By Blasting First Film Crew Into Orbit, Russia Stakes Claims in Space Tourism Race

Russia's space agency Roscosmos has just delivered a Russian actress and a film director to the International Space Station (ISS) ahead of shooting the first feature film in space.

Actress Yulia Peresild, director Klim Shipenko and Roscosmos astronaut Anton Shkaplerov arrived at the orbiting science laboratory at 8:22 a.m. EDT on Tuesday morning after Shkaplerov safely guided their Soyuz MS-19 capsule into a docking bay, according to an ISS tweet.

They had launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan a few hours earlier.

Peresild and Shipenko are due to join seven other astronauts who are already on board the ISS. They include astronauts from NASA, the European Space Agency, Japan's JAXA space agency, and fellow Russians Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov.

The two film professionals are due to shoot scenes for a movie called "Challenge"—also referred to as "The Challenge" in some reports—in which a surgeon, played by Peresild, has to travel to the space station in order to save a sick crew member.

While professional astronauts often stay on the ISS for several months at a time, Peresild and Shipenko are only due to stay up there for around 12 days before they return to Earth with another Russian cosmonaut, according to the Associated Press.

The launch marks the latest step in an increasingly open space industry, in which non-professional astronauts—tourists—are being given opportunities to leave Earth.

It's been referred to as a new space race, a rush to establish a successful industry allowing people to go to space if they can pay for it.

In the U.S., Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is fighting for a slice of the space tourism pie with Blue Origin, while Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic is vying for a spot as well. Both have successfully launched space tourism missions this year.

SpaceX followed shortly afterward with the launch of the Inspiration4 mission, in which an all-civilian crew orbited Earth for the first time ever.

Russia, historically a space pioneer, is keen to get involved, too. After the launch of MS-19 on Tuesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, according to AP: "Such missions that help advertise our achievements and space exploration in general are great for the country."

The mission means that Russia has managed to put an actor or actress in space before the U.S.

Tom Cruise is planning to head to the ISS as part of an undisclosed film project in cooperation with SpaceX at some point in the future.

Not all efforts to establish space tourism have been successful. Earlier this year a private Russian company called CosmoKurs, which was aiming to build a reusable space launch complex and provide services for tourist spaceflight, shut down, according to Russia's state-owned RIA Novosti news agency.

The agency reported that the closure was due to difficulties in securing regulatory approval.

Yet the country is pressing ahead with tourism missions. The upcoming Soyuz MS-20 launch will carry two Japanese businessmen, Yusaku Maezawa and Yozo Hirano, to the ISS, again for around 12 days.

International Space Station
The International Space Station in orbit around the Earth as seen from the Space Shuttle Endeavour in May, 2011. The space station will be home to two Russian film professionals for nearly two weeks as of today. NASA / Getty