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Russian crew docks with International Space Station to film 'The Challenge'

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We have a report now on the latest place for on-location filmmaking. A Russian film crew docked at the International Space Station, intending to make the world's first-ever movie in orbit. Charles Maynes reports from Moscow.

CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: Before crowds of well-wishers at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, Russian actress Yulia Peresild and film director Klim Shipenko blasted off into space aboard a Soyuz MS-19 rocket Tuesday morning. It might have been part of the film already.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Non-English language spoken).

MAYNES: In the press conference before the launch, their real-life cosmonaut captain, Anton Shkaplerov, seemed more worried about upcoming scenes than piloting the rocket on his own.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANTON SHKAPLEROV: (Through interpreter) I hope the director will tell me what to do and what to say and when to keep my mouth shut.

MAYNES: Over the next 12 days on set at the International Space Station, the group's mission is to film "The Challenge," a movie about a female surgeon who's unexpectedly sent to the ISS to save an ailing cosmonaut.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

YULIA PERESILD: (Non-English language spoken).

MAYNES: Peresild, the film's lead, says she just wants to make a good movie despite the challenging circumstances. After all, this is the first movie with real actors made in real space, and it's beating out some better-known competition.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TOM CRUISE: What an incredible sight - a Hollywood special effect, you're thinking. But no. It's for real.

MAYNES: Actor Tom Cruise, heard here narrating from Earth a 2002 documentary about the then-new ISS was planning his own space movie in partnership with NASA and Elon Musk's SpaceX.

VITALY EGOROV: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: Journalist Vitaly Egorov says Russia's space agency made no secret of their rush to beat Cruise to the stars and with good reason.

EGOROV: (Through interpreter) This project promotes our space program and shows it hasn't gathered cobwebs, that we're still flying and can come up with interesting ideas.

MAYNES: Russia's once-vaunted Soviet space program has faced financial cutbacks and new competition from SpaceX, Jeff Bezos' New Horizons and other players like China. In that sense, "The Challenge" is a reboot of that classic Cold War genre, the space race.

EGOROV: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: "Competitors help each other by pushing everyone to new achievements," says Egorov. For Russia's space industry today, that means, hopefully, the beginning of a new Russian age in amateur space travel and, yes, film.

Charles Maynes, NPR News, Moscow.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In this report, we incorrectly identify Jeff Bezos’ spaceflight company as New Horizons. In fact, it is called Blue Origin.]

(SOUNDBITE OF AK'S "WANDERLUST") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: October 5, 2021 at 11:00 PM CDT
In this report, we incorrectly identify Jeff Bezos' spaceflight company as New Horizons. In fact, it is called Blue Origin.