Russian film team boldly shoot towards space station

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Media caption,

The flight was broadcast live on Russian TV

Russia has taken the lead in a space race with a difference, sending a team to the International Space Station to shoot a feature film ahead of an American crew.

Yulia Peresild, 37, is set to star in the film, directed by Klim Shipenko.

Their Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft took off from Baikonur in Kazakhstan, and three hours later docked with the International Space Station.

US actor Tom Cruise and Nasa have also been planning to make a film there.

There was more than a touch of show business glamour when the Soyuz crew launched on Tuesday, as the TV cameras focused on Peresild and her 12-year-old daughter Anna, who was watching from a safe distance.

It was from the Kazakh steppes where camels and susliks (ground squirrels) roam, rather than in the studios of Hollywood, that real actors went into space, said Russia's Komsomolskaya Pravda website. Shipenko's actress wife Sofia Karpunina noted that the director had had to shed 15kg (33lbs) beforehand.

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
There was more than a whiff of show business as the crew headed to the launch site

The launch, led by cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, went according to plan at 11:55 Moscow time (08:55 GMT). "The crew is feeling well," said the commander shortly after take-off.

The Soyuz docked with the ISS a little over three hours afterwards. However, it was a little later than planned as the Soyuz's automatic Kurs docking system failed and the commander had to switch to manual control.

Shkaplerov would normally have had the help of a flight engineer but his two colleagues would have been unable to help him, despite their fast-track flight training.

Image source, Roscosmos
Image caption,
Automatic docking of the Soyuz was unsuccessful

Eventually the hatch connecting the Soyuz to the ISS opened and the crew joined the seven others waiting in the Russian section of the ISS.

"The hatch is open! Everything as planned," tweeted Roscosmos space agency chief Dmitry Rogozin.

Image source, Roscosmos
Image caption,
The hatch was eventually opened and Peresild and her fellow crew members entered the ISS

Although Shkaplerov will stay on board, director and actress have just 12 days to film their scenes in space, with Peresild playing a cardiac surgeon sent into orbit to save a cosmonaut. Two of the Russian cosmonauts already on board, Oleg Novitsky and Pyotr Dubrov, will also take part in the film, reports say.

Filming will take part in the Russian section of the ISS and the mission has proved contentious in Russia's space industry.

The feature film is the brainchild of the Roscosmos chief, who at one point fired the space agency's head of crewed missions in a row over the project.

Sergei Krikalev, a veteran of space missions, got his job back days later amid widespread anger at his sacking.

Another cosmonaut, Mikhail Kornienko, told BBC Russian he was one of many who were opposed to it. "The ISS is no place for performers, all sorts of clowns or tourists. It's a huge space lab and you shouldn't get in the way of professional work."

The film is being funded by Russia's Channel One TV, and a Roscosmos subsidiary said it would not require money from the federal budget.

Russia's space agency has had a troubled few years, with corruption overshadowing the construction of a cosmodrome in the Far East.

Its long-delayed Nauka laboratory finally arrived at the space station during the summer, 14 years after it was due to for launch.

Russia has warned it could pull out of the ISS within four years, because of its ageing hardware on board.