“At that time, many changes were taking place on Earth”

Will you stay there for 151 days, and when you return in April 1989, will you immediately start preparing for the second flight?

– Before returning to Earth, we had to turn off the station. We flew home and after recovery, I was assigned to the crew with Anatoly Artsebarsky on the ninth mission in Mir OS.

Was there a woman in the carriage with you?

– During the shift change with the previous crew, it was possible to briefly transfer a guest to the station. This happened to Helen Sharman, an astronaut from the United Kingdom. She prepared with us and started, we worked for a week and then the eighth mission, flying away, took her with her to Earth. I must say that before that, Japanese and French cosmonauts flew in the same scenario, and then other international partners.

Can we say that they were the first space tourists?

– Not. They were astronauts-researchers because for them it was a professional job. And they were representatives of their space services. So they flew not only for the senses, but for the sake of science.

Let’s talk a little more about everyday impressions. When a person is in orbit, does the appetite decrease?

“Only at the beginning due to some physical discomfort. Soon everything will be back to normal, but after a while such a special meal starts to get boring. It is also a canned or completely dehydrated food, which in order to become normal must be diluted with water, giving it a chance to recover. However, fresh food was delivered to our cargo ship: oranges, onions and garlic. The lack of normal earth products is one of the difficulties that must be overcome. But the most important thing is still water, every liter of which is extremely valuable. So, for example, for washing you save grams of water, you only dream of the opportunity to swim in the bath or swim in the pool.

Legend has it that in May 1991 you took the Soviet flag with you on a flight. Is it real or fantasy?

– As usual, this is the truth, overflowing with incredible details. Our program included an interesting experiment – assembling a 15-meter space in space. We proposed raising the Soviet flag on it. Everyone agreed that the idea was good, but nothing happened. Then, already at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, someone was still running for the flag at the local store and we took it in our personal belongings. Finally, we climbed the farm and hoisted a flag on it during a space walk.

You are in space at a time when the structure of the state is changing on Earth, in our country. Did you know what is happening in the Homeland?

– At that time, many changes were taking place on Earth. But we knew the situation. Every day we communicated with the experts of the Mission Control Center and held not only official talks – they also gave us news.

Worried?

– Of course. It was more like that: people on Earth were worried about us, and maybe we were even more worried about them.

However, you planned that at the end of 1991 …

– The next mission had to fly to us, and we were supposed to change. This is already a typical pattern.

But this does not happen …

– Due to technical problems, the next two flights (with the Austrians and Kazakhstan cosmonauts) were combined into one. Flight manager Valery Ryumin suggested I stay on one more mission – it would be easier for everyone. I said I have to evaluate if I have enough strength. Ask how much time there is to make a decision – a day, two? And Valery Ryumin says: “In 3 hours, let’s get back in touch and decide.”

You are in space and you have to make a decision. How do you know if you have enough power or not?

– To some extent, this is an attempt at real self-esteem. After all, I took the risk, it was my responsibility. This situation can be compared to a running distance: as if you were running five kilometers, you have already run three, you think you have less than half left. And then they say, “Now we run not five kilometers, but ten.” Right now, you have to drastically change the pace of your movement …

– And psychologically reorganize …

– Yes, reorganize yourself psychologically and regularly. To reach the end of the distance, at that moment I had to rethink the need to comply with the regime, to start devoting a little more time to recovery, so that I had the strength to reach the finish line.

– And at that time, the European media actively wrote that the Soviet cosmonaut became a prisoner in space.

“It did not go well for us. I received excerpts about this. By the way, some of this information came to me from an Australian amateur radio host thanks to the station radio. During one of the shows, I met an IT teacher from Australia. She and I arranged lessons from space: she gathered the children in her radio room and we answered their questions in broken English. One day he asks her: “Sergei, how are you feeling? We write here in the media that you have become a prisoner and you are so weak that you no longer have the strength to return to Earth. Then I laughed: “You generally live in Australia upside down compared to everyone else, so you have the same news.”

– How did you maintain your physical condition while on the ship?

– During a space flight, it is necessary to participate in a scheduled physical training. For example, in the ISS (International Space Station – Ed.) We have a treadmill, bicycle ergometer, dilators, fitness equipment. There is a system of exercises that allows you to load the muscles so that you stay in good shape. Of course, after the flight, recovery and recovery are still needed, but playing sports allows you to stay in such a physical condition to return safely to Earth.

Thirty years ago, on March 25, 1992, you returned to Earth after a record 311 days on the ISS. Do you remember your first impressions?

– When we landed, I, as befits a flight engineer, was the last to leave the ship. The first sensation is the ability to smell small odors, including snow, earth, grass, and fresh air, which you usually do not pay attention to. And after a long stay in the field of metal and plastic, they become extremely noticeable.

Because of the space suit you landed, you were called the last inhabitant of the USSR.

– There is some truth in that. It was really a space suit with the Soviet flag on the sleeve. It was not only annoying, but also dangerous to tear one flag and sew another at the station – it was easy to damage the hermetic shell.

– Upon landing, you will become the Hero of Russia. By the way, the first Hero of the new country. According to Soviet tradition, they gave the Volga?

– Yes, indeed, such a tradition exists since the departure of Yuri Gagarin. They gave me a car.

You are an honorary citizen of St. Petersburg. How important is this situation to you?

– This title was awarded to pre-revolutionary Russia, then there was a break, in the early 1990s the tradition continued. When I was a candidate, it was unexpected. Eventually, however, I became an honorary citizen of St. Petersburg in the same year as the conductor Valery Gergiev. The situation is important because there are few such people.

Nevertheless, for the last decades you have been a resident of Moscow. Can you visit your city?

Unfortunately, not as often as we would like. But when I come, I always go to the institute, because there are still teachers who taught me. Well, I’m always attracted to the places where I was born and raised – in the Petrogradsky area, where I lived an important part of my life.

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