This past week we celebrated World Space Week.
The week started by commemorating the launch of Sputnik, the first artificial satellite to be launched into space. It was the start of the space era for humanity, and one of the many firsts the Russians beat the Americans to in the great space race.
And now it appears the Russians have become the first to reach another space milestone.
Right now, about 400 kilometres above the Earth, a Russian actress is filming a movie.
Russian actress Yulia Peresild, along with director/producer Klim Shipenko, are making the movie, the translated title of which is The Challenge. The movie is about a surgeon (Peresild) who has to rush up to the International Space Station and perform life-saving surgery on a cosmonaut on board.
Unlike documentaries and news stories that have been filmed in space, this will be the first feature film to be shot beyond the Earth's atmosphere. And unlike other feature films centered around space, the space effects will not be green-screen or CGI - they will be very real.
There might even be a few effects they didn't plan on. Due to microgravity, astronauts tend to notice a slight change in their speech as their tongues move slightly differently.
Yulia is the only professional actor involved in the production - she'll be helped out by the eight other professional astronauts and cosmonauts on board the International Space Station. Whether they will be extras in the film or have to make sure they stay out of the camera's way remains to be seen.
Keep in mind the Space Station isn't that big, so they can't easily just hide or step outside for a moment. They also only have 12 days to film, so there is a lot of work to do in a short period.
For a while though, it looked like Tom Cruise might be the first person to film a movie in space. About a year ago, Tom Cruise starting talking to SpaceX and NASA about filming on the Axiom Mission 1 (which at the time was aiming for an October 2021 launch).
Axiom Space is a development company led by former NASA astronauts which aims to provide private astronaut missions (and eventually operate the world's first commercial space staion). Instead of building rockets, they are hitching rides with others as they focus on the actual space activities. Instead of representing a nation, their astronauts represent the company.
The reached an agreement with SpaceX to take four passengers to the Space Station, which would have been the first private mission into space, and Tom Cruise was going to be one of them. However, this trip was rescheduled to next year so that SpaceX could fly its own private tourism flight, Inspiration 4, last month.
It turns out Tom Cruise won't even be the first American actor in space. William Shatner - Star Trek's Captain Kirk himself - will go into space on Tuesday night aboard a Blue Origin rocket. This is the same rocket that took Jeff Bezos and three others for a short trip into space in July.
At the age of 90, Shatner will be the oldest person to have been in space. While he will only be up there for a few minutes, I think we can expect some entertaining visuals and theatrics out of him.
This is not the space race of the 1960s.
- Brad Tucker is an astrophysicist and cosmologist at Mount Stromlo Observatory and the ANU's National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science.
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