Text Size

Preflight Interview: Anatoly Ivanishin
JSC2011-E-070180 -- Russian Cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin

Expedition 29 Flight Engineer Anatoly Ivanishin listens to a reporter's question during a press briefing at NASA's Johnson Space Center. Photo credit: NASA or National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Q: Why did you want to be a cosmonaut?

A: I’m not sure that my story is as romantic as many of my colleagues have. My mother states that I really wanted to become a cosmonaut since childhood, but I’m not so sure about it. It seems to me that I always dreamt of being a fighter pilot, but I do remember a couple of funny stories which somehow related with the cosmonautics from my youth. For example, when I was a student, when I was a high school student, I remember during one of the lessons, our class was given a task, so boys and girls were combined into couples and so we were like a family, and the task was to develop a family budget and to do this everyone decided that he’s going to an engineer, a teacher, somebody else, and I said that I was going to be a cosmonaut. From one hand it was the path of least resistance because I decided that the salary of a cosmonaut is ten times as much as the salary of engineer, and was interesting, because nobody knew the salary of the cosmonaut but the expectations were that it’s rather high, and because they don’t know the limitation, that you cannot choose certain professions, actually it was, it was correct. But, on the other hand, it was a way of thinking, maybe a flexibility of thinking, because instead of solving a difficult task you can just simplify your task and then trying to solve it. So, having ten times as much salary as my colleagues had, I decided my wife was just a housewife, she doesn’t have to work at all, and even with that we have enough money to do all necessary purchases and to have a savings. And one more story I remember happened when I was a student of military school, and, when I became a student of military school, the first month and a half we spent in a field camp and we were taught how to take part in war as infantry, so we are crawling on the ground, digging trenches, we were running in gas masks with submachine guns behind back, and after a couple of weeks of this military exercises, one of the students immediately realized that it was not a military school which prepared cosmonauts, but only fighter pilots—somebody must have told him that this is the true, and hopefully is true because we do have many graduates of that military school who ended up in Russian cosmonaut corps, but usually it was just a school for fighter pilots. I definitely knew it and I went to the fighter pilot school and I graduated from it, and only after more than ten years I discovered an opportunity to try myself as a cosmonaut, and I decided to try and so that’s why I’m here.

Let me ask you to tell us a little about where you grew up and where you came from. Tell me about your hometown and what it was like for you growing up there.

I was born in Irkutsk which is one of the largest cities in Siberia. The current population is about 600,000 people. It lies on the banks of the Angara River which is the only river which flows from Lake Baikal. This is an industrial city, and when I was young I remember that I attended many sporting groups and many study groups and everything was interesting for me, and I was fond of wrestling, boxing, volleyball and many other things, and because I had always dreamed of being a fighter pilot I thought that it would be right step for me to do a skydiving club. At the time it was the only sky-related activity available for me. We didn’t have at the time an opportunity in my city to fly any kind of airplanes, so I did my first jump when I was 14—and by the way, my son did it when he was 12—and so I became a sportsman. But doing that you had to, didn’t attend school. I had to miss my school lessons when I was at the drop zone, and when I was at high school my high school had majoring in math and it happened that our math teacher was a mentor of my class, and she was less than happy about it, because of this, my relation with her sometimes were tense, but we had to find common ground. We tried to coexist. Sometimes it was not easy, and usually at high school we had 11 hours of math a week and even without putting any efforts to study this subject, upon graduation from the school I felt myself quite confident in it, and only later when I had grown up understood how right my teacher was that she insisted me to attend lessons instead of going to the drop zone.

Well, tell me about your education from after high school and as you went on, tell me about your education and your professional career and the steps then that led you to become a cosmonaut.

I have always dreamed of being a pilot, I attended, I tried to attend military pilot school, but my first attempt was not successful. So one year I spent being a student at a technical institute in Irkutsk and I was majoring in aviation design. And frankly speaking I was not a good student because I definitely knew that I will do my second attempt and become a pilot, so I considered it like a step which is not important, I just have to do something during the year because I could not just, I wasn’t able to try to become a student of military school earlier in the year. So I didn’t put any efforts to study something because I was quite confident that my math is quite good and I can afford not to study it, but also I didn’t study any other subjects. And I finished my first term with most all of the very bad marks, and I remember that usually we have the first term ended in January, and my birthday is also in January, and I remember that I overslept one of my exams and it was the first exam after my birthday, and when I came to the exam a student of my group was waiting for me with a toy, with soft toy, just to congratulate me, and it seemed that, the teacher who examined me, even though I did really bad, but knowing that it was my birthday, she decided to give me not two, but three [chances]. When I was a student of aviation department, I together with other students took part in construction and building paragliders. It was very interesting and I would have an experience in skydiving and that we did this device by ourselves and were trying to fly. And I remember my first flight: we were taught how to fly paragliders on the field and this very right technique. You just running with paraglider and trying to balance and trying to keep the right angle of attack, and when we became quite familiar with that we were allowed to try ourselves from very, very little hills. And for the first time when I flew,the hill was maybe just 15 meters high, but really did have the feeling that I was flying. It’s very interesting, it can be compared the feeling the experience when you, when you’re skydiving. It’s something completely, it was something completely new for me.

So did you try again for the military school?

Yes, my second attempt was more successful and I became a student of military school and I don’t know why but I choose a military school. At that time in the former U.S.S.R., they had three military schools which prepared fighter pilots for the air force, but, and I choosing maybe one of the most distant one from my house, so I had to travel all around the Soviet Union to the, another part of it, but it didn’t matter.

So is that, tell me, keep telling me the rest of the story: so you go to military school and then what happens?

And then I become a pilot and at the same year U.S.S.R. collapsed, so it was, I think really the worst time to go in as a pilot. I flew two fighters, MiG-29 and Su-27, but I was not satisfied, I was not satisfied because I didn’t have chance to get as much experience as I wanted, so at certain point I decided to quit armed service and I went to the one of Moscow universities and majored in economy, computer science and math, and I graduated from it in 2003, and it happened that during just one week I got my diploma and I was assigned to Russian cosmonaut corps so I had to defer a career of software developer, but that’s why I’m here.

And you were still in the military when you went to the university in Moscow to study…

Yes, but, I studied, not, I didn’t present at the lectures, I just went to the university to have my exams. I studied by myself.

Now you, because you said you’d become a cosmonaut and you’re preparing for your first flight into space, and that’s a job that comes with some risks that are associated with it that most of us don’t have in our lives. So the question would be, why do you do it: what do you think that we’re learning, Anatoly, what do we get as a result of flying people in space that you feel makes it worth taking those risks?

I do believe that the work cosmonauts and astronauts do in orbit is important for our life on Earth because scientific research they conduct really helps to push our science forward, and the station is a unique environment and many researches can be done. We really don’t have this opportunity on Earth, for example, you know that we grow crystals in orbit and they have, are able to get the big, three-dimensional crystals which is impossible here, and there’s a way to understand deeper physical processes, and finally it helps to improve life on our planet. It helps to develop treatment from diseases that we have, it helps us to develop new materials, and you know that many solutions which were created and which are intended for space now became widespread. This why I think it’s important for me, and I’m looking forward to feel myself as a part of the big scientific team who conducted experiments which will make life on our planet better.

You’re getting ready to launch to the International Space Station to be part of Expeditions 29 and 30. Anatoly, give me a summary of what it is that you’re going to be doing on this mission, and particularly what your job responsibilities are going to be on this flight?

Well, the launch of our Soyuz is scheduled to be on the 22nd of September which is earlier than it was expected because first we knew the date of launch as the 30th of September, and this is one of rare cases when the launch has been shifted to the left not to the right. So, we start at 7:34 Baikonur time, and we dock at the station the 24th of September at 2:19 in GMT [Greenwich Mean Time]. And during our mission we are going to meet Progress [45] and 46 we expect upcoming crew with Oleg [Kononenko], Andre [Kuipers] and Don [Pettit] at the beginning of December, and we are going to have visiting vehicles which will be docked to the U.S. side of the station but the situation with them doesn’t seem to me as stable because just a couple of weeks ago we were told that we expect Dragon, Cygnus and HTV [H-II Transfer Vehicle], but the latest information I’ve heard, we still expect Dragon on the 9th of December, we expect Cygnus on the 28th of February we do not expect HTV any longer, and if we happen to depart from the station a little bit later than we expect to be, we would see ATV [Automated Transfer Vehicle], but we won’t. Talking about my role in this increment, maybe nothing to boast about, just generic responsibilities of flight engineer Soyuz and the station.

Give us a sense of what that is—what does a generic flight engineer do on the International Space Station? What are your days like?

I think that my day will consist of scientific research and maintenance of station in proper conditions. Of course we have time for sleep, we have time for meal, and if I am not wrong six time a week, cosmonauts and astronauts have physical exercises in their schedule and it takes two hours a day and when we have visiting vehicles we focus our activity on docking and re-docking. This is just common view of what I am going to do when I am [on] the station.

This flight is your first trip to space in your career…


…as a cosmonaut; what was it like when you were informed that you had been selected for this flight?

First of all I would like to mention that since we have a concept single flow to launch, usually first cosmonauts as well as astronauts are assigned to be a member of backup crew, and when they learn for this path they are assigned to be, to the primary crew. And I happened to be assigned to be a member of backup crew three times, and two times I have finished the program of being a backup crew completely. And actually when you have spent several years being a backup crew it is not so unexpected as it could be. And maybe the most surprised for me was when I was assigned to be a backup crew member, because you know when we start International Space Station programs we used to fly for a long period of time three crew members, crew in the station, and it was very difficult to become a member of the crew. But since we have a crew of six person, it makes our life a little bit easier with chances to be assigned are higher. So, somehow I’m here.

JSC2011-E-044304 -- Russian Cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin (right) and NASA Astronaut Dan Burbank

Expedition 29 Flight Engineer and Expedition 30 Commander Dan Burbank (left) and Expedition 29/30 Flight Engineer Anatoly Ivanishin participate in a routine operations training session in an International Space Station mock-up/trainer in the Space Vehicle Mock-up Facility at NASA's Johnson Space Center. Photo credit: NASA or National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Just what is up there right now—give us a verbal tour of the International Space Station today.

International Space Station is without doubt the largest artificial satellite that has ever orbited our planet, is the most complex space station, and I would like to emphasize, to emphasize that it is international space station. And today we have very complex object which consists of 16 modules made by, in different countries, and we have modules devoted to research to physical training, some of modules are used as stowage. For example, for labs, we use Service Module [Zvezda], we use small research module 1 and 2, U.S. Lab, Columbus, JEM [Japan Experiment Module] as laboratories, and we use FCB [Functional Cargo Block; Zarya], MPLM [multipurpose logistics module] and JLP [Japanese [Experiment] Logistics [Module]—Pressurized [Section]] as stowage facilities. And I would like to mention that we have Node 3 where we can find beautiful equipment for physical exercise as Advanced Resistive Exercise Device, which is very important, and my feeling is that Node 3 is like a space gym. And we have a very unique module, Cupola, which provides a beautiful view to the planet beneath you. Station flies at a height about, about 400 kilometers, and its dimension, it has wide 109 meters and length 51 meters and height at about 20 meters, so it’s very huge object.

And we can see it without the help of a telescope from the ground.

It’s possible if you know where to find it.

If you know where to look. Most of the, a lot of the modules that you’ve just described are there to support the science research, which is the main object of the space station’s being there. One primary area of that science has to do with finding out how people can live and work in that environment safely. Tell us about some of the human life sciences experiments that you’re going to be involved in during your six months up there.

Yes, we have a variety of life science experiments and from rather simple ones when you just take blood for the analyzers or when you keep a device which consists of accelerometer and a small computer in your pocket, close to the heart and when you sleep, it measures acceleration and reads the data and it allows scientists to understand how well you sleep, how did you behave while you are sleeping, and we have also quite a complex experiments. For example, one of researches is devoted to determine how human body can withstand the gravity forces. You know that there is no gravity forces in the space but you do have it on Earth, and you know, this like orthostatic, orthostatic stability when you keep your body upright being on Earth and because of gravity forces your cardiovascular system has to resist the gravity forces to keep your blood running, and when they are under conditions of microgravity our body understand that something goes not as it was on Earth, and it leads to muscle atrophy, it leads to bone loss, it leads to our cardiovascular system becomes less ready to return to ground, to Earth conditions, but it’s very important because even if I’m going to spend half of the year on Earth orbit, after that period of time we are going to return back and it’s very important to be ready to meet with conditions of our planet. So the experiment I’m talking about allows to decompress lower part of your body, to decompress air around lower part of your body, so it models the conditions of gravity on our planet, and depends of the level reduced pressure on the lower part of the body, it can model different levels of loads for your cardiovascular system.

Different strengths of gravity?

Different strengths of gravity.

And this is also, I can see is also it would be important for a trip to the moon or to Mars where after a long trip you’re going to have to get out and do work and need to be strong.

Yes we do, and while we perform this experiment scientists on the ground take data real time about our blood pressure, about how our heart works, about several more parameters. And one more experiment devoted to study of human body, the name of this experiment is Tipologia, which can be translated as Typology. The task for this research is to understand how can we improve ability of cosmonaut to be, to take part in different types of operator activities under the statistically distributed and determined irritants. And this experiment consists of two phases. The first part, the first one is done immediately before flight and takes usually, might be a couple of weeks to collect data, and then you do the second phase being on orbit, so the scientists have ground to compare with. And to perform this task I am as an operator will play computer games, so maybe this is going to be my favorite experiment I’m going to take part with. And I remember that when I bought my first personal computer, these devices were not widespread and it happened that a computer game was installed on my device so I began playing and I found it interesting, and I had been playing for two or three days with just short periods for having sleep and for meal, and one day a neighbor of mine came to my place and he asked to read a data from diskette—at that time people transferred data from machine to machine with diskettes, it’s difficult to believe but it was—and after that I found a virus on my machine, and it was important moment because I was not able to continue [gaming] and, because my machine didn’t run at all, I had to stop and to begin finding solution to this problem, and it somehow attracted me from this computer game, but I understood the time that I am a [gamer], so I couldn’t imagine another job when during your work time you play computer games and your employer pay you for it. That’s what I am going to do on orbit.

And as you said, this is in order to test your reactions…

During this experiment sensors are put on the head of operator and actually they take readings of what is going on in your brain.

Many of the experiments that you just described are, you are being the subject, people are taking data from you. For many other science experiments that will be on the station during your time there, you will serve as the operator and the assistant for scientists on the ground. These are experiments that are in a lot of different kinds of science research. Give me a sense of the, the, the range of the different kinds of other experiments that you’ll be working on.

For example, I am going to be engaged in experiment Rusalka, the name of the experiment can be translated into English as Mermaid. This is research devoted to getting data about the level of greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, in Earth atmosphere. To perform this experiment I will use Rusalka-2 which is an assembly of camera and spectrum analyzer, and we use sunlight to get data and during the previous phase of this experiment this tool has been adjusted. It takes basic readings when it was directed to sun. So we have sun specters in this device and now when we get light reflected from Earth’s surface, water sometimes from clouds, if it can derive useful information from it. So my task as an operator is going to be to find sun glint and at the time when the sun glint can be observed and the position, its position in the window can be predicted using special software. So the task for me is to catch the sun glint and during certain amount of time to track its position, and when the camera aims, takes the aim, the spectrum analyzer reads all the data in the necessary region, in the desired range, and later the data is transmitted to the Earth for analysis. And this experiment is important because it will help to understand the locations; how greenhouse gases are distributed in our atmosphere. Usually I talked with developers of this experiment and I was told that this tool is just a previous step for designing a new one which will be more complex, which will have higher spatial resolution, and which will be operated in automatic mode, and, the task for that tool is to get more data and to do the map of distribution of carbon dioxide and methane in Earth atmosphere, but what I’ll doing now they are just testing the technologies and the procedures that will be used in the new one device. And having this data, scientists will be able to understand better the processes in low troposphere which is very important to understanding the changes in the climate of the Earth.

That’s a good example of one of the other kinds of science and, as we said, there are several others. There’s even some science that goes on the outside of the station. There’s a spacewalk on the schedule for later on in your increment, and I understand that part of that is going to involve two of your crewmates going out to change out some experiment samples out there. Tell me what the plan is for this spacewalk that comes up later on in your time on orbit.

Kind of closer to the end of increment 30, they are going to have a spacewalk from Russian side and the number of spacewalk coincides with the number of the increment, which is interesting. And Anton [Shkaplerov] and Oleg are going to go outside. The tasks for the EVA are to install protective meteoroid shield to external SM [Service Module] surface and to conduct two experiments. Vynoslivost test, and I would like to point out that the test, the Vynoslivost, the name of the experiment can be translated as, Endurance, is a brand new one. And Anton and Oleg will take a unit and transfer it to MRM 2 [mini research module 2] and the unit consists of two trays and each tray has metal samples, samples of different metals, and these trays will be exposed on external surface of MRM 2, and for the first tray the time of exposure is one year and for the second one it’s going to be three years, and after that on Soyuz these samples will be returned to Earth for studies. And importance of this experiment is that today when we have significant grow in space machinery and development, we not only need new space systems of new generations, they also need new materials devoted for space. So, exposing this material pieces in the real space conditions, in the same conditions as which, as usually the modules are, and I would like to mention that these samples will be exposed, subjected to loads and not subjected to loads which is a new feature to this experiment, and it will help to understand how space environment influences mechanical properties of these materials.

The spacewalkers, your crewmates, are going outside; do you have work to do on the inside of the station to assist them during their spacewalk?

I may, because usually assisting to crew members who go outside is not a difficult task, and I think that any of my crew members can do it. Usually we have it as a part of generic preparations of cosmonaut to spaceflight do training in conditions of Hydrolab and we have special simulators in GCTC [Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center] which allows to perform certain steps of EVA, and these generic preparation I think will allow me to assist if needed.

You mentioned earlier on that during your time on orbit you’re expecting visits from a variety of different kinds of supply ships. There are supply ships coming to the station now from Russia and Europe and Japan, and there are some new cargo ships being developed in the United States under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program and they have test flights that are coming up. Tell us a little bit about these new vehicles and how they mix in with those current ships to keep the station supplied.

We do expect visits of SpaceX [Space Exploration Technologies Corporation] Dragon and Orbital Science [Corporation]’s Cygnus. These brand new vehicles are designed, because, I think, NASA decided that there is a way to supply [station] and do it cheaper than shuttle used to do. So according to contract two commercial companies, which won in the competition develop their vehicles, and the first we are going to meet Dragon. Dragon is a spaceship developed to carry cargo as well as in the near future to go to the station, and it can deliver up to six tons of supplies to the station and what is important it can return to Earth up to three tons of supplies, and when it will be a manned spaceship, I think it will be able to carry up to seven astronauts. And I’ve heard that the plans for this vehicle is not only supply station on the low Earth orbit but also to go deeper to the universe to reach moon and Mars. Cygnus is a vehicle which is focusing, my feeling is that it is focusing exclusively on delivering supplies to the station. It can carry up to 2.7 tons of payloads to the station, it cannot deliver something, it cannot deliver anything back to Earth but it can trash up to 1.2 tons and because shuttle has retired, but they still have a variety of vehicles which will supply station. We have Russian Progress, we have European ATV, Japanese HTV and plus three of these vehicles, we are going to have Dragon and Cygnus. And I have heard an estimation that all of, the fleet of all of these vehicles is able to provide all necessary supplies to the station, and to achieve it required at least six flight a year of both Cygnus and Dragon.

It must be, going to be interesting and exciting to be there for the first flights of new vehicles.

Of course, yes.

JSC2010-E-164885 -- Russian Cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin

Expedition 29/30 Flight Engineer Anatoly Ivanishin participates in a routine operations training session in an International Space Station mock-up/trainer in the Space Vehicle Mock-up Facility at NASA's Johnson Space Center. Photo credit: NASA or National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Having commercial cargo ships that are going to the space station is a, a big change in the spaceflight program over the 50 years since Yuri Gagarin flew by himself in a small capsule. You and your crew are going to be the first ones to launch since the space shuttle completed its final mission. What do you think about the space shuttle’s contribution to the, to human spaceflight and to the International Space Station?

I do believe that space shuttle is a milestone in space exploration. During his 30 years of service, this vehicle delivered great amount of satellites to Earth orbit, and it would be difficult for me to imagine how International Space Station would look without space shuttle which delivered all the modules from the American side. When I was young I dreamt of flying Russian shuttle, Buran, and we knew it did its one successful flight; unfortunately after that U.S.S.R. collapsed and then we were not longer able to continue this program. And I’d like to say that the space shuttle is just, looks beautiful. It’s really a great machine.

Well, that’s an era of the human space flight that has, has now ended. But I want to ask you to, to look ahead in the next 10 or 30 or 50 years. Where, where do you think human spaceflight is going to be then and, and how is the International Space Station helping prepare us for that future in space.

Well, it’s not easy to imagine what will be in 50 years. When I was young I used to read a lot of books, a lots of scientific, science ficture…scientific, how do you say, science…

Science fiction.

…science, science fiction books, and I loved to read about other worlds, about spaceships, about aliens. Unfortunately, I do not longer have time for doing it, but my wife, she really interested in everything which is outstanding, which looks like phenomena, which looks like a mystery, and she believes that little green aliens exist and she thinks that in Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center we have special secret classes devoted to understanding how to communicate with these guys, and she thinks that communications with aliens is a part of every day routine operations that the cosmonauts have in orbit.

Is it?

[Laughs] So I think that in 50 years, the truth about green little aliens will be finally revealed and my wife will still be in angry at me because I don’t share this information with her. Speaking more serious, I think that, of course, human beings are too curious creatures and they will not remain for long time on low Earth orbit. They will go further and further to the universe, and the International Space Station we have today is the right place to prove solutions we already have, because to go further we will need new solutions, new materials, new spacecraft, and the existent solutions should be proved in International Space Station. And there’s unique opportunity, if we have a malfunction equipment which do not operate any longer and we can’t deliver it to Earth so the designer can understand what caused it, what was the reason behind the malfunction, it will help to do our equipment more robust in which we will need for the long-term spaceflights. And I have to believe that travel to another planet will be an international undertaking and the experience we have on the station now is also very important. It is also a very important step towards this because we learn how to work together and we understand how effectively we can be combining our efforts.