Табакова Т.С.

Relations between the Soviet Union (Russia) and France have a special place in international cooperation in space exploration - eight manned missions to space stations "Salyut-7", "Mir ", "ISS" during the period of 1982 through 2001.

The direct participant in all the projects of French cosmonaut’s missions to space stations "Salyut-7", "Mir", "ISS", the manager of the six of them, the Knight of the French National Order of "Merit" Taisia Semenovna Tabakova tells about how began, developed and strengthened cooperation with France.

 

 

35 years of international cooperation in manned spaceflight

Today's guest of the Korolev's Planet web site is a living legend, a direct participant in all the projects of French cosmonaut’s missions to space stations Salyut-7, Mir, ISS, the manager of the six of these during the period of 1992 through 2002, the manager of the projects of the European cosmonaut’s missions onboard Soyuz spacecraft to the Russian Segment of the ISS during the period of 2001 – 2007, a Knight of the French National Order of Merit, deputy head of department of commercial international contracts and agreements of RSC Energia Taisia Semenovna Tabakova.

The interview is conducted by Oleg Volkov, deputy head of the Great Start project.

Volkov O.N.: Mrs. Tabakova, good day!

Tabakova T.C.: Good day!

V.: The launch to Earth orbit of an international crew consisting of Alexei Gubarev and Vladimir Remek of Czechoslovakia on March 2, 1978 marked the start of international space missions to Soviet, and then to Russian space stations Salyut and Mir. Eventually, international cooperation in space grew into the biggest international project of the 21st century – the International Space Station. What was the place of our country’s cooperation with France within international cooperation in spaceflight? Who initiated it from Russian and French sides? What did it begin with? What were the difficulties in organizing international cooperation in space in the days of the Soviet Union?

T.: France was one of the first capitalist countries with which the Soviet Union began to cooperate in space research and exploration. In July 1966, during a visit of the President of French Republic Chales de Gaulle USSR and France signed an intergoventmental agreement on cooperation in peaceful space exploration and research. Within the framework of this agreement, working groups were set up consisting of specialists from scientific organizattions and industry, and the following areas of research were identified: space physics, space medicine and biology, space communications and space meteorology. Later, these areas of research were supplemented by Earth remote sensing and engineering experiments onboard unmanned spacecraft. In the USSR, coordination of cooperation activities was entrusted to the Council for International Cooperation in Space Research under the Academy of Sciences of the USSR (Intercosmos). In France, the work was coordinated by the National Center for Space Research. In 1959 France established a Committee on the National Space Program, which was later on reorganized into the National Center for Space Studies [Centre national d'études spatiales (CNES) – Ed.]. For all the areas of cooperation identified in the agreement, joint working groups were set up to draw up joint programs of studies. Annual meetings of the working groups were held, results of completed space programs were submitted.

Governments of the USSR and France expressed their appreciation of the joint space program activities. During a summit meeting in 1979 the USSR leadership made a proposal to the Government of France to fly a French cosmonaut as a member of a visiting crew to the space station Salyut-7. In 1980 French cosmonauts Jean-Loup Chrétien and Patrick Baudry selected for the mission arrived at the Cosmonaut Training Center to begin their training. 1982 saw the first flight of a French cosmonaut onboard Salyut-7 lasting 8 days. A new page was opened in cooperation between USSR and France. Thus, one more area of cooperation was established within the framework of the cooperation agreement between France and the USSR, the manned spaceflight. A program committee was set up to review and define joint scientific programs of research and experiments to be conducted onboard space stations. During a summit meeting in 1985, an offer was made to France to fly a mission to space station Mir, a long-duration mission including a spacewalk.

In 1985, Glavkosmos was established, and some part of coordination activities for space programs went to Glavkosmos, in particular, those were the programs for Earth remote sensing and missions of foreign cosmonauts [to Soviet manned space stations, – Ed.]. In 1985, Jean-Loup Chrétien’s backup Patrick Baudry flew a mission on a Space Shuttle, and by that time there had already been formed a team of French cosmonauts at CNES. This had to do with the fact that in 1982 ESA [European Space Agency, – Ed.] made a decision to develop a manned European spacecraft Hermes, and France played a significant role in the implementation of that program. Therefore, as early as 1985, CNES formed a team of cosmonauts to implement a program of manned space missions, in order to accumulate a certain amount of experience in training for and implementation of French cosmonauts’ space flights, as well as to get ready for flights onboard a European spacecraft. In 1989 [after Jean-Loup Chrétien had flown a second mission to Mir in 1988, – Ed.] a memorandum was signed between USSR and France to implement a long-term program of manned space missions, which included missions of French cosmonauts, during the period of 1992 through 2000. Since 1992, coordinating activities for manned spaceflight have been entrusted to Roscosmos.

V.: You have already answered my next question – why the mission of a French cosmonaut Jean-Loup Chrétien wasn’t a one-off mission as was the case for most countries with which the Soviet Union cooperated in 1970-80s, but rather became a start of an unprecedented program of eight missions. You were a direct participant in all eight missions. Which of those French cosmonauts’ missions left in your memory the deepest impression?

T.: As for the first two missions of the French cosmonaut Jean-Loup Chrétien, the program of which conducted under the auspices of Interkosmos, the most impressive was the mission under the Aragatz program. Starting with the mission of 1992 (project Antares), this time to Mir space station, when I was the project manager, naturally, every mission was a remarkable event, but the most memorable mission in terms of both preparation and implementation was a long-duration mission of Jean-Pierre Haigneré in 1999.

V.: And how was this long-duration mission prepared? Because we know that the duration of that mission was 188 days, and this in itself is an unprecedented duration. Who was it who proposed to carry out such a long mission?

T.: In 1992, a memorandum of partnership was signed between CNES, Roskosmos and NPO Energia [currently known as Rocket and Space Corporation Energia, - Ed.]. A memorandum was signed for four missions after the first commercial flight of 1992, which reflected the program of manned missions, that is, every second year a mission was to be carried out: 1994 (1993), 1996, 1998, 2000 (1999). This memorandum said that in 2000 (1999) a long-duration mission is to be carried out, and it referred to a 120-days mission which included a spacewalk. As Mir flight plans were being updated, so was the duration of this mission. Concurrently, at joint working group meetings, a program of scientific research for the mission was being drawn up.

V.: Which working group determined that such duration was required? What was such duration required for? Was it driven by the research program itself, or did they just set a task for themselves to break a record using Russian space stations?

T.: The working groups did not determine the mission duration. They drew up a program of experiments based on the mission duration defined in the memorandum or the agreement. There was no talk about breaking any endurance records. France was interested in long-duration missions. We had accumulated plenty of experience in preparation for and implementation of long-duration missions, and in the field of medical support for long-duration missions. The 1999 mission plan (project Perseus) called for a spacewalk to install and retrieve certain French experiments on the outer surface of the space station.

V.: The mission duration of 120 days was stated in the memorandum itself. And how did it evolve into 188 days?

T.: Yes, the mission duration was stated in the memorandum, and then, for every two missions, a separate agreement was signed to specify the precise mission schedule and duration and the mass of scientific equipment which had to be delivered in order to carry out the program of experiments. The duration of the French cosmonaut’s mission to Mir in 1999 was also driven by the mission plan of the Mir space station. That was a difficult period from the standpoint of funding and the issue of when Mir was to be decommissioned had not yet been finally settled. At first, there was some talk about the decommissioning in the second half of 1999, and therefore, it was suggested to change the mission duration from 120 days to 35 days. But for the French the most important thing was the spacewalk, because there were four experiments which required spacewalking, and the minimal mission duration required for performing a spacewalk was about 35 days. Then, the mission duration of 120 days was considered again. Eventually, after multiple updates of the Mir mission plan, it was determined that a 184-days mission was possible. The French agreed to this proposal. France made a significant contribution to financing the operation of Mir, because the five missions carried out from 1992 to 1999 were commercial missions. Separate agreements for missions in 1993 and 1996, and missions in 1998 and 1999 were signed between CNES and RSC Energia and payments for the missions were made directly to RSC Energia.

V.: In other words, it was suggested that RSC Energia should look for additional resources from third parties, with the understanding that the government cannot fully support the space station operation?

T.: In accordance with the Russian government decree about prolonging Mir operation till 2001 by means of non-budgetary sources of funding, the most important task for RSC Energia was the search for the funding sources. Cooperation with France was mutually beneficial. The French made a strong contribution to the funding of Mir operation, but at the same time they obtained some fairly important results from the experiments, they gained a wealth of experience in organizing, preparing and carrying out manned spaceflight missions, as well as in the development of organizational and technical documentation required for a scientific program, procedures for cosmonaut training, and onboard documentation, gained extensive experience in operational activities involved in controlling manned spaceflight.

V.: Mrs. Tabakova, coming back to that unprecedentedly long 188-day mission, it was the time when, in parallel with the French cosmonauts, Mir began to be frequented by US astronauts as well. Shannon Lucid also stayed onboard Mir for a long time, she stayed onboard almost as long as Jean-Pierre Haigneré ended up staying. Wasn’t there some sort of competition? How did it happen anyway that Jean-Pierre Haigneré became the international cosmonaut who accomplished the longest mission?

T.: In accordance with the mission plan his mission was to last 184 days, but since the scheduled launch of the Progress, which was to deliver the scientific equipment for the Perseus program, was moved back by four days, the French asked us to consider increasing the mission duration by four days in order to be able to complete the scheduled program of experiments. Thus, Jean-Pierre Haigneré, having completed a 188-days mission, broke the flight endurance record for foreign cosmonauts and astronauts onboard Mir. Because, as you’ve just mentioned, there had been a mission before that which lasted, I think, 180 days long. [Shannon Lucid spent 179 days onboard Mir, while her entire mission lasted 188 days. Jean-Pierre Haigneré stayed onboard Mir for 186 days. Thus, his indeed was the longest foreign cosmonaut’s mission to Mir. - Ed.].

V.: Mrs. Tabakova, we’d appreciate if could tell us in more detail how the scientific program of the French missions was formed. Who cooperated from the Russian side and from the French side? Maybe you could give us some names of those people who were in charge of those scientific programs?

T.: After signing individual agreements for the missions, the French would appoint a project manager for each mission. The project manager coordinated all the activities under the project related to preparing both cosmonauts and the program of scientific experiments, hardware development, mission program support at MCC, participated in the activities at the Baikonur launch site. One of the first project managers was Alain Labart. We were really very lucky because that was an outstanding person with a lot of experience in cooperating with Russia. He had taken part in such large Russian-French cooperation projects as Sneg-3 and Arkad-3. Our joint work on the project has always been conducted in the atmosphere of complete mutual understanding. Thanks to his direct interaction with our contractors (the Cosmonaut Training Center, IMBP, the institutes that were the principal investigators), we had established a joint project work team, which included representatives from all of our contractors under the project. This significantly simplified the work with out contractors. We did not experience any problems or difficulties when working on the projects.

V.: And were there many French institutions involved? Where was their center, in Toulouse?

T.: Toulouse is where the CNES technical center is located. Located there were mostly project managers, equipment supervisors, experiment supervisors. The science labs – those were dozens of scientific organizations from various towns all over France. By the way, Russian-French working groups made a very careful selection of experiments for the mission programs.

V.: In other words, if I got it right, the Russian specialists tried to select those French experiements, which were also interesting for the Russian and Soviet science, that is, those experiments, where we had done a good deal of groundwork, where we could use the French hardware for some new achievements, new breakthroughs, new results?

T.: That’s exactly right. We had joint medical and biological programs onboard our space stations before the missions of the French cosmonauts. As early as 1978 we already had onboard Salyut-6 the first French experiment CYTOS, which was performed by Soviet cosmonauts. Technology experiments in crystal growth were conducted in 1979 under the Elma program. Those were joint research programs. Later on, these joint programs were included in the mission program for the French cosmonauts.

V.: I want to make sure I got it right: France delivered science hardware which was later used onboard space stations, and this science hardware was used not only by French cosmonauts, but also by Soviet and Russian cosmonauts, and the obtained results were shared and jointly analyzed and studied. How many kilograms of science hardware, just a ball-park fgure, did France bring onboard Russian space statons?

T.: In accordance with individual agreements signed for French cosmonauts’ missions, 300 kilograms of hardware were to be developed for every couple of missions. That is, the system was as follows: for the first mission in 1993, 300 kilograms of hardware was developed, the next mission in 1996 was conducted using the same hardware, and an insignificant amount of new equipment was delivered. Then there was the next mission; for the third mission, under the agreement, 300 kilograms of hardware was delivered. Over the entire period when the missions were conducted, and if we are talking about Mir that’s six missions, delivered onboard Mir were about 800 kilograms of hardware, and the total duration of the French cosmonaut’s missions was 280 days and about 100 kilograms of the hardware were returned, that is, those were the results of the experiments which were handed over to the researchers for processing. The results of the experiments were submitted to annual meetings of the working groups.

V.: Mrs. Tabakova, one more question: to what extent your fluency in French helped you in organizing joint projects with France?

T.: Naturally, it did help. There was an atmosphere of complete understanding, trust, cooperation and friendship in our work, in our interactions.

V.: In other words, it wasn’t only work…

T.: Yes, there was friendship which continues to the present day, although the joint mannned programs are over.

V.: And could you name any other names on the French side besides Alain Labart?

T.: Yes, of course, Lionel Suchet, his successor, currently the deputy general director of the Toulouse center, who completely took up the torch from Alain Labart and worked in the same style, moreover, he mastered Russian within half a year.

V.: In other words, through your example they realized that knowing the language of your counterpart is very important and is a great help.

T.: Yes, there was complete mutual understanding between the managers of the project.

V.: Mrs. Tabakova, you were the manager of French cosmonauts’ projects, then you became the manger of the European cosmonauts’ projects. Is there any difference between CNES which formulated the program itself, and carried it out itself, prepared the scientific equipment, and the European space community which has many members, where various interests are represented and which flies cosmonauts of various nationalities. Was there any specific national flavor to programs of individual cosmonauts? If, for example, a German, Italian, or Belgian cosmonaut went into space, was there any specific national flavor to the mission plan of the cosmonaut who went into space? Or were those purely European missions without any specific national flavor?

T.: Within the framework of missions of ESA astronauts from various nations, a separate agreement was prepared for each mission. Those were commercial agreements, and the funding for the missions was provided by the country, whose cosmonauts were to fly, not only through ESA. The mission plan was formulated by the country whose cosmonauts were to fly. That country made the proposals on the program of experiments for the mission which was reviewed and approved by an ESA research council. The country which provided the funding for the mission was entitled to have priority given to its experiments. Speaking about the way ESA missions are organized, there is a significant difference as compared with CNES. ESA appointed a project manager, who was a representative of ESTEC, the ESA’s technical center. The project manager was responsible for, and mostly provided coordination for, all the activities to prepare the program of scientific experiments and to develop the hardware for the science program. Everything that’s related to getting the astronauts ready not only for operational activities, but also for science experiments, was provided by the European Astronauts Corps (EAC), which interfaced directly with out Cosmonaut Training Center. Support for the experiments during the missions was provided from the European control center at Oberpfaffenhofen, it was there that the European specialists and principal investigators were stationed. During French missions all the work on project preparation and implementation was coordinated by the project manager, and a consultative group of specialists from CNES headed by the project manager was working at MCC from the beginning of the mission till its completion. And in ESA different project phases were the responsibility of different organizations. That’s the difference.

V.: In other words, you mostly interacted with ESTEC? Is that so?

T.: With ESTEC, yes.

V.: And who was the project manager for European cosmonauts’ missions at ESTEC?

T.: Aldo Petrevelli, an excellent manager, a man with very extensive experience in space programs, he had headed the team of ESA specialists, who worked together with NASA on drawing up the science program and developing the hardware for the European Columbus module.

V.: Mrs. Tabakova, if we look at Soviet and Russian space stations Salyut-6, Salyut-7 and Mir, the Soviet Union (Russia) was the integrator and owner of those stations. In the case of the ISS, cooperation is structured differently - there is a Russian Segment, and there is a US segment. You took part in all of those international project, what kind of integration is more to your liking? If some new space station is constructed, chances are it will once again be an international space station. What kind of organization this new international space station should have? If we consider the experience, which has been accumulated by Russia, among other countries, in organizing international spaceflight.

T.: There are certain differences in the way the missions of foreign astronauts to the ISS Russian Segment are organized as compared with space stations Salyut-7 and Mir. Salyut-7 and Mir were Russian stations and the operational requirements were defined by Russia, and of course, it was much easier to work, publishing documentation to common operational requirements. During the missions of European astronauts to the ISS Russian Segment there were some problems that had to do with the certification of the equipment, which was to be delivered to the Russian Segment for ESA science program. Regardless of the fact that the science hardware was to be operated on the Russian Segment, the certificates had to be approved by NASA, since NASA is the prime integrator of the ISS. There were some difficulties which had to do with differences in certification requirements and in the approach to certification of the hardware for the Russian and US segments, and, in particular, this concerned the certification of self-contained power sources. And for those missions where the use of the US segment resources was involved, some additional work had to be done to evaluate the US contribution from the resources standpoint. Balance of contributions was taken into account. I think that if we are talking about a future international station where there'll also be several partners, I think the first thing that needs to be done is to develop common operational requirements. It’s hard to understand, since it is supposed to be a common pressurized volume, so why all these differences? And we’ve got to keep in mind that Europeans, who are now operating their own Columbus module, they also have operational requirements of their own. I think, before we embark on a new project with international participation, we need, first of all, to formulate all requirements, a common approach.

V.: And, in your opinion, the next space station, must it be international or will it belong to some particular nation?

T.: It’s very difficult to say, I don’t have any clear idea of the next station while we still operate the existing International Space Station. This might not turn out to be an international space station in low Earth orbit, this might be some other kind of station, an interplanetary one.

V.: Yes, but we’ve got to keep in mind that it’s very hard for one country to bear the burden of costs in such an expensive field as spaceflight, especially manned spaceflight, so I think this concept of the the balance of contributions, with each nation making a contribution to the cooperation, which is currently implemented on the ISS, wherever the new station might be stationed, this experience accumulated on the International Space Station will anyway be used to a significant extent.

T.: Yes, in any case, we need to keep track of the contributions of every partner in the international station.

V.: Mrs. Tabakova, you are a holder of the French Order of Merit. When did you receive it, where did the award ceremony take place? Because as far as I know, you are the only representative of RSC Energia currently working at the company who is a holder of a foreign order.

T.: That’s not quite so. All our cosmonauts who flew together with French cosmonauts, all participants in those expeditions received the order of the Legion of Honor. This order is the highest decoration in France. Those cosmonauts who were already in orbit onboard the station and were the hosts of the visiting crew, were awarded the Order of Merit, exactly the same as mine. I was awarded this order by decree of the French President. The award ceremony took place at the French embassy during celebrations to mark the 40th anniversary of Russian-French cooperation which were held here in Russia (in 2006,- Ed.). Earlier, in 2004, it was Yuri Pavlovich Semenov (the then president of RSC Energia, – Ed.), who was very supportive of and played a big role in cooperation between Russia and France, who was awarded the order of the Legion of Honor

V.: Mrs. Tabakova, thank you very much for the interview, we would like to wish you success. We have just briefly talked about international cooperation between Russia and France and between Russia and Europe, and I wish you wrote a book someday where you would mention not only those people which you’ve just named, but also that extensive network of organizations from Russia, France and Europe. Thank you very much!

T.: Thank you.

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