Space as a vocation
2013-11-27 | Text: Interview with Sergei Krikalev | Photo ©: | 5430

 

The future of cosmonautics or any field of activity rests on people who are willing to push it forward. Russian cosmonaut, the Chief of the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre, Sergei Krikalev, told us about the training process in Russia for one of the toughest professions in the world, and about the challenges and the obstacles prospective candidates have to face in their pursuit of qualification.

 

Sergei Krikalev is a Soviet and Russian cosmonaut who holds the world record of the total time spent in space with 803 days in 6 flights. He made eight spacewalks; they lasted 41 hours and 26 minutes combined. Mr. Krikalev is one of four people to receive both the Hero of the Soviet Union and the Hero of Russia honorary titles. At the time of the Soviet Union dissolution he was in space, and became the first cosmonaut – Hero of the Soviet Union – to be awarded the Hero of Russia title.

 

 – Sergei Konstantinovich, your Centre is responsible for cosmonaut’s training, so the first question is – what challenges do you face in this area?

 

We train unique personnel or it is better to say that we do not do HR training, but we develop people to perform special tasks. It is different.

We are preparing personnel for our centre, and we are aiming to work with school and college students. Some people work for the space industry for many years and still lack an understanding of what they are doing. Thus, we set a task to develop the HR for the rocket-and-space industry as well. Often, people do not see the wood for the trees. For the whole professional life someone draws the bolt, but has no idea about the rocket's construction.

However, our main priority lies with cosmonaut training and the space flight's support. It is impossible to fully simulate what spacemen deal with in orbit. Thus, it adds additional difficulty to the preparation process.

Therefore, the whole Center tries to simulate such conditions that will be helpful for work in space. For instance, we cannot provide prolonged weightlessness, but we can achieve it for a short period of time with the help of planes. It is quite expensive training, but 20-30 seconds of weightlessness are needed in any case, just to give an idea how it feels like.

Another point is that people can learn some skills to do a job, however, in our business you will have to complete some tasks for the very first time in your life at the first attempt. The first time a person takes a space flight and they have to provide docking. Our task is to create such conditions, so they could succeed. Hence, step by step we are trying to design the necessary space simulators.

Any flight is aimed to complete a mission. We cannot afford to just have a go as we cannot afford to fail, since the price can be human life or destruction of very expensive equipment.

 

– In lifecycle management the product goes through stages – from ideation to disposal. In this regard, what are the time frames of your human assets? At what age does the training start and when do people go?

 

Let’s compare cosmonaut’s training processes and the manufacturing of tools. So far I can say we have not experienced any shortage of raw materials. There was a high level of education and the system of values in the country, and people had motivation. These things provided us with many talented candidates. We could choose among professionals of a high level.

Conventionally, we worked with either pilots or engineers. The engineers were required to have three years of professional experience in the space industry. That is, someone who graduated at the age of 21 or 22 and worked for three years, at the age of 24 could start to take part in the selection process. The initial screening procedure used to take from three to five years, sometimes longer. A person could be turned down for a number of reasons, including medical ones. For example, someone might need to have tonsils removed before he can be considered further. That person would have to undergo necessary treatment, and then he would come back to us and pass other mandatory tests and exams. That is, then and now one could become a cosmonaut from the age of 25.

There is no sense to train a person for a single flight. Cosmonaut training is a very expensive process. Thus, it is important for us to keep our guys on a team for as long as possible. We try to invest our efforts in those people that could provide us with long term service. We deal with unique commodities.

I am telling you this in a little bit of a simplified way and in mechanic’s terms, but in real life everything are done using a more personal approach. For example, the upper age limit to get on a team is 35. However, if we find a high level professional and it turns out that he is 37, then we can still take him. We understand that he can be valuable and he can make two or three space flights. We realize that his preparation is not going to take too much time since he is already a high level specialist. Last year we hired two men at the age of 36 as an exception.

At some point we made it easy for prospective candidates to go through the screening process. We understand that if someone has experience in the space industry and proves to be a competent person who can overcome challenges and is capable of finishing any job, then they are an accomplished person and can be trained as a cosmonaut.

Talking about retirement age, it is the age of 60, give or take two years. We used to believe that ten years on a team is enough before retirement, but it is de-jure. In fact, someone can work as long as they have passion and energy, because every flight is bad for your health and it takes some time to recover. By the way, there is insufficient statistics about long term consequences of space flights on health.

Physical abilities are not the only abilities that are needed to become a cosmonaut. At some point someone’s life experience and lifelong education start to prevail over the physical abilities of aging spacemen. So, in fact, we even do not have a retirement age. There are health requirements and they are always strict, but if the person meets them, then he still can be a cosmonaut. Pavel Vinogradov had a space flight when he was 59 and for us it is a record.

 

– We used to have such an attitude in the country that everything was done for the development of personalities. Thanks to this attitude there were a great number of candidates. Nowadays everything is destroyed; we do not develop personalities anymore. Do you expect that soon you might face a shortage of candidates?

 

I don’t think so. For sure, now we have fewer people who want to become a spaceman, and it might be correlated with the system of values in our country. However, I can’t say that we have a shortage of candidates. Nowadays many universities remember the times when there was a pool of ten candidates per place or five applicants per place at the engineering school. These days we still have 50 applicants per place! We should not complain.If we look back when we had more than a thousand applicants per place, then yes, now we see a decline. It is hard to say if it continues. Actually, I can see that people want to study engineering science again and there is some reconsideration of the system of values in our society. For some period of time the economists and lawyers were everywhere and the assumption was that it was a necessary thing. Now people start to realize that there should be some fundamental education and some base for the future. There is an idea that we should fix not only today’s problems. There are long-term tasks and they are starting to get some attention. That is why I am not prone to continuing the declining trend of interest in space until it meets zero level. We try to work with school and university students to avoid this. We try to concentrate on pupils since often it is too late to work with students, because they have already entered the university to get a degree. The school pupils need career guidance because they have not yet made choice of a calling. I analysed what Americans do in this field since I spent a lot of time there in order to train. Sometimes we are shy about this, but they clearly make a point that one of the tasks of the International Space Station is the motivation of a new generation to study exact sciences and to work in the industry. 

While recruiting newcomers, we had a very limited set of criteria. We were recruiting people only from the space industry. In this way we could lose a very good professional, for example, a man from a farm machinery industry. He might already be a great engineer, and who knows he might become a genius designer of a rocket and space complex or an outstanding cosmonaut in the future. However, everybody knows that if you want to work in the space industry, then you should choose a proper university as I did. I studied hard to have an opportunity to choose area field to work in. Since I was a top student I was able to choose a job according to my top preferences. My choice was human control, a part of the space industry that I really liked. However, I realized that my odds to become a spaceman were not high. In fact, the recruiting system worked like a swirl. The idea of the system was not to recruit future cosmonauts from a list of the space industry professionals. The idea was to give an image where you should work to get on the short list or the lower end of a swirl. That’s why all the people who came here did not have motivation issues – they chose their way. 

There is no such thing as a shortage of candidates, but there is such thing as a shortage of motivated candidates. The system of motivation and values has changed in our country. The boys used to dream about being a pilot, sailor or a spaceman. They felt the romance of aviation, the sea or space; even if did not know the environment and all the difficulties associated with it. In the 1990’s many guys dreamt about being a gangster, lawyer or a banker. There is a new trend now: they want to be the bureaucrats. It says that something is wrong with our society.

 

– Did the first spacemen and current ones share the same motivation?

 

The first cosmonauts did not really understand where they were going. They did not want to be the spacemen. Most of them were aviators. They entered colleges, when Chkalov was a role model for many boys. It gave a rise not only for the aviation majors but for other engineering majors as well. Moreover, success of the Soviet Union inspired other countries. I talked to Americans and they were surprised when they learned that the Russians had launched the first satellite. After that, many of them decided to devote their lives to space as the service to the country. Patriotism is really developed in the U.S. All credits to them because they know how to take advantage of that. They look forward and take steps. They have an established system of forecasting. They assess how many professionals of particular field will be needed in ten years and how many graduates are needed today. Then, they give feedback to the educational system. We used to have the same strategy. When there was the state-controlled economy it was easy to calculate how many people were needed in shipbuilding, aircraft industry, and in heavy equipment. Thus, there was a vision of how many higher education schools should be built. Actually, many of major technical schools were established in 1931-1932. Those schools became a basis for the Soviet engineering power. They are the Moscow Aviation Institute and MillTech. By the way, I graduated from the latter one. There was a task to train specialists capable to deal with military weapons. At some point, rocket weapons became one of the military weapons. Now, there are talks about partial revitalization of the old system.

 

– But still, what is the difference between the modern cosmonauts and the old ones? How are future spacemen going to differ from current ones? What impact will it make on the training centre?

 

A spacewalk was a task for the first cosmonauts. They had to understand whether a human being could live there. So, the screening test was based on the physical abilities. Later on, the tasks got more complicated: two or three people were responsible for the operation of the entire Mir space station. The next generation of cosmonauts had a clear vision of space. That generation needed quite a deep basic education. If we take a look at history, then we will see that the centre was established in January 1960 and Gagarin’s flight was in April 1961. The first recruits appeared at the centre in March 1960. That is, it took just a year from the moment of recruitment to the first space flight of a man. However, nowadays the basic space training takes two years. We need this time to make sure that everyone is on the same page and there is the same level of knowledge. Then, there is further education that includes about a hundred exams. These exams include all sorts of questions about the systems of the space station. There is crew preparation. We planned to spend just a year for this stage, but now, in fact, it takes about two years including training at the international training centres of our partners. Moreover, the crew studies American, European, and Japanese segments of the International Space Station (ISS). 

By the way, there is a very interesting trend now. Before, we knew if could take responsibility, then, in some cases we were fully autonomous. However, these days we have a joke: the cosmonauts are more radio-controlled since communication systems are more developed now. That is, they are less dependent on what is inside and more dependent on how fast they can find necessary information. This trend is everywhere: in old times people had to remember how to solve the problem, but now they know how to find a right answer on the internet or in a book. It changes the entire system of education. I am not sure if it is good. We should have the specialists of each type, because we need old school guys for some autonomous missions. Thus, we need to educate people in the way that if something happens they would be able to make a decision in open-loop conditions.

 Recently, we have changed the accents in the system of education. The cosmonauts had to know more about medicine, more specific information, but now they have to understand how the system works. At the moment, the list of scientific experiments is getting longer, that’s why they have to have a wider area of expertise. Sometimes, a person plays the role of an operator; he has just to press the button and all the rest is done by a machine. Though, complicated research demands human intervention and expertise.

 

– Are there any changes in majoring? In the past the cosmonauts had to do and to know everything. Are they majoring in something particular nowadays?

 

Well, we tried to integrate some majors. We assumed that with increased flight capacities and the number of crew members and scientific goals, we would be capable of making spacemen highly specialized. We introduced such a term as the scientist-cosmonaut. That is a person who is specializing in applied tasks. For instance, Oleg Kotov became a cosmonaut as a doctor and got on a team as scientist-doctor-cosmonaut. However, there were not that many medical tasks for him to deal with through entire flight. That’s why he got an additional technical and pilot education and became a good cosmonaut. The same happened to Sergey Ryazansky. So, we have some ideas about majors, but we have not yet reached a point when majoring is possible.

 

– In the beginning, was the situation with Kotov the result of some miscalculation?

 

It was a series of miscalculations. Nevertheless, all mistakes were corrected in a professional way. Pilots believe that a good pilot is not the one who does not make mistakes, but the one who can fix them. Actually, all of us thought that the number of flights would increase dramatically. In the 1970’s the space industry was growing fast. So, I thought that by the 1980’s we would have hundreds of cosmonauts, by the mid 1990’s the number would reach a thousand, and after 2,000 more than a thousand. But what do we have now? We have slightly more than a hundred; on average it means 2 spacemen a year. Oleg assumed that there would be many flights. So, he believed that we would need health professionals and he was as wrong as all of us. 

 

– Everything you talked about before has to do with physically and mentally developed persons. What about the youth? Their bodies and minds are more flexible.

 

We had some ideas to work with the students. At that moment I remember myself during student times: I thought how cool it would be to work here immediately. But now, looking from another angle, I think it would not have been the right thing to do. In this case, when you are still not fully developed and do not have any experience, is about making a dream a reality. According to our old school mental models, a cosmonaut is a special person. Everybody treats them in a very special way and they have some unique opportunities. So, imagine the following: a student finds out that soon they will be a cosmonaut or that if he graduates cum laude, then he will become a spaceman. Will it spoil them? They feel the pressure of the media and public’s attention. Often it spoils a good person because they get star fever. That person starts to see themself inadequately. That is, when person who is insufficiently developed gets too much attention from the media, he can break down. We need to have good and mentally strong professionals who would be capable of implementing the right policy, develop a system, and deal with troubles in the future. We do not need someone who would reach the top and then rest on their laurels. That’s why we should work with children very carefully.

I understand that the new guys at the centre are brought there by the romance of space. I try to show them that, in fact, space science is more than just being a cosmonaut. There is space medicine, space communications, space technologies, biotechnologies, geography, geodesics, etc. There is the geography of the earth, and there is the geography of the space. People work on space pictures and collect some data. They are interesting tasks, but they are not about putting on a cosmonaut’s spacesuit and spacewalking. The space flights are a small part of space science. The vision of the whole system is very important for the development of an intellectual curiosity. So, young people get attracted by the opportunity to challenge themselves, to try something new, and to do something that other people can’t. So, we use it as a means of an attraction and it might be the right thing to do, but we should be careful with this.

 

– Should the educational training for children be more general? I mean, not just about the flights, but about something else.

 

For example, some time ago we had a group of the school students from Moscow. We did not form the group. There were some volunteers who fundraised, selected school students, and brought them to us for five days. It was like a summer camp. We prepared a programme for their age and their educational level. We asked them to keep a diary: to write their thoughts and impressions they had every day. As often happens, the students were different: some were dreaming about the space flights, others were forced to be there by their parents. So, as a result, their thoughts were like: “What the hell we are doing here!” But after two days the group mood was changing: “Actually, it’s quite interesting here”. On the last day, the kids wrote: “It’s so cool here, now I know what I want to do with my life”, “I will come back here”, “Now I understand where to make an effort and how to spend my life”. In other words, a person is in constant search of something. He should look at more opportunities and then finds something interesting.

 

– I would like to ask you a couple of questions about the space industry development. What is going to be the difference between modern space infrastructure and a future one?

 

The infrastructure is gradually getting more internationalized. Now we start to use American earth-based stations. For instance, we can communicate with Moscow via Houston. In old times we could not imagine it. We take the best from each other in the space located infrastructure as well. Many things are already international on board the ISS. By the way, there is the best European computer on the Russian segment. It is the best one of what one could get in the end of the 1990’s and it is better than the American one.

Another tangible part of future space technologies is a specialization of space infrastructure objects. There is a development of the so called “attended modules”. Passing through the atmosphere is a very specific part of the path and it demands aerodynamics, energy, and vibration resistance. However, an inter-orbital transfer or planet landing demands other technologies. I believe, there will be a base flying around the Earth and it will serve as a point of departure for the other flights. So, we will use special aerospace vehicles to pass through the atmosphere, to get to the base, and from there. Using other space vehicles, we will fly from orbit to orbit, e.g. from the Earth’s orbit to the orbit of Moon. Then, from the Moon’s orbit or even from the Moon’s orbit base we will land on the Moon to complete a task. If something goes wrong we will not go back to the Earth, but just get back to the base to study a case and then get back to the Moon to complete the task. That is, there will be a developed infrastructure with specialized modules on one hand and a system of bases and inter-orbital flights on the other hand. Every part will fulfill its functions.   

 

– Today people talk quite a lot about relocation of some plants from the Earth into outer space. For instance, some Japanese companies announced that by the year of 2025 they would build a plant for solar energy collection with further transfer of the energy to the Earth. Americans promise to do something like that even earlier.

 

Energy projects in the space are the most rational ones. From the Earth’s point of view it is absolutely clean technology. Let’s think further: why do we need to transfer the energy to the Earth? I assume we need to do this to smelt, to produce some metal goods. According to the existing analogy, the next step is drawing an energy consumer and an energy source closer. For example, if we have a major energy consumer like an aluminium smelter, then power plants ideally should be built as close to the smelter as it is possible or vice versa. Thus, the next step might be to build not only power plants in space, but also major energy consuming plants as well. 

 

– In your opinion what is the next step of the space science development?

 

There are hot debates whether we should have a flight to Mars or to the Moon. People fight over these ideas. There are rational pros and cons for each of the plans. In fact, we have an endless discussion. I remember, when someone asked my opinion: “Considering your flight experience and job experience in the space industry, where should we go?” My answer was: “Let’s go anywhere, because we just talk and do not move anywhere as Buridan’s ass that cannot choose between two hays.”

As a matter of fact, we do not move anywhere because of the other fundamental problems. That’s why I do not pay any attention to those infinite speculations. There are assumptions we accept and there are theorems we prove. I keep talking for a long time following: “Let’s build the system of discussions according to the rules, why we need space flights. Let’s take some assumptions and move further. We do not prove assumptions, but just take them for granted. One of the principles is the principle of expansion. In order not to waste time, we should just accept the principle of expansion. It says that all living creatures never stay confined if there is space to expand. Fish do not live in the corner of an aquarium; they spread all over the space. If an aquarium gets bigger, then they spread all over it. Human beings have the same principle. A man leaves a cave, crosses a field, where there are saber-toothed tigers, and reaches another river bank. As one can ask: “Why should we swim cross a river? Let’s explore everything here, build a commune on the near bank, and then swim across the river.” However, a person, facing a challenge, climbs higher, and swims across a river, crosses a sea and then an ocean, when he gets a chance. Now we have exactly the same situation. We have the opportunity to move further and we ought to. The only question is whether we will move quickly or slowly.

 

– How to find a balance between a fast track and a slow one?

 

A lot of great things are done because of the revolutionary approach, when we jump over something, when we aim at a goal that is above existing capacities and we start to make it real. A light bulb was not invented because of the evolution of a candle. We could increase the amount of wax and brightness of a candle, using some new chemical makeup. However, things went this way until some point is reached, and then it went down by itself. Usually we establish some place and it becomes responsible for something already existing. It concentrates on some issue and slows down development of the alternatives. Roughly speaking, there is a new Ministry of Candle Development that never invents a lamp. Moreover, the probability of a lamp invention reduces, since if there is a need for a brightness increase at home, then the task will be given to the Candle Ministry. Therefore, if we need to develop in some new direction really quickly, then this way is a right one. However, when this way ages, then we have to find an alternative, or else we will stagnate.

Now we are building up an interesting picture: people are trying to think exclusively in terms of economic profit. That is, a pendulum is swinging in a completely different direction, compared to the Soviet Union. Regardless of what we do – they say: “Let’s make it economically sound.” That is the reason why the system slows down. If we try to make each step economically justified, then we have to set economically feasible goals. However, if we want to reach the initial goals some steps just cannot be effective. A game of chess is a good analogy: we set a goal to capture the opponent’s piece with each move without making any sacrifice. It is going to be another game and a less effective one since you cannot sacrifice a pawn to capture the queen. We try to control scientific research products, making each step economically justified. We call it money saving, by buying the cheap matches.

Manned space programs are the way out for us. It is a costly branch of the space industry and looks like an expensive fundamental science. The fundamental science starts to die when the managers start to demand profits from the scientific experiments. No progress is the result.

 

– Why do we need manned space programs?

 

We often get asked this question. Machines take pictures, smelt crystals, and perform many other things better than humans. The cosmonauts have to exercise. A lot of different systems maintain vital functions. Manned space programs are like the test areas or like experimental assembly lines at a car factory. That is, any car plant aims to make a profit and assembly lines bring it. Concept cars and vehicle prototypes are created on the experimental assembly lines. Those lines are unprofitable, since it is very costly to produce something what is going to become a serial production in ten year's time or so. Those concepts and prototypes are hand assembled. So, the experimental assembly lines were the first ones to die out at our car plants. As a result, for many years we were producing the same model of VAZ-2101, while the whole world was switching to the new engines, arbour supports and the new approaches in design. Mercedes invests a lot in their racing car's development. However, we called it holdover of capitalism. There was an opinion in the USSR that they do it for the public and pleasure. In fact, it is the experimental assembly line. They are very costly in terms of the expenditures per vehicle. However, the traditional assembly lines and the experimental ones are very profitable as a complex in a long-term perspective. We can see the results: BMW and Mercedes cars are everywhere in the world, sales are high, there are new models every year, and they are profitable. However, if they get rid of any costly area, it will turn out to be the production of VAZ-2101 over thirty years.

We have the same discussions concerning manned space programs: whether we need it or not. Many economically profitable tasks can be done by machines. However, if we get rid of these programs it is equal to elimination of the experimental assembly lines at a car plant. The manned space programs are the place where we can debug technologies, where there is no sense to make the cosmonauts take the same pictures, but there is a need to find the best way to take them. In the case of crystals: it is better to smelt them by machines, without vibrations, but before we have to create a technology, learn how to change the samples, and what troubles can arise. This technology of debugging and possible problem identification is better and more effectively done during manned flights. Only after manned flights, can machines perform those tasks. Special tasks are for humans, and serial ones for machines, as at a good car plant, where you can find hand assembly lines and automated ones.

Thus, if we want to move further, then we have to develop manned space flights. However, if we perceive the science as an applied one, then we are going to get stuck here.

 

– Do I get it right that the technical equipment for a flight to Mars and back almost exists; the major issue here is a human one?

 

I would say that a human issue is already there. A man can spend year and a half or two in the space, since there are capacities for that. We realize that it will harm their health, but it won’t cause any extremely serious consequences.

There is another problem. We have the life support system and it works. It will help to get there and back. We have the motion control system; we know how to get to Mars and not to pass by it. However, there is a question of reliability. We cannot afford reliability of 0.5, 0.8 or even 0.9. That is ok for an automatic flight, but not for a manned flight. That is, still there is no unified system that could provide the necessary reliability. We know how to build it, but the quantities increase beyond what we have already used. It will demand a really big rocket and they will face the limits of the existing capacities in terms of weight and the budget. Here we get the next question: can we make a faster flight? For this we need brand new engines. Now we have the following: the acceleration takes dozens of seconds near the Earth, and then it takes a year to get to Mars. The question is can we have little acceleration for two months? In this case it will take not two years there and back, but six months: three months to get there, a month to spend there, and two more months to get back. It is possible, but it will take a completely new generation of engines. Thus, space science should move in new directions. Somewhere you deal with the candles and somewhere there are signs of a lamp, and we have to get there.

 

– Here we have another question: how does the Centre cooperate with the science?

 

The full name of our organization sounds like the State Scientific Research-and-Testing Cosmonaut Training Centre. This is not by accident. The training process for cosmonauts is the science itself. I would say it is the science, the art, and even the skill combined. There are some things at our centre where people have no idea what is going on, but at the same level of art, they can make something.

Here, at the centre, we cannot provide absolute simulation. So, we have to model in parts. In this regard, how do we make reliability of the cosmonaut’s performance predetermined? It is not a primitive task. At some point it takes intuition, sometimes it takes some assessments or with the experiments it sometimes is impossible to calculate some other things. If there is a guidance-system loop with a person, then there is no way to foresee all the possible consequences in advance. I can imagine how to control the landing of a spaceship and even design an electronic analogue of this process. However, after that a man will work in one way and machine in different one. What are the actions of a man if there are some distractions or unscheduled conditions? Only real experiments or statistical data can determine the level of reliability. Afterwards we can estimate, model and prove it with tests and experiments to say: “Yes, now we know.” However, there is another challenge. Each person performs a task with some level of reliability. If we change some conditions, then person A will spend 90% of his vitality and mental energy to perform the same task, and person B will spend only 50%. Some people in a difficult situation cannot absorb too much complex information, while others can do it easily. It seems like both performed a task, but person B did it on the safe side and person A did it being at the breaking point of his limits. How can we measure this? We have a lot of similar problems. 

 

– The next question is about a threat or maybe an opportunity: private cosmonautics, Virgin projects with tourists and a cargo delivery. Barriers to entry are getting lower. If you have enough money you can have a space flight, even without serious preparation.

 

No, you can’t. Virgin Galactic projects are for suborbital flights. We do almost the same, using strategic airliners Il-76. They fly along the parabolic arc and at the top of the arc they achieve weightlessness for thirty seconds. Virgin Galactic does the same, though on a bigger scale, but this is not a space flight.

 

– They can take the next step, can’t they?

 

There is an interesting trend right now. At the rise of the space industry the state made all the parts of the system. Later on, the government realized that there is no need to make everything by itself. For example, it might be easier just to buy pencils that we use at the ISS. That was the beginning of outsourcing: first some pencils, then some wires. Maybe, it is not a bad thing if we buy some wires from a private company if we make sure that they meet the right specifications. Then, we began to buy some components like the gyroscopes, which you can use in space technologies, aviation, and in maritime activities. However, for instance, we have to conduct tests in the supersonic tunnels to build a spaceship. Otherwise we cannot understand whether a thermal protection cover works or not. It is supposed to work, but anyway we have to try to burn it to see if it burns out or it does not. Businessmen do not deal with these sorts of things, because no one produces the supersonic tunnels for the tests. Another example: when we start to design a capsule for the manned space flights we have no idea how much it will cost us. We can estimate, but the difference in the actual price can be huge in either direction. Businessmen cannot deal with such a level of uncertainty. 

In this regard, I look at NASA. It has state money and does not have a goal to make a profit. NASA develops new technologies and gives them back to the state. It does not try to sell those new technologies. When some area gets explored, then the area starts to be a field of interest for private companies. The state continues to explore new directions. At some point, NASA began to outsource the shuttle service. At that moment I was training there. There were hot debates over this issue: “Isn’t it too risky to outsource such an important thing?” The state did it and began to design the new spaceships. The private companies can budget spaceship construction, since uncertainty is not that high anymore. We can clearly see it: there are new private spaceships like the Dragon, the Orbital Science, and now they build the Sirius. However, the state builds its own spaceship – the Orion. That is, the state mitigated some risks for the companies and outsourced the spaceship building. Anyway, those corporations serve the state. The state used to say: “We will buy your gyroscope and build our spacecraft.” Now it says: “This cargo has to be shipped to the station and you have to build transport for that. Compete with each other in cost and the quality.” It means that at some point NASA will stop and buy Russian services – the spacemen who transfer from the ground to the space station will be outsourced to the company SpaceX. The SpaceX has already built the Dragon. The Dragon had a few successful flights to the ISS. I believe that the next step is to make the Dragon manned. 

 

– Can the private space companies be in charge of the cosmonaut’s training? Can they be a threat for your Center?

 

I think the state will be responsible for the cosmonauts, since they deal with the problems of uncertainty. Those problems are not commercial ones. However, if there is a space hotel for the tourists, where they can stare at the Earth, then private companies might recruit and train the hotel staff. People think seriously about the idea of a space hotel. The uncertainty area is small here: the space hotel staff will be the spacemen, but they will have the same responsibilities as the traditional maids. So, the state will be in charge for the uncertainty and business will be in charge for the routine, as in any field. I think this is right, because business deals with the routine more effectively than the state, though, the state solves the uncertainty problems better than corporations. That is, if the state aims to move forward, then we at the Center will always operate. We will stay focused and ahead as a state organization. Someone else should deal with a routine and “the routine cosmonauts”. There is a good analogy here. There is a test pilot school and an airline pilot school. They do not compete with each other. Moreover, an airline pilot school is often an HR supplier for a test pilot school.

 

– It is time for the last question. After I talked with some cosmonauts I got a feeling that there is no system of socialization for retired spacemen. So, there is no one to support or to monitor former cosmonauts and their life.

 

There is no system, because we do not have that many cosmonauts. There was no sense to create a system, when we had just a few cosmonauts. It was easier to use the personal approach to take care of every one. Not many things have changed since then. Though, we might be at the stage, when we should think about it. I believe a lot depends on a person and on his goals. If someone after a space flight wants to rest on his oars, then it is easy to do it these days. A person can retire and feel comfortable, because the pensions have been increased. In this regard, people are safe. There are no retired cosmonauts who would feel useless and live a meaningless life. Moreover, it is a kind of paradox: after retirement people make more money than before it. So, there is an impression that a person is crazy, if keeps working after he has retired. Different people want different things: some people make money; others do what they find right.

I can tell you about my American experience. We had about thirty or forty people on a team; The Americans at some point had around two hundred people. Many cosmonauts became businessmen. They were proposed to senior management positions. In our country people tend to think the following: “Ok, he was in the space. So what? Is it a reason to become a CEO, is it right?” I asked almost the same question in the U.S.: “What about you? What do Americans think of it? It is more developed here than in our country.” I got the following answer: “Even if the person just got on a team it means he managed to achieve a goal, he can get things done and such people are on demand even in the management system”. Usually, the positions they get are in the space industry or related to it in some way. Those people became Boeing or NASA’s top managers. For example, Charles Bolden is a current NASA Administrator. Together we had a space flight in frames of the first joint American-Russian expedition STS-60 on board the Discovery shuttle. In fact though, there is no an employment system in the U.S. as well. I do not think that we really need it, when just one or two men retire every year. 

Other things are important. The cosmonauts have unique expertise, since they spend years studying and using complicated machines. This expertise can be very useful, for example in the R&D departments. So, we should use former cosmonauts. Especially, the industry needs such a person, if he has analytical abilities to see the trends and patterns.

I would pay your attention to another interesting point. The way people socialize with such special skills is an indicator of the path where society goes. If we are not going to make anything new, then the person with his bright ideas and desire to make a difference will be unwanted by the system and society. It is a bad sign, if there is a lack of former cosmonauts involved in the management of the space industry and space infrastructure, since these people have followed the path of the spacemen. Obviously they are motivated to devote their lives, energy, and time to this business, the business where they spent most parts of their lives. If the system does not need such people it means that something is wrong with the system. 

 

Photos to the interview are provided by press department of Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre.

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