Interview: Yuri Malenchenko
International Space Station Expedition 7 Crew Interviews with Commander
Q: The Expedition
interviews continue with Expedition 7 Commander Yuri Malenchenko.
Yuri, first of all, I'm always fascinated by why astronauts and
cosmonauts do what they do. Why was it that you wanted to become
a cosmonaut to fly in space?
A: This is
a very interesting profession, to fly to space, to see what it looks
like. I have always had a great desire to fly to space. And so,
when I was offered to, I happily accepted the proposal and I have
never regretted this decision. I've been a cosmonaut for 17 years,
and I've been happy with that.
has obviously changed pretty dramatically since the loss of Columbia.
How did you find out the news about the Columbia accident? What
was your reaction? And, what have you and Ed Lu been doing in the
weeks that have followed to prepare for a very different type of
At that time,
we were in Houston, going through our training. And, we were waiting
for the Columbia crew to return. I learned about the accident almost
immediately, because this news traveled fast because at that time
we were waiting for them to return. We were all very shocked. It
was a great tragedy. And, immediately, it became clear that everything
will change from this moment. That the program will change. Our
future work will change. There was a certain time period where we
were trying to figure out what is going on. And then, a week later,
we got a more or less clear idea of what we need to do next. And,
a week later, we started working on our future work. But, during
that one week, all our minds were occupied with the fact that we
lost our friends, and it was a great loss for each one of us.
had planned, obviously, for three people on board the station during
your Expedition. Now you'll fly with Ed Lu; just the two of you.
Less supplies, less consumables. No shuttles visiting. How do you
expect your increment to be? How challenging will it be without
all of the other things that you had planned to do in your normal
we will have fewer resources and fewer capabilities available to
us. We won't have any shuttle flights. Originally, there were three
shuttle flights scheduled for our Expedition, and we had a lot of
activities scheduled for the construction of the station. All of
this has been postponed. We will use the resources that we have
remaining and all our capabilities to continue. We still have our
program. It looks different, but we will continue working. We will
continue supporting the station. We will continue performing scientific
experiments. You were right when you said that we will only have
two people onboard of the station. We will be missing our third
crewmember, but we realize that two people are enough to maintain
the station in a working state. And, additionally to conduct work
on science experiments. That's how I see our future work.
has your increment become, Yuri, at this critical time for human
spaceflight? Do you view an extra responsibility in the sense of
your increment keeping the station manned to prevent an interruption
for manned operations? How critical will your Expedition be?
I would say
that as far as keeping the station manned is concerned, I don't
think it is too problematic. We have resources. They might be limited,
but we do have them, to continue the flight and to continue with
our program. The work will be somewhat different. It won't be as
dynamic. But, it will be a normal work, and I don't anticipate any
significant program problems in continuing with the program.
I want to
talk about the launch and landing phase in a Soyuz vehicle a little
bit, Yuri. First of all launch. If I was seated next to you…for
the launch, the ascent, through orbital insertion, if you could
walk us through what that's like to be strapped into a Soyuz capsule
and the whole launch and ascent phase.
If we compare
this to the shuttle, I can say that launch on the shuttle and on
Soyuz are more or less the same. Maybe it is a little bit more smooth
on Soyuz, fewer vibrations. Our launch vehicle will be placed on
a special pad, and the vehicle itself will be protected with a head
fairing. After the liftoff, after we go through the atmosphere,
different portions of the space vehicle will start jettisoning.
And then, eight minutes later, just like on the shuttle, we will
be in space. It's a very serious, very critical stage. But, I think
that we can feel very safe, because every second has been thoroughly
thought out, from the moment before launch until the moment we are
on orbit. All possible solutions have been looked into. That's my
brief answer to your question.
like to fly for two days prior to docking in a cramped quarters
like you will have in the Soyuz? What's life like during that two-day
It's very interesting.
We will have two days, and we will travel very far. The starting
orbit will be at an altitude of 120 kilometers; and then we will
lift it to the station altitude, which is 400 kilometers. So, we
will be busy building our own attitude so that we can dock to the
station at a certain altitude, a certain attitude, and orientation.
But, I would say that it will be very calm and slow. Because time
goes by very slowly in space. It's a very important time period
on which the whole successes of the mission will depend.
you've docked to the station - originally on STS-114 you had eight
or nine days' worth of handover time with the Expedition 6 crew
to get acclimated to life on board the station. Now, you're only
going to have 6 days' worth of handover time, a more compressed
schedule. How do you expect that period to be? What do you, what
are the most important things that you expect to have to hand over
and receive a handover from the Expedition 6 crew?
It's true that
the work schedule, the handover will be more compressed. We will
have to work harder, more productively. We will, of course, talk
about all the station systems, about all the specifics of the work
on board of the station with the crew that has been on board for
a long time. We will try to share that experience. And then after
that we will have to rely on ourselves and on the ground for help
to get used to living on board of the station. But, I think that
we will have sufficient time for the handover, although it might
be a little bit more busy than we originally expected.
your colleague, Ed Lu, very well. You flew together aboard Atlantis
on STS-106 in 2000. You performed a space walk together. What kind
of a Board Engineer for launch and landing will he be? And, how
is he to fly with?
It's true that
I have worked with Ed Lu before. We worked together in space, and
we have been working together for a long time here on Earth. I know
him very well. I could pay a lot of compliments to him right now,
but I don't want to do this because it's not a good sign to do this
before launch. But, I can say that I rely on him. And, not only
because he will be the only person that I can rely on when we are
in space. But, because he is a very trustworthy and reliable person;
and if he does something, he does this the best that he can. And,
I can always believe that the result of his effort will be positive.
you took us through launch, if you could carry on through landing
now. If…I'm strapped in alongside you from the time of the
deorbit burn till the time of touchdown, give us a sense of what
that whole hour-long period is like returning to Earth in a Soyuz
On Soyuz, this
time period is very dynamic and intense. As far as overloads are
concerned, the temperature modes are simply time dynamics. Everything
changes very quickly. So, it's a very special mode of work and very
important. The capsule…enters the atmosphere and the plasma,
and then the parachute canopy opens. You feel vibrations. Very unusual
feelings. Even if I described to you in great detail all of what
happens, you will still be surprised when you experience it yourself.
The system is very reliable, and it works very well. But, we will
have to monitor all of the systems very closely, to be sure that
everything is functioning properly. And, we're getting ready to
do this. We're training.
of final questions, Yuri. Do you expect your increment, given the
changing nature of what you're going to be asked to do on orbit
for six months, do you feel as if you and Ed Lu are more than just
a caretaker crew? Do you feel as if you're going to have a fully
productive six months on orbit?
Yes, I think
so. Our whole program [will] be revised. Some of the things we will
not do because…there won't be any shuttle flights to deliver
consumables and the hardware. And, even the items that were originally
planned to be delivered on Progress will not be delivered because
Progress will be delivering something else. But, some of the scientific
experiments we will do nevertheless. And, right now we are, we continue
training, and we continue to prepare for the experiments. And, I
think that it will be very interesting to work there. And, I think
we will be pretty busy with science as well.
question, Yuri. When history writes this period of time in human
spaceflight with the loss of Columbia and the interruption in shuttle
flights and station assembly being interrupted, how will history
view the importance of your increment, you and Ed Lu, and what you're
about to go do in terms of keeping the station manned, keeping it
productive until shuttles can resume flight?
It's hard to
say. I think that the tragedy that has occurred, the fact that we
lost our comrades, the fact is that they gave their lives for the
continued space exploration. The fact that we are together and that
it's an international project allows us to continue this effort.
We have the capabilities of different countries that we can put
together to continue. I think that our Expedition confirms that,
shows that we continue working even in such a difficult time period.