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Preflight Interview: Sergei K. Krikalev

A couple of weeks prior to scheduled launch, STS-88 mission specialist Sergei Krikalev took some time out from training to answer questions about the mission.

Sergei, you were in the midst of training to be a part of the first expedition crew to the International Space Station when you recently found out that you had been given an extra assignment as Mission Specialist on the first assembly mission. What was your reaction when you heard that news?

I was glad to be again on final stage of training for spaceflight because I am sitting on ground too long trying to support Mir missions and, joint, Shuttle/Mir program. Since I flew my last flight on STS-60, that's more, almost five years. So, of course, I am glad but on other hand I know that it's kind of difficult job to do to fit everything in relatively short period of time.

You've been training with Bill Shepherd and Yuri Gidzenko for a number of years now. Since the three of you've been working on the Expedition 1 crew; is it hard in some sense, to step away from them for a time and begin to work with a different set of crewmates?

I didn't step away completely because we still continue our training on the station, on long-duration for the long duration flight. So we continue this training but because schedule for our long-duration flight is not final yet and the date keep…slipping, so it's enough time to fit shuttle training in space station training. Although shuttle training is going to be very tight because not much time left, and we need to do everything yet to be done before.

As you've mentioned, you have flown on the space shuttle once before, albeit a number of years ago. You've also flown to the Mir space station; does that experience of a shuttle flight and flights to the Mir help you in trying to get ready for STS-88 on a relatively short notice?

Probably it was the reason why I was selected for this flight because of my previous experience and very short notice, to be useful on this flight, to be efficient, all my previous experience, will be needed for this training and for this flight.

Your addition to Endeavour's crew for STS-88 also, means that there will be a truly international crew on the first mission to assemble pieces of the International Space Station. Do you, from a symbolic point of view, do you take some pride in being the person that's going to create that symbolism?

No I don't think so far ahead; I'm just trying to be efficient from technical point of view, and from technical point of view it's also makes sense because, two different pieces we are going to be assembling on this flight are built in different countries. Actually FGB module is very similar to modules which were docked with, Mir station and I had experience, to work with those modules, in real flight. So it's not only symbolic thing but it's also, again, trying to be as much efficient as possible to have, people experienced on both sides of the program.

Let's talk about the specifics of the upcoming mission. First, from a larger point of view, you're now part of the crew that's mission is to go put the first two pieces of the International Space Station together, out on orbit. You've been involved in this program for some time, although only recently, from a point of view of being part of this crew. You've had a lot of time to think about what this whole grand program is about-tell me what, in your mind, you see as the importance, the historical significance, of beginning to build an International Space Station.

Oh, it's very many different sides of this importance, for building station. One of them is technical reason, if we are going to build something really big and advanced, it's better to use experience and technology from all countries and to use best thing available in the world right now. So I think it's very good that we start to cooperate, but on other hand it's difficult to bring two programs together because each program has different tradition. We started to do this from actually Apollo/Soyuz mission a long time ago. We continue, as the next step, this first exchange flight when I flew on shuttle and then, American astronaut flew on Mir station. Then it was continued in Shuttle/Mir program when shuttle flew several times to Mir, was docked and two mission controls worked together at same time. So this adjustment, one program to another, and using experience of both sides, already started before. So now we have to make next step not only from technical point of view but also from point of view of bringing program and experience together.

You bring up the program of American-Russian cooperation the Shuttle/Mir program as, or the Phase 1 of the International Space Station, as many call it. You were involved in it, you were in the first flight, the first Russian to fly on an American space shuttle. You were involved in the program on the ground since then; what do you look back on all that went on during those four, five years and see as the most important lessons to all of the people who are involved in the International Space Station, that have come out of the Shuttle/Mir program?

I think most important lesson, we learn that we could do something what we didn't plan before. We could do things in real time, we could adjust one program to another. Although shuttle was not specifically built to dock with Mir station and Mir station actually was built taking in account docking with Buran, spacecraft but not with shuttle. So we found a way how to do what was not initially planned but then when we saw opportunity we adjust our programs and make them kind of compatible at least for now. Now we, this level of compatibility is going to make another step and bring two pieces of the station together and it will be two pieces, two programs flying together controlled by ground from both mission controls, so this is interesting challenge.

There are people in the United States and I'm guessing that there are people in Russia, and perhaps some of the other partner countries, who are critical of the fact that all of these nations are trying to work together on this project rather than doing it on their own. What as a Russian cosmonaut, what's your response to those in your own country who say that Russia should be taking care of this project itself?

Probably Russia is not able to take this project itself, same way probably as U.S. will have difficulties to handle this program alone because we had project of Mir-2 station. I know that U.S., for several years, worked on Freedom program. This program was canceled, so if we wouldn't bring our cooperation together probably it would be no first development as it could happen if we are working together on both sides.

Let's talk about some of the hardware, and I know that you have been studying it a great deal for a couple of years. You've been studying the control module, Zarya, the first element, which the Russians are to launch, and Unity, which you're to carry to orbit on Endeavour on STS-88. For the benefit of those who have not spent the time studying it as you have can you describe what these two pieces of hardware are, and what their roles are in the operation of the International Space Station?

Maybe trying to put it in few words, I think, FGB. What we used to name it. It's just recently was named, Zarya so we keep naming it FGB, main purpose of this module is fuel storage. It's actually module with jets which allow for all station to keep attitude control and change orbit. As a next phase of the flight, after docking with Node, with Unity, FGB will be able to bring all this stack to Service Module. Which is actually very similar to Core Module of Mir station, but only FGB has opportunity to fly and maneuver in space to make docking, automatic docking. So as for Node, actually this is a good name for this, which is going to hold different pieces together. This is a piece of hardware which has hatches in different directions and the first hatch will be occupied by docking with FGB. Then another hatch will be occupied by docking with, Service Module. Then cupola and airlock will be added to this node, so it's basically, this node, is intersection of the different pieces of other hardware.

You mentioned a moment ago, and earlier, that some of the modules you're dealing with now are similar to those that make up the Mir space station. A place where you have spent more than a year in your history of spaceflight; can you give us some sort of a comparison, the close comparisons or the drastic differences, between the Mir space station and the International Space Station?

Major similarity, I think, is what was basic concept for building Mir station, modular design. Station built from modules and you could develop modules, actually even change module in flight. This was concept of Mir station, and also because size of the module is limited by size of launch booster we couldn't launch big station with strange configuration but sometime we need it in space. So to build something in space, it's easier to use small bricks, small pieces, to bring them together and put in configuration most efficient for spaceflight. Same idea is for international station: we have modules built in Russia, some modules built in U.S., some of them will be built by European Space Agency and Japan, and station will be assembled from those separate pieces. Major difference, again…everything what was built for Mir station was built in Russia, and Soviet Union before. In this case we need to work with big cooperation and bring not only pieces together but be sure that all those pieces will be compatible. So this is another challenge for the program and it's not only mechanical compatibility but it's also, work compatible from electrical point of view, radio point of view, and thermal atmosphere because station will have a joint atmosphere. So there are some commonality and some differences. I think it's good that we keep something common from previous programs. As I said Service Module is, structurally at least, very similar to Core Module of Mir station, because again we are using the same booster and that's why the shape of the module is basically the same. We are changing computers and some hardware but shell is the same. It's allowed us to reduce cost of the program. Same happened with U.S. hardware, U.S. lab, is going to be very similar to Spacelab. Which is flying on the shuttle, and actually even some structural elements like racks which are going to be installed on new station, is very similar to what people are flying on Spacelab.

I think you've raised an interesting point about the compatibility of the different modules for the International Space Station and the fact that they will have to be compatible and many of them will never have touched one another while they're on the ground. STS-88's mission is to go put the first two of these pieces together on orbit; are you confident, and optimistic that this important first step is going to be able to be completed successfully?

I'm not optimistic just because I am optimistic. I'm confident because we tested those elements before, on Phase 1. Confidence just doesn't come with believing or optimistic way of thinking. We tested this and we are confident because we know that those elements worked together, we know how it worked, we know limits on those elements, so basically docking ports for this first docking is going to be very similar.

You have only recently returned to the Johnson Space Center to begin your training with the STS-88 crew; from what you know at this point, as you're getting your feet wet with your new crewmates, what is your job going to be on STS-88? What will you be doing during the days that you're in orbit on board Endeavour?

This flight is not only to bring two pieces together and dock them; we are going to open hatches and go inside Node and FGB. Again it was the reason why I was assigned to this flight to bring my experience to work with this hardware. My primary responsibility will be to work with FGB systems so, basically, work with Russian hardware. But on other hand, because I already have experience of shuttle flight. For STS-60 flight I was trained as an arm operator and on this flight we are going to use arm to install Node to dock, to grab and dock FGB, so I could help crew not only with Russian hardware but also just extra pair of hands for another task.

You mentioned that you're going to be activating the systems of these first two pieces of the space station. You're going to be amongst-you were planning and, and still are planning, and training, to be amongst the first group of people to live on the station. But now you're going to be amongst the first group of people ever to set foot on board the station; what're your feelings about playing that role in history?

Again I'm not thinking about playing a role in history; I think I like this idea and again, this is efficient, that's what we did during last several years of space program. We are trying to build something new based on previous experience. I like this idea because when I will come to live on the station-actually coming before on relatively short mission, just visiting, our future house. Preparing this house to live in it, and again, if someone will prepare place for me to live, it's one story; if I will do it myself, I think it's much more efficient.

Give me some of the detail about what's involved there: on that day of the mission you and all five of your crewmates will go into the Unity node and into Zarya. Describe for us the process of going into those modules for the first time and talk about what it is that you will be doing as you make that progression, through the modules during that day.

At first we need to open hatches to go inside, so this would be, task number one, open hatches and go inside and activate life support system to be sure that it will be enough air inside and then we will move some cargo in and out of FGB. Actually we know that next mission is going to be when FGB will be docked with Service Module and crew will come to help unload cargo spacecraft Progress. So for this purposes we will try to prepare places for next crew to store all the hardware, all equipment, and maybe even prepare some places to get them ready, to open some panels. As I said, activate some life support systems, replace some filters which will be used prior to our arrival. And of course, there are very many small details like going inside of each module. We probably will take air samples before we will go and before we will open the hatch and when we will open the hatch to be sure that everything goes nominally and making each step inside the future station. We need to be prepared to go back quickly in case of malfunction, so there are very many small details which probably for non-specialist is very boring to talk about. But basically what we are going to do in just going inside and set, activate system of those pieces.

You've mentioned a couple of times about the activation of the systems; and although you've mentioned life support I'm not sure if I understand what other systems there are in Zarya that need to be turned on.

Some system will work even prior to our arrival, like attitude control system will work, and actually this system will hold FGB in place prior to docking. When we will dock, we will have also computer interfaces, when computer of Node will be able to talk with computer of FGB. So we will need to activate those computers and check if all parts of this computer work properly. We will run several different tests on different buses and different computers, because again, for reliability those computers are connected by several different buses and leaving the station in this new configuration we have to be sure that all computer interfaces are working properly.

We haven't gone into great detail about it here but there are, on this mission, a number of tasks to be done and on subsequent assembly missions a number of tasks to be done to put this station together one module at a time. I wonder how critical any one step would be in the entire process. For instance does the STS-88 crew have to do every single thing that is proposed, laid out there in the timeline or to say if you don't do everything, does the whole assembly sequence fall apart? How much has got to get done on this first step?

It's two different stories. Assembly sequence could change if something wouldn't be done during STS-88 but sequence itself will exist anyway. This is the reason how space station built in general. We shouldn't rely on, that every step will be successful; of course, to have success on each step will increase efficiency of the system in general, but even if something goes wrong we have usually several backup ways to do the same things. During this flight, not only, internal work would be done, and not only internal connections. It will be several EVAs, extravehicular activities when crew will go outside and make external connection between Node and FGB. Actually it's again another point of check. After each connection we will run some tests to be sure that lines are working properly and it's again part of the job. But if something goes wrong, we will try to troubleshoot it in real time and make a correction-if not, probably ground will think about it and next, subsequent flights will try to correct situation.

As the assembly of the International Space Station is getting underway back in your home Russia is also looking at making plans to deorbit the Mir space station. A place that you have spent more than a year in orbit. Maybe not necessarily a sense of sadness, but is there a sense of the change in things in Russia at this time, looking at the beginning of a new project but also you can see the end of an old one coming up?

You're right, it's some kind of sadness, because even if you are not going to live in this home anymore, you lived for a long period of time and then you are leaving this house. When your house will be, old house will be burned it's kind of sad because, not necessarily because, you are going to do something with it, but it just, I think, general human attitude. Of course every time we finish work with one station and start to work with another, because we had seven, actually. Salyut station and then Mir station, every time each station was burnt in atmosphere, and every time it was sad for people who lived on the station extended period of time.

Is there a related sense of excitement that, looking forward to the next space station?

Of course, because, again, next space station going to be next step, so more capabilities on this station, and new tasks, new challenges, again. So people are waiting to build and to start to use, actually, not only build, but use the station.

You're very well acquainted with at least two of the other people who are very anxious to begin, eager to begin, using the other station. When STS-88 comes home, then I guess you return full-time to working with Shepherd and Gidzenko in training to become the first resident crew on the International Space Station. Give us a brief overview of what the three of you are going to be doing in your time on board the station, what sort of other shuttle flights, or resupply flights, will be visiting you during that first period there?

Again, program keeps changing so it's very difficult to say final dates and final program. In general, again, when we will come Service Module will be flying-actually we will live in Service Module because majority of life support system very similar to systems we are using now on Mir station will be installed in the Service Module. This module will be equipped with control system which allows us to keep position and attitude of the station, so it's also propulsion system in Service Module. So we will need to activate and continue to assemble some pieces of station, even inside station, because some panels will be delivered later. Some pieces of equipment will not be installed on launch and they will be delivered by shuttle or Progress spacecraft, so we will continue to do assembly inside. That is at least how it planned now for our flight, another shuttle flight will come to bring another piece of equipment which will be installed on top of the Node. A piece of the future truss which will hold solar arrays and radiators, and radio communication system. So we will start to integrate this piece in the station. In the middle of our flight, again, as it planned right now, is going to be another big piece of equipment, like another house or another apartment, will arrive. It will be U.S. lab module, which also will be probably one of the most complex module from U.S. side. It will also have some life support equipment, but most of all it will be, again, several different computers and we will reconfigure all computer system to make lab computer primary, to control computer network on the station.

Of all of the thousands, tens of thousands of people all over the world who are working on the International Space Station, you have an interestingly-unique outlook on it. Now you're going to be part of the first crew to assemble it, then you're going to be part of the first crew to live on board of it, you've been involved in getting prepared for it…

I was lucky to be part of the crew for first joint flight so…

From that point of view, what do you see as the meaning of the International Space Station for the future of Russian and American and European and Japanese and Canadian-everybody-for the future of all those people that continue to go to space. What role is the International Space Station going to play, in your mind?

At least for now as a first step, is kind of example that we are able to work together, we are able to build something together, to get significant result from joint cooperation. As for future space exploration, I think its just another step for further expansion, further exploration of space, going further, to the moon, Mars, and beyond solar system. So it's maybe not very big step, but it's next step in compare with where we are right now.

Image: Sergei Krikalev
Click on the image to hear Mission Specialist Krikalev's greeting.
Crew Interviews


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