Space, the Final Frontier: Becoming a Cosmonaut in Russia
What’s it like to fly into space? Luckily rookie astronaut Reid Wiseman arrived at the International Space Station two weeks ago and has since taken to Twitter to describe all the fun and foibles of life in zero gravity. (The toilets, man… the toilets!)
But getting up there is another story — and Yahoo Travel has the behind-the-scenes scoop. Photojournalist Christopher Michel shadowed the Russian-led Expedition 40, on which NASA’s Wiseman was hitching a ride, prior to its launch.
Here’s a peek at being a cosmonaut, one of the “Sailors of the Universe.”
“TMA-13M Moves into Vertical Launch Position”
At 0607 UTC on April 12th, 1961 Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin shouts “POYEKHALI!” (Let’s go!) as his Vostok 1 rocket lifts off from the super-secret Baikonur launch complex in a remote steppe of central Kazakhstan. 53 years later, I find myself standing on that very same platform as the TMA-13M Soyuz Rocket is hydraulically lifted into the vertical launch position for it’s scheduled launch two days later. This is Expedition 40.
First launched in 1966, Russia’s Soyuz program’s “low-tech” approach may surprise some but it simply works. Today, with the end of NASA’s space shuttle program in 2011, America now looks to our space-age rivals to get our boys into space. It’s the longest running, most successful space franchise in the world, and Russia takes it very, very seriously.
“Open the Pod Bay Doors, Hal.”
In Star City, a.k.a. Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center (GCTC), about an hour outside Moscow, cosmonauts practice extra-vehicular activity (EVA) in the Hydrolab Neutral Buoyancy Trainer.
During the Soviet era, Star City was known as Closed Military Townlet No. 1. and retains the feel of a 1960s military base today: lots of family housing, a memorial to a cosmonaut or scientist on every corner, and a collection of large training buildings. Overgrown wildflowers along endless roads and plants overtaking abandoned high-rise buildings add a tinge of the eerie. Book a tour to see for yourself.
“As Close As I’m Going to Come to Weightlessness”