Russia’s plan to film a movie in space this year is moving full speed ahead as actress Yulia Peresild and filmmaker Klim Shipenko have been selected to star in and helm the project, respectively. Russia’s Roscosmos space agency has announced the two artists will travel to space October 5. The movie, which has the working title “Challenge,” tells “the story of a female surgeon’s mission to perform an operation on a cosmonaut too ill to return to Earth immediately.”

The Russian space agency announced the film project after NASA confirmed last year it was teaming up with US action star Tom Cruise to make a movie on the ISS.

The crew are scheduled to begin their expedition on 5 October 2021. While on the space station they could encounter some fellow film-makers: Tom Cruise and the director Doug Liman, who are also due to travel there in October to make a movie.The exact date of Cruise’s blastoff has not yet been revealed, but the departure of the Russians in the first few days of the month suggests an intention to beat the Americans.

Russia was first reported to be mounting a rival production last year, shortly after plans were confirmed last summer for Cruise, who will be 59 at the time of his mission, to go into low Earth orbit, backed by Nasa and Elon Musk.

In November 2020, a casting announcement from the Russian space agency Roscosmos said it was searching for “a real superhero to go to the stars … at the same time as becoming a big international star”.Potential candidates for the female lead in the film needed to be between 25 and 40 years old and a Russian citizen, to weigh between 50kg and 70kg and have a “chest girth” of up to 112cm.

“Additionally, she must be able to run 1km in three and a half minutes or less, swim 800 metres freestyle in 20 minutes, and dive from a 3-metre springboard with an impressive technique.” Previous acting experience was not required.

On Thursday it was announced that the actor Yulia Peresild, 36, and the director Klim Shipenko, 37, had been chosen. Both will undergo training including centrifuge tests and flights in zero gravity, starting no later than 1 June. This pre-flight boot camp will be documented by one of Russia’s main TV channels, Channel One, which will also be involved in producing the film.

Peresild’s previous work includes roles in popular Russian TV series and a number of patriotic war films, including 2015’s Battle for Sevastopol, in which she played Lyudmila Pavlichenko, a young Soviet woman who joined the red army and became an accomplished sniper.

Shipenko’s most recent release was Salyut 7, a disaster movie recreating the 1985 Soyuz T-13 mission to dock with and retrieve a space station after contact with it was been lost.

Roscosmos said Challenge will be a “space drama” that would aim to “popularise Russia’s space activities, as well as glorify cosmonaut profession”. No further details of the plot or about Peresild’s role have been released.Roscosmos’s director general, Dmitry Rogozin, will co-produce the film.

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