311 Days in Space: How the USSR Left a Cosmonaut Stranded

311 Days in Space: How the USSR Left a Cosmonaut Stranded

Sergei Krikalev left for space in 1991 and was stranded there for over 300 days, thanks to the fall of the USSR. 

Sergei Krikalev had been preparing for a five-month mission in space all through the spring of 1991. By January 1992, Sergei had been stranded on board the Mir space station during the dissolution of the Soviet Union and stuck in space for eight months (or 311 days) with no clue when he would be able to return home.


Why was he Stranded?


The ‘home’ - and the country - he left no longer existed.

With the fall of the USSR, the government and its funds, there was no support available to bring him home. Plus, the Baikonur Cosmodrome and the landing area both being located in the newly independent Kazakhstan left a great deal of uncertainty about the fate of his mission.

Sergei’s return fell on the back burner of the government’s priority. While it may have been a political issue to work out his return home, obviously Sergei and his family and friends were more concerned for his physical health. The longer he was in space, the more his bone and muscle mass would deteriorate. 

Strangely, because Krikalev spent so much time in space away from Earth’s centre of gravity, time dilation (or the slowing down of clocks) caused him to be 0.02 seconds younger than other people born at the same time as him.


Krikalev Wasn't Alone

Throughout his various missions aboard Mir, Krikalev regularly communicated with various amateur radio operators (hams) across the globe. A particularly lengthy relationship was formed between Krikalev and amateur radio operator Margaret Iaquinto. At one point during one of his stays in space, he contacted her once a day for an entire year. Krikalev and Iaquinto successfully communicated via packet radio for the first time in history between an orbiting space station and an amateur radio operator. They communicated about personal matters, as well as political ones. Iaquinto set up a makeshift digital bulletin board that the Mir cosmonauts would often use to obtain uncensored western news and information regarding the state of the collapsing Soviet Union.


The Return to Earth


He returned to solid ground on 25/3/1992 as the “last citizen of the USSR.”

This mission lasted a total of 311 days – twice as long as the projected duration. He had left a Soviet Union citizen and returned home as a Russian. His physical health had deteriorated to the point he needed assistance to walk off the shuttle walking when he got off the shuttle.

He was pale, thin and weak, described by reporters of the time as “pale as flour and sweaty, like a lump of wet dough.” He bore the insignia of the country he’d proudly called his home for his entire life, a state that no longer existed — the USSR. He was no longer a son of the city of Leningrad, but of St Petersburg, the re-introduced historic name for his hometown.



Life after Mir

Sergei flew multiple missions throughout the 1990s.

In completing his sixth space flight, Krikalev logged 803 days and 9 hours and 39 minutes in space, including eight EVAs (space walks). He is currently third to Gennady Padalka and Yuri Malenchenko in the record for the most time spent in space.

He moved up the ranks to commander in 2005 and was promoted two years later to Director of Human Spaceflight at Roscosmos. Krikalev was appointed Vice President of the S.P. Korolev Rocket and Space Corporation Energia in charge of manned space flights. In that office, he was the administrator of the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center from 2009 to 2014.

To this day he "... still lives with infirmities” at age 63, and he routinely needs his bone density checked.


You’ve come this far…
Why not venture a little further into A.S.S. - their exclusive Australian Space Society. 

And keep thrusting Australia into the deep unknown…




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