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Crew Interviews

Image: Mission Specialist Valery Tokarev
Click on the image to hear Mission Specialist Valery Tokarev's greeting (WAV file 156 Kb).

Russian greeting (WAV file 368 Kb)

Preflight Interview: Valery Tokarev

The STS-96 Crew Interviews with Valery Tokarev, mission specialist.

Valery, you're going to space. You have a job that most people in the world would only, could only dream about doing. Tell me why it was that you wanted to become a cosmonaut. Is that something that dates back to when you were a child?

I'll try to answer you in English, but I'm sorry if I sometimes make mistakes. I was a young boy when Yuri Gagarin in the Soviet Union and Alan Shepherd in the USA made the first flights into the space. Of course, this made a great impression on me, and this memory I'll keep all of my life. Step by step, I tried to reach my dream of being a cosmonaut. I underwent training and then became a military pilot. Then I finished test pilot school and began to work as a test pilot. In 1987, I reported to the Gagarin Space Training Center, and was selected to be a cosmonaut for one group. Of course, it was my dream from a young age.

And with the dream that dates back to when you were a boy, after all of these years, you've gotten the news that you're going to make your first space flight. Can you tell me what it feels like to learn that you finally get to fly?

It was great news for me. I was ready when I got this news; of course, I was excited when I learned that I had been chosen that I have a chance in this mission. I had done a lot of work as a pilot, but I didn't have space experience. I worked a long time to reach this moment and, of course, it was good news.

The six people who are your crewmates on this mission have been working together to prepare for the flight since last summer. You were only assigned to the mission early in this year. Tell me how it has been for you in training, to learn your role in the mission while also learning to fit in as a member of the group.

It's not a simple matter because preparing to go into space takes time. I understood this requirement and worked hard. I would say that all of the crewmembers help me all the time it's no problem. For example, I don't remember exactly maybe it was one week ago or one-and-a-half weeks ago I had a conversation with Rick Husband until ten o'clock PM in our office. Of course, Rick spent this time, as I said, since a lot of the reason was his position. Commander Kent Rominger, Rick, and the whole crew were good to me.

You mentioned a moment ago that you were initially selected as a cosmonaut for the Buran Program the Russian space shuttle. Can you tell us briefly how the Russian space shuttle and the American space shuttle compare?

Both of these vehicles have the same objectives. And, of course, from a distance they look like twins. But they have a big difference, too. For example, the a launch systems have been designed differently. But the main difference, in my opinion, is that the space shuttle has modifications and is improved all the time. Step by step, every day, a lot of people work to improve its characteristics. But the Buran system was discontinued. There was only Buran, it flew only one time into space and then it ended. Basically the idea was the same it's a great idea. It's very good that you see it and the space shuttle can fly into space for all people, for all humans.

My next question is about some groups of people who have experience in training for space flight both in the Russian system in Star City, as well as in the American system here in Houston. Can you characterize the two training styles? How are they different? How are they the same?

Both training systems have the same goals, the same objective. They confirm the pilot's abilities based on his experience, over the long term. But sometimes there might be a difference in that perhaps the Russian system how should I say it? is harder, is stricter. Because a Russian cosmonaut needs to pass more medical exams, this makes it a stricter program. Sometimes the Russian flight doctors say a joke about this. They said there is no such thing as a healthy cosmonaut, just one who hasn't undergone enough medical tests. If you're an astronaut, you haven't had as many tests. You understand?

Yes. As part of the crew of STS-96, you are going off to continue the assembly of the International Space Station in orbit. Tell me, from your point of view, how do you view the complexity? How difficult a job is it to put together this Space Station on orbit?

It's an assembled space station. It's not a simple issue, for any of us, but a lot of people work together on this problem. And I hope it will be a success. This is my opinion because a lot of people in different countries want to do it. It takes time. Just as in the case with any new enterprise, it is associated with some risk. There may be some delays, stoppages along the way. In general, it's a good idea because it unites not only people in the USA; this idea unites all of the people in the world. I think that in the future we'll have a good knowledge about scientific things, and about so many problems. This is a new direction for the future development of space science and the exploration of space. Movement forward in science is necessary. In science, if you have stopped, it means the ideas have come to a standstill. In other words, science cannot stand still. The development of technical and technological ideas does not allow for things to come to a standstill and then move forward, because it confirms life. If things come to a standstill, they may die forever or they may go away for a long period of time.

Your flight is described as a logistics and a resupply mission. Fill that in for us. Just what is it that you and your crewmates will be doing on your mission once you arrive at the International Space Station?

The main idea of this flight is to help supply the Space Station. We will have onboard more than 5,000 pounds of cargo; we will bring equipment and instruments for the International Space Station. The main idea will be to dock with the Space Station, to transfer cargo, and to inspect the FGB [the Russian acronym for Functional Cargo Block] and the node, and change some equipment installed. I think it's going to be normal to work in the future on assembling the Space Station. But we have some specific issues because our first flight will be to the FGB and node. And we have a lot of supplies as cargo. Our first crew will be started perhaps in this year, at the end of this year. That's part of the future construction of the Station. And since it is yet without a crew, then undoubtedly it is necessary to support it, monitor it, and check it. Basically we have a situation where human monitoring capabilities are required; even if automatic monitoring could be implemented very well, you still have to have a person in place to do this. The Station is considered to be a living organism because many people have invested their labor into these complicated systems and the systems may have [problems] without the direct participation of man.

Let's break up a couple of things that you've mentioned. The first is the docking, the rendezvous and docking. Your crew will be the first ever to rendezvous with the Station and its configuration of these two modules. Describe for us in general terms the operation. I know that Kent and Rick will be flying the shuttle. As you describe it, tell us what you will be doing to assist, to help your crew execute this task.

Kent and Rick who will have a lot of work to do in the rendezvous, but all of the crew will have to help reconfigure a lot of systems in mid-deck, connect and disconnect and control different systems. But mostly, Rick and Kent are loaded with work for the operators. Julie will be doing photo ops [operations], and I'll be doing video ops. Prior to this, we will be reconfiguring the systems. That is, we'll be activating it. That's what we'll be doing.

After docking, there is one space walk scheduled on your flight for Tammy and Dan. The following day you and your six crewmates will get your first chance to enter the International Space Station. Can you tell my how you expect that you will feel when you first go onboard this new space station?

Right now, I can only say how I expect I will feel. But I am sure it will be a very great moment. Of course, I'll be excited. But all of our intentions are to work hard and I think our basic mission will be to think about how best we can accomplish our work. This is the basic idea. The moment I enter into the International Space Station will be very emotional, I believe.

You and your crewmates are scheduled to spend several days with the shuttle docked to the Station transferring a variety of materials, 5,000 pounds of materials that you mentioned, from Discovery onto the Station. Talk about the plans for the supply transfers. Tell us about what materials you'll be moving onto the Station and one or two of the particularly interesting jobs that you will be doing during that time.

It's a task to transfer a lot of cargo to the FGB in storage, package, and attach it, because we must do this in accordance with the instructions, so as to not displace the center of gravity. Since this is done in weightlessness, this is, I presume, more complex to do than it would be on the ground. The installation of the muffler will be particularly interesting because it is a large piece of equipment.

Let's talk about that task, the muffler. Describe what this large piece of equipment is and why it needs to be installed in the Zarya Control Module.

This problem occurred during the flight. The muffler is intended to reduce the noise level in the Station and it has been developed with that in mind. In other words, it should assure a comfortable working condition, but not just that also to increase the work effectiveness of the crew. The lower the noise level, the less fatiguing is the environment for the crew and the higher their work capabilities. That's the basic idea. How it will be installed is a particular process that has been developed and designed in a certain way. I'm sure we'll be able to perform the work in conformance with the procedures that have been worked out for us.

After the several days when you and your crewmates in Discovery are docked to the Station, the time will finally come to close the hatch on the ISS and undock to begin the trip home. Describe for us what you will be doing as Discovery undocks from the Station and surveys it and departs on its way back to Earth.

I want to talk first about the work before docking because my task, my responsibility for the FGB. All operations relative to the FGB will be done in accordance with our procedures. We shall have to prepare the Station for autonomous or stand-alone flight, that is to say, automatic flight without a crew. With this in mind, this should be done so that the stack will be able to mate in the future with the service module. This will require the relocation of a number of tools and pieces of equipment. This is ordinary work, ordinary procedures and processes that are associated with the egress procedure. It's been all worked out and we will attempt to perform it the way it should be. After we perform the undocking, then my personal task as a mission specialist will be the functional responsibilities of a mission specialist on the space shuttle, in other words, reconfiguration of systems and preparation to de-orbit. I will be responsible for removing the ergometer, to place the couches for the crew on the middeck. This work is related to reentry and landing.

I am always interested to ask people who are about to make a first trip to space as you are: on the way to the Station or on the way home from the Station, will you intend to spend a lot of time looking out the window at the Earth and out toward space.

I can expect I would; I would like to see the Earth undoubtedly from the altitude of a space flight but, of course, only when there'll be some free time.

As you have been training for this mission and in your role as a cosmonaut and part of the Russian space program for some years, I'm sure that you have gotten a better understanding of the goals of the International Space Station than have most people who are outside of the space program. So tell us from your point of view, what do you see as the role, the part that the ISS will play in the future of spaceflight and of space exploration? Maybe trips to the moon or to Mars?

It's my opinion, but I am sure it is absolutely a necessity to build ISS for our future way into space. It's important for all of humankind. I'm convinced that without the Station, without this grandiose structure in orbit, it will be very difficult to make the follow-on steps to Mars and perhaps may even be impossible. And the ISS will also allow us to have many countries working for the achievement of new technologies in space, so as to be able to return those technologies and their benefits to the surface of the Earth. And this will allow us to convey new knowledge. It is a unifying idea, an idea that can help people better understand one another and to permit them to achieve higher levels of scientific achievement and peaceful cooperation as we explore the universe.

That's it.

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