Meeting Cosmonaut Colonel. Gennady Padalka

Heroism is a characteristic that is deeply valued across most, if not all cultures, past and present. But, how exactly do we define a hero? What makes someone a hero? How do psychologists define heroism?

“We’ve found that people’s beliefs about heroes tend to follow a systematic pattern. After polling a number of people we discovered that heroes are perceived to be highly moral, highly competent, or both. More specifically, heroes are believed to possess eight traits, which we call the ‘Great Eight’. These traits are smart, strong, resilient, selfless, caring, charismatic, reliable, and inspiring. It’s unusual for a hero to possess all eight of these characteristics, but most heroes have a majority of them.” – Scott T. Allison and George R. Goethals, “Our Definition of ‘Hero'”

All traits considered, there does not seem to be one single defining feature or sole characteristic that defines a hero or heroic behaviour. Other definitions such as bravery, being determined, having moral integrity, the ability to inspire others, simply being helpful when it matters most, often breaks heroism down by types or degrees of the personal risk and sacrifice involved. Some involve grand acts such as endangering one’s life in order to save another person, while others are smaller, everyday acts designed to help another human being, or even a country, in need.

The title “Hero of Russia” is a successor to “Hero of the Soviet Union”, which was established by the Resolution of the Central Executive Committee of the Soviet Union on the 5th of May 1934. The corresponding medal, a Gold Star, is derived from the Soviet design, created by architect Miron Merzhanov and approved by Decree of the President of the Supreme Soviet on the 1st of August 1939.

Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Russian Federation under president Boris Yeltsin retained a modified award by Law of the Russian Federation, Number. 2553-1 on the 20th of March 1992. Article 71 of the Constitution of Russia permits titles, orders and medals to be presented by the government, and Article 89 gives the Russian president power to create state awards. This is the highest honour that can be presented by the Russian president to a citizen.

Legislation states: The title of Hero of the Russian Federation can be awarded for a heroic deed in the service of the state. It can be awarded to both civilian and military personnel. The title can also be awarded posthumously if the heroic act costs the recipient his or her life. The President of the Russian Federation is the main conferring authority of the award. (Currently it has been awarded 970 times, including more than 340 times posthumously, at the time of writing).

The majority of the early recipients of the title fell into two categories; participants in the Chechnya conflicts or, cosmonauts. All Russian cosmonauts are awarded the title of Hero of the Russian Federation following their voyage into space; some may already have earned it, for example for long service as a test pilot. Cosmonauts are also awarded the title of Pilot-Cosmonaut of the Russian Federation. Some recipients of the title, such as Sergei Krikalev, had also received the Soviet hero title, along with the Order of Lenin.

In the early days of the space race, the Soviets were clearly winning. But, as the Soviets may have evidently lost the race to the moon, their continued presence in orbit would ultimately influence not just the course of their own space program, but NASA’s and the rest of the world’s. Today, the International Space Station (ISS) is a product of the lessons learned by Russia after decades of launching and operating space stations, namely Mir, of which orbital assembly began on the 19th of February 1986.

Three years later, in 1989, Gennady Padalka was selected into the Cosmonaut Group.

Mir Mission

On the 13th of August 1998 Gennady launched with Sergei Avdeyev aboard Soyuz TM-28 to become the crew of Mir Expedition 26, whose primary mission was to make repairs to life support systems and prepare the station for deorbit, which was to take place after Expedition 27. On the 8th of February 1999 at 11:23 GMT Padalka and Avdeyev undocked from Mir’s -X port in Soyuz TM-28, and redocked at the +X Kvant port at 11:39 GMT, freeing up the front port for the Soyuz TM-29 docking. He returned to Earth on board the Soyuz TM-28 capsule on the 28th of February 1999. The Soyuz TM-28 undocked from the Kvant rear docking port on the 27th of February at 22:52 GMT and landed in Kazakhstan on the 28th of February at 02:14 GMT. Padalka accumulated 198 days and 16 hours of space travel during the mission.

ISS Missions

From June 1999 to July 2000, Padalka trained for a space flight on a Soyuz-TM transport vehicle as an ISS contingency crew commander. From August 2000 to November 2001, he trained for a space flight as the Expedition 4 back-up crew commander:

Expedition 9

In March 2002 Padalka was assigned as commander of the ISS Expedition 9 crew. Expedition 9 was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan aboard the Soyuz TMA-4 spacecraft, and docked with the ISS on the 21st of April 2004. Following a week of joint operations and handover briefings, they replaced the Expedition 8 crew who returned to Earth. In a six-month tour of duty aboard the station Padalka continued ISS science operations, maintained Station systems, and performed four spacewalks. The Expedition 9 mission concluded after undocking and landed back in Kazakhstan on the 23rd of October 2004. In completing this mission, Padalka logged an additional 187 days, 21 minutes and 17 seconds in space, and 15 hours, 45 minutes and 22 seconds of EVA time.

Expedition 19/20

Padalka returned to the ISS in 2009 to serve as commander of Expeditions 19 and 20. He commanded the Soyuz TMA-14 spacecraft which was launched from Baikonur on the 26th of March 2009 and docked with the ISS two days later. Padalka also commanded the first six-person space station crew (Expedition 20), returning to Earth on the 11th of October 2009.

Expedition 31/32

In May 2012 Padalka returned to the ISS for a third time, serving as a flight engineer as part of Expedition 31 before graduating to command Expedition 32.

Gennady then launched to the ISS aboard Soyuz TMA-04M on the 15th of May 2012, along with fellow crew members Sergei Revin and Joseph Acaba and arrived at the space station on the 17th of May at 4:36 UTC. He, along with Revin and Acaba, returned to Earth on the 17th of September 2012.

Expedition 43/44

Padalka returned to the ISS aboard Soyuz TMA-16M during Expedition 43 and Expedition 44, along with Mikhail Korniyenko and Scott Kelly. He landed on Soyuz TMA-16M on the 12th of September 2015.

Padalka currently has the world record for the most time spent in space, having spent 878 days 11 hours 31 minutes in space, more than any other person. In April 2017, it was announced that Padalka had filed his resignation from the Roscosmos Cosmonaut Corps.

It is 5:30pm on Friday the 5th April 2019 and Gennady Padalka is early, not that I am late I hasten to add. Walking through the reception area of the now familiar Wentbridge House Hotel, the home for ‘Space Lecture’s’ gala dinner, set in 20 acres of gardens and grounds near Pontefract, West Yorkshire (and was formerly the home of the Leatham Family, whose daughter, Lorna, married Sir Alvary Gascoigne, one time British Ambassador to Russia), I open the door to the hotel’s main reception, which I think is heavier than it actually is and it gets away from me, hitting the wall with a bang that surprises myself and also Gennady, who I find striding purposely towards the room that holds the ‘Proffoto event photography’ studio, he turns at the noise of the door banging, I apologise, and he smiles. I join him, and we make our introductions, speak about his travels, how this visit is his first time in speaking in the UK, before we are photographed holding my framed photograph of the ISS transiting the Moon, which he had autographed earlier in the day, and will be auctioned later that evening.

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Meeting Gennady, speaking with him, he embodies the mythical fusion of Cosmonaut, pilot and scientist, something that derives from an incorporation of elements such as reliability, support, self-sacrifice, dedication, and humility. Gennady’s track record challenges description. On numerous occasions he has been proven to be the Cosmonaut’s cosmonaut, even the Astronaut’s cosmonaut. The way the World symbolically transcends the boundary between Cosmonauts/Astronauts and everyone else, even of those working within the space industry, Gennady does not agree. You see, engineers and scientists often occupy a marginalised role in the storytelling of historic space missions, they are spoken about on the peripheral, and at worst even completely ignored, even when those stories are told by Cosmonauts/Astronauts, but not Gennady.  The way the World idealises space explorers is reliant on a suppression of the said travellers emotional articulation, where their repression of emotion could be read as an underpinning of their competentness. But again, not with Gennady.

img_2076image credit:pcdphotography

During his lecture, where technical difficulties meant Gennady had to conduct his presentation by controlling his laptop from the back of the theatre, Gennady spoke openly, freely, and passionately about the beauty of our home planet seen from low Earth orbit. He spoke of sunsets, and volcanoes, mountain ranges and turquoise seas, enthusiastically showing us his photographic portfolio. How speaks of how he was first drawn to man-made objects like bridges, roads, harbours, and cities at night. How Earth’s raw beauty came alive during daylight. And how once he had absorbed these features of our planet, he was overwhelmed by how fragile and alone Earth looked in the vastness of space.

“…the planet didn’t change. Seventeen years, during which I made my flights—it’s just a very short period of time. Our planet, as you know, is four billion years old. Nothing has changed.

But this was not partnered will feelings of insignificance, quite the opposite, feelings of significance were reinforced. Gennady was more reverent towards his home planet, more geared towards solidarity than individualism when he returned, to promote and act upon common goals, to benefit all humankind.

“Climate change, ecological problems, I don’t consider them to be the main problems for the Earth. The bigger problem is people conflicting with each other. Look at what has happened in the World.

But if you take astronauts and cosmonauts, we work together in a very restricted space together, Americans and Russians and Canadians and Japanese. We speak a common language. We understand each other. Why can’t the same approach be applied to Earth?”

Ironically, the technical issues forced upon the event contributed to a much more personal lecture. Gennady humming into the microphone as he navigated through his archive of images and videos on his laptop made the event feel like you were watching a slide show of a friends holiday photographs. After all, he has travelled the World in the truest sense of the term.

When Cosmonauts and Astronauts alike, prepare to go into space for the first time, they know that they can expect a room, and an office, with quite a view. But when they return, very few of them expected that they would have spent most of their time looking down at the Earth while the window on the opposite side has a view of the vastness of space. But they do. Termed as “the overview effect” by Frank White who explored the theme in his book The Overview Effect — Space Exploration and Human Evolution, he described this effect as “a profound reaction to viewing the earth from outside its atmosphere.” This overview effect has been described by many astronauts as one of the most meaningful moments of their lives.

Gennady does a beautiful job of opening the door to the Russian ‘Roscosmos’ space program. For the non‑Russian audience member, the peculiar vividness of the history of the Soviet space programme is described as a place for licensed dreaming. From the domain in the heart of Russia’s military-industrial complex Gennady lets us in to the Cosmonauts lives and place of work, and shows us the photographs of Yuri Gagarin, the first person in space, and Sergei Korolev, the architect of the Soviet space program adorning the walls of the International Space Station. But don’t be mistaken, Gennady doesn’t have a hero, and cringes at the fact he himself is considered one:

“…If somebody becomes your hero, a pattern for you to follow, you start to imitate what he/she does. And you lose your individuality. Everybody has their own talent. Everybody was born with some certain and very different capabilities. Somebody will become a great scientist, a Nobel prize winner, somebody will become a great mother. Somebody said that we don’t live on the minefield to follow somebody’s steps.

I was impressed at the very early stage of my space career, like the flights to space, to the moon, landing on the moon. But we are all talented. We are all heroes. Don’t suppress your own talent.”

Gennady brings his lecture to an end speaking of inspiration and appreciation. That he hopes his career may inspire others, and that he appreciates the fact that we are all gathered here for one simple reason, we share a love for space and space exploration.

Gennady Padalka is the very definition of inspiration. When we think about inspiration, what inspires us most are ordinary people who have done extraordinary things. He has flown to the MIR space station, commanded the International Space Station four times, completed 10 EVA spacewalks, celebrated 4 birthdays in space and has culminated 878 days 11 hours 31 minutes in low Earth orbit. We appreciate when someone has the ability and willingness to be selfless, creative, innovative, or just dares to be different. The beautiful thing about inspiration of this kind is that “ordinary people” part. Definitions shared by the title of hero. But don’t ever let him catch you calling him that.

Leaving the lecture I cannot help but reflect of Gennady’s humility (a further trait adding to his ‘hero’ qualification). You might think that the only time in your life when you can inspire is when you have achieved your dream. That is simply not so. Gennady reminds us that no-matter how far along you are on the path to greatness, you are only further along than someone else. This person, or people, could certainly use your help and advice. To them, you can be a great inspiration, as Gennady was to Newland School for Girls that he had lectured at the previous day. So when it comes time to give back, there is never a better time than now.

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