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Cosmonaut Anatoly Solovyev: Studying Space is Costly, but It Has To Be Done

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Cosmonaut Anatoly Solovyev: Studying Space is Costly, but It Has To Be Done


Sergei Vinogradov

Anatoly Solovyev has spent more time in open space than any other resident of Earth. He exited his ship sixteen times while in orbit, spending a total of over three full days of his life in open space. On the eve of Cosmonauts’ Day Anatoly Solovyev told us about breakthroughs in the study of outer space, the prospects of colonizing the Moon or Mars, and why we need to study astronomy in school.

- Astronomy is being brought back into the school curriculum. Is that the right thing to do?

- Its certainly the right thing. Every year since they removed it, Ive been speaking wherever possible about the necessity of returning astronomy to the curriculum. On every stage, in every interview. I myself took evening classes in high school, and they gave us excellent lessons in astronomy. And it gave me a lot. But astronomy isnt only necessary for cosmonauts. It is one of the oldest sciences, and without knowledge of it, or at least its basic principles, a modern person cannot claim to be educated.

- How should astronomy be taught today— like physics, with scientific formulas, or like geography, with stories about unknown worlds?

- Anyone who wants romance can grab a fantasy novel or watch a movie. But in an astronomy curriculum a student should learn about Keplers laws and find out how the planets were formed and how they move. And they should have some concept at least of the Solar System.

- Did you come to the profession of cosmonaut as a scientist or as a poet?

– I was never a dreamer, and as a child I didnt dream about being a cosmonaut. I thought about flight in my later years of school, but I was thinking about planes, of course. I wanted to fly in a fighter plane, and like many people I came to be a cosmonaut through aviation.

In Soviet times there was extraordinary interest in the subject of space flight and cosmonauts were sometimes even more popular than singers and actors. Would the cosmonauts of today like for all this fuss to return?

The first space flights and first cosmonauts were the heroes of a true triumph of science and technology, and it was a deserved triumph. Reaching outer space was one of the most important measures for a government, and it spoke about the economic abilities of our nation. Thats how it was: no more, no less.

Do we need to bring back the fuss of the Soviet era? First, we need to finally heal the consequences of the 1990s, which have affected all aspects of our livesincluding, of course, space explorationin a most powerful way. Our most talented specialists left the profession and went into sales or taxi driving in order just to survive. And we lost a great number of professionals. Now a massive shift in priorities has taken place, and I think in time everything returns on its course: engineers will send ships into space, and taxi drivers will transport people. In the meantime, as I see it, this still hasnt fully happened, and there remain a lot of physicists selling frying pans.

The profession of cosmonaut involves two key skills that demonstrate what could be called “superior piloting” and make one a cosmonaut of a high order. These are working in open space and driving a spaceship.

You hold a record in the quantity and duration of your space walks. How did this come about?

Youve answered the question yourselfit just came about. I never referred to my numbers as a record, nor did I ever think about beating someone elses accomplishments before going out on a walk. Space isnt a stadium; its not broken into rounds to see who can go farther, higher, faster. But I can tell you that even before my first space walk I always strove to go on one. Because the profession of cosmonaut involves two key skills that demonstrate what could be called superior piloting and make one a cosmonaut of a high order. These are working in open space and driving a spaceship. Of course, unplanned space walks would sometimes happen, when something needed to be repaired or for some other reason. We would diligently prepare for space walks on earth before every flight, regardless of whether a space walk was already planned or not. This was comprehensive preparation, and afterwards, one would be capable of doing a lot in space.

What direction is the study of outer space moving in now? Can we expect any breakthroughs?

That question has been asked before us and will be asked after us. Its an eternal question. Of course, breakthroughs can happen in some things, but, as in any science, gradual development is at work. Studying space is very costly, but it has to be done. If you fall just a little behind it will be difficult to catch up.

Does the search for civilizations on other planets remain an active concern for serious investigators of outer space?

Yes, of course. And here the hope lies in up-to-date, far-seeing telescopes being sent beyond the Earths orbit. Only out there might we find something.

Is there much difference between the work done by cosmonauts of your generation and that of your contemporary colleagues?

- Progress doesnt stand still. I start to salivate just looking at the new technologies that have been developed for space exploration. All processes have been computerized, specifically the controls and photographic and video equipment… All of this has given cosmonauts capabilities that we didnt have. Take photography for example. We used to shoot on film, which lasted just a few days in orbit, so we primarily photographed at times of turnoversome coming, others going. It was entirely useless to bring high-quality film; it would spoil instantly. But film of medium sensitivity would make pictures of more or less decent quality if it could be quickly brought to Earth. But now you can shoot as much as you want on a digital camera and toss it down to Earth right away. This is just one minor example. I havent got to the technology that allows one to conduct experiments in orbit. These experiments were conducted before as well, but the possibilities are incomparable.

Is the opening of the Vostochny launch site a major breakthrough for Russia?

Indisputably. We are becoming independent, and thats a big deal. Ive always greatly valued a states independence. Its not right when a countrywhichever countrycant exactly be blackmailed, but it can be economically pressured. And you need to find a way out of such situations.

In recent years, businesspeople have arrived in the realm of space exploration with projects that are ambitious and revolutionary in many respects. It will suffice to name Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos What do you think about this? And do you believe theres money to be made in space?

Business people are useful for their ability to prod government structures to come out of their after-dinner naps. Im familiar with certain very interesting projects. Of course, one needs to take into account the extent to which there is an economic justification for any innovations being suggested. Can money be made with space tourism? Its hard to say. Lets take for instance parabolic flights, which allow one to experience weightlessness. Really, I dont take this seriously. Americans think of them as flights into space, but they really arent that. Maybe you can take credit for it, say youve been in space. But if someone asks what you saw there, youll have nothing to say. Its more like a symbol of space flight than a real flight. At the same time, I take a positive view of people who want to experience the feeling of space travel and put large amounts of money into that pursuit. If they want to contribute money, let them do it and go for a flight.

Elon Musk claims that in the foreseeable future space flight may become many times cheaper and accessible. Do you believe him?

Good for him. Let him do it, and well see.

In recent years several expensive Hollywood films about space have come out all at once. They either frighten viewers with space and aliens, or they prophesy humans colonizing other planets in the Solar System. What do you think: Is there any appeal in settling Earth-dwellers on other planets?

Colonizing other plants Well, why not? The other planets of the Solar System arent that far away; the technologys there and will keep developing. The safety concerns need to be worked out, of course. But first, we need to master working in orbittheres still a lot that we dont know.

In the time of Jules Verne, hardly anyone believed in the flights to the Moon that he described in his books. And nevertheless, it happenedindeed, faster than could have been expected. Colonizing other plants Well, why not? The other planets of the Solar System arent that far away; the technologys there and will keep developing. The safety concerns need to be worked out, of course. But first, we need to master working in orbittheres still a lot that we dont know. I admire writers and other humanists. Their role in attracting attention to outer space is very great, but it will nonetheless be technical professionals who solve such questions.

And lastly, the greatest human-interest question. In a song by the rock band Zemlyane [The Earthlings trans.] much loved by cosmonauts, they claim that in orbit one dreams of their lawn back home. What did you dream about in space?

Dreams in space are an individual matter and depend of a persons psyche. It depends how soundly one sleeps. I, for instance, rarely have dreams. And even less in space because we did a lot of work up there and got very tiredit was all we could do to make it to the sleeping bag. I got up with an alarm clock. I slept soundly. As for homesickness, this is also exaggerated. One often imagines a cosmonaut to be lonely and lost in the deep distance. This is only partly accurate. I didnt experience any loneliness in space because I was always with my team and we were on very good terms with each other. For a contemporary cosmonaut loneliness really isnt a problem, as they are in constant contact with Earth, and they are always being watched. But it seems to me that this deprives cosmonauts of a lot that we used to have: independence, responsibility, and that very sense of romance we were talking about.

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