My Russian cosmonaut friend Gennady Padalka just achieved an impressive career milestone. Today Gennady broke the record for total time in space – 804 days. Mind blowing. And a significant landmark in human spaceflight.
I trained with Gennady for several years and then flew with him in 2009 aboard the International Space Station. He was our crew commander. I remember my first evening aboard the Station. During dinner we celebrated my Soyuz crew’s arrival. I recall Gennady asking me, “Bob, you previously flew aboard a shuttle mission. Correct?”
“Yes, I did,” I replied.
He then quizzed me. “What is the fundamental difference between a space shuttle mission and an International Space Station expedition?”
I answered, “A shuttle flight is a sprint. An ISS expedition is a marathon.”
“Not quite,” Gennady replied. “A shuttle mission is a short flight with a hectic, aggressive timeline. A Station expedition is a long flight … with a hectic, aggressive timeline!”
I laughed. Gennady, a veteran of two previous long duration flights, was wisely pointing out to me that my pace of life would not slow down on the Station. In fact, a Station expedition is more akin to a Tour de France than to a marathon – we go fast and hard each day. I spent the next six months living at that tempo.
Gennady has broad knowledge and highly regarded skills. Consequently he has been repeatedly entrusted by the Russian Space Agency to fly long expeditions. From my observation, Gennady is also a good time and energy manager. He always has sufficient reserves to draw upon for unexpected events and contingencies.
Cosmonauts and astronauts who manage their rest and sleep, and keep workload within reasonable boundaries are the ones who have the emotional and physical reserves to deal effectively with problems and crises as they arise. This is a good self-care strategy for all professionals – whether working in space or on the ground.
Gennady is now the crew commander of the current Station expedition. He loves his work. When he returns to Earth this September, Gennady will have spent 878 days in orbit and will have capped a career of five long flights. He has become the world’s most experienced spaceman and a good role model for us all.