Interview: Gennady Padalka
International Space Station Expedition 9 crew interview with Commander
The International Space Station Crew Interviews with Gennady Padalka,
the commander of the ninth expedition to the International Space
Station. Gennady, you were assigned to Expedition 9 less than three
months before the launch. Tell me what your reaction was when you
found that you were suddenly next in line to fly.
A: I would say that, to some extent, it was all of a sudden for
us because this replacement was being discussed for almost one month
before we were assigned, really assigned. And, despite this, we
are ready to fly because we have been working with Mike [Fincke]
on Expedition 9 since March 2002. But, actually, we have been working
with Mike since September 2000, when we were assigned as backup
crew for [the] Expedition 4 mission, and then Mike was a backup
crew for [the] Expedition 6 mission, and I was at that time backup
crew for the taxi crew. And, I don’t know if you know, but
I was assigned as a crew Commander for [the] Expedition 0 crew,
the so-called contingency crew, in 1999. And that is why we went
through these preparations -- I mean preparation for the spaceflight
on board International Space Station -- twice and actually
we are ready to fly.
In this circumstance then, it sounds as though the shortened
lead time, you don’t think, is going to pose much of a problem
for you and Mike.
Yes, we don’t have [a] problem because we went through all
science experiments that are scheduled for us, and we covered all
materials in reference to Soyuz spaceship, and both segments --
I mean Russian segment and American segment -- and we are ready
to perform spacewalk, which is scheduled for us. And no problem.
You have spent some six months in space when you were the
commander of the Mir-26 mission. Tell me how you see yourself putting
that past experience to work as you get ready to fly Expedition
Yes. I got great experience, and actually I would say NASA officials
and Russian space agency officials always try to assign at least
one flown astronaut or cosmonaut in the crew in order to facilitate
[the] job on board Space Station, life on board Space Station, especially
for the first maybe three, four weeks. It’s [a] very stressful
event for the unflown astronauts, and I got a good experience in
reference to spacewalks. This is [a very] stressful event for the
astronauts and cosmonauts who…[do] this for the first time
in their life. And it seems to me it’s very great to be well-experienced
before going into space.
Gennady, the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia and its
crew happened just a little bit over one year ago, and that made
the dangers of spaceflight as clear as they’ve probably ever
been. And, you’re well aware of what can go wrong --
but here you are, ready to launch again. In your mind, what reward
is it that we are getting from flying people in space that makes
it worth the risk that you’re about to take?
Yes, well, it was a great sadness because it was … the Columbia
crew. It was an incredible crew, and without exaggeration I would
call that it was a vanguard for … all mankind. And, in my
opinion, it wasn’t only an American crew, it was an international
crew because this crew represented by many, many nations: American,
Indian, African-American, Israel. And, this catastrophe showed that
it’s very hard for only one country to explore space, and
we need to join our efforts; only in this case we can surmount all
difficulties, overcome all obstacles, and only in this case we can
have success in space. And, you know that … the Columbia Accident
Investigation Board issued a lot of requirements for the remaining
Space Shuttles, before Space Shuttles resume flights again. From
my perspective, there are three main ones: No. 1, safety; No. 2,
safety; and No. 3, safety. You understand me? It’s very important
for us. No space research can justify victims, and according to
these safety requirements we are committed to taking into account
all safety circumstances. And, in reference to risk, yes, you are
right -- but it seems to me we need to … balance between
the benefit from the space research and risk. And we need to weigh
the balance between risk and space research, although in my opinion
it’s hard to predict all circumstances, especially for such
complicated vehicles as the Space Shuttle and the Space Station,
but you know that great endeavors demand a great risk.
I’m curious why you wanted to become a cosmonaut;
what was your reason?
Honestly, I had never dreamt to become a cosmonaut. Yes, I was only
3 years old when Yuri Gagarin flew in space for the first time,
and, at that time, I think each boy dreamt to become a cosmonaut.
Maybe this dream was in the back of my mind, but actually I was
fascinated with aviation, and that is why I entered the Higher Military
Aviation College, and I graduated … in 1979, and then I served
as a military pilot in the air force for 10 years before being selected
as a cosmonaut. Once I met our famous cosmonaut Aleksei Leonov --
it seems to me you know him: he participated in the first international
project, I mean Apollo-Soyuz, and he was the first man who performed
a spacewalk -- and he suggested that I become a cosmonaut.
I agreed. I went to the Star City, I passed some exams, I underwent
medical tests, and I was selected as a cosmonaut. Upon completion
of the general space training course, I was certified as a test
cosmonaut, and I began to prepare for a flight. My first flight
was in 1998: it was a 200-day flight on board Mir; I was crew Commander,
and my flight engineer was Sergei Avdeyev.
Was it just a chance meeting with Aleksei Leonov, or…
Yes, I met him by chance … because at that time he was the
head of the medical commission … this medical commission took
a trip across my country, and at that time they tried to select
cosmonauts for the cosmonaut corps. And, yes, to a larger extent
it was by chance.
Was Leonov then, would you say, the person who was most
influential in your becoming a cosmonaut, or were there others,
Well, actually, I have a lot of people who played a big role in
my decision to become a cosmonaut. First of all, I would like to
name my teachers at school, my family, and my instructors in the
higher military school, and all instructors in Star City, and all
instructors in NASA. My special thanks to them because they, it
seems to me, undertook the incredible attempt to prepare us on time.
And, really … there are huge numbers of people I respect,
but I would not like to name some of them because I probably might
leave some others out.
Let’s talk about the mission that you and Mike Fincke
are about to fly. Tell me, what are the goals of this Expedition
to the International Space Station?
The biggest goal for us as a crew is to keep the Space Station in
operational condition and maintain the human presence aboard the
Space Station because [the] last malfunction -- I mean the
situation with the leakage -- showed us that if we had not
had crew on board, we could have lost the Space Station. But our
long-duration activities basically cover some spheres: We need to
keep ability to perform preventive maintenance, to avoid serious
situations with this space systems operation, and we …will
perform two spacewalks and despite the Space Shuttle being grounded
… we don’t have the possibility to update space racks
but we have vast science programs on behalf of the Russian side,
the American side, and the European Space Agency.
Any flight crew, as a group, has got to possess all the
talents that are necessary to do all the jobs on the Space Station.
That means just between the two of you, you and Mike have to be
able to cover everything. What will be your primary responsibilities
as the commander of the Space Station?
You know that I am Soyuz commander and I’m mission commander,
Mike is the flight engineer No. 2 for insertion, and he is prime
flight engineer on board the Soyuz when Soyuz docks to the Space
Station and during re-entry. Mike is flight engineer aboard Space
Station, and he is NASA Science Officer. But, actually, with a three-person
crew, we have a common rule: Usually the American guy is responsible
for the American segment -- I mean nominal daily activities,
because in case of emergency situations we will have to work only
together -- and the Russian guy is in charge of the Russian
segment, and then the third crewmate usually helps them. But in
our case, when having only a two-person crew, I think Mike will
be responsible for the American segment, I … will be responsible
for the Russian segment, Mike will be responsible for all spacewalks
and for all science programs. As for me, I will be responsible for
everything as a crew commander, because you never know who’s
right, but you always know who’s in charge, according to Murphy’s
I want to take you through the mission sort of chronologically:
you and Mike and André Kuipers will be launching in a Soyuz
in April; describe for us what takes place in a Soyuz during the
launch and the trip to the Station, and what the role of the Soyuz
hard for me to compare insertion on board the Soyuz and the Space
Shuttle because I haven't flown on the Space Shuttle, but I heard
that the launch on board Soyuz is much smoother. But in reference
to time, it takes about nine minutes; to be more exact, 525 seconds.
And, once we get orbit insertion we need to perform leak checks,
and I mean all three compartments -- descent module, instrument
module, habitation module -- after opening the hatch, we can
go into habitation module and we can take off our spacesuits. And,
during third and fourth orbits we need to perform an orbital maneuver
in order to increase altitude. And then, during two days, we will
be catching up with the Space Station. On the third day, we’ll
have rendezvous and docking operations. This is all how we do this
on board Soyuz spaceship.
Once you arrive, you and Mike will be on the Station with
Mike Foale and Alexander Kaleri for a week before they and André
return to the Earth. How does that time together, when all of you
will be there, how does that help you and Mike Fincke get moving
into your mission?
Really, it’s a very hard time; it’s a hectic life during
handover operations because, at this time, we are supposed to have
some science program on behalf of the European Space Agency, and
I’m going to assist André. It’s very important
for us because there is a big difference between simulators on the
ground and the real situation aboard the Space Station. The off-going
crew should familiarize us with features, systems operations, with
science experiments which were delivered by previous crews and which
are going on, and … we have a very good Inventory Management
System, but actually they need to familiarize us with real stowage.
And it’s pretty hard: It seems to me only after having farewell
ceremony, after closing the hatch, we can breathe a sigh of relief.
You mentioned a few minutes ago that there are a number
of different scientific efforts that will be promoted and pursued
during your mission. Can you tell me, in general, how you see the
scientific mission of the International Space Station being advanced
during your increment?
At this point the Shuttles are grounded and we don’t have
a possibility to, as I mentioned above, to upgrade our racks …
we have the West science program, and currently about 40 experiments
on behalf of the American side and the same number on behalf of
the Russian side, are scheduled for us, and about 20 experiments
for the European Space Agency. In total it will be about 100. It’s
impossible for us to know each experiment in details, but to some
extent … some of them … we should know very well. And
… because there's no need … to know these experiments
in details because … actually, researchers on the ground consider
us as an integral part of science experiments because we will be
like their hands and eyes, and like extension between hardware and
researchers on the ground because we can fix the problem, we can
assemble hardware, science hardware, we can disassemble, and we
can update software. But we cannot interpret results because for
this it seems to me you need to have the special education. As for
our science program, I wouldn’t say that during our mission
we’ll be able to get results which help us, I don’t
know, maybe create drugs to cure cancer or diabetes, or we’ll
have results which help us to resolve many problems with pollution
on the ground, but I am deeply convinced that our mission will make
us take steps forward, and eventually it will help us to solve many
problems on the ground that we face. It’s my opinion.
you mentioned, one of the primary areas of focus of science is into
how people respond to living and being in a state where there is
no gravity. There are a number of experiments for Expedition 9 in
the area of human life sciences. Can you tell me about just a couple
of experiments for which you in fact will be the test subject?
of course. You know that human exposure to the space environment
results in many alterations in our body such as fluid redistribution,
bone loss, kidney stone formation and muscle atrophy. We have some
experiments, science experiments, associated with, for example,
bone loss. When conducting these experiments, researchers want to
create some countermeasures. When we study this disease in space,
and it seems to me it must be very, very helpful for the people
on the ground because in the old age, you know, that many people
have similar problems and our bones become fragile. And, for example,
what else -- kidney stone formation; this is a big problem for us
… why are we … doing this, experiments in space, and
why not on the ground? Because all these events speed up in space,
and it’s very good to explore this. In reference to kidney
stone formation, of course, researchers want to create countermeasures,
and it may be very useful for the ground. And, what else for example?
I gave you two science experiments on the American side. We have
a number of experiments on Russian side, for example … Profilaktika,
prophylaxis, it seems to me, it sounds in English like prophylaxis.
Because our scientists, our researchers, want to prevent locomotor
system disorders in weightlessness, and … I think it will
be very, very useful especially for the flights to Mars and beyond.
We have biopsy experiments because, as you know, our muscles get
weak during spaceflight, and scientists want to create countermeasures,
so we can slow down or exclude this, although it’s impossible
to exclude it completely.
Those are experiments that have to do with how the people
who are on the Station respond, but there are other kinds of experiments
that you and Mike will be pursuing, too. Can you tell me about some
of the other kinds of science that will be done on Expedition 9?
many experiments in different fields of science: Biology, biotechnology,
space technology, medical experiments. For example, on the Russian
side, we have star spectrometer, and this experiment is associated
with astronomy and ecology. And my second background is ecology
because in 1994 I graduated from UNESCO International Center of
Instruction System with degree engineer-ecologist, and it’s
very interesting for me. And, by using this star spectrometer we
can record spectrum of the star when the star is above atmosphere.
Then on the ground we can compare the brightness and the spectrum
of the star, and scientists can determine the compositions of the
atmosphere, the chemical composition of the atmosphere, the condition
of the ozone, and how this, any pollution is distributed, in the
area or on the altitude. And this is one example of the experiments.
We also have a lot of experiments associated with radiation measurement.
We have Phantom Torso brought on board Space Station. We have several
sensors on the American side and the Russian side … but we
have one goal: We can … measure the radiation, because the
high doses of radiation can kill cells, can damage tissue leading
to the cancer. And by flying around the Earth we are protected by
the natural shields, you know -- I mean, radiation belts -- but
beyond several hundred kilometers it’s impossible, especially
when we begin to fly to Mars and beyond. And it’s very, very
important for us. Also on the American side, we continue experiments
with ARIS, the rack isolation system because it’s very important.
Most science experiments require ideal microgravity, and on board
Space Station we have tiny disturbances and vibrations caused by
maybe crew’s physical exercise, maybe machinery’s operation,
and this system helps us to isolate all hardware from [these] disturbances
and vibrations. In this case, the result of science research, we
cannot be upset … and we’ll be able to save the delicate
balance with these science experiments. We have glovebox: this is
very important because this hardware permits us to conduct science
experiments … associated with toxic substances, and this hardware
is to prevent toxic substances from being spread throughout …
the Space Station. We have a greenhouse. It’s very fun experiment
because we grow plants in space, and this is, I would say, this
is fundamental to our research because researchers on the ground
try to create closed system, and by having this system we can reproduce
oxygen, especially when we have base on the moon, and remove carbon
dioxide, and we can create a similar environment on a lunar base,
for example. And many, many others.
a lot of science work. You’ve also got the maintenance of
the Station, as you mentioned. You’ve also got plans for a
couple of spacewalks. I realize things may change by the time you
get there, but tell me right now what are the plans for spacewalks
for Expedition 9?
two spacewalks are scheduled for us. One spacewalk is associated
with hardware installation. Mike and I, we need to go outside with
hardware and set up on the exterior of the Service Module. Later,
this hardware will help European Space Agency cargo ship, the ATV,
to dock automatically. We need to install a target, a TV camera,
some antennas, and laser reflectors. These are the tasks for the
first spacewalk. Another spacewalk will be associated with ORU replacements
on the exterior of the FGB module. This is a pump which is installed
in the external thermal control system. It is not malfunctioning.
This pump has exceeded its design lifetime. And, during this spacewalk
we need to carry inside some science experiments, experiments that
have been exposed to the space environment for a long time.
it sounds as though both of these spacewalks are planned in the
Orlan suits, from Pirs?
of course, both the spacewalks are scheduled, yes, in Orlan, but
we are well trained to use [the U.S.] EMU, in case of a malfunction,
in case of emergency situation. In this case we can use an EMU with
no problem. And in this case we can depress and repress in [Joint]
Airlock instead of the Docking Compartment.
October you’re scheduled to conclude this mission by riding
home in the same Soyuz spacecraft that you launch in in April. Can
you describe for us what happens at the end of a mission? What do
the Soyuz crewmembers do when you leave the Station and head home
we’ll have a hectic life because it will be handover ops between
Expeditions 9 and 10. We need to load the descent module with results
of science experiments, and we need to be in a good physical condition.
At that time we will have a lot of physical exercise. And we need
to train with re-entry preparations. We have very good computers
on board Space Station and we can refresh all these operations which
we face during re-entry. Currently Mike is supposed to be flight
engineer prime, and he will take the left seat liner. It will be
very important for him and, it seems to me, he needs to cover a
lot of materials in order to refresh, because it will be six months
after our launch. It will be big deal for us.
your opinion, by the time you are ready to leave the International
Space Station, what will have had to have happened during the six
months that you are there for you, as the commander, to consider
your expedition successful?
we conduct all of the science program, if we can keep Space Station
in operational condition, if we manage to perform scheduled spacewalks,
if we keep our friendship with Mike, if we hand Space Station in
operational condition to the next crew, in this case I would say
that our mission was successful.
know, the International Space Station as a project aims to make
advances in engineering and in science and global relations among
countries, as well as push the future of space exploration. Gennady,
what do you think is the most important contribution that will come
out of the International Space Station program?
think Space Station is neither an American project nor a Russian
project. This is an international space project because 16 countries
are involved. Space Station is only a tiny part of our planet. But,
I think this is a great example how our life can be established
on the ground in the ideal. If speaking about contribution, I think
this is a great example of the peaceful cooperation. I think this
is a most valuable contribution. And we are happy that, at last,
our countries, our nations, our space agencies, and people themselves
have matured in their ability to work together. I think this is
the most important contribution in this project.