Obit of the Day: Cosmonaut Aleksandr Serebrov
Aleksandr Serebrov, a cosmonaut who began his career when his country was the Soviet Union and ended when it was Russia, faced myriad challenges in his 13 years of space travel. But the biggest challenge ended up being something out of his control - budget cuts.
Mr. Serebrov made his first trip off of Earth’s surface on August 19, 1982 along with two other crew members including the Soviet Union’s second female cosmonaut, Svetlana Savitskaya*. Their mission was to dock with the Salyut 7 space station, the predecessor to the better-known Mir.
He would only make three other space flights. By the time of his last mission in 1994, Mr. Serebrov would spend a total of 372 days in space, the 25th longest span in history. His first two trips were a combined 11 days, his final two were for an average of 180.5 days.
In 1989 Mr. Serebrov was the engineer on a mission to Mir that included the first-ever ride on the Soviet Union’s new rescue “motorcycle” called Icarus. Mr. Serebrov was the vehicle’s first “pilot” taking it for a spin around the space station on February 1, 1990 (see photo above). He would spend a total of 31.63 hours floating in space during his final two missions.
His final flight took place two years after the end of the Soviet Union. Launched in July 1993, Mr. Serebrov’s mission was scheduled to last about two months but because of severe financial difficulties in Russia, he and his fellow cosmonauts stayed aboard Mir for an additional five months.
To add insult to injury, Mr. Serebrov and his colleagues were forgotten about when the first Russian parliamentary elections held in 75 years began - no one sent the cosmonauts on Mir a ballot.
The Russian space program had delayed the return of Mr. Serebrov and his colleagues because the company that manufactured rocket engines went bankrupt. The company went bankrupt because the government could not afford to pay them. Engines used for weather rockets were commandeered to bring the men home.
Mr. Serebrov retired as a cosmonaut in 1995 having earned numerous awards from the Soviet and Russian governments including Hero of the Soviet Union, Pilot-Cosmonaut of the USSR, the Order of Lenin (twice), and the Order of Friendship. He died on November 12, 2013 at the age of 69.
(Image of Aleksandr Serebrov testing the Icarus a personal rescue vehicle called a “motorcycle” in February 1990, he was the first test pilot of the craft. The image is courtesy of spacesafetymagazine.com Can anyone identify the doll he is holding in his left hand?)
* The first Soviet woman in space was also the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova in 1963. Ms. Savitskaya went up just months before U.S. astronaut Sally Ride became the first American woman in space.
Other relevant posts:
Scott Carpenter - One of the original seven U.S. astronauts
Boris Chertok - Rocket engineer who was part of the early Soviet space program
Sally Ride - The first U.S. woman in space