Interview with astronaut Alexander Laveikin about space cinema, overloads of 20 units and soft landing

    On the eve of Cosmonautics Day, we want to share with you an interview with cosmonaut Alexander Laveikin. He made a space flight in 1987, worked for six months at the Mir orbital station as a flight engineer. He performed three spacewalks with a total duration of 8 hours 48 minutes.

    Honestly, the material is not new - Alexander Laveikin gave a lecture and answered questions from the participants of the ASCON Partner Conference in 2016. But after reading the answers, we realized that his impressions of the flight did not lose their relevance.

    So, about the work of astronauts, modern science fiction films and Americans on the moon tells the USSR Pilot-Cosmonaut, Hero of the Soviet Union Alexander Laveikin.

    Photo: TASS

    When will ordinary people be able to fly into space as tourists and look at the stars?

    When they start to earn $ 30 million. Now a private American company offers cheaper suborbital flights. But the times when a “ticket” to space will cost like a trip by tram will not come very soon.

    What can you compare physical overload at startup and landing?

    During the start, the maximum overload reaches three units, and it is different during the first, second and third stages. During the work of the first stage, it is very small, since the exit process is quite long. When you work the second stage, you feel the vibration, it seems that you are riding a cart along the cobblestone. This is due to the fact that the control system is located at the top of the rocket, and the executive bodies are at the bottom, and while the signal comes from gyroscopes to steering machines, there is a slight delay, hence the vibration. The third step is one or two units, there is nothing to worry about.

    Now about landing. If the landing is standard, the descent to the landing landfill passes along a controlled gentle trajectory, then the maximum overload at the braking section in dense layers reaches five units. But considering that a person has been in space for six months (and some of our guys have been more than a year), then it is perceived, of course, hard. The first “meeting” with weight after six months in zero gravity, and even with overload, is perceived as 7-8 units.

    The brightest overload is the so-called soft landing. This is a very tangible blow to the ground, in spite of the fact that the soft landing engines and the shock absorbers of the Kazbek chairs are triggered. Therefore, soft landing is called "hard hit on a soft spot." 5 seconds before touching the ground, the Landing warning lights up. At this moment, all astronauts should tighten their muscles and stop talking, grit their teeth so as not to bite off their tongue. Blow, splashes from the eyes - and you are on Earth! This is a full-time landing. If there is a fall, ballistic descent - and we have recently, unfortunately, become more frequent due to a failure of the descent control unit - then the overload can reach shortly up to 20 units. Our guys have already experienced these overloads.

    View of the Earth from the ISS. Expedition ISS 32/33
    Photo: Roscosmos

    What do you usually feel in the first minutes after landing?

    Feeling so-so. There are exercise machines at the station. A running track to which we fasten with shock absorbers and run for an hour. A bicycle ergometer that you twist for half an hour and half an hour with your hands. All this two hours a day, daily! So when the astronaut descends the ladder, it is immediately clear whether he has offloaded or not. If he goes whistling, then he trained every day. If they lead by arms, the head dangles, so it missed. When the astronauts arrive from the ISS, they are immediately brought to Star City - for rehabilitation at the dispensary.

    Expedition ISS 34/35. Roman Romanenko Classes on the weight trainer.
    Photo: Roscosmos

    And a contingency can also occur: depressurization, fire, and such that you have to leave the station. You can find yourself in an inaccessible area where no one will help. In 2003, our cosmonaut Nikolai Budarin and two Americans, returning after a long flight to Earth, had a descent control unit failure, overload reached 20 units. Upon landing, they deviated from the planned landing area for 500 km. They were searched for a long time, could not be found (after which mobile crews were given out to all crews). Only thanks to hard training, Nikolai Budarin was able to get out of the ship himself, helped the Americans, who felt bad, organized a rescue, and set up a radio station. After 4-5 hours, the plane found them.

    Yuri Romanenko and I did a lot, so only the first half hour after landing felt unwell, all sorts of vestibular disorders. But by the evening I walked with my own feet, swimming in the pool. Objectively, weightlessness causes serious damage to our cells, they change their structure in a long flight. After the flight, the cells should return to their normal shape - and this lasts about the same as the flight itself.

    It is believed that the Americans were not on the moon. And what do you think?

    There is no doubt that the Americans were on the moon. A radio telescope was installed specifically for their flight in Yevpatoria, and we received the same telemetry as they did. All their inhibitory impulses, all negotiations and movements we observed. And not only we - Brazil, Australia, too. This objective information, it is stored, it can be verified. We talked a lot with the astronauts who visited there. We often meet with them. What did the Americans "burn" for? Photo and film materials, especially after the first flight, were not of very good quality. And they decided for the beauty of the moment to finish something in the hangar ... And they got caught. From here the rumor went that the Americans were not on the moon.

    How are the shares of civilian and military load distributed in the work of an astronaut in orbit?

    There is no military load on the International Space Station. As for unmanned flights, there are approximately 50/50. The main component is the military, both with our satellites and with the US. In stationary orbit, there are both low-altitude and high-altitude satellites. They carry out their task clearly. Civil space is television satellites, repeaters, navigation GPS and GLONASS.

    How do you feel about modern science fiction films about space?

    Do you mean Gravity? Films are very beautiful, the actors are beautiful. But from a technical point of view - this is all complete nonsense, designed for people who are not at all versed in technology. Although today, sometimes an ordinary smartphone can be at the level of the control panel of a spaceship. I recommend watching the wonderful Apollo 13 movie starring Tom Hanks. We believe that this is an unsurpassed film about space flights. Why did he get this? Firstly, because it is based on real events that occurred with the ship. Secondly, NASA experts took part in the filming. The film is true, beautiful, interesting.

    film Apollo 13, 1995.

    There is another film - Armageddon with Bruce Willis. It is, of course, funny, peculiar, but it clearly shows the problem that our planet can expect in the future. Earth again enters the asteroid field, collisions with asteroids are possible. If an average size (100 square meters is enough) moves towards the Earth, then damage to our civilization is possible, and then such an expedition to the surface of the asteroid is not ruled out. The Americans have already launched an asteroid flight training program. First, a training landing, and then, if necessary, and combat. The principle is the same: either destroy the asteroid with a nuclear charge, or change the direction of its movement.

    What do working days in orbit consist of?

    In the evening we receive a radiogram in which the entire program is painted the next day, what experiments need to be done. You need to prepare for them, find the right devices. Since there are a lot of cargo ships, we put everything in bags, sign with a pen what is in them. Bags are hung throughout the station.

    On television they show that everything is beautiful, everything is in order, the guys in suits are making a report. In fact, behind the camera there are continuous bags and boxes. The crews spend the entire flight in shorts and T-shirts, as the station is very hot. Suits are worn before shooting, then quickly removed. To prepare for the next day in the 20th form, you need to find all the appliances. It happened that we spent the whole night looking for one device so as not to disrupt the program the next day.

    And the program is like that. In the morning, Moscow time at 8 o’clock, hygiene procedures, breakfast, two hours of work, then training - one on a bicycle ergometer, the second on a track. After we put ourselves in order (we didn’t have a shower, we wiped ourselves with wet towels). Then lunch, work again, evening training, dinner and free time. We either looked for what was needed the next day, or did nothing.

    Cosmonauts Alexander Alexandrov, Yuri Romanenko, Alexander Laveikin and Mohammed Faris with styling for biological experiments aboard the Mir orbital complex
    Photo: Cosmonautics Museum

    Do nothing - just the worst condition in a long flight, immediately causes depression. A person is in a confined space for a long time, and even together. Despite the fact that psychologists prepare us for the flight, select crew members, we have to get used to each other in flight.

    Victor Astafyev in the story “Tsar-fish” writes that when hunter-hunters went to the taiga for a year to get sables, then three people left. It ended with a fight and stabbing. Then two people left - again the same thing. Then they thought of going into the taiga with a dog, because they had a wonderful relationship with her. We had no dogs. And no matter how difficult it was, I had to execute the program. Yura Romanenko and I are one of the few who remained friends after the flight because we learned how to behave properly.

    Even more difficult time is a weekend in flight, because there is little work. All the films were reviewed, there were books, a guitar. Yura learned to play it and composed songs. In the songs, he managed to convey the psychological state of the astronaut in a long space flight, which could not be done in any scientific medical work. By the way, we had a lot of music. You work, and the music always sounds. Vysotsky in space does not go because of his hard songs. And Vizbor is normal. About tents, kayaks, love - about what is not in space. This is always a pleasure to listen to.

    The crew of the Soyuz TM-2 spacecraft: flight engineer Alexander Laveikin and ship commander Yuri Romanenko

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