A Russian actress and her director-cameraman, wrapping up a 12-day movie shoot aboard the International Space Station, returned to Earth Sunday and promptly filmed a few additional scenes that will be part of the film's conclusion.
With cameras rolling, actress Julia Peresild, playing the role of a surgeon sent to the station to treat a critically ill cosmonaut, was pulled from the Soyuz descent module and carried to a nearby recliner where she pretended to be just back from her make-believe mission.
Soyuz commander Oleg Novitskiy, who was wrapping up a 191-day stay in space, played the patient during shooting aboard the space station and again on the ground after touchdown, patiently enduring multiple takes before filming was halted.
All three crew members, looking fit and chatting easily with support crews, were then carried to a nearby medical tent for traditional post-landing checks before being flown to Karaganda to board a jet for the trip back to Star City near Moscow.
Peresild and director Klim Shipenko were launched to the space station on October 5, riding into orbit aboard the Soyuz MS-19/65S spacecraft under command of veteran cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov.
They were welcomed aboard by Novitskiy, cosmonaut Pyotr Dubrov, NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough, Megan McArthur and Mark Vande Hei, European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet and Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide.
While in orbit, Peresild and Shipenko, assisted by Novitskiy, Shkaplerov and Dubrov, shot scenes for a movie called "The Challenge" about a surgeon — Peresild — making an emergency house call to the space station.
The actress and director returned to Earth with Novitskiy aboard the Soyuz MS-18/64S spacecraft that carried the commander to the station last April 9 along with Dubrov and Vande Hei.
Dubrov and Vande Hei plan to spend 355 days in space before returning to Earth at the end of March, joining Shkaplerov aboard the Soyuz MS-19/65S spacecraft.
For Novitskiy, Peresild and Shipenko, the trip home Sunday began with undocking Saturday night (U.S. time) from the station's Nauka multi-purpose lab module. After moving a safe distance away, Novitskiy monitored an automated rocket firing that dropped the far side of the ship's orbit deep into the atmosphere.
After jettisoning the ship's no-longer-needed upper compartment and lower propulsion module, the central crew compartment slammed into the discernible atmosphere, using a heat shield to protect the crew from re-entry temperatures as high as 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit.
Descending under a huge parachute a few minutes later, Novitskiy warned his rookie crewmates to brace for impact, telling them to "fold your arms and just get ready ... 50 meters, 20 meters, guys. Brace yourselves."
Braking rockets fired an instant before touchdown and the descent module hit the ground in a cloud of dust at 12:35 a.m. EDT, coming to rest in an upright orientation.
Russian recovery forces stationed nearby were on the scene in minutes to help the returning space fliers out of the cramped crew compartment, carrying out initial medical checks while the camera crew was filming a few final scenes for "The Challenge."
With the departure of Novitskiy, Peresild and Shipenko, NASA is gearing up to launch four more crew members to the station on October 30 in the third operational flight of a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule.
On board for the SpaceX Crew 3 launch will be NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Thomas Marshburn and Kayla Barron along with European Space Agency astronaut Matthias Maurer. They will replace Kimbrough, McArthur, Pesquet and Hoshide, who were launched to the station on April 23.
The final space station crew launch of the year is planned for December 8 when veteran cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin will ferry Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and his assistant, Yozo Hirano, to the station aboard the Soyuz MS-20/66S spacecraft.
Maezawa and Hirano, like Perseld and Shipenko, are flying as "spaceflight participants," or in this case, space tourists. Maezawa paid an undisclosed amount to the Russian space agency Roscosmos for the trip to space.
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