Astronauts and the Russian Language

Do you dream of becoming an astronaut? If so, you had better start learning Russian! 

Russian is the first human language that had been spoken in outer space. Many people are currently studying the Russian language to pay tribute to the world-first cosmonaut/astronaut Yuri Gagarin who left the Earth.

Later astronauts from other countries, including the USA, had to learn the Russian language to come to the Russian space station “Mir”.

It is not only about the history of space exploration, though…

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The launching of the manned spacecraft “Soyuz TMA-18M” to the International Space Station on 2 September 2015 / By Roscosmos (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The ISS 

Nowadays the International Space Station is often “inhabited” by the crew from Russia, the USA and other countries. The cosmonauts from the so-called “other countries” constantly change, while the astronauts from Russia and the USA always stay on the orbit.

The official language of the International Space Station is English, but many astronauts can speak Russian as well. We think the explanation is quite easy. The prevailing Russian equipment is not exactly the point. It is the Russian astronauts who play a crucial role in ensuring security on the ISS. Imagine that there has been an emergency and the Russian astronauts are eliminating the problem. In this case, every split second counts let alone a second. There is simply no time for repeating the message into English. You have probably got the idea.

(I will knock on wood three times. If you do not get what I am talking about, you should check out the article on the superstitions of cosmonauts). 

By the way it is not the main reason why all astronaut candidates pass the Russian exam.

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The launcher with the manned spacecraft “Soyuz TMA-18M” is almost ready to go / By Roscosmos (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Let’s go! 

“Poekhali!” (“Let’s go!”) is the word uttered by Yuri Gagarin during the launch of the Soviet carrier rocket. This event marked the first step of human race into outer space (you can get even more information on these “first steps” here).

Today cargo is delivered to the ISS by carrier rockets belonging to different countries, but astronauts are brought to the orbit only by the Russian launchers. This tendency is likely to remain in the nearest future (the main criteria in choosing the right launcher is its safety). Other carrier rockets still cannot ensure a similar level of security as the Russian ones.

(I am going to knock on wood three times again. Yeah, even a science-based and technologically advanced sphere can be full of superstitions) 

Nowadays any astronaut who gets into the launcher controlled by the Russian space center must be proficient in the Russian language. It is not Russia’s requirement; it is the request of NASA.

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Astronauts try practicing foreign languages before launching to the ISS. For example, the Russian astronauts speak English, while their U.S. counterparts use only Russian. International crew shows its ability for team working on the Earth. There is no indulgency. All mistakes are carefully analyzed. If necessary, the crew does the same tests again, but it can be replaced with a double team.

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Countries can get into troubles or file notes of protest, but astronauts cannot survive in space on their own. They can make it only as a team! We should not forget that we are also astronauts on the space ship called “Earth” that revolves around the Sun with a speed of 30 km/s (more than 100,000 km/h).

Today there are two official on-board languages on the ISS, which are English and Russian. In fact, astronauts us their mix, called Runglish. Runglish is a special slang made of Russian and English words. This space language is probably studied by modern linguists. 

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