Invited by the Center for the Training of Cosmonauts in Star City (north of Moscow), I flew to Russia on April 19th for 8 days. I arrived on Sunday (after a 13 hour flight) and was picked up by Frank and the Star City van and driven to the hotel for some food and rest. The hotel was the Olympic Penta which was built for the Moscow Olympics and is north of Red Square near the Olympic Stadiums (now mostly shops and offices). Our first stop was the supermarket which was very well stocked and quite reasonable. Dinner was at the hotel restaurant which was good but a little expensive.
Monday Frank and I met with Diedre Baker (Astronaut Mike Bakerís wife) who directed the two films in the Discovery Museum and who is staying in Moscow for two years with her husband. She helped to arrange a meeting with the Deputy Director of the Association of Cosmonautics Museums in the Moscow region. Nina, the Deputy Director, has been to Houston before as one of the designers of the recent Nassau Bay Russian Space Exhibits.
It was cool and rainy. We ate at a terrific Russian restaurant where I had my first Pomeni (meat dumplings in broth with mushrooms and cheese). We took the Metro (subway) to Red Square which is incredibly large and had a tour of the Kremlin and the Armory (where all of the royal treasures are displayed). The Kremlin is a large fort with the Tsarís palace inside, the military school, the weapons storage buildings and President Yeltsinís offices. There are four cathedrals in cathedral square, each one larger than the former (each can fit inside the other like nesting dolls!). These are topped with the golden spires that Russia is famous for. The frescoes and icons inside were beautiful and we saw the tombs of the Tsars. We then walked down the Old Arbat, a wonderful street full of merchants and artists, folk crafts and antiques. It was there I saw the engravings and watercolors of the city I would later come back for.
On Tuesday the weather improved and the sun came out. I arranged for my trip to the Center for the Training of Cosmonauts for the next day. I was scheduled to meet with the Curator of the Star City Space Museum, Elena Esina for a private tour. With a little free time, I then visited the Pushkin Museum where I saw the collections of Egyptian artifacts, Greek Sculpture, the Rodin sculptures, and many beautiful impressionist paintings. Returning by way of Red Square, I walked through the GUM, a collection of old palatial buildings which have become a very elaborate shopping area. The street between the buildings was covered over with an elegant glass roof to create a walkway between the shops out of the weather. Dinner was with Mike and Diedre Baker at a Georgian Restaurant. Jim Adamson (former astronaut) and several NASA trainers joined Frank and I. We had bread baked with cheese inside of it, tomato and cucumber salad, Georgian mushrooms (with cream and garlic) and Shashlik, the traditional marinated and grilled pork kebab.
Wednesday was my first trip out to Star City. This complex north of Moscow houses over 6,000 people. Trainers and engineers and their families live and work in this town. Everyone is part of the Cosmonaut Training complex. The NASA office is located on one floor of the building called the Profolactarium or the ĎProfyí. William Shepard, the Commander of the first Space Station crew who will live aboard the station (with two cosmonauts) lives and trains there. Several NASA trainers live and work with the other astronauts who are currently training in Russia. Three very nice houses have been built for the astronauts and Trainers to live in with their families, and several NASA personnel live in the Profy as well. Rotating crews from Johnson Space Center cover other management functions as well.
Frankís rooms are very nice in the Profy. He is on a three month rotation schedule as DT Manager for three week stints. He has three rooms and a private bathroom, computer, phone, TV (cable!) and two nice windows. There are other apartments on the same hallway leading down to the NASA office. Across the hall are two more bathrooms with laundry machines and a communal kitchen. The newly built houses for the US astronauts and their families are really nice. Wooden clapboard two story buildings with hardwood floors, lots of windows and modern kitchens and bathrooms.
Three wonderful Russian secretaries run the office and provide the NASA crews with assistance and interface with the people back in Houston. Elena, Natasha and Alla were a great help to me and I brought them traditional gifts of tea and chocolate. When I got there Astronaut Mike Foale had just arrived for a series of meeting and was warmly greeted by the staff. Mike lived aboard the MIR space station for 4 months and survived the crash which destroyed his living quarters. He had lived in Star City for a year of training before his stay on the MIR space station.
I then met Elena, with the curator of the Star City Museum and videotaped portions of the tour. I was also equipped with two cameras, one for slides and one for prints. The museum consisted of two large rooms and two small ones. In the large rooms were items depicting the history of the Russian Space Program beginning with Korolov, the first designer of the Russian spacecraft.
Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space is an important hero of their country and he is featured in the museum in several displays. Gagarin was the director of the Star City Cosmonaut Training facility for several years before his untimely death in a plane crash in his thirties. His space suits and uniforms are on display, as are gifts from other countries to him and artifacts from his career. Valentina Tereschova, the first woman in space is also featured. Elena mentioned that the U.S. is finally going to have a female commander of a spacecraft - but Russia had the very first female commander in Valentina!
Mockups of the first Russian rocket and the Soyez rocket are displayed. Different versions of EVA (spacewalking) suits are on display, as are a Vostok capsule simulator (Yuri Gagarinís spacecraft) and a Soyez capsule. A chronological history of the Russian Space Missions fills the second room; photos and artifacts from each mission fill the glass cases. The Apollo-Soyez mission between the USA and Russia in the 1970ís is nicely featured. The first Russian Space Stations named Salyut, as well as all of the MIR flights are highlighted with crew photos and flown items. Soil from the site where the first casualty of the three cosmonauts (whose Soyez capsule depressurized upon rentry) was on view. Elena described all of the major milestones of the Russian Space program, all of the record-making flights of long duration spaceflight and also pointed out the two additional female cosmonauts who have flown. She noted that a fourth female cosmonaut is scheduled to fly on the International Space Station.
The last two small rooms feature Yuri Gagarinís person artifacts. Photos of his birthplace, his writings, his clothing, belongings and uniform are on display. Soil from the site where his plane crashed is also on view as well as a photo of the site. The last room is his office, intact from his last day. The clock is set at 10:31, the moment when his plane crashed It has become a tradition for crews to meet in the office for a ceremonial drink before their flight. Some Americans who have flown on the Soyez have participated in this event. We then walked out to the large monument of Gagarin that is near the entrance of the facility. In the museum giftshop I bought some MIR patches, Star City t-shirts, and handpainted nesting dolls and decorative eggs with Russian spacecraft on them.
Lunch was held in the cafeteria which had been generously apportioned with traditional Russian foods. Appetizers included smoked salmon and whitefish, salads, olives and stuffed pies with onions or meat. This was followed by Pomeni (dumpling soup) and then with a rouladen type of meat dish with gravy and potatoes. Bottled water and tea rounded out the meal. I took a walk around the large lake by the Profy. The lake is used for ice skating in winter and swimming in the summer. There is also a Polar Bear club of people who swim in the water every day in the winter also! There is a small spa, room with fire where they heat up before taking the icy dip. Hardy Russians!
Back in the Star City NASA office Astronauts Tom Jones, Bill Shepard and Ken Bowersox were discussing the training program and getting ready for some dinner. Later, I traveled back to Moscow in the Star City van with Astronaut Jim Weatherbee who had been in meetings that day. He spoke to us about the crews who are training for the International Space Station in Russia and back in the United States.
Thursday I met with one of the Space Station scientists who had been to Russia over 15 times, Jim Smith. He had the day off and took me on a walking tour of the city. We took the Metro downtown to the Old Arbat shopping area. The Metro is very deep below the city (to be safe in the event of a war), long fast escalators bring you down to the tracks. The stations are very unique, they are high ceilinged and many are decorated with art, sculptures, mosaics and stained glass. Large chandeliers hang from the ceilings. The newer stations are plainer, but the old ones are very palatial and beautiful.
We went into a few antique shops and I bought a few souvenirs. There are many street sellers of amber, hand painted nesting dolls, scarves, fur hats, and military gear. There are also many artists who sell their work. It was there that the scientist I was with told me about this young artist he had purchased some watercolors from. It turned out to be the same work I had admired the other day. Abstract watercolors of different areas of the old city. He purchased one of St. Basilís and I one of the Kremlin (very inexpensive). I also admired some beautiful old world engravings of the city he had. They were done by his father, an artist of the old school. They were exceptional and I bought one of Red Square. But this part of the story has another chapter later!
We traveled to see the rebuilt Christ Church. This beautiful large cathedral had been blown up by Stalin and had been a swimming pool until a few years ago when it was rebuilt in all of itís splendor. We walked across the bridge over the Moscow river and then along the river bank across from the Kremlin and then back over the next bridge into Red Square. Coming in from the backside we had a beautiful view of St. Basilís colorful spires. We saw three weddings in Red Square. For good luck the couples travel to certain areas of the city and drink champagne and have their picture taken. One of the spots is outside of Leninís tomb!
We went inside St. Basilís where it was VERY cold though it was warm and sunny outside. Ivan the terrible had it built and when it was done he asked the architect if he could build another like it. When the man replied yes, Ivan promptly removed his eyes. Inside it is like a maze, spiral stairs up lead into the main hall. A maze of corridors and separate chapels are intertwined together. We got lost several times. The icons and frescoes were very old and many had been restored. We then walked to the Bolshoi Theater which is quite magnificent. The blocks behind the Bolshoi are the theater district, it is a little reminiscent of Paris and Greenwich Village. Curving streets and lots of small theaters. One theater had an old red dot sign across the front.
On Friday I traveled back to Star City for the Simulator tour. This tour was to see all of the Cosmonaut Training Facilities. Our tour guide was a Russian trainer, Sergei Prihodko, who has been to Houston a few times, Elena the secretary was our translator. We started in the Soyez simulators, three cosmonauts were training in one but they let us take pictures and walk around the area anyway. We got to see inside where the instructors were working, it is a small room with very old computers that look just like the old Apollo training simulator consoles (and are that old). The displays showed the inside of the capsule with the cosmonauts as well as technical information. There are two Soyez simulators in the big hall, crew plaques on the walls and in the halls, similar to the hallway before you enter the JSC Astronaut training simulator area. We got to look inside the empty trainer and see how amazingly small it is inside. The cosmonauts have to sit with their knees up into their chests. All of the controls are within arms reach. Luckily they have the larger ascent module above to use when they reach orbit (although it is usually quite full of supplies).
We then went into the very large room that has the MIR simulator. It is all in one line, the Baseblock, Kvant, and Kvant-2 and the Krystal module is separate (and would connect below the floor perpendicular to the rest). It is very long, but quite tiny inside. Smaller than the new ISS, it is small even without all of the stuff that has been brought up to it since it was first launched. We took off our shoes to get inside. 8 people were very crowded inside. We were in the dining area. The table flipped open to reveal storage areas. The kitchen areas folded out from the walls. The exercise bike folded up from the floor. That area then revealed a porthole to the outside for photography. This area is adjacent to the cockpit or control area where all of the piloting takes place. Two seats and many switches make it resemble a cockpit more than anything else. This module was about the same size as a small trailer.
We then went to the Service Module mockup for the International Space Station. In this facility they are also building the other two MIR mockups, the Piroda and the Specktr. The Service Module is still under construction but they allowed us to walk inside (and step over the technicians!). It is almost an exact copy of the MIR Baseblock. They donít really train in the MIR mockups (except for the baseblock) and supposedly it is said that when the crash into the Spektr occurred the cosmonaut commander asked the pilot if he knew anything about it and he replied - ďWell I was at the mock up once. The Russian Segment Training Facility training consoles are very knew SGI computers and were purchased with US money. They were the only state of the art computers I saw in the entire facility. Two large Buran (the Russianís Space Shuttle) simulators are also in this room. Although 4 Buranís were built, only one has ever flown (and that without a crew) - but several crews were trained to fly it.
We then went to the pool where they do the underwater training. The tank is small compared to the new one at JSC, it is about the size of the one at Marshall Space Flight Center. It is undergoing much needed renovation, the new area will hold the American Astronauts for their training. The cosmonauts are launched into the pool by a crane. Various pieces of MIR were in the pool including the damaged module. All scheduled spacewalks or (EVAs) are practiced inside of the tank prior to flight. We were shown a short film about the NBL in English!
We then went to the Centrifuge, our guide was a centrifuge trainer who gave us a fine tour and had a small model of the trainer which can spin in five different axis at once!. This centrifuge is inside a very large round room. It sits on top of a one story base, on the second floor you walk into centrifuge capsule. One or two cosmonauts can fit inside of it. It can get up to 40 gís. At that point the entire building shakes. Women can handle the high g forces better than the men. Usually the cosmonauts inside the Soyez get only up to 8 gís on their trip back (less on the way up) so they only train for that much.
We then were taken to the Planetarium. This is an amazing facility. It is a regular planetarium with a twist. It showed 9,500 stars, which is as many as you can see in orbit in the total darkness of space. In the middle of the room is a spacecraft simulator that represents the Soyez, the MIR and the Buran spacecraft. It is used to train the astronauts to navigate by the stars. If the computer or gyro navigation system is lost, the cosmonauts use the stars to reorient the space craft. They do this by getting a small constellation in the small window and then in another smaller window to the left of the first, they have a cross hair target which they use to get just one star into. This sighting will help orient the spacecraft. The simulator is in three parts, each with the same set up, but with the windows representing each different ship.
We went inside and our guide (a very wonderful animated astronomer) turned out the lights and it was space. He would turn on the engines of each different spacecraft and move the ship (of course only the stars were moving), it was very realistic and we felt as if we were really moving in space (the motors make noise). He showed us the landing and re-entry guides that are used and told us a funny story. Soyuz lands on land with a parachute, the area where they land is very flat and has no water anywhere. Well, one of the cosmonaut commanders was a Navy man, and as they were entering he spotted a very small pond. Somehow he was able to guide the Soyez down into the tiny pond, the only water landing ever made by a Soyez! Afterward we received a wonderful planetarium show, the astronomer taught us many constellations and how to find different ones, including of course, Southern Hemisphere constellations you can also see in space.
We then took the van to Energia, the Russian Space Agency compound. We were given an excellent tour of the Mission Control Center by Bill Reeves the Flight Controller in charge of the NASA portion of the MCC. The NASA offices are on the second floor in the hallway that leads into the MCC viewing area seats above the MCC. The Assistant Director of Energia toured us with a translator into the MCC. It is very 1960ís with mostly old computers, but there were a few PCís there as well. A large model of the MIR is on display at the back of the room. The front display screen is merely a world map with a little light that shows the position of MIR. MIR has made over 69,000 orbits since launch! Portraits of all of the crews to ever fly in space decorate the walls including the American crews. A large revolving Earth globe is also in the viewing area. Outside there is a bar and cafeteria. A large mosaic of Tsiolkovsky, Korolev and Gagarin decorates the main wall.
In the evening Frank and I attended a large NASA party given by the hotel. There were about 100 NASA personnel staying at the hotel for meetings. Giving Speeches were Randy Brinkley, the head of Space Station, General Kevin Chilton (astronaut), the head of Phase 2 Space Station Assembly, and Frank Culbertson (former astronaut) head of Phase 1 Space Station/MIR, and Jim Weatherbee (astronaut), George Abbeyís assistant. Jim introduced Mike Fink, one of the newest set of astronauts who were graduating back in Houston that very day. He gave him a glass of TANG to drink (all at once), liberally laced with vodka. I later danced with Mike. The band was excellent and the food amazing. Fresh mussels, smoked salmon, Georgian mushrooms, breads, cheeses, pates, shaslik and many other delicious dishes were presented, along with a nice bar and a lot of champagne.
Frank and I danced a lot. Afterwards a large group went to the Hungry Duck (Dave Wolfís favorite bar). This is the infamous bar where they dance on the bar and tables and get wild. There was dancing on the bar, I was told. The NASA folks are given very special treatment, I was told it is some experience, but after hearing about the crowds, the smoke, the heat and the spilling beer Frank and I decided weíd skip it. Maybe next time!
Saturday we had breakfast with former astronaut Jim Adamson, a really nice guy. Then we were picked up by an Energia van and the Chief of Training, Sergei Brannikov took us 120 km outside the city to The City Behind the Forest in the hilly country. We visited a beautiful monastery that had become a museum. Many beautiful raiments, icons, jeweled bibles and goblets were on display in the cathedral. One church was entirely icons from the 5th-10th century. They were painted on wood and the main picture was surrounded by small pictures telling the story of the icon and itís miraculous effects. A large museum of art was in another church, very beautiful oils by Russian painters were on display there, 19th and 20th century work for the most part. One church had a collection of masks of famous characters from fairy tales and Russian literature, Sergei told us some of the stories. The monastery had wonderful spires and the weather was perfect.
We then went to the large lake where Peter I (the Great) built his first ships.. There was a museum that showed artifacts from when he lived there and the designs for the very first ships he built, including one of the original ships! After learning how to build seaworthy ships, he trained his soldiers at the art of battle in simulations on the lake. Then he went and built the Russian Navy and was a great success as Navy Commander on the Black Sea. We had lunch off the road at an Armenian outdoor grill. Shaslik was served with Armenian flatbread, lots of dill and Armenian soft cheese. Several vodka toasts were made in support of the friendship between the Russian and American space programs.
In the evening we attended the Russian Circus. Acrobats and dancing bears, trained geese, goats, and dogs, magnificent horse riders, a beautiful hoop dancer, trapeze artists, and wonderful entertained. I had my photo taken with a monkey, it was very old world and lots of fun. There was even an orchestra.
Sunday, my last day, Frank and I went to Izmailova, the flea market. Among 5 acres of stalls, you can barter for nearly every kind of folk craft , art or antique. Beautiful clothing, jewelry, dolls, tiny Faberge, paintings, and icons are for sale. We strolled for several hours purchasing small souvenirs and some jewelry. We ascended to the higher level where the art and antiques are and there among the hundreds of artists I saw some etchings, and of course they were the same as the ones I had seen on the Old Arbat! The artist was the young manís father, and I bought two more! It was certainly fate!
We then spent the afternoon in the Cosmonautics Museum. It is located under a huge monument topped with a rocket (similar to the V2). On each side of this sweeping curved titanium pillar are giant carvings of the pioneers of the Russian Space Program. The museum is under the ground below it. Inside is a large statue of Yuri Gagarin with his arms spread wide and a big sphere of the cosmos behind him, the zodiac constellations are woven into the sphere. On display were the mockups of the Venus and Mars probes, the Lunar probes, the Lunar Rover (unmanned), the Vostok (Gagarinís craft), the Soyez and the first EVA airlock, made out of space suit cloth! A mock up of their Deep Space probe is also on display. There is also a mock up of the first spacecraft that carried dogs into space and a stuffed Laika (first dog in space). Small display cases hold mementos of cosmonauts, medals, books, space food (including tubes of borscht!)
Videos of the history of the Russian Space Program are played, one covers Yuri Gagarin and Vostok, Soyez and MIR, and the Buran Orbiter. The other showed some of the animals sent into space including monkeys and dogs.
Meeting again with Nina, the Deputy Director of the Association of Cosmonautics Museums, she said that should I return later this year she would arrange for tours of the Technology Museum, the Aeronautics Museum, the Planetarium, the Yuri Gagarin birthplace museum and perhaps help me get into the very prestigious Energia Space Museum (that is housed inside the military compound of the Russian Space Agency and almost impossible to get into).
In the evening Frank and I went to the Operetta Theater and saw a wonderfully colorful production of the Circus Princess. Without microphones the orchestra and ensemble projected beautifully, the sets and costumes were breath-taking and it all very turn of the century European. It was three acts with champagne between acts. Afterwards we went to the very fancy Hotel Metropol in Theater Square for dinner. Another terrific band serenaded the terrific Mediterranean meal. I had Ukrainian borscht and a veal and mushroom delicacy. It was a terrific last evening.
The traffic to the airport was fierce and the major highway construction is everywhere. From 800 cars ten years ago to 2 and a half million today, they do need new roads! People drive and park on the sidewalks! In general things seems to be getting better for the people, there are many small shops, flower stalls, fruit and vegetable stands everywhere, hot-dog and beer carts on the street, and of course many MacDonalds! The new Russians (the rich) have beautiful malls now with American and European stores. The churches are all being restored with great care, and the religious fervor is quite apparent. Leninís tomb is now only open a few hours a week and there is no guard.
At the airport, there were 6 check points before getting on the plane
where you had to show your passport!
It was a long flight home but worth it after such a great trip!