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Preflight Interview: Gennady Padalka
JSC2008-E-117642 -- Cosmonaut Gennady Padalka

Expedition 19/20 Commander Gennady Padalka, attired in a Russian Sokol launch and entry suit, takes a break from training in Star City, Russia to pose for a portrait. Photo credit: Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center

Q: Of all the careers in all the world that a person could aspire to, you have ended up as a professional space traveler.  What was it that motivated you, or inspired you, to become a cosmonaut?

A: When I was only three years old, the first man flew in space.  When I was only seven years old, human beings began to work in the open space, and when I was only eleven years old, I remember watching people walk on the moon.  And it was incredible decade for all mankind, and I think at that time each boy dreamed to become, to become an cosmonaut or astronaut.  So did I.  And then maybe I forgot about my dream, but I was fascinated with aviation, and that is why I was admitted into Higher Military Aviation College, where I majored in engineering.  And after graduating from Higher Military Aviation College I served as a military pilot in the Russian air force, before being selected as a cosmonaut.  And my dream came true.

So it, you weren’t always working to become a cosmonaut, but it was something that started when you were a young boy?

I think all the three incredible events, I mean, the first manned flight, the first moon mission, motivated and inspired me in my dream to become an cosmonaut, an astronaut or cosmonaut.

Well let me ask you about the place where this happened.  You, you grew up in, in Krasnodar.  Tell, tell us about that place and what it was like as a boy in those days. 

It’s my hometown.  Krasnodar city is located in the south of Russia, not far away from the Black Sea.  It’s an incredible place, and this, it, there is very warm weather, and I graduated my school, and, not far from Krasnodar city, I mean this city [Eisk] is pretty close, my Higher Military Aviation College was located at that time, and I had a lot of teachers and I’m thankful to this city and I’m very thankful to people in this city and I’m, I’m very thankful to all my instructors in my Higher Military Aviation College because they played integral [part] in my life, in my decision to become a, a cosmonaut, but I, I wouldn’t like to name some of them because I probably might leave some others out.  But I’m very thankful.

Tell me how did they influence you, how did they help you achieve that dream.


How, you said that the people who were there were instrumental in helping you along; tell us, tell me, tell me how.

Hmm, they told me about space adventure, and because they were, at that time they were all grown up and I just was a, a boy, and they motivated me, inspired me by giving me a great example, about everything that I was surrounded and, like a parents and teachers.

You touched on this, let me ask you to give us, again, the short version of your educational and your professional history.  You said that you, after what we call high school, you went on to…

You mean my education, do you mean my education?

…your education and your, and your air force career.

In 1975 I was admitted into Higher Military Aviation College [at Eisk] where I majored in engineering, and just after graduate, graduation from Higher Military Aviation College I served as a military pilot and senior pilot in the Russian air force before being selected as a cosmonaut.  In 1989 I left my active duty in the Russian air force to pursue career in the Russian space agency as a cosmonaut.  In 1994 I left UNESCO center of instructor systems with degree engineer-ecologist, and this February I’m supposed to graduate from Russian Academy of Civil Service under president of Russian Federation.  My specialization is civil service and national security…maybe it will help me after being retired, I hope.

When we have talked before you also in the past had told me a story about a chance meeting with, Alexei Leonov and how that influenced your, your career.  Tell that story.

Yes, yes, you remember it.  Yes, as I mentioned above, it was my dream and then to become a cosmonaut, and then I forgot about this.  Maybe my dream was in the, in the back of my mind.  And because I was fascinated with aviation and I started my career as a military pilot, but,  but then once I met our famous cosmonaut, Alexei Leonov.  He was the first person who participated in the first international project, I mean Apollo-Soyuz with your astronauts, and he suggested, suggested that I try to become a cosmonaut, and I tried and I got it.

It’s not bad to…

Sometimes, yes, in our life, yeah, things happen just [click!].

It’s not bad to get encouragement from…


…from someone like that.  The career that you’ve chosen as a, as a professional cosmonaut, is one that can be very dangerous, of course.  Gennady, tell me what it is that you believe we achieve, what is it that we get as a result of flying people in space, that makes it worth the risk that you take?

Space flights are very risky enterprise, you are right.  But, from my perspective, because I have very long career, I would say that our management, our engineers, try to take into account all tiny issues or problems in reference to risk, they always try, before sending us into space, they try to weigh risk and, and, and benefit, and they try to stick to balance between risk and benefit, and, but sometimes, you know, that we have sorrowful event…because, according to very famous utterance, the great endeavor demands a great risk.  But I have complete faith and trust in our management and in our space vehicles.  But we need risk, sometimes we need risk, as I mentioned above: a great demand, the great endeavor demands a great risk. 

Very good…

As for your, second part of your question, I mean, what is, is it worth the risk...

What are we, what are we achieving?

Risk…I think, hmm, achieving, it seems to me our space research, our, all our space technology,  are very useful for the next generations, and because our job in space right now with this, it’s like a bottom line for the next generation.  And, as I mentioned above, they will definitely mark our job in space.

You are Commander on the next expedition to the International Space Station.  Gennady, please summarize the goals of your flight and what your main responsibilities are going to be.

You know that we are supposed to have six-person crew starting from this May, maybe a little bit later, this June, and that is why Mike Barratt and me, we are supposed to participate in two increments, increment 19 and increment 20.  Our, our major objectives are the following: two space shuttle flights, STS-127, so-called 2J/A, and STS-128, 17A, led by Mark Polansky and Frederick Sturckow.  We are supposed to have two Progress flights, 30P—33P—and 34P, and then, Soyuz relocation from Service Module aft port to ­Docking Compartment, and three EVAs, two EVAs for preparation for Mini Research Module arrival, and third one for final outfitting and configuration.  And just one month before our landing we are supposed to have the first HTV-1 [H-II Transfer Vehicle] flight, and our crew will participate in berthing, unberthing, and disposal event, and of course,  we will have the best science program on behalf of Russian space agency, NASA, ESA, JAXA. 

You completed a six-month mission on board this space station just a few years ago; tell me why you’re eager to go back for another tour.

Because I am [a] professional, it’s my profession, and I was assigned by my management.  It’s a big honor for me to be commander and leader of this six-person crew, and I’m sure that all my colleagues—I mean, cosmonauts and astronauts—dream to fly as many times as possible and dream to be assigned as soon as possible just after landing.

Well, you are also the first person who is ever going to be commander of the International Space Station for a second time.   Tell me how you feel about, is that an honor?

Hmm … as I mentioned above, yes, it’s a big honor for me,  to be crew commander for a second time on board International Space Station, and at the same time it’s, it’s a big responsibility for me, because as a crew commander I need to ensure safety crew, and I need to ensure the, hmm, very good, very comfortable psychological climate,  inside the crew and between crewmates, and because we are supposed to have many nations, and with different customs, mentalities, traditions, and as a crew commander I need to ensure that psychologic, psychological climate was very perfect, and, as a crew commander I need to ensure that my crew and the ground—I mean MCC [mission control center] personnel and management personnel—we work together as one team just to ensure safe, efficient and successful mission.

SC2008-E-125961  -- Cosmonaut Gennady Padalka

Expedition 19/20 Commander Gennady Padalka uses a still camera during a training session in an International Space Station mock-up/trainer in the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility at NASA's Johnson Space Center. Photo Credit: NASA

For the first several weeks you and Mike Barratt will be on board the station with Koichi Wakata as your crewmate.  Tell me about the, the focus of the work that will be facing the three of you during that period of time.

OK.  Yes, you are right, Koichi Wakata is supposed to be our third crew member and he will, he will, he will be replaced, replaced by Tim Kopra, and we are supposed to have two EVAs.  The first spacewalk will be associated with preparation for Mini Research Module arrival: we are to set up some antennas and target on the exterior of Service Module.  And we need to relocate, in the second EVA, we need to relocate the receptacle cone and install it to Service Module zenith port.  And, of course, then after accomplishing EVA, we need to relocate our Soyuz from Service Module aft port to docking port, and, of course, we are going to pack a lot of things for STS-[1]27 mission and we need to, make a lot of things done for STS-127 arrival.

As a pilot, I, I would assume that you look forward to the task of getting to fly the Soyuz from one spot to another.

Yes, you are right.  It’s, it’s, it’s very amazing, yes, yes, to fly in space, especially after undocking, and just to fly around the space station to another docking port, it’s, it’s pretty amazing.

That’s why you became a pilot.

Yes, yes.

At this point, let’s say, shuttle Endeavour arrives, docks to the station, and as you mentioned, will deliver Tim Kopra to join your crew.  What are the goals of this joint mission with the shuttle mission STS-127?

It will be very, very hard job because, hmm, the main objectives of this shuttle mission are the following: they are supposed to bring up and install and activate JEM [Japanese Experiment Module] Exposed Facility, to JEM Pressurized Module, and, this mission,  provides rotation, crew rotation, and Koichi Wakata will be replaced by Tim Kopra, and they are supposed to have some preventive maintenance for ISS,  such as,  let me give you example: they supposed to replace six ISS batteries on P6 Truss.  And, then they, five EVAs are scheduled for this shuttle mission, and our crewmate Tim Kopra will participate in the first EVA, and this mission is supposed to provide installation JEM payload, JAXA payload facilities, to this Exposed Facility platform.  In general, this all task for this mission.  It, as I mentioned above, it will be very, very hard time for us because we need to par, participate in this event and help these guys a lot and we have many tasks scheduled, and, and time tight, and I would say only after closing the hatch we can breathe a sigh of relief.  It’s, it’s pretty hard.  But it’s very, very important mission and we are ready to assist and help shuttle guys just to get to their mission successful.

You mentioned some of the hardware that they’re bringing along.  Talk about how the, the JEM Exposed Facility and the additional hardware is going to improve the station operation.

After JEM Exposed Facility installation, JAXA will get opportunity to provide science experiments, and to perform their science program in space.  And it’s, it’s amazing.  It’s a great contribution in this international project made by, by JAXA.

And this is an opportunity for [coughs], excuse me, to operate both inside and outside of the Japanese Kibo complex.

Yes, of course, of course.  After getting Exposed Facility, yes, and JAXA will have opportunity to provide science program inside and outside of their module, I mean, pressurized JEM module.

The plan right now calls for, shortly after,  STS-127 leaves, for another Soyuz to arrive with three new crewmates to join you on orbit.  Are you excited about achieving this milestone of expanding the size of the International Space Station’s permanent crew to six people?

It’s, I think it will be amazing because this event will happen for the first time in our history, and we are supposed to have six-person crew for long, for long-duration period.  And … I think, I’m sure that ground did, and the ground is doing a great job, and they try to take into account on all details, and they try to envisage all, all problems.  But at the same time we are ready to put up with some tiny problems and ready to work with the ground as one team to resolve them, and just to, just to get the space station ready for six-person crew.

Of course, you have experience on board this space station, albeit with a crew of two on Expedition 9.  Can you give me a sense of, from your perspective, how the day-to-day operations of the station would be different, or perhaps more complicated, having six people on board as opposed to just two or three?

For me, as well, it will be a great experience because I never lived through this and two my previous flights I flew only with a two-person crew, and,  from my perspective, I think it will be more complicated for the ground in comparison to space station crew, because they should do a lot of work, they should take into account all our schedule, I mean, all our timeline and, as for, for example physical exercise, they need to plan which crew member has a proper time just to give, him opportunity to, to, to do physical exercise.  And many things that we need to take into account just to, just to plan everything correctly and properly, and, for us we have all ECLSS [environmental control and life support systems] systems are ready for six-person crew; as for phys, exercise hardware, we have almost everything except for maybe ARED [advanced resistive exercise device], which is supposed to brought up just during the next mission, and as for Treadmill 2, this hardware is supposed to be brought up during the 17A mission and additional crew quarters, and we’ll see.

Despite the complications that may arise,  it will be an historic event.  Talk about the, the historic nature of this crew—we’re looking at having Russians and Americans and Europeans and Canadians all in space at the same time together.

You are right.  It seems to me we’ll have possibility to have Japanese as well, because,  we have a meeting with JSC [Johnson Space Center] Director and, Program Manager— maybe it will happen that 17A mission will be postponed a little bit later, after just,  Soyuz TMA-15 arrival, and at this time we will have Canadian, Russian, American, European and Japanese guy on board space station, and I would say it’s, it’s outstanding event.  You know that all these countries have been participating in ISS project for 10 years as a minimum, and now it’s pretty high time to have all these astronauts and cosmonauts together working in space.

Very, I assume that that’s very different than what you thought you might be doing when you first became a cosmonaut.

Say it again?

When you first became a cosmonaut, would you have imagined that you would have been in space with Americans and…

Oooh, I couldn’t even imagine.  I couldn’t imagine it because at that time, I mean, 1960s decades, we had space crew, three, maximum three-person crew, and I couldn’t even imagine at the time that I would be commander of six-person crew.

We’ve mentioned that the International Space Station is there to do science and now in, in several different laboratories, and a lot of the science work is looking into how people can, live and work safely in that environment.  Tell me about some of the experiments in that area which you’ll be working on during Expedition 19 and 20.

During my previous mission I participated in NASA space program, ESA science program and Russia science program, but, right now, when each space agency has opportunity to have in space its own astronauts, it’s pretty easy to accomplish this program by using only its own astronaut or, or cosmonaut.  As for me, I will participate in Russian science program and about 40 science experiments are scheduled for me in different fields of science: it’s, such as biology, medical, astrophysical, technological, technology experiments, in, in the field of ecology, many many experiments.  It’s pretty hard for us to know all these experiments in details, especially when you have no science degree, for example.  But we are just a link between scientists on the ground and experiment in space, and scientists on the ground consider us as, integral part of science experiment because we can assemble, disassemble hardware, we can provide preventive maintenance, or we can update software, but it’s impossible for us, for example, to, to provide, hmm, analyze, analysis with, of the data.  But in some science experiments I am supposed to participate as a subject, I mean, medical experiments, and right now in Russia I have, I have background data, and then I’m supposed to provide these experiments in space, and, I wouldn’t say that our current science program,  will give us instant results, because some of them—majority of them—are just fundamen, fundamental research, but I’m sure that our current program,  will make us take steps forward, just resolve many problems on the ground and improve our life and resolve … issues that we face on the ground, and I’m sure it will.

You’re due to see a second space shuttle visit the station during the summer.   Talk about what the goals are of that joint operation with shuttle mission STS-128.

STS-128, 17A, the major objectives of this mission is, to bring up MPLM [multipurpose logistics module] with 16 airlocks and six of this air—racks, not airlocks; racks— we need to transfer to the space station: three of them it will just standard, international standard science racks, and the rest ones: Treadmill 2 racks, as I mentioned above, and Node 3 air revitalization system, and crew quarters racks.  After getting three, these three racks, we will have all habitability for six-person crew.  And then this mission is supposed to provide some, some maintenance for the space station, such as, replace ammonia tank assembly on P1 Truss and replace RGA, rate gyro assembly—this hardware is used by motion control system just to measure angular velocity and to provide attitude control.  Hmm, and that’s, that’s about all about this, this mission, and, and, of course, crew rotation, and Tim Kopra will be replaced by Nicole Stott, and it is supposed to be the last crew rotation on board space shuttle.


And in general this, it’s, it’s about all, about the task of this mission.

And at that time [coughs], while that rotation’s going on, you’ll have 13 people in space all at the same time on the same vehicle.

Incredible.  As I mentioned above, will be pretty hard and tough life in space, but we understand that it’s, it’s very necessary, yes, to, to get our space station complete assembled.  It’s very great, for that, for the, following missions, and we are ready to work and assist shuttle guy.

After that shuttle mission and the exchange of Nicole Stott for Tim Kopra, you’re also due to see the arrival of a brand new vehicle.  Talk about the Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle and, and what it, what it will add to station operation.

It’s the second great contribution of Japan in true international project, after JEM.  And HTV and ATV [Automated Transfer Vehicle]—I mean, European cargo vehicle—it’s very, great contribution especially after space shuttle are retired, because only through these vehicles can, supply space station with all items needed for crews and, and payload, payloads.  HTV, you know that it has pressurized section and unpressurized.  Pressurized sec, section, and it can bring up up to six standard payload racks, and we can transfer them into the space station, and during this mission we need to transfer only two of them and the rest, four, are supposed to have only cargo.  And HTV has unpressurized section, and inside unpressurized section HTV supposed to bring up exposed payload facility,  so-called SMILES [superconducting submillimeter-wave Limb-emission sounder], seems to me, and the other, it will be NASA payload exposed facility.  And our crew will participate just to translate this exposed payload facility from unpressurized HTV section to Exposed Facility on JEM, and, as far as I know, Nicole Stott and, and Frank De Winne, they are responsible for this operations, but in case if we have only three-person crew, Mike Barratt will be scheduled for this task.

And that [coughs], excuse me, that’s a transfer using robotic arms.

Of course, you are right, you are right.  We are supposed to use SSRMS [space station remote manipulator system] and, and Japanese robotic system, and that is why my crewmates were certified by doing this, these jobs.  And, of course, we are supposed to participate in berthing and unberthing event.  You know that this space vehicle doesn’t have docking system, and as approach into the space station my crewmates should just grab, maybe at a distance of ten meters, they are supposed to just grab by using SSRMS HTV, and dock to Node 2 nadir port.  And after unpack, we need to pack with trash and waste materials, and our crew will participate in unberthing event.

JSC2008-E-141512 1 -- Cosmonaut Gennady Padalka

Attired in a training version of his Extravehicular Mobility Unit spacesuit, Expedition 19/20 Commander Gennady Padalka awaits the start of a spacewalk training session in the waters of the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory near NASA's Johnson Space Center. Photo Credit: NASA

And that’s using the, the station arm as well.

Of course, of course. 

Why is it, is it designed in that way, rather than to dock itself to the station as the Russian Progress vehicle does?

Not only Russian Progress; ATV…


…has its own docking system.  Maybe Japanese engineers try to use another technology, and who knows?  It works very well as they test it, and we’ll see.

Be interesting to see it happen.


During the latter part of your time on board you will be working with European Space Agency astronaut Frank De Winne to get him set to take command of the station.  He will become the station commander after you and Mike Barratt,  go home in the Soyuz.  Talk about the significance of the International Space Station having a European Space Agency astronaut as its commander for the very first time.

My opinion, it’s high time for ESA to have its own commander because 11 European countries have been participating in this project since 1998 as a minimum, and they made a great contribution—you know, Columbus module and, and ATV.  And I know Frank De Winne for long time, maybe since 1990s, as a minimum, and, you know, that he tested our, hmm, Soyuz vehicle, I mean, updated vehicle, TMA, with Sergei Zalyotin, and he’s a very professional man, and for me it’s a big honor to, to pass him my duty.  I’m sure everything will be in good; he will be a great commander.

You will be a part of a major milestone in human space exploration in getting this planet’s space station operating with a larger and, and more multinational crew.  Gennady, would you tell me [how] you see human space exploration proceeding in the years to come, and how the International Space Station is going to contribute to that future.

That’s a very good question.  I would say that space station is a, it’s a good example, very outstanding example, how people can work together, can cooperate together, just using different technologies; we can supplement each other.  And, thank God all our nations, at last our countries, our agencies and people themselves, have matured in their ability to work together in space on behalf of all mankind.  And as for our generation, I would say that whatever next generation will build or create in space and, or wherever they will go into space—I mean, to the moon, Mars or beyond—I’m deeply convinced that our generation is working at it right now, and I’m sure that next generation will mark our job in space and space history.  It’s our great contribution for the next generations.