Star Wars: Can Russia beat Tom Cruise to the first movie in space?

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 Tom Cruise vs Yulia Peresild
Tom Cruise vs Yulia Peresild

Russia joined America on Thursday in a new space race to boldly go where no actors have gone before.

Roscosmos, the Russian Space Agency, confirmed last night it would send an actress and a director to the International Space Station in October to make what they hope is the first feature film in the cosmos.

But they face opposition from Tom Cruise, who has teamed up with Elon Musk in a bid to send the Mission Impossible actor to the International Space Station to also film a movie in October.

Russia's film, Challenge, is a joint project of the state-owned Channel One, a private production company and Roscosmos, which is hoping to rekindle the Soviet-era reverence for space exploration.

Konstantin Ernst, the director general of Channel One and the creative brain behind the opening and closing ceremonies for Russia’s 2014 Olympics in Sochi, said: “It's important for us not only to help Roscosmos with this project but also bring back all the energy, people’s love and passion about the subject of manned space flights."

Russia's space agency has lost out to Nasa in recent years, which has launched ambitious plans for a return to the moon and a trip to Mars with the help of Mr Musk's Space X.

The final frontier? Or the set of another blockbuster?
The final frontier? Or the set of another blockbuster?

Mr Cruise will travel to the ISS in a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule to film a movie with Bourne Identity director Doug Liman, it was confirmed last year.

The project has not publicly released a date but the Space Shuttle Almanac, which tracks space launches, tweeted that records indicate the filmmakers were looking at an October launch.

Russia selected the 'crew' for its mission on Thursday, with Yulia Peresild, known for Russian blockbusters, and director Klim Shipenko passing a physical exam for the pioneering project.

They will have to undergo training, including tests on a centrifuge and flights in zero gravity, starting no later than June 1.

The plot is meant to be top secret, but the state-owned news agency RIA Novosti quoted an industry source saying that Ms Peresild, a 36-year-old mother of two, will play a female surgeon who is traveling into space to tend to a critically injured cosmonaut aboard the station.

Russia’s State Space Commission in a traditional ceremony at Russia’s space centre in Star City north of Moscow, on Thursday also confirmed the production’s back-up crew of another actress and a cameraman.

Roscosmos last year announced an open call for everyone who would wish to go into space and star in the film.

The two chosen actresses, the film director and the cameraman will be trained in parachuting, dealing with weightlessness and responding to potential emergencies onboard the space station among other things.

“There’s a lot of hard work ahead,” Dmitry Rogozin, head of Roscosmos, said.

Mr Shipenko, who directed some of Russia’s biggest box-office hits in recent years, said in an interview with the Rossiyskaya Gazeta last month that he dreamt of becoming a cosmonaut when he was a child and cited “Gravity”, a 2013 film starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, as an inspiration for his new film

“Space is something enigmatic and mystifying,” he said. “The film industry has always been mesmerised by it.”

The Soviet space programme which sent the first human into space in 1961 was one indisputable achievement of the Communist regime.

But years of chronic underfunding and a brain-drain has brought Russia’s space industry face to face with a lack of long-term vision for space exploration as Russia still relies on Soviet space legacy, and its modern projects never seem to go beyond the blueprint stage.

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