Q: The International Space Station Crew Interviews with Salizhan Sharipov, the Flight Engineer on ISS Expedition 10. Salizhan, tell me what are the goals of this expedition to the International Space Station?
Preflight Interview: Salizhan Sharipov
A: The main task of Expedition 10 is support of ISS in functional condition. We will have to do dozens of experiments, Russian experiments as well as U.S. experiments. And if we perform all those science activities, then I believe the main task will be complete. Of course, we will also have a few EVAs: Nominally we'll be getting out from the Docking Compartment of the Russian segment, but if necessary we are ready to perform spacewalk from the U.S. segment.
You've been training for this flight, in one way or another, for several years now, and not just the formal instruction here in Houston or in Star City. Have you enjoyed the process of getting ready for this flight?
Yes, of course. Training for a spaceflight is a very interesting period of time, when you are already a crewmember and looking forward to the flight and you are putting all you have, all you knew, in order to get ready for the flight. Of course, this is not the first time I am training: prior to training for Expedition 10, I was a backup crewmember that performed successfully in space. And I believe training in both Houston and Moscow is an element that is a combined, united element of training that is necessary to perform successfully in space.
Of course, you have flown to a space station before, albeit a different space station. Has that experience given you any advantage in the preparations you're going through this time?
Yes. I was a member of STS-89 six years ago, and the experience of communication with the U.S. colleagues and training together with them helped me a lot in current training for ISS. And of course, the experience that we are gaining at the center of cosmonaut training is very valuable because we communicate with experienced cosmonauts who have visited space many times. This is important for success.
On the other side of the experience coin, though, Expedition 10 will be the first ISS crew in which none of its members have ever flown a long-duration mission before. You've got three ground teams keeping an eye on what you do, and almost four years' worth of experience of crews on this Station right now; do you think it matters so much that neither you nor Leroy have flown a long mission?
Well, I believe Leroy Chiao is a very experienced astronaut. He performed three spacewalks - three flights with spacewalks - and he's very well prepared, technically. And the fact that I have not flown Soyuz before - well, I still have experience while I was training for the previous five flights where I was backup. I think it is important, and I think the trainers, the instructors, people who prepare us for flight, will be making the correct decision. And only if they are sure that we are able to do that, only then I believe we will be allowed to fly to space.
The road to this mission took an unexpected turn with the loss of Columbia and its crew last year. And as we've mentioned, now you've flown in space before and you're well aware of all the things that can go wrong. But here you are again, ready to go fly in space again. What is it that you feel that we get, or what is it that we learn, from flying people in space, that makes it worth this risk that you're willing to take?
Of course, spaceflights are risky business; everybody knows that. New technologies, advanced technologies, are necessary to support spaceflights, and we learn new technologies while we are performing science in space. And, this is what we are contributing to humanity, to progress. And it is unfortunate that sometimes we are losing qualified specialists, it is unfortunate because the technology that we are advancing in space is usually so advanced, and we are not able always to foresee all the hurdles that we should go through while performing science. But, we are bowing to the people who have sacrificed their lives…
Tell me why you wanted to be a cosmonaut.
Because it is a very interesting job. A job of the cosmonaut, an astronaut, requires vast knowledge of technology. This is a person who is able to control himself and follow the goal, and these are the qualities that are important in this profession. I believe these [are] qualities that I should cultivate in myself, and this is what I am doing. And this helped me to make the decision to become a pilot first and then a cosmonaut. I remember when I was 4 years old and I saw an aircraft in the sky that was flying very low. I was together with my mom, and at that time I realized how it could be to be in the air, to fly. And then I was training, I was learning, I knew that it will take a lot from me, both emotionally and physically, and I became a pilot, a military pilot. And of course, when the opportunity came to become a cosmonaut, it didn't take me long to write an application to the cosmonaut training center with a request to undergo medical examination to become a cosmonaut. Of course, I was accepted, and since then I am in the Cosmonaut Corps, and I have trained for long-duration flights.
Let's talk about this long-duration flight. The members of any flight crew have got to have a whole range of talents that are necessary to complete all the jobs on a mission. And in this case, all of those talents are, need to be possessed by just two people. Tell me what will be your main responsibilities as a member of the Expedition 10 crew?
I am the commander of Soyuz vehicle. I'm completely responsible for the Soyuz vehicle for rendezvous and docking activities, and in case of emergency - hopefully it will not happen - and if we have to abandon the Station using Soyuz I will be a commander in that case as well. But, for the long-duration period of the flight while on the Station, I will perform the role of flight engineer, responsible for the Russian segment of ISS. Both Leroy and myself have been trained for working both in U.S. and Russian segments, and we're combining our roles. We are helping each other. All the activities that are performed by Leroy on the U.S. segment will be supported by me, and Leroy will be very well trained to help me on the Russian segment. Leroy, as the commander of the crew, will be responsible for the flight program, and I, as a flight engineer, will be responsible for the technical aspect of the Russian segment of ISS.
The International Space Station has been run with just a two-person crew for a year and a half or so now. Back then, there was some concern that two people weren't enough to do all the work that was required to be done; what has been learned about balancing the demands for crew time for operations and science and for relaxation that is going to help the two of you make the most of your time on board?
Activities inside the Station are very interesting, and we have a huge flight program that includes over one hundred experiments, science experiments including EVAs; two Progresses should visit us; also we're expecting Space Shuttle in March. And two crewmembers will be performing all these activities; probably we'll be very busy, and I understand the time will fly. Also, based on the experience that was gained within the last year and a half, I believe two crewmembers can support successfully ISS. Of course, this is not enough to take advantage of all the possibilities such as science experiments on ISS, and two people are not enough to completely explore all the opportunities that space exploration offers us. And I believe Shuttle should come back to flight as soon as possible, and we should complete construction of the Station as soon as possible so that at least five people will be working on board - only then we can say that we are using it to full advantage.
The primary focus of the scientific research on board the International Space Station is becoming, more and more, research on how people are going to be able to live and work safely in a weightless environment. Tell me about some of the human life sciences experiments that you'll be participating in on this flight, science for which you are going to be, in fact, the test subject.
Of course, we are performing lots of both U.S. and Russian experiments. They include human research, research of space impact to human body. We understand that humans will be on the Moon, on Mars, and other planets, and the beginning stages of humankind in space is the study of space impact to the human body, and we are test subjects in this respect in microgravity. Medical/biological experiments comprise the largest part of the Russian science program. For example, the research is being done on how the muscles are operating in space, how the bones are functioning in space, how various medications are affecting the human body. All of that will help for research in preparation for long - very long, a many-years'-duration - flight in space. We are not forgetting that when humans stay a long [time] in space it will be necessary to have food the same as we have on Earth; that's why we have an experiment which is called Plants that is a study how to grow plants in space.
The International Space Station is a laboratory for experiments in other areas of science, too. Tell me about some of the other kinds of science research that will be going on during Expedition 10.
We'll perform various kinds of experiments. As I mentioned, one very interesting experiment is called SRS, which is a low-temperature synthesis in space; high technologies that would allow us to develop new materials. In biotechnology, for example, we are using stem cells for possible development of a vaccination for AIDS treatment. We are studying ecology of the Earth from four hundred kilometers above; geophysical experiments, we are researching as well, study nature of various occurrences, physical occurrences. We are performing such experiments that would help humanity to live better and progress.
As someone who has a degree in cartography, as you do, I would guess you will have a very special interest and, I guess, an anticipation, about the experiments that will call for you to observe the Earth and to take photographs from four hundred kilometers up.
Of course. First of all, I am a military pilot and a cosmonaut, and after that my interest lies in cartography and ecology. It is very interesting to observe the Earth from space, having special equipment designed for it. In this situation, we are performing geophysical experiments that are interesting from the point of view of ecology. And when I just started being a student of ecology, we were performing an experiment on ecological monitoring of quasi-synchronous, of a certain region in Russia; that was an interesting region where the first nuclear explosion in the former Soviet Union took place, and there were a lot of specialists working on the ground, working on aircraft and we in space also were performing a part of that activity. Unfortunately, we do not have this kind of experiments this time, but I believe the experience that I will gain from being a flight engineer of Expedition 10 will help for future development of such activities.
You mentioned a couple of minutes ago that there are plans for a couple of spacewalks out of the Pirs docking compartment. I know that things might change later on, but tell me that, tell me about what are planned for the spacewalks right now - what are you and Leroy going to be doing outside the Station?
There are two planned EVAs for us; they are planned right before the New Year and in February. The first spacewalk will be for installation of the universal work space on the Service Module, and installation of Rokviss experiment, which is a joint experiment for the European Space Agency and Russia. We will have to install an antenna and pick up some equipment that is already outside the Station. This is complex and interesting work, and I believe this will be our, my first experience in EVA and for Leroy, who has been there already, will be my mentor in this respect. The second spacewalk is for ATV, which is the European transportation vehicle. We will be installing antennas-these are the ones that Expedition 9 is working on already but these antennas will be located in the front end of the Service Module, and we will have also to install other satellite navigation antenna and a TV camera will be installed by us, also for ATV purpose.
As a mission that plans to fly from October to April, that means that you will be away from home for some traditional holidays. Have you two made plans or stocked any special provisions for the holidays that will come up while you're on orbit?
A holiday is important: it is an opportunity to forget about work, to relax. Especially for us, a holiday means that we can be with our families, see their faces, talk to our kids. And for cosmonauts who are in space, this is something that we are looking for, always. The holidays that you are talking about will probably be interesting as well, because we will be communicating with our families and we will be also working on what we have to do. For the families that are on the ground, this will also be interesting to talk to us … they will have a video image of us from space. The families will miss us, and we believe that they will endure, and we'll be always thinking about them, and thoughts about them will help us to work efficiently and come back to them as soon as possible.
The last three ISS Expedition crews spent six months each on orbit with no visitors, but if the Space Shuttle returns to flight in the spring you will be there when Eileen Collins and her crew arrive on board Discovery. What are your thoughts about being part of what's going to be an historic moment for ISS and for human spaceflight?
Well, I believe the historic moment would be that the Space Shuttle comes back to flight, and I hope that everything will be done well and safely. And I'm certain of it, that we will definitely meet the Shuttle crew in space in March, and we will be looking forward to that meeting impatiently. When the Shuttle comes back to flight, then the new stage in ISS activities starts. ISS has been missing the Shuttle; ISS wants to grow, to develop, and continue functioning for the good of the humanity. And Eileen's Shuttle that is going to come will be the first step in the development in the direction so that the Station will be developing further.
The plans for STS-114 call for it to be a very busy mission with spacewalks to test new inspection and repair techniques, as well as the spacewalks on the Station, plus an MPLM delivery. How do you and Leroy go about preparing yourselves for that? Are you training for that mission now, or do you wait until you get on board the Station and then get caught up on the tasks that you'll need to do during the Shuttle's time docked to the Station?
First of all, we are training for the long-duration flight that is going to be busy already. At the same time, we are being trained for the activities when the Shuttle arrives, and for a long time we have been training for working together. We had quite a few lessons that will help us to work together with the Shuttle crew. For example, when the Shuttle is coming to the Station we are ready to inspect it to make sure that the surface of the Shuttle looks all right; we will be taking pictures of it. And later on, as we are already on the Station, we will be getting more information on to what tasks we are supposed to perform, specifically, and what specifically the Shuttle crew is going to do, and we will continue working with the crew that is still on the Earth and has not arrived by the Shuttle yet.
Salizhan, the International Space Station is a project that has goals of making advances in engineering, and in science, and in global relations, as well as in space exploration. What do you think is the most valuable contribution that is coming from the International Space Station program?
The International Space Station is an international project and the participating countries are doing a lot for the progress of humanity. The ISS is demonstrating to us how we should work and live together; this is an example of how we coexist in the future. The Earth is small, especially when you are looking at it from space. There are no borders, you cannot see them. Only people are there, that are doing something to survive, to live better, to know more. And this is an example of creating, International Space Station is demonstrating a lot for humanity. I believe that just, that a few decades from now that humanity will start working, living as one unified entity, and will be doing everything so that all the people on Earth will live well.