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Preflight Interview: Alexander Misurkin
Alexander Misurkin

Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin, Expedition 35/36 flight engineer, poses for a portrait following an Expedition 35/36 preflight press conference at NASA's Johnson Space Center. Photo credit: NASA

Q: Why did you want to be a cosmonaut?

A: It’s a pretty simple answer: because I want to get to that place where nobody was before.

Why? What made you want to do that?

Do you know why Columbus went to America? Do you know why?


Columbus…why? Because people in the old times are interested in something, for example, what’s happened around here and I think that in the old time people would look at the stars, even two thousand years before us, people have done it, and they will do it in thousand years after our life. People are interested in the world that is around us, of course, and if I know something about old, it’s something around me here. It’s very interesting for me to see, a different city and to see life there, maybe in different country and one day, of course, to see a different planet.

I’d like to learn more about the man who thinks like that. Tell us about where you grew up. Tell me about your hometown and your childhood.

My hometown is Orel City, Orel; in Russian language means “eagle.” Maybe I can say “Eagle City” in English. And for me it’s like a little sign, I can say. It’s a very nice, not big, but nice city. There is a lot of history connected with that city in Russia, and I love it very much.

What was it like growing up there? What was it like for you? What was your childhood like? Was it…

I would like to say that I had a typical, nothing special, childhood. Growing up I went to school, then to the aviation club and prepared. I can say probably that it’s not easy in life to see your goal and go straight to your goal, to the a target, but I think that in my life I’ve done pretty good because I wanted to be a cosmonaut when I was a little boy, and I made all my steps on this way, one by one.

All with the intention of becoming a cosmonaut one day?

Yes, exactly.

Tell me about some of those steps from your hometown that led you to become a cosmonaut. What were the steps in your education and in your professional life in the air force?

I wanted and decided to be a cosmonaut when I was a pretty little boy. I started to create my own, with my friends, of course, spacecraft. Unfortunately it was only on paper. When I was 13 years old I went to the aviation club; there I made parachute jumping, and I was flying on gliders. After school I went to the High Military Pilot School and when I graduated from it, I was a pilot instructor in the same military school. After that I became an ascan [astronaut candidate].

You were selected to begin training to become a cosmonaut?


That must have been a very exciting day for you, to find that you had been selection?

For me, 100%, of course.

To fly in space as you are preparing to do now is to accept a job that has some unique risks to it, but since you’re doing the job I assume that you think that the risks is worth the reward. So tell me, Alexander, what is it that you think that we get, or what it is that we learn, as a result of flying people in space that makes it worth that risk?

Alexander Misurkin

Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin, Expedition 35/36 flight engineer, speaks to a crowd during a cake-cutting ceremony in the Jake Garn Simulation and Training Facility at NASA's Johnson Space Center. Photo credit: NASA

I’m very positive that we should do it, and I never have questioned if we should do it or not. I like this job and I feel that this is my job. I am happy that I could do it and that I was selected for the job. What about purpose? One of the Russian scientist said long years ago, that Earth is the only place where humans are born, and he was positive that we are going to space and one day live in other worlds, in a different place, and the time will come for this, I’m sure. That is why I think we should do this job.

You and your crewmates are next in line to launch to the International Space Station, so in a nutshell, Alexander, tell me about the goals of your mission and what role on this crew is going to be.

I think you know that I will be flight engineer of Soyuz and flight engineer of MKS [ISS] in increment 35/36; it’s about my role in a couple words. What about our goal? In my opinion, our mission is just next little step on the way, on the way to the moon, Mars, and I am very happy to do this step.

Tell me what you are most looking forward to seeing at the International Space Station.

Probably how our Earth looks that is the most interesting thing for me. Also it would be to see the stars. I think they look much better from orbit, and of course I’m looking forward to seeing the faces of my friends there.

Your Soyuz flight to the station could be something brand new for the program: management is discussing having your flight dock to the space station on the same day that you launch. What would be the advantages for you, for the crew members, for having launching and docking to the station happen so close together?

As I already said, from my opinion, it’s really the next step in exploration of space and in the creation of spacecrafts because right now we have a lot of spacecrafts, some of them which we call the free flyers. Usually I can compare our spacecraft not with something like free flyers but most like balloon which is tethered through the MCC [Mission Control Center] because all decisions, all conclusions made by people on the ground and on the spacecraft are on its own, couldn’t do almost anything. In our flight, our spacecraft, we’ll take decision on how to do, and how to make this way from Earth to the M, ISS, probably its own, and we will control it and monitoring, and if everything is right it will do all this but, by itself. It’s, in this case, a role of MCC a little bit less than in previous flights. That is why I think it’s the next step in developing of spacecraft and it’s really the next step on the way to the moon or Mars.

I’m interested in the idea of having your Soyuz flight dock to the space station after just four orbits, I think it is an advantage for you, the crew members, to be able to dock to the space station only a few hours after you’ve launched instead of a few days?

From my opinion, of course, I have no experience of spaceflight before, and it probably would be better to answer on this question, for example, for my commander who has such experience. But for my opinion it’s better when we can do it almost on our own car—just sit in spacecraft, fly, and reach station as soon as possible. In my opinion it’s much better, but of course we should try, and see how it will end. Only after that we will decide if it is better or not.

OK. Let’s talk about the destination. Help us understand the International Space Station that is in orbit right now. Tell me about what is there—what are the different modules and the different systems and equipment that are there to support the work of the crew and the science mission that you’re on?

Pat, I think you know that during the last few missions, there were no changes in ISS construction, and I couldn’t say that there are a few new modules. It’s still a really huge construction, and as my friends and colleagues say, sometimes you can work all day and not see anybody on this station because it’s so huge. I’m looking forward to trying how it will be and I think I couldn’t imagine right now all details of this station. As you know the ISS include two segments, Russian segment, and the American segment; all European, Canadian, Japanese colleagues have their modules or parts which is included in U.S. segment, and I think that U.S. segment is like two-thirds, Russian segment is like one-third, and we are looking forward to, for coming Russian one more pretty big module, but it will happen only after our mission.

And amongst all of those modules there are all the facilities that you need to do your work, right?

Yeah, exactly.

How do explain to people what, about that work? What is the potential for what science we can learn on board this space station?

Alexander Misurkin

Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin, Expedition 35/36 flight engineer, uses a computer during 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

First of all I would like to say that, in my opinion, the most important purpose of ISS is to learn, to study how people can live in space, how to make their life there more safely, not dangerous, and how we can fly to somewhere. Time will come and we will go to the other planets, to the deep space, and we should understand and know how we can do it, to be safe there, in my opinion, is the most important purpose of using ISS.

And as you say, a lot of that research has to do with how, to finding out how people can be in space for a long period of time and be safe. In fact, the station partners have recently announced that they’re going to send two crew members to the station for a full year. What are your thoughts about a yearlong mission on board the space station?

I think it’s a good experience because all flights which we are going to have for some different planet, even the moon or Mars or something else, they probably will take so very long time, maybe year, maybe more, and that is why it’s very important to understand how our body and how people can, I wouldn’t say “survive,” I would like to say “live” there for one year or more. It is very important.

Would you like to go for a year?

Especially if it's a flight to the Mars.

The science that you’re going to do is broken up into different areas and the science of human life sciences, of finding out how the body responds in zero gravity. is one of the biggest ones. Can you give me two or three examples of the human life sciences research that you’re going to be involved with during this flight?

As you know, my background is a pilot, and pilot instructor. I think that the most interesting experiment for me will be next. You know that the scientific world is trying to understand how to work our vestibular system, especially on zero g, and all such, to understand how it works it will be much easier to use some simple creatures, and I’m going to use typical fly for this purpose, and answer which I’m going to get is that to know how they land on ceiling, if we can say “ceiling” on space. Will they use half-roll or half-loop? I will say that.

Can you give me another one or two examples of the human life sciences research you’re going to be working on on this mission?

Some of the experiments we’ll attach our human’s cardiovascular system, we will see how to distribution liquid level on the body, because you know that in zero g all, a lot of liquid in our body will go up because there is zero g and it’s pretty uncomfortable feeling all, when all your blood trying to go to your head. As you can see the face of astronauts, cosmonauts all time is pretty, I would like to say not on, not like on the ground, it’s a little bit…


…puffy, I think so, yes, right, thank you. And I’m going, we are going to, to watch, how it works, and all this experiments, it’s not like big, we are not going to do it at the first time, it’s like a long experiments in one line, because for statistics we have lots of experiments to do. Only after that we can make any conclusions and decide how we can help better, and what can happen if we do that or do not do any special activity.

Alexander Misurkin

Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin, Expedition 35/36 flight engineer, is pictured during an emergency scenario training session in the Space Vehicle Mock-up Facility at NASA's Johnson Space Center. Photo credit: NASA

And there are experiments in other scientific disciplines that you’ll be working on throughout your time as well. Give me a couple of examples of the other kinds of science research you’re going to be involved with on this flight.

I’m very interested in experiment which is conducted, which is connected with getting of different alloys of metal. In general, the difference between experiments which we can perform on ground and on ISS is the zero g on ISS, and, for example, we couldn’t get alloy of some different metals on ground, such metal like aluminum and iron, but, on space, it can be possible. We can get some different materials which will have some different qualities, and on ground is unpossible but there it’s becoming true, and it’s very interesting for me, and I’m going to do it.

Now we’ve talked about work that you’re doing inside the station. There are also times when crew members have to work on the outside of the space station. Now the plans, of course, could change, but I’d like to get you to tell me about what the current plan is for spacewalks during Expeditions 35 and 36. Tell me about who would go outside and what you will do and by that, of course, I mean, you when you get to go outside for spacewalks.

In the current plan we have some seven EVA. Three of them we will perform, our American and the European colleagues, and three, I hope four, will perform we, I mean Russian colleagues, and as I would like to say about, a little words about Russian EVAs. Of course, I think that Chris [Cassidy] will explain much better his activities in space. As to Russian EVAs, especially for me, I was prepared for two and I want, and I hope, that I will be prepared for one more EVA. I think you are interested in which purpose of these EVA we want to get. And there, one of these EVA is connected with preparing for one more Russian module which will come in a little bit later for our mission, and to other one, second EVA, we are going to do for changes some equipment of, which is located outside of station, and one more EVA we are going to perform for installation of some new scientific equipment outside of the station.

So part of what you’re doing is preparing for the arrival of a future module, and the others are exchanging experiments that are going on on the outside of the station. Is that correct?

Yeah, yeah.

Are you very excited about the idea of floating outside as your own little spaceship?

Of course. It should be the best walk for me; I hope so.

Now you’re going to make these spacewalks with cosmonaut colleagues who have a lot of experience, yes?

Yes, it’s true.

The space station now gets supplies delivered to it by a small fleet of unmanned cargo ships, and there are several of them that are scheduled to come to the station during the time that you’re there. Tell me about the different cargo ships that are bringing supplies to the station, including the new American commercial ships that are going to be making trips during your increment, too.

As to other spacecraft which will come our mission is very interesting also because we are going to see all spacecraft which there is on our planet. I’m looking forward to see Progress, you know, Soyuz, ATV [Automated Transfer Vehicle], HTV [H-II Transfer Vehicle], Dragon, Cygnus—all spacecraft which human made we are going to see in space, and I feel very lucky because it’s very exciting experience, I think. Of course, I’m very interesting to see different spacecraft. I saw Progress, Soyuz, but for me it’s very interesting to see new commercial vehicles, and, as to HTV and ATV, it’s very interesting for me also, and I would like to say that it’s pretty, pretty big job to, it’s not like also to see them, we will have a lot of work with any payload which will, located on their board. And, anyway, it’s very exciting for me.

As you think about the entire mission, what do you think, what it is that you’re most looking forward to about your time on board the space station?

Of course, now, for me, the most interesting part will be new type of arriving on board, for orbit, I mean, and EVA activity.

What is it that you think we, the whole International Space Station program, what is it that these missions on the International Space Station are teaching us, that are helping prepare us for the future missions that will go beyond Earth orbit?

Now, first of all, of course, I already told about it, that we will understand and we will know what we should do, what we should do for safety life, for long, safety life in space, and it’s first part. Second part, of course, it will be knowledge how to make our future spacecraft to, for, first reason, to save the lives of people on board and to make their life more comfortable there. And the third part, will be to understand how we can make our spacecraft such a way that, to be less dependent on MCC because when we are going to fly in deep space it takes a lot of time, pretty lot of time for communication, and MCC probably will not be able to help us if we need any help in short time. That is why, as I already told, our future spacecraft should be more free flyers.