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Preflight Interview: Fyodor Yurchkhin
Fyodor Yurchkhin

Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin poses for a portrait following the March 19 Expedition 36/37 press conference. Photo credit: NASA

Q: Why did you want to be a cosmonaut?

A: Oh! I am very lucky boy, exactly boy, because since my youngest age I wanted to be a cosmonaut. Why? Because I was born in a time when each child heard about space programs, about Yuri Gagarin, Gherman Titov, Alexei Leonov, who first time had EVA, about our goals around. “Oh, look here. Valentina Tereshkova, first woman in space.” “Oh, Neil Armstrong and the first step on the moon, the great American program it’s the moon program, it was the moon program. Look here!” I grow in this atmosphere and when we played the games, for example, if somebody win on this place he was a Gagarin. Why Gagarin? Because it’s the first man who flew to space, yes, and sometimes when I was a small, I showed the Gagarin, it’s like champion. It’s not the real man on the family, and only maybe in school I understood, oh, Gagarin, it’s OK. Because when I was very small, the Gagarin it was like title, it was not like a real man for me. And I grew in this atmosphere, but the first day in the elementary school, the teacher asked each of us, what do you want to be in future, and my answer was not cosmonaut, my answer was goalkeeper because I wanted to play, football—it’s soccer in America—and I was a goalkeeper in my team. But she told me, it’s not profession, I asked you about profession. “Oh, about profession, I wanted to be a cosmonaut.” It was since my youngest year, and after this, I checked what was better, be a military pilot or engineer and the engineer won. For what reason, I understood maybe in this day, in this time then it’s maybe my health it’s not enough to be a cosmonaut, but what is more important for me — be a pilot or be an engineer in space program? Of course, the space program, it was too important for me and I continued in my direction like engineer in space program. I worked in the Russian MCC like controller many years, I worked with Mir/Shuttle program and the first time here in Houston it was in ’95, second docking, shuttle docking with Mir station. I cooperated from Russian side here; great time. Each day in space program I understood it for me to be a cosmonaut, I can do this job. Why I tell you I am very lucky boy since my youngest age, because my dream, it is not done, it continues.

Let me ask you a couple of questions to find out how you got there. Tell us about your hometown and what it was like…


…for you growing up in that town.

My hometown, if you go away from this building it look like my hometown. Not the buildings, but the weather and nature. I was born in Batumi, it’s very small and very interesting; for me, very kind, soft, helpful, and soul[ful] town near the Black Sea. It’s Georgia, a very international town because it’s many nationals live in this town, and doesn’t matter what the nationality you are because what matters most is how you play, for example, in soccer. Each time it’s very great land and I think why maybe I have good communication, sometimes the people told me that you have good communication between different people—why? It is maybe from life in this town. I graduated school in this town and after this, my role was to go to Moscow and Moscow Aviation Institute. Maybe sometimes I call friends of mine in this town and, several days ago I was talking with Ilya Nakashidze, we studied together in school and he is now a very important doctor. Look here, Ilya’s dream was to be a doctor, and he is a doctor. Like this, and many friends of mine, he lived on Batumi, we studied together in one school. It’s a Kostya Gumberidze, Nina Okrobelidze, etc., etc., etc., this town, and many of my friends from Batumi they working, continued his job in Moscow. A very interesting man Avtandil Baramidze, we played soccer with him, but he wanted to be a real footballist, soccer player; and now he is a coach. He has a Russian nation team that wins Paralympic Games; his team won the World Cup; great coach. I hope each of my friends have been very lucky boys since their young age. Great town. I hope after flight I get invited in this town.

Are you able to see it from space?

Of course, the first time we shoot, we wanted to see how Earth looked. Yes, we check the pictures that were taken by other cosmonauts and astronauts. Of course, we have similar lessons; we check the video from station of how the planet Earth looks from station, EVA video, etc. But it’s, on the screen it’s one [thing]; from your life view, it’s another each time we wanted to check how the Earth looked from space. OK, what is the next step? Where is our motherland? Where is the city friend of mine’s? Where is my family now? Where are my parents now? Oh, look here! It’s Paris, because for everybody Paris is space. Oh, look here—New York! Oh, look, it’s London, wow! It is Africa! Oh, look here, it’s pyramids.

That’s hard to imagine just how, how beautiful that must look.

Yes, it’s very amazing and if you remember I told you the main purpose of our station is the integration between many international and many nationalities, yes? If it built one more station, very big for politics, to send all politics on this station for looking at Earth planet, but looking, it is only, for humans we have only one home. It’s planet Earth home. What would you like to do it? Destroy this home, or build this home better and better?

To fly in space as you do is to do a job that has some unique risks to it, but I assume that you think the risks are worthwhile since you do the job. I’d like to ask you why: what is it that you feel that we are getting, or what is it that we learn as a result of flying people in space that makes it worth the risks you take?

I think the risk is around humans each time because it’s explorer and each explorer it’s with risk. With us working with so many people - thousands from each country. The designers check each equipment, so it’s maybe not so risky like you say but it’s a risk of course. First of all, how do you think: I am looking stupid or not? Nobody…


…but nobody answers yes, but I known about risk. I have family, I have daughters; for me it is important too, maybe in my life. I have my parents; I am very lucky. It’s important, too. It’s a job, and I know this job, of course, it’s interesting for me like it has been since my youngest age I told you and it’s interesting for me like the man. But more important I know my job is very important for humans. I know about this. I have a lot of meetings with pupils, students, young people, to talking about space program. Maybe now it’s usual profession for our planet Earth. If it was unusual, maybe it was not so important for give the rule, or give the experience to another direction on the way, but if it’s usual, now a profession? Because ask the people who are on flight, on space now. Ask the people, you tell me ten astronauts or cosmonauts, and you hear Gagarin, Neil Armstrong, etc., you maybe do not hear the new ones. But it’s OK, because if you ask the people about who was the main pilot in our life, they give you the old names, not now. It’s usual profession now. If it’s usual profession it’s very important profession now, too, because doctors it’s usual profession, teachers it’s usual profession. And space people it’s usual profession now, and we should continue. Because I am sure I give the results- great results. In 2010 I had EVA and I was working with Russian Biorisk equipment, we checked the panels outside the station. For each experiments I ask about the results; microbes lived outside the station. Sometimes at zero gravitation, it’s no atmosphere here, but it was alive. In containers we put seeds, we put the mosquitoes, etc., and stayed without atmosphere; after, this mosquito give life again. If you ask me before this experiment it’s possible or not—no, mosquitoes should be killed, should be dead. But, no! It’s interesting. It’s new for everybody, because in this case everybody at first asks if your container had atmosphere or not? No. And mosquito have a life after this. It’s great. So we should continue. About new technology and new materials, I told you about only Teflon but it’s new technology for connected to different cables, for example. We think in this about zero gravitation, how we do it to zero gravitation, but sometimes it’s very simple and we should continue it like this, technology on the ground, too. On the moon program, the Sony did it several new monitors, it used the new technology of this monitors was for TV monitors. On ISS, on shuttle program, the Kodak digital camera with great sensors it was built exactly from space program at first, D760, after this digital sensors, before this the digital cameras weren’t so interesting for everybody. It was the tape kind, yes, old design, but the first big exact great sensor for digital camera, it was factored for this program. And now it’s usual for everybody, it’s usual for my daughters, it’s usual for young boys and girls. Good. I know my profession, it’s very important for humans and why I am on this road.

Fyodor, you and your crewmates are next in line to launch to the International Space Station. Tell me, what are the main goals in your flight and what will your jobs be on this mission?

Fyodor Yurchkhin

Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin participates in an emergency scenario training session in the Space Vehicle Mock-up Facility at the Johnson Space Center. Photo credit: NASA

First of all we would like to have launch with short rendezvous. It is our goal because in my crew, Pavel’s [Vinogradov] crew is one flight engineers from Russian space agency, I have flight engineer from ESA [European Space Agency] and two foreign astronauts with me, and it will be great if we continue these experiences with short rendezvous, with two foreigns. It is the first step, and the decision about this step it should be after Pavel’s launch and after Pavel’s docking to check how it works between crew, between MCC [Mission Control Center], between controllers, etc. OK, we are on orbit now, and on orbit we will be docking with station at the end of May, and immediately begin working with station. I hope we will see ATV-4 [Automated Transfer Vehicle] on orbit in this time, too many tasks for Luca Parmitano with ATV-4, and Karen [Nyberg] should working with both these guys, American guys, with Chris Cassidy and Luca Parmitano, because it’s two EVAs, it should be on June. In June should be one Russian EVA and this task for me and for Alexander Misurkin. June will be a busy month for us. July is not maybe so busy of a month because there is not so many EVAs, and this good time for next, we should have several more orbiters in our flight like SpaceX Dragon, Cygnus, HTV [H-II Transfer Vehicle]. It is very great time for everyone of us of course, for American guys because the docking American, to American side, it’s the guys should use the arm, yes, of course. And again August two Russian’s EVA. September we say goodbye Pavel Vinogradov’s crew and we working too hard, we invite new crew, it’s Pavel and Oleg Kotov come to us. Maybe the decision now we will have one more Russian EVA in this case. And I told you only about the most important we have payloads and we have a lot of payloads, like Russian, American, Europe’s, JAXA’s experiments, and for me maybe one it should be very interesting experiments, aquarium experiments, a small fish in Kibo, because I have never seen and never worked with experiments like this. I hear about this and many years ago, it’s maybe 20 years ago, we had discussion about this experiments—maybe more than 20 years ago—on Mir station, but we never did it like this experiment and it should be very fun, very interesting experience. It is the usual, many medical, biological, technological experiments we will have on station.

Let me get you to talk about science for, for a few minutes, because that’s really become the focus now that the assembly of the station is complete. How do you convey to people the potential for the kinds of scientific discoveries that can be made on board this space station?

First of all, I would like ask all housekeeper, who working on kitchen, for example, because you know about the Teflon technology. The Teflon and we have a lot of piece on kitchen with Teflon technology, built it by the Teflon technology. Do like it this or not, because it is from space station and the space program. It is an easy answer for this question, yes? But if you tell each crew, it doesn’t matter, each human flights, its longest short direction. We have three very important tasks for maybe 99% of crew. It’s working with experiments for AIDS, for hepatitis and for cancer, and if we help humans for one of these directions, I hope we’ve done with everything, with each dollar, with each ruble on space station program. I only told you about three, these very interesting experience. It’s cancer, it’s, AIDS, it’s hepatitis; yeah, but it’s only about this. The new one, I told you about fish in space and we should understand how the life come to Earth. Each of us would like to known the parents, grandpa, grandmothers, the life in our parents is like our history, how it happened. This is fundamental question. Astronomy experiments, biological, geological, ecological now. The first and very important for everybody is ecological problem, yes? For humans’ view, from our view, it’s, we cannot build now the exact great science equipment without, no equipment what we should have a view like human’s eyes. The eyes from space it’s very important. In Expedition 13, in each site you may see the great pictures with volcano. It’s one of island, but it did it by Expedition 13 and only Expedition 13 in this time shared this volcano as it begun to wake, and took the pictures and send the ground. The science on ground only in I think three or four hours came some displays. It like examples how it may help, but I told you about only human International Space Station. But look here, the space program, it’s communications, it’s satellites. It’s very easy for everybody and for example, for my mom’s my daughter’s grandma, to check the cell phone, come to with cell phone, use the Internet. But it’s from space program, too.

One of the…

And for this reason I think now we should more give rules to space station programs, satellite’s programs, science programs, and maybe check, go to future to another planet. Now we are ready for this because we understood about how it should be, it must be for human.

Well, one of the big areas of the science research that you’re doing is to find out how human beings respond when they’re in that environment. Can you give me a couple of, one or two examples, of experiments that are looking into how humans are affected by microgravity environment that you’re going to be working on this mission?

It’s many examples I may give you. For example, we use the medicine and each medicine I remember very well on this station. I remember very well my first flight and my first flight was Expedition 5, and Peggy Whitson did this experiments with medicine she used medicine step by step several types in long-duration because she will have flown six months in this time. She checked and the result was very positive, and the other crews it’s continued this experiments. It was the first one. Second one, for example, now on station we have very nice equipment, it’s ARED [advanced resistive exercise device] equipment; it’s physical training. It’s like our own gym, when the crew did its exercise on this we return, my second flight, it was a long flight on station in 2007, we don’t have ARED, we have IRED [interim resistive exercise device]. Yes, it’s more simple. I know about myself. From 2010 when I used ARED, my physical condition was better than on 2007. Now we have decision about doing the station with maybe not one g but maybe with simple g like, if we revolve the station or something like this, we may do the g. It’s thinking about next step maybe it’s not on this station but next step for human.

In fact, in order to learn more about how people do in that environment for long durations, the station program recently decided to send two crew members to the station for one full year.


What are your thoughts about the idea of a year-long flight?

You remember in Russian Mir station we had several flights, one a year duration and we had one flight, it’s one [year] and four months duration with Valeri Polyakov. Now the equipment is new, sensors, everything is new. Now, it was a time when we are thinking about what is the next step? Now the two-member crew with different nationalities should have one-year flight. For me, what is most important are the results and the tasks and roles they fills. If it is flight only for we should answer to press media, “Oh, we did it one-year flight,” it is not interesting. I know the very important for each partners on ISS station to have more results from this flight, to give these few more rules how it should be works. It’s not only discussion for my reason it should be very interesting flight. Now we do not ask the engineers, science people, or doctors now what is should be ready, exact rules on this flight, because it’s now on discussion. But I hope and I know it should be very interesting flight.

Would you like to go for a full year yourself?

Now my role is Expedition 36/37, but why not? Why not? Look at my hair, but first of all, I should ask my family. I think what is more important than the duration of the flight, are the rules on this flight. If it’s very interesting flight, why not?

The station is filled with a lot of very specialized equipment in the many laboratory modules to help experiments that are going on in other special areas of science, and you referred to a couple of them a few minutes ago. Could you tell me about a couple of different experiments that you will be working on on this flight in other scientific disciplines?

Fyodor Yurchkhin

Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin 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 the Johnson Space Center. Photo credit: NASA

For example, the station is like our home and station now it is more than 12 years old. For zero gravitation, it is terrible. We should check what the health in this construction, as how, what is the health? We should check each area with different sensors inside the station to understand the construction: have a good health to continue flight or not? This is very interesting because the material in space live not like on ground, in zero gravitation, and we should check each bolt, each place, everywhere, doesn’t matter. It’s ASU [Zvezda toilet system]? Doesn’t matter. It’s our table where we sit together and eat? Doesn’t matter. It’s the technical equipment, the cable, because cable could be broken, power cable, data cables, our computers, and we change computer each one-and-a-half years because it’s destroyed in station because of radiation. We should check the station outside when we have each EVA, the crew, has several topics to check the area near the place when we have our task. I told you about technological. Now and each day on space, several different modules from different countries, it’s European, Japanese, United States, of course Russian, and different technological—the hatches in Russian, it’s circle, the hatches in American segment is square. Each day it is experience for these designers, for our designers. We, in Russia we used automatical docking each time; from American side it’s not automatical, the vehicle comes and guys use the arm and with arm help to dock this equipment. It’s experience or not, if we continue this experience, too. The many interesting experiments it is easily our body when we have usual exercise. One great experiment I may tell you because I like this experiment, I put some sensors on my body, it’s about five minutes before going to bed and sleep; but experiment begins, and I like it because I only put sensors and remove the sensors. Now our kayuta when we are sleeping has a shield, radiation shields, and we continue this experience to check, because it’s very important for long-duration flight in the next step for human in a different planet. But we continued and we changed the type of shields, and check what is the radiation before shield and after shield, and we have this data, too. Time on space watches? The same on ground, how it works, how it works together. So many interesting experiments and I think only maybe 50% experiments when we used humans on space, and many experiments. Everybody asks, why you have people in space because the experiments only with astronauts and cosmonauts? No, more than 50% is automatical. We only put this equipment on and this equipment may working years and years on space, and give the data results without people, without humans.

You mentioned earlier that among the, the highlights during this flight is going to be a number of spacewalks that are currently planned, both Russian spacewalks and, and U.S.-side spacewalks. Tell me in a little more detail about the plan for the spacewalks during Expeditions 36 and 37—who’s going to go outside and what the work is going to be?

For Russian EVAs, on June we should have the EVA and we should change with Alexander Misurkin the thermal control equipment outside from station on FGB [Zarya]. For what reason? Because FGB it’s now 15-years-old, and this equipment, it continues to work but the rule to give the station more life, yes, long life, we should change this one equipment for a new one. It’s very complex and very interesting for us because should the ground shut off, it’s step by step: start, ground shut off the old one pump, we remove old one pump, put the new one pump, ground check this new pump, connect the data from this pump, check how it works, etc. Second one, EVA, we should be working with several cables. In enter, we hope that end of this year the big Russian, research module should come to station, again, and we should prepare anything from this module because the power, data, we should integrate this module to station, and before the module comes we should put some cables from American side to a place near this module, power cables, data cables, Internet cables, etc. This is our second one. And third one, and again we will work with a lot of cables outside of the station if we put these cables inside the station, we have hatch, it’s not so safe, and sometimes more safe, or, it’s maybe difficult to do it because it should be on EVA to connect the cable from one side to other side. It’s great technological because we don’t have these cables inside the station. Each hatch should be closed, so this time, for cables, time for Russian segment, this time for inspection such for American guys.

You’ll get the opportunity to crawl around on a good portion of the station on this flight, yes?

Yes, we have this opportunity to have this spacewalks, and we hope this Russian spacewalks help. For example, when the module comes to very fast connect this module and very fast to integrate to station.

On the plan in mid-September, you are going to become the commander of the station for Expedition 37. How does that change daily life for you, to go from being a flight engineer to becoming the commander?

On Expedition 15 I was like a commander on full expedition and I think the role, commander’s role, only when—if we leave, unfortunately—we leave off-nominal situation, it’s for me. For usual days I am one of the crew members on the station. Yes, of course, in my experience I will help everybody of these to check the time, to check how it works. For example, sometimes if we get back late and go late to bed again we may have not good synchronization with our sleep, the commander should check the whole crew, should working on, by timeline. Exactly, this is commander’s role, but it’s like commander, you should understand. I may be like very friendly to everybody. I should very cordial, but in off-nominal situation when we have OBT, of course, it’s my role because each OBT is on board training, with off-nominal situation, and in each OBT it’s very great time, for example, because MCC tells “for off orbital training” we, only for training reasons, we have like fire. And we continue like this job, and I should coordinate each crew, I should compliment both Soyuz crew because in this time, Oleg with his crew, I am with my crew, and if something happened, for example, like fire between two crews, we should separate crew. Of course, I give the role to Oleg in his side, my role’s is in from the other side. If off-nominal situation on, “for onboard training,” we have depressurization, it’s an excellent scenario. And we don’t know what kind of scenario the ground give us, but it should be like on each military ship, on each ship on each aircraft, etc., the crew should do it like this training, and on this training, yes, I’ve known about. For usual life, I hope I should be very great friend for each of crew.

During your time on board this, in this flight, this station will receive supplies from several of the different supply ships that are now working to bring new material to the space station. Tell me about the different ships that are now available and that are supporting the work on board the station?

It’s an interesting ship. For me, unfortunately, I have only three flights in my life. Yes, these space station flights, but I’ve never seen the different vehicles, only Progress cargo. Now maybe I should be very likely to check again ATV, it’s European Space Agency, very interesting vehicle. It has unique docking system; they use GPS and laser in last [stage of docking]. And, look here, it’s about 20 tons but the speed it’s about seven centimeters per second for docking, very soft docking. From HTV, it’s unique, very interesting vehicle, because the cargo it should be inside the HTV and outside, and from outside, when HTV docked, we used the manipulator. You asked me about experience, but it’s technological experiment because we may use manipulator, Japanese manipulator arm, and docking for this year’s cargo is outside of this vehicle but without EVA we may use this cargo. Dragon may return to ground and it’s very helpful for crew because crew may send to ground some stuff. Of course, the experiments we have in space like our blood, our urine, etc., hard drives, pictures, many material we should send to ground. Of course, it’s the new one, Cygnus, for me, and it could be on station, and now I think when we have so many different kind, different design of the vehicle, and it’s after this experience we understood what the better way is. Maybe we will use these designs for future human vehicles.

Well, I think that is really the important question. When you think about those different cargo vehicles and what we learn from spacewalks and what we learn from those experiments inside the laboratories, etc., can you put all of it together and say what is it that we are learning from these missions to the International Space Station that are going to prepare us for the exploration of the future?

First of all, what we learn from so many different countries, is different language, different education, maybe not so different education but it’s different tradition for this education. It is different each American hatch has a square, each Russian a circle, ring. Why so many, but we work together. We may have one great rule for this station, that we continue this job. For me, this is the greatest experience for this station, and if each politics check our experience, how we may work together, maybe we will give good example to all politics. It is possible for each country. It is possible for each nation maybe this is one great example for this great problem.