The International Space Station Expedition 11 crew interview with Commander Sergei Krikalev.
Image to right: Expedition 11 Commander Sergei Krikalev. Credit: NASA
Q: You have
a job that a lot of people, a lot of kids, dream they could have.
Is being a cosmonaut what you always wanted to do?
Preflight Interview: Sergei Krikalev
A: I couldn't
say always because always goes very far back in my history. But
a long time ago, when I was still in school, I decided to try
to be a cosmonaut. I made several of my decisions based on attempting
to become a cosmonaut.
it before you were in school that made you be interested? Is
that just something that all Russians boys wanted to do, or were
No, I wasn't special -- many kids wanted to be a pilot,
a cosmonaut. And I remember you asked what, what was, what else
I wanted to be. I remember when I was really small child and I
remember arguing with mother, that I wanted to be a driver and
she want me to be, I guess, medical doctor. So thinking now I kind
of join both jobs: If you go and see how we do all this emergency
training when we try to revive an injured person or take care of
injury, so I have little bit of medical science stuff and little
bit of driving, but driving different machine, it's not a
bus, not a regular car, not a tractor, but it's driving
father have a horse in that race?
No, he was
kind of looking from a side on all this.
Tell me about
what you did do, what you studied in school and, and about the
steps in your career that led to you being a cosmonaut?
graduating high school I had to make decision -- to go to become
professional pilot and get some engineering education or get
engineering education and try to be a pilot at same time. So,
at that time, and actually even now, in Russia we have two major
path to become a cosmonaut. One is to be military pilot, professional
pilot, and then come from this side, or to be proficient in space
industry, aeronautical industry, and then become a cosmonaut
from, from this side. So at that point I decided that I will
have more freedom of choices if I go to technical university
and try to get degree in aeronautical engineering and become
a pilot. So that's what I did. It was actually tough to
decide where to go because I knew at that time that the probability
to become a cosmonaut is very low. I found that one of the technical
university in St. Petersburg, where [I] grew up, had specialty
in rocket engineering, aeronautical engineering, so that was
my first choice. Secondly I decided start to fly with an air
club to get proficient in flying. Those were two major decisions
college you were able to, to get the, work in that field?
it was not even a college; we now call it technical university,
we used to call it institute -- but we graduated. When I graduated
it was something equivalent to master's
degree in aeronautical engineering. And at the
same time I was already flying in the air club.
I got good skills in aerobatic flying. So I was
accepted to St. Petersburg team and I started
to participate in competitions. I became competitive
pilot in aerobatics. And right after I graduate
from the institute I was accepted to work in
the space-aeronautical industry, at Energia,
the company which built spacecraft, space stations.
I was accepted to, at that time, Soviet Union
national [aerobatics] team.
an aerobatic pilot, you were a national champion, weren't
I was, a
little later on, in some disciplines, but unfortunately I never
had time to get proficient enough to make it my job.
back at your career as a cosmonaut and, and a pilot and an engineer,
can you identify the people that you think were your inspirations,
or your heroes?
think about one single person who was kind of my hero for long
time. Probably it was some kind of assembled image from different
area, different spaces. It was different in different phases
of my career. Some pilots I flew with who were very good pilots
and good engineers participated not only in aircraft development;
they also taught other pilots how to fly. My teachers in the
institute very knowledgeable, very proficient, and also good
teachers when I studied all these space-related aeronautical
subjects. It was my friends, sometime, in sports, so I can't
say anyone specific.
I've done the math on this. On the 124th day of the flight
you're preparing for, your total time on orbit is going to
surpass the record that was set by your colleague Sergei Avdeyev
after Mir 27 -- more than 747 days
you for the math.
you ever imagine there would come a day when the person who'd
spent more time in space than anyone
else would be you?
never paid enough attention to this record-setting subject because
job itself is very interesting for me.
Being there and being able to look back
to Earth, to do something challenging;
that was really important. How many days
was not as important. I think at some period
of time I was close to be at least one
of the longest flyers, because after my
second Mir mission I logged more than 400
days and it was close to the maximum time
at that time. Actually it was before Sergei
Avdeyev's first flight.
I already had logged more than 400 days in space. So I knew that
I'm close to be, one of the
longest flyers but I never tried
to make efforts to be longest.
It may just happen during this
speaks to the confidence of the people for whom
you work that they are willing
to send you back on these missions.
and I think for me this mission is going to be interesting
because it's challenging. We are in the period of time when
we require experienced people
to be there and because we are flying just small crew, crew of two. I am happy
to be useful in this situation, to be selected for this flight.
assume that astronauts and cosmonauts understand the dangers
of spaceflight, particularly
since the loss of Columbia two
years ago. Here you are lined
up ready to go again. Tell me
willing to take the risk
that comes with the job you do?
train for different kind of emergency cases. Actually,
the majority of our training
done for off-nominal situations,
if you compare time we spend
for nominal operation and off-nominal.
I would say off-nominal situation is major part
of our training -- although
I hope in flight we will
have minimal time and minimal things connected to emergency.
So we reduce our risk of flying, the risk of doing this mission,
to minimum. I think it's acceptable risk. We have a saying in
Russia: "If you have altitude more than
zero and speed more than
zero, you have a risk." We have
pretty high speed and pretty
high altitude, but that's what we train for, that's what's
our profession and that
what I like to do.
your family deal with the risk of knowing
that there are those dangers
in your job?
they may not know all the risks connected to the flight. That
helps a little. Secondly they probably are confident with me
knowing that I know what I'm doing. I think they worry,
of course, and I think they try not to make it harder for me showing
this worry, that's
how I put it.
flown to the International Space Station twice before. Has your
experience given you an advantage as you get ready for this flight?
Having real flight experience
helps not only on
my training but also
in training my partners,
because I can share
my experience with
them to show area they
need to emphasize during
training, to show and explain
to them the difference
between training and real
flight. I think experience
of every flight, especially someone who has experience
of long duration flight, is very valuable for the
training. That's why we have a tradition in Russia of
flying at least
one experienced crewmember per crew. We very rarely deviate from this tradition.
It has became almost like unwritten rule.
there anything that you had thought
you'd most look, looking
forward to seeing
when you get back there?
As you mention,
is going to be
third time I would
be on the same
Station and it
to see difference
between first assembly,
when I flew with
STS-88 when we
two pieces of the Station,
and then when we came with
Bill Shepherd and Yuri Gidzenko
to be the first long duration
mission on the Station --
to see how the Station grows,
how operations changed, how
Station increase its capability.
Now for the third time, for
sure, I know I'm, I'm going to see some change. I'm going
to see what
changed not only in the Station design, or Station construction,
but also how Station aged, because that's also interesting experience.
I had this experience on Mir when I was on expedition four, long
duration expedition four to Mir and then I came for expedition
nine. It was an interesting comparison to see that some things
hadn't aged as much as I expected, and some things were actually
changed more than I thought. And of course what is going to be
very interesting, what's interesting from one of my flights
to the other, is to see again Earth from space, to see what changed, to try to recognize some areas
I used to recognize easily and maybe to see what changed since I flew last time.
Expedition flight to ISS was to help finish putting that thing together from the inside.
What are the main goals of Expedition
kind of a philosophical question because, the main goal of each
Expedition, not only our Expedition, is to continue flying, to
continue to gain experience, to continue some experiments we
started before because a lot of experiments need to have a lot of data.
You have to have long sets of data to distinguish between real
data from just deviation from average; to find where average
is. You cannot calculate average from one or two set points.
So, I think this is probably one of the most important parts
of every mission. We are flying, as you know, in a difficult
time when we don't have enough supply to support three
people. We are flying missions of two people, where experience
and ability of every crewmember is important. So for us to continue
to do what was done before, to maintain all capability of the
Station, to continue experiments that we started before -- not
even which we started but what, which was started before -- to
continue, that's probably the main goal.
a good point,
that with a
crew of just
two the abilities
of all the crewmembers
become very important.
You flew first
to this Station
as the flight engineer,
this time you go
as the commander;
what are your main
this time around?
I think that's
a very subtle issue, because when you fly a crew of two or three,
the difference between the commander and every other crewmember
is very subtle. Everyone is working the same way. It's not like
when you have big military installation, when the Commander just
moves troops and just observes what's going on, when most of the
job done by different levels of professionals and you just keep big picture in mind. In this case you work as much, and maybe even harder, than your partners because you know more,
you have more experience. I think for every commander safety of the
mission, mission success, is a primary goal. Mission success is again very complicated
issue. To say after a flight that a mission was successful, you have to know that all experiments were
completed, all the work that was scheduled was done, but most importantly,
to know that the crew returned safely to the ground. When you become commander,
you have a responsibility not only for mission success but for your crew,
basically for the life of your crew.
know, that's pretty much the same success criteria that
Shepherd gave me.
That's the same thing. It doesn't
matter which nation you belong to because if you work with a
team and you are assigned as a commander, beyond all duty you
have on the Station in a relatively small crew, you have more
responsibility and you feel pressure of this responsibility on
Let's talk a bit about the science work on board the Station.
The focus of much of the science work, particularly in the U.S.
segment right now, is to find out more about how people can live
and work safely in a weightless environment. Tell me about some
of the human life sciences experiments in both sides of the Station
that you're going to be involved with on this flight, and
particularly these are the ones for which you're also going to be the test subject.
I can say that, probably one of the main area of study on Russian side is also life science. I cannot
say that these are my favorite experiments, especially as a result of this life science. In life
science experiments they draw blood from you, take samples of your muscles or skin. But we are flying in
a very unique environment and of course the body changes. I think the significance of all this study
is that we are not going to stay on Earth forever. We are going to travel. We may change condition of our travel and we need to know
how much we can keep this condition the same as on ground, how much it cost and is it really necessary.
So, every flight continues to collect data on the behavior of the human body and the response of
the human body to a weightless environment. That's a very delicate issue because people are different,
condition from flight to flight is different, and I understand that's why we have to continue this
experiment, to get statistics.
it involves more than just taking samples from you before flight and during flight. Tell me
about some other experiment activities you take part in during the flight.
As I said,
the simplest thing is to see how, for example, the chemistry
of your blood changed; how you tried to compensate this change
and you are taking samples not just to take a sample, you are
taking sample to see change and to see the response of your body
to different medicine or different activities. A second thing
which is very useful in spaceflight, mostly because of the weightlessness,
is that you may separate some responses of the
human body or human nervous system on Earth due to many factors, including
gravity, and you can subtract one of the disturbances
to the system and see how other parts of neural system are connected.
For example, one of the studies we are doing
is to see how humans coordinate eye and head movement. We know
that it seems very simple, but we have some diseases when people
get discoordinated on the ground. We think we know why it happens,
but we, we are not 100 percent sure. That's why scientists are
arranging experiment and they try to, to get some data, when
one of the factors is eliminated from the equation. So, in one
of these experiment we are going to do, actually not only for
our long duration mission but as you probably know we are flying
up as a crew of three, and Roberto Vittori, who is our third
crewmember on Soyuz, is flying with Italian experiments, and
some of them include this eye and head coordination. Again we
are learning how muscle change. We don't need to take samples
of the muscle -- I know that scientists would like to but it
doesn't happen every time -- just to see how your strength changed,
how your endurance changed, so all this stuff is very important.
Even chemistry of your body is very important. That's
why we are trying different medicine and result of using
this medicine help scientist to understand how, how they
affect human body and what side effect you may have.
Space Station is
a laboratory for
experiments in other
kinds of science as well.
Tell me about some of those, the
other kinds of experiment activities
that you and John Phillips will
be involved in during your time
types of experiments can be also connected, some kind of
connected to life science, to biological science, but not necessarily to
human body, because we know that, even small microorganisms are
changing in space environment. So, to see what the changes are,
to do some experiments on microorganisms to see, even to take
samples and let them grow and supply data to the ground and then discuss
it with the ground, that's one of the experiments
we are going to have. To see how different plants are growing,
because for future missions, if we are talking about missions
to Mars and beyond we probably need do some kind of closed loop
environment, the same way as we have on Earth as a big spaceship.
We may need to be able to grow plants and we need to know how
to do this. To understand completely how it's done we may need
to simulate gravity, we may need to try different lighting conditions,
and we may need to try different samples, different plants, actually,
to see what kind of plants are more appropriate for long duration
flights. Even these small things like growing plants might be
very important for the future. Of course we have big areas such
as physics. We started this experiment on, during Expedition
1 and we are going to continue it on this mission, when you study
what we call Plasma Crystal. You probably heard about this experiment.
That experiment has applications in different area. One of the
interesting data we got after Expedition 1 allows scientists
to understand better how our universe built, how planets were
formed from clouds of heated gas. The experiments are very interesting
because again, it's challenging. You see some effects you cannot
observe on the ground because, again, gravity changes everything.
In space you can see new phenomena, you can see unusual things,
and that's very interesting. If you know the consequence of the
experiments and data, that's
make, make it even more exciting.
Image to right: Expedition 11 Commander Sergei Krikalev dons a training space suit. Credit: NASA
folks are also training to make a couple of spacewalks during your time up there.
Now I recognize that the plans may change by the time this happens but, as of now what
are you planning to do for spacewalks for Expedition 11?
We have two
spacewalks planned. An interesting part of our mission is that
we are training to do EVA in both spacesuits, U.S. and Russian. Now for nominal
operation, not only for emergency but for nominal operation,
we scheduled to have one EVA in Russian suit to do a job
on the Russian side of the Station and another EVA in U.S. suit
to do maintenance and experiments, actually install some
experimental equipment on the U.S. side of the Station. On the
Russian side, strangely, we have a kind of biological experiment.
We have a device installed outside of the Station which is very
similar to human body properties. This equipment is filled with
different kinds of sensors studying how heavy particles and space
radiation affect the human body.
is one of them. This experiment started earlier, and our task
is complete it. This unit will be collecting data for a while
and our task will be disassemble it, deactivate
it, return it to the Station, disassemble it
inside the Station and return samples back.
So that's pretty big part of one of Russian
EVA. Another interesting one is a joint experiment with the
Japanese space agency. A previous crew installed samples of different
materials which are very important for future spacecraft design.
They were exposed for different time and on a different part
of the Station and we would need to return some of them back
to Station, pack it and return back home. So all of this is not
very unique but as in all complicated experiments if you miss
one step you actually destroy the entire experiment. For us it's
kind of challenging to do several completion of experiments,
very important part because every mistakes on this phase would
destroy all experimental data. On the U.S. side, one of the interesting
parts of the EVA is installing a flow potential sensor. The Station
is flying not in a pure vacuum, but in the very thin atmosphere
where just few molecules are flying around. But we are flying
at very high speed and we also generate magnetic field around
us, an electrostatic field. To know what this electrostatic field
is we install this flow potential sensor outside of the Station
and this sensor will help us to collect data and know how we
need to build our system, how we need to compensate this phenomena,
to be sure that all EVAs are going to be safe. If you have a
kind of electrostatic arc to crewmember, it wouldn't
be the best day for him.
The same is true for different
equipment. If this condition
exists we have the ability to
it, or we need to build some
equipment which more resistant
to this kind of environment.
is another aspect of your mission that would be unique in the ISS history.
Later in your mission you are scheduled to receive a third crewmember -- to have another member of the Expedition
crew join you while the Expedition's already in progress.
Can you tell me what you see as the significance of returning the
International Space Station's
crew to a size of three people from two?
as I said, a two-member
crew is kind of an unfortunate situation which you have right now. Originally
the Station was designed for six or seven crewmembers. During the
assembly phase we decided that three crewmember would be enough to do
assembly first and then combine assembly with scientific experiments. Unfortunately
we had to step back and now we are flying crew of two. As I said we
have very strict requirement for this crewmembers because we have
to be able to do all the jobs on the station, just the two of us.
When we add a third crewmember we are going back to nominal configuration,
we are gaining back our ability to do more scientific experiments, to
make station more useful and more important for developing new spaceflight.
And continuing this thought, we used to have experienced people on board -- at least one experienced
crewmember with experience of long duration flight. With two
crewmember it's very difficult to get new people experienced. So, gaining
third crewmember on board will help us to transfer our experience we gained in previous
flight to future generations. The more people we have on orbit, the easier it is to share your
experience with subsequent crew.
on orbit with
but if the Shuttles
return to flight
as planned you're going to be there when Eileen Collins and her crew arrive on board Discovery.
What are your thoughts on being there for that historic event?
For us I think it's going to be an historic event after it
happens, so I think about this event not only as historical
event, but more as an experiment, because we found that small
damage to Shuttle wing may create a big problem. We know that
we have to understand the problem first, and one of the first
experiments (you may call it an experiment), we need to do is
to see how much we can see, how much damage we can assess before
the Shuttle even docks. For us it's basically an experimental
flight; it is test flight. It's going to be an historical later,
but for us it's a test flight and we are participants in this
flight. When Shuttle is approaching we are supposed to do a very
detailed and very quick map of the Shuttle using different types
of cameras. It's not an easy task; it's very time-critical because
the Shuttle cannot stay for a long time near, near Station.
It requires some fuel; it plumes the station, so everything should
be choreographed very precisely. The shuttle crew is doing one
thing and we are doing other things to help program, not only
the Shuttle crew but the program, to understand what's going
on and what needs to be done. Later on in the mission the Shuttle
crew is going to go outside and do kind of visual inspection
of potential damage. They also are going to do experiments with
tile repair. If some of them failed or if some tiles were destroyed
we need to develop techniques to take care of this thing because
the problem is not only lack of information what tiles and how
many tiles were damaged but also if you see this you have to
be able to react. Those are the experiments that are going to
be done during this mission. And of course, for a long time Station
didn't change in configuration, so the first flight wouldn't
change too much but the second flight, which is scheduled for
our mission, is going to continue Station assembly. I think the
significance of us being there is actually very similar to the
significance of us being there during Expedition 1. The Station
continues to be assembled and we have to keep up our work with
kind of a changing environment. It's kind of challenging, it's
interesting, and for us it's
going to be
also very interesting to see that people are coming to the Station. We are
increasing the capability of the Station, and being able to manage all this
big crowd on the Station is also kind of a
Getting food and
water and other supplies
up to the Station has been limited
to the Soyuz and Progress vehicles
since the last Shuttle flight, but the return
of the Shuttle to operation, along with its big cargo
capacity, is going to mean that there
will be a lot more material that
can be moved up and down. Can you
give me a sense of how reopening
that kind of supply line is going
to change life for the crew on the
Station, and change the Station itself?
We have a
pretty well-developed process and pretty good calculations
of how much water the human body consumes, how much food you need to continue
operation on board the Station, and of course this kind
of supply is first priority. That's why, when Shuttle
was not able to fly, all this kind of load was taken by Progress.
But as a result we were not able to deliver as much equipment
for scientific experiments. So increasing the variety of means
to deliver cargo on orbit increases not only amount of food (we
don't need food more than we can eat -- we can increase our margins
in case of emergency again, but we don't need
much more food than was delivered before), but
we would be able to deliver more equipment for experiments.
Returning Shuttle back to flight would mean more scientific capabilities because
we would be able to have three crewmember after that. We would be able to conduct more
missions. When STS-114
is there you mentioned
that there are spacewalks and
some of what they are going to
be doing outside. What will you
be doing inside as part of the
team while those spacewalks are
we were trained as backups for Shuttle crewmembers so
if something happened with them we would be able to support this EVA. That's
one thing. If everything goes nominal, which I hope happens,
then we have a lot of things we have to transfer from Shuttle
to Station, from Station to Shuttle. Several significant pieces
of equipment are waiting to be returned to the ground. Some of
this equipment is kind of bulky and can't be returned on Soyuz.
We delivered some of, of this equipment up on Progress but we
cannot return it. I hope that Station is going to be much nicer
after the first Shuttle comes because we think we would be able
to return on Shuttle much more than Shuttle actually delivers
to the Station. That's first thing. The second thing is, for
me as for commander of the Station, to be sure that everything
goes smooth, that there are no unnominal situations, no malfunction.
If something happens we have to be ready to react. Sometimes
it's kind of hidden -- there
is not much activity to anticipate something happening; but it takes a lot
of effort to react if something goes wrong, especially if you have so many people on a, on
Building a Space Station a few hundred miles up above the
Earth isn't the ultimate goals of the partner nations in this program.
From the prospective of someone who's getting ready to leave the planet
and go to that Station for a tour of duty, tell me how you see this Space Station helping achieve
a vision for the future of space exploration?
First, agree with
you that Station
is not the ultimate goal.
It's an intermediate goal. That
may be the significance of this Station. This is an intermediate step you
have to make before you go any further. Life science experiments can be conducted
on the Station to understand how far we can go with the configuration we have
right now and what else we need to do to provide more efficiency of human beings
on this long-duration mission, and long-distance mission. We continue to conduct
technological experiments to see how materials change and how they behave inside,
and outside, the Station, to know how to build new vehicles. We are even learning
how microorganism change inside the Station, and some of these organisms might
be a biological hazard for materials inside. Certain microorganism can destroy
insulation on wires and create big trouble. We have to be prepared especially
if we are to go on long distance missions. On these long distance missions
(not only long-duration missions, as we are flying on the Station right now)
you have to be much more autonomous. Even small things that people don't
think about very often can change the quality of our development. Being participant
of Mir flights and now ISS flight I see that experience of people, on the ground,
operational experience, is very important. Unless we gain this experience,
unless we do this step, we will never be able to move any farther from the
Earth. It needs to be done on the Station before we can make any further steps.
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