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"No Special Priveleges Any More..." An Interview with Russian cosmonaut Vladimir Dezhurov

This article was first published in Spaceflight magazine (Vol 41, no. 3, March 1999) and is put here after kind permission of the British Interplanetary Society

By Thanassis Vembos

Dezhurov before a spacewalk (photo: NASA)

Vladimir Nikolayevich Dezhurov, is a typical representative of the next generation of Russian cosmonauts. He belongs to one of the first crews of the International Space Station, among with Mikhail Tourin and Kenneth Bowersox. Back in 1995 he spent three and a half monthes on Mir among with space veterans Gennadiy Strekalov and Norman Thagard. During his stay on Mir he witnessed the first docking of an American shuttle (Atlantis) with the Russian space station. In mid-September 1998, Dezhurov was in Athens, participating in the promotion campaign of the Swiss chronograph Fortis -the official chronograph of the Russian cosmonauts. I met Dezhurov at the headquarters of Lemar SA, the Greek company which officially represents Fortis.

- What was the initial impulse for you to become a cosmonaut?

* It was something new. It was a very interesting profession via which you can be devoted to many different and equally interesting activities. Before that, I was just a military pilot. Today I continue to be an Air Force officer but I am devoted to the preparation of more space flights. I am continuously having new courses on science and scientific research.

- During the launch of your spaceship, Soyuz TM-21, in March 1995, there was a strong wind which caused some problems. What was the nature of these problems?

* There was absolutely no problem concerning the engineering systems of our rocket. I do not know many details, but it seems that the strong wind pushed the flames from the exhaust nozzles and subsequently a fire broke out, on the launch pad. The rocket's flight path was not affected at all.

- Did the American astronaut Thagard had any problems while on Mir?

* I do not believe he had any serious problems. Rather some difficulties; the astronaut felt a little lonely, because he did not had the opportunity to be provided with detailed news about Earth. This was a point that the scientists back on Earth forgot -that is, to inform the American in English. So the language barrier created some kind of psychological isolation. But besides this, there were no other problems.

- What was the most memorable event during your mission?

* The moment that the docking of Atlantis with Mir took place. It was the first time that such an event was taking place and there were many unknown parameters. But, finally, everything went on schedule.

- During the Soviet era, were there any plans about a manned mission to Mars? How close came USSR to achieve this?

* Theoretically, the orbital parameters for such a task had been and are being calculated. But there was no specific programme or specific target or time-schedule. I do not think that there can be an individual country that can commit itself of such an objective -and achieve it by itself. Before man goes to Mars, there must be reconaissance unmanned flights. We know too little to talk seriously about a manned mission to Mars.

- At the late 1960s there was a rumour circulating in the West -that a Soyuz vehicle was being exhibited in some military museum in Beijing. Was it some "lost" Soviet craft recovered by the Chinese?

* This is a rumour I have also heard. But I do not know anything more than that.

- You are a cosmonaut of the "next generation". What are the differences from the "old" cosmonauts?

* The basic difference is that, considering the older generation, there were many more and much bigger difficulties in the missions. On the contrary, today things are more easier. From a psychological point of view, the older cosmonauts' orbital work was more difficult because they confronted with many unknowns. These were the pioneers -they opened the way, they went to undiscovered regions. They did not know what they were going to meet, or even if living and working in space was feasible at all.

- But the cosmonauts used to have special priveleges and had a prominent position in the society. What is happening today?

* We continue to be, in a way, national heroes. The people love and honour us. But we do not have any special priveleges any more.

- During their stays on Mir, cosmonauts have repeatedly advertised several trade marks and products. Was there any special payment, besides their regular wage?

* Concerning the case when a milk trademark was commercially promoted on Mir, not only the cosmonauts did not take any money but we do not know how the money from the advertisment was alloted at all. But usually, when a "space advertisment" takes place, the money goes to the public benefit or to the direction of the space research in general and not to the cosmonauts. The cosmonauts have never been given extra money for the promotions on Mir.

- Is there any special fee for the cosmonauts when there is extravehicular activity?

* All these details are being discussed and set in general. There are no special fees. The whole work that should be done is considered -which is if it is of special difficulty or requires special skills and tasks, how many times you go for an EVA during the mission etc. But all these things are very vague.

- There are rumours that some technicians in Baikonur have in the past managed to "sneak" several items into Progress vehicles, destined to Mir. Is there any truth in these stories of "space smuggling"?

* No, I do not believe that anything like that has taken place. Simply, sometimes unusual items can be sent to Mir with the Progress vehicles, items that the cosmonauts have requested for. For example, if I ask my wife to send me some lollipops, this can be arranged. Practically, there can be no "space smuggling" because, if my wife wants to send me something, this item must be subjected to the standard biological isolation procedure and be examined by the specialists to see if it is of any potential hazard. Mir is a closed biological system and any import of unchecked items might cause problems.

- Next summer Mir will be subjected to catastrophic re-entry. Is there any chance of damage on the surface of the Earth, considered that in 1991, Salyut-7 which was initially planned to re-entry over Pacific Ocean, crashed in South America?

* The case for Mir is completely different. As some officials have announced, Mir will re-entry the atmosphere and be destroyed in a "civilized manner". Even now, there is plenty of fuel left on the station to make it dive with a steep angle in the atmosphere, so there will be no danger.

- To which other cosmonauts are you a good friend?

* I do not have any specific names to tell you. There are times when we go out all together for lunch or dinner, some other times we visit each other's homes, or we go for picnics or excursions. We act as a team.

- Tell us about your family and hobbies.

* I am married to Yelena Valentinovna Suprina and I have two daughters, Anna and Svetlana, born in 1983 and 1987 respectively. My wife is working in the cosmonaut's preparation center. Concerning my hobbies, I like airplanes and cars.

- Do you read science fiction?

* I'd be glad to, but I have no time at all. Unfortunately, my time is not enough to study the technical books and manuals. Maybe, when I'll be retired...

- How did you spend your free-time on Mir?

* There is no free-time on Mir. Only work, work, work...

- Did you have any adaptation problems after your return to Earth?

* I did not have any health problem. Just problems of adaptation to gravity, the usual problems that the human organism faces after a long time of living in free-fall. This adaptation period is lasting about two weeks.

- With which types of aircraft have you flown?

* I started with the L-39 aircraft of the Czech Air Force. After that with Mig-21, in many versions. Later, with Mig-23. I keep on flying with L-39, because this type of aircraft is particularly suitable for space flight training. I have logged 800-900 hours of flight with fighters.

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