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Preflight Interview: Sergei Revin
JSC2012-E-018633 -- Sergei Revin

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

Q: Why did you want to be a cosmonaut?

A: Well, I think first of all it was my interest towards nature study. I’m interested in studying Earth, the Earth, as well as space. So it’s a certain interest that I had as a child and it became my professional interest once I became, once I turned, once I became a teenager, a student. So it’s an overall interest or as nature turned into professional interest. As far as cosmonaut a profession is concerned, it’s rather multi-faceted, so as we can see we can study both nature, Earth nature and the nature of space, and working with technology. It’s a creative work and it seems to me that one can manifest one’s own creative abilities, and that’s in brief.

Do you recall what was it about your interest in nature that, how your nature in spaceflight and cosmonautics came out of your interest in nature?

Well, I was just curious, I’m just curious about one planet’s research and then I became curious about other planet’s research. Earth is of interest to me as a planet, and I’m also interested in the moon, and in the nature of Earth and the nature of moon, and I was hoping that at that time, when I made that decision to choose this profession, I was in the ninth grade and when we had to choose an educational institution where I was supposed to go, and once you choose an educational institution you already choose a profession, and that’s where I made the decision to take this path, cosmonautics. So I chose a higher education institution, I chose a profession and then, of course, at that stage I didn’t understand all the important requirements and everything that is required from a person who chooses this profession—health, first of all—but at that time I had great certainty in everything. I was confident for some reason, and I tried, of course I read a lot on the subject, both at school and later I read specialized literature related to my profession. I’m a physicist, an engineer on automation and electronics, and this specialization gave me an opportunity to move to the cosmonaut team. Also my passions are planet Earth. Let’s say I travel a lot and I do some research; we don’t just spend our time lying on the beach when we travel, our vacation is not passive. Usually when I travel I try to capture as many geographic sites as possible because geography is also one of my hobbies, and why? Because at some point I couldn’t make up my mind when I was choosing my profession, when I was choosing a school, and a love of travel, geography as profession, I support it nowadays as well. I support the experiments as they are being planned on Earth, planetary research. I would like to participate, to be involved in them as much as possible. So that’s, in brief, the answer.

I want to take you back earlier than that, to your childhood. Tell me about your hometown, about where you grew up and what it was like for you there then.

I was born in Moscow. Of course, Moscow has very good conditions for development of, childhood development. And in the ’60s, both in the ’60s and nowadays, the place where my house was, it’s the northeastern part of Moscow. It’s called national park, it’s Moose Island, and there we lived at the perimeter, on the outskirts of the national park. There were several families. We had a stove. My father and I used to chop wood, and that’s the way we lived until I turned 12 or 13. Later on, of course, Moscow offered certain bonuses to some of the Moscow citizens and they tore down our stove and they built new modern buildings in that area, and we moved to a new building, but the love for forest, for pine trees that grew in that forest, as well as my love of nature, I guess they stem from there, from those times; respect for nature, and naturally I miss that stove right now but this is how I satisfy my need for nature is we go camping, we start bonfires, and it all, it all comes from that interesting world. On the one hand, it’s, on the other hand Moscow is also a cultural center. It’s a capital of our culture, theaters, museums, as well as nature. I think it’s an ideal combination for many people, and my child and I also, we live very close to the place where I was born right now, and we take walks, we often take walks there in the woods or we also travel, we go to museums. So we have five-minute long trip to the woods and 20-minute long trip to theaters and concert halls and museums, and that is a rather interesting combination in order for someone to form his or her world view. And, at the same time it, I’m talking about my child, it will give him a certain basis, support in life, in future life, as it will consist, the basis will consist, the foundation will consist, of many various layers, both of nature and cultural layers as well.

For you then starting from that point, can you tell me about some of the high points for you in your education and then in your professional career, the, the course that led you ultimately to become a cosmonaut?

Of course this is that very medium, Moscow environment, had an effect on my upbringing because those conditions that the city provided for me were culture, nature, sports, and those helped me develop. And the parents didn’t hurt, either; having parents didn’t hurt. Also those technical clubs, hobby clubs, I used to be into model rockets and that played its own role as well; libraries, the abundance of libraries, and then school, standard, pretty just typical of our, standard biography—school, sports, science, higher educational institution, Moscow Electronic Technology Institute. I am an engineer, a physicist; also the facility that was linked to those other facilities that dealt with developing space technology. Then there was, I was selected to the cosmonaut team. I passed all the medical requirements and certain, I had to go through certain tests on space technology in order to have further opportunities to get ready for flight. And much time was spent working with other cosmonauts since our profession is very interesting. Whatever you like is nature, I’m really into it, and natural sciences, and I came to a conclusion that there is an insufficient influence, or maybe an insufficient influence, of the results of space studies when it comes to development of humanities, the humanity component of human society. There is not enough feedback to the humanities, to the sphere of humanities when it comes to human development, and not enough impact on the development of human world view. And I have analyzed all that and then I entered graduate school in the field of pedagogy, education. Pedagogy is also called practical philosophy. What was interesting to me was to look at how much, what effect the information that we get, let’s say from the space station, how this information may affect world view, and I thought that it would be interesting to do a study on the children, ages 11 to 14, and right now this approach has become a part of my dissertation. I’m a graduate student right now in the field of education, and this is a rather interesting facet, a cusp between technology and humanities, and we may expect some very interesting results.

You’re getting prepared to launch to the International Space Station to be part of Expeditions 31 and 32. Give me a, a brief explanation of what the goals of this mission are and what responsibilities you will have as a member of the station crew.

First of all, I am a member of a very interesting team, a part of which are Gennady Padalka, the commander of the station, of the vehicle that will deliver us to the space station, Joe Acaba, who is a flight engineer, so two crew members, and respectively I am a left chair flight engineer, who is trained specifically to be, trained as a specialist and if there are any contingency situations I can be a replacement of Gennady Padalka as a commander. That’s as far as the space vehicle is concerned. As far as the station is concerned, I am a flight engineer throughout the expedition and I perform respective tasks, activities, that ground commands to us. Specifically, there are scientific experiments as well as systems operations, on board systems of the station, specifically the Russian segment systems. And also there is a number of tasks that can be performed that can be self-initiated, educational program, for instance. It all depends on what initiative one undertakes. There is, Earth observation and it depends on a person, if they have free time, they can do auxiliary activities. As far as the duration of the flight, there will be an appropriate schedule and we are going to be performing our tasks in accordance with that schedule. If you wanted me to tell you in greater detail what’s going to happen, maybe I could, I will be able to tell you later, maybe in the course of future questions you’re going to ask.

Yes, I want to ask you to go into more detail, but first I want to get you to tell me about one other thing. This is going to be your first trip to space as a cosmonaut. What are you looking forward to about this experience?

Most of all I am concerned about the fact how literate am I going to be and how correctly and most responsibly I will be able to perform my work, my tasks, my responsibilities, that are imposed on me by the Mission Control Center of Moscow or our partners, and so most important I want to do quality work. As far as the emotional components are concerned, they are the consequences of the work performed. After a month of work, after a week of work, after half a year of work, but most importantly it’s to fulfill the task of the expedition.

The assembly of the International Space Station is all but complete now, so I wanted to start by getting you to explain to us about the station that you’re going to. Can you give me a verbal tour of the facilities and the modules that are on orbit now? Tell me about the stuff that is there that, uh, is going to support your life and your work on space.

Indeed, right now the station has been fully assembled but not to the very end. There are certain modules, there is a module that is waiting. The Russian segment is expecting it and high hopes are placed in that module, especially when it comes to scientific research for which it is going to be used, and so the entire Russian segment is also a large segment of our station, and other segments, the U.S. segment, is very well represented. The European Space Agency, the Japanese space agency, the Canadian Space Agency, and so, all of them are participating, and so the modules that pertain to the Russian segment are there and the U.S. segment modules are there, the Japanese modules are there, the European modules are there, and as far as the Canadian Space Agency is concerned and its responsibilities, there is a so-called manipulator. And the hardware that is inside the station, there is a large number of hardware and instruments virtually, so you can perform your work virtually in every module and perform experiments literally in each of the modules, and each module is literally stuffed with various hardware items, research items, which support operations of the crew members.

Of course, the International Space Station was designed to be a place for science research to be conducted, and now with the many laboratories as you referred to as well as a full-time crew of six there’s more science that gets done than early on, earlier on. Let’s talk first about the human life sciences experiments, as we try to find out how the human body responds to being in this microgravity environment for extended periods of time. Tell me about some of the, these human life sciences, these medical experiments, that you and your crewmates will be taking part in as you, as we work to build up this whole base of knowledge.

Certainly, as soon as humans start to flying into space, and that has been going on for almost 50 years, from the very first days medical specialists, scientists became very interested in human capacity for adaptation, what our human capabilities for that adaptation of, to certain loads, which determine the state of a human being on the ground as well as in microgravity conditions, especially when they are inside of flying space vehicle on orbit. And this research, this sort of study is ongoing right now. Traditionally, what is done is the way the doctors do research on us on the ground, the same organs, the same parts of the body, the same systems that are researched on the ground, the same ones are researched on the space station. And it’s cardiovascular system, naturally the state of brain activity, brain function, and bone, the state of the bone tissue. Everything that makes up a human is being studied. In addition, psychological states are studied, psychologies and everything that make, that creates our makeup, everything that we represent is of interest. And, of course, for space research, both lower orbit space as well as deep space, is going to be very useful because we won’t be able to move further without obtaining certain results.

JSC2012-E-021968 -- Sergei Revin

Russian cosmonaut Sergei Revin, Expedition 31/32 flight engineer, participates 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

Can you give me one or two examples of the kinds of things that you will be doing on this flight that will help to gather this information?

Well, there could be many details. There should be a sufficient number of hardware items that are necessary to do research on certain organs of the body. I wouldn’t want to get into the nitty-gritty. There are certain procedures that are being developed and tested for studying each organ of the body. It starts with drawing blood, which everybody knows, and all the way up to measuring certain electrical signals that are measured in the brain. That’s about it, in a general sense. There is, there are, we have a whole medical rack. We have a special computer for conducting such experiments. There is a sufficient number of onboard procedures which we are supposed to follow and act accordingly and obtain certain data. During the communication sessions, the medical doctors are present and they help us conduct those experiments. The scope is large. There are so many details, and each detail is linked to a certain procedure and it would be too much to start telling here how to put on sensors, how to do electrocardiography. Essentially it is the same thing that is done on the ground except it’s done on the ISS.

And that’s interesting to know. And there are other kinds of research that are being conducted as well. There are experiments in many other different scientific fields and in these experiments you and your crewmates are the assistants for the scientists who are on the ground. Give me a sense of some of the other kinds of science, besides the human life sciences, the other kinds of research that you’re going to be involved with. What, and what maybe, what some of your, what you think are the most interesting ones?

It’s seems to me that the most interesting research is in the area that contains both human beings and their adaptive qualities, that is conducted, performed not on human beings but on little flies, Drosophila, fruit flies. They are delivered on board and over two or three weeks they are investigated, their behavior is studied, the process of…they are the patient to the process of regeneration is studied, and also those results are delivered on the ground and the scientists look at the effect of propagation of those flies, of that fly, and they look at the entire conglomeration of space factors and their influence on propagation and adaptation. And I think that this is very pertinent to the human beings themselves because it’s important to know how human beings can, it’s a very interesting experiment, and human characteristics and adaptation of humans in space is a very interesting subject for study. Here also some of the experiments are well-known and we’re only operators. We perform functions of technicians or technologists and we are supposed to perform certain specific actions in accordance with a flight documentation, flight procedures, for instance to activate a capsule and then to close a capsule, and it boils down literally to pushing down or up certain buttons of certain equipment. I wouldn’t say that you have to be very, too creative in those tasks but you have to have certain operator skills in order not to miss any details because scientists are eagerly expecting our results data and so we feel huge responsibility because if as operators we are not going to perform procedure in accordance to how it’s supposed to be performed, and oftentimes procedures is made of dozens of actions, and so if you miss out on a single action, a single step, then there is, it may impact the result and you are going to get an entirely different result and not the one that is expected, and we would like to prevent such things from happening, and I mean the negative impact on the quality of experiment. Therefore, as far as biological and medical, life sciences, biotechnology experiments, the greatest, the most important role that we play is the one of a technician and operator. We also have other experiments where we play a more active and more creative role and where we can actually use our intellect, our knowledge, and perhaps some of us may even design certain experiments.

Now along with doing that kind of work, with assisting scientists and being the subject of some other experiments, space station crew members are also responsible for keeping the space station operating properly to support all those experiments as well as the crew members themselves. What other kinds of work does a space station crew member do, say, during a typical week? What other kinds of tasks will you find yourself conducting?

We have a great number of other experiments, in particular based on a general approach, human philosophy or human approach towards nature. Everything that surrounds a person, a man, a person starts to, likes to study, and as soon as people get on board a space vehicle they start studying everything that is of interest to them and what surrounds us on orbit. What surrounds us on orbit is, of course, the space station with all its systems and with all its people that are on board and who become our friends and colleagues. Also we are surrounded by Earth, Earth’s surface: oceans, mountains, rivers, the atmosphere. All of that is a subject of study and therefore everything is being studied starting with the Earth and ending with space, and there are rather interesting experiments that have to do with a survey of Earth’s surface. Primarily we observe the effect of human on nature and, on the other hand, we look at the Earth itself and its manifestations of its vital activity, about volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunami, atmospheric phenomena. Also we use certain equipment and instruments to study the atmosphere of the Earth. We determine concentration of CO2—it’s very important to know that right now. We also study the upper layers of the atmosphere and the nature of lightning; ionosphere; we are hoping, our scientists are hoping that we could, that certain earthquakes could be sensed in a certain way. So as we call it, this is a large ecosystem, the system that we call Earth/space, and naturally the state of the space station is studied, its robustness, its cleanliness, its microbiology, whether there are any bacteria present on the station, relationships among the crew members. In other words, everything is studied, that is studied when at first one gets into a different medium, and what is investigated is everything that may have an impact, an affect on a human or what the human affects, him or herself. Specifically there are experiments that are conducted now on raising proteins, growing proteins, and that is within the aspect of pure compounds using microgravity conditions. So everything for which a human being could find himself useful, that’s what he participates in as far as space research is concerned, and I think that if we are going to fly farther, to Mars for instance, then similar tasks will stand before us as well, everything, nature, every, all that surrounds us and what state we find ourselves and it in, and in that state we’re everywhere. It’s ubiquitous, it follows us, research, research.

Along with the research, the station crew members have to take care of the station; they do maintenance. They even, on occasion, will do work on the outside of the station. There’s one Russian spacewalk that’s on the plan for your mission in the middle of the year. Can you fill me in on that—tell me who is going outside and what work they’re going to do there.

It’s rather interesting work because it’s the work for the future, for expanding the capabilities of the space station. Gennady Padalka and Yuri Malenchenko are going to perform EVAs. The purpose is to transfer the, a boom from the docking compartment to the module in order to free up docking, in order to undock the docking compartment that you see and replace it with a research laboratory module, MLM [Multipurpose Laboratory Module]; in the Russian acronym it’s MLM. And perhaps there will be more interesting experiments performed using that module. Maybe they will demonstrate the capabilities of the space station on various topics, all things imaginable, the Earth, the Earth atmosphere, human research, and obtaining new products.

When your crewmates are going outside to do spacewalks are you working to support the spacewalk on the inside of the station?

At that time I will be inside the module MRM2 [Mini-Research Module 2], to which our vehicle is docked, and I’ll be awaiting my colleagues. If necessary, it will be possible to transfer to a different docking compartment and to pick them up to the vehicle. This is one of my tasks to assure safety for EVA, crew, EVA crew safety, and, of course, I’m going to bring a camera, video camera with me during the EVA, I’m going to be filming my colleagues, my crew members. I’m going to film their work and so I’m going to be very active during the entire EVA and not just sit there and do nothing for half a day.

These days the International Space Station is getting supplies delivered on cargo ships that are launched from Russia and Europe and Japan, and soon there are two new cargo vehicles that are being developed under a NASA program, the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program, and these two vehicles are supposed to have their first flights coming up during the time that you’re on board. Tell me about these two new vehicles and how they fit in with the other different cargo ships to keep the station supplied.

Of course, it would be great if for our increment, without any shift to future increments, there would be two new commercial vehicles already. Based on the plan initially, in the first half of May we are expecting an Orbital vehicle and we’re also expecting the SpaceX vehicle, also a cargo vehicle, in August. Their purpose is, of course, flights, big flights, and they are supposed to support the, it depends on how much they can assure reliability of the flight itself and docking and undocking and descent. Those are very critical operations, they are new operations and I would very much like to observe them both from the inside and also to visit them and to touch everything because it’s very interesting for the cosmonauts, especially for Russian cosmonauts, because we don’t study the hardware of the vehicle but from, in the professional perspective, it’s very interesting to look at new vehicles, how they’re made, because naturally the cargo flow is being planned to increase, expand, and, of course, now we are constrained by having only few vehicles. We need backup which will replace the now-obsolete technology in the future, and we can learn something new and interesting where those new vehicles are concerned and we are hoping that they will be ready for our expedition, those first vehicles, Orbital and SpaceX vehicles. Yeah, it would be beautiful, indeed.

JSC2011-E-196899 -- Expedition 31 crew members

Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka (left), Expedition 31 flight engineer and Expedition 32 commander; along with Russian cosmonaut Sergei Revin (center) and NASA astronaut Joe Acaba, both Expedition 31/32 flight engineers, participate in an emergency scenario training session in the Space Vehicle Mock-up Facility at NASA's Johnson Space Center. Photo credit: NASA

Can you tell me about those vehicles, the Dragon and the Cygnus, how are they like Progress and ATV and HTV, and how are they different?

You mean how they are different from one another? They are not too different from each other. The only thing is that one of them is, has a pressurized compartment and so there is capacity up to 1700 kilograms to, for return to Earth, and this is a great advantage of that vehicle. But also both of them, their dimensions are not very large. If I remember it correctly, their diameter is about three to four meters and the cargo flow that they are going to support is, can be measured from two to three tons or three and a half tons depending on what is the cargo weight that can fit into the pressurized compartment or in a non-pressurized compartment. The weights may vary but the cargo flow is going to be supported, and in my understanding it will be two or three tons, from two to three tons, and I think that it’s not little, it’s a big number. As far as food supplies are concerned and scientific hardware, experimental hardware delivery, certain parts for instruments and systems of the station, I believe that it’s a very good addition to the vehicles that we have now, Progress, HTV, ATV. Progress is in a way comparable to those vehicles. HTV is a little bigger and ATV is big, and heaven, with God’s help it’s going to happen and the most important thing is that it’s so reliable and provided the reliabilities there is going to be great assistance, great help in supporting the cargo delivery to the station.

I understand that one way in which they are different from Progress and ATV is that it will require some crew members using the Canadarm2 to grapple that vehicle and attach it to the station. How does that task work?

Of course, this is a cumbersome, labor-intensive task because they can only operate in automated mode at a certain distance, at a certain range, at the range at which the manipulator is operating, and afterwards there should be a certain experience required and maybe two operators will be needed in order to berth those vehicles to Node 2. So it is a serious, responsible activity. What I would like to emphasize is that the automated mode is the most critical stage, based on our experience, in particular with our experience with the Mir station and also ISS. If you talk about Progress vehicles, there were cases where there were failures of automated mode and the cosmonauts themselves were forced to dock it using remote control. They had to dock cargo vehicles, Progress vehicles. There are also cases when the operators couldn’t manage controlling that very vehicle, Progress. And so that’s where the threshold lies between the automated mode and the participation of operators who do manual, perform manual operations, and so that cusp, so to speak, or threshold, is very tricky. It’s treacherous, and in those cases Mission Control Center also has to be on guard and the crew has to know how to report correctly on dynamics, as we say, on the, motion dynamics of the vehicle that is moving towards the station, what the relative velocity is because the Mir station, as is well known, unfortunately, was, the Mir station collided with a cargo vehicle, and there may have been a number of reasons, we’re not going to get into them right now, but it had to do with that tricky border, demarcation line between the automated and manual mode and I think that on the ground the trainers work on those tasks of interaction or transfer of control from automated to manual. It’s a very important activity. When the automated mode of the vehicle is over and when what’s intermingled is the manual operation of a human being, we’re talking about interaction of human beings and technology and it has it’s own issues.

And in that light with the addition of these commercial cargo vehicles and the due dynamics that they bring to the whole thing, it’s as if your flight is really marking a transition to a new era of human space flight, do you think?

It’s hard for me to be the judge of that as far as the era is concerned, but there’s no question that it’s an interesting stage in the development of technology, space technology, I would say, because our partners, and I mean the NASA partners, have some experience in creating small space vehicles because they are used to, shuttle used to be there, and, among the larger vehicles, but as far as small vehicles are concerned, this experience is only growing right now. It’s only gaining speed right now, and I believe that the Russian specialists’ experience also plays a positive role, at least I would like to think so, and this is a stage for the development of, and for creation of, new space vehicle which may also have relatively small dimensions. And I’m hoping that it’ll be created maybe in five years, maybe the flight will happen in about five years on a new space vehicle that will be made in the United States, and perhaps then we will be talking about a new era because right now there is only one manned vehicle that is flying. Soyuz is the Russian vehicle, and after some time, and I’m talking about the International Space Station as well and after some time we are going to be talking about having a greater number of space vehicles and that would be the next stage, a different stage, and then afterwards I’m hoping that Russia will also create another new vehicle which will meet the tasks of flying around the moon, perhaps landing on the moon, and in that respect we can talk about stages and later about epochs or eras of space exploration, not only of the near space but perhaps we’ll get closer to the moon again, although that experience with moon flights that exists in creating relatively small vehicles. Not to have such an experience, I’m talking about the ’60s lunar program which has made an important contribution into that, but there was a big gap between the end of the ’60s and right now it’s already 2012. The gap is large and it would be an interesting stage. It’ll be a new orbit, as we say, of the translation of motion in space technology.

I want to ask you about the future as well as the past. If you look into the future 20 or 50 years from now, where do you see human spaceflight being in that time, and how is the International Space Station and your mission, how is what you’re doing today, contributing to that future?

It’s unquestionable that each process, or any process, and specifically the development of manned flight, space technology, has to be viewed systematically, from the systems point of view, because only systems approach is going to give us a, provide an opportunity for developing anything at all. And, of course, it is preferred that those plans which we already have are expanded and that we continue moving further, and, of course, this is, we are talking about lunar base and, of course, maybe Martian base as well. I think this will happen because it’s inevitable, and in part this is the philosophy of human development, exploration of new territories, and this is known, well-known both to the United States citizens, how the American continent was discovered, and also to the Russian citizens and how Russia developed starting with Moscow and stretched all the way to the Pacific Ocean. And we have it all, both of the countries have it all, and this is the way it will happen. And the role of the International Space Station is a certain step or a certain model, the way I look at it, a model of the development of human society as well as space technology because the space station is primarily about people and human interaction, interaction among people inside the station, on the station, and also we could say certain groups of people, both the people that are on the station and the people who are on the ground who control space objects. Though it’s an interchange, interrelationship, exchange of information and expansion of capabilities, and, I mean, that of various groups of people. The cosmonauts who are on the station don’t only work with representatives from the Mission Control Center but first of all, not first of all, but they work with children, they participate in educational programs—it’s like a diamond. It’s a certain diamond that may have five facets, ten facets; the further we move along the more facets appear, and we become more precious and more beautiful, we refine ourselves as a civilization. And I believe that the development of cosmonautics is one of the paths toward development of our civilization, and the refinement, betterment of our civilization, because the International Space Station’s role is the role of an ecosystem, and performing research of that ecosystem allows to forecast pathways for space technology and human interaction with space technology also for the future. That’s my answer.