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In his Oral History, U.S. Mir astronaut John Blaha compares NASA astronaut training with training at the Gagarin Training Center, in Russia.
Blaha says, "Every time I trained for a mission for a space shuttle, I did it in the English language, which is my native language. When I trained to fly on the Mir, I did it in the Russian language."
He emphasizes, "It wasn't a . . . course [in Russian language]; it was a course in the Mir communication system, [or a course in] the reaction control system of the Soyuz, etc.," but it was in the Russian language and in the Russian cultural context.
"The second difference," according to Blaha, "was the Russian philosophy of education.
"In America . . . the approach is to use simulators. . . In Russia, they do it the old-fashioned way. A person takes a piece of chalk and they go to a chalkboard, and you're sitting as one student or two students, no more. That piece of chalk goes to the chalkboard, and a man starts teaching you a particular system in a Soyuz or on Mir, and you take notes and you ask questions. When a course is complete, the Russians have another team administer an oral exam to the student. The team are the experts who designed that particular space vehicle system, for example, the Mir comm [communication] system. The experts grade the student; there's a pass/fail . . ."
Although the two systems are very different, Blaha says the result is, ". . . the Russians performing very well flying on their Mir space station and we perform very well flying our space shuttle."
Profile: John Blaha
John Blaha Oral History (PDF)
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Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty