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Preflight Interview: Boris Morukov

The STS-106 Crew Interviews with Boris Morukov, Mission Specialist 5.

Boris, you've been involved in the Soviet and the Russian space program as a physician and a researcher for more than twenty years, but this is the first time that you are going to ever fly in space. Have you always wanted to fly in space yourself?

Yes, I always wanted to fly into space. And, I guess it's the "golden dream" of all the boys of my generation. But, for many of them, this is still a dream. But my life has made another turn, and all my work and all my life is dedicated to that goal.

The boys of your generation are old enough to have remembered when Yuri Gagarin became the first human being to ever fly in space; can you tell us what that was like - what was it like to be a boy in Moscow, or in Russia at that time?

That was a very happy event for all the people in my country, and the space flights of Sputniks were like an everyday activity, you might say, but everybody was waiting for a man to go in space. But it was still a great surprise to everybody, and the whole population exploded from happiness and enthusiasm. That was wonderful.

I mentioned that you've been involved in the space program for many years, although you've not been in space yourself before. Tell us about your background, your career path that brought you to become a doctor and to work at the Institute for Biomedical Problems, and something about your work and how that institute has studied the effects of space flight on human beings.

When I was still a student of the medical institute, I knew that there is the Institute for Biomedical Problems, IBMP, which is, at present, the leading medical center for space medicine. And when I was still a student, I participated in some of the experiments that were carried out by the institute, and after I graduated, I started working for the institute, for the IBMP, as a scientist, as a doctor, and at that time, I made the decision that I would try to become a cosmonaut myself so the knowledge and the experience that I have gained could be implemented as a part of the space flight. You can say that I was working in different departments which are in charge of space flights at our institute: I worked as a scientist, I worked as a physician, as a part of the medical support operation group at the mission control center, and I participated in different experiments that were devoted to zero-gravity effects on the body of a human as well as different countermeasures to negative metabolic changes that might occur during a long-term flight.

I am interested to get your opinion, then, on how smart we have gotten about that: After forty years of human space flight, how well do we understand what being in a weightless environment does to the human body? How, good have we gotten about being able to respond to that?

Well, the weightlessness and its effects on the human body have been studied as a part of the space flights, as well as on the ground, the experiments that were simulating the conditions of the flight. But this issue involved animals flying in the space station for biomedical experiments and collecting all the experience that we've gained. At present, we can say that a human can stay, work and live successfully on orbit, retaining all the capabilities of a human body, given that, that crewmembers will follow all the recommendations for the countermeasures.

You made reference to your career at the IBMP as a researcher and as a physician, and now you've been involved with the space program for many years. From your professional career, even from your student days, do you have a couple of, some people in mind that you look at as, and say to yourself, these are very important people, these were people who were influential in my making the choices that I made and becoming the person that I've become.

Well, many people, in fact, influenced my life…people that I worked, in the course of these years were supporting my desire to become a cosmonaut, they helped me a lot to become a researcher I am today. For instance, for a long time as a researcher I had been cooperating with Dr. Grigoriev, who is my mentor in science. As a cosmonaut, I took a lot from my predecessor, Valery Polyakov, who stayed in orbit for the longest time in the history of the manned flight; and it's not only experience from a crewmember that stayed in orbit but he taught me how to keep my health intact, how to coordinate my work with other people, and I'm very thankful to him for that. But in reality, there are more people who surrounded me, for all these years, contributed, and I'm very thankful to them for that.

Over its history, the American space shuttle program has planned its missions out for years in advance, and crews of astronauts have spent a year or more training for them. Well, in fact, you and two of your crewmates - Ed Lu and Yuri Malenchenko - had been training with four other crewmates for a different mission when you were switched to STS-106 with just a few months left before the launch. First, I'd like to get you to explain to us the circumstances of the change and why STS-106 was added to the list; but second, talk about what it was like for you to move from being part of one group and being part of a second.

As you know, last year there were two unsuccessful launches of the Proton vehicle, and because of that, the Service Module launch was delayed, and there was a necessity to bring another additional crew, perform another additional mission, because the orbit of the International Space Station was decaying gradually and some of the systems and hardware of the modules which are on orbit right now needed attention, they needed replace and removal operations. Therefore, a decision was made for those tasks that at the beginning were planned for STS-101 expedition to divide them in two missions, which will be STS-101 and a new additional mission, STS-106. And our crew, therefore, was split, and three crewmembers that were working mainly on the Service Module were assigned as part of the STS-106 crew. We had a wonderful crew, actually, STS-101 crew: We had great personal relationship, great interaction and personal support and coordination in our work, and I'm happy that they had a very successful mission. But, I guess, we were lucky the second time, also: Our second mission, our crew, consists of wonderful people and excellent professionals. And we have been working together for a few months, and I hope that our work will be as successful on orbit as it is on the ground. Of course, it was a difficult move and we were sad, but at the same time, we were striving for our goal of flight to the International Space Station.

After having made the change from one crew to the other, have there been special challenges for you and your crewmates as you get ready for this mission?

Well, the most challenging part of our flight is work in the Russian segment and activities associated with the preparation of the International Space Station for the first increment crew. And that is very intensive work, to prepare everything for them, and the main difficulty, I guess, is how to coordinate our activities because the time we'll be dock, when we'll be docked to the space station is quite limited. So, we need to spend our time the most, in a most effective manner, and this requires a great coordination, a great interaction between the crewmembers.

Your flight to the International Space Station is the first since the arrival of the Service Module; in fact, there will be a Progress vehicle that will be docked to the station at that time as well. So, let's go through your mission from the beginning. One of the first things you have to do is rendezvous with the station and dock to it. Could you describe what happens that day, what the steps in the process are, and tell us a little bit about what your part will be that day, what you'll be doing on rendezvous day.

Rendezvous and docking is one of the most crucial stages of the flight. And if this stage is unsuccessful, then we can't carry out any other activities. Therefore, each crewmember is involved in those activities. We will be responsible for the most part for the tasks that will be carried out on the middeck of the shuttle; my responsibility will be the photo/TV operations. At the time, I will need to prepare the systems to ensure that they are ready for rendezvous and docking operations, then I'll have to monitor the operations of those systems, and, after that, will have to send a video signal to the ground. So, these are my personal responsibilities for that stage of flight.

Can you give us a brief description of how the rendezvous goes, and how the shuttle approaches and, and then closes in to and docks to the station?

This is a very complex and very dynamic process because two objects which are on the space orbit will have to align all the movements, they will have to balance out all the angular and regular velocities, and they will have to come in one point in space without damaging each other. What I might say is that shuttle is a very reliable system that has a great experience for these type of operations. And, a lot, of course, depends on the crewmembers as well, and we have been trained a lot for those operations, and I think everything will be successful. Our commander is very experienced, and our pilot is a high professional as well. And our mission specialists will support them as well as we can.

The first day after the docking to ISS is the day that Ed Lu and Yuri Malenchenko are to make a six-and-a-half-hour space walk. It's only going to be the second time ever that a team of an American and a Russian have made a space walk from the space shuttle, but similar teams have done space walks from the Mir station during the Shuttle/Mir program. Can you tell us how it is valuable to have multinational teams do this? What are we learn from, from that that might be applicable to the International Space Station and space walks from there in the future?

That is true, that is the second time when we'll have a Russian and American crewmembers together performing an EVA, and for the International Space Station that is the first time, and I might say that this is a prototype, if you like, on EVA-type of activities since this is the first time that the EVA procedures have been concurred by both sides, from the Russian side and the U.S. side. And, our crewmembers participated in training sessions in both in Russia and the U.S., they are using the hardware and tools from both countries, and in the future I think the approach will be even more integrated because the International Space Station is a very large object and, there'll be several airlocks when we'll be able to use them for EVA activities. And I think, in the future, EVAs will be performed out of Russian and U.S. spacesuits, and that will depend on the specific task that will have to be carried out for each particular flight. I believe this approach will be more flexible and more functional - it will be integrated approach. Of course, this is very extensive work to combine two different approaches from both countries, two different procedures and visions, and I think our flight is one of the key stages for that.

Let me ask you to give us some detail about this particular space walk. Ed and Yuri will be outside, you'll be inside - describe the tasks that they have to do, and, and talk about what your role will be to support the space walk from inside the shuttle.

This space walk is devoted mainly to the integration of the modules, which are in space right now - that is, FGB, Unity and the Service Module, which will be docked to them. Our crewmembers, Ed and Yuri, will have to mate several systems together: that is, the electrical power supply system - they'll have to integrate it with the rest of the space station - control and command system, and TV system as well. In addition to that, on the exterior surface of the Service Module some hardware items will be installed, such as the magnetometer and some cargo items will be transferred from the cargo bay of the shuttle to the allocated places on the surface of the Service Module and FGB.

Will you be doing photo/TV documentation again?

Yes, I will be. And, I will be involved in the pre-EVA activities - I will be preparing the EVA tools, supporting the work of the spacesuits; then I will be removing and replacing the cartridges for CO2, etc.

The day after this space walk is the day that all of you are to enter the International Space Station, and you will become the first people ever to enter Zvezda while it is on orbit. Do you have any sense at all, at this point, of how you're going to feel to be present for this historic event?

Yes. I think this moment in time will be really very important because we will be entering a module which will stay in orbit for fifteen years. But I think that our schedule is so planned and so packed that we will not have any room for emotions, we will have to be actively involved on all the operations that we have to perform, and we'll have to carry out all the tasks that are necessary to prepare the Service Module for the future flights.

The Service Module has been described as the early living quarters for the future Expedition crews to the station, but I'd like to ask you to help us understand better why Zvezda is so important: What is it that's there? What service does it provide? What systems are involved? What is it that makes this module so important to the future of the station?

The Zvezda module is truly the main place for the crewmembers' habitation, and that module has everything necessary to support the environment for the crewmembers on a permanent basis. The main source of oxygen for the crewmembers on station will be Elektron system, which is installed on Zvezda module, which receives oxygen from the regeneration of water and will have the purification system for the air, which is…also involves the harmful contaminant removal, which is on Zvezda module. That module has everything necessary to support the environment for the crewmembers in, as well as the allowable range of temperature and humidity conditions. And the Zvezda module has crew quarters for crewmembers, and it has kitchen and a toilet, and large volumes of water and food are located on Zvezda, as well as a system which allow us to receive water from the air condensate. In other words, this is a juncture where we have everything necessary to support crewmembers on orbit. All the systems have been tested before and I'm sure that they will work very well. All of them are available to provide everything necessary for the crewmembers' needs, and if necessary, we can outfit those systems, and that means that those systems will be operational for a very long time.

Yet because of weight constraints, Zvezda does not arrive on orbit and at the station ready, ready to use; you and your crewmates are going to help get it ready. Describe the important Service Module outfitting tasks that you have to do - the hardware that you have to install, or systems that you have to connect and set up. Describe the kinds of work that you're going to do and what your goal as a crew is.

That is true, that this is one of the main parts of our work on orbit because the Service Module will be launched without the significant components of the life support systems. We'll have to bring them on orbit and we'll have to install them in place; that is Elektron system, which supplies oxygen to the crewmembers; that is multiple units for the electrical power supply system; and other systems cannot function without them, including the environment support systems; and we will deliver additional devices which will be used for the crewmembers to perform the physical activities - that is, the treadmill with a special isolation system from vibration, and the ergometer. And, we will deliver some additional components for the environment support such as the sanitation devices and water supply systems. We will deliver a lot of cargo items for the increment crewmembers, including clothes, food, water and hygienic devices. And our task will be to deliver those cargo items and to stow them at their nominal locations. We'll have to activate and test numerous systems and tools for the future increment crew.

Along with installing these systems that you've referred to, you and your crewmates are also moving a lot of supplies and logistics onto the station, both from in the SPACEHAB module inside Atlantis but also from a Progress supply ship that is to be docked to the rear of Zvezda. You are the person who is in charge of the Progress and getting the material and, and dealing with the material in and out of there. So, I'd like to get you to educate us about Progress: Tell us about the role that this ship has played in the past and the present for the Russian space program, and how it's going to be used to help supply the International Space Station.

Our Progress transportation cargo vehicle have been used for many years as the main means of delivering different cargo items; that includes payloads, water, oxygen, food, various tools depending on the specific tasks for a particular mission. And Progress thrusters, have been used for reboost operations, and that function will be developed for the International Space Station as well because some of the Progress vehicles will be outfitted with additional propellant tanks, and we will be able to use not only the thrusters of the Progress vehicles but we'll be able to transfer propellant from Progress propellant tanks to the Service Module tanks and FGB. So, we'll have this possibility of integrating the propellant systems, and Progress will be used to deliver numerous cargo items for the International Space Station. And one of the key functions of Progress vehicle is that everything unnecessary, all the wastes from life will have to be disposed of, and they can be off-loaded in the Progress vehicle because the Progress vehicle dies off when it enters the atmosphere, and all the waste that are not necessary for the space station will be flown in the Progress.

On this mission you have the job of organizing the movement of cargo out of the Progress during docked operations, and this is the first Progress vessel that will dock to the International Space Station. Talk about the kinds of supplies or other materials that are being delivered to the station on board this particular Progress ship.

You know, we have a very large manifest for Progress vehicle. And right now, I think the manifest experts are in the process of concurring all the items from the manifest, and that makes our life somewhat difficult because some of the decisions will be made at the last minute, and we'll have to open the hatch of the Progress vehicle and unload all the cargo. The most important is to ensure that we have the proper coordination between the crewmembers and between Progress unloading activities and SPACEHAB unloading activities, because a lot of cargo items are inside of the SPACEHAB. Many of the items, which are going to be launched with the Progress, are going to be stowed inside the Service Module; as for the shuttle, those cargo items will be stowed inside the FGB and Unity. Some of the items which are inside of FGB right now will be offloaded into Progress, and this is a very complex task. So, we have divided these activities: Two crewmembers are going to work with the Progress unloading activities - I will be one of them, and I'll have another crewmember who will be assisting me and who will be unloading and stowing those items inside the space station - and the same goes for the SPACEHAB activities. Therefore, we'll not be interfering between each other. And the crewmembers, some other crewmembers, will be in charge of the installation task of different systems at the time as well. But some of the units which come from the SPACEHAB will have to be translated to the Service Module - that goes for the components of the treadmill, which will be inside of the Service Module, but those components will be brought in at a later stage so it will not interfere with our tasks. But you might imagine that a lot of items are inside of the Progress vehicle, and everything depends how they will be stowed inside the Progress, and the sequence of unloading will have to coincide with our operations inside the space station because if we'll have to take, if we'll have to use some of the items which are on the bottom of the Progress and we'll need them in the first day of our mission, of our stay inside the station, it'll be very difficult.

It also occurs to me that what might complicate things is that, for the first time, there will be supplies coming on to the station from two directions, as you mentioned, from Progress and from SPACEHAB, and not just from one and back and forth. Is there a special strategy that you have devised to help make that go more smoothly?

I've mentioned how we will coordinate this process, and that is the strategy, strategy, in fact, so the cargo flows will not be crossed over, and it will enable us not to interfere with each other. And we will not be in the way of those crewmembers who are going to carry out some other tasks not associated with the unloading tasks. But the most important thing is that this is a very extensive process; right now, a very detailed analysis is being done as to where each item has to be stowed, in what particular place, and how they're going to be restrained for the future increment missions. And we will be using cue cards, and for the first time, we are going to test the computer inventory system, and that is one of the components of the strategy for future missions. And for them it will be nominal, but for us it's something new. So we'll be testing it for the first time in that flight.

With all of that work done, it will, after five days, be time for you all to leave the station. Describe for us what happens that day - what are you do during the undocking and the flyaround, and what does your crew accomplish on that day?

In that day we will perform undocking operations. The shuttle will have to go away from the space station at a specific distance and will perform a flyaround. At that time, we will inspect the space station, its exterior surface, surfaces; we'll take some photo images of all the elements and components of the space station. And right now, we are reviewing the images that we have received from the previous mission, STS-101. This is very important for the crewmembers as well as for the ground specialists who are planning the operations. After that, we will be getting ready for the landing activities, and I will be involved with photo and video operations.

The success of STS-106 is critical to establishing a permanent presence of people from our planet on board the International Space Station. And the fact that you are willing - and in fact, eager - to fly in space and do this yourself tells me that you think it's important. So, finally, I'd like to ask you, why: What, in your mind, is the importance of establishing this space station? Why do we need it? What is it going to lead us to in years to come?

This is a large-scale space program. I think this is the largest program for the century, and of course we will gain new scientific results and the space technology will be developed further, and all different disciplines involved will get a great breakthrough. But the most important, I guess, is that we will be cooperating with each other. This is the first truly international project which will not only involve bringing in together what each country has, but the fact that we will be working together - the international crewmembers will be working together, we will be coordinating the control of the space station together, the crewmembers will be flying together for a long time in space. So, I guess this mutual understanding and the international integration is the main result and the main value of this space project. And if everything goes well on space, I think our life on the ground will be a little bit easier.

Image: Boris Morukov.
Click on the image to hear STS-106 Mission Specialist Boris Morukov's greeting in English. Click here to hear it in Russian.
Crew Interviews

Curator: Kim Dismukes | Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty | Updated: 04/07/2002
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