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Preflight Interview: Nikolai Budarin
10.28.10
 
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Expedition 6 Flight Engineer Nikolai Budarin. Photo credit: NASA

Nikolai, you are set to begin a four-month-or-so long mission on ISS; can you explain what is the goal of this particular expedition to the International Space Station?

Well, as you know, the station has been in orbit for two years. There have been five expeditions to the station; right now we're in assembly phase, and the goal of our expedition is to continue assembly of the station on orbit, both external and internal. At the same time, we will be performing various scientific experiments, medical experiments, perform EVAs -- spacewalks -- to install additional equipment external to the station; we'll be receiving cargo vehicles; we'll be meeting and seeing off visiting crews. So in short, that is the goal.

This is your third spaceflight. How has having the experience of having flown before helped you as you prepared to fly this mission?

Yes, you're right; this is my third flight. I have flown two times previously to the Mir space station: first in 1995, on STS-71, and second in '98, on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft. This long training, long space flight training -- I've been doing this for 12 years, training for flights to space-combined with the previous flight experience -- how, what to do on the station, what not to do on the station, how to rest, how to work; all that will certainly help me in my third flight. And not the least is the experience of working as part of international crews: Now I will be working with Ken Bowersox and Donald Pettit; in the past I've flown with … as part of other international crews. I think in that sense, it is very important to understand who are your teammates and act accordingly.

Tell me why it is that you wanted to become a cosmonaut in the first place?

This is an interesting question; we always get asked this question, why do you, why did you become a cosmonaut. Well, I was 8 years old when Yuri Gagarin made his first flight into space. It was a turning point in not only my life but in the lives of all other boys and girls, and that was when the dream was born for me. And I graduated from high school, enrolled into Moscow Aviation Institute. Upon graduation, I worked at the Rocket and Space Corporation Energia, and this work during which I had to participate in testing of spacecraft, both on the ground and in air provided an additional motivation. I thought, why not try? And in '86, I was selected for the cosmonaut office.

You were eight years old when Yuri Gagarin became the first person ever to fly in space; can you tell us what you remember of that day, and what that was like in your town?

Oh, of course, that was a long time ago, 41 years ago, to be exact. But I remember it was sunny, nice weather outside … we were trying to see the spot in the skies, but we, boys and girls, were still out there peering into the sky … he has of course long landed since, but we were still looking. We, of course, we were filled with a sense of pride for our country because our fellow countryman, Yuri Gagarin was the first man into space. But of course, it is the achievement for the mankind as a whole. And now we're continuing in his footsteps.

You have mentioned that you've been involved in, throughout your career, in the joint Russian-American efforts in space … both of your previous missions had Americans involved. From your point of view, would you say that the partner nations in the International Space Station have succeeded in trying to achieve the goal of learning how to work together?

Of course. The previous experience of our joint flights has demonstrated that we are capable of working together, and that we will be working together, and the International Space Station is a very good example of that. I think we are successful in building and operating the station, and I think we will continue to be successful in that.

Members of any flight crew have to have a range of different talents to complete all of the tasks that are involved in their mission. Tell me what are your primary responsibilities as Flight Engineer 1 of Expedition Six?

It's difficult to make a clear distinction between duties of a flight engineer and a commander. Our crew will be maintaining the station, performing assembly work; we'll have to keep the station in the good condition for the next crew. As for myself, I will be dealing with the Russian segment systems, I will be performing Russian scientific and medical program.

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Expedition 6 Flight Engineer Nikolai Budarin uses a computer in a sleep station in the Zvezda service module on the International Space Station. Photo credit: NASA

And, will you, you will also be the pilot for the Soyuz?

Yes, I will be the pilot for the Soyuz spacecraft. We will be having a Soyuz spacecraft permanently docked to the station for a potential need to do emergency descent and landing. As far as piloting is concerned, we are scheduled to receive one cargo vehicle: We will be docking it in an automatic mode, and if there are any problems with automatic docking, I will be the one responsible for performing manual docking from the station.

Now your space flight begins when Jim Wetherbee and his space shuttle crew deliver you and Ken and Don to the space station. During the time that the two ships are docked together, there is time scheduled, as you mentioned, for the Expedition Five crew to help orient you and your crewmates inside the station. And you've done that on your missions to the Mir space station; it's in, in English is called a handover. Why is that period of discussion between the two crews so important?

The current crew is experienced in the station operations, and it only makes sense that the old crew will bring the new crew up to speed on the systems, on communication, on equipment stowage. We call it handover, and this process lasts more than one day. Basically, this will be an ongoing work during our joint flight. And, the new crew will try to learn as much as possible from the old crew to help prepare for the flight on board the station.

And when that is over, the shuttle will depart and bring Valery and Peggy and Sergei back home, leaving you and Ken and Don to settle in. Can you, is there such a thing as a "normal" day when you live in space? What would your routine be like?

Well, a routine day will be no different from your regular day on Earth. You get up, you do your morning routine, you read your e-mail, you read your flight notes, you get your equipment ready, you set up your experiments; this is nominal routine work, and the only difference is that we are floating in zero g, but otherwise it's just housekeeping, cooking … your regular day. Although on the ground we have a house in which we live, where we rest, where we meet our friends, and we go to work elsewhere, to an office or somewhere else; but on the station, the station is both our office, our home, everything.

You mentioned that you will have science operations; I'd like to talk for a couple of minutes about science and the science mission onboard the International Space Station. In general, overall, can you say how the experiments from all of the partner nations in this space station during your time on board are going to be advancing, improving, the mission, the science mission, of the ISS?

Well, as we have said before, our crew will participate in scientific and medical programs, there will be a lot of technology experiments, we will get observing and monitoring Earth from space -- this is an important discipline. We're trying to understand how the activity of the mankind impacts on the Earth and on the environment on Earth, and the opportunities provided by space monitoring allow us to better understand man-induced processes on the Earth. As far as medical part is concerned, our crew will be doing mostly work concerned with the, studying the effects of microgravity on the human body. The thrust of this research is, of course, the future Mars flight. This is going to be a very long flight, the Mars flight, and we will need to study all aspects, all factors that will affect the human body during that long extended flight.

You also mentioned a few minutes ago how a big part of your job would be seeing to matters in the Russian segment of the station, and I take it that that includes the Russian science as well. Could you describe one or two of the Russian experiments that you will be spending time with during your time on board ISS?

Certainly. Russian segment will have its own share of science and medical experiments. We will be performing Earth monitoring and observation for Russian scientific program. One of the experiments is called Diatomeya. It involves observation of ocean surface in order to determine … regions that are best suitable for fishing; fertile regions of the ocean. Currently, these particular regions of the ocean are well-studied and their location is known, but in nature, everything changes, everything morphs, and these regions are changing as well. So we'll be determining the new characteristics of the regions. Also, we will be monitoring the glaciers. Everybody's talking about global warming, so we will be watching out for glacier dynamics. Medical, well, the goals and objectives are similar across all programs. The equipment may be different, but we will be working towards the same end pretty much.

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Expedition 6 Flight Engineer Nikolai Budarin is pictured in the Zvezda service module on the International Space Station. Photo credit: NASA

This, and this may change after, by the time you launch, but at this point there is one spacewalk that is being anticipated for this crew during your increment. Can you tell me what are the current plans for this EVA, and whether you will be one of the crewmembers to go outside?

Well, speaking about EVA, I very much hope that we'll have this EVA. There will be two crewmembers going outside, stepping outside the station; one will stay behind, supporting their activity in the outer space. When, the, Jim Wetherbee's crew will have installed the P1 segment on the S0 truss; we will pick up with installing equipment on this truss segment. We will install a UHF antenna, we will install a radiator, we will have to deploy it. It is, it will be stowed and latched. In order to deploy this radiator we will need to open the latches, open the locks … there are eighteen of them, so there will be a lot of tedious work. I'm doing these locks. We will also have to install some struts with lights on the CETA cart, which stands for crew EVA … and we will also be transferring tools from one truss segment to another; we will be using robotic arm. I'm hoping that I will get a chance to participate in this EV, spacewalk. I have eight spacewalks under my belt from the Mir experience, and I'm hoping to get EVA experience on the International Space Station. Maybe there will be other objectives, but for now, this is the program of our EVA. But, we are ready to do whatever comes our way.

As you consider all that is planned to occur during your time onboard, if you were to imagine yourself at the end of your expedition, what do you think will have had to have occurred for you to consider Expedition Six was a success?

This is an interesting question. Well, first, I think we would like to see all goals of the expedition completed; that we are ready to leave the station for the next crew in the good order, in the good condition. Second, I would like to see, I'd like to have had the scientific and medical program completed fully. And, that will be the measure of the success of our increment. And we will be able to say that we have contributed to the assembly, to the construction of the station.

You all are scheduled to arrive at the International Space Station very shortly after the second-year anniversary of the start of the station's continuous habitation. Nikolai, I wonder, in your opinion, after two years of operations onboard, what do you think is the best thing that has come out of the International Space Station during these first two years of human operation on orbit?

Two years is a significant time, and the fact that the station continues operating means that we are able to work together, that we have learned to work together, and that we will continue to work together. This is the most important thing that comes out of these two years.