Russia is going to beat the pawn at NASA. The country sends this Tuesday, October 5 an actress and a director in space to shoot the first feature film in orbit in history and thus score symbolic points against American competitors after years of disappointment. Accompanied by a seasoned cosmonaut, actress Yulia Peressild, 37, and director Klim Chipenko, 38, flew to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard a Soyuz rocket from the Russian Baikonur Cosmodrome, in Kazakhstan. The challenge is to get ahead of Tom Cruise’s space film project, whose schedule is not known.

The Russian team will have twelve days to shoot the space sequences of a film provisionally entitled The Challenge, a work whose budget is kept secret and which will feature a doctor whose mission is to save a cosmonaut. At a press conference on Monday, the director and actress appeared relaxed. This first fictional feature film in space will be an “experience”, said Klim Chipenko, who will handle the camera, make-up and lighting in the cramped space of the Russian segment of the ISS. “I have no one to ask for advice. I have no cameraman to ask how to film in the light of the window,” he noted.

Beyond this artistic first, this trip should allow Moscow to score a point against the American rival, in a context of growing tensions. For the Russian space agency Roscosmos, the film must restore a coat of arms tarnished by corruption scandals, serial failures and the loss of the lucrative monopoly of manned flights to the ISS with the entry into the running of the company SpaceX of Elon Musk.

For Roscosmos, it is therefore a question of “triumphing over NASA and Space X” and “diverting attention from (its) problems,” political scientist Konstantin Kalatchev told AFP. The Russian agency had abruptly revealed its film project last year, after the announcement of a filming project aboard the ISS with Tom Cruise, the star of the Mission Impossible saga. The two first-time space travelers, two figures of Russian cinema, underwent accelerated training to learn to withstand the violent acceleration of take-off or to move in zero gravity.

Sign of the importance of this project for Moscow, the producers of the film are heavyweights: Dmitri Rogozine, director of Roscosmos and former Deputy Prime Minister, and Konstantin Ernst, boss of the television channel Pervyi Kanal. The latter notably staged some of the greatest moments of the reign of Vladimir Putin: military parades, presidential investitures, ceremonies of the Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014.

The country therefore intends to join the space tourism race, which has accelerated in recent months with the flights of American billionaires Jeff Bezos and British Richard Branson. It must thus propel, in December, a Japanese billionaire in space.

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