Gennady Padalka is the very definition of starman. The Russian cosmonaut has commanded the International Space Station (ISS) four times, completed 10 spacewalks, flown to the MIR space station, celebrated 4 birthdays in space and with 5 spaceflights, he’s spent 879 days in space, more time in space than anybody else. Thanks to the team at Space Lectures, he’s in the UK for the first time and I am meeting the Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka.
A talk from a Russian astronaut, a Russian cosmonaut, is a rare thing in the UK. Gennady Padalka takes to the stage to command a lecture with reserved authority, speaking English in front of a audience of hundreds. For most people public speaking is worse than the fear of death, but public speaking a second language in front of hundred of others does not faze Gennady Padalka. What else would you expect from the man who has spent more time than anyone else in space and commanded the ISS four times. He is the right stuff.
Most of the audiences Russian is ‘parshivyy‘ паршивый – lousy, so thankfully, Gennady Padalka is presenting his talk in English with seldom seen videos that help to explain life in space. With his strong Russian accent and my poor hearing, I’ve attempted to capture some of his talk elements below.
Thank you very much for inviting me, my first visit in England. I’m staying here two days and surrounded by people interested in space exploration and live in this country. This is a special occasion as well because in a few days it will be the anniversary of the first launch in space in 1961. I remember the first spacewalk, the first step on the moon. My generation was motivated by these events. I would like to tell you about what we are doing in space now. We have the ISS, 14 countries taking part from european Space Agency, Russia, USA , Canada, Japan and Great Britain. Recently Tim Peake was on ISS, I trained a lot with him but didn’t fly with him.
In my presentation I will tell you how life is arranged in space, launches, landings, EVA, science experiments, meals in space, sports, our planet and at the end will give a fly round of the International Space Station. My last mission was with astronaut Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko who I flew with for 6 months. Right now we can only fly in the Russian Soyuz spacecraft up and down from the ISS. Space X and other companies are expect to test new spacecraft that will increase our reliability and possibilities.
Our Sokol spacesuit, we use only for launch and landing, just to save the crew maybe with fire or depression. We don’t live onboard the ISS with this suit, you cant live 6 months in a spacesuit, we wear just regular garments, tee shirts, shorts, flight suit etc. Two days before the launch we have a rocket rollout event with a rocket on top of an old train to the launchpad. The same launchpad Yuri Gagarin launched nearly 60 years ago. The rocket, about 3 hours before launch, we are suited with ventilation unit. The Sokol suit has rubber inside and gets very hot especially in the summertime. We then report to the state commission and then take to our seats.
The module inside is a very cramped compartment but we’re only using the spacecraft to reach the space station. It takes between 6 hours to 2 days depending on ballistics data. You can see we are harnessed in securely for emergency situations. Last October we had an abort situation and the crew landed pretty fast without orbital insertion. On launch to take off it takes us about 9 minutes, 525 seconds. The rocket on the outside is covered in ice, one component of the rocket fuel is liquid oxygen with a temperature of -180 degrees. This ice will fall off as the rocket launches. Inside, you don’t hear the noise, just feel the shaking. 9 minutes and we’re in space.
The ISS is a small space town, approximately 110 metres with 15 modules, the other truss length about 70 metres. The span of the solar array is about 50 metres. The total pressurised habitable modules volumes is about 900 metres, comparable with 12 buses. A very big station, sometimes working together, we see each other only at the table.
The Soyuz approaches the docking port, very slow speed of about 10 cm per second. After docking we get a little bit of time to equalise pressure and then we can open the hatches and the Soyuz cres can transfer to the station. It’s an exciting event, not only for the station crew but also for the newcomers. it’s easy to tell apart the old crew and the new ones because the new ones all have shorter hair.
There are two types of spacesuits, Russian and American, both are very good, each have advantages and disadvantages as for operation, service, reliability, both are very good. They are very bulky, weigh about 200 kg, the thermal control system is very good because on the shadow side we have -120 degrees celsius and on the sunny side we have +120 degrees celsius but we feel nothing and it’s pretty comfortable inside.
We do have a lot of training on the ground, we use the hydrolab, like in Houston where they have the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory. Why water? Because its the most appropriate environment to imitate weightlessness. In water we can weight out our spacesuit, hardware and then train. We are assisted by divers, have hoses connected to us so we have oxygen and ventilation inside.
The inner blue suit, the so called LCVG, liquid cooled ventilation garment provides a comfortable atmosphere inside the spacesuit and helps us to adjust to a comfortable temperature. This suit has a lot of tubes full of water which provides a comfortable temperature. The American suit consists of three parts and the Russian suit has two parts. The Russian suit (Orlan) has a special door inside. it’s not easy to get inside, it gets tedious but we have no choice.
When we are outside, everything is tethered with specialist hooks, we have to keep track of everything, especially when translating from one worksite to another worksite, and in case of emergencies where we have to grab our wrench very fast. Thanks to very good lights on the helmets, we can work at night as well. We use the robotic arm (SRMS) where we can translate astronauts and some hardware, we also used the handrails. You can see our planet beneath us, a beautiful blue planet. What do we see in space on the sunny side? Nothing, its just like a black wall, black nothingness. On the shadow side, millions of stars.
When we have a six person crew, we always have two Soyuz docked to the space station, using them like a rescue boat in case of emergency like a fire or depressurisation, so we can get in there, depressurise to get rid of the fire or if depressurisation, get our suits on, close the hatches and undock to save the crew.
In space we have a lot of stressful events and we have to train people to be stress resistant, so some try freefall parachute jumping while performing a logical task, a mathematical task or some other task. It can be a real stressful situation and its just to train stress resistance as a kind of preparation.
Physical sport in space. The space environment and weightlessness cause many alterations in the body, bone loss, muscle atrophy etc. To lessen the impact we have to exercise 2.5 hours everyday. We have a treadmill, cycle and a resistance device which looks like across bar or weightlifter. It’s not easy in space but there is a special harness so we can then train our muscles. Our upper body is pretty well trained but our legs are more vulnerable to muscle atrophy. We can then bench press, shoulder press etc. It can be very tedious but we understand that without this we cannot go into space.
There are a lot of science experiments, biology, biotechnology, human research, physical science and alot of education programmes. Ultra sound experiments to check medical examinations and for clinical science. We can also measure our weight in space with a special device that measures the frequency of our oscillations with very high accuracy.
We have biological experiments, greenhouse, they don’t have soil but a special fabric that is used to transport water to the plants. We can grow peas, radish, sunflower etc. All samples of science experiments like blood, urine, saliva and some plants are then deep freezed in our refrigerator to about -90 degrees. For some science experiments we need to protect from the habitable atmosphere and avoid contamination which is why some experiments are done inside an isolated gloved box.
Everybody on the ISS has a personal sleep station, 4 crew quarters in the US segment and 2 in the Russian segment. There is a secure sleeping bag that straps you down, everyone has private sleep station. You still have hygiene procedures, same as on the ground, get up shave, wash, clean hair, cut your hair. Tim Kopra, American Army boy was the best barber in space, cut everybody’s hair and his own. our haircutting machine is connected to our vacuum cleaner hose to remove all the hair from the station atmosphere.
All astronauts and cosmonauts have a sense of humour. I didn’t trust him, this is my hair.
The morning routine usually takes around 15-20 minutes. For the newcomer much longer. Every cosmonaut/astronaut has his blue box, where you select before launch your favourite toothpaste, shaving cream etc. We have no shower or bath but a lot of towels and napkins which you can wet etc. Shaving is very controlled, not so fast, don’t want to spread water drops. You can add some water to your hair, add some shampoo and very slowly have to spread this on our hair. We then have to remove this using towels. All towels must be dried because we are using this water from the atmosphere again. We have a special system for producing water, renewable water, not just water from the atmosphere but even urine as well.
What type of spacecraft do we have? We have cargo spacecraft called Dragon from Space X. We can use the unique robot arm designed by the Canadian space agency we can grab it from one docking port to another. Great combination of our technologies which compliment and supplement each other tremendously and it’s a great contribution from the Canadian space agency. We also have the Russina Progress module, we have ATV, an ESA spacecraft, HTV is a Japanese spacecraft. The Japanese spacecraft has solar arrays deployed around the spacecraft body which increases reliability.
The spacecraft are full of supplies in special containers and we have some days to unload these and transport to the ISS and then load the trash. Spaceflight is not always romantic, not always science experiments or looking through the window at the beautiful view of our planet. There are a lot of routine and tedious jobs, clean the space station, prepare the food etc.
We do have a beautiful view of the planet, lots of great views, a lot of colours, undertones, nature is a great painter creating such masterpieces. The aurora is spectacular, in the southern hemisphere the aurora has green colours, in the northern hemisphere it has a purple colour. Very spectacular especially when you have an EVA and its underneath your legs, it’s beautiful. Sunset and sunrise, we have 16 orbits, takes 30-40 seconds for a sunrise or a sunset. Sometimes we have 2-3 weeks in a so called solar orbit, i’ts a sunny orbit and we have no sunset. Its not a good period of time for the ISS because we have no good possibility to radiate the excess heat from the space station. it depends on the relative position of our orbit and the ecliptic. We fly at an altitude of about 400 km and our planet is not a small ball, its a very big ball. We have to take care of our planet and avoid technological problems.
Towards the end of my mission, we had an official handover ceremony to Scott Kelly, from one commander to another. We take our seats and then after undocking, after about 3 orbits, about 4.5 hours, we are on the ground. we have a deorbit burn, at an an altitude of about 150 km, we have separation, at 10km we have drag chute deployment. After parachute deployment, we are escorted by the rescue team of helicopters and aircraft. We have soft landing jets, so called soft landing jets, there is no soft landing. We have medical check when we land, I don’t say that I feel good , I get motion sickness but it’s tolerable.5 hours after landing, we are then back in Star City.
Thank you very much for your attention, after my presentation I’m sure you are all experts for life in space. If you have questions, I am ready to answer.
Questions from the audience
My question goes back to the days of Space Station Mir, when American astronaut first started visiting, it became apparent they became paid by wage and yet the Russian cosmonauts only got paid for the activities they carried out, so if a spacewalk got cancelled, you didn’t get paid, is that still the situation today?
That was for us as well, we both got paid. The happiest man in space is the cosmonaut because we get to fly in space and on the ground you can’t. As for space tourists, they have to pay.
Did you meet your hero Yuri Gagarin?
I was born in the 60’s, I was not motivated by Yuri Gagarin, I was motivated by an event, like a first launch, first spacewalk, first step on the moon but as for a hero, he was everybody’s hero, at that time I considered myself as a hero because when I was meeting children for example, that my childhood, my life was endless, but really our time is limited and you shouldn’t have a hero. Everybody is born with talent, if you have a hero, you try to imitate his life, but seems to me a waste of time, you don’t live in someone else’s steps. Everybody can be something, a great teacher, nobel prize winner, everybody has talent and different abilities, so have a goal and reach it. I was motivated by events.
You said you have to adapt when you go to space, you have to adapt when you come back to gravity, which of these is more difficult?
More difficult for me from my perspective is adapting to the gravity because, from everybodies perspective, is when flying in space with weightlessness, it can take a few minutes or some days, I had no problem. But when getting gravity again, it was more complicated for me due to muscle atrophy despite the fact that I trained a lot, everyday for 2.5 hours, it was still difficult. But it takes about 2 weeks maximum. We have a rule for how many days spent in space, you have to spend as many days on the ground.
Do you believe in life on other planets and have you ever seen anything that you cannot explain that makes you believe there is life on other planets?
I don’t believe in aliens, I do believe in life maybe somewhere else, exoplanets. Believe me, nobody knocked on the ISS. I did recently speak to astrobiologists who currently have two theories, one that that we do have life on exoplanets. We’ve discovered 4000 exoplanets, measured those with the same stars like our sun, and form this 4000, came to only 700. They then decided to measure distance, so they have the same temperature as us, and from this 700 we have only 300 planets between -20 up to +25. They then selected all the exoplanets with the same inner structure, inner core, outer core, mantle and crust. From this 4000 exoplanets, we got only 15. The closest one is about 100 light years. The other theory is because we have only had 1 big bang, we only have 1 universe, only 1 evolution and only 1 civilisation. Who knows, time will tell. But nobody knocked on the door.
When you were on the ISS, did you all know each others languages or did you only speak one language to each other?
For all partners, only English language. At the beginning of the space station assembly, we had two main partners, Russia and US and right now all astronauts are flying onboard Soyuz spacecraft and our requirement is to study Russian and English, we have flight procedures, one page in Russian, one page in English. On the ISS, only English. When we communicate with MCC (Mission Control Centre), Houston, in English, with Moscow, in Russian. We study each others but English is the main language.
I’ve always wondered about the landing in Soyuz, you have a hard landing on the ground and then gravity. What is that like?
Its not easy to come back when faced with the gravity. From 100-80 kn up, you can feel small gravity which gets bigger and bigger and for me the sensation was as if hundred of kilograms on my chest.
Have you ever been involved in any kind of emergency situation and do you still take a wee on the back wheel of the van as Yuri Gagarin did on his first flight?
It seems to me that spaceflight is an emergency situation. Some tiny issues, every crew is faced with this, but I didn’t have this. We have had in our history emergency situations, fire and depressurisation but right now all partners are very well trained. To separate the fire we have some fire extinguishers, special procedures, a lot of information to memorise and special procedures to isolate modules in case of depressure like if a micrometeorite causes a hole. But we are very well trained, perhaps that is why we have no issue or big problem because we are ready. As for the tyres, yes, that’s our tradition otherwise the rocket will not launch.
How does it feel to be in anti gravity?
Like a bird, flying. Its very good but as I mentioned its very aggressive, its no effort to push and fly.Like a monkey, sometimes we are using our legs just to secure ourselves. But is is very harmful for our bodies, especially for muscles and bone loss. We have to be ready to resolve this problem, especially when we want to go to Mars and beyond, it’s very complicated.
Would you like to have seen Russia continue to develop the Buran spacecraft and are there any plans to replace Soyuz or just keep updating it?
Buran and Space Shuttle are like Father and Son, they are identical. But as for the US side, all their modules and ll our partners modules, they have no service systems, like motion control. They are brought up in space in the payload bay of the Space Shuttle and was in big demand. As for the Russian side, all our modules now, like on this space station, they fly in space themselves because the have jets, engine, motion control systems and no need to use Buran. We created Buran but had no job for Buran. Maybe it was out mistake, who knows. It’s a different approach for US and Russia.
Space Lectures have again attracted top space talent, I’ve always wanted to get a Russian view on space. Meeting Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka has been a blast.
My other astronaut visits:
Meeting astronaut Rick Mastracchio
Meeting Bruce McCandless from the first untethered spacewalk
Meeting the Moonwalker Charlie Duke from Apollo 16
Meeting Tom Cruise’s Middle Finger & Top Gun Shuttle Astronaut Scott Altman
The Twins Paradox – Meeting the twin Astronauts Mark and Scott Kelly
Gemini and Apollo 10 Astronaut Tom Stafford
Apollo 8, Apollo 13 and Gemini Astronaut Jim Lovell
Apollo 7 Astronaut Walt Cunningham
Space Shuttle Astronaut Eileen Collins
Meeting Fred Haise from Apollo 13
Meeting Astronaut Ken Mattingly of Apollo 13 and Apollo 16
Meeting the Moonwalker Alan Bean from Apollo 12
Meeting Apollo, Skylab and Shuttle astronauts at CosmicCon