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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Last Mir Voyager to Kick the Habit




Some enjoy the adventure. Some like gazing out of the portholes at the world below. Others get a kick out of conducting scientific experiments in deep space.


But for Sergei Avdeyev, who this year will almost certainly become one of the last cosmonauts to live aboard the aging Mir space station before it is retired from service, the best thing about space flights is that they force him to quit smoking his favorite Marlboro cigarettes.


"I have smoked, I smoke now, and I have this desire to quit," Avdeyev said in a recent interview. "When I was on Mir, I stopped smoking, because there wasn't any money to spend on cigarettes and there weren't any kiosks. It was only after 2 1/2 months [in space] that I remembered I was a smoker."


Avdeyev's next stint on Mir, which is scheduled to begin in mid-August, is likely to go down in history. After 12 years in operation, the station -- which has seen an on-board fire, a deep space collision that depressurized part of the station, countless power failures and other hazards -- is due to be taken out of orbit and sunk in the ocean by the end of the year. If everything goes as planned, Avdeyev's crew will be the last to live on Mir, the world's only operational space station.


The flight is all the more noteworthy because Avdeyev and his crewmate, professional cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, will be accompanied by a novice, President Boris Yeltsin's former aide Yury Baturin.


Avdeyev, 40, who will work as flight engineer on Mir, is an old hand at living in space. He has two stays on Mir under his belt already, a 189 day stint from 1992 to 1993 and then a mission lasting 179 days from 1996 to 1997.


Officials at the Energiya space company say he is well equipped to fly the last mission on Mir. "He is a nice guy," company spokesman Sergei Gromov said. As for Avdeyev's working with the untried Baturin, Gromov said: "I think they will easily find common ground. They are both engineers. I do not anticipate that there will be any difficulties."


Avdeyev was working as an engineer assembling a special telescope at Energiya, which operates Mir, when he got the chance to try out for the cosmonaut unit.


"When I heard that there was a unit of civilian cosmonauts, I thought to myself, 'Why not?'" recalled Avdeyev, an athletic man whose boyish face makes him look younger than he is.


"I did it purely because of my curiosity," said Avdeyev, who jokingly calls Mir "a space sanatorium."


But Avdeyev becomes serious when he recalls the first physical tests he had to undergo in the centrifuge at the Zvyozdny training center near Moscow. "I have never been spun around like that anywhere, except on the merry-go-round, and I had the feeling that someone had turned me inside out like a puppet-doll. Not everyone could handle that."


Avdeyev himself lost several kilograms during the training for his first flight, and like many cosmonauts upon returning from their first mission in space, he had difficulties adapting to daily life on Earth.


"When you return to Earth, you have a strange feeling when you realize that the people are walking on their legs and are not falling down. I understood how difficult it is to walk without falling over. You also lose power in your muscles. When someone asks you to throw him a match box, you can't do it," Avdeyev explained.


Between space flights, Avdeyev spends his free time driving in his red Volkswagen Passat and tending the garden at his two-story home in northern Moscow where he lives with his wife, Maria, and his two daughters.


For now though, Avdeyev is training seriously for his August flight on Mir. His only regret is that the training schedule means he is not allowed to play his beloved soccer.


"I like it because it is very dynamic, but doctors do not allow cosmonauts to play sports before the flight to avoid injuries," Avdeyev said.