Kornienko served as a flight engineer on the International Space Station during Expedition 23/24 and was selected along with Scott Kelly for a year-long mission aboard the ISS.
Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko recently visited Mumbai to deliver a lecture at the Rosatom Festival of Science and Culture. Kornienko served as a flight engineer on the International Space Station during Expedition 23/24 and was selected along with Scott Kelly for a year-long mission aboard the ISS. In an interview, Kornienko describes his experiences in space, his longings for the sounds of nature and the indescribable feeling that an astronaut goes through in the moments before the lift-off. Here are the edited excerpts of the conversation.
How do you feel moments before the countdown begins for the lift-off?
We board the ship two hours before the launch. We are usually busy checking the systems for most part of that time. Half an hour is the only time we get as free time. That is when the emotions kick-in. Definitely, we are nervous! I am sure everyone will be nervous when there is 400 tonnes of fuel below you. But, as soon as the launch happens, these emotions evaporate and the work begins.
You have reportedly said that you were dreaming about trees while in space. Would you tell us about the experience?
I was dreaming about land and everything that is connected to the land. For me it is about Russian nature, Russian forest and Russian trees. I will give you an example. I had requested my psychologist to send me the sounds of rain, thunder and waterfall while I was in space. Therare sounds that represent mornings—the chirping of birds and other creatures. This is what I actually like. For the first time, when the sounds of thunder were sent to me, my American colleague Scott Kelly came running asking me what is was. I told him those were sounds of thunder and rain that I received from my psychologist. Scott immediately asked me whether he could also record the sounds.
You spent almost an year in space. What impact did it have on your mind and body?
Everyone has the same feeling after coming from space—we lose calcium and hence have pain in the back and knees. It takes time to come back to normal life.
Does it have any impact on the heart and muscles?
I didn’t have any problem with the heart. The calcium loss was the main problem.
If the lift-off is dangerous, so is re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere. What was your experience the first time you went through this?
Yes, landing is more dangerous. There are different stages of landing which, altogether, take five hours. The most complex and challenging task is when you turn on the engines and enter the atmosphere. If the engines work for two seconds more or two seconds less compared to what was scheduled, it would mean you would be landing eight kilometre away from the point of your scheduled landing. This process is automated but there is always a chance that some corrections need to be done. So, we follow the turning on and off of the engines by the second. The second important stage is when different modules detach themselves into three parts before entering the earth’s atmosphere. Sometimes, this division does not happen properly. This is also very challenging. When we enter the atmosphere, the
temperature reaches 2000 degree celsius. Even the parachute opening puts a huge load on the body. The landing is also not a soft one.