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The first feature film shot in space premiered in Russian cinemas on Thursday, as Moscow exulted in beating a rival Hollywood project amid a confrontation with the West. 


“The Challenge” is about a surgeon dispatched to the International Space Station (ISS) to save an injured cosmonaut. Russia sent an actress and a film director for a 12-day stint on the ISS in October 2021 to film scenes aboard the orbiting laboratory.

The Russian crew beat a Hollywood project announced in 2020 by “Mission Impossible” star Tom Cruise together with NASA and Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Russian President Vladimir Putin has lauded the film, saying: “We are the first to have shot a feature film in orbit, aboard a spacecraft. Once again the first.”

The Soviet Union pioneered space travel and the film crew’s mission added to a long list of firsts for Russia’s space industry after several setbacks, including botched launches. In “The Challenge” a surgeon played by 38-year-old Yulia Peresild — one of Russia’s most glamorous actresses — is sent to the ISS to save a cosmonaut injured during a spacewalk. 

Director Klim Shipenko, 39, who was in charge of camera, lighting and sound, brought back 30 hours of footage, 50 minutes of which were used in the final cut.

‘We are Russia’

Peresild and Shipenko underwent training for four months before going to space on a Soyuz spacecraft accompanied by a cosmonaut.

The sequences were shot in the Russian module of the ISS and featured cameo appearances by three Russian cosmonauts stationed there at the time. The camera followed Peresild moving through the cramped space, her blonde hair floating in zero gravity. 

Ahead of the film’s release, the capsule which brought Peresild and Shipenko back to Earth was put on display in central Moscow. Tatyana Kulikova, who works at a factory in the city of Ufa, said she looked foward to watching the movie. “We are Russia, and Russia is always ahead,” the 45-year-old told AFP.

The film was a joint project of space agency Roscosmos and top Russian TV network Channel One, whose boss Konstantin Ernst did not hide his joy in beating Hollywood. “We are all fans of ‘Gravity’,” Ernst told reporters on Monday, referring to the Hollywood blockbuster starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.

“But our ‘Challenge’ shot in actual weightlessness shows that was just CGI” in Hollywood films, he said, referring to computer-generated imagery. According to Ernst, the film cost less than a billion rubles ($12 million), although the price tag of the entire project has not been revealed.