The space odyssey of 38-year-old Elena Serova “started right with my birth,” she said. Her father, a serviceman in the Air Force, and her schoolteacher told her stories about the Earth, space and stars.
“So later I fell in love with astronomy,” she told RT. “I would go out at night to watch the stars, and each of these small steps brought me closer to my cherished dream.”
However the life of a cosmonaut is not only fame and zero gravity. It’s hard work, and you have to prove your skills every day.
Survival training is an inseparable part of a cosmonaut’s life. For Elena, extreme situations are enjoyable, not a burden.
“We once had a survival mission in a desert where we lost 5 kilos in just two days – just imagine 5 liters of water simply evaporated,” said Elena. “It was great, and an invaluable experience for me, too, because one day it could save my life.”
During this kind of training, the cosmonauts learn to survive in any harsh kind of environment, as you never know where you are going to land. And you have only a parachute and a survival kit.
“It’s not just about your physical abilities, you need to identify where you are and quickly figure out what kind of environment and climate you are in, what kind of fauna is found in that area. You need to know how to get water, how to build a makeshift shelter,” she said.
Elena told RT that when she heard that she was actually going into space, she was happy, but she also realized it was “a great responsibility.”
“After all the sweat and hard work, naturally, the news made me happy, but I also realize it’s a lot of responsibility. Your body and mind automatically brace for a new mission,” she said.
Elena is planning to write a blog during her space mission and describe all the experiences she faces in space.
“The way it is done here, cosmonauts keep their blogs at the Roskosmos website. So I think that is where my own blog will be hosted, too,” she said adding that she is going to add photos to make the blog interesting and to write it from a professional, not a personal, point of view.
Serova is the fourth Russian female cosmonaut to head into space and the first since 1997.
The first woman in space was Valentina Tereshkova in 1963. Almost 20 years later, in 1982, Svetlana Savitskaya matched Tereshkova’s achievement. The third Russian woman in space was Yelena Kondakova, who in 1997 stayed over 178 days in space.
In fact, Elena even doesn’t like the term “woman cosmonaut,” as she strongly believes that there is no difference between a man or a woman in space.
“The profession of a cosmonaut can be further broken down into test engineers, researchers, not men or women. The gender doesn’t matter here – it’s all about a specific set of skills and the right personality type.”
Earlier, Elena told the journalists how she plans to wash her hair in conditions of zero gravity, as she doesn’t want to cut her hair short.
“This process [of washing my hair] will be recorded when we are on board ISS, and you will have the opportunity to see this procedure,” she said.
She added that on her space mission, she will take an Olympic bear, which was given to her by her daughter. Serova was one of five cosmonauts who raised the Russian flag at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics opening ceremony.
However, hair will not be Elena’s main problem during her flight, as her mission will be the research and experiments she performs on board the spaceship.
“For example, they’ve been studying how a human body reacts to microgravity,” she said. “That is something humanity will need in the future, once our descendants get around to exploring other planets – which I’m sure they will.”
Elena will also testing Vizir, a device capable of locating space objects we observe with a very high level of precision.
“This is a brand new system that has been installed at the ISS, and I will be the one testing it,” she said with pride.
During the space mission, she will also be studying lightning and the properties of plasma.
“This might enable humanity in the future to forecast natural disasters, such as earthquakes.”
According to Elena, the results of this research may not be so obvious today, but in the future the “benefits of these experiments would turn out to be much more valuable than anything done here on Earth.”
“So our future will heavily rely on the operation of the ISS… We have to leverage this rich experience that we’ve gained over these years in terms of engineering, equipment, and materials. There’s so much you can learn from decades of research.”
“I like to think of humankind as a big family of cosmonauts – we all live on planet Earth, which is like a huge mothership traversing the vast expanses of the Universe. This is the metaphor that always comes to my mind,” she said.
As for her own family, Serova’s husband and daughter will wait for her. It was passion for the stars that brought her together with her husband, whom she met at the Moscow Aviation Institute.
“Our shared interest grew into a romance and then a relationship. Together, we went on to work at the Energia space corporation. I love my husband, I love the time we spend together, and I think we are a happy family,” she said.