Space ‘tourists’ need better training: veteran Russian cosmonaut speaks of many challenges linked to first feature film in orbit

It's a major advance for filmmaking, shooting the first movie onboard a real space station, but it will have put additional burdens on professional cosmonauts already working at the facility, a veteran spacefarer has told RT.

“That is an important milestone for filmmaking,” Aleksey Ovchinin, a long-time Russian cosmonaut said Wednesday, speaking about the mission that saw a Russian actress and a movie-maker travelling to orbit earlier this week. Ovchinin, who himself spent more than a year above the earth in total and carried out a six-hour-long spacewalk, said he was intrigued by this endeavor and was curious to see what “they will get out of it.”

On Tuesday, Russia launched a three-person team into orbit. The team included the renowned Russian movie star, Yulia Peresild, film director Klim Shipenko and cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov. Their Soyuz spacecraft has since successfully docked with the International Space Station (ISS).

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Roscosmos cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, actress Yulia Peresild, and film director Klim Shipenko of the ISS Expedition 66 prime crew pose by a Soyuz-2.1a rocket booster at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. © Sputnik / Sergei Savostyanov
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Ovchinin, however, said it was important to understand the extraordinary lengths the Russian professional cosmonauts had to go to to even make this mission possible. The cosmonaut particularly hailed the role of his colleague, Shkaplerov, who was the only professional onboard of the Soyuz spacecraft.

“He had to take double responsibility and bear double burden,” Ovchinin said, adding that usually such missions have an onboard engineer, who does a “lion’s share” of work during the flight to the ISS. “Now, he had to do twice as much work that was twice as difficult,” the cosmonaut said.

Yet, even with Shkaplerov onboard, the mission was still somewhat risky, Ovchinin believes. He explained that there could be some emergencies that can only be dealt with by two professionals. “Had such an emergency happened onboard, the spacecraft commander would have had a hard time dealing with it,” he said.

In fact, the Tuesday mission did face an emergency onboard when the Soyuz spacecraft was about to dock with the ISS. Fortunately, it was not one of a kind described by Ovchinin. An automated docking system failed so Shkaplerov had to dock the spacecraft manually and did so successfully.

The veteran cosmonaut himself survived a much more serious emergency. Back in October 2018, he was onboard of another spacecraft when one of the four first stage boosters of the Souyz-FG rocket failed to jettison properly and ruptured the vehicle’s central block, steering it off course.

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The Soyuz MS-10 reuturn capsule. ©Sputnik / Valery Melnikov
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Ovchinin and NASA astronaut Nick Hague, who were onboard, were successfully deployed in a special capsule before the launch vehicle was fully destroyed, and landed unharmed thanks to the flawless work of the contingency abort system.

Shkaplerov, however, is not the only one who will have to do more than his share before Peresild and Shipenko return to Earth after spending 12 days onboard of the ISS.

“It would be ‘crowded’ aboard the ISS,” Ovchinin said, adding that the space station would have to host 10 people during this period. The Russian segment of the station designed for three cosmonauts would have to host five, he explained. “Since there are only three [sleeping] cabins, others would have to be housed elsewhere,” he added.

The veteran cosmonaut also believes that space tourism should become a separate avenue of space exploration that should not be “mixed” with regular missions. “Professional cosmonauts have a mission schedule,” Ovchinin said, adding that it is usually quite tight and filled with experiments that one needs to carry out.

Yet, every time a space tourist gets onboard, cosmonauts have to “babysit” them due to what Ovchinin calls insufficient training of non-professionals. “Their training is too short. They only get the basics,” he said, adding that “non-professionals have no idea about 90 percent of issues they might face when they launch into space after three months of training.”

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FILE PHOTO.
Cosmonaut hails Russia’s bid to shoot first feature film in orbit as ‘first step’ in new era for promotion of space exploration

Eventually, it's left to the professionals to take care of the tourists and it takes them a lot of time, the cosmonaut believes. He also calls on the space agencies to extend the training for space tourists and make more “thorough,” even though he agrees that space tourism is still something worth developing even further.

According to Ovchinin, becoming a professional cosmonaut in Russia takes between eight and ten years or sometimes even more.

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