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Russian crew set for blast off to film first movie in space

If successful, the Russian crew will beat a planned Hollywood project in space by Tom Cruise, NASA and SpaceX

(from left) Actress Yulia Peresild, director Klim Shipenko and cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, members of the prime crew of Soyuz MS-19 spaceship, at the Russian launch facility in the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Photo via AP

Russia on Tuesday is set to launch an actress and a film director into space in a bid to best the United States to the first movie in orbit.

If successful, the Russian crew will beat a Hollywood project that was announced earlier this year by Mission Impossible star Tom Cruise together with NASA and Elon Musk's SpaceX.

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Actress Yulia Peresild, 37, and film director Klim Shipenko, 38, are expected to take off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in ex-Soviet Kazakhstan at 0855 GMT.

Led by veteran cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, they will travel in a Soyuz MS-19 spaceship for a 12-day mission at the International Space Station (ISS) to film scenes for "The Challenge".

The movie's plot, which has been mostly kept under wraps along with its budget, was revealed by Russia's space agency Roscosmos to centre around a female surgeon who is dispatched to the ISS to save an astronaut.

Clad in a flight suit, director Shipenko called the film "an experiment" at an online press conference on Monday.

"Some things will work out and some things won't," he conceded.

Shipenko and Peresild are expected to return to Earth on October 17 in a capsule with cosmonaut Oleg Novitsky, who has been on the ISS for the past six months.

The launch comes at a challenging time for Russia's space industry, which is struggling to secure state funding with the Kremlin prioritising military spending.

Compared to the Soviet era—when Moscow launched the first satellite Sputnik and sent the first man, Yuri Gagarin, into space—Russia has struggled to innovate.

Its space agency is still reliant on Soviet-designed technology and has faced a number of setbacks, including corruption scandals and botched launches.

Russia is also falling behind in the global space race, facing tough competition from the United States and China, with Beijing showing growing ambitions in the industry.

Roscosmos was also dealt a blow after SpaceX last year successfully delivered astronauts to the ISS, costing Russia its monopoly for journeys to the orbital station.

But for political analyst Konstantin Kalachev, the space film is a matter of PR and a way to "distract" Russians from the "problems" that Roscosmos is facing.

"This is supposed to inspire Russians, show how cool we are, but I think Russians have completely lost interest in the space industry," Kalachev told AFP.

In a bid to spruce up its image and diversify its revenue, Russia revealed this year that it will be reviving its space tourism programme to ferry fee-paying adventurers to the ISS.

After a decade-long pause, Russia will send two Japanese tourists—including billionaire Yusaku Maezawa—to the ISS in December, capping a year that has been a milestone for amateur space travel.

Last month, SpaceX completed the first all-civilian mission to space that took four untrained astronauts on a three-day loop around the Earth's orbit.

The trip followed the missions of billionaire Richard Branson, who spent several minutes in weightlessness in July, and of Amazon-founder Jeff Bezos completing a similar mission just days later.

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