Even astronauts learn Russian!
08 August, 2017
What jobs require a knowledge of the Russian language? You might think diplomats and international buisnessmen would like to speak Russian. Astronauts might not be the first career that comes to mind. But nowadays NASA astronauts have to learn Russian. I’m going to take a look in this article at why and how these space voyagers study Russian.
For the last decade all the space shuttles travelling to the International Space Station fly there on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. There is also always one Russian on the ISS. Mission control will communicate primarily or even entirely in Russian so astronauts have to fluent and have a huge vocabulary of technical words. A number of astronauts have even passed through Liden & Denz to help sharpen their skills!
Astronauts must understand commands to dock and steer their spacecraft all delivered in rapid fire Russian. Their language learning is very focused on their job – much like how a businessman might learn business words to improve his networking so an astronaut learns about hardware, engineering and navigation. There is even a special Russian textbook for this purpose with over 100 pages of specific words and imperatives like ‘monitor propellant consumption’. It makes my learning of ‘two coffees please’ seem rather easy.
The process begins when astronauts have to absorb the Cyrillic alphabet and then contend with the uncomfortable new sounds of a foreign language. From this beginning to an acceptable level takes 6 months of intense learning. Immersion training was an important part of the astronaut’s progression.
British astronaut Tim Peake even said that of all his arduous training learning Russian was the most difficult part! He said that he wasn’t a natural linguist which made such a different language from English particularly difficult.
Russia also provides the base for other NASA training efforts. The freezing cold Russian winters provide a great place for survival training. Not far from the main launch site of Star City in the Moscow oblast Western astronauts and Russian cosmonauts undergo rigorous tests of their ability to survive in harsh environments. The training complex has several replicas of the ISS allowing Russian and foreign astronauts to practice their skills.
So, any aspiring astronauts have a great reason to start learning Russian and anyone who has already started has the potential for a career change!
This piece was written by Tom, currently studying at Liden and Denz.