Russian actress Peresild calls for more attention on scientific exploration
New space odyssey
Published: Mar 17, 2024 07:59 PM

Promotional material for Russian movie <em>The Challenge</em> Photo: Courtesy of <em>The Challenge</em>

Promotional material for Russian movie The Challenge Photo: Courtesy of The Challenge

The decision to send a filming crew rather than traditional astronauts into space has never been without its detractors, as critics argue that resources should be allocated to scientific endeavors rather than cinematic pursuits. 

But Russian actress Yulia Peresild, who made it onto the International Space ­Station (ISS) in 2021 to film the scenes for the movie The Challenge with director Klim Shipenko, defended her trip to the ISS as being necessary. 

"Initially this idea hurt me greatly, but I can now say, without a doubt in my conscience, that this [movie] was one of the best experiments in recent history to be carried out on the ISS," Peresild told the Global Times in an exclusive interview recently. 

"The most important thing is that it attracted great ­interest from people in the world to space, which, it seems to me, is a change with good results," Peresild said. 

The movie, which premiered in Russia on April 20, 2023, hit the cinemas in the Chinese mainland on Friday. It is rated 7.9/10 on the Chinese movie rating site Douban.

"The popularization of such a complex scientific field as space is a direct road to increasing the desire of people to invest in this industry, which means this is the best experiment," Peresild noted. 

Peresild and director Shipenko are the only two movie crew members in the world to make it onto the ISS, as they boarded the Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft on October 5, 2021 for 11 days to film the scenes for the movie The Challenge in zero gravity.

The Challenge chronicles an extraordinary journey of a female surgeon tasked with a mission of utmost ­importance: To perform ­emergency surgery on an injured ­astronaut aboard the ISS and aid in his safe return to Earth. 

The advancement of space technology has significantly reduced the difficulty of traveling into space, but it remains costly, both financially and physically, to make such a voyage. That fueled the call to use AI technology to replace the costly trip to space to film the scenes. 

But Peresild underlines that humanity should be in control of technology rather than the other way around.

"The most important thing is that a person stands at the head of all this. And we control it as people, because all human hearts are human souls and they cannot be replaced," she said. 

A total of 35 minutes of space footage were integrated into the film, adding an unparalleled level of authenticity of zero gravity to the cinematic experience.

Promotional material for Russian movie <em>The Challenge</em> Photo: Courtesy of <em>The Challenge</em>

Promotional material for Russian movie The Challenge Photo: Courtesy of The Challenge

Rigorous training

Selected from a pool of 3,000 candidates, Peresild underwent rigorous physical examinations and three and a half months of intensive cosmonaut training at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Moscow. 

From enduring 8 g-forces twice on the centrifuge to acclimating to the disorienting effects of prolonged weightlessness in a spinning chair, it took Peresild three months before embarking on the journey to become the first cosmonaut actress. 

"More needs to be said about astronauts, because these are true heroes," Peresild told the Global Times. "Any flight is a feat, because, despite all the reliability of the space industry, it is a big risk to life and, in general, the very feeling when you are hanging in black airless icy space." 

It is not impossible to simulate rather instant weightlessness on Earth, as the Il-76 MDK aircraft is able to create short periods of 23-second weightlessness when performing parabolic flights. 

But the expense of filming the weightlessness on the aircraft is excessive as the budget for the movie was only enough to perform the parabolic moves of the flight four times, according to Peresild.

Filming in the unforgiving environment of space also presented its own set of obstacles. A 30-second clip on the Nauka module inside the ISS left Peresild's face sunburnt as the large observation window of the module is not equipped with ultraviolet ray filters.

Greater purpose

Despite the inherent risks associated with space travel, Peresild remains steadfast in her belief that endeavors such as these serve a greater purpose. 

"While glamorous professions often hog the limelight, it is imperative that we shine a spotlight on the contributions of those in the fields of space exploration, medicine, and engineering," she asserted.

"Space is about science, it's still some kind of movement forward, no matter the type of engineers, designers, technical professions, it's a whole range of specialists. I really want our children to be interested in science too."

Currently, only two space stations are operating in orbit: the ISS and the Tiangong Space Station. The ISS is a collaborative effort by five space agencies from 15 countries, but Tiangong is operated solely by China.

Peresild also envisions a world where cultural exchanges between countries lead to unforeseen discoveries and collaborations. 

"The acceptance of each other's differences and the differences of culture, is always a very complex topic," said Peresild, who is popular in China for her portrayal of female sniper Lyudmila Pavlichenko in the 2015 movie Battle for Sevastopol. "When these two cultures come into contact or unite, what happens at that moment? I think that at this moment a lot of beautiful and tragic and funny things happen. It's very difficult, but also very interesting."

"Perhaps one day, China will embark on its own cinematic odyssey in space, and I can offer insights gleaned from my experience," she muses.