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Soviet cosmonaut spent 10 months in space and when he came back to Earth the Soviet Union was dissolved

Goran Blazeski

Sergei Konstantinovich Krikalev is a Russian cosmonaut, and has the third highest amount of time spent in orbit (behind Gennady Padalka and Yuri Malenchenko) with 803 days 9 hours and 39 minutes. While he was in space, a lot changed – most interestingly enough was the disappearance of his home country; the Soviet Union

Born on August 27, 1958, in Leningrad, USSR (now St. Petersburg, Russia), he graduated from high school in 1975, and in 1981 received a mechanical engineering degree from the Leningrad Mechanical Institute, now the St. Petersburg Technical University. He followed his childhood dream and become a cosmonaut.

Sergei Konstantinovich Krikalev - Cosmonaut who flew in both Soviet and US space missions

Sergei Konstantinovich Krikalev – Cosmonaut who flew in both Soviet and US space missions

On December 21, 1991, the Soviet Union was dissolved. Meanwhile, Sergei Krikalev was in space. His return home was delayed due to the political situation in his country. He had now been in space for 265 days, sent by a country that no longer exists. Up there in the space, he was the last Soviet citizen.

While Sergei was in space, the USSR had disappeared below him. Even his hometown changed its name while he was in space from Leningrad to St. Petersburg. But for Sergei, everything still looked the same. Rivers and mountains remained the same for him as they always were.

Expedition 11 Commander Sergei Krikalev dons a training space suit

Expedition 11 Commander Sergei Krikalev dons a training space suit

In the early spring of 1992, Krikalev is interviewed by a Russian film crew.

Reporter: “When you left, the Soviet Union still existed, now it is Russia. Gorbachev was in power, now it’s Yeltsin. Even your hometown of Leningrad is now St Petersburg. Which of these changes impresses you most, surprises you most?”

Sergei Krikalev confused everyone with his answer: “What surprises me most? That at first, the Earth was dark, and now it’s white. Winter has come, and before it was summer. Now, it’s beginning to bloom again. That’s the most impressive change you can see from space.”

Sergei Krikalev with James H. Newman on the left during STS-88

Sergei Krikalev with James H. Newman on the left during STS-88

The five-month mission of Sergei Krikalev turned into ten-month marathon only because there was no money for a ship to bring him back. Finally, after ten months he was home.

Sergei Krikalev, for his space flight experience, was awarded the title of Hero of the Russian Federation; the title Hero of the Soviet Union; the Order of Lenin; Order of Honour; three NASA Space Flight Medals and he was selected as an honorary citizen of Saint Petersburg.