11.04.2013 - Interview

Leonid Kadeniuk: «Space Mission»

On the eve of the World Day of Aviation and Cosmonautics, we meet with the extraordinary man, who has been effecting his purpose for nearly four decades, and yet after severe trials has gained his cherished dream. Our guest –is the first and still the only astronaut of independent Ukraine, Air Force Major General, Hero of Ukraine Leonid Kadeniuk.

Fifteen years ago  Leonid Konstantinovich Kadeniuk went into orbit as member of the International crew of space shuttle “Columbia” of the international space mission STS-87. Being a real  astronaut,  even now he looks cheerful and young,  several times a week runs 10km cross and performs exercises on the bar. Being still in the ranks of  American astronauts  NASA, he’s sure  that even now  he’s ready to perform a new space flight.

Nice to meet you, Leonid Konstantinovich. Please tell us, aspiration for becoming astronaut was your childhood dream or it arose later, in adulthood?

You know it was my childhood dream. Actually I should say that my generation’s childhood coincided with the beginning of the space age, and at the time, especially after the first human space launch and flight of Yuri Gagarin, many people of my age and me also began to dream of becoming astronauts. And before that I had a dream of becoming a military pilot. Yeah when I learned that Gagarin was also a fighter pilot, I start  dreaming of flying to space.

How did you get to the main group of claimant to the flight and became the chief astronaut from Ukraine?

First, I was taken to the detachment of Soviet cosmonauts in 1976. The selection was extremely hard and the requirements were extremely difficult. Among more than three thousand military fighter pilots a group of 9 astronauts was selected, and I was chosen among  these nine. Of course, I passed through strong, without any exaggeration, unique training. We were prepared not only as commanders of the spacecraft, but as scientists, who needed to experiment aboard the space shuttle or space station.

When the question of Ukrainian aboard the U.S. space shuttle was discussed, I tried to be among the claimants. As to preparation of the flight I learned from the press. I wrote an application to the National Space Agency of Ukraine as to participation in this exciting program, after which I was called for a commission. In total there were 28 applicants for this flight from Ukraine.

Were there any dangerous situations in space and how do you feel about the hazards in your life?

In general, the whole space flight – take-off, putting into orbit,  further  presence in space, return to Earth and landing – all these are extremely dangerous events  from  the beginning to the end. During our flight  I recall one dangerous nuisance ,when Spartan satellite, which we took outside the ship, became unmanageable, two astronauts had to go to the manual mode to place it in the payload section.

What is space for you  and whether your attitude towards the Earth after the flight has changed?

In general both space and Earth have extremely unique look. From the space our planet looks extremely beautiful and unique – we see a huge number of colours on our planet , that can’t be reproduced by camera. But the basic tone is still blue, and this blue glow indicates that there is life on Earth. That’s why I’m sure  that if representatives of other civilizations fly past our planet, they can’t but pay attention to it, they must land and get to know us.

You mentioned the representatives of alien civilizations, what’s your attitude towards them and what do you think about so-called flying saucers? On the eve of December 21, 2012 a lot of people worried about the fate of our civilization, thought of “doomsday”, what can you say about it as an astronaut?

For a starter I want to reassure everyone that in the near  future there will be no the end of the world. And every other day will be as calm on a planetary scale as today. But as to other civilizations and unidentified flying objects, people often ask such questions, especially about UFOs. So I regret that during my career I’ve never met UFO. Because if I saw it, I’d have a topic for discussion during the numerous meetings (laughs). Unfortunately, I’ve never met  UFO neither in space no in heaven, considering I started to fly on a jet plane, fighter, other aircrafts. My total time in the sky over the years amounts to 2 thousand 400 hours. So if that time convert into a continuous flight, it turns out that 100 days I spent in the sky  without landing. Current pilots are not even nearly close to these figures. And at the time of my space flight I was 1st class test pilot, mastered 54 types and modifications of aircrafts. While some American astronauts mastered only  40 or 20 types of aircrafts.

Let’s go back to your space flight. What was the return and landing? What did you feel then?

Upon our return, when the spacecraft touched the ground, I felt relief. I remember  our “Columbia”, running along the 5.5 km runway, and I just felt  that my long-lasting dream had realized . It was born in April 12, 1961, and I reached the space in 1997 only, i.e. 36 years later. So I clearly realized that my dream came true and felt that  my consciousness was finally freed from this setup. In general during the flight and after landing I felt well enough physically. It happens, that the astronauts feel bad afterwards. Almost immediately I recovered from zero gravity. As soon as we got into the action of gravity, I physically felt it. As a person dives into the water, so the spacecraft “plunge” into gravity, and you vividly feel it. All  my unusual sensations and impressions as to space I described in my book ” Space Mission”.

It has been 15 years since your spaceflight, is it still vivid in your memory?

You know, all those impressions, which I received during the flight, are so deep and versatile that they remain for a lifetime. Any time I can remember the  feeling of  weightless and everything,  associated with it. Take-off,   putting   into  orbit, the feeling of weightlessness are still vivid in the memory. Perfect ease, that people can feel in weightlessness only, is particularly impressive. When I closed my eyes there, I only realized my existence, but physically I didn’t feel myself. Therefore, these feelings remain quite clearly. The view of the Earth and space itself seem ideal, there is a feeling that you have no limitations.

Can this admiration for the flight indicate that  you are ready to make another try into space?  Or once-is really enough?

Of course, I feel the desire to fly again and again (laughs), but I understand that it’s just a wish. Of course, taking into consideration  the current situation of the space industry in our country and economic problems, -it is almost impossible, unfortunately.

You had a complicated physical training, do you continue to exercise today?

Yes, physical training for astronauts –  is one of the basic priorities, and healthy lifestyle is professional. Today I continue to go in for sports. Several times a week throughout the year I run 10 km cross, regardless of +30 heat or  -20 frost,  I perform complex of exercises.

What about your hobbies today? What are your preferences in reading?

I love to read a lot of science-fiction and historical literature, but I do not like fiction, I do not know why, but I’m not attracted to it.

 You came from Bukovina, do you maintain connections with your homeland, do you often go there?

Of course, I go there. I visit my mom, who lives in Klishkivtsyah Khotyn district. Meet with my friends, family, relatives. Without Bukovina I can not imagine my life. It’s part of my life, my childhood and adolescence, the land I reach for, regardless of where I’m. I lived in wealthy United States. I was surprised, that living in the rich country, I missed  Bukovina, where we have many problems, but still I can not imagine my life without my native land.

When, in your opinion, Ukraine is supposed to wait for the next astronaut?

This question is difficult to answer. The agreement between managers of Space agencies of Ukraine and Russia as to the second flight of Ukrainian astronaut has already taken place. But for astronaut to fly  large funds are required. Unfortunately, in general our government allocates very small funds on space industry. About only  100 million hrns  are allocated in  budgets for space programs, in comparison with the U.S. – there are about $ 20 billion, Russia provides about 6.7 billion dollars.

What can you wish for today Ukrainian youth and modern students?

I  would wish Ukrainian schoolchildren and students to fully master the new sciences. Nowadays  there is no knowledge that a person would not need.  I wish also good health, happiness and success. Quite often I am asked if it is difficult to become an astronaut, I reply that if this dream could realize a boy from a far Bukovina village,-so   everyone can do it. It’s not necessary to dream of becoming an astronaut, but everyone must have his own dream. You may dream of becoming a doctor, scientist, businessman, lawyer, but you must have it, because it stimulates to overcome difficulties. And one more thing. The experience of my space flight stimulates all of us to think about the uniqueness of life on Earth, people should feel responsibility for the Earth and for everything, that lives on it!

Many thanks to Leonid Konstantinovich for the interesting and frank conversation.  We wish all the best to our readers.  May your dreams come true.

Author: Jaroslava Hurbyk

Translation: Olexandra Voskoboynykovа