Hero of Russia Cosmonaut Sergei Avdeyev, the 74th man in space, has logged a total of 747 days in orbit. This is a record that no other person has achieved in space. It was only by pure chance that Avdeyev joined the Soviet space program. In 1979, he graduated from the National Research Nuclear University MEPhI with a degree in Experimental Nuclear Physics.
As a student, Avdeyev was involved in many space projects. Later on, he joined a design bureau that had been set up by Sergei Korolyov, the father of the Soviet space program. Needless to say, his expert knowledge could also be used in orbit.
In this interview, Social Navigator Project correspondent Anna Kurskaya is asking Avdeyev about essential skills and aptitudes of future cosmonauts, long-term space exploration trends and why various flat-Earth myths are being revived.
Sputnik: Mr. Avdeyev, what skills and aptitudes must prospective cosmonauts possess today, over 50 years after the first manned space mission?
Sergei Avdeyev: I cannot say that the list has changed greatly. As before, cosmonauts must be healthy. Height restrictions have become less stringent, but tall people's chances remain slim.
Unlike space tourists, professionals have to meet extremely tough standards in terms of their special-training levels.
Of course, we read various instruction manuals and other documents, while operating equipment, spacecraft and orbital stations. If something malfunctions, we read the appropriate instructions on the so-called "standby" operating modes, and we find a way to deal with any specific emergency that may occur. In the worst case, if we have a major breakdown and there is no other way out, we stop using computers and take up slide rules instead.
In effect, we must be able to cope with any difficult situation that may arise and survive, even if our spacecraft veers off course and lands in the wrong place.
Sputnik: Does this mean that cosmonauts must follow preset algorithms in any situation?
Sergei Avdeyev: On the one hand, we have algorithms for all situations. But, on the other hand, our American colleagues asked us during preparations for a joint mission aboard an orbital station what should be done if any scenario proves impractical, and if any bits of equipment fail. Russian experts smiled and replied that, in this case, they would lay all documents aside, scratch the backs of their heads and think how to rectify the situation.
Despite the long history of manned space missions, cosmonauts still have to think creatively. It appears that no disasters have been posted for about ten years now. Nevertheless, professionals must be able to think clearly and soberly as well as to be able to solve unconventional problems.
Sputnik: Students and early-career scientists from major Russian universities are taking part in space projects. Universities, parties to the Russian Academic Excellence Project 5-100, are also actively involved in this work. Do you think that their involvement in the space program is promising?
Sergei Avdeyev: In the 1990s, when I worked aboard the orbital station Mir, the best Russian universities were involved in research projects being fulfilled by us aboard Mir.
Although I have retired, I continue to cooperate with various universities implementing space exploration projects. For example, Samara State University, involved in the Russian Academic Excellence Project 5-100, continues to develop microsatellites. The university hosts thematic working conferences and schools for undergraduate and postgraduate students and early-career scientists from many countries. They come to Samara and exchange experience.
The involvement of universities in such projects benefits space research and students who, apart from lectures and laboratory projects, get involved in specific science and technical projects.
Sputnik: Supporters of the flat-Earth theory and other anti-scientific concepts are becoming popular online once again. How can you explain this? Does this show fatigue caused by the never-ending race towards progress?
Sergei Avdeyev: Yes, this is a real paradox. Sophisticated technology and household electronic devices are becoming more affordable. At the same time, our mentality is becoming even more primitive than the medieval world outlook. At that time, scientists who did not know what we know today tried to claim that Planet Earth revolved around the Sun, despite the threats to be burnt at the stake.
It appears that people are fed up with the abundance of technology today, and they want to hide from it and live in their own easy-to-understand little world resembling a medieval haven.
As I see it, this is a real problem. Perhaps, this amounts to inertia from the 1960s when the Space Age began. At that time, many aspects of the human civilization's development were linked with the creation of new equipment, technology, rockets and engines, new achievements in orbit as well as expeditions to the Moon. Since then, people have been treating the space program as a competition, of sorts, when someone gets first, second or third place. This race overshadows issues linked with humans.
As I see it, an entirely new stage of humankind's development has commenced today. Various ambitious projects, including the International Space Station, are coming to the fore. ISS crews are pooling their efforts and achieving some common goal that brings them together.
Sputnik: What can you say about future space projects?
Sergei Avdeyev: To my mind, they don't necessarily have to be linked with equipment and technology. Quite possibly, we should not focus on various types of rockets or engine power. When we speak about the more remote fields of our Universe or the Solar System, to say the least, then we can see that future manned space missions are determined by our knowledge of human beings and society, rather than by equipment and technology.
We need to understand when and how biological objects will be unable to exist in space, the way they exist here on Earth.
Let's find out how a group of people behaves inside an isolated facility, and what its members feel like. What are their interests? What motivates them? How do they maintain their safety, and what do they strive for? Such humanitarian research is now underway. But, in my opinion, these projects should become broader and deeper, and all space industry experts should focus on them, if we want to fly longer-distance missions than we do today.
The views and opinions expressed by Sergei Avdeyev are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.