and actress Yulia Peresild are to spend 12 days in orbit, during which 10 days will be devoted to shooting the film.
Russia's TASS news agency describes the plot as a thriller about a doctor (Peresild) traveling suddenly to the space station to save a dying cosmonaut.
Peresild and Shipenko also trained quickly for their mission, reflecting the urgency in the script, TASS noted.
Trained cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov will pilot the mission, the first in decades to see three Russian nationals flying together.
"The space station is like a big house that consists of over 15 modules. At least seven people always stay there and when we arrive, there will be three more," Shkaplerov told TASS.
Roscosmos announced the mission just after former NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted in May 2020 that actor Tom Cruise would fly to the space station for a movie. But no date has been announced for a Cruise mission.
"More and more movies and videos will be shot in space as the price of launches falls due to competition from firms like SpaceX and Blue Origin," James Neihouse, a long-time IMAX movie cinematographer who has trained astronauts to shoot film in orbit, told UPI.
"The question is, if you've got a good story, do you really need to go to space for filming?" Neihouse said. "We have so many good films filmed with CGI [computer-generated imagery], and by using airplane flights to simulate zero gravity, that flying actors to space for up to $60 million per seat may not be necessary."
In the meantime, NASA has begun intense planning to show off planned Artemis moon missions by using numerous high-definition cameras.
While there's no firm launch date for Artemis missions, Russia is close to launching its movie endeavor.
The mission is scheduled to lift off on the Russian Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft Oct. 5 at 4:55 a.m. EDT from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
Russia previously tried to mount a similar space movie mission in 1998, but didn't raise the money required, said Jeffrey Manber, CEO of Houston-based space firm Nanoracks, who formerly worked for Russian space company Energia.
"I am sure that having NASA announce a movie project probably made it easier for them in Russia to raise the money," Manber said in an interview. "We may not be in a Cold War anymore, but Russia still wants to notch another first in space. Competition does that."
While Russia's mission has some private backing by a Russian movie studio, Yellow Black and White, and the nation's Channel One Russia TV station, it doesn't represent true commercialization of space like the United States has seen recently, Manber said.
"True commercialization of space would mean diffusion of power at Roscosmos and decentralization -- meaning many smaller organizations would have authority and funding," Manber said. "That just not happening or encouraged in Russia today."
Roscosmos also plans to air a reality TV series about training Peresild and Shipenko for a spaceflight, said Kaylin Land, course lecturer on Russian Studies at Montreal-based McGill University.
That would be similar to an ongoing Netflix series about the training and experience of the all-civilian SpaceX Inspiration4 crew, who circled the Earth for nearly three days ending Sept. 18.
It's likely both the United States and Russia will see more civilians in space, said Land, who has an interest in Russian film.
"Roscosmos has stated that this is meant to be an educational project and that they are learning how to prepare non-professional cosmonauts in a short amount of time, presumably for future flights," Land said.
"What makes the space movie cosmonauts different is that they are being trained quickly and presumably are getting paid to perform in space."
The International Space Station is pictured from the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour during a flyaround of the orbiting lab that took place following its undocking from the Harmony module’s space-facing port on November 8. Photo courtesy of NASA