Exploring space science with Mongolia’s first astronaut J.Gurragchaa

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Gurragchaa is the first Mongolian, second Asian and the 101th person to travel to space. He orbited the Earth 124 times during his trip, which lasted seven days, 22 hours and 42 minutes.

After successfully completing his space mission on March 30 36 years ago, he served as the Minister of Defense from 2000 to 2004. In celebration of Mongolian Astronaut’s Day on March 22, the Hero of the Soviet Union and living legend gave an interview about Mongolia’s first satellite, which will be launched in May.

 Mongolia is planning to launch its first satellite soon. Can you tell us briefly about satellites and their significance?

 The satellite we’re preparing to launch is actually a small cube-shaped satellite measuring 10x10x10 centimeters, which isn’t suitable for long-term usage. It will probably be dispatched in mid-May with assistance from a Japanese satellite. The satellite will be sent to take some pictures of specific areas on Earth.

It will most likely become the beginning of a very wonderful research work, but it will not be practical.

A communications satellite, on the other hand, is completely different and very expensive. It relays and amplifies radio telecommunication signals via a transponder and creates a communication channel between a source transmitter and a receiver at different locations on Earth.

 Does Mongolia need a communications satellite?

 Without a doubt Mongolia needs a satellite. Nowadays it is impossible to live another second without space technology and information gathered from space. In fact, the government led by former Prime Minister N.Altankhuyag between 2012 and 2014 raised funds to develop blueprints for a satellite project and attract investment. Unfortunately, the nation seems to be facing financial challenges now.

There’s something most Mongolians misunderstand. Satellites are actually savings, not expenditure. Our nation rents television and radio satellite channels from another country. Government bodies and private companies are all paying expensive fees to use foreign channels.

If we can grit out teeth once and launch a satellite, there’s a high possibility we will recover the expenses after a couple of years and even rent the satellite to other countries to increase state revenue. Having our own satellite is beneficial not only strategically but also economically.


There’s a split in public opinion for the satellite launch. While some people commend the project, others view the launching of a satellite as superfluous spending when the public lacks money to buy food. What is your stance on the issue?

Information has become much more valuable than food right now. Just because you’re starving doesn’t mean you have to deprive your access to information. There’s a need to have something to connect you to the world and keep you up to date with the rapid development. It could be weather forecasts, geological exploration news, telecommunications, or the internet.

Satellite isn’t just an item in space. Once it has been dispatched, we’ll be able to build a ground station and develop space science. Eventually, the quantity of satellites will multiply and increase demand for better research centers and human resources. I’m absolutely sure that we have to take courageous steps to start this project.gurragchaa

 You sent the first Mongolian peacekeeping deployment in 2003 during your term as Minister of Defense, which also received a lot of negative feedback at the beginning. However, more and more people realized the significance of peacekeeping and the contribution Mongolia was making for world peace through peacekeeping missions over the years. Do you think people’s opinion on the satellite project will change in the same manner?

 I certainly do. We’re required to participate in international efforts to ensure security to be able to keep our own country safe and secure. All our laws and operations are aimed to ensure our national security as well.

I personally believe that space plays a special role in uniting every country on Earth, resolving religious disagreements, and help all sides stay peaceful. A person who wishes to see their own country from space will never want to set off a nuclear bomb.

The Earth looks so much tinier, cleaner and fragile from space, and amplifies our instinct to protect our planet.


 …Mongolia’s state flag has made it to the moon. American astronaut Neil Alden Armstrong landed on the moon on July 21, 1969 and spent two and a half hours outside his spacecraft, taking samples from the moon and measuring the exact distance between the Earth and the moon.
When Armstrong traveled into space, he took flags of all UN member states with him. They weren’t big flags – only small ones. In any case, it means that the Mongolian state flag also reached the moon in 1969. The same Mongolian flag that Armstrong took with him on his moon landing mission is stored safely at the archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs…


 

All kinds of alleged evidence are being put forward to dispute the notion that the first person to step on the moon was an American. It seems like a conspiracy, but what do Russian cosmonauts think about this issue? Have you talked about this with Russians or do you think it’s so ridiculous to even bother starting a conversation on this?

Those who know the truth don’t talk about such ridiculous things. This debate was started by people who are desperate to sell their magazines or publication through a new sensation. It’s a fact that man walked on the moon.

Let me tell you something interesting. Mongolia’s state flag has made it to the moon. American astronaut Neil Alden Armstrong landed on the moon on July 21, 1969 and spent two and a half hours outside his spacecraft, taking samples from the moon and measuring the exact distance between the Earth and the moon.

When Armstrong traveled into space, he took flags of all UN member states with him. They weren’t big flags – only small ones. In any case, it means that the Mongolian state flag also reached the moon in 1969. The same Mongolian flag that Armstrong took with him on his moon landing mission is stored safely at the archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

 Astronauts have to undergo a series of mental and physical training to go into space. How many people would qualify as an astronaut if 1,000 people were randomly recruited for the training? Is there any statistical data on this?

70-year-old J.Gurragchaa
70-year-old J.Gurragchaa

 Quite a lot of people will be selected. It’s not like you have to be born special to be able to travel to space. Take me for an example. I’m an ordinary person who grew up under ordinary conditions and went to an ordinary school. However, the training for turning an ordinary person into an astronaut is very special.

As a matter of fact, more than 1,000 young men and women were tested to see if they had the potential to become an astronaut. Most of those who were tested actually don’t know that they participated in this type of a test. Specialists went over personal files and health and education records kept at factories and other public organizations.

 Who conducted the test? Are intelligence agencies involved in such measures?

 Most of the people who evaluated potential candidates were doctors. Health was a very important factor and human resource departments played an important role in that test. There wasn’t much involvement from intelligence agents. Overall, young men and women were evaluated based on their Russian language skills, education, health, and communication skills.

Afterwards, people were sent to learn more about the selected candidates from their colleagues and superiors. From what I heard, over 1,000 young people were tested without being told the purpose of the test. Among them, 40 people passed to the next stage. From then, the number of candidates was gradually reduced until the final two remained.

 Numerous products, such as coins, carpets, candies, vodka, and leather jackets, were produced in 1981 in celebration of the first space flight by a Mongolian. Since then, many children were named Sansar or Sanchir. Can you tell us about the situation back then?

 Our nation wanted to provide all the supplies needed for the first Mongolian representative to go on a space mission. They prepared so many things, starting from soup made of borts (dried meat), milk with sea buckhorn, candies, photographs, and portraits. Many new products went on sale after the space flight. I guess people needed all sorts of food to celebrate the occasion. Now, only a few of these items remain.

As time passes, some things are forgotten while new things are created. Space technologies and equipment for spacecraft is developing each day, but the most amazing thing is that there are still people who are capable of going on space missions. If it were possible, I’d like to take everyone on Earth to space and let them see our planet with their own eyes. It’s quite strange because once you observe the Earth from a distance, you feel much more obliged to protect and love it, as well as to help create a more peaceful world.

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