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Russian astronaut fired for opposing filming of movie on ISS

Krikalev on the shuttle to ISS flight in 1998
Sergei Krikalev on the first ISS assembly flight
by the space shuttle Endeavour in 1998.

According to one new story today, Russian astronaut, Sergei Krikalev, 62, was fired from his position in senior management within Roscosmos for opposing its decision to film for profit the first feature film on ISS.

Krikalev did not say why he was against the film but his stance was backed by former colleagues who said that taking a passenger would delay a flight for a cosmonaut. Roscosmos denied that Krikalev had been fired.

Krikalev is one of Russia’s most celebrated astronauts. He was the first person to fly in space who was born after Sputnik, was the first Russian to fly on the space shuttle, and was the first Russian (along with an American) to enter ISS’s first module soon after launch. Overall he has spent more than 800 days in space.

He also became the last Soviet citizen, stranded on Mir when the Soviet Union fell in 1991. When he launched, he was a citizen of the U.S.S.R. When he finally returned, that country didn’t exist, and he was now a citizen of Russia.

I interviewed him extensively for my book, Leaving Earth, because he was fluent in English due to his flights on the shuttle. What I learned was that Krikalev was then and probably still is an ardent communist. On that Mir flight he refused to be filmed in a commercial for Coca-Cola, arranged by Roscosmos to make some money. There was no way he would allow himself to be recorded in such a crass for-profit manner. Thus, I am not surprised he now opposes using Russian space facilities for a commercial movie, for profit.

I also found him to be a very thoughtful and analytical man, which also probably explains his opposition to this quickly arranged commercial flight. The film company is partly owned by Dmitry Rogozin, head of Roscosmos, so there probably is some payoffs and corruption involved. It is also probably interfering with the Russian side of operations, as the story says Krikalev claims. These factors would cause Krikalev to speak his mind and argue against the flight, which likely angered Rogozin, who is apparently pocketing some cash from the film.

I suspect Krikalev is not fired, but has merely been sent to the doghouse for a short while. Roscosmos (and Rogozin) can’t afford the bad publicity of letting him go. It also needs his expertise in their operations.

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  • Dick Eagleson

    As a committed Communist, I suppose emigrating to the U.S. and working for a U.S. NewSpace company would not be on Gospodin Krikalev’s personal list of viable alternatives to continued employment at Roscosmos. Too bad. He could doubtless find such U.S. employment were he to seek it.

    Perhaps his younger colleagues in the Russian cosmonaut corps will prove more footloose over time. Because Krikalev is certainly correct that carrying a pair of paying tourists on each future Soyuz flight, as now seems to be Rogozin’s intent going forward, certainly will considerably curtail flight opportunities for trained cosmonauts. There may soon be only one such at a time on ISS as a matter of routine.

    When SpaceX gets to the Moon and Mars I think anyone with actual space experience, regardless of national origin, is likely going to be able to find well-compensated work via the HR office at Starbase, TX. Absent the imposition of some sort of multi-national “gentleman’s agreement” – which is certainly a possibility – I expect all national manned space programs, including our own, to have increasing difficulty keeping their cadre in the face of the lure of SpaceX’s rapidly up-ramping operations off-planet.

  • George C

    The size of the set of highly skilled technical divers, who can and have worked deeper than 1500 feet is probably smaller than the number of people who have been in orbit. If not now; soon. But these Mars trips, and living on Mars are going to be just as difficult and unforgiving of error.

  • Jeff Wright

    It is as much about honor as it is ideology…no one can say he sold out…and we all know that however many days he spent in micro-gravity…he still has more than enough backbone.
    I can just see an actor hitting the wrong button.

  • Col Beausabre

    Looks like brass at Roscosmos is composed of Tammany Hall Democrats. As George Washington Plunkett said “I seen my opportunities and I took ’em.”

    And the Wigwam is still alive in New York City polyticks (as in “many vermin”)

  • Mike Borgelt

    The highest and best use of the current ISS is as a destination for tourists, filming and a place where business can do what they can’t anywhere else. It isn’t just a Russian asset, it belongs to the US also.
    Um, Sergei, your lot lost the Cold War. To the victor go the spoils.

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