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Actress and moon-bound billionaire to film on space station missions

May 13, 2021

— A Russian actress and a moon-bound Japanese billionaire, along with their director and production assistant, respectively, will launch on missions to the International Space Station later this year.

Yulia Peresild, a 36-year-old award-winning actress, and director Klim Shipenko, 37, will fly with cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov of Russia's state space corporation Roscosmos on the Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft to film the feature film "Challenge," a joint project between Roscosmos, Russia's Channel One and Yellow, Black and White studios.

The Soyuz MS-19 crew is scheduled to launch for the space station from Russia's Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on a 12-day mission beginning Oct. 5.

Two months later, on Dec. 8, Yusaku Maezawa, a 45-year-old e-commerce entrepreneur, and Yozo Hirano, 35, a film producer who will document Maezawa's flight, will launch with Roscosmos cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin on Soyuz MS-20. The short-stay mission, organized by the U.S. space tourism company Space Adventures, will serve as an introduction to spaceflight for Maezawa, who is also booked to fly around the moon on a SpaceX Starship in 2023.

"I'm so curious 'what's life like in space'? So, I am planning to find out on my own and share with the world on my YouTube channel," Maezawa said in a statement on Thursday (May 13).

Casting call

Peresild's selection for the Soyuz MS-19 crew came after an open casting call that resulted in about 3,000 women applying for the seat. Roscosmos first announced the opportunity in November 2020, with the intention of not only filming the first feature film in space. but also demonstrating that it could select, train and launch a crew member on an accelerated schedule.

"This is a kind of space experiment. The actress selected by a competition and a medical commission will have to perform the functions of an astronaut-researcher and become a full-fledged member of the crew," said Dmitry Rogozin, the director general of Roscosmos.

To be eligible, candidates needed to be Russian women, 25 to 45 years old, who stood between 4.9 and 5.9 feet tall (150 to 180 cm) and weighed between 110 and 165 pounds (50 and 75 kg). They also needed professional acting skills and have a basic knowledge of English.

Twenty finalists chosen by the film's creative team underwent medical screens for the final selection.

"As a result of medical and creative selection, the State Commission recommended to nominate Yulia Peresild and Klim Shipenko as the prime crew," Roscosmos said, "and Alyona Mordovina and Alexey Dudin as the backup crew."

Peresild has appeared in almost two dozen Russian films and numerous television shows. The National Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences of Russia honored her with the Golden Eagle Award for best actress in a supporting role for her performance in the 2010 movie "The Edge," which was also nominated for the Golden Globe for best foreign language film by the Hollywood Foreign Press.

Shipenko's credits include directing the 2017 Russian movie "Salyut 7," which was based on the Soyuz T-13 mission to the last of Russia's Salyut space stations.

"Without directors, films cannot be shot under water, on Earth or in Antarctica. Not in space as well," said Shipenko. "Therefore, apart from desire, I also have a need to be there. This project is a very necessary experiment for cinematography, which will give an idea of what it is like to shoot a space film not on Earth, but honestly in space."

Peresild and Shipenko will fly with Shkaplerov, a veteran of three long-duration expeditions to the space station, on Soyuz MS-19. The actress and director will then return on Soyuz MS-18 with cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy, leaving Shkaplerov to join the station's crew. As a result of Peresild and Shipenko's flight, cosmonaut Pyotr Dubrov and NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei's planned six-month expedition will be extended to upwards of a year.

That's no moon

Maezawa and Hirano will spend three months training at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia begininning in June.

The news of Maezawa's flight came as a surprise, given rumors of other "space tourists" (formally, spaceflight participants) being assigned to the Soyuz MS-20 mission and his own comments about looking forward to experiencing spaceflight for the first time on the dearMoon mission. In regards to the latter, Maezawa, a noted art collector, began recruiting artists for the circumlunar flight crew in March.

"We are honored to have enabled this opportunity for him to fly to space," said Eric Anderson, chairman and CEO of Space Adventures. "He will be flying on the respected Soyuz spacecraft, visiting the space station as have our previous spaceflight participant clients. This is the first time two SFPs will fly together, and the first tourist mission to the ISS in a decade! Welcome to space, Yusaku!"

As currently scheduled, Maezawa and Hirano's mission will come after SpaceX's Inspiration4 mission, which will launch a U.S. billionaire, an ambassador for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and two contest winners on a multi-day flight into Earth orbit in September. Another SpaceX mission, Axiom Space-1 (Ax-1), is slated for January with three private astronauts and a former NASA astronaut as their commander for a two-week visit to the space station.

Space Adventures previously arranged for seven spaceflight participants to fly on eight missions ot the space station between 2001 and 2009.


Actress Yulia Peresild and billionaire Yusaku Maezawa have been announced as launching to the International Space Station on separate Russian Soyuz missions in October and December 2021 to be filmed in orbit. (Roscosmos/Yulia Peresild/Yusaku Maezawa)

"Challenge," the first feature film to be shot in space, is jointly being produced by Roscosmos, Russia's Channel One and Yellow, Black and White studios. (Roscosmos)

Director Klim Shipenko will fly with actress Yulia Peresild on Soyuz MS-19 to film "Challenge" aboard the space station. (Roscosmos)

Production assistant Yozo Hirano will launch on Soyuz MS-20 to document Yusaku Maezawa's first spaceflight. (Space Adventures)

Prime and backup crew members for Soyuz MS-19, from left to right: director Klim Shipenko, backup director Alexey Dudin, actress Yulia Peresild, her backup Alena Mordovina and Galina Kairova, who did not make the crew but was invited to continue training as a cosmonaut. (Roscosmos)

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