Interview with Oleg Novitsky After His Spaceflight

Oleg Novitsky (Credit: Roscosmos)

MOSCOW (Roscosmos PR) — Two months ago, Oleg Novitsky returned from his third space flight to the ISS. The commander of the Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft shared with the readers of the State Corporation Roscosmos magazine – Russian Space – his impressions of the expedition. It cannot be called boring in any way: three spacewalks, the meeting and integration of the new Science module and, of course, an amazing week and a half spent side by side with the world’s first film crew.

On the rise of energy

– Your third expedition was eventful. In particular, you and Peter Dubrov made three spacewalks. Which one especially remained in the memory and why?

– Perhaps the most memorable are the first and third. The first one is because it was the debut and left the most vivid impressions of the view of the Earth not from the window. It captures the spirit when you realize that now you will go out into an airless space, in which you have never been before. I only watched films about it and listened to the stories of colleagues. But then the thought of work overrides all these emotions. And then you already carry out the tasks as taught. And the third one is remembered because it went on a great rise. We completed all those tasks that remained from the second EVA (extravehicular activity. – Ed.).

“There was less than a week between your second and third spacewalks. It turns out that this time is enough to prepare and recuperate?

– It all depends on the person. In principle, in the second spacewalk, we completed all the tasks, with the exception of a few additional ones, which went, so to speak, to the load. And all the memories from him were still fresh, so I think we had enough time to prepare. You understand how you worked, you start thinking about where you can improve. Again, the specialists who led us from the MCC were satisfied with our work, which means that everything went smoothly for us – we completed the set task.

Living a new module

– During your expedition, the Russian segment of the ISS was replenished with the “Science” module. Did you have a chance to work in it, conduct experiments?

– I took part in the preparation of a new module for work as part of the Russian segment. Peter Dubrov and I performed many unloading operations. Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to work on any scientific program in this module. Hopefully this can be made up later when I return to the station.

– You became the first occupant of the cabin in “Science”. What are your impressions? Is it as comfortable in it as in the commander’s?

– The module is new, clean. It is fresh and cool, which I really liked. The cabin in “Science” is quite spacious, even, it seems, is slightly larger in volume than in the service module (“Zvezda” – Ed.). It would, of course, be great if there were a porthole with a view of the Earth, as in our other cabins. At the design stage, we asked to make a porthole in the Nauka cabin. And they did it, but for some reason on the door in the volume of the station. So here you have to admire not the Earth, but the floor of the module.

Oleg Novitsky during a spacewalk. (Credit; Roscosmos)

– In your opinion, how many people, taking into account the volume of “Science”, can simultaneously be and work in the Russian segment of the ISS in a comfortable mode?

– It depends on how the space will be organized. At the moment, almost all work is carried out in the Zvezda module. And there can be a maximum of two comfortably. The three of us are already hard. If scientific activities are divided into different modules, then more people will be able to simultaneously work in the Russian segment. And if we talk about comfortable accommodation, then we have only three cabins on the Russian segment.

– Your third space expedition was rich in various events, including emergency situations. Either the Nauka module suddenly turned on the engines without permission, turning the ISS, or the Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft had to be docked manually, then there was smoke in the Zvezda module … How did you manage?

– These were relatively calculated contingencies. The loss of orientation of the station when the Nauka engines were turned on did not lead to anything terrible. We practiced these actions both in Houston and in the CPC, so everyone worked harmoniously, according to the onboard documentation, when interacting with Earth.

Re-docking a ship from one module to another is always done manually. The only thing that made it different in our case was that for the first time we docked the ship to the new module “Science” and that Peter had to go to the utility compartment and take photographs of the station from the outside. We’ve also dealt with the smoke. In general, our level of training allowed us to get out of all situations with dignity.

mission Possible

– In this flight, in addition to your direct duties, you also had a chance to try yourself as an actor. What can you say about filming a film with the tentative title “Challenge”? How similar is your movie character to you?

– Filming is not mine at all. We just became hostages of those circumstances (smiles) that the Challenge project fell on our expedition. But we tried to work out as much as possible, as requested by the guys who directly shot the movie. By the way, both Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov also took part. Yulia Peresild, of course, was easier – she is a professional. It was a little difficult for us. But we tried to fulfill all their instructions with Klim [Shipenko]. As for the character – I would not compare myself with this hero. It seems to me that we are different.

– At the post-flight press conference, you noted that your skepticism about the stay of the actress and director on board has changed. What influenced your change of mood?

– They were very well prepared, apart from some nuances that cannot be reproduced on Earth. Take the same weightlessness. In the Cosmonaut Training Center, you calmly stand on the floor of the simulator and prepare your own food, not thinking about what you can catch on to. In zero gravity, other conditions. And we just showed them some of our tricks that make it much easier to cope with everyday troubles for beginners, such as cooking or washing. And so they are great. We started filming the very next day. Although not even all astronauts can fully work immediately after arrival.

– Oleg Viktorovich, how would you assess the results of this short film mission?

– The project is still ongoing, and it’s a long way to go. But in any case: if in this way it is possible to draw attention to manned astronautics, to the work of astronauts, it will be very good.

– You returned to Earth not with your crewmates Peter Dubrov and Mark Vande Hai, but with actress Yulia Peresild and director Klim Shipenko. How was the landing? Did the movie crew help you or was it unnecessary?

– I would say that on my return I had not a movie, but a real crew, since we were performing not a movie, but a real descent. And the guys helped me to the best of their preparation. The commander cannot reach some of the ship’s controls purely physically, so their participation was simply necessary. And they coped with their task perfectly.

Birthday in zero gravity

– You celebrated your 50th brithday in orbit. What surprises have your international crewmates prepared for you? What gifts, congratulations did you like the most?

– It’s hard to make any special surprises at the station. But all the guys did their best. For example, our foreign colleagues flew into the Russian segment at night, decorated the service module with balloons, the words “Happy Birthday”, the number “50”. Julia [Peresild] and Peter printed out a lot of my photographs with wishes and hung them everywhere. It was very pleasant: you open some kind of panel – and there a familiar face looks at you again and kind words are written (laughs).

The Americans, led by Mark Vande Hai, printed a small book with all my achievements: how long I was in flight, with whom and when I flew. It was very interesting and pleasant. Well, in the evening a festive dinner took place. Due to the fact that there was no Progress for a long time, we, unfortunately, did not store anything special – there were regular food sets. Partners helped out. Their “trucks” run more often. They brought desserts and treated them to ice cream. Apparently, the guys saved money on themselves to organize this festive table. Many thanks to them for this!

– Were there any congratulations from Earth?

– Of course, there were video congratulations. Anton Shkaplerov brought me a letter and a postcard from my family with wishes, as well as a large balloon, on which was written “To the best dad.” And after returning to Earth, there were more surprises. Celebrated my anniversary in the home circle.

– You took with you as an indicator of weightlessness the kitten Gava, which was chosen by your youngest daughter. Has the kitten reunited with its puppy friend Sharik? Does Ritochka play with these toys or are they now the family’s talismans?

– As Rita and I agreed, during each family video conference from the ISS, the kitten and the puppy had their own mini-meeting. And, naturally, these characters met on Earth. At first, Rita played with them. Now they just stand on the fireplace, but together. Their further fate will be determined later.

About flying Dragon

– Now the issue of cross flights is being actively discussed: the Americans – on the Soyuz, the Russians – on the Dragons. Do you think this will be helpful? And would you like to fly on an American ship yourself?

– Of course, I would like to fly a Dragon to see the technical solutions of partners, their capabilities. And the cross exchange of the crew in any case must be present. This strengthens the team spirit. You can’t just focus on the development of your industry – you need to try to bring something interesting, useful and partner side.

Svetlana Nosenkova, Russian space