A Conversation with Don Pettit, NASA Astronaut in Star City, Russia

We are so grateful to NASA Astronaut Don Pettit for returning to TCS for his third conversation with our students. His chats with the children and incredible photos from space have made us all into planet-watchers and stargazers.

Don spoke to the children from 8,000 miles away, streaming in from the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia. It was once a secret facility, hidden in a forest outside Moscow, but opened up to American astronauts in 1994. Don was spending a few months there for refresher training on the Soyuz spacecraft that carries astronauts to the International Space Station, and he gave the children a little tour of the cottage where American astronauts stay. He explained that all the training is in Russian, which he finds challenging, though he enjoys being able to eat his favorite food of all time, tvorog, which tastes like a blend of yogurt and sour cream and was the treat he liked best while he was living on the ISS.

The children were curious about how long his next mission to the ISS would last. Don thought he would stay for about a year, but that could change at any time. Everything about working in space is unpredictable, he noted, because space is a frontier. In December 2021, for example, a micrometeorite strike damaged the return spacecraft on the ISS, and three astronauts were stranded for months until a rescue ship could be launched to pick them up. That’s also why it take so much technical training to become an astronaut; you have to be prepared for things to break, and be able to fix or work around the problem.

What is he most looking forward to on his fourth mission to space? Don shared that floating around the ship in microgravity is totally delightful, but the other great thing is looking out the windows at the cosmos. When you’re above Earth’s atmosphere, the stars are vivid, and it’s perfectly clear when you look at the planets and the moon. He loves taking pictures from space and will be bringing up special filters for the camera lenses on the ISS. We can’t wait to see more of Don Pettit’s extraordinary photographs and wish him the best of luck on his next mission!