On March 7th, the 80th anniversary was celebrated by a pilot-cosmonaut, twice Hero of the Soviet Union, president of Moscow State University of Geodesy and Cartography, member of the Academic Council of the Russian Geographical Society, Doctor of Technical Sciences, Viktor Savinykh. In an interview with the Russian Geographical Society Viktor Savinykh spoke about the long journey into cosmonautics, the most difficult space flight in Russian history, and “life” on other planets.
- Viktor Petrovich, tell us about your childhood, youth. What did you dream of becoming?
- I was born on March 7th, 1940 in the village of Berezkino, Kirov Region. It was a remote village, however, there was a railway nearby, so from childhood I knew what steam locomotives were. My parents were simple peasants. We lived poorly, because the 40s were very difficult, hungry. The school building was wooden, there was no electricity, the stove was used for heat. My favorite subject had always been geography. I loved reading travel books - sometimes I would come across them in the library. I wanted to see the world, because I had not seen anything beyond my village. I also liked history, mathematics, physics. I graduated from school with good grades, but I wasn’t evaluated on foreign language, because the school did not teach languages. So when I went to enter the Perm State University at the Faculty of Geography, of course, I was not accepted. Without knowing a language, I had to go to the Perm College of Railway Transport. After the technical school, I was drafted into the army, assigned to the railway troops. I built a road in the very north of the Urals, in deep taiga and permafrost - it was also “geography”. Then I began to prepare for admission again. I chose Moscow State University of Geodesy and Cartography, since I was already familiar with geodesy, understood something in maps. In 1963 I was accepted there.
- When in 1961 you learned that the first man flew into space, did you think that you too could become an cosmonaut?
- I heard about the flight of Yuri Gagarin when I served in the army, in Sverdlovsk. Early in the morning we were woken up by the command “Combat Alarm!”. We jumped out of the barracks into the corridor, grabbed a weapon, and soon the speaker announced in Levitan's voice that an important TASS message would be transmitted. Then we heard that Yuri Alekseevich Gagarin flew into space. Everyone was very happy! I was not going to become an astronaut at that time. I thought that in the future only military pilots would fly into space, and I couldn’t become a pilot anymore. But when I entered Moscow University of Geodesy and Cartography, at the Faculty of Optics and Mechanics, I thought that scientists could fly into space. And since I was engaged in the creation of optical devices, and had good grades, I was accepted into the Central Design Bureau of Experimental Machinebuilding (ed. - Since 1974, RSC Energia). I prepared instruments, went to give lectures to cosmonauts in Zvyozdny gorodok. Sergei Korolev had a rule that each engineer can apply for admission to the cosmonaut corps. So I did, went through a medical commission and in 1978 I was enrolled in the crew. In 1981, I flew into space as a flight engineer for the “Soyuz T-4” spacecraft and the Fifth main expedition to the ‘Salyut-6’ station. At the same time, I wasn’t a pilot; I’m the only cosmonaut of the Soviet Union, and of the world, probably, who has never parachuted.
- What qualities, in your opinion, should a cosmonaut have?
- It is important to be stress resistant. The medical commission employs psychologists who select just such people. Of course, nothing human is alien to cosmonauts. Some kind of accident at the station may infuriate, something during the spacewalk. You also need to be able to work in a team. People with mutual understanding are usually selected for the flight. Dzhanibekov and I understood each other perfectly.
- What emotions did you experience during your first spacewalk?
- Spacewalks are breathtaking! I saw the Italian "boot" right under me. The whole geography, which I dealt with so much on Earth.
- One of the most outstanding events in your work was the docking with the uncontrolled “Salyut-7” station. Were you scared to do what no one had done before you, and how did you prepare for this operation?
- We had been preparing for this operation for three months. We understood that this was an unusual phenomenon: the station was dead, it could not be turned for docking. We developed a new way to approach the station using additional equipment. We worked, trained, so that we were ready to start. Of course, it was not easy. For example, when we managed to “revive” the station and it thawed, water appeared everywhere. Each person exhales about 800 milliliters of water per day through air fumes from the mouth and through pores on the skin, and quite a lot of this water had accumulated. It was the most difficult moment in my life, probably. We went to bed, realizing that at any moment a short circuit could occur - water could get into contacts, a fire could start.
Rescue Expedition to the "Salyut-7" Station
On February 11th, 1985, after a six-month absence of people at the “Salyut-7” station, the contact with it was lost. It was decided to try to save it. On June 6th, 1985, an expedition was sent to the station on the “Soyuz T-13” spacecraft, with a crew consisting of Vladimir Dzhanibekov and Viktor Savinykh. On June 8th, cosmonauts in manual mode successfully docked with the station. After several days of operation, a malfunction in the power control system was detected and eliminated. Due to this malfunction, because of an emergency shutdown of all on-board systems, the temperature in the “Salyut” compartments fell below 0 ° C. By June 16th, the cosmonauts managed to connect the station’s batteries directly to the solar panels, warm it up and restore operability. And on June 23rd, “Progress-24”, carrying water supply and materials for further restoration work, automatically docked with the station. On August 2nd, during the spacewalk, Dzhanibekov and Savinykh installed and unfolded additional solar cells. Victor Savinykh spent 168 days in space, from June 6th to November 21st, 1985. After the repair work had been completed at the station and the “Soyuz T-14” spacecraft had docked with it, Savinykh became a member of the Fourth main expedition to the “Salyut-7”, together with cosmonauts Vladimir Vasyutin and Alexander Volkov.
- You wrote a book about docking with the station. Partly based on it, the feature film "Salyut-7" was shot. Do you recommend viewing it?
- Yes, I wrote the book “Notes from the Dead Station”, and then it was decided to make a feature film on it. Directors and screenwriters had come to me many times. I told them how it was. In the end, they wrote the script, I corrected it and sent it to them. I did not see them anymore. I was categorically against filming with the original script. And not only me, but also Dzhanibekov and the Mission Control Center. In general, I recommend watching the movie. It was shot beautifully and in high quality, but you must understand that not everything is true there.
- Tell us, what moments were the happiest during your work as a cosmonaut?
- The happiest moments were the take offs. I spent 10 years in Zvyozdny gorodok, 10 times I went to the Baikonur Cosmodrome, ready to take off, but only flew three times, the remaining seven I was a backup. And every time I returned to Earth, I thought about the next flight.
- And how did your family feel about the fact that you had such a dangerous job; that you would fly into space for a long time?
- My wife was proud of me. She always knew what was going on with us. Communication sessions took place once every two weeks, we saw our wives on the screen. Now cosmonauts have it even easier. The Internet is available to them, they call home and communicate at any time.
- Do you believe that other inhabited planets exist, life outside the Earth?
- I have not seen a UFO, but I believe that some kind of alien life exists. It is clear that in our galaxy we will not find anything, but perhaps beyond it ...
- How do you feel about modern Russian cosmonautics? About the way the space industry is developing now?
- It’s good that the International Space Station is flying, and that we have the opportunity to conduct some experiments on it. But it’s a pity that we can’t make a new ship. The Americans have already made three ships, but we are still marking time.
- If a person wants to become a cosmonaut or to do space research, can they go to your university to follow in your footsteps?
- Yes, they can. We have a space faculty. Two people graduated from our university, who later also flew into space - Vasily Tsibliev and Yuri Gidzenko. We have a relationship with RSC “Energia”, where ships are made, and good relations with the Cosmonaut Training Center.
- How do you pass on your experience to the younger generation?
- In addition to working at Moscow University of Geodesy and Cartography and being employed at the Russian Geographical Society, I created the Children's Space Center in Kirov. It was possible to do thanks to the help of the President. At the meeting, I told Vladimir Putin that Tsiolkovsky studied in Kirov, and the children in the city are interested in cosmonautics, so I would like to build a space center. And two years ago the dream came true. We managed to build the most beautiful building in the city. Inside there are exhibition halls, space simulators - cosmonauts in Zvyozdny gorodok train on the same equipment. We conduct classes for children.
- The RGS occupies an important place in your life?
- I have been a member of the Russian Geographical Society for a very long time. I am very pleased that now the Society and its educational activities matter to many people. I am an expert in the Crystal Compass Award. And I am grateful to the Russian Geographical Society for the grant program. For example, now with the support of the Russian Geographical Society, we are developing an atlas for geography teachers in schools.
Interviewed by Anna Sokolova