Space Exploration > Interviews|
Historical Reminiscences of Cosmonaut Georgi Mikhailovich Grechko, Part 1
By Dennis Newkirk and Jim Plaxco
This article originally appeared in the May 1993 issue of Spacewatch.
What follows is part one of an interview with cosmonaut Dr. Georgi Mikhailovich Grechko made on April 7, 1993 by Dennis Newkirk(DN), author of the Almanac of Soviet Manned Space Flight, and Jim Plaxco(JP). Dr. Grechko was gracious enough to skip lunch to answer our questions in between his CSSS sponsored appearances here in the Chicago area.
While here, approximately 1,600 people heard Dr. Grechko speak about his experiences in the Soviet space program. The audiences ranged in size from the 12 students and teachers of the Harper College Honors Astronomy class to a packed 550 seat auditorium at Schaumburg High School.
Dr. Grechko's english is self described as broken English (the international language of scientists) and this flavor has been retained somewhat in this transcription. In addition, some of the more interesting questions and answers from his recent lectures have been appended to this interview.
Dr. Grechko graduated form the Leningrad Institute of Mechanics in 1955. In April 1964, he was among 13 men selected from the Korolev Design Bureau for cosmonaut group. Dr. Grechkp received a Master of Technical Science in 1967. Based on his work in Korolev Design Bureau on lunar probes, he was assigned to train for the Zond circumlunar mission. After cancellation of the circumlunar mission in 1968, all Zond trainees were transferred to the lunar landing mission. After cancellation of the lunar landing missions, all cosmonauts were transferred to either the ASTP, Salyut, or Almaz programs. Grechko was on backup crews for Soyuz 9, 12, and T-11. He flew on the Soyuz 17/Salyut 4, Soyuz 26/Salyut 6, and Soyuz T-14/Salyut 7 missions for a total of 133 days in space. Grechko then became the head of a laboratory at the Soviet Academy of Sciences specializing in high altitude atmospheric physics.
JP - What was your position for your first flight?
Grechko - Flight Engineer. I had scientific tests, I spend all my time, sometimes in the morning I knew I had a very interesting scientific program and decided not to eat all the day, and in the morning I would get a chocolate from the food stores so as to not spend time eating, but in the end of the day I would find the chocolate still in my pocket. Because there are too many new prospects in space, so much is interesting that I don't like eating or sleeping. I like experiments and my duty was engineering, exploring all devices of the station, but my hobby was science, and I was most successful with scientific experiments on board Salyut 6 and the scientific program of our mission to Salyut 7 was made by me and my friends. I was one of the authors of the program. And it means I was engineer, became Flight Engineer and became scientist on board a space station, and then I founded my laboratory to study atmosphere from space. I was the head of this laboratory processing data we obtained from space.
JP - Was the data you obtained on the atmosphere from space very valuable to your studies?
Grechko - I made many experiments about the Earth's surface, ocean surface, medical, biological, and I had many results, but the most successful were my studies of the atmosphere. Then after my first flight I understood and I thought about the efficiency of our space station and with Segdayev he understood that the efficiency of our station was very low and your NASA insists on the same low efficiency of your Freedom station and my thought was, what can I do to have designed to get more scientific results from a flight. First I tried to write that the idea of our station was wrong, the more modules our chiefs thought, and they still think now, the more scientific modules the better but it's wrong. The more scientific modules make the efficiency of the station lower [experiments will interfere with each other, require different orientations, are sensitive to human movements, etc., diminishing the time each experiment can be active]. When I express it for the first time to Glushko and his deputy, Semenov, they punished me, they stripped me into pieces, they ignored me for many years after this. I expressed this idea in 1978 for the first time, that a manned space station is a bad idea. They are getting awards for this kind of space station and even the first cosmonaut on board said that its a bad idea. But all new ideas have three steps, first 'its impossible', next step is 'maybe', and next is 'its obvious'. A free-flyer design is best for efficiency.
JP - How do you define space station efficiency?
Grechko - When I understood my new idea had no support, just like new idea of Feoktistov for single stage vertical takeoff and landing project he had no support also. I asked myself what else I could be and I understood that we had good enough cosmonauts to make experiments, I was maybe number 1, 2, or 3, or maybe 3rd best or 5th best in scientific experiments but number 1 for me was Dzhanibekov not only because he flew 5 times in space but because he was very efficient and modest, very active in space. He was number one for me, maybe I was number 3 or 5, I don't know, but I understood that we had good enough cosmonauts but our data sometimes was not processed. I understood that now the main task was not to have data from space but to process data from space and I understood that for me it was one way to make our space station more efficient from a scientific point of view and founded a new laboratory to process all data that I had from space, but not astrophysics, biological, medical, geophysics, I choose my atmosphere data.
JP - What would your advice be to NASA about the space station Freedom program.
Grechko - I told them 2 or 3 years ago my opinion about free flyers they rejected and didn't appreciate my idea because it was too new for them, because they are bureaucrats, because they had their money for Freedom and nobody would speak up. It was my duty to say to America that you have the wrong idea. Two or 3 years ago when they discussed a redesign to make Freedom a little smaller or bigger and I told them it is not a thing for discussion, to make it bigger or smaller, you should think about new ideas and one example of a new idea is a free flyer, but maybe you will have a new much better idea that my idea of a free flyer but stop this monkey business to repeat our mistake with many scientific modules on the same platform, but they were blind.
JP - One of the arguments for having people on space stations for a long period of time is that it helps us learn a lot about trips to Mars. How do you react to the assertion that Mir was a stepping stone to manned mission to Mars?
Grechko - Mir was really a step to Mars because before flight to Mars, we should fly for about one year about the Earth. Of course it is true.
DN - Perhaps it is best to make a station with scientific modules that can dock periodically for servicing by a crew?
Grechko - When they began to make plans for Mir station it was crazy that after docking they throw away the engine module and I told them its crazy, you should use this modules like free flyers with engines and shouldn't discard the engines after docking [like Kvant 1]. First of all you should use this module in fully automatic mode 24 hours a day for one or two months and only then you should dock the module and discard the engines. You know it is said that in your own country you can not be one who looks ahead for your own country. The US has the same problem.
JP - How are things now in the Russian space program?
Grechko - Space activity was the great advertisement of the USSR, but now the government is bankrupt. We have some money, but not enough. We will cancel the most expensive programs, we will use our unmanned satellites and Mir and we will lease the station to astronauts of other countries and we will use our boosters to launch foreign satellites and we will cooperate with other countries. You know you have a space shuttle, we have a shuttle and maybe soon a smaller shuttle, Germany has Sanger, France Hermes, Great Britain Hotol, it is crazy to have 6 shuttles. We should cooperate and use your shuttle, our boosters, and so on. The best from all countries. But of course you will have trouble from your space industry, they have a very good lobby in your congress, because when I was in the Headquarters of NASA in Washington [a few years ago] and I said your station was too big and the idea was too old. They didn't appreciate my speech. After all, they were big bosses and had their money, but now when I was in Ames [more recently] and I tell them the same thing they appreciate it.
Some audience questions from one of Dr. Grechko's public appearances here.
Q - Were you ever scared during your flights?
Grechko - In two different ways, one is during reentry when I could see out the port hole the heat shield burning away getting thinner and thinner. I knew that it would be okay, but the shield is about 20 cm from my head and it was scary to see even thought I know it will be all right. Another time the parachute did not come out when it should and I thought what to do .... I decided to study the instruments and at least tell mission control what was happening, and then it opened. But really, in a good way, I was at first scared I might not be able to perform my mission and would fail in some way, but after I see that I can do it, it was all right.
Q - How long did it take for you to recover from your 96 day flight?
Grechko - About 2 weeks to be able to function relatively normally, but it was about 3 months before the doctors judged me to be fully recovered. Not okay for flight but okay for normal activities.
Q - Have you proven that flight to Mars or a permanent space station is okay?
Grechko - A colony in space I don't know, but colony on moon or Mars is probably okay for good health. Of course I guess, because no one can answer your question now.
Q - Were there any women involved in the space program?
Grechko - Tereshkova was the first in space but this was a political decision to launch a woman. In that day, we should be number one in everything, the first satellite, first man in space, first woman in space and we joked at the time we should have the first child in space. It was the great years of space race between our countries. But then we heard the Americans plan to have the first space walk for American woman, immediately we launched our Savitskya and she made the first space walk for a woman. My point of view is that of course we should use women in space because there are some professions in which women are much better than men and in this case we should have women. If we need this profession in space and it is a profession in which women are better lets go with them if not then no. There was a joke in our space team when we invited a French cosmonaut to fly on board our space station, the first response was that they would launch a French woman with us in space and we had a meeting and joked and asked each other who will fly in space with a French woman, and I said that I would not and they joked about me that I am afraid of French woman, but I said no, I'm not afraid but I had two good flights with very good results but I told them to fly with a French woman and to make something more beyond the flight program we would be punished, and if not then we will be punished more. But its just a joke. Seriously I hear this year they will launch another woman in space. She is the wife of our chief of mission control Ryumin and we [jokingly] asked him why he wants to launch his wife into space! [She may fly in December 1993 on 18 month mission]