Q: Why did you want to be a cosmonaut?
Preflight Interview: Alexander Kaleri
A: (laughs) Honestly speaking, I don’t know. Really, I don’t know, because I was almost five when Yuri Gagarin flew, and I cannot remember this [flight]; but in half a year, in August of 1961, then Gherman Titov flew. It was the second flight, a one-day flight, on board Vostok 2. I can remember this flight very well, I was five, and I can say that when I was seven or eight, I had no doubts then I will be a cosmonaut. So, now I can say that maybe I was born with this wish (laughs)—not “wish” but maybe with this…yes, with wish. So I don’t know why. Maybe it was the influence of my father, maybe something else, but all my childhood was very close to aviation issues because my father, when he was young he was a navigator and he jumped with chutes, but he wasn’t a pilot. He was a civilian engineer but an excellent engineer, and I was amazed at how he solved different technical problems, from homework to some inventions on his work. It was amazing for me, and it’s an excellent example of an engineer. But when I finished high school, I decided, I had two choices to be a cosmonaut: to be a military pilot or civilian engineer. Because I saw that the Soviet cosmonauts were either from military pilots or from civilian engineers, and I guess that the civilian engineers, civilian cosmonauts, Soviet cosmonauts were from a special organization, and later I knew that it was Korolev Design Bureau—now it’s called Energia. So I had the choice, and at first I decided to be a military pilot but later my father explained me that—and I understood by myself—that it’s more interesting, and maybe more valuable, to participate in designing and building spacecrafts and then fly, than to only fly with built-by-somebody planes. So I decided to be a civilian engineer in the aerospace industry.
And you had that in mind when you went to a university, yes?
Yes, of course. At the end of high school, I looked through the list of institutes in the Soviet Union—it was a thick book—and I saw one institute in Moscow, Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, and one of the departments was called Department of Aerophysics and Space Research. I thought, “it’s for me." And now I can say that I was lucky many times in my life to be at right time in the right place (laughs), and that was the first example. It was the first time of this.
In English we say, it’s better to be lucky than good.
Yes, good expression.
So tell me about your career then. You went to this institute in Moscow and tell me how that led you on into your place as a cosmonaut.
You see, it was very, very interesting because upon entry at the institute and during the first month of studying we students were familiar with the system of education in this institute and at the third stage of education, last stage of education, we had many activities in research centers in industrial enterprises, in areas of our specialities, and our group of students were tied to the Korolev Design Bureau, so it was fate. It’s my fate. So after I finished my school in the Korolev Design Bureau, I had no doubts that I’d be working there. And after graduation I entered to work in 1979 in the design bureau; it was already called Energia at that time,—now it’s Rocket and Space Corporation Energia.
And in that time you’ve been an engineer and…
Yes, I was an engineer; and maybe the previous selection of cosmonauts took place in 1978 and I entered into 1979, and then they started to select a new team in 1980-81. I was among the first persons, and in, in the 1984 I was selected finally. I was selected and now I’m a cosmonaut of Energia.
The part of your job that involves you flying in space is a part that we know has its possible dangers; you’ve experienced that yourself in your career. But, Alexander, what is it that you feel that we human beings are learning? What do we get as a result of flying people in space that makes it worth taking that risk?
How to explain the necessity of going behind the horizon? It’s a very human quality, so it’s maybe the most valuable frontier for humankind; space flights and going into space and lower Earth orbit and into the deep space, so I think, I cannot say any more. It’s very valuable for humans, very valuable for humankind, but how to explain it? Why, why did Magellan go around the Earth? Why? What kind of issue moved him?
You’re a member of the International Space Station’s Expedition 25 and 26 crews; Can you summarize the overall goals of this six-month flight, and tell me what you’re main jobs will be?
The main goal is to keep the station in good shape and to maintain all the equipment working, and to perform a huge scientific program for all the international partners. But, personally I will be responsible for the Russian program, of course, and maybe some experiments in programs of different partners. I’m not sure about U.S. but definitely from European, not Japanese. For me personally, my main task will be to test the upgraded Soyuz in flight. So for me, the most important and most valuable flight stages will be the, from the launch to the docking, from undocking to landing…
Well, let me ask you…
…and on the station for me it will be ordinary stay with performing all the tasks, very well known for me now.
You have, of course, done a tour of duty on the International Space Station before as well as several visits to the Mir station. How do you compare a trip to this station as opposed to the Mir station?
It’s interesting; it differs in some details. You see, it’s a new cooperation, new operational rules, new flight rules, new relations between partners, so I think these are the most important and most remarkable differences between these two stations, speaking in general. So, about my previous flight to the ISS, I think that this stage of station will be much more complicated and much more in size, so now we will have at least four or five additional modules and the cupola. Cupola is a beautiful and wonderful eye to the Earth and into space. So, I am looking forward to having a look from this window to the Earth, to space. So I think, it will be an exciting sight.
You mentioned a moment ago that you are also flying to the station on a new edition of the Soyuz spacecraft. This has some upgrades from the TMA model that has been in use since 2002. Can you tell us a little bit about that—what is new about this Soyuz and how do these changes improve its performance?
Mainly new changes took place in avionics. So we will have new on-board computer system, we will have a control and informational bus joining different computers in the complex on-board, the computer complex. So we will have some more redundancies in this case. We will have a new telemetry system. So it’s mainly in avionics and that is the new crew interfaces, like displays, like some information on displays, like some lights, some switches and, so it’s an interesting version and I think that the improvement of Soyuz will get us new possibilities to improve it more and more, because the main issue is that now we will have an open architecture of the computer system on board, The TMA version, like in the older versions, we had the closed architecture; now we will have an open architecture and we can improve and improve it.
And continue to improve…
…into the future.
It must be a nice thing to have been selected to be the first to fly this new vehicle.
Yes; I’m proud of it.
The Soyuz you will fly is different. The station that you will arrive to, as you mentioned, is different than the one that you visited on Expedition 8 and much different than the one that greeted Expedition 1 when they first arrived, and you will be on board the station for the anniversary, the first ten years of full-time human occupancy on board this space station. What do you think is the best thing that this partnership has done so far, in these past ten years?
I think the most important thing is that we work together and we learned how to work together in close partnerships, in close cooperation. I think this is the most important thing, and—it’s a huge station with new architecture, new possibilities, what else? And you see, it’s very interesting because when I talked with Sergei Krikalev after his flight in Expedition 1, it was interesting because maybe half a year before I flew with Sergei Zalyotin to Mir station, it was the last flight to Mir, and it was interesting because our flight was like a small model of the Expedition 1 on ISS because we had the same problems in activation of station, in configuring some system and maintaining features so close, details in two both different flights, that it was amazing. And now I think that we will make new big step forward in the utilization of, not in the utilization of station but in building and now we are at the beginning of the real utilization of station, of ISS, and I think it’s the new challenge for all the partnership to, to learn how to utilize the station in this cooperation. And I think that in next ten years shall we, what can we wait from this…I think that we will perform new amazing experiments, maybe, for me most valuable and most important is to perform experiments for improving human spaceflights, maybe in techniques and methodology and aiming to the interplanetary flights. It’s the most valuable for me, so it’s my waitings for this ten years period.
Let’s talk a bit about the utilization that will happen now. There are, of course, a larger crew on board and many more laboratory facilities, so there are a lot of experiments and a lot of them have to do with finding out how people will be able to live and work in the microgravity environment, which we will need for those longer explorations beyond Earth. Tell me about some of the different kinds of investigations during your increment that you will be involved with as the research subject.
As research subject, it will be mostly biomed experiments when my body will be under, and my brains will be under investigation (laughs). Honestly speaking, I don’t very much like these experiments but I understand that this is necessity to go further and further in spaceflights. So, for, for example, our Russian research, researchers will investigate the mentality or, the experiment so-called Tipologia, they will investigate the possibilities of our brains to organize the mental process and to help in solving the problems, in which is necessary to use either rational approach or emotional approach. So it’s some kind of psychological experiment. We will have some experiments in studying the cardiovascular system and some regulatory functions of cardiovascular and breathing and we’ll test new equipment and new methodology for, future experiments. You see, we’ll have a new, maybe in two years, Russian segment will be fulfilled by—not fulfilled but [finished] by the new research module, big research module, MLM [Multipurpose Laboratory Module]. MRM in English and we will have a lot of scientific experiments, a lot of scientific equipment for different experiments in different areas and we will have serious intentions to perform the biomed experiments of new generation using ultrasound and electrocardiography and, in many, many different kinds of equipment, nowadays equipment. So we’ll have a lot of work…
You will have…
…as a subject!
Yes. And you will have a lot of work as the operators of experiments in, in other kinds of scientific disciplines. Tell me a little bit about the other sort of scientific research that you and your crewmates will be involved in.
Well, you see how the different areas in our, in Russian scientific program, we’ll have different areas of investigations: fundamental physics, geophysics research, astronomy, biology, medical experiments, some educational experiments. So about biomed, I’ve told already; and about, we have a beautiful experiment, in my opinion, in fundamental physics called Plasma Crystal—it’s an example of fundamental researches in, in physics. The specialists will investigate, with our help, the dust plasma in some conditions and order dust plasma, in this environment. And the field of applications of this knowledge will be huge, from maybe nanotechnologies to cosmology. You see, yes, they really have applications and some ideas to apply this knowledge for forming of planetary systems, for planetary clouds; it’s cosmology. In some areas and technologies, Earth technologies with radioactive materials, so in the atomic industry, and in some growing crystals, controlling growth, and growing of crystals, so it’s a huge amount. I said from nanotechnology to cosmology.
Along with the science research there is, of course, regular maintenance that crew members on the station will do, and the current plan for your mission is calling for three spacewalks from the Russian section of the station in the latter part of the year. Tell me about who will be going outside on these EVAs and what work will be done.
You see, I am not too old for these EVAs, but I decided not to participate in these EVAs so I will support, but I decided that two EVAs we will perform will be Fyodor Yurchikhin from Expedition 25 and Oleg Skripochka, and the third one Oleg will perform with Dmitri Kondratyev from the next crew. I will be a supporter but I am ready to do something extraordinary, if necessary. So I am ready for any EVA and I am ready to perform typical operations, but I am not involved in these EVAs.
You have made a lot of EVAs of your own…
Not a lot of EVAs; I have only five EVAs, it’s not so many but, each of these EVAs were with some big peculiarities, and I can say that three of these EVAs I performed not being trained on the Earth, on the ground, so I had only on-board trainings to do it, and do them. So it’s the most interesting for me (laughs), and although these EVAs will be aimed for scientific purposes, to install a new working place for scientific equipment, to install some items of equipment, to reinstall, to demount and to bring back in, say like Expose, it’s the materials [experiment] of European Space Agency, and maybe some biological objects exposed from the Expedition 18. Then Robotic, it’s a European experiment for robotic arms and studying the qualities and ability to work in different modes for robotic joints, for some effectors, for some motors, and it’s working maybe for five years already so they are interested to bring it back and to return to the Earth some of details of this equipment. It will install the equipment for laser communications, communications by laser beams, and many other experiments.
The current plan for the sequence of events in your flight calls for shuttle
Discovery to arrive at the station on mission STS-133 in November. Can you tell me just a little bit about what’s on the agenda for when you get that shuttle visit near the end of the year?
I don’t know exactly the flight plan and the cargo and the payload of this flight, but I’m looking forward to meeting with Steve Lindsey, this crew commander, because we worked very tightly on the Earth, assigning crews and discussing the crew tasks in MCOP so—Multilateral Crew Operations Panel—and now we can meet on board the ISS, so for me, for both of us, it’s very interesting and very exciting.
We, we’re looking at the, at STS-133 bringing that Permanent Multipurpose Module and adding another room onto the station…
…and then early in the next year, STS-134 will come and it will bring the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, and at that point you’ll have the opportunity to see your commander, Scott Kelly, on orbit with his twin brother.
Yes, yes. And (laughs), I had many thoughts about how to distinguish them, not to mix them before closing the hatches.
The shuttle mission that Mark Kelly is commanding is the last scheduled flight of the space shuttle program, and so you will be on board to see that as well. What are your thoughts about the space shuttle’s place in the history of human spaceflight, and its role in building the space station?
It was a good and very interesting vehicle during the whole program. It’s almost 30 years, and it was an amazing program and huge amount of astronauts flew on board shuttle, so it seems to me that at least 75 or 80% of American astronauts flew on board shuttle, and only maybe 20 or 25 persons of all the astronauts flew on different types, like Mercury, Gemini, Apollo. So the contribution to the space program of the shuttle is huge and as to ISS, let’s see: almost one-third of all the shuttle flights were performed for ISS, beginning from STS-88, it was the first flight to ISS, excluding maybe two or three flights like for Hubble servicing—it seems to me two flights—and one was unfortunately, Columbia STS-107. So almost 30, 45 of 134, one-third exactly, so ISS cannot be built in this form, in this size, without shuttle, so what can I say any more?
Well, and, of course…
Thank you shuttle, for doing this.
When the shuttle is not flying, a major means of supplying the space station will be gone but there are three other proven cargo ships that are flying to supply the station and each of them is supposed to make at least one visit to the station during Expedition 26. Tell me briefly about the capabilities of these unpiloted Russian, European and Japanese cargo ships.
Yes, well, they are very different. First, Progress and European ATV [Automated Transfer Vehicle] vehicle can dock directly to the station from the autonomous flight, and Japanese HTV [H-II Transfer Vehicle] can be docked only by station manipulator, so it goes to the close vicinity of the station and stays there and then the manipulator controlled by the operator from station capture it and dock to the special docking port. It’s the first difference. Then I can say that they have different cargoes, different possibilities to deliver cargoes necessary to the station. HTV can deliver dry cargo, liquids and cargoes— not liquids, only dry cargoes—mainly for Japanese modules. It’s, like logistic flights, but it can deliver the cargoes both in pressurized volume or outside on the unpressurized platform. ATV cannot deliver unpressurized cargoes, outside the pressurized volume. Progress can deliver, some special modifications of Progress and we had this experience on board Mir, now it’s not necessary for us but we are ready, Russian side is ready to modify the Progress to deliver some unpressurized cargoes. But ATV and Progress are like in the big city, some cargo vehicles or cargo vehicles in the cities—big trucks and small trucks. You need both of them. You need both of them so they are both necessary, but I can say that Progress can dock in any conditions, and it can be manually controlled by the crew. ATV cannot be controlled by the crew so we are only monitoring the automatic approach and final approach and we can only stop it, to secure onto safe station, not more. So they are very different but then they are very similar in their functions.
And you add to that the on-coming work, that NASA’s doing to try to bring in private cargo ships so there are lots of different ways to bring supplies, to the International Space Station in the future. I’d like to ask you to look beyond that into the further future, and tell me where you think human spaceflight is headed in the next 20 or 50 years or so, and how is the International Space Station going to help prepare us for that future?
I hope that we will be aimed to the interplanetary flights and the ISS, or space, or the future space station, will be a platform for doing some activities to get ready for these interplanetary flights—testing equipment, methodology, some computer systems and some software. And of course, I hope we will work together in cooperation and international partnership, and, and we will try new approaches to perform some, maybe, say, ordinary tasks like injecting to the low Earth orbit cargoes by maybe private cargo ships like Dragon, like Cygnus, like some others. It’s very interesting for me and I think that this feature will be very interesting for our agencies to improve the economy of this activity.