Video: Yulia Peresild becomes the first person with Estonian roots to visit space

Russian actress Yulia Peresild was on 5 October flown to the International Space Station to shoot scenes for an upcoming Russian film – the first time a full-length movie is being shot in space.

Yulia Peresild, whose ancestors were from Estonia, and filmmaker Klim Shipenko were launched to space onboard the Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The flight that took just three hours was run by Roscosmos, the Russian Federation’s state corporation responsible for space flights.

Soyuz MS-19 launch on 5 October.

The filmmakers were flown to the International Space Station with cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov and will return to Earth on 17 October onboard the Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft, with cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy in charge of the flight.

Soyuz MS-19 hatch opening, after docking with ISS.

The first feature film to be filmed in space

The actress was selected after an open competition for the lead role in the first feature film to be filmed in space was announced in late 2020. Roscosmos said Peresild and Shipenko were selected based on “medical and creative selection”. Prior to their flight, they had to take centrifuge tests, vibration stand tests, perform introductory and training flights on a zero-gravity plane and undergo parachute training.

Roscosmos said the film, called “The Challenge”, is a part of a “large-scale scientific and educational project”, which also includes a series of documentaries to be shot about the rocket and space industry enterprises and specialists involved in the manufacturing of launch vehicles, spacecraft and ground space infrastructure. “The project will become a clear example of the fact that spaceflights are gradually becoming available not only for professionals, but also for an increasingly wider range of those interested.”

Yulia Peresild and the rest of the Soyuz MS-19 crew before the launch on 5 October 2021. Picture courtesy of Roscosmos.

According to the New York Times, “The Challenge” is about a surgeon, played by Peresild, “who embarks on an emergency mission to the space station to save an ailing cosmonaut’s life”. NASA – the US agency responsible for the country’s space programme and a collaboration partner in the International Space Station – said on 5 October that Novitsky, one of the Russian astronauts onboard the station, will play the role of the sick cosmonaut.

Peresild had Estonian ancestors

Yulia Peresild’s Estonian surname comes from her Estonian great grandparents, who were deported to Russia. She was born in Pskov – a town in Russia, located about 20 kilometers (12 miles) east from the Estonian border, on the Velikaya River. 

She graduated from the Russian Academy of Theatre Arts and became a stage actress for various theatres, including the Moscow-based State Theatre of Nations.

Her on-screen breakthrough came in the role of Sofia in “The Edge” – a Russian drama film that was nominated for the 2010 Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Further success followed when she played the role of Soviet sniper Lyudmila Pavlichenko in the 2015 Russian-Ukrainian biographical war film, “Battle for Sevastopol”.

Yulia Peresild. Picture courtesy of Roscosmos.

The Soyuz MS-19 that took Peresild to the ISS, was the 147th flight of a crewed Soyuz spacecraft that was originally designed for the Soviet space programme in the 1960s. The spacecraft was launched on a Soyuz rocket – based on the technology that debuted in the Soviet Union in 1966.

Americans and Russians collaborate in space

Although the technology behind the Soyuz may sound ancient, in the past decade it served as the only means to make crewed space flights and the only means to reach the ISS – after the retirement of the American space shuttles in 2011. Hence, the ageing Soviet-Russian rockets also took the US astronauts to the ISS, until the first flight of SpaceX Crew Dragon Demo 2 in May 2020.

Without an American astronaut, the Soyuz MS-19 flight on 5 October marked the first time in more than 21 years that a Soyuz crew only included Russian cosmonauts and travellers.

The International Space Station is a modular space station. It is a multinational collaborative project between NASA (US), Roscosmos (Russia), JAXA (Japan), ESA (Europe) and CSA (Canada). The station serves as a space environment research laboratory, but it is also suited for testing possible future long-duration missions to the Moon and Mars.

The crew of the International Space Station on 5 October 2021: Oleg Novitskiy, Pyotr Dubrov, Anton Shkaplerov, Klim Shipenko, Yulia Peresild, Mark Vande Hei, Shane Kimbrough, Megan MacArthur, Tomas Pesquet and Akihiko Hoshide. Picture courtesy of Roscosmos.

The ISS is the ninth space station to be inhabited by crews, following the Soviet and later Russian stations and the US Skylab station. It is the largest artificial object in space and the largest satellite in low Earth orbit, regularly visible to the naked eye from Earth’s surface.

Peresild is the first person with Estonian roots to visit space. In 2018, an American astronaut Nicole Aunapu Mann, whose grandfather was Estonian, was selected for US space flights – however, she has not yet made the flight.

Cover: Yulia Peresild. Picture courtesy of Roscosmos.

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