Astronaut Pedro Duque: Soyuz is safer than shuttle

A Russian Soyuz space vehicle is safer than an American shuttle, Spanish astronaut Pedro Duque said in an interview with the newspaper El Pais.

"The risk is much less on a Russian craft than on an American one, especially when comparing a Soyuz with shuttles," Duque said. "The most positive aspect of the Russian approach to space exploration is their accent on reliability, on well tried and tested equipment good enough to be trusted," he believes. The 30-year-old astronaut is now working in the European Space Agency. In 1992-1994, he underwent supplementary training in Star City outside Moscow. In 1998, Duque flew a mission aboard the American spacecraft Discovery together with astronaut John Glenn and is now training in Star City for an October flight to the ISS aboard a Soyuz TM cargo ship. In the El Pais interview Duque had words of lavish praise for Russian space equipment. "It has been proved that it functions well," the astronaut said.

"True, as happens with aircraft or motor engines, Russian equipment requires special care and maintenance, needing many spare parts and units. In outer space we have a full inventory of such spare parts, which we have dispatched on freighters. Above all, these are parts for the air regeneration system," Duque said.

He also noted that Russia and the US are running "neck and neck" in developing space vehicles. But he emphasised that "Russia has an edge in alloys which function at very elevated temperatures and so the rocket engines used in Europe and the US cannot even be compared with Russian ones".

He also opined that Russian cosmonauts have more initiative and show greater determination than American ones. "Russians are trained with a certain leeway in acting and deciding," Duque said. "Usually, American astronauts are distinguished by being over-meticulous in fulfilling all instructions and show much less initiative," he emphasised.

Asked how he views ISS future prospects considering the situation in the Russian economy and budget cuts in the US space programme, he replied: "I think there is agreement that the ISS will continue to be used". "In the European Space Agency we have several already functioning projects for large-scale cooperation with Russia. And are preparing new and more ambitious ones," Duque said.

Asked who of the cosmonauts or astronauts impressed him most, he answered that it was "John Glenn, who for all his 85 years is very active". "Among the Russians the one who impressed me most was Sergei Avdeyev, the holder of a record in staying in space for over a combined two years. His nervous system is so rugged that one may think he has no nerves at all," the astronaut said.

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