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Preflight Interview: Mikhail Tyurin

The International Space Station Expedition Three Crew Interviews with Flight Engineer Mikhail Tyurin.

We are speaking with Expedition Three cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin. Before we get into talking about your flight, tell me: Why did you want to become a cosmonaut?

Actually it isn't easy to explain for me. Because it, I would say it happened in [a] natural way. In other words it was very natural for me and I didn't try to do something unusual for this purpose. I just worked and worked, and was moved from one task for one job to another, and it was like a sequence of events. And as a result I became a member of cosmonauts' group. So I cannot explain anything special.

So, there was nothing special from your childhood or anything? It was just an evolution of your career?

No, after I graduated from the university, I started to work as an engineer at the department which creates methodology. Before actual cosmonauts' crew start to have training for this, there's a sort of tests-like test pilots learn how to control [an] airplane in difficult, in different situations. The same is done by the special group of people who learn how to work in space. And, after they have some experience, this experience is used to create procedures, to create methodology, and so on. So I started to work [these] tasks and this department; and as a result, I was taken to the cosmonauts' team.

Tell me about your cosmonaut training. Tell me about that process.

The first stage of my training was done in Russia with that so-called generic training. And then we have training in [groups]. And after actually it's a common technique which is used both in Russia and then U.S. After the person is assigned as a crewmember for some specific mission, he starts the third, the main stage of the training as a crewmember for some specific mission. So almost 4 years ago, this stage started for me. And actually it wasn't an easy work. Traveling, different systems, different approaches, makes our training rather complicated.

Well, you made it through that complicated training, and here you are, a cosmonaut now. Have there been any particular people along the way that helped to guide you, to help direct you to get you where you are?

As I already said: For me it happened naturally. But, of course, some people affected making the decision. Of course, most of them are my friends, my chiefs. Actually, they are both. Simultaneously chiefs and friends. But people with whom I worked together in the same department and the same group; but they are older, more experienced, and probably I tried to follow them.

Not only have you [watched] these people that have worked together for many, many years. You've also [observed] these nations coming together to work to build this international project. How have those relationships improved that you have seen and where do they stand right now between all the partner nations?

Well, of course, right now, the relationship is improving. But we still have some problems. Not so big. Not very important. But we are still learning to work together. Our methodology is based on different experience, some cultural differences still. When we work, we still have some differences. And it is natural also, because to fix everything, to learn or to avoid…them takes usually [a] rather long time. But the main idea is that all the people who are involved in this program try to learn everything the best from each side. In other words, we are trying to learn all the best from [the] U.S. system; and I hope [the] American system is trying the same. Because all of the systems have, of course, have good and bad things in their experience and their specialty in the system. And we are trying to avoid bad, what is bad and to learn or to share what is good.

Have you seen the examples yourself for those positive changes?

Yes, of course. I could give some examples. But they are mostly too technical; and it isn't easy to explain it and to explain it in simple terms. But now we have some good examples [of] how our so-called MCCs - Mission Control Centers - try to share, to work together, not to disturb each other but to help each other to work as a team. This is one of the examples. And, our training also. We, let's take as an example the crew in itself. We have no, we have nothing to, we have no disagreements in crew opinion. We are as a, we're, we are a group actually and our opinion is crew opinion. And it is one of the examples.

This solidarity will, of course, serve you very well up on orbit. You've had a chance to speak with some of your fellow space travelers about going to the International Space Station. What are you expecting to see when you finally get there?

That's a good question. As you know, the station is growing. And it is becoming bigger and bigger and more and more complicated and it means in a way the problems are growing also. So we will have lots of things on board, lots of different equipment, much more scientific experiments and scientific equipment compared to the first, say, the first mission or even the second. So our responsibility is getting greater and greater, bigger and bigger. And we have to learn more and more each mission. Each crew has to be prepared for more and more things which are to be done. So, it means we'll have some additional work, some additional tasks, and most likely some additional problems.

Can you give me some examples of what you have learned from the Expedition One and Two crews?

The great idea, the main idea I would say is to work under the two Mission Control Centers. With two, I said "under," like a software is writing under operating system. But the general meaning it is with two different Mission Control Centers.

One year will have passed from the launch of the Zvezda Service Module to your flight. Describe how the International Space Station has matured from just two little modules to a real home in space.

I would like to speak about technical events, because it's too specific. But from a normal life in terms of normal life, probably I can say that it, first of all, it looks very big. If you are in Soyuz compartment and look through all the hatches, people say that if you can see somebody in the opposite end of the station, it looks very, very far. It means the station is really very big as a structure. Of course, it is a complex of different systems which [provides] lots of power and everything for life. So it's growing. It's growing and becoming bigger and bigger.

You are going to be riding to orbit on shuttle mission STS-105. Describe for me the purpose of that flight. Is its main purpose to take you to orbit?

It is one of the main purposes. Another is to bring [the] so-called MPLM, which is Multipurpose Logistics Module, which will contain some equipment for the future missions. The shuttle crew is [the] primary crew to bring it and to dock it to the station with [the] shuttle arm. Also, they will provide EVA to activate this MPLM to set some cables to connect, to perform some connections and so on. What else? Several scientific experiments will be provided during shuttle mission also, both with shuttle crew and station crew. Of course while in shuttle, we are the same shuttle crew. But we are simultaneously a station crew also.

Before you meet that other crew, you actually have to get up there and dock with them. Once you've docked and open up those hatches, what is that moment of meeting Yury, Jim, and Susan going to be like for you?

Well, I can say just how I imagine it. Of course, the first, the very first minutes I expect to be very emotional. And it's also because we are friends with those guys. For instance we are friends with Yury for almost 20 years; from the university we know each other. From the university, when we were students we studied at the same department and have also almost the same specialty after graduating. So we know each other very, very well for a very long time. And, it is also, of course it is very pleased to see your friend everywhere, any time, and especially on orbit. I know Jim Voss and Susan almost 6 years; they are also our friends, not just colleagues. So I think the very first minutes will be very emotional because this is the opportunity, this is the chance to meet friends. And then, of course, we will spend lots of time, as much as possible, for handover tasks. Because I expect lots of things to discuss, to share, and so on. You know, it is very difficult task, handover.

Tell me more about handover. What kind of conversations will you be having with the Expedition Two crew?

Of course we will be prepared for this. We even will have a special book for handover procedures. But I don't think all the problems to be discussed will be in the formal procedures. Let's try and take an example. You come to stay [at] your friends' home and he is going to leave. And you have to stay and use everything at the garage, the kitchen, everywhere. And before he leaves, he has to explain to you everything and you have to remember everything to keep in memory and pick up very fast. Usually it takes over time. And according to our experience, usually handover takes so much time that crewmembers don't even have enough time to sleep.

What is the process of formally exchanging station crewmembers and shuttle crewmembers? Does it all take place in just one day? How does that plan work?

Currently, I don't have this information. It is still in work. How long, I mean, how long the hatches will be open, how long we, how much time we will have for handover, who is scheduled to go to the station first, who will stay on orbit on board of the orbiter, currently I don't know this plan. And it is also complicated activity because we don't, we mustn't to have hatches open all the time when the orbiter is docked. Because since we have EVA planned, we have to keep different pressure in station and in orbiter. That means we have to have hatches closed and it also makes the procedure of handover more complicated. Because all the people, all the crews, all the equipment is involved in this procedure. So we'll see.

Do you think there'll be some sort of a formal handover ceremony from Yury to Frank of command of the station?

I don't know if there is [a] sort of flight tradition for this. But, informally, we'll do something of course. Maybe Yury will transfer or give like a symbolic key from the station to Frank or something like this. Or just say to him, "Frank, now you are a commander. Please take this chair."

You mentioned the Logistics Module going up on STS-105. What [kinds] of things are being unloaded from that MPLM and are you going to be assisting in any way with its unloading or will you be busy with handover?

Okay. I expect me to be the prime responsible person for this task. I mean from the station side to bring everything, to calculate everything, and to make sure we have transferred all the equipment we had to transfer. What [is] it going to be? Actually most of [it] is just equipment for scientific experiments. And so-called racks, standard shape structure and all the equipment, all the devices, boxes, and so on [are] sitting on the racks and we have just to disassemble it. Not to disassemble it. To take these racks and to transfer them to Lab. This is the main task.

There are also two space walks while Discovery is attached to the station. Will you be supporting those efforts in any way?

We have no scheduled activities connected with [these] space walks. But probably we will follow…maybe some help will be needed. Or at least if it will be possible, we'll be taping and taking [pictures] of them. Because it's [a] unique opportunity to have a unique photo and videotapes. Of course, if we aren't scheduled to do something else during this time.

After several days of docked operations, when these space walks and the Logistics Module is unloaded, it will be time to close the hatches and send the Expedition Two crew home. What do you expect you'll be thinking as the hatches close and your increment really begins?

I expect the first thought will be: "Okay, guys, it's our turn to work."

Now, outside of the major events such as the arrival of new modules or space walks, while you are up there going to work, what will your daily life be like on orbit? What's a typical day like?

We will have lots of things to do for our tasks of maintenance and maybe repairing of some equipment, some systems. I expect lots of loads for the crew working with computers, with inventory management system, with SSC computers also. We have a lot of software onboard. It takes some time to have a good experience and to work with it. So I expect us to be busy all the time.

This construction is still going on --


-- while you're attempting to do --


-- science experiments.

Yes. Of course.

How do you balance those two important jobs?

Actually to balance it is task for ground, for planners. But our task is to switch our mind from one to another to the third and so on. Sometimes it is, it isn't easy to work on one complicated subject and then immediately to switch your mind to something completely different.

You'll be working as a scientist sometime. Give me an overview of some of the science work you'll be doing on orbit.

Well, most of the experiments are biomedical research. But also we have some technology, biotechnology experiments. And also physics. From Russian side, we have very interesting and very complicated experiment which was already provided during the first mission. And we have to continue with this research. It is a so-called Plasma Crystal Experiment. Probably some people have already heard about this. And lots of biomedical researches. Biomedical experiments, both from Russia and U.S. sides.

Will the work be very different from the work that took place on the Mir space station or on the space shuttle? Or, is it kind of similar?

If you take into account that we still have two Mission Control Centers, I expect it to be different compared to what we had in Mir, on Mir station. So it makes our work more complicated. But now we have some experience already. And which helps to have a good hope that is possible to work and communicate with each other. To understand each other.

Someone else you will be communicating with is the Payload Operations Center at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama. What will they be contributing and what kind of interaction will you have with them about the science work going on board the station?

Actually everything is going as it was planned. For this case, we have all the procedures for our activity and work to be done by the crewmembers. Most likely in this case Marshall Center specialists will be just [checking] that everything is done properly and on time. But, if some, in case something is going wrong, probably we'll need some consultation, some additional explanation from them. And, for this purpose, they are going to be available, I mean, on the communication in case the crew needs some additional information, some additional suggestions. But I hope everything will be as it's planned.

What is the Human Research Facility and what kind of work will you be doing with it?

This set of equipment contains some devices, computers for some sequence of biomedical experiments which are planned to be conducted during our flight. So we'll work with it.

Also during your stay, a Soyuz rocket is going to bring a Russian Docking Compartment to the station. What does this new component do?

The main purpose of this Docking Compartment is to support EVA, extravehicular activity, from Russian side. And it is going to be the primary Russian airlock. Actually, I don't know why it is called "Docking Compartment," because the, again, the main…a main goal for this module is to provide EVA and to serve as an airlock. But it also has a docking port and it is possible to dock this compartment to the station and to have another spacecraft docked to the Docking Compartment.

It'll take a space walk to hook this new Docking Compartment up. Explain to me what's going to happen during that trip outside the station.

Yes, I know this activity very, very well because it's my task to connect. Actually, it isn't difficult. It is just connecting of several cables, power and data cables. And as far as I'm, if I am right, it is going to be performed during our first EVA.

Is that Docking Compartment fully functional at the end of that space walk?

Yes. Yes.

You'll have several other space walks during your stay up there. Who conducts what? What kind of work are you doing and what kind of training had you had - cross-training to know each other's tasks?

Okay. We have to activate [the] docking module, as you said before. Then, we have to install a Strela; it is like a big crane to transfer people or equipment during EVA. Actually we are going to have two Strelas on board; and one of them is already attached to the FGB and another is to be installed by our crew. What else? We'll activate some systems in [the] Service Module and Docking Compartment. We'll set some cables and perform several connections. And this task is for EVA, is scheduled for EVA which Frank Culbertson is going to perform. Actually, it is his task. And also we have to install some scientific experiments modules or equipment outside of the station to collect data from station environment-external environment. [These are the] main tasks.

Also, as currently scheduled a couple of Russian Progress resupply ships will come to your station during your stay. What is the process of getting the station ready for the arrival of the Progress?

Well the first station crew activity or responsibility is to perform the redundant control loop and to be ready to take control for or using so-called TORU control system. It is…how to explain it? A remote motion control system which provides us the ability to perform approach and docking unmanned spacecraft and to dock it to the station using remote control system. And usually the station crew activates this system and is ready to use it or to perform manual docking in case of failure or like a redundant [system]. And this is the first task. After Progress is docked in this or that way, we'll see the station crew has to reload it to bring everything to the station and to pack to set everything-

Also --

Usually it takes several days.

-- the Russian Soyuz vehicle serves as your lifeboat on board the station at this point. What kind of work would you have to do to get it ready to serve as a lifeboat in case you did have an emergency on orbit?

Well, actually, it is, it should be ready, must be ready, during [the] whole flight. Every moment, every day. And, in case of emergency, we'd just activate all the system and it is ready to be used as a, as you say, lifeboat.

So, it's meant to be pretty simple. That you could just hop right in there and be gone pretty quickly.

It isn't simple. But it doesn't take too long time because we are prepared for this activity. And each crew has to be ready for this very well because it can happen, as I said, before every day, every moment, even in nighttime. So it should be done automatically.

After 4 months or so on orbit, another shuttle, STS-108, arrives bringing your [replacement] crew - the Expedition Four crew. What will have had to have happened for you to consider your mission a success? What sort of milestones do you need to accomplish?

Of course each of us wants to perform everything [that] is scheduled and what is going to be scheduled during the flight. Because sometimes our plans are changed. And usually it isn't, it doesn't make to have a good feeling if you haven't accomplished everything or something. So this is how we understand our main task. And, actually, each item in our flight plan is so-called milestone. But some of them are more important. Some of them are less important. Of course, EVAs are very important because some future plans depend on how successful they are during EVA activities. Scientific [experiments] are also very important, both for the crew and for the ground and for the research teams also, because sometimes it is very expensive programs. And those people have already paid lots of money to NASA to some different people and groups, I don't know where. But, some money [has] been already paid. So we are as a final group who has to accomplish everything. And the scientific results are going to be very important also. And sometimes if some sequence of experiment isn't [provided] in, on time or in correct and proper sequence, some data could be lost forever. So it is, it also makes [these] tasks very important for us. And we understand it. What else? And, of course, the prime priority, the first priority is safety.

Do you worry at all about the large volume of work that you're going to have to accomplish up there?

It isn't an easy, the easiest question. But I would say our crew training is going on almost 4 years. And it is not only methodology and technical training. It is also psychological training. So I would say we are almost prepared, both in technical area and in psychological areas also. So we don't feel, at least I don't feel, anything unusual, anything uncomfortable. I'm just trying to remember everything, to keep everything in memory, and to be prepared for something what is planned and especially what isn't planned.

Give me your thoughts about the role of the International Space Station. Why is it important that we have the station?

Let me share my personal opinion about this. Of course, it's very important to have international space program, some sort of international scientific programs to share technical experience, scientific results, and so on. But for me it is important because we are, it's a good way to share our culture, to learn to work together, to learn how we can understand each other. After several years pass-let's say 15, 20, maybe 25-the station will stop its life, but our experience working together, our experience to understand each other, our impressions how we work together, how we learn to…how we were friends actually, how we knew each other, and how we work on this program will help not just for us but will help, I hope, will hope the second, the future generations to work together to understand each other again. And this I would say, it is sort of social area or social results of this program. And in my opinion, it is even more important than scientific and technology.

You will be the first person to live on the space station that has not had any previous space experience. What are your thoughts about this mission as your first space experience?

I think it will be more correct if I answer this question after my flight. In this case, I would be able to compare my experience, my actual experience, to what I expected before the flight. But now what can I say? Of course I, during my training, I felt some ideas how it is going to be. Actually, nothing's strange. Because each of us has to do something first time in his life. First day at school. First day at university. First kiss. First solo flight in airplane. First spaceflight. It means just our life is continuing. And something new is coming into our life.

Image: Mikhail Tyurin
Click on the image to hear Expedition Three Flight Engineer Mikhail Tyurin's greeting (953 Kb).
Crew Interviews

Curator: Kim Dismukes | Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty | Updated: 09/04/2002
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