Q: The International Space Station Crew Interviews with Gennady Padalka, the commander of the ninth expedition to the International Space Station. Gennady, you were assigned to Expedition 9 less than three months before the launch. Tell me what your reaction was when you found that you were suddenly next in line to fly.
Preflight Interview: Gennady Padalka
A: I would say that, to some extent, it was all of a sudden for us because this replacement was being discussed for almost one month before we were assigned, really assigned. And, despite this, we are ready to fly because we have been working with Mike [Fincke] on Expedition 9 since March 2002. But, actually, we have been working with Mike since September 2000, when we were assigned as backup crew for [the] Expedition 4 mission, and then Mike was a backup crew for [the] Expedition 6 mission, and I was at that time backup crew for the taxi crew. And, I don't know if you know, but I was assigned as a crew Commander for [the] Expedition 0 crew, the so-called contingency crew, in 1999. And that is why we went through these preparations -- I mean preparation for the spaceflight on board International Space Station -- twice and actually we are ready to fly.
In this circumstance then, it sounds as though the shortened lead time, you don't think, is going to pose much of a problem for you and Mike.
Yes, we don't have [a] problem because we went through all science experiments that are scheduled for us, and we covered all materials in reference to Soyuz spaceship, and both segments -- I mean Russian segment and American segment -- and we are ready to perform spacewalk, which is scheduled for us. And no problem.
You have spent some six months in space when you were the commander of the Mir-26 mission. Tell me how you see yourself putting that past experience to work as you get ready to fly Expedition 9.
Yes. I got great experience, and actually I would say NASA officials and Russian space agency officials always try to assign at least one flown astronaut or cosmonaut in the crew in order to facilitate [the] job on board Space Station, life on board Space Station, especially for the first maybe three, four weeks. It's [a] very stressful event for the unflown astronauts, and I got a good experience in reference to spacewalks. This is [a very] stressful event for the astronauts and cosmonauts who…[do] this for the first time in their life. And it seems to me it's very great to be well-experienced before going into space.
Gennady, the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia and its crew happened just a little bit over one year ago, and that made the dangers of spaceflight as clear as they've probably ever been. And, you're well aware of what can go wrong -- but here you are, ready to launch again. In your mind, what reward is it that we are getting from flying people in space that makes it worth the risk that you're about to take?
Yes, well, it was a great sadness because it was... the Columbia crew. It was an incredible crew, and without exaggeration I would call that it was a vanguard for... all mankind. And, in my opinion, it wasn't only an American crew, it was an international crew because this crew represented by many, many nations: American, Indian, African-American, Israel. And, this catastrophe showed that it's very hard for only one country to explore space, and we need to join our efforts; only in this case we can surmount all difficulties, overcome all obstacles, and only in this case we can have success in space. And, you know that... the Columbia Accident Investigation Board issued a lot of requirements for the remaining Space Shuttles, before Space Shuttles resume flights again. From my perspective, there are three main ones: No. 1, safety; No. 2, safety; and No. 3, safety. You understand me? It's very important for us. No space research can justify victims, and according to these safety requirements we are committed to taking into account all safety circumstances. And, in reference to risk, yes, you are right -- but it seems to me we need to... balance between the benefit from the space research and risk. And we need to weigh the balance between risk and space research, although in my opinion it's hard to predict all circumstances, especially for such complicated vehicles as the Space Shuttle and the Space Station, but you know that great endeavors demand a great risk.
I'm curious why you wanted to become a cosmonaut; what was your reason?
Honestly, I had never dreamt to become a cosmonaut. Yes, I was only 3 years old when Yuri Gagarin flew in space for the first time, and, at that time, I think each boy dreamt to become a cosmonaut. Maybe this dream was in the back of my mind, but actually I was fascinated with aviation, and that is why I entered the Higher Military Aviation College, and I graduated... in 1979, and then I served as a military pilot in the air force for 10 years before being selected as a cosmonaut. Once I met our famous cosmonaut Aleksei Leonov -- it seems to me you know him: he participated in the first international project, I mean Apollo-Soyuz, and he was the first man who performed a spacewalk -- and he suggested that I become a cosmonaut. I agreed. I went to the Star City, I passed some exams, I underwent medical tests, and I was selected as a cosmonaut. Upon completion of the general space training course, I was certified as a test cosmonaut, and I began to prepare for a flight. My first flight was in 1998: it was a 200-day flight on board Mir; I was crew Commander, and my flight engineer was Sergei Avdeyev.
Was it just a chance meeting with Aleksei Leonov, or…
Yes, I met him by chance... because at that time he was the head of the medical commission... this medical commission took a trip across my country, and at that time they tried to select cosmonauts for the cosmonaut corps. And, yes, to a larger extent it was by chance.
Was Leonov then, would you say, the person who was most influential in your becoming a cosmonaut, or were there others, too?
Well, actually, I have a lot of people who played a big role in my decision to become a cosmonaut. First of all, I would like to name my teachers at school, my family, and my instructors in the higher military school, and all instructors in Star City, and all instructors in NASA. My special thanks to them because they, it seems to me, undertook the incredible attempt to prepare us on time. And, really... there are huge numbers of people I respect, but I would not like to name some of them because I probably might leave some others out.
Let's talk about the mission that you and Mike Fincke are about to fly. Tell me, what are the goals of this Expedition to the International Space Station?
The biggest goal for us as a crew is to keep the Space Station in operational condition and maintain the human presence aboard the Space Station because [the] last malfunction -- I mean the situation with the leakage -- showed us that if we had not had crew on board, we could have lost the Space Station. But our long-duration activities basically cover some spheres: We need to keep ability to perform preventive maintenance, to avoid serious situations with this space systems operation, and we...will perform two spacewalks and despite the Space Shuttle being grounded... we don't have the possibility to update space racks but we have vast science programs on behalf of the Russian side, the American side, and the European Space Agency.
Any flight crew, as a group, has got to possess all the talents that are necessary to do all the jobs on the Space Station. That means just between the two of you, you and Mike have to be able to cover everything. What will be your primary responsibilities as the commander of the Space Station?
You know that I am Soyuz commander and I'm mission commander, Mike is the flight engineer No. 2 for insertion, and he is prime flight engineer on board the Soyuz when Soyuz docks to the Space Station and during re-entry. Mike is flight engineer aboard Space Station, and he is NASA Science Officer. But, actually, with a three-person crew, we have a common rule: Usually the American guy is responsible for the American segment -- I mean nominal daily activities, because in case of emergency situations we will have to work only together -- and the Russian guy is in charge of the Russian segment, and then the third crewmate usually helps them. But in our case, when having only a two-person crew, I think Mike will be responsible for the American segment, I... will be responsible for the Russian segment, Mike will be responsible for all spacewalks and for all science programs. As for me, I will be responsible for everything as a crew commander, because you never know who's right, but you always know who's in charge, according to Murphy's Law.
I want to take you through the mission sort of chronologically: you and Mike and André Kuipers will be launching in a Soyuz in April; describe for us what takes place in a Soyuz during the launch and the trip to the Station, and what the role of the Soyuz commander is.
It's hard for me to compare insertion on board the Soyuz and the Space Shuttle because I haven't flown on the Space Shuttle, but I heard that the launch on board Soyuz is much smoother. But in reference to time, it takes about nine minutes; to be more exact, 525 seconds. And, once we get orbit insertion we need to perform leak checks, and I mean all three compartments -- descent module, instrument module, habitation module -- after opening the hatch, we can go into habitation module and we can take off our spacesuits. And, during third and fourth orbits we need to perform an orbital maneuver in order to increase altitude. And then, during two days, we will be catching up with the Space Station. On the third day, we'll have rendezvous and docking operations. This is all how we do this on board Soyuz spaceship.
Once you arrive, you and Mike will be on the Station with Mike Foale and Alexander Kaleri for a week before they and André return to the Earth. How does that time together, when all of you will be there, how does that help you and Mike Fincke get moving into your mission?
Really, it's a very hard time; it's a hectic life during handover operations because, at this time, we are supposed to have some science program on behalf of the European Space Agency, and I'm going to assist André. It's very important for us because there is a big difference between simulators on the ground and the real situation aboard the Space Station. The off-going crew should familiarize us with features, systems operations, with science experiments which were delivered by previous crews and which are going on, and... we have a very good Inventory Management System, but actually they need to familiarize us with real stowage. And it's pretty hard: It seems to me only after having farewell ceremony, after closing the hatch, we can breathe a sigh of relief. It's true.
You mentioned a few minutes ago that there are a number of different scientific efforts that will be promoted and pursued during your mission. Can you tell me, in general, how you see the scientific mission of the International Space Station being advanced during your increment?
At this point the Shuttles are grounded and we don't have a possibility to, as I mentioned above, to upgrade our racks... we have the West science program, and currently about 40 experiments on behalf of the American side and the same number on behalf of the Russian side, are scheduled for us, and about 20 experiments for the European Space Agency. In total it will be about 100. It's impossible for us to know each experiment in details, but to some extent... some of them... we should know very well. And... because there's no need... to know these experiments in details because... actually, researchers on the ground consider us as an integral part of science experiments because we will be like their hands and eyes, and like extension between hardware and researchers on the ground because we can fix the problem, we can assemble hardware, science hardware, we can disassemble, and we can update software. But we cannot interpret results because for this it seems to me you need to have the special education. As for our science program, I wouldn't say that during our mission we'll be able to get results which help us, I don't know, maybe create drugs to cure cancer or diabetes, or we'll have results which help us to resolve many problems with pollution on the ground, but I am deeply convinced that our mission will make us take steps forward, and eventually it will help us to solve many problems on the ground that we face. It's my opinion.
As you mentioned, one of the primary areas of focus of science is into how people respond to living and being in a state where there is no gravity. There are a number of experiments for Expedition 9 in the area of human life sciences. Can you tell me about just a couple of experiments for which you in fact will be the test subject?
Yes, of course. You know that human exposure to the space environment results in many alterations in our body such as fluid redistribution, bone loss, kidney stone formation and muscle atrophy. We have some experiments, science experiments, associated with, for example, bone loss. When conducting these experiments, researchers want to create some countermeasures. When we study this disease in space, and it seems to me it must be very, very helpful for the people on the ground because in the old age, you know, that many people have similar problems and our bones become fragile. And, for example, what else -- kidney stone formation; this is a big problem for us... why are we... doing this, experiments in space, and why not on the ground? Because all these events speed up in space, and it's very good to explore this. In reference to kidney stone formation, of course, researchers want to create countermeasures, and it may be very useful for the ground. And, what else for example? I gave you two science experiments on the American side. We have a number of experiments on Russian side, for example... Profilaktika, prophylaxis, it seems to me, it sounds in English like prophylaxis. Because our scientists, our researchers, want to prevent locomotor system disorders in weightlessness, and... I think it will be very, very useful especially for the flights to Mars and beyond. We have biopsy experiments because, as you know, our muscles get weak during spaceflight, and scientists want to create countermeasures, so we can slow down or exclude this, although it's impossible to exclude it completely.
Those are experiments that have to do with how the people who are on the Station respond, but there are other kinds of experiments that you and Mike will be pursuing, too. Can you tell me about some of the other kinds of science that will be done on Expedition 9?
Yes, many experiments in different fields of science: Biology, biotechnology, space technology, medical experiments. For example, on the Russian side, we have star spectrometer, and this experiment is associated with astronomy and ecology. And my second background is ecology because in 1994 I graduated from UNESCO International Center of Instruction System with degree engineer-ecologist, and it's very interesting for me. And, by using this star spectrometer we can record spectrum of the star when the star is above atmosphere. Then on the ground we can compare the brightness and the spectrum of the star, and scientists can determine the compositions of the atmosphere, the chemical composition of the atmosphere, the condition of the ozone, and how this, any pollution is distributed, in the area or on the altitude. And this is one example of the experiments. We also have a lot of experiments associated with radiation measurement. We have Phantom Torso brought on board Space Station. We have several sensors on the American side and the Russian side... but we have one goal: We can... measure the radiation, because the high doses of radiation can kill cells, can damage tissue leading to the cancer. And by flying around the Earth we are protected by the natural shields, you know -- I mean, radiation belts -- but beyond several hundred kilometers it's impossible, especially when we begin to fly to Mars and beyond. And it's very, very important for us. Also on the American side, we continue experiments with ARIS, the rack isolation system because it's very important. Most science experiments require ideal microgravity, and on board Space Station we have tiny disturbances and vibrations caused by maybe crew's physical exercise, maybe machinery's operation, and this system helps us to isolate all hardware from [these] disturbances and vibrations. In this case, the result of science research, we cannot be upset... and we'll be able to save the delicate balance with these science experiments. We have glovebox: this is very important because this hardware permits us to conduct science experiments... associated with toxic substances, and this hardware is to prevent toxic substances from being spread throughout... the Space Station. We have a greenhouse. It's very fun experiment because we grow plants in space, and this is, I would say, this is fundamental to our research because researchers on the ground try to create closed system, and by having this system we can reproduce oxygen, especially when we have base on the moon, and remove carbon dioxide, and we can create a similar environment on a lunar base, for example. And many, many others.
That's a lot of science work. You've also got the maintenance of the Station, as you mentioned. You've also got plans for a couple of spacewalks. I realize things may change by the time you get there, but tell me right now what are the plans for spacewalks for Expedition 9?
Currently, two spacewalks are scheduled for us. One spacewalk is associated with hardware installation. Mike and I, we need to go outside with hardware and set up on the exterior of the Service Module. Later, this hardware will help European Space Agency cargo ship, the ATV, to dock automatically. We need to install a target, a TV camera, some antennas, and laser reflectors. These are the tasks for the first spacewalk. Another spacewalk will be associated with ORU replacements on the exterior of the FGB module. This is a pump which is installed in the external thermal control system. It is not malfunctioning. This pump has exceeded its design lifetime. And, during this spacewalk we need to carry inside some science experiments, experiments that have been exposed to the space environment for a long time.
And it sounds as though both of these spacewalks are planned in the Orlan suits, from Pirs?
Yes, of course, both the spacewalks are scheduled, yes, in Orlan, but we are well trained to use [the U.S.] EMU, in case of a malfunction, in case of emergency situation. In this case we can use an EMU with no problem. And in this case we can depress and repress in [Joint] Airlock instead of the Docking Compartment.
Next October you're scheduled to conclude this mission by riding home in the same Soyuz spacecraft that you launch in in April. Can you describe for us what happens at the end of a mission? What do the Soyuz crewmembers do when you leave the Station and head home to Kazakhstan?
Again, we'll have a hectic life because it will be handover ops between Expeditions 9 and 10. We need to load the descent module with results of science experiments, and we need to be in a good physical condition. At that time we will have a lot of physical exercise. And we need to train with re-entry preparations. We have very good computers on board Space Station and we can refresh all these operations which we face during re-entry. Currently Mike is supposed to be flight engineer prime, and he will take the left seat liner. It will be very important for him and, it seems to me, he needs to cover a lot of materials in order to refresh, because it will be six months after our launch. It will be big deal for us.
In your opinion, by the time you are ready to leave the International Space Station, what will have had to have happened during the six months that you are there for you, as the commander, to consider your expedition successful?
If we conduct all of the science program, if we can keep Space Station in operational condition, if we manage to perform scheduled spacewalks, if we keep our friendship with Mike, if we hand Space Station in operational condition to the next crew, in this case I would say that our mission was successful.
You know, the International Space Station as a project aims to make advances in engineering and in science and global relations among countries, as well as push the future of space exploration. Gennady, what do you think is the most important contribution that will come out of the International Space Station program?
I think Space Station is neither an American project nor a Russian project. This is an international space project because 16 countries are involved. Space Station is only a tiny part of our planet. But, I think this is a great example how our life can be established on the ground in the ideal. If speaking about contribution, I think this is a great example of the peaceful cooperation. I think this is a most valuable contribution. And we are happy that, at last, our countries, our nations, our space agencies, and people themselves have matured in their ability to work together. I think this is the most important contribution in this project.