Sergei Krikalev: The Truth About The Cosmonaut Left Behind In Space

Sergei Krikalev is a Russian cosmonaut, and for many years, he held the record for spending the most time in space. He was up there a total of 804 days, nine days, and 39 minutes (via Universe Today), but the most impressive is how he achieved it.

After receiving his mechanical engineering degree in 1981, Krikalev joined NPO Energia, the most prominent Soviet spacecraft design organization. Years later, he started training to be a cosmonaut (via Britannica). In 1985, he spent 151 days in space as a flight engineer and was impressed by two things. "Firstly, the view of Earth from the viewing port. Secondly, the sense of freedom which you experience in weightlessness, you feel like a bird that is able to fly!" he wrote, per The Guardian.

On May 8, 1991, Krikalev started his second mission. When he was in space as part of the Mir EO-9 crew, the whole world was following the tension in the Soviet Union closely, but most people could not imagine the political changes would have an impact outside the Earth.

Sergei Krikalev became known as 'the last soviet citizen'

Sergei Krikalev was 240 miles away from Earth when he watched his hometown Leningrad become St. Petersburg, but he says it didn't affect their routine at first. "It was a long process, and we were getting the news, not all at once, but we heard about the referendum, for example. I was doing my job and was more worried about those on the ground — our families and friends — we had everything we needed," he recalled (via The Guardian).

Before the Soviet Union collapsed, President Mikhail Gorbachev tried to improve the relationship with other countries and announced that a Kazakh cosmonaut would replace Krikalev. However, there was a problem: Kazakhstan didn't have a trained cosmonaut, and Krikalev had to stay longer than he planned.

In October 1991, the other crew members left, and Krikalev remained alone. The Soviet Union collapsed in December, and the chances to send someone to replace Krikalev were vanishing, and he became known as the "the last Soviet citizen." After 311 consecutive days in space, the cosmonaut was allowed to come back in March 1992, thanks to a join Russian-German space mission (via History Net).

"After the landing, I left Russia a few months later to train for the joint shuttle program [with the U.S.]. My work didn't change significantly; it was straight back to training," Krikalev said (via The Guardian).

Krikalev went to space four more times, and his last mission was in 2005.