Russian film crew docks at space station to shoot movie in orbit

A Soyuz spacecraft carrying a Russian film crew docked at the International Space Station today (Oct. 5) after a short flight from Earth to begin a 12-day movie shoot in orbit. 

The Soyuz linked up with the space station at 8:22 am EDT after a four-hour trip that began with a successful launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The Soyuz ferried Russian actress Yulia Peresild and director Klim Shipenko to the station alongside veteran cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, who commanded the capsule. Peresild and Shipenko will spend the next 12 days shooting scenes for a space film called "The Challenge" on the station.

"I still feel that it's all a dream and I'm still asleep," Peresild, 37, told Russia's Channel One during a welcome ceremony on the station.

Shipenko agreed.

"Yes, it's almost impossible to think that this all came to reality," the 38-year-old director said.

The fast-track rendezvous sent the Soyuz on a two-orbit trip around Earth to reach  the International Space Station, which it did completely automatically under Shkaplerov's watchful eye. The Soyuz was also expected to dock itself at the Earth-facing Rassvet module on the station, but an communications issue forced Shkaplerov to take manual control of the capsule to dock the spacecraft.

Live updates: Soyuz MS-19 mission to the International Space Station
In photos: Russian film crew launches to the International Space Station

Peresild and Shipenko filmed scenes for their movie during the approach, prompting jokes from the Russian flight control team that the last minute drama was staged to add suspense to the plot. 

"It was a little dramatic at the end in order for your movie to be more dramatic," Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin radioed to Shkaplerov after the successful docking.

The capsule docked just as the space station was flying over the Philippines.

"So the Soyuz MS-19's safely at port, and a Russian actress and her producer-director are on set at the International Space Station for 12 days of movie making," NASA spokesperson Rob Navias said during live commentary.

During a welcome ceremony on the space station, Peresild received a congratulatory call from famed cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, who became the first woman in space in 1963 on the Vostok 6 mission.

"It was extremely emotional for everyone, from sadness to happiness," Tereshkova said of the launch in Russian, which was translated on NASA TV. "We're very proud of you," she added, saying she had only one wish for the crew.

"Everything should go nominal, that's our best wish," Tereshkova said. "We want all your dreams to come true and we'll be waiting for you back here on Earth."

In a brief exchange with the ground control before boarding the station, Peresild and Shipenko said they enjoyed the sunrises and sunsets they saw during the flight.

The two will spend 12 days aboard the station filming "The Challenge" with Peresild in a role of a surgeon sent to the space station to treat a cosmonaut struck by a heart attack during a spacewalk. Cosmonaut Oleg Novitsky will portray the ailing space traveler. Most of the filming will take place in the Russian segment of the space station but some scenes will be filmed in the Earth-viewing cupola, which is attached to the Tranquility Node of the U.S. segment.

The two flight participants will have to be escorted when outside the Russian segment of the station. 

Novitsky and Pyotr Dubrov filmed the approach of the Soyuz capsule from aboard the space station. Dubrov and Shkaplerov, too, are expected to appear in the film. 

The filmmakers will return to Earth on Oct. 17 together with Novitsky, who is wrapping up a months-long trip to the station. To accommodate the film project, the first-ever professional movie shot at the space station, the missions of Dubrov and American astronaut Mark Vande Hei, who arrived with Novitsky in April, had to be extended by six months

They are now expected to return in April with Shkaplerov. This extension will make Vande Hei's space trip the longest of all American astronauts in history.

Peresild, Shipenko and Shkaplerov launched into space at 4:55 a.m. EDT (0855 GMT or 1:55 p.m. local time) on Tuesday (Oct. 5) on a Soyuz 2.1a rocket that was specially decorated for the movie.

Editor's note: This story, originally posted at 10:31 a.m. EDT, was updated at 12:31 p.m. EDT with details of the crew's entry into the International Space Station and welcome ceremony.

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Tereza Pultarova
Senior Writer

Tereza is a London-based science and technology journalist, aspiring fiction writer and amateur gymnast. Originally from Prague, the Czech Republic, she spent the first seven years of her career working as a reporter, script-writer and presenter for various TV programmes of the Czech Public Service Television. She later took a career break to pursue further education and added a Master's in Science from the International Space University, France, to her Bachelor's in Journalism and Master's in Cultural Anthropology from Prague's Charles University. She worked as a reporter at the Engineering and Technology magazine, freelanced for a range of publications including Live Science,, Professional Engineering, Via Satellite and Space News and served as a maternity cover science editor at the European Space Agency.