Science Fiction Space Movies
There are plenty of sci-fi space movies where an astronaut goes into space and comes home to find that their friends, family, and even their planet had changed drastically. This isn’t something that has only happened in the movies. Something similar happened in real life to cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev. This cosmonaut trapped in space was unsure of his fate when a startling event plagued Earth.
In 1991, 33-year-old flight engineer, Sergei Krikalev, left the Soviet Baikonur Cosmodrome in the Republic of Kazakhstan for the Mir space station. The space station needed repairs, and Sergei was willing to go into space to handle it. He was also going to be making some experimental spacewalks in the space station. He didn’t go into space alone. Britain’s first astronaut, Helen Sharman went, along with Anatoli Artsebarski. Fortunately for them, they ended up leaving before disaster struck.
A 5 Month Mission
Sergei and his team were only supposed to be going into space for five months. This is a short mission compared to the previous ones. This was basically considered to be a quick jaunt. Unfortunately, things were happening down on Earth, which left Sergei alone in space for much longer than he had expected.
The End of the Soviet Union
While Sergei was on the space station, his home country, the Soviet Union collapsed. It split into 15 separate states on December 26, 1991. This brought upon drastic changes. President Mikhail Gorbachev stepped down so that Boris Yeltsin could become the new leader of the newborn country, Russia. Since the Soviet Union sent him to space and was responsible for his journey into space, the status became fuzzy. Nobody knew who would be financially responsible for his return, and nobody wanted to accept responsibility.
Stuck In Space
With so much chaos going on back on Earth, Sergei was stuck in space. People called him, “the last citizen of the USSR.” He had no idea how, when, or where he was going to return to Earth. Everything was very complicated because the Soviets launched the rockets from Baikonur Cosmodrome, which belonged to Kazakhstan after the collapse of the USSR. Also, bringing him home wouldn’t be cheap.
Kazakhstan was charging Moscow a tremendous amount of money to use the facility. Because Russia’s economy was already deteriorating, there wasn’t enough money to bring Sergei home. He had a chance to return home on the Raduga re-entry capsule, but since this meant abandoning the space station, he declined. He was going to wait until there was an available flight engineer to take his place, but this would take money that nobody had.
Russia desperately needed money to bring Sergei home, so they tried to raise enough money. They thought that they could raise the necessary money by selling trips to the space station to other governments. Austria paid $7 million for a spot. A Japanese television station paid $12 million to sent one of its reporters to the space station. It was a good idea, but they didn’t earn enough money.
Striking a Deal
Moscow and Kazakhstan finally made a deal. The first Kazakh astronaut and the Austrian astronaut would be launched into space from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Sergei was relieved that he was finally coming home. Unfortunately, it wasn’t that simple. When the two astronauts arrived at the space station, they realized that neither of them had the skills to take Sergei’s place. This meant that he couldn’t leave. When news got out on Earth, Sergei’s name was all over the papers. Everyone sympathized with him, and some people even said that Earth forgot about him. Because of the publicity, Russia was desperate to get Sergei home. They even offered to sell Mir to the US, but NASA wasn’t interested.
The longer Sergei remained in space, the more he was at risk. Being in space for too long can result in muscle atrophy, radiation, a dangerously weakened immune system, and cancer. Sergei was in trouble and needed to get home. When he started to wonder if he was strong enough to survive in space, he began to panic. He knew the dangers of being in space for too long.
A Ticket Home
Finally, Germany paid $24 million for a ticket to send Sergei’s replacement to space. On May 25, 1992, Sergei finally made it back to Earth. After 311 days in space, his muscles had completely atrophied. He needed help to stand, and he was given a fur coat and a bowl of hot broth. It took him a while, but he got better, and he was deemed a hero. This was Sergei’s last trip to space, and it was an unforgettable one.