“After spending half a year in a confined space, when I was allowed to come out into the open once again, even the rise and fall of staircases gave me a special buzz.” Thus Alexander Smoleyevsky (38) described his feelings after completing the Mars-500 project – 520 days in a simulation space capsule, replicating the conditions of a flight to Mars. There is so far no space mission to Mars slated with a specific timetable, but Russia is making plans along these lines for the future.
In the isolation experiment, six putative cosmonauts – from Russia, France, Italy and China – took part. The era when the USSR and the USA faced off in space during the Cold War, hijacking the science of the project for the sake of state prestige, has now long passed. Today space research goes on with international collaboration, with many countries – including Japan – offering their own technologies and resources in the cause of joint achievement. One current symbol of such cooperation is the International Space Station (ISS), where one Japanese cosmonaut, Kimiya Yui, is working on board.
The collaboration is headed by Russia and the US, who are currently at political loggerheads. When Russia joined with Crimea last year, and then this year added the further issue of Syria, it was believed that their worsening relations, which could really be called a New Cold War, would impact adversely on their collaboration in space exploration. However, Japanese space experts inform us that the political stand-off hasn't affected space exploration. Russia and the USA continue their space collaboration with no let-up.
Since the time the ISS first began operating, space trips haven't been limited to heroes or supermen. There is a special program of trips to the ISS from Earth, which is serviced by journeys aboard Russian Soyuz craft. People who have made their fortunes in other spheres can now begin thinking of space travel.
“I want to sing to the accompaniment of an orchestra on Earth, while I'm aboard the ISS.” These were the ideas British singer Sarah Brightman expressed, when she was interviewed this spring. Sarah was already preparing in suburban Moscow for her future flight to the ISS. Sadly she had to give up her ideas of space travel, although these ideas left the singer with wonderful dreams. Perhaps the time will soon come when artists, athletes, or people from other professions will set off into space – and return to tell us of their adventures in orbit.
Space is breaking down the frontiers between nations and generations, and winning the hearts of many people. Despite this, space travel is still strongly connected with military applications – there are spy satellites in space, as well as rocket guidance systems. It would be wonderful if the stand-off between Russia and the USA didn't extend into the cosmos – so that international collaboration in this shared project carried on as normal.