Q: Why did you want to be a cosmonaut?
Preflight Interview: Fyodor Yurchikhin
A: Yes, and any times I have only one answer on this question, yes. I’m very lucky boy because everybody had a dream about spaceflights. I was grown when anybody in my yard, small yard in small town, hear about Yuri Gagarin, about Gherman Titov—it’s the first Russian cosmonauts—we hear, and our hero was Neil Armstrong; later it was John Young, Alexei Leonov, and Valentina Tereshkova for woman, for girls; it’s our hero, and it was a dream. And I am lucky, for what reason? I had this dream; I graduated high school, physical and mathematical school, for this dream; I graduated Moscow Aviation Institute, and now I may tell you, my dream is done? After done, I have a question [mark]; no, my dream continued. I’m lucky man. I wanted to be a cosmonaut, but there was a moment, 1st September 1966, it’s my first day when I came to school, and first day our teacher asked everybody of class, what do you want to do with in future, you know, like these questions. And I, like everybody in my class, asked, I wanted to be goalkeeper in soccer [team]. He told me, “Goalkeeper? It’s not profession; I ask you about profession.” Ah, about profession, I wanted to be a cosmonaut, like everybody. But it’s happened.
Let me get you to tell us a little about your own background. Start by telling me about where you grew up, in Batumi, in Georgia.
It was if you ask everybody, yeah, about his young ages, yes, and if he told me it’s very great, it’s really great time. It was really great time for me because I remember everything, the weather was warmer, yes? The relation was warm, everything better for me than now, because now I’m maybe very old man, and I understood the problems, too, in my ages, boy’s years, I cannot understand the problem. The life was too long for me. It was very small town, very small town. It’s about 100,000 people lived in this town, very international. In our yard, for example, lived together Georgian, Armenian, Azerbaijan, Ukrainian, Russian, Greek, etc., etc., etc. It very mixed town, and we, for example, my father understood and might talk in five languages; I used only, in these years, many years ago, I used only four. It’s Russian, Greek, Georgian and just a little English in the school, just a little, yes. And very international, very friendly, very helpful and I remember very well, ’60s, for example, when in the Russian TV we may see the soccer played from England champions, for World Cup from England. It’s 1966; only a few TV we will have in our yard, yes, and every TV, every TV was on the yard, exactly on the yard, and a lot of people watched this TV from this, of course, a lot of men and boys, and I remember this very well because I sit, I was small, I sit in the front of this TV and we watched the games from World Cup 1966. After this, our parents had cup of coffee or talked about something, yes; we, the boys we played the soccer game and it was too late, it’s about 11 p.m., like this, because it’s England and Georgia, it’s different time, yes. I remember everything from my…boy’s age about this, I may tell you a lot. It’s one of greatest town for me in our planet, and first of all, from space I would like to see my motherland town, take the pictures; I take the pictures, anytime in my first flight, in my second flight. I send these pictures for my friends who continue to live in Batumi, who now lived in Moscow, for example, in different places, to some Batumian lived in America, I sent him mails, too, about this.
It’s really nice to have that different perspective on…
Tell us then about your educational background and your professional career, and how that led you to becoming a cosmonaut.
Of course, I graduated school and this school named by Sergei Pavlovich Korolev, the main designer, the Russian designer who built the first Sputnik, who built the first rocket, who built the first Vostok, who begun build the first Soyuz, Voskhod, etc., etc., etc., and I think that everybody in space station, in the Soviet space program, understood who was the Sergei Pavlovich Korolev. And it’s like, sometimes the life, when, why it was this school—school number 5, I remember—every day, or most of day, not every day, most of day in this school. I don’t know why. It was far from me, for our yard, because some schools it was not so far, it was too far for me, but I wanted because I see the Korolev. I wanted to go this school, yes. And this school had, in high school level, had several classes, it’s physical, mathematical classes, it’s the chemical classes, it’s for future who wanted to go to, for example, in medicine institute. It was like economical classes for future, for who go to economical, for what reason, of course, mathematical and physical is for me because I wanted to go to Moscow Aviation Institute. Why Moscow Aviation Institute after this? Because maybe in ’70, ’72, ’73, I ask myself, what do you want? Of course, cosmonaut the profession it was my dream, my task for me, and I wanted to, and I asked myself if you check the data of everybody, cosmonaut data, it was only military pilot or engineer; only two was the doctors, medicine levels, but most of it’s military pilot and engineer. What do you want, Fyodor: be the pilot or engineer in space program? Yes, I may be a pilot, no problem, but if I don’t have enough health I continued my life like pilot only, might be the business like pilot, but if I’m engineer, I work with space program. And I wanted to work this space program. When I checked the data for all civilian cosmonauts, most of civilian cosmonauts graduated Moscow Aviation Institute: of course, more chance to go to cosmonaut if I graduated Moscow Aviation Institute. I graduated Moscow Aviation Institute and now one cosmonaut from Moscow Aviation Institute more, and when I check now how many cosmonauts and astronauts graduated one of the university or something else, yeah, most of cosmonauts in our life, it’s graduated Moscow Aviation Institute. I’m one of these. After Moscow Aviation Institute, Rocket Space Corporation Energia, it’s like I am in target—it’s happened. I am very lucky man.
The flying in space part of your job, we know, can be dangerous. So I want to know what it is that you think that we human beings, what do we get or what do we learn, as a result of flying people in space that makes it worth the risk of doing that.
Good question. Of course, for me, the first it was the dream, yes, and the dream I should do it, this. Next it’s when I understood about space program, it was the Moscow Aviation Institute, of course, not high school, Moscow Aviation Institute. And when I know how many people died in this program, not only cosmonauts and it was the terrible with the first rocket, for example, when we destroyed the first rocket with something like this. But what we have from this program, and when I check how many science experiments we have in space, for example, the plants, yeah; this, we worked with plants about 10 years, only after this we have seeds, but before 10 years, it was terrible. Why? The plants grow in space but not give the seeds. It’s answers. With animals it’s answer; with human, but if you read the science fiction, something, the many books I read, it’s [Konstantin] Tsiolkovsky, and Tsiolkovsky told us it’s our motherland and the humans should go up. Maybe the dream is the first, like in aircrafts, the first, when aircraft begun, do you remember that no pilot, any pilot doesn’t have a parachute; but it flew. Spacecraft had only one engine, but it’s continued flying. Now the spacecraft is more safe, and space program it’s the same. I understand very well for any time how many people worked with my vehicle, with our rocket, with us, how many instructors give us his smart, his level, and I know that everybody do it. Then for us, it should be very safe flight because the humans stay in this rocket, and I know it’s risky to stay on station but with me, my friends, we get a lot of emergency training in NASA and in Houston, a lot of emergency training in Russia. I know my friends and my friends help me if something could happen with me. I know with me are MCC Houston, MCC Moscow, it’s on Earth with us, and if something happened off-nominal situation, immediately many people stay on ground thinking about us and it’s great, too, and help us and it’s happened in Expedition 15 when all Russian computers had stopped. Three days, three nights, so many people worked with us to help us, of course, nobody understood about this situation, but we win. It give me more power, and I am sure many people did it, doing everything for safe our flight, because I am sure it should be the human program, because I am cosmonaut.
You are a member of the International Space Station’s Expedition 24 and 25 crews. Can you summarize your main responsibilities on this flight and the overall goals of your mission?
I hope like my last Expedition, and the first time, and this Expedition will be much better, and it will be interesting for me, because it’s a new one. Of course, you told me then and we understood now the station it’s bigger than it was, but in schedule—because I may tell you about only schedule; you understand the space program it’s very changeable and sometimes it’s not only for us, for astronauts cosmonauts, not only for vehicle, everything is changeable now; it’s life, yes?—but on schedule we should talk launch on June 16th and dock with station on June 18th, and now after this immediately, June 22nd or June 27th, it’s two possibilities, we should undock and docking to MRM1 [Mini Research Module 1]. We will have MRM1 on station because MRM1 is not activated after docking, after ULF4 [Utilization Logistics Flight 4; STS-132] crew members dock to MRM1 to FGB [Russian acronym for functional cargo block; Zarya], it’s not activated, and we should only manually dock with MRM1 and this is MRM1, it’s our place. After MRM, after our docking with Shannon [Walker]—it’s second visit on our second visit in station, our second visit station like Doug [Wheelock] and Shannon with me, and Doug immediately will help with Tracy [Caldwell Dyson] one American EVA, and he will walk in FGB, in place of FGB, I think it’s maybe the first time when both American with EMU [extravehicular mobility unit] walk in Russian segment. It’s interesting, a funny story, yes. After this EVA we will have with Mikhail Kornienko, we will have Russian EVA, we should activate it MRM1, it’s we connect MRM1 with power cable, data cable, from SM [service module; Zvezda], from FGB to MRM1. It’s very, very difficult, very interesting EVA; we’ve done a lot of training in Star City with Mikhail and I hope, be ready. And my main task for this flight, because last year I worked very hard in the Rocket Space Corporation Energia with MRM1, not only I because a lot of people, it was interesting, it’s new module, it’s have some more space for payload. It’s interesting, too, for me, yes, and we should activate it and integrate this module in space station. It’s very interesting task, my job, too, and, of course, the Russian crew members, too. After this several Progress, possible two, three, Progress, yes, and very interesting for us because it’s, look here, it’s 35[th] anniversary from Soyuz-Apollo program, this year, yes? Ten years how we, Zvezda launched from Baikonur, and 10 years how we begun manned flight on ISS station. It’s great, the sum of these things, and one more, I cannot tell you it’s terrible but it’s life, yes—maybe we will have chance to looking for last shuttle. It’s history. It’s American government decision, unfortunately for many people on the U.S.A., unfortunately for many people in Russia, for our work this great program—finished in this year. And maybe we will be lucky to say, hello, last shuttle flight crew members. That’s all, I think.
The station has changed a great deal since you were there last, three years ago. What are you looking forward to the most about seeing the station again this time?
Of course, the first of all it’s my technical task, it’s MRM1, yes, and I hope that ULF4 launched on schedule and I will see MRM1 immediately after our docking with station. Of course, this is the first. I am looking forward from MRM1, it’s like we are now in station, yes, and the next my great dream it’s go to immediately Node 3 and looking, observe Earth planet from cupola because I only check the pictures from guy who now return from space station who installed the cupola on station, yes, and if I ask anybody, it’s great view. If you see the blog, Maxim Suraev blog, he told them sometimes it’s not like from illuminator because it’s observation about 360° around. You may see anything, like you are in space. This is a cupola. Of course, I would like to, so, would like to go to Japanese module because I had training in Tsukuba center, and a lot of payload racks, it’s very interesting racks, I wanted to see how it works in space, and, of course, Columbus, it’s European Space Agency and a lot of racks now in Columbus, too. We have new galley in the United States’ station, and many, many tasks with my friends, with Expedition , Alexander Skvortsov, Mikhail Kornienko, Tracy Caldwell [Dyson] and, of course with my crew, my Soyuz crew, with Shannon and Doug. It should be very great Expedition, I hope—like any Expedition on space station, because any Expedition, it’s not because we like, unique, no; any Expedition it’s unique on space station. Any Expedition has, of course, it’s like program: we continue step-by-step in future.
Many of the new modules, as you’ve just mentioned, are new laboratory modules, and with new laboratories and now six crew members on board, there’s going to be more time for the crew members to do science research, and a lot of that has to do with figuring out how people can live in that environment, where you have spent more than six months of your life already. You’ll be one of the research subjects for some of these experiments, so tell me about a few of the human life sciences experiments and what kinds of things you crew members do to gather data.
Of course the crew member and our body is the main, maybe, task, on space station, about science. The first, of course, about medical experiments, yes, and for me it’s great question, thank you very much, because sometimes the people ask, have a question, for what reason we should continue our space program because it’s very expensive program, etc., etc., etc., experiments we can do this on ground. Every Expedition, short Expedition or long Expedition, has three—exactly three—space science experiments. It’s from new drugs about cancer, AIDS and [hepatitis]. And space program worked with these three subjects, too, and you understood and everybody understood how it’s important for human if we help for this program, yes? And if we do it only one of this and do it well, yes, I think we save all money what we spent to space program. I tell you about only three but we have many hundreds, maybe more experiments total, yes, more than hundred experiments in space because it’s not only with people, it’s automatic, autonomous experiments too, and I may tell you about biological experiments. It’s a lot and, of course, we are the status check for biological. It’s the experiments with plants and if you see the Russian space agency Internet or NASA’s space agency Internet, nasa.gov, for example, you may see a lot of pictures from how the plants grow in space. It’s our future, plants. Then we worked with several animals in space and like it was a mouse home in American program; we had a lot now in Columbus and in Kibo. With crystals, and one of the greatest experiments it’s plazmenni kristall [plasma crystal]. It’s named in Russian, and the European Space Agency, again I give you example how international partners could do this in space because it’s not only Russian, not only European, not only American. We work together, and it’s one of great example how the different cultures, different people from different countries with different language, may do the one great task. It’s help for everything. And we will have some experiments outside on station, for this reason when we have EVA we change the examples, we have some examples with different materials outside in space. It’s help for ground, too, for us because we will have new materials, new something like this. It’s a lot, I can tell you. Astrophysical experiments, yes, the human has great radio telescope, it’s named Hubble; has something else, yes, but we have from station, too, some experiments from station. It’s like the big pyramid, and we have smallest test from this one experiment, but smallest test from different site, and International Space Station it’s one of the piece of these big pyramids.
A lot of science work for all of the crew members to do. There’s also spacewalks on the plan as you mentioned a moment ago. The latest plan calls for a couple of spacewalks in July, both U.S. and Russian spacewalks. Tell me who’s going to be doing what and what the jobs are for the spacewalkers outside.
I may tell you exactly about Russian side and I may tell you some very important tasks from American. The first, in our schedule, it’s Doug Wheelock with Tracy Caldwell [Dyson] and the guys install the PDGF [power and data grapple fixture] in FGB and now SSRMS [space station remote manipulator system; robotic arm] may walk from Russian side, too. It’s great because we have this equipment, Canadian arm, great equipment, and now it may connect with FGB and work in this area. It’s one of the great tasks from American EVA. From Russian EVA, I told you, in July we will have some great tasks about connect cables, power and data cables from SM, from FGB to MRM1, for activate MRM1 and for next vehicle, I told you that the first time we did dock to MRM1 in manual, we used manual docking, but for future we will use this docking port like automatic docking with Soyuz vehicle; this task. Then we will have with Mikhail several tasks not about only cables, with payloads, like change the objects on space, like the small one. We relocate, we should change the ATV [automated transfer vehicle] cameras; it’s inside the SM, in aft of SM. It doesn’t work now well, it’s space, it’s long time it worked, worked in space, and for new ATV—we will have new ATVs the end of this year or maybe in the next year—and for this task we should have a fresh camera, we with Mikhail change this camera. And I hope, in end of our Expedition, it’s when the Expedition 25 comes to space station, its crew should be Scott Kelly, Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka. It’s scheduled two EVA more and maybe I will have small chance to do this EVA or one of these EVA, too. I am ready for this and I know though Oleg and Alexander are ready, too.
You reminded me of something else that I should ask you about. You’ve mentioned that when you relocate the Soyuz to MRM1, you have to do the manual docking.
The fact is you will have to do the manual docking; you are Soyuz commander, yes?
No, not me, because it’s the crew’s task, it’s not commander. Yes, of course, I will work with manual handle, with control, I control the Soyuz spacecraft, but for this reason, for this manually docking, a lot of tasks it’s for Shannon Walker. She is flight engineer, Soyuz flight engineer, and I know she’s ready for this task. She worked at this task, and maybe several tasks from Doug Wheelock because he helped us with procedures, with timeline, with anything. Everything is very important and if it’s only one can do this, it’s bad for me; the crew should do this, anybody should help each other, and we have very great crew. I hope we will dock this, we’ll do this great.
Let’s talk about shuttle visits. There’s a shuttle visit expected in the summer on ULF6, shuttle mission STS-134, with a new External Logistics Carrier and the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer. Tell me a little bit about what those components are, and what you and your crewmates will be doing to help the shuttle crew members when they arrive.
I know very well I cannot tell you exactly about this, about every specific for this spectrometer because I know only the objective, yes? I know the many scientists wanted to have the data from the spectrometers, and I know that Shannon and Doug will help the shuttle guys with EVA, prepare to EVA, with robotic system because Shannon should work with robotics in this case. Of course, like Russian, we will help like with luggage or something, input to station, help them, our shuttle crew members with everything they want, but most of the time this is a task for Doug, for Tracy, for Shannon.
The last space shuttle flight is due to arrive at the space station in September when you are going to be there.
It’s on schedule now.
It is on schedule.
Yes, of course.
What sort of activities will you and your crewmates be working on during that shuttle mission?
Oh, of course it’s last shuttle, yes, and we now everybody may be sure about, yes, I hear then some American has a dream maybe continue the shuttle program but unfortunately it’s like only dream now, and really all engineers or designers understand it should be the last one. Maybe it will be on September in our flight, yes, and first of all we’ll help all the crews, Steve Lindsey’s crews, for everything they want. These guys will have MPLM [multipurpose logistics module] and we will work with this because MPLM has a lot of stuff to remove to station, and on this time, shuttle flight, it’s like long flight direction on space but express if it’s short time. Just a little more I will talk to you, what the difference in a space station if I cannot do this task today—something happened with equipment or something I do not understand? No problem. I change the schedule and I may do it on next day. For shuttle guys it’s impossible: it’s only seven, eight, nine days with station crew, and for this stuff, should do it. For example: three, four, one shuttle did it five EVAs; you asked me about long- duration and I told you, one, maybe two, maybe three, but for small time, short time, it’s very express, and we will help. Unfortunately in this flight I don’t have many American tasks, I don’t have many American experiments in space like I had in Expedition 15, but everything what Steve Lindsey and his crew, major crew, last unfortunately crew in shuttle, yes, we will help with him everything, and most of time it’s, of course, luggage, it’s stuff, it’s with something, help with clean the area for this task, but again Shannon and Doug, will help with EVA, will help with robotic system, with everything like it is.
If you set aside for a minute exactly the tasks that are going on, but just recognize the fact that it will be the last flight of the space shuttle, the International Space Station is really kind of a monument to what the space shuttle is capable of doing; what are your thoughts about the space shuttle’s place in the history of human space exploration?
I am sorry about my answer because it’s, yes, if we go to ’70s and like space shuttle program began, we understood it was military program; it was one of piece of Star Wars, yes? It’s good or bad for human, but after this, if you share the most of flights, shuttle flights, its roles for international program; most of flights, it was work for space science program; most of flight it was for, several flights for Hubble. It’s great, and we understood, yes, maybe the beginning it’s not so good, but it’s now the greatest maybe program, one of greatest but not the greatest—one of greatest because we have Soyuz program, we have Apollo program, we have Vostok, Mercury, Gemini programs. Every program was great for this time, and now we understood about shuttle. So many EVAs, so much equipment, I thought, and I repeat again, Hubble—it’s one of the monuments of this program, yes; International Space Station, because if we don’t have the shuttle, maybe we will have, of course, we will have International Space Station because it’s life, the life change the shuttle program for more science, the life change our relation between America and Russia, and we have International Space Station, and we have now 16 countries, our partners on this station. If we don’t have the shuttle, of course, station maybe will be different one, but we have this station, very huge station, and thank you, shuttle, because most of American modules come with shuttle. MRM1, it’s one of task ULF4, it’s again Russian module, go to space and docked from shuttle guys. So much equipment, so many science racks—every science rack with the shuttle take to space station, and put to space station, shuttle crew, and returned all information from these one. Yes, we have some information from Soyuz, but the shuttle it’s different. It’s like a very big car. If you have the task, for example, go to shop, something buy it, you may use Soyuz, small car, no problem. But if you want to change something equipment, big equipment, from one place to the other place, with big crews, you use shuttle. Maybe it’s expensive program but you told, and I repeat, U.S. involved now, it’s the last for shuttle program, the monument, it’s ISS, of course, and Hubble, too; don’t forget about Hubble.
That’s a lot about what we’ve done in the past; I want to ask you to look in the future. Where do you see human space exploration going in the next 20 or 50 years and how is the International Space Station going to help contribute to that?
If my answer will be exactly, maybe I will be one of the greatest men on our planet, like Jules Verne, like something else. I’m not so big optimistic in this, for this program. I know if you ask everybody, yes, maybe you should go to moon, we should go to Mars like this, we should have this program. I am not sure. I am really not sure about Mars program for human. For what reason, yes, it’s a very big dream, but if you, for example…moon program—the last flight of moon, the program, it was the end of ’70s, and now it’s more than 30 years after this, and in a few years it will be 40 years after this and human never go to moon. I don’t like if we will have one flight on Mars and then we stop this plan. It cannot be like moon program, and for this reason maybe for me much better because for technical we should launch on different subject like moon or [ISS] we should return to ground, yes, and maybe it’s not so expensive if we use this technology for moon program. Not for Mars, because it’s too expensive and maybe only one flight; maybe not more. And for me we should continue this program with satellites, with like, NASA has great example, it’s Opportunity and Spirit. We should continue maybe for this, to prepare this place for human, and when the human come to Mars it should be something when we may live in this place, something understood very well what is around this place and automatic program, it should help us with this. But technical, we should work with moon; it’s my possibility. I’m not sure about it happening in 20 years, in 50 years, but for moon what we should do is return to moon, yes, of course, and one more question: I ask you now, international space program, International Space Station, it’s going to be like shuttle program, in 10 years, in 15 years maybe, we done with this program and what else—we should have one more station, too, because it’s again science experience, it’s again safe[r] than moon program, it’s again not so expensive. What do you think about station? But nobody, you cannot see about station, and any projects, but I hope we should have maybe not so big, maybe not so huge because we should understood what we want. Maybe you have a new module like automatic, big modules with science experiments in these modules like, for example, Hubble, no, but Hubble only radio telescope, and the crew come to this module, change something, have information from this module and return to ground, maybe like this experiments. And I wanted to, after international station, in 10, in 15 years we should build new station. It’s exactly like maybe one of the ports from moon program or Mars program. I would like if we go to the moon first, for what reason it’s more safe, very expensive like Mars program. I don’t like if we go to Mars and we will have only one flight. It should go to Mars, maybe not in 20 years, not in 25 years; yes, maybe in 50 years. But in 20 years it’s the moon. In ten years it’s a new station, because it’s like cosmoport, spaceport, and, of course, it should be a real international spaceport, maybe with different ports for American vehicle, Russian vehicle, Chinese vehicle, but even the human it’s smarter, it should be the same docking port, and we may dock here, here, here—doesn’t matter if it’s Russian vehicle, Chinese vehicle, American vehicle. This cosmoport, big cosmoport, maybe just a little farther than station is now, maybe we should work with suborbital, with polar orbits; it’s not so safe for a human but it’s very interesting, more information, we may have more information from this. A lot of tasks now, and the main subject from space station, it’s our Earth planet. Don’t forget about this: it’s our Earth planet, it’s ecological program, geophysical program, it’s understood all problems, for example, about rain forest, fire, etc., etc., etc., a big city and how the big city killed the nature. You may see about this from space station. It’s a task, too, and for what reason we should forgot about this task? For all humans, it’s the task number one, it’s our planet; then the moon and others. I think like this.