Anatoly Petrukovich, Director of the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, shared the opinion of the scientific community on the value of the Science module for the ISS, its tasks and the future of an orbital laboratory with new structural elements. In a 40-minute interview, the eminent geophysicist also spoke about how he and his colleagues feel about the idea of making films in space and why few experiments were carried out on the basis of the Russian segment of the station, as well as on what principles decisions on their selection are made.
Petrukovich gave a detailed interview to the Internet portal Life, his recording is available on the official YouTube channel of this media outlet, and the text version is on the Roscosmos website.
Recall that after many years of development, testing and elimination of comments, the multifunctional laboratory module (MLM) "Science" has finally arrived at the International Space Station (ISS). The journey was not without adventures, and immediately after docking, the module managed to fray the nerves of the crew and ground personnel of the flight control centers. Nevertheless, the situation has stabilized, and now the preparation of a new part of the Russian segment of the orbital laboratory for active operation is in full swing.
Science on the ISS, experiments and the need for a new module
The largest and most informative block of the entire interview is devoted to the scientific activities of the Russian crew of the orbital laboratory. Especially in light of new opportunities for this. According to Pestrukovich, when Nauka is finally integrated into the ISS and the third Russian cosmonaut will appear on it, the number of experiments should increase dramatically. While Russia is represented in orbit by only two people, most of their work consists of performing routine tasks of maintaining the station and keeping it functioning.
The next important stage, upon completion of all procedures for preparing MLM Nauka for operation, is the delivery of the first crew of three Russians and equipment for experiments. One of the cosmonauts will be able to devote all his time to scientific activities. This does not mean that earlier and now the Russian segment did not bring any useful data for science, or experiments were not carried out on it at all. It's just that their number, especially in comparison with American, European and Japanese modules, was small.
In this sense, the new large element of the station plays the role of not just a “third room in a two-room apartment” where you can live comfortably (although there is a sleeping place for the third member of the Russian crew, as well as another bathroom). MLM Nauka has several universal racks of scientific equipment, into which special containers are installed for various experiments. And on the outer wall of the module there are brackets where you can place everything that should be exposed to the conditions of open space for scientific purposes.
One such experiment, which will go to the ISS in two years, is the BTN-Neutron, developed by the Space Research Institute (IKI). This is a device that measures the flow of elementary particles both outside the station and inside.With its help, a "map of neutrons in the vicinity of the Earth" will be compiled, as well as accurate data on how they irradiate people in spacecraft will be obtained.
The emergence of a large number of places for conducting experiments in the Russian segment of the ISS theoretically softens the selection of applications for their implementation. Therefore, among other things, Petrukovich told how it happens. Almost any organization can send a proposal for any scientific work, for this there is even a special website. Further, such applications are considered by the coordinating scientific and technical council, which includes both Roscosmos employees and scientists. They assess their "feasibility, validity from the point of view of a scientific or technical output." And only then the applications undergo an analysis of the financial side of the issue: how expensive the experiment will be, whether the federal space program will "pull" it, and whether there is generally an opportunity to find funding for it.
Filmmakers in orbit are also an experiment
As Pestrukovich notes, sending relatively unprepared people into space is another experiment. Although useful not only for science, but also for the public relations of domestic cosmonautics, which is very important. In addition, such a flight of "actors and directors" to the ISS will provide valuable experience in working with non-professional astronauts. And there will be more and more of them in the coming years: according to the forecast of the IKI director, in ten years there will be no less professionals of such crew members at the station. Mainly, of course, at the expense of tourists, and this will serve as a good financial support for the industry.
Not without a little reproach with an element of sadness. Talking about the future of the Russian segment of the ISS in terms of scientific activities, Pestrukovich emphasized that the greatest exhaust will be if scientists appear in the crew. Nowadays, astronauts are usually military pilots or engineers working in the space industry. And although in Russia, as in the United States, there was a recruitment of doctors and scientists for the cosmonaut corps, there is only talk about their flight. But so far "I had to give way to filmmakers."
A separate topic is the dream of the director of IKI himself to fly into orbit. According to him, "I would like to, but the dimensions do not allow": Pestrukovich's height reaches two meters, which exceeds the growth restrictions for Soyuz (although he can fit perfectly into SpaceX Crew Dragon).
The future of the ISS with "Science"
In recent years, there has been more and more talk that the ISS's service life will soon come to an end. Pestrukovich is in a hurry to reassure the public: according to him, before 2028 nothing will be done with the station for safety reasons (it is not so easy to correctly de-orbit it). In addition, NASA is trying to legally extend the operation of the orbital laboratory until at least 2030. So, Russian scientists have time to effectively unleash the potential of the new module in the Russian segment.
Although it should be admitted that in many respects everything will depend on the technical condition of the station, especially the Russian modules. Equipment in the international segment is also worn out, but so far there have been fewer serious failures. However, it is not worth making a tragedy out of the possible early completion of the ISS, as Pestrukovich says. Everything is aging - and that's okay, he notes. According to the expert, it is important not to wait until the last minute, but to prepare a replacement in a timely manner. Moreover, the next space station should be with a new level of technical capabilities. But whether it will be possible to use "Science" for her is a big question, and not a fact that it is practically solvable.