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Preflight Interview: Roman Romanenko
05.06.09
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Cosmonaut Roman Romanenko, Expedition 20/21 flight engineer, participates in a camera review training session at NASA's Johnson Space Center. Image credit: NASA

Q: Of all the careers in all the world that people can want to do, you’ve ended up as a professional space traveler. What was it, Roman, that motivated you to want to be, become a cosmonaut?

A: I think my education was the main factor. I was a military pilot, a jet fighter pilot. Due to certain circumstances, I had to work as a second pilot for large cargo aircraft. I am also a healthy person, and this was a major prerequisite for becoming a cosmonaut, so my education, my health were the two factors that caused me to think about becoming a cosmonaut, and also an advice from a friend. Because of these things I applied to the cosmonaut corps. I passed several tests and was accepted as a cosmonaut candidate. Upon completion of this part of training I started flight-specific training and am now completing the training for my first spaceflight.

[Of] course you’ve been exposed to cosmonautics your whole life because you were born and grew up in Star City. Tell me what it was like as a boy to, to grow up in that environment in that time.

It was actually pretty difficult to grow up in the Star City. There were regular kids around me and everybody knew that my father was a cosmonaut. Even at school every teacher could comment on my behavior just because I was considered special. All children of cosmonauts went to one school, we all lived in the same neighborhood, Star City, and all of us, children of cosmonauts, were in the center of attention from the teachers and general inhabitants of the Star City, and so it was difficult in that respect. But we got used to it and we tried to use every opportunity to leave the Star City so as to escape this environment, just to be regular people somewhere else. On the other hand, as I was growing up in the Star City, I always saw my father’s friends who were also cosmonauts, they were always training, always traveling, and we the children were brought by our parents to the various social events, parties, picnics. We were part of the space family. We saw how things are working in the space industry, so it was something that was part of everyday life. It was not out of this world and I did not dream of spaceflight as a, as this magical far-fetched opportunity. Only when I became an adult I developed this hankering for spaceflight.

Well, let’s talk about how you got there. Tell me about the steps in your education and in your career as a pilot that led you ultimately to, to becoming a cosmonaut.

After I graduated from school I enrolled in the military college, a cadet school. This is the first stage of military training, it instills discipline and various qualities required for military life. The uniform was an additional bonus: a young man in the uniform turned heads, and I was proud to be wearing that uniform. Upon graduation from the military college I got an admission spot in the flight school for military pilots. I graduated from the flight school and I would have been very happy to fly the aircraft that we were training on, the jet fighters. However, because of the geopolitical events, disintegration of the Soviet Union, I was forced to learn to fly different type of aircraft, large cargo planes. I spent a couple of years flying those big planes and then I realized it was not something that I wanted to do, because remember I wanted to be a jet pilot. And so all this led me to the decision to try and join the cosmonauts. I had good health, I had the appropriate training, so I submitted my application, got accepted, completed the cosmonaut candidate training, received qualification of test cosmonaut, and then continued my training as part of assigned crews. That training took part in Russia and here at NASA’s Johnson Space Center where we are training now for this flight, my first spaceflight, the one I was getting ready for, for the last ten years.

And now you’re in a career as a cosmonaut where flying in space can be dangerous at times, so Roman, tell me why, what is it that we get a result, what do we learn, as a result of flying people in space that, in your mind, makes that worth the risk that you take to do so?

I think that it, it’s normal for humans to feel the need to explore the unknown, to do something that has never been done before. I believe every person has the adventurous streak, and the same is true for us. We chose our job because we want to do something that has not been done before by anybody. Of course, when you do something like this the danger is inherent, and the dangers may be what appeals to us in this career. There are outcomes, the results of our flights; they give us this valuable and unique experience of people operating, working in an enclosed environment in space. At the same time we are developing the experience of teamwork in extreme environments as well as learning how to utilize the capabilities required for future interplanetary missions. Those missions will take a long time and people need to know whether they will be able to withstand the tribulations of such long-duration spaceflight, especially given the multinational nature of the future crews. We have already been able to find answers to some of those questions.

You are Flight Engineer on Expedition 20 and 21 to the International Space Station. Roman, would you smarize the goals of your flight and what your main responsibilities are going to be during this mission?

Well, my main responsibility is to ensure safe delivery of our crew members to the station as well as their return to the ground. This is responsibility number one; responsibility number two is to perform all tasks that were assigned to our crew partic, and to myself for this six months period of our mission involving servicing of the station and performance of the experiments planned for our increment. I also would like to add that this mission will be a new step in the spaceflight when six people will live on board the space station simultaneously. This is a new page in the history of spaceflight and we will be learning how to work and live in these conditions.

This will be your first trip to space. What are you looking forward to the most about the opportunity to spend six months off of the planet?

This is a very interesting question. You are correct, this is my first flight and everything I do for this mission will be a first for me. The opportunity to participate in this mission was a rare and fortunate opportunity for me. Our crew will be composed of representatives of at least three space agencies, each one performing different set of tasks for the increment, and I will do all within my power to complete the entire program for the mission, all experiments, and all tasks. It is hard to say what other responsibilities will come our way. There are always additional tasks that appear in the course of the flight and need to be performed. We, the crew members on the Russian side, do train for all possible situations on board and I am confident that I will be able to perform as required by the mission management or the space agency management.

When you dock your Soyuz to the space station your, you and your crew, Frank De Winne and Bob Thirsk, will join Gennady Padalka, Mike Barratt and Koichi Wakata to mark the expansion of the International Space Station’s crew to six persons for the very first time. Are you excited about achieving this milestone in the space station?

Yes. Everybody is dreaming of participation in something grand, and we were lucky to have this new milestone coincide with our mission. I am talking about transitioning to the six-person crew, so I am very much looking forward to the launch, to the start of the mission, to working with all those people who will be part of our crew, increment 19 and 20 crew members, and all six of us, we will, we will make everything necessary to make this time worthwhile.

It appears now that when you arrive at the station that there will be a representative of all of the partner agencies will have an astronaut on board at the time. Can you talk about the historic nature of being part of that moment?

I think the historical nature of this moment will represent itself during our mission because it will be marked by the presence of people from all corners of the world. When we all get together at the table we will see that we are people from all corners of the world, working together as a single team to execute our mission program, and I want to believe that we will be able to find a common language and that we will all be happy to be part of this family consisting of representatives from three or four different countries. I hope that we will be able to do it and that our mission will be the first successful example of such multinational team working together.

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Cosmonaut Roman Romanenko, Expedition 20/21 flight engineer, participates in a training session in an International Space Station mock-up/trainer in the Space Vehicle Mock-up Facility at NASA's Johnson Space Center. Image credit: NASA

In your training have you gotten a sense of the, , the difficulty from the perspective of day to day operations on the station, of how it will be to coordinate the activities of six people on the station and all the communications with all of the, the different control centers you’ll have on the ground?

Yes. We were and we are expecting that a lot of our activities will involve coordination with three or four mission control centers. Prior to our launch we have been meeting with the previous crews as, and also we were meeting with the crews that will come after our increment, increments 21, 22, as well as shuttle crews. We had several working meetings with those crew members to discuss how we are going to coordinate the activities or orbit. Naturally everybody in space wants to have a turn to talk to the ground, to talk to the mission control, and we talked about how we’re going to organize its structure, these communication sessions. Everybody will want to speak to the ground. At least six people will be waiting for their turn at any given time, so we want to get it done right and set our increment as an example of this new and efficient way of organizing communication. Perhaps we will follow the same patterns that we used for three-person crews, or perhaps we will come up with something new, and we’ll share our experiences when we come back.

According to the plan currently, shortly after your arrival there is a pair of spacewalks planned for Gennady and Mike to make. , tell me about what they’ll be doing outside the station, and what you will be doing inside to support that work.

Yes, during our increment there will be a lot of EVA activities; in other words, spacewalks. In addition to two Russian scheduled EVAs, there will be seven or eight EVAs by the shuttle crew members. They will need to perform a lot of tasks. However, the main objective for all EVAs is to outfit the ISS with all those elements and modules and hardware units that will ensure successful operation of a six-person crew on board the ISS. EVAs that will be performed by Gennady and Mike Barratt, those EVAs will also address the tasks of outfitting the Russian segment with the new Mini Research Module #2, delivery of which is scheduled for this year. We’re hoping that we will receive this module during our mission; it is scheduled for delivery at the end of summer, beginning of the fall. It will dock to the Russian segment and Gennady, during his EVA with his U.S. colleague, will have to route cables in order to ensure docking of this module. They will also have to replace the scientific exp, hardware located outside the station because on orbit we do experiments not only inside the modules but also outside in the exposed environment of space. Such activities require participation by the crew, and those of us inside the station will be assisting our EVA crewmates. We will be helping them with the airlock operations and also assisting to the full extent of the IVA crew support.

Shortly after those spacewalks you’re expecting to see a space shuttle arrive on shuttle mission STS-127. Talk about what the goals are of, of that joint mission and the new hardware that it will deliver to the station.

Yes. In the course of the Endeavour mission, during the mated flight with the ISS, there will be five EVA sorties aimed at outfitting the Japanese segment of the station. The shuttle will deliver the Japanese Exposed Facility, a special platform designed to house experiments for JAXA [Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency]. This platform will be mated to the Japanese module. On EVA 2 the crew members will install video cameras used for payload observation, and in subsequent EVAs I think they will position various payloads, remove thermal shrouds, and as additional tasks for the EVAs they will perform a battery swap on the P6 Truss; several batteries on that truss require replacement. So, those are USOS [U.S. Operating Segment] maintenance activities. And the secondary goal will be to deliver our sixth crew member, Tim Kopra. His arrival will complete our six-person crew.

After Tim Kopra joins you, one of the first things that’s coming up is that the station crew is going to do a little rearrangement of, of modules, going to move the, one of the PMAs [pressurized mating adapter] from one spot on the Node 1 to, to another spot. Tell me why that’s being done and, and what it takes to accomplish it.

This is a very interesting task. When I was assigned to the previous crew, ISS 15, we were training for something similar, PMA relocation from one docking port to another. Such operations provide the opportunity to reconfigure the U.S. segment for future expansion and PM, PMAs are the connecting elements between the modules. They are also used for shuttle dockings and most likely the, this relocation will provide additional opportunities to expand the U.S. segment and perhaps attach the Node 3.

Throughout the time that you are on orbit there will be a lot of research done on the station into how people can live and work safely while being in space. Talk to me about some of the experiments in human life sciences that you will be involved in during your time on the space station.

There is a tradition; a tradition is to perform experiments for several main areas of science that is geophysical investigations, study of earth, study of seas and oceans, Earth’s surface. There are also biomedical experiments that do get performed throughout the entire flight. Now this applies to the Russian segment but situation is very similar on the U.S. segment: biomedical experiments, medical, health experiments aimed at the study of human body functioning in the microgravity environment; there are also medical experiments that are designed to identify changes in the human body in the weightlessness, changes in the cardiovascular system, muscular-skeletal system, over the long-duration six-months flight. There are a large number of experiments—I can count about 25 experiments assigned to me as a Russian crew member and somebody who was identified as a subject for biomedical research and provision of the biomedical data from orbit to the ground.

Your crew is due to see a second space shuttle visit the International Space Station this summer. Tell me about the joint operations with STS-128 what else will be delivered to the station on that shuttle flight.

Yes, we are looking forward to this flight as well because for us, as a six-person crew composed of people who are men, we will be joined by a new crew member, Nicole Stott. She will dilute our all-male crew, and it will be good that she will come at around the midpoint of our increment. Hopefully she will bring us good luck and we think of her as our good luck charm, and we will, of course, be looking forward to her arrival very much. Also this flight will deliver MPLM [multipurpose logistics module] module containing hardware that will support our presence on board the station and will provide resources necessary to maintain habitability as well as provide resources for scientific experiments to be performed on the ISS. Also during that shuttle flight three or four EVAs will be performed by shuttle crew members. In one of those EVAs Nicole will be participating as an EVA operator. She will work on the tasks of replacing ammonia tanks, GPS antenna R&R [remove and replace], and CMG [control moment gyroscope] R&R on the outside of the U.S. orbital segment. This is important work that will be preformed by the shuttle crew, but like I said, the most important contribution will be the delivery of Nicole Stott, our new crew member.

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Cosmonaut Roman Romanenko, Expedition 20/21 flight engineer, studies checklists during a training session in an International Space Station mock-up/trainer in the Space Vehicle Mock-up Facility at NASA's Johnson Space Center. Image credit: NASA

And only a few weeks after Nicole Stott arrives to join your crew, the space station’s expecting to receive a new cargo vehicle, the H-II Transfer Vehicle. Describe this new Japanese spacecraft for us and, and what it will add to the station.

This is a unique cargo vehicle developed by the Japanese scientists and engineers. This vehicle incorporates the current state of the art technology. I’m not a big expert on HTV; my tasks for the mission are a little different than that, but Nicole and Frank are training hard on HTV because they will be the ones to receive the vehicle, to dock the vehicle to the station. The docking will be performed in the manual mode. This vehicle does not have automatic docking capability. As we speak, I am sitting here in the studio with you and Nicole and Frank are in the training facilities working hard on training for the HTV operations, procedures, documentation. They are getting ready to execute flawlessly all the operations required for arrival of HTV. The vehicle will dock to the U.S. segment assisted by the Canadarm[2].

There is another first of its kind operation that is slated to come up with the arrival of a third Soyuz spacecraft that’s due to arrive at the station in October. Talk about what’s in store as you welcome Jeff Williams and Max Suraev to the station while Gennady Padalka and Mike Barratt get ready to go home.

Because of this situation we will have several crews cross-talking to each other. Gennady’s and Jeff’s crews will, by that time we will have spent four months on the station with increment 19, learning from them, receiving various relevant information about life and work on board the station. Because of that we will have substantial knowledge of the ISS operations and we will be able to hand over this experience, this knowledge, to the next crew. In the past this handover had to be completed within a ten-day period. In this situation we will be flying with the next crew for two months so we will have two months to do the handover and, of course, it will be helpful for the new crew to receive all this knowledge, all these experience, and they in turn will have an easier time handing over to the next crew.

And as Padalka and Barratt float out of the station, Frank De Winne will become the space station’s commander the very first time that a European Space Agency astronaut has, has had that job. Talk about the significance of another agency taking over that role for the very first time.

Of course this is a remarkable event. Any time something happens for the first time people take notice, and it will be the first time during our increment that Frank, the European crew member, will start out as a flight engineer and with the departure of Padalka’s crew he’ll become the commander of increment 20/21. This is indicative of a certain level of development reached by the European Space Agency. The, ESA has been waiting for a long time to achieve this milestone. Traditionally it was Russian and American crew members who played the role of station commanders, and this time we will have a European command ISS for the first time, and we as his crew members, of course, are ready to work under his command. By that time we will know each other well, having worked together for four months, and I can assess that when Frank becomes the commander this will be good for everybody because he is a wonderful person, very knowledgeable specialist with expert knowledge of station hardware, somebody who knows his job, and we will, of course, be ready to help and assist him, so we are ready to work under his command.

Another new component for the Russian segment of the space station is due to arrive before the end of the year. It’s called the Mini Research Module 2. Can you describe what that is for us and what that will add to Russian segment operations?

I think that this new module will be slightly larger than the Docking Compartment. However, it will provide additional vole for various experiments on the Russian segment. It may also be used as the additional airlock for EVAs, or a connecting module for subsequent addition of a larger, another larger module to the Russian segment. The reason why the name of this new module is Mini Research Module is due to the fact that this new addition to the station will house a number of scientific experiments that will be performed under the Russian space agency science program.

You are going to be part of a major milestone in human space exploration in helping get this planet’s space station operating with a larger permanent crew. Roman, tell me how you see the human exploration of space proceeding in the future and how the work on the International Space Station is going to help get that set to go.

Throughout the history of spaceflight and the study of effects of exploring to human, space environment to human body, we have accumulated enough knowledge to be able to move over to the next step, getting ready for interplanetary missions, for interplanetary exploration. Forty-five, 50 years of spaceflight have provided substantial experience, and I believe in the near future we will see new technologies that will enhance the current capabilities and will utilize our large spaceflight experience to, to develop and execute missions to the moon and then on to Mars, and I believe this is just a beginning: we will have to go beyond that, and the experience that we have and the new technologies that are coming on will enable us to do so.