Lia: What is, in your view, the most relevant discovery/technology that resulted from space science?
Anton: [Thinking this over] It’s a tough one. It’s hard to say just one particular thing. Everything that is done in space science is very essential, so it’s a problem for me to choose. In my view, the main discovery is that the Earth has a round shape and that it revolves around the Sun!
Lia: Do you ever have to defend space exploration to people claiming that it is a waste of money and that there are more pressing issues to be solved on this planet?
Anton: Each dollar invested in space exploration gives back four dollars of income. We can’t imagine our lives now without [the research that came out of space science, such as] internet, satellite systems, solar batteries…
Lia: What’s in your own future? More space travels?
Anton: Yes, I am scheduled to take part in another mission in a year and a half: there will be another space flight, in spring 2018.
Lia: For Singaporeans, who can barely see the sky at night (light pollution is a serious issue here) and have never had their own cosmonaut — what advice would you have to help them look up a bit more?
Anton: Actually, Malaysia has already launched its first astronaut (his name is Sheikh Muszaphar). I believe that Singapore is much more developed than Malaysia, especially in scientific fields, and it is not a big deal to launch your own cosmonaut [if you want]. Singapore developed really quickly — probably the space program is not so vast yet but still, the money has been invested so it is simply an issue of time.
Lia: What makes a good astronaut?
Anton: [laughing] Hard work, hard study… and study, study and study every day. There was also a part of my training – the parachute launches – as a jet pilot, using a parachute is something you just don’t want to do, because it means you have to leave your plane. Before joining the program [for cosmonaut training] I only had 50 launches, now I have about 500. The jumps are used to train us to control our emotion and remain calm and logical under pressure. While in the air, we have to do tasks – like talking, or solving math quizzes. Once I jumped and I had someone videotaping me during the jump [to record I was doing my tasks correctly] – I thought I was speaking but there was no sound at the end, I was just speaking in my head!
Lia: How did space change you?
Anton: I don’t sweat the small stuff anymore. After you see Earth from the outside, you realize what the really important things are [and what aren’t]. I don’t understand, for example, how it is possible that there is still so much fighting going on our planet.
Lia: And to finish: how is food in space?
Anton: It is good, there are no problems with that. But after about three months you start really wanting real food. Nothing fancy or complicated, just some real home-cooked food. It’s the same difference there is between a BBQ straight from the grill and a BBQ heated up on the second day!
About the Interviewee
Anton Nikolaevich Shkaplerov was born on February 20, 1972, in Sevastopol, Crimean peninsula. He graduated from the Kachinsk Air Force Pilot School in 1994 as a pilot-engineer. After graduating from the N. E. Zukovskiy Air Force Engineering in 1997, he served as a senior pilot-instructor in the Russian Air Force. He flew 3 different types of aircraft: Yak-52, L-29 and MiG-29. In addition to being a Class 2 Air Force pilot-instructor, he is also an Instructor of General Parachute Training.
Shkaplerov was selected as a test-cosmonaut candidate of the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center Cosmonaut Office in May 2003. From June 2003 to June 2005 he attended basic space training and in 2005 he qualified as a test cosmonaut. He served as a Flight Engineer for Expedition 29/30 (2011-2012) and in Expedition 42 (2014-2015), flying to the ISS with Barry Wilmore and Terry Virts from the USA, Alexander Samokutyaev and Elena Serova from Russia, and Samantha Cristoforetti from Italy. (Adapted from here)