Thursday, June 9, 2011

Russian cosmonaut in Mumbai

        One place ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM)'' would love to while away his time is the domestic terminal at Santa Cruz, especially terminal 1B which is used by private operators.

         It is full of life and activity and the swanky fast food joints and the new 24X7 lounge bar just outside the arrival area are a delight.

         On Wednesday evening, BMM went to the airport not to kill time but to meet and interview a special person.

         He was travelling by a Jet Airways flight from Chennai which was delayed by nearly 30 minutes. It was to have landed at 7.25 p.m., but arrived at 8 p.m. BMM spent its time chatting with a new friend, an energetic intern from Sophia College, Vidya Subramaniam, who was assigned to photograph the visitor by the Times of India..

         The flight touched down just before 8 p.m. and Vidya and BMM positioned themselves just outside the arrival area. None of the passengers who came out of the arrival hall were aware that there was a special type of passenger inside.

         We waited and waited and still there was no sign of him.

          And finally he came. There he was. How did BMM recognise him? He was escorted by the Russian vice consul V.V. Dementiev a close friend of BMM, and an interpreter from the Russian consulate.

          Who was this special person?  He was the 100th man who flew into space, 71-year-old Victor P.Savinykh, who has logged 252 days, 17 hours,37 minutes and 50 seconds in space. In all he has flown three space missions starting from March-May 1981.

           His visit was a part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of the first manned space flight by Yuri Gagarin on April 12,1961. 

            Vidya took several pics of him in that beautiful terminal. The time was around 8.15 p.m. Getting nearer Toi's deadline. Time was really running out and as a result the interview was not an exhaustive one.

             Dementiev suggested that I interview him sitting in his car and it was a great idea. Reproduced below are the points:-

             * The purpose of his visit to Mumbai?

              A--To participate in the 50th anniversary celebrations of the first manned space flight by Yuri Gagarin and excite and inspire kids to join the space profession. ``I am going to do this at the Nehru Centre tomorrow,'' he said.

             * His most memorable moment in space?

              A--There are plenty, but I will never forget how me and my crew mates restored the tumbling Salyut-7 space station which was going out of control. It had lost a lot of its energies. It was quite tough task and proved to be quite a challenge. We did it successfully and it happened in 1985. A year earlier in April 1984, it was occupied by Rakesh Sharma---the first Indian spaceman.

             * The debate between the advantages and disadvantages of manned and unmanned space missions. There is a feeling that manned missions are largely prompted by political considerations. Can he comment?

              A-No I do not agree. Yes, manned missions do have a huge political element, but the focus is also there on a lot of scientific research. Infact I would say that manned flights help to evaluate technologies for unmanned missions.

              *  How does he compare the space shuttle with the Russian Soyuz spacecraft?

              A--Both are reliable, but the shuttle faces more challenges.

               *- Does he regret not having flown to the moon?

              A--I have no regrets of not going to the moon. But, yes I do want to return to space. I have made this request to the Russian Federal Space Agency, Roskosmos. They said that they will consider it taking into consideration my age. If the American astronaut, John Glenn can fly at the age 77 in a space shuttle, why can't I?'' he asked.

              After the interview which was around 9 p.m. BMM had to hunt for a cyber cafe to file the interview for the TOI in Vile Parle (east) whch was not that easy. Finally, it located one and while doing the report the net stopped functioning because of a problem with the server. A few minutes later the net came back and by the time BMM completed the report it was nearly 9.30 p.m. 

              Neither Vidya's pics nor BMM's story made it to the paper on Thursday.

              Not surprised.

              At the Nehru Centre on Thursday morning.

              He inaugurated a photography exhibition related to space and then distributed participation certificates to 60 children who took part in a painting contest called ``First In Space''  now on display at the Star City, the home of the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre near Moscow.

              Speaking to the kids, he said that in the last 50 years 37 countries have sent their people to space and India is among them. ``Rakesh Sharma's flight triggered a lot of excitement among youngsters to go into space,'' he said .

              Post Gagarin and post Rakesh Sharma flight, more and more people became involved in space research. ``India has launched different types of rockets and satellites and I am happy that this country is also planning a manned space mission,'' he stated.

              In his evening presentation at the Nehru Centre, he gave a background about his space missions and praised India's space technology. ``Russia used an Indian satellite to probe a forest fire last year,'' he said while adding that this country's space achievements have matured to such an extent that they can help other space faring nations to accomplish their space objectives.

              Unfortunately, because of the heavy rains at Chembur, my friend Pradeep Mohandas, could not make it to the lecture. Sure, he did miss something.

              Comparing the Russian and US space programmes, he said that in the last 50 years, there was just one cancellation of a rocket flight in Russia and another one exploded. Otherwise, all other missions took off without any hitch. ``At the Baikonour cosmodrome the weather is fine and even during winter the rockets are launched on schedule,'' he stated.

              At Nasa's Kennedy Space Centre, missions get postponed or cancelled because of uncertainty in the weather or technical problems.

               According to him alll international space missions have to be international in character.

               He said that Mumbai should erect a statue of Gagarin and also name the new flyover at Lalbaug after him.

               A good idea.  .



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