On 5 October, Soyuz MS-19 took off from Baikonur with an unusual crew. At the controls of the ship was cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov for his fourth flight. With him there were no colleagues from the Russian space agency Roscosmos nor any of the partner agencies of the ISS (International Space Station), nor even a tourist, but director Klim Shipenko and actor Yulia Peresild.


Filming documentaries in space is nothing new. Cité de l’espace’s IMAX cinema in Toulouse has, for example, shown several films of this kind, some filmed by astronauts in orbit and on the ISS. “The Challenge,” on the other hand, is of a quite different nature. This is a fictional feature film which aims to shoot a large part of its sequences aboard the station to give the story a unique visual realism.

The Soyuz MS-19 crew aboard the ISS.  From left to right: actor Yulia Peresild, director Klim Shipenko with the camera and cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov.

The Soyuz MS-19 crew aboard the ISS. From left to right: actor Yulia Peresild, director Klim Shipenko with the camera and cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov.
Credit : Roscosmos/video capture Cité de l’espace.

This project is a joint venture of the Russian television channel Channel One and the Roscosmos agency. To bring this idea to fruition, an accelerated training programme of three to four months had to be developed for actor Yulia Peresild (37 years old) and director Klim Shipenko (38 years old). Furthermore, the venerable Soyuz vessel was modified to be piloted by a single person, namely Anton Shkaplerov.
This, by the way, turned out to fairly necessary, since Anton Shkaplerov had to carry out a manual docking with the station because of the failure of the automatic system …Below, a Roscosmos video promoting the idea of this production and which concludes with the arrival of Soyuz MS-19.

The script of “The Challenge” is based on the need to send a female doctor (played by Yulia Peresild) into orbit in an emergency because of an astronaut being ill and unable to return to Earth. Director Klim Shipenko knows all about space since he directed the film “Salyut 7” in 2007 which featured that station being saved. For “The Challenge,” this time he is himself undertaking several technical roles, particularly those of camera operator and director of photography. Up there, his professional cosmonaut compatriots, Oleg Novitskiy, Pyotr Dubrov and Anton Shkaplerov as well as the American Mark Vande Hei from NASA lent a helping hand. The (ambitious) aim is to get 35 to 40 minutes of sequences for the final film.
On 12 October, Commander of the station, Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency (ESA) said that he and his companions on Expedition 65 were eager to see the film.

Filming is probably finished or very largely finished, since Yulia Peresild and Klim Shipenko will return to Earth on Sunday 17 October. They will use Soyuz MS-18 for the journey which had previously arrived on 9 April. Their pilot will be Oleg Novitskiy. Indeed, Anton Shkaplerov will return on Soyuz MS-19 in late March 2022 with Pyotr Dubrov and Mark Vande Hei (who will therefore have spent 355 days in a stretch on the ISS).


“The Challenge” seems to have been launched after rumours in 2020 which suggested that American actor Tom Cruise was planning to shoot a film aboard the ISS with director Doug Liman. NASA’s boss at the time, Jim Bridenstine, had shown himself to be supportive of the idea, but did not specify whether this production was confirmed or not. With The Challenge,” NASA’s Russian counterpart, Roscosmos, is, however, going further as it is an active partner of the film. Might Roscosmos’s motivation be summed up as a desire not to let the Americans be first to shoot a fiction film in space? At a time when manned space flights are opening up to commercial activities, the question is perhaps more strategic than it seems. Let’s not forget that the first advertisements filmed in space were carried out by the Russians, for example, for the drink Pepsi in 1996 with the Mir station (video below).

It also seems that the first fiction film which included sequences which were actually shot in space was Soviet, “Return From Orbit” in 1984, which incorporated scenes filmed in the Salyut 7 station and Soyuz T-9.
So, is “The Challenge” the first fiction film shot aboard the ISS? No, because this distinction goes to … an amateur film by the space tourist Richard Garriott, “Apogee of Fear” (complete film below).

Of course, the astronauts who lent their efforts are not professional actors and it is, mainly a nice parody. “The Challenge,” on the other hand, stands out as the first feature film shot aboard the ISS by a professional team, even a reduced one consisting of an actor and a director.



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