WDRB speaks with upcoming International Space Station crew (Expe - WDRB 41 Louisville News

WDRB speaks with upcoming International Space Station crew (Expedition 40/41)

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Reid Wiseman (American)  (Photo credit: NASA) Reid Wiseman (American) (Photo credit: NASA)
Max Suraev (Russian)  (Photo credit: NASA) Max Suraev (Russian) (Photo credit: NASA)
Alexander Gerst (German)  (Photo credit: NASA) Alexander Gerst (German) (Photo credit: NASA)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- On March 18, WDRB News got the opportunity to speak with three men who are preparing for an incredible voyage. On May 28 of this year, Reid Wiseman, Max Suraev and Alexander Gerst are expected to take off aboard a Soyuz space capsule from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Their destination: 370 kilometers up to the International Space Station, where they'll be staying for six months with three additional crew members.

Wiseman, an American, Suraev, a Russian, and Gerst, a German, spoke with WDRB News by phone about their upcoming mission, what it means to the people of Kentuckiana, and the possibility that a certain Snow Fox could someday join the astronaut corps.

Here is some of what they had to say:

WDRB: Thanks for speaking with us! Our meteorologists are really good about letting our viewers in Kentucky and Indiana know about space station sighting opportunities, when they can see it from their back yards. What do you want the people of Kentucky and Indiana to be thinking about when they see the station pass over, during the six months you guys are up there? What does it represent?

REID WISEMAN: So first and foremost, I want them to come outside, and I want them to bring their kids outside, and just look up and watch this thing fly overhead. That's primary. And then, when they see this little tiny star, I want them then to just think in their heads that there are six little humans floating around in there, and they're going 18,000 miles an hour. That, to me, just sparks the imagination of, 'Wow. That's amazing.' We've got Russians. We've got a German. We've got Americans. We'll have a female Russian on the second half of the mission. So if they start to think about that personal side of humans up there...and what are they going through? They're floating. Are they eating right now? Are they having coffee? Is it morning up there or is it night? I think that kind of touches the individual really well.

Then if they make it beyond that point, then start thinking about, 'Alright, in my daily life, if I took gravity and removed it, what would happen to me?' And if they have a scientific mind, they'll start thinking about all the crazy science experiments that they can start to do, when you remove gravity, and see what happens to those science experiments. If they have the capacity to go that far, that would be fantastic. But really just to think about how crazy it is to live 250 miles up traveling this fast and floating around – that's a great start.

MAXIM SURAEV: For me personally, you know, I wanted people, you know, to see, when they can see the space station in the sky – that this is really human laboratory for science experiment. And the people, you know…actually…the people right now who are flying and doing these experiments, they really want to make our lives better. To make our lives healthier. To make humans' bodies living more time and – longer – and to be in good shape as long as we can. We build this to help our human generation…to be stronger, better and happier than we are right now.

ALEXANDER GERST: Well I think what's most amazing to me when I look up there is...on that little dot of light that travels over our heads, somebody lives in there, right? It looks like a satellite or a star that's moving – a shooting star. The difference is that this object was built by us – us humans. More than 100,000 people on 16 different nations built this place, and then there's six guys of us that live there. We sent them out there because we think it's important to have people in space as a first step: explorers who venture out there as a first step to reach our surroundings and the solar system...it's just amazing to think that this is possible, that we've done this, that we've achieved this."

WDRB: Will there be opportunities for you guys to be taking pictures of Kentucky, Indiana – that area? Is that something that you'll be doing?

Well, if you give me some coordinates, I will do my best to take a couple of pictures from the space station. We do have a program up there which allows me to uplink coordinates -- be it a city or a college football stadium -- or whatever points of interest, and they'll pop up on our little laptop, and if we're flying over them, it kind of helps us look in and see what's going on. Obviously, I'm an American. I want to check out our country, but I want to check out the whole world too. And I really look forward to that. So shoot me some coordinates. Send them to us. Alright? We'll try and take them.

ALEXANDER GERST: As a geophysicist, I'm always very interested in seeing those landmarks from above – especially you guys in the U.S. have such great ones that are visible wide out in space, so I'm looking forward to looking at your country from above and taking some pictures and sending them home through Twitter or through NASA and let you guys know that we're watching you from above at the same time that you guys watch us from the ground.

WDRB: What about severe weather? Obviously we see a lot of pictures of typhoons and so forth. Do you guys look at tornadoes and the devastation there? What do you see up there?

I'm a rookie. I haven't flown. But you've obviously seen all this stuff. Seeing the hurricanes from space is incredible. Seeing, probably through a 400 mm lens, looking at the devastation of a tornado path – those are the things that are on the front minds of the people living on the planet...I've talked to my flight directors, and my crew earth observation folks, and if there is any sort of major weather phenomenon going on – especially across the U.S. – they're gonna send me data on it, so I can try to take pictures.

WDRB: Obviously there have been some tensions over the past few weeks between the governments of the U.S. and Russia over what's going on with Crimea and Ukraine. Do foreign policy issues affect the ability of your team to work – obviously I'm sure you guys work together really well – but does that cast a shadow up there, and do you think it's going to have any effect on the ISS program in the future?

It would be naive to say it does not cast a shadow. Wouldn't it be great if every country in the world was friendly? But...even during these kind of trying political times, my Russian commander Max Surayev, you know, he walks in the room this morning, we give each other a hug and he asks how my night went. And you realize that, once you remove politics, people are people. And for the most part, people love other people. And it's fantastic to work with these guys.

If I can just step back and tell just a little funny anecdote – I know we're on a tight timeline – but when we did our qualification simulators over in Russia, it was for the crew of Rick Mastracchio, Koichi Wakata and Mikhail Tyurin, who are up in space right now. Then we also had myself, Max Suraev and Alex Gerst. So, when we walked into the examination room, all of our country's flags were flying outside of this building – Japan, Germany, U.S. and Russia. I stepped back and I talked to the whole crew, and I said, 'Look at this. At one point or another, all of these countries were at war with each other – and now for the most part we're friendly.' So I think the space station is a good vehicle to show that [if] you get past politics, everything works out pretty well, because people are people.

MAXIM SURAEV: I will tell you, not at all. I've just answered this question in the other room. And in my opinion personally…I'm sure that we get this really good result, and we build international space station. And we are still communicating. And we are still working together…to discover some interesting things for whole humans, because we are – in Russia cosmonaut team, and they are here in the U.S. in astronaut team, and in the Europe the same – away from some politicians' questions, or whatever. And it's not going to involve someone from my crew, and it's not going to change our flight or our relations. I believe that it's not for us. We are cosmonauts and astronauts. We are professionals. We are not doing politicians' work.

ALEXANDER GERST: Absolutely not. In training, this is really not an issue. I've known my crewmates -- I'm from Germany, I have an American crewmate, a Russian crewmate – since three years. And we've trained together almost every day. The very first time we met, we spent in a Russian forest at -30 degrees without a tent, without a sleeping bag, for three nights, just surviving with the little bit of equipment that we have in the spacecraft. That brings us all together. You become friends. We are such good friends. Some of the humor – we show each other families, our respective culture...

We have this laboratory, this outpost, up there, that just doesn't fly – like, half the space station doesn't fly, if we bail out. For us, this is way too precious, and I'm pretty sure that every one of our nations knows that. This is way too precious to risk just because of political stress that we have at the time.

WDRB: Spaceflight is inherently risky. Obviously, I think this weekend the space station had to do a maneuver to evade some satellite debris. Do those dangers ever concern you, and how do you kind of set that aside for the six months you're up there?

They definitely concern me. Any big thing worth doing is going to come with risk, but this is the final frontier for me as a human, so I think the risk is well worth it. The other thing is we have a really robust system…so you really learn in your training. I think I was far more scared 2-3 years ago than I am now. I'm actually pretty relaxed now, because I see how the vehicles – both the Soyuz and the space station – how they handle these different emergencies. That's really pretty fascinating. When it comes down to the loss of the crew, the systems are amazingly robust.

MAXIM SURAEV: You know, that we do have on earth, a lot of, like, stations [that keep track of space debris]. And usually, because we cannot track them – I mean debris – we cannot do anything, and we just hope and believe that people who is doing this and tracing all these debris in space and orbit, they're gonna in time let us know what kind of debris and from which site it's coming, and let us do some maneuver to avoid this collision. [He laughs.]

WDRB: It's sort of like the movie "Gravity." Will you be watching that from space?

Well in fact, we've already watched it. I watched it with the crew that is, right now, in orbit. I watched it with Rick Mastracchio and Koichi Wakata and my crewmates. We were in Moscow, actually, for training when the movie came out, and we all watched it together there. So I'm no sure if we have it up there, but if we do, I'm sure we'll see it as a little inspiration out there.

WDRB: Are you looking forward to weightlessness?

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. OH-yeah. OH-yeah. I am really looking forward to be in zero gravity, because it's really fun. It's really interesting. It's really – you know, the less you do more than you can do in our gravity, and yeah. Because it's off-nominal – it's not ordinary for people to be in zero gravity, it's really fun. And I'm really looking forward to be one more time. Yeah.

WDRB: Me personally, I've seen a lot of shuttle launches on broadcast television. I haven't seen that many live Soyuz broadcast launches. Can you tell me what that day is like? I've heard there's a lot of tradition packed into that.

Yes. It's really emotional. Because I've been watching – I don't know – 10, 15 Soyuz launch. You know in Russia, you can stand a little bit closer than in Florida, because I've been watching, three or four times, shuttle launch, too, in Florida, and because you are in Russia…and standing a little bit closer, it might be like, 1 or maybe 1.5 kilometer from the rocket. Actually...you can feel, like, this power inside you…it's really emotional. Especially if you know, like, your friends, you know, right now sitting in this rocket and going somewhere, you know, in space, it's really emotional. But, I don't know. It's not ordinary thing to be in launch part, even if you in Florida during the shuttle launch, or if you in Soyuz launch in Baikonur [Cosmodrome], it's very exciting, and it's very good thing to see at least one time in your life. And maybe be in space one time – it's good too!" [Laughs]

WDRB: We hear about people bringing, packing personal items to the space station. We hear about DVDs, books that they take, team colors – that sort of thing. What personal items are you gonna pack, and what do you pack for a six-month trip like that?

You know, I have not packed yet my personal stuff, but recalling my experience, it might be something really personal, or maybe people who are really close to you – they want some stuff to be in the space. I am talking about some…memorabilia, some souvenirs. But we agree as group not to bring more than one kilo of personal stuff. What can you bring? Maybe some small souvenirs, yeah. Maybe some – I don't know. In my previous flight I brought with me some photos – some letters -- but right now we do have a good communications system and you can get this electronically, whatever you want on them. I don't know. Maybe some souvenirs and gifts. That's it.

ALEXANDER GERST: You know, I've thought about that a lot and it's hard, because everything you need is already up there, like clothes, all the equipment you need for daily life, starting with lotion, to toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss. DVDs are up there. You can get books as eBooks…basically you don't need anything. So what I took in my little piece of luggage that I have – each one gets 1.5 kilograms of stuff that they can bring privately. What I took is like things that remember me of my family, like a necklace from my spouse, for example. We have photos of my whole family out there – things that remind me on earth, of the place that I come from that is going to be serving as an anchor, so to speak, so I don't' forget where I'm actually coming from.

REID WISEMAN: I'm a rookie. I don't know what to pack. So I asked all my friends to help me pack. So I've got some college t-shirts. I've got some trinkets from my friends' kids that – guys that I've known, guys and girls that I've known forever.

But the one that I think is the neatest – it's in the Soyuz, so I don't think that it will relate well to your viewers -- but we call it a "weightless indicator." Ever since the beginning of Soviet spaceflight, the commander has put a little stuffed animal over his seat on a string, so that when you get into the weightless environment of space, this little stuffed animal is floating around. Our commander has already flown, and he has two young children as I do, and so he asked me to ask my kids what do they want to fly. So one of my kids gave me this little stuffed animal of a giraffe, that my mom gave to my oldest and that my oldest gave to my youngest and that my youngest gave to me to be our weightless indicator. So to me, that is the tip of the tip. That is the best.

WDRB: That leads into my next question. I don't think I can top that, but our station has a mascot – the WDRB Snow Fox. He's a stuffed six-inch figure that lets children everywhere know about snow closings far and wide.


WDRB: He wants to be a hood ornament on the ISS, so if maybe you have some fuzzy dice that don't work out or something…


WDRB: …you can stick him in the glove compartment or whatever works.

Well we do have room to get this guy in orbit. My bags are already packed, but I know a couple of people coming down the road, so if there's any way NASA would allow it, I think it would be really cool.

WDRB: I think that's everything. Thank you much for your time. Safe travels up there...and we'll all be watching...when you blast off.

ALEXANDER GERST: Say hi to the people of 'Kentuckiana'...I am very much looking forward to seeing it from above – and I will give you guys a wave if you give me one from down there.

Travis K. Kircher is a Web Producer for WDRB News, and a member of the National Space Society. He can be reached at tkircher@wdrb.com.

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