Interview: Valery Tokarev
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
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
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
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.