The last Soviet citizen
May 31, 2019 5:27 PM   Subscribe

But now the country is in such difficulty, the chance to save money must be top priority Cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev was in space when the Soviet Union collapsed, leaving no country willing to bring him home. "He asked them to bring him honey in order to raise his spirits. But there was no honey, and instead they sent him lemon and horseradish."
posted by bitmage (35 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
 
Oh:

In fact, he could have left. There was a Raduga re-entry capsule onboard the Mir, which was designed specifically for making the return to Earth. But taking it would have meant the end of Mir since there was no one else left to look after it.

This guy isn't a joke. He's a Heinlein hero.
posted by ckridge at 5:38 PM on May 31 [54 favorites]


Basically the plot of Silent Running, IIRC.
posted by rhizome at 5:53 PM on May 31 [5 favorites]


Not disputing Krikalev's accomplishments, nor am I admonishing the poster for what I am about to say, but it seems pertinent to note for folks reading this (who may otherwise be unfamiliar with the media outlet linked in this FPP) that Russia Beyond is owned by Rossiya Segodnya, which is owned by the Russian government.

Not looking to kickstart a derail. Just good context to have going in, especially if you end up clicking around the site's other articles.
posted by nightrecordings at 6:03 PM on May 31 [24 favorites]


His wikipedia page mentions that with all his time in space, he has experienced the most time dilation of any human being, 22 milliseconds of extra time.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sergei_Krikalev
posted by nickggully at 6:11 PM on May 31 [23 favorites]


Interesting story! I don't remember it at all from the time, what with all the other drama going on (and, probably, not having access to the 24/7 news cycle like I have today).
posted by clawsoon at 6:14 PM on May 31


There was a Raduga re-entry capsule onboard the Mir, which was designed specifically for making the return to Earth.

Would there have been anything like a recovery crew left to get him after landing? IIRC Soviet spacecraft “splashdown” on dry land wayyyy out in the middle of nowhere.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:15 PM on May 31 [2 favorites]


Would there have been anything like a recovery crew left to get him after landing? IIRC Soviet spacecraft “splashdown” on dry land wayyyy out in the middle of nowhere.

I feel like there is a great movie here. He is way out in the desert, trying to survive. He runs into some nomadic farmers wearing a spacesuit, they run away. He finds a tiny village that begins worshiping him and ends up holding him hostage...
posted by Literaryhero at 7:43 PM on May 31 [13 favorites]


There's a Fred Small song on this subject, although it doesn't seem to be online.
posted by shenderson at 8:06 PM on May 31


Though the reasons for the protagonist being stuck in orbit are completely different, I'm reminded of Gibson and Sterling's short story Red Star, Winter Orbit.
posted by Strutter Cane - United Planets Stilt Patrol at 8:15 PM on May 31 [7 favorites]


Though he himself denied it, Apollo 11 Command Module pilot Michael Collins was described as "the loneliest man since Adam." But Collins knew he had a country to go home to. Sergei Krikalev was forced to go a step further than Collins.
posted by bryon at 9:32 PM on May 31


I feel like there is a great movie here. He is way out in the desert, trying to survive. He runs into some nomadic farmers wearing a spacesuit, they run away. He finds a tiny village that begins worshiping him and ends up holding him hostage...

The soviet space programs landing zone were huge forests in the Siberian wilderness. There was the legitimate need to be able to fight bears or hunt wildlife in the event of an emergency touchdown, so the soviet space capsules contained a weird triple barrel utility gun called the TP-82. I've always dreamed of a space station murder mystery involving this thing, but so far no luck.
posted by KeSetAffinityThread at 10:02 PM on May 31 [16 favorites]


If you're planning a murder inside a spacecraft, I suggest you don't use a gun. If you do use a gun, don't miss.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:47 PM on May 31 [8 favorites]


He runs into some nomadic farmers wearing a spacesuit, they run away.

There's more than a few Russian artists who have depicted exactly this. The intersection and interaction between cosmonauts and peasants and their little isolated villages. I have an old Soviet art book featuring Gargarin, and his adventures, painted in traditional Russian styles.

There's one artist in particular who made several paintings in the style of old Orthodox icons. Cosmonauts with halos descending on villages while the peasants (and their livestock) knelt in worship. If this artist sounds familiar to anyone, please let me know. I remember seeing these paintings, in the United States, back in the 90's in conjunction with a traveling exhibit of Soviet space hardware. I've been looking for this painter for 20+ years now, and can't find a trace on the internet.

On a side note to my side note, I've heard that traveling exhibition never made it back to Russia. At least not all of it. That many pieces were sold (stolen) at the end of the tour. The looting of Russia in the 90's was quite epic and thorough.
posted by Teegeeack AV Club Secretary at 2:44 AM on June 1 [24 favorites]


I love the fact he got to fly again! That after all he still wanted to go up, and that politics falling apart was a delay, not a defeat.
posted by thegirlwiththehat at 2:45 AM on June 1 [7 favorites]


Sidenote: in the early 90' on italian television run an ad for a new modern atlas with all the new nations exactly on this idea.
Space capsule falls to earth behind a peasents farm, cosmonaut comes out praising mother Russia.
Old peasent woman "Russia is that way, this is Karzikistan"
Cosmonout "Yeah, but we are all URSS"
Old peasant woman "URSS, what URSS? Here Karzikistan, there Russia, that way Giorgia"
Add tagline: The world has changed, get a new atlas
Cosmonaut asks to a chicken: "But you are still a chicken?"
posted by thegirlwiththehat at 2:56 AM on June 1 [32 favorites]


Can someone explain the honey thing? Is this a Russian expression? A metaphor? Or literally they could afford to send a resupply vehicle up there but couldn't afford to put honey on the shopping list?
posted by Easy problem of consciousness at 4:04 AM on June 1 [8 favorites]


What an interesting story. Thanks for posting it.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:02 AM on June 1 [1 favorite]


This 1992 LA Times article provides more info on the honey, lemons, and horseradish. They were real things sent by supply craft. Evidently he asked for the lemons as well as the honey.
posted by snowmentality at 6:42 AM on June 1 [4 favorites]


Early 90s Russian Cosmonaut fashion is interesting. That's a really short onesie. Forget honey. I would have asked for a decent pair of pants.
posted by mundo at 7:13 AM on June 1


I feel like there is a great movie here

well, i’m not sure it’s great, but I enjoyed it: Out of the Present is a 1995 documentary about Krikalev’s predicament.
posted by mwhybark at 7:16 AM on June 1 [2 favorites]


In my mind, I had always remembered the story as he was alone in space and accidentally got the record for longest single spaceflight. The truth is not quite so extreme. He was part of a crew the whole time and several crewed flights came and went, but while the other cosmonauts were able to be swapped out, he had to stay up longer because there was not a suitable replacement for him. And when he landed, it was merely the fourth longest (at the time) spaceflight, though he might have set a record for overall days in space, since it was his second long-term spaceflight.
posted by ckape at 8:17 AM on June 1 [2 favorites]


I’m taken aback by how...smug...that LA Times artcle sounds. Like “here’s another story of how badly our former enemies are suffering now.” Was that the zeitgeist in the US at the time? I was a kid then, so I was only about 20% aware of all the implications of the collapse. I do remember thinking that it meant we could worry less about nukes though. Regardless, I find the differences in the Russian article and the American account really telling. While the LA Times is so much richer in context and details, they’re maybe “both” propaganda in a way?

As for the horseradish, while it seems odd, I could see how it would be a nice pungent treat for someone whose senses have been dulled by too long in space. Seem to remember that the smell of food is a problem for astronauts. I can see adding wasabi paste on the side!
posted by Cecilia Rose at 8:18 AM on June 1 [4 favorites]


If you're planning a murder inside a spacecraft, I suggest you don't use a gun. If you do use a gun, don't miss.

The 80s Sean Connery vehicle Outland (basically High Noon with eighties drug anxiety in spaaaaaace) plays around with this theme. Although they apparently got the whole explosive decompression thing wrong, it's quite cinematic.
posted by aspersioncast at 8:32 AM on June 1 [3 favorites]


This is the kernel of a video game I'd love to play - I've long hoped for a very slow, retro, non-combat oriented game that involves being marooned in space, having to keep systems running, watching the cosmos ... maybe occasionally encountering other folks left behind by dead states or dead worlds, or just derelict ships that you could salvage supplies from. Maybe with a resolution months or even years in the future. Just log on a few times a week, watch the stars drift by, and try to keep things going for another day.

Maybe honey by shuttle could be an in game purchase or something.
posted by ryanshepard at 8:59 AM on June 1 [4 favorites]


Interesting story! I don't remember it at all from the time, what with all the other drama going on (and, probably, not having access to the 24/7 news cycle like I have today).

Yeah, I'm kind of floored that I have no memory of this. I was studying Russian language at the time, and avidly reading every story that came my way. Of course, I was living in a little town in Middleofnowhere, USA, pre-internet and, as pointed out, before the ubiquity of the 24-hour news cycle. Crazy.

Like “here’s another story of how badly our former enemies are suffering now.” Was that the zeitgeist in the US at the time?


Pretty much.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:51 AM on June 1 [1 favorite]


I know there's been at least one filk song written about Sergei to the tune of "Charlie and the MTA."
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:31 AM on June 1 [7 favorites]


If you're planning a murder inside a spacecraft, I suggest you don't use a gun.

You come at the spacecraft king, you best not miss.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 11:27 AM on June 1 [1 favorite]


"Don't Starve in Space"?!? *slams pile of rubles down on table*
posted by phooky at 11:51 AM on June 1


Years ago, a college acquaintance told me how he once met a cosmonaut who visited his hometown in rural Pennsylvania, and how the poor guy had been stuck in space for a year when the USSR collapsed. I looked up the guy later and found this adorable account of his visit:
Now, what you need to know is that this little town’s name was – you guessed it, “Mars.” The children wrote to Gorbachev and said, “Wouldn’t you like the Russians to be the first ones on Mars (Pennsylvania, that is!)?” No response… until a telex of only a few lines arrived saying: “Cosmonaut Sergei Krikalyov will visit the children of Mars in three weeks.”
...
To top it off, they wrote to NASA and said, “Hey, you’re not going to let the Russians beat us to Mars, are you?” (This resulted in NASA sending astronaut Mario Runco Jr. to Mars – and thus took place the first “US-Soviet Joint Mission to Mars.” The two men left their footprints in concrete in a special place in town to prove it.)
The full story is worth a quick read, and the RuSpace fan site still has an extensive section on Krikalev and his career. In addition to being an accomplished cosmonaut, he seems like an all-around generally wonderful person.
posted by yeahlikethat at 12:28 PM on June 1 [19 favorites]


Was that the zeitgeist in the US at the time?
Agreeing with The Underpants Monster here.
The attitude soon changed into a combination of sneering bemusement at Russian gangsters and sheer ignorance.
posted by doctornemo at 2:41 PM on June 1 [2 favorites]


The last humans left in orbit... I think this appeared in some other stories in addition to "Red Star, Winter Orbit." I think there's a DeLillio short about astronauts involved in nuclear war, left alone.
Lucifer's Hammer includes this, as civilization gets knocked over by a comet strike and two crews have to figure out how to get back to Earth's surface.
posted by doctornemo at 2:43 PM on June 1


I read a story in a book about the human body in space that had this great anecdote. The MIR crew receives a resupply which includes black bread and sausages as a moral boost. While unpacking the other supplies they discover an experiment using onion bulbs in an attempt to get them to sprout in 0 g. Of course they immediately cut up the onions to add to their bread and sausage. Several months later they are asked by ground control to check in the onions. So, they respond, yeah sure of course they sprouted. Well ground control goes crazy because it was the first time it had ever been successful. On return to earth they had to have a sheepish conversation that started something like "so, aboutthose onions . . . "
posted by nestor_makhno at 3:45 PM on June 1 [5 favorites]


Literaryhero: I feel like there is a great movie here. He is way out in the desert, trying to survive. He runs into

...a boy who asks him, "If you please - draw me a sheep!"
posted by clawsoon at 4:01 PM on June 1 [6 favorites]


If you want to know more about life aboard Mir let me recommend Jerry Linengar's Off The Planet -- he was the US astronaut dropped off there in 1997, by STS-81; and picked up by STS-84 four months later.
posted by Rash at 9:41 PM on June 2


I remember I had a t-shirt with a picture of Earth and the words "миру мир" (Russian for "world peace," pronounced like "miru mir") Always thought of the Mir space station whenever I put it on.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:15 AM on June 3


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