May 17, 2021 – To celebrate the 60th Anniversary of the first person in space, Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the Department of Physics and Astronomy, Faculty of Natural and Applied Sciences (FNAS), and the Office of Public Affairs and Protocol (PAP) at Notre Dame University-Louaize (NDU) collaborated with the Russian House in Beirut to host Cosmonaut Anton Nikolaevich Shkaplerov, member of the Russian Space Agency (Roscosmos) and a former commander of the International Space Station (ISS), for a talk titled “Living in Space and the Future of Mankind.”
The event was organized with the help of Dr. Roger Hajjar, Associate Professor at the Department of Physics and Astronomy- FNAS, Joceline Chidiac Jade, Assistant Director at the NDU Office of Public Affairs and Protocol, and Svetlana Safa, Head of Public Relations and Communications, of the Russian House in Beirut with the support of FNAS. Dr. Ruslan Ramazanov, Deputy Director of the Russian House in Beirut and Dr. Marwan Gebran, Associate Professor and Chairperson at the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the FNASwere also present on the panel.
Commander Shkaplerov is a seasoned Cosmonaut, still on active duty with Roscosmos logging 533 days in space to date and three space walks around the ISS. His first flight was launched on November 14, 2011, in which he served as the commander of the Soyuz TNA#.
Introductions were followed by a short film depicting a montage of Commander Shkaplerov’s time in space. NDU students and faculty were then invited to ask questions about the future of humankind in space.
Commander Shkaplerov discussed his training and his time in space, going through his hygiene and exercise regimen: “Sport for cosmonauts is very important in zero gravity (zero-G) conditions. Our bodies weaken in space and so it’s important to maintain our health so that after long flights we will be able to undergo rehabilitation and go on other flights in the future. This is why we exercise for two (2) hours a day in space. We have different equipment for weight lifting, bicycling, and walking. This helps us feel healthier and more comfortable when we return to Earth.”
Commander Shkaplerov also talked about some of the experiments he conducted on the ISS, studying the Earth and how living organisms (animals, plants, and people) handle zero-G conditions: «One [experiment] that I would like to talk about is aimed at studying how the body handles sleep. We were given special boxes to track movements, heartbeat, and breathing while sleeping on Earth and in the ISS. We then compare the results in both cases and make deductions. In space, we need fewer hours because of zero-G and no pressure so, for example, eight (8) hours of sleep becomes six (6).”
Discussing humanity’s relationship with space, Commander Shkaplerov said: “I can’t imagine how we’d live without space. Everything we use cannot operate without it. Sooner or later, humanity will begin to colonize other planets: this is why we need to keep increasing the distance that we can fly further away from Earth. I’m sure that the financial resources that we invest will give us great results and help us preserve the planet. Unfortunately, when we go into space, we can actually see the negative results and the ecological situation of Earth that humanity has caused. However, this doesn’t mean that we should forget about exploring space and we should do it alongside exploring our planet.”
Finally, Commander Shkaplerov presented a hopeful vision of the future, saying: “In the future, people will be able to travel the same way they do in airplanes. Even children and the elderly … We see the development of the space program with continued flights to the ISS as well as landing people on the Moon, with the second stage being people going to Mars.”