Astronaut Sergei Krikalev could see the whole world from the then Soviet Union’s MIR space station. But from that height he did not see the political struggle that was burning his country.
The incident took place on May 18, 1991, when Cricalev boarded a Soyuz spacecraft and landed on the space station on a five-month long mission. He was accompanied by another Soviet astronaut, Anatoly Artebarski, and a British scientist, Helen Sherman.
The spacecraft was launched from the Baikonur Space Center in Kazakhstan. It was the center by which the Soviet Union succeeded in launching the first satellite into Earth orbit, overtaking the United States in space race, sending a dog named Laika into space and sending Yuri Gagarin as the first man in space in 1961.
By that time, the MIR space station had become a symbol of Soviet power in the field of space missions. Cricalev went into space on a regular mission. He had to repair some parts of the space station and improve the station. But while everything in space was going very well, the situation of his country, the Soviet Union, was rapidly deteriorating on Earth.
While Krikalev was in space, the huge and powerful Soviet Union disintegrated within a few months. He had to spend twice as much time on the space center as before.
The most famous astronaut
This is the story of Sergei Krikalev, an astronaut who, after spending ten months in space, returned to Earth and his country’s name was erased from the world map. Due to his mission there, he became known around the world as the last citizen of the Soviet Union. Krikalev was born in 1958 in Leningrad, then in the Soviet Union, now called St. Petersburg.
In 1981, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Leningrad Mechanical Institute, and after four years of training, he became an astronaut. In 1988, he landed for the first time on the MIR space station, which was orbiting the earth at an altitude of 400 kilometers above the earth.
Krikalev was on his second space trip in May 1991.
Kathleen Lewis, a historian of space missions, says Krikalev became popular around the world because she was an astronaut who spoke to ordinary people on Earth from the space station’s radio.
Referring to Lewis Cricalevara’s long time in space, she says that Cricalev used radio to communicate with ordinary people on Earth who had radio waves.
Lewis says he thus built informal relationships around the world. Krikalev never sat alone on the MIR space station, and he was very famous. Even though he had others on the space station, he was the only one talking on the radio.
According to historian Lewis, he was accompanied by another Soviet citizen, Alexander Volkov, to the space center, but Krikalev became known around the world as the last Soviet citizen.
When the Soviet Union collapsed
From 1990 to 1991, all the republics of the then Soviet Union declared their independence.
At the same time, the President of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, through his famous campaign Perestroika, modernized the country, brought the country closer to capitalism, and decentralized the economic potential of various companies. He also paved the way for the establishment of private businesses.
This process was strongly opposed by the Communist Party. From August 19 to 21, 1991, the most powerful part of the Communist Party attempted a coup against Gorbachev. Although the coup failed, it did great damage to the Soviet Union.
Krikalev was in space when Gorbachev lost control of his country. Due to the deepening political and economic crisis in the Soviet Union, Krikalev was told to stay in space until further notice.
According to Lewis, what Krikalev knew was from conversations with people in the West. Because at that time, in the Soviet Union, there was a cry that everything was fine.
Krikalev’s wife, Elena Terekhina, was working as a radio operator in the Soviet space program. She talked to her husband but did not tell him about the real situation in the Soviet Union. Responsibility for fulfilling duties Krikalev set out to advance his mission in space. But that was not easy.
Remembering that time, he says – do I have enough power. Can I prepare myself for the long haul? I did not have the answers to these questions.
Krikalev and Volkov could have returned at any time, but that meant the space center had to be vacated.
“It was a bureaucratic problem,” says Lewis. He did not want to leave the station. But there was no money to send another astronaut.
However, Kazakhstan did not have an experienced astronaut like Cricalev and it was natural to take a long time to prepare. Meanwhile, Cricalev was experiencing physical and mental effects in space about which complete information is still not available.
According to NASA, spending time in space carries a risk of exposure to radiation, which can lead to cancer and other diseases.
Lack of gravitational pull can lead to changes in immunity as well as loss of muscle and bone marrow, and living in isolation can lead to human problems.
No one came instead of Krikalev Then, in October, three new astronauts arrived at the MIR space station. But none of them had received as much training as Cricalev. People outside the Soviet Union were most concerned about Krikalev, imagining the plight of a helpless man left in space.
But for the Russian government at the time, other priorities and concerns were more important than Cricalev. On October 25, 1991, Kazakhstan declared its independence. At the same time, the Cosmodrome space center, which sent astronauts to take turns to Krikalev, fell out of Russian control.
On December 25, 1991, the Soviet Union completely disintegrated. On the same day, Gorbachev resigned citing health reasons, and the Soviet Union came to an end.
The Soviet Union was divided into 15 countries. The country that sent Krikalev into space was transformed from the Soviet Union into Russia. The name of the city where Krikalev was born and where he studied was also changed to St. Petersburg.
When Krikalev returned During all these developments in the Soviet Union, Krikalev was listening to songs played by his friends and talking to people on the radio.
On March 25, 1992, Krikalev and Volkov returned to Earth. At the same time, Cricalev spent 312 days in space and orbited the earth 5,000 times.
He says – it was very pleasant to return to earth. Although we had problems due to the force of gravity, we were freed from the mental burden. It was very pleasant even though it was not a moment of joy.
But even after that long journey, Krikalev was ready for his second adventure. He became a member of the first team to visit the International Space Station in 2000.
The International Space Station symbolizes the new space age, which gave birth to a model of cooperation between all nations to unravel the mysteries of the universe, leaving behind the old conflicts.