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Preflight Interview: Gennady Padalka
JSC2012-E-018625 -- Gennady Padalka

Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, Expedition 31 flight engineer and Expedition 32 commander, fields a question from a reporter during an Expedition 31/32 preflight press conference at NASA's Johnson Space Center. Photo credit: NASA

Q: Gennady, why did you want to be a cosmonaut?

A: Nothing new from my story, as I said to you before Expedition 9 and 19. And when I was only three years old, at that time the first man flew in space, and I remember the first spacewalk, I remember watching as the first moonwalk, and it seems to me that the decade was very, very incredible. It was historical decade and I’m sure that at that time me and all my friends, we, sure dreamt to become a cosmonaut, and this is why I decided to become a pilot. After becoming a pilot, yes, I was selected as a cosmonaut.

Was it adventure that intrigued you?

I’m not sure that adventure, it’s, maybe, it’s just a, it’s just profession. It’s like a next stage, upper stage from a profession, pilot and then cosmonaut, higher, higher and higher.

Let me get you to fill in some background. Let’s start with your hometown. Tell me about where you grew up and what it was like for you growing up.

I was born in Krasnodar City. This is the capital of one area of Russian Federation located not far away from the Black Sea, and it’s a very warm place, people very kind, very warm, very hospitable, very hard working. And I finished regular school in this city. And not far away from this city Eisk City is located, and I was admitted into higher military aviation college at this city. After graduation from this college I served as a pilot in Russian air force. But I left to this city at the age of 17, and my hometown, but I remember it and always.

And it seems as though you have pleasant memories of the, being a child there.

Of course, yes.

And you started to, to tell me about the, the course then of your education and, and your profession. Tell, tell me about the schools that you went to and, and the work that you did in the air force that led you to be a cosmonaut.

After finishing regular school, I was admitted into higher military aviation college in Eisk City. After graduation from aviation college I served, as I mentioned, as a pilot and senior pilot in the Russian air force, before being selected in 1989—oh, I’m pretty old man—after being selected as a cosmonaut. And I started my career as, as a cosmonaut in Roscosmos. In 1994 I left UNESCO center of communication of instructional systems with degree in engineer-ecologist. In aviation college I majored in engineering. I am pilot and engineer, and that’s about all about my education. And af, yes, of course I flew three times. It’s a great experience. That’s my career and my education.

Is, has being a cosmonaut been what you thought it would be when you were a boy…when you were a boy and you thought, “I want to be a cosmonaut”, has it turned out to be…

When I was a boy, it was for me, looked like maybe a game, maybe, like adventure, but currently I understand that it is very serious. It’s a risky profession. It’s very important for the human beings. It’s, currently have another view, of course.

You mentioned that, we’ve, we’ve said that you have flown three times before, this will be your fourth flight, and that’s a lot of flights comparatively speaking but still, in all the time you’ve been a cosmonaut, you’ve spent more time on the ground than in space. What other things do you do as a cosmonaut besides fly and train to fly?

Between flights? Preparation for the next flight. As for me, after third flight I was assigned as a head of one department in Star City and this department is responsible for EVA preparation, for extreme preparation, I mean sea survival, I mean, desert survival and winter survival, and all preparation associated with centrifuge, with the weightlessness on the, our plane, laboratory plane, and I’m like a teacher for the young cosmonauts.

And yet you came back to fly again yourself?

Yes, of course, because I should be example man, yes, for, for again, yes, of course, not only teach but show.

A moment ago you, you mentioned that being a cosmonaut, the flying in space part of being a cosmonaut, is a job that does have some risks to it, that, the kind of risk that people who don’t fly in space will never face. Why do you do that then? What do you think that is, that we’re getting out of flying people in space that is so worthwhile that you’re willing to do this risky job?

OK, OK, as you mentioned, yes, spaceflights and space exploration is, very risky, yes, enterprise, but, as for me and my colleagues, yes, we believe in our engineers, in our vehicles, in our management, because before sending us in space, our management always weigh the balance between risk and benefit and they will never put the benefit above the risk. And when we flying in space, but it seems to me that we, I mean human beings, we are predestined to spread and to settle solar system and beyond, and it seems to me it help us to resolve many problem on the ground by using space technology like a breakthrough on the ground.

You’re getting prepared to launch to the International Space Station to be part of Expeditions 31 and 32. Gennady, tell me briefly about what the goals are for this mission and what your responsibilities and jobs will be as a station crew member.

OK, OK, our mission covers increments 31 and 32 and the prime goals are the following, as always: keep space station in a great operational condition; a science program, we are supposed to conduct about 60 experiments on the Russian side; EVA, one EVA, maybe two, is scheduled for us; and our mission is distinctive, it’s very huge vehicle traffic because we are supposed to have some Progress, HTV [H-II Transfer Vehicle], ATV [Automated Transfer Vehicle], and the first two commercial vehicles, I mean, SpaceX and Orbital.

That’s an awful lot of activity.

A lot.

Now you didn’t see anything like that on your first two trips to the space station; uh, your two most recent space flights were to the International Space Station. What are you looking forward to that might be different about this time?

Oh, it seems to me I will come back like at home, after very long business trip on the ground, and, of course, and space station changed a little bit, I mean, we got additional compartments as for U.S. side, this is Node 3 and PMM [Permanent Multipurpose Module], as for Russian side we’ve got two MRM, Mini-Research Modules, but as for the rest it seems to me everything, for me, is very famil, familiar.

And we still have the six-person crew that got started the last time you were up there as well.

Yes, you are right. It was for me for the first time I got, yes, six-person crew in space in 2009.

Since that time the assembly of the space station is pretty much all complete, so I want to ask you to give us a verbal tour and tell me about what modules and facilities there are on orbit today and how they support your life and your work while you’re there.

OK. Well, let me start from our partners. JEM [Japanese Experiment Module] and Columbus, this is two research modules, the science laboratory for our partners, I mean, at JAXA [Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency] and ESA [European Space Agency]. And then Node [2], this is mostly this compartment is designed for like a crew quarters and, and to, usually we, we use Node 2 nadir like a docking port for HTV, for upcoming commercial vehicles, I mean, SpaceX and Orbital. And then [Destiny] Lab, this is vital compartment especially for U.S. side because a lot of vital hardware are located and housed inside lab like EPA [electrical power subsystem] system and CDH [command and data handling] system. And then Node 1, this is like transfer module with PMA [pressurized mating adapter] between the Russian segment and the U.S. segment. Airlock, [Quest] airlock is used to conduct EVA. Node 3, and this is new module, I didn’t see before, and a lot of vital regenerative ECLSS [environmental control and life support systems] are located inside Node 3 such as UPA [Urine Processor Assembly] and WPA [Water Processor Assembly], and Node 3 looks like our gym because T2 [Treadmill 2] and ARED [Advanced Resistive Exercise Device] are located inside this module. Russian side have PMM, PMM like a storage module. FGB [Functional Cargo Block; Zarya] is Russian storage module, SM [Service Module; Zvezda] pretty much same like Lab, this is vital module for Russian side; MRM, two small research modules, and Russian docking compartment [Pirs], we use docking compartment to conduct EVA. And we are supposed to have, instead of docking compartment, MLM [Multipurpose Laboratory Module], it will be the last module for the Russian side. It was scheduled for our expedition but currently it’s postponed a little bit. That’s about all.

About all? That’s quite a change from the first time you saw the station, isn’t it?

Yes, yes.

The station was always meant to be a place where a lot of science research was to be conducted. Well, now it has all the laboratories that you just explained plus six crew members who are there to do that work. One of the areas of concentration for the science is to find out how people can live and work in that environment for a long period of time. Tell me about some of the human life sciences experiments that you and your crewmates are going to be taking part of to help build up that base of knowledge.

Well, as I mention above for the Russian side we have very best science program, about 60 experiments in different fields of science, like ecology, biology, biotechnology, medical experiments and astronomy. And I’m not a scientist. I have no science degree, and usually cosmonauts and astronauts we function space station like the hands, maybe eyes, of the scientists on the ground because we can set up some science equipment, and provide preventive maintenance and then change software, but we cannot analyze the data because someone on the ground, the scientists can do it. But as for me, I like to participate in medical experiments because like a subject, for me, it’s pretty interesting because some of my experiments that they conducted before I’m supposed to conduct again, and for me it’s pretty interesting to study my body, maybe my heart, other organisms, after being in space three times. And I’m interested to participate in so-called, on the Russian side, in perspective space technology. These experiments are associated with plasma study, plasma agent, jet study, radiation, this experiment is associated to, with future travel to moon, Mars and maybe in deep space.

JSC2012-E-018720 -- Gennady Padalka

Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, Expedition 31 flight engineer and Expedition 32 commander, 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

On the International Space Station the crew members are, as you said, sometimes experiment subjects, sometimes you help researchers on the ground, you’re like a laboratory assistant, but you’re also the people who are responsible for keeping the space station functioning as it orbits. Uh, outside of the laboratory work, give us a sense of the other kinds of jobs that station crew members have to do.

During, during, daily it’s a lot of jobs and a lot, keeps the station, to provide maintenance of some hardware; and docking, undocking events, I mean Progress and some other cargo vehicles; load, unload; and science program; and we clean space station, maybe just, sometimes just look through the window, take some pictures. It’s very enjoyable, a lot of, a lot of things to do.

What’s, what’s the most enjoyable thing to do?

For me?

For you.

For me, to take picture through the window because I’m fascinated to do this and I made a lot of pictures by, during my previous flights.

You eager to…

Because my second education, this is engineer ecologist, and I made a lot of pictures associated with ecology on the ground.

Are you looking forward to getting to see the view through the Cupola windows?

Of course, of course.

Uh, about the middle of this mission you will become, uh, Expedition 32 will start when Oleg [Kononenko] and André [Kuipers] and Don [Pettit] go home and you will become the commander of the station again. How does it change life on board for you to go from flight engineer to commander?

This event, it seems to me, it will change tremendously my life because you never know who is right but you always know who is in charge, that be crew commander. And my duty are the following, it seems to me, from my perspective: crew safety, of course, team-building and, and continue to provide a great and comfortable psychological climate between crewmates inside the crew. And what else as a crew commander? And I’m, I would like to ensure that ISS crew and the ground team work like a one team, just to ensure safe and productive, efficient mission. It’s my goal as a crew commander.

On, at that point it will be your third time as the commander…

Yes, you are right.

…of the International Space Station. You going to do anything different this time around? Have you learned any lessons?

No, I’m not supposed to change something because I’m, I have a good experience. I’m going to being three times in space as a crew commander and it’s not enough, it’s not enough to have a good experience, the main thing is to use this experience well. It seems to me I can do it and I’m not going to change something.

Among the other things that crew members do apart from the science is occasionally to go outside. There are plans right now for a Russian spacewalk to take place in the middle of the year. Fill us in on the details of this EVA: who is going to go outside and, and what is the work that’s involved in this EVA?

Currently, for me and Yuri Malenchenko it’s scheduled only one, a spacewalk, EVA, so-called EVA 31, and the main goal of this EVA is to transfer and relocate a Russian modified cargo boom, which we are using during the EVA, from docking compartment to the FGB, because this is continuation of preparation docking compartment for undocking, because in one year we are supposed to get MLM instead of docking compartment. And then we need to launch some small satellites, this is science experiments, and then we need to return and remove to the ground some small cassettes with materials exposed to the space environment, and maybe some tasks will be left current expedition, and we need to finish this job. And this is the main goal of scheduled EVA.

The Strela boom is a, is a large piece of equipment with a good deal of mass. What’s involved in moving it from one module?

Yes, you are right. To move this we are, we are supposed to use another, a cargo boom, because the first one should be relocated by Oleg Kononenko and Anton Shkaplerov currently, and it was, it’s impossible to move just by using two person and we need to use another crane.

So you’re using one of the booms to…


…relocate the other…

…of course.

…and then reverse it.

Yes, and reverse.

JSC2012-E-021959 -- Expedition 31 crew members

Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka (foreground), Expedition 31 flight engineer and Expedition 32 commander; NASA astronaut Joe Acaba (center), Expedition 31/32 flight engineer; and Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko, Expedition 32/33 flight engineer, participate in an emergency scenario 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

Are there, you mentioned that there is a possibility of another Russian spacewalk. Are there any American spacewalks on the plan during your increment?

Yes, I heard about U.S. spacewalk but cur, as far as I know, it’s being discussed currently because, because some hardware which American astronaut are supposed to use in space will be brought up on board Progress 48, seems to me in, in August, and due to maybe insufficient time, crew time, maybe this EVA we will post, postpone from our increment to another. It’s questionable right now, but it’s scheduled.

And, of course, there’s always the possibility of doing spacewalks of necessity.

Oh, sometimes yes, it happens, and it happened to me and to, to Mike Fincke, if you remember.

Tell us about what you did.

At that time?

In that time.

Replaced RPCM [remote power controller module] and this RPCM powered, our gyroscope, CMG [control moment gyroscope]. It was very, very important. And at the time we used Russian space suit, Orlan.

Now, Mission Control has been keeping a close eye on one of the station’s Main Bus Switching Units, they’ve been developing some plans to keep the systems powered in case that MBSU were to fail. Tell me about not only the status of that hardware but, if it does fail, do the plans call for a spacewalk to respond to that?

No, this EVA is scheduled for U.S. I don’t know details because previously I had very great preparation as a specialist and operator, but currently, when we have six-person crew, and our responsibility, responsibilities are divided between Russian side and U.S. side and partners, and I don’t know details but MBSU, it’s very important hardware for EPA system and just to provide power all, all users. It’s very important. If it happens, then, yes, of course, U.S. astronaut can conduct, not can, will have to conduct EVA, of course.

So it’s a necessity…

Yes, yes, yes, of course.

…if it, if that comes up.

For this event, for this upcoming, for example, emergency event, as far as I know, Joe Acaba and Sunita [Williams] are scheduled; for sch, scheduled previous EVA, Aki [Hoshide] and Sunita.

Now these days the station is receiving supplies on cargo ships that are launched from Russia and Europe and from Japan. As you mentioned earlier, there are two new cargo ships that are being developed under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Services program and their initial flights to the station are coming up. Tell me about these two vehicles and, and how they mix in with the current ships in order to keep the station supplied.

For us it’s very great moment that private companies, private business begin to space exploration, and this is the first contribution, SpaceX and Orbital. And it seems to me it’s more important for U.S. side because other, otherwise, in this case, you will get more independence, independence from Russian side and from another partners to bring up and bring down some cargo. This is, these vehicles are similar to Progress as they can bring up in space about, between two and three tons, and you asked me about similarity and differences: most, similarity, they’re supposed to dock to the same docking port, I mean Node 2, and my colleagues are supposed to use SSRMS [space station remote manipulator system; Canadarm2] for capturing, for berthing, unberthing event. And as for differences, SpaceX, unlike to Orbital, SpaceX has pressurized and unpressurized compartment, and unlike to Orbital, SpaceX can return some cargo on the ground. It’s very important, of course, for the U.S. side, about up to, up to 1700 kilograms. And it’s very great. In this case it can widen our possibility to supply space station by using not only ATV, HTV, Progress, but commercial vehicles.

It’s always good to have more options.

More options, excellent.

You mentioned, and I wanted to ask you to give me some more details about, the robotics task that your crewmates are going to use to get both these cargo ships and the next Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle that’s due in July. How do you use the arm to get these ships attached to the station?

As they did it before. SpaceX, Orbital or HTV, after approaching space station at a distance about nine, 11 meters, and then astronaut who is scheduled will have this ability to grab by using PDGF [power data grapple fixture] HTV or Cygnus or Dragon, and then by using arm they can dock it to the nadir port Node 2. And the same for unberthing. It’s very important.

Do it in reverse to, to unberth them when they’re done. That next, uh, Japanese vehicle, the HTV, is carrying some unpressurized cargo on its exterior. Uh, tell me about the robotics that’s involved in order to get that pallet of hardware delivered off to the Japanese segment.

After getting HTV docked to a node, we need to unload all hardware located outside, I mean, unpressurized compartment, and this is task, and in this case will be involved, yes, U.S. side, as partners.

And this is still with the Canadarm2?

Yes, of course. Yes, and sometimes we use, Japanese robotic arm. It depends, it depends on the task.

So they’ll be moving those things from…


…docked to the nadir port of Node 2 around to…

Sometimes hand over between SSRMS and robotic arm, I mean Japanese robotic arm.

It will be interesting to see.

Yeah, very interesting.

With the addition of these commercial cargo ships to the ones that have been provided all along by, by the government space agencies here, once these start flying, are we looking at a new era of human spaceflight?

I hope, and my friends, yes, we hope that private, private business with this example will start up space exploration because it’s very expensive for only government to do this. It’s very good.

Now you’ve, we’ve talked or mentioned your previous trips to the International Space Station, you also flew to the Mir space station as well, so you have been involved and seen a lot of changes over a pretty short period of time in the, in the human spaceflight and the partnership among these nations. Where do you imagine that human space exploration is going to be in, I don’t know, 20 or 50 years in the future? How is the International Space Station…


…going to help you get ready to go there?

OK. For me, it’s pretty hard, yes, to predict, especially in 20 and 50 years, it’s pretty hard, but I’m sure, currently, space station, this is the only space laboratory, and, when we fly around the Earth, and I’m sure that all research and technology breakthrough on board ISS are expected to facilitate, as I mentioned above, the next generation to build new vehicles just to travel to moon, to Mars, and maybe, maybe, maybe beyond. And it seems to no matter how far can next generation will go into space and no matter whatever they will built in space, but it seems to me my generation, currently, we were working to teach right now, and I’m sure the next generation will mark, yes, our contribution in space history and in space exploration.