"The long term prospects of Space Exploration, beyond Mars and Moon colonies, are mind-boggling!"
- Anatole Forostenko

Questions and Answers with Anatole Forostenko

Could you tell us briefly how you ended up at NASA and what your role was during the Apollo-Soyuz program?

I have a BA in Political Science and International Affairs from Rutgers U., a Masters’s Degree in Russian Literature and Russian Area Studies from Indiana U., and a Ph.D. in Russian Language and Philosophy from Bryn Mawr College.  

My professional teaching experience is as follows:  Instructor of Russian Language at Indiana University Air Force Defense Language Institute-1963-64; Instructor of Russian Language and Culture at Rutgers U. Camden, NJ-1964-69; Consultant for Language and Translation Research Project at RCA in Camden, NJ-1968-69; Professor of Russian Language and Literature Specializing in Post Revolutionary Soviet Literature and Soviet Culture at U. California, Riverside-1970-73; Director of Summer Russian Language Institute Abroad at U. of California, Santa Cruz-1971-72.  While at U. Of California, Riverside in 1973, I applied for a newly created position at NASA-JSC to head a team of Russian Language Instructors to organize and implement a program of Russian Language instruction to prepare 8 US astronauts selected for the upcoming APOLLO-SOYUZ TEST PROJECT.

In this role as the Chief Russian Language Instructor/Interpreter, my team and I were responsible for providing a broad-based introduction to Russian and Soviet history and culture and, of course, a solid working basis of understanding the spoken and written Russian language not only in regular,  everyday situations but in very specific, technical flight operations.  Thus, the crews had to be proficient in Russian technical terminology pertaining to the following flight segments:

1. Approach & Docking Maneuvers 

2. Joint Operations During Docked Mode—including scientific experiments & press conferences with ground media and political leaders

3. Undocking & Separation from Soyuz 

The teaching duties included classroom instruction, sessions in the mock-ups, monitoring of simulator training sessions, and accompanying the crews for joint training sessions at Star City Moscow and Baikonur. In addition, I accompanied crews on various public relations activities including the Post Flight Good Will Tour through the USSR.

Of all of your experiences at NASA is there a particular interaction or moment that stands out the most?

The series of moments that stand out most were when I heard astronauts communicating with cosmonauts in Russian during the approach and docking with Soyuz. Of course, THE UNFORGETABLE MOMENT was when I saw and heard General Stafford shaking hands across the open hatch with cosmonaut Leonov and greeting him with his unmistakable Russian drawl! That deserves to be in the movies!

Your collection of materials from your years working with NASA is extensive, are you a collector at heart, or was the collection more so personal documentation of your work and career that was saved over the years?

There are more than one and each one is associated with a specific, unique detail that defines a moment or a situation.  For example, the press conference photo of Gen. Stafford, Gen. Shatalov, and me is my VERY FIRST PRESS CONFERENCE facing WORLD MEDIA REPRESENTATIVES.  Needless to say, I was nervous!  I don’t remember the first words or recall whether my voice or my hands trembled as I began to interpret.  But as I registered the inquiring faces turning towards me with questions, I unexpectedly experienced relief.  As questions continued, my anxiety gave way to confidence and appreciation of my active role.

From what we have seen so far one of our favorite pieces in the collection is the personally inscribed photograph of Ronald Reagan. Do you have any items that stand out to you as favorite pieces?

A. Two Wooden Mallets from a Maryland Crab Fest. As guests of President Gerald Ford, the Apollo-Soyuz team accompanied him in his helicopter to the affair.  I interpreted for President Ford and the cosmonauts while we were seated at a picnic table and served buckets of steaming, red crabs.  Each person was provided a wooden mallet to crack open the crab claws.  As we prepared to leave, I noticed that President Ford had no intention of taking his mallet as a souvenir.  I picked it up and asked him to autograph it for me.  He did with a comment, “This a first for me!  Don’t recall autographing a wooden mallet before or for that matter any mallet!.. Enjoy!” In the helicopter on the return flight to the White House, I showed the autographed mallet to cosmonaut Leonov.  He noticed that my mallet was not autographed and volunteered to autograph it. Handing it back, he quipped, “Don’t confuse the two!”

B. Two small Russian Orthodox Crosses. Upon returning to JSC after a joint training session in the USSR which included an excursion to Zagorsk, the seat of the Russian Orthodox Church, where both crews received the Church’s blessing for a safe and successful mission, I asked General Stafford to take 5 small, gold crosses with his personal items on the upcoming flight.  I explained to him that in pre revolutionary Russia it was customary in families to provide a small cross to anyone who was setting out on a long journey.  The small cross, usually worn around the neck, symbolized reliance on God’s guidance and protection.  General Stafford understood the significance and packed the crosses with his items. After the completion of the ASTP mission, he returned them to me.  In appreciation of his gesture, I asked him to accept three of these crosses for his family while I kept two.

C. A 14 x 20 inch piece of an orange colored Sunscreen material that was left over from the sail-like sunshade that was manually installed by Skylab astronauts to provide the Skylab Orbital Workshop with thermal protection after the heat shield was torn away at launch.  The 3 layered sunshade is composed of: top layer of aluminized mylar, the middle layer of laminated nylon ripstop & the bottom layer of thin nylon.  The material was supplied by GE.  Cy Baker, who was in charge of Astronaut Office procurement and scheduling, gave me this piece as a gift in appreciation of my contribution to the training program.

D. A cigarette lighter given to me by General Stafford. Shortly after my arrival at JSC, upon completion of an afternoon class instruction session, General Stafford suggested that we go for a drink to get to know each other better.  It was understood that we would use this opportunity to practice appropriate Russian vocabulary.  I followed him in my car to a bar not far from JSC.  Upon entering the establishment, quite a few of the patrons greeted him.  We sat at a table & Tom ordered a couple of beers.  Two bottles of cold Pearl beer were opened for us.  Up to this point, I had not heard of Pearl beer.  Lifting his bottle, he asked me how to toast in Russian.  Clinking bottles, I pronounced, “Na zdarovje tavariich!”  He asked me to repeat the phrase slowly, syllable by syllable.  I did and he repeated it with a very pronounced drawl.   Soon a well dressed, middle aged woman approached and greeted Tom.  They obviously were acquainted.  She did not sit down.  Following some small talk, she placed a small packet by his beer with her business card and left.  Tom smiled and moved the packet towards me explaining that she’s a sales rep with a novelty company. “Already gave me one last time. It’s a lighter. I don’t smoke! Take it!  Open the packet.”  It was obvious that he wanted me to open it.  Curious, I opened the packet and saw a lighter with “Have a Nice Day”. This was the time that this salutation was very popular.  I took the lighter out of the box and saw on the back “Fuck somebody today”. General Stafford was pleased by my surprised expression. “Just some Texas humor to welcome you all to these here parts”, he mumbled in his Oklahoman drawl.

E. Astronaut drink container with dehydrated orange given to me by Valerii KUBASOV during a food tasting session at JSC. He chose an apple drink with his meal.

F.  A Soviet era can opener that was part of a food preparation kit aboard the Soyuz during the ASTP mission.  Valerii KUBASOV gave it to me when I had dinner with him and his family in Moscow.  He joked that even though they had a number of these aboard, with strings or ribbons attached,  they still kept floating away and disappearing in out of reach locations.  According to him, he was unable to open a canned meat product for at least one meal. 

G. Disney World cap autographed by the entire team of Soviet ASTP Cosmonauts.  These caps were especially made with APOLLO-SOYUZ mission patches to honor the ASTP mission and were presented only to the ASTP crews when they were invited guests at Disney World.  I received one as their interpreter.  The cosmonauts felt privileged that unlike KHRUSHCHEV who demanded to visit Disney Land and was refused they were privileged, invited guests.  If I remember correctly, astronaut Alan Bean quipped that the cosmonauts should not consider themselves more privileged than Khrushchev only better behaved than Khrushchev.

H. A pen and ink drawing by Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov of his first in history EVA.  He gave us this as a gift when he came to have dinner with us in New York.  

As you know the first round of your collection will be included in our “Frontiers of Flight” auction celebrating over 100 years of space and aviation history. Within this past year, there have been several new advancements in man’s quest to explore space including Elon Musk’s Space X program, Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin launch, and most recently the canceled and now forthcoming Artemis launch by NASA. Are you keeping up with these modern space travelers and do you have thoughts on the future of space exploration?

I have been following the headlines that you mentioned including, Sir Richard Bronson’s Virgin Galactic flight.  These are impressive developments and bode well for private sector startups.  A couple of facts worth mentioning here is that a number of astronauts were involved in settling up private space exploration companies back in the 1970’s.  Deke Slayton, one of the Original Seven Astronauts, upon retiring from NASA collaborated with a group of Texas investors in starting a private company to launch small payloads.  Astronaut Dave Scott was instrumental in forming an entity to launch vehicles to retrieve and repair satellites already in orbit.  Astronaut, geologist Harrison Schmitt, upon retiring from NASA worked to setup private ventures on the moon to mine and transport minerals back to earth as additional sources of energy.   I share the view that the outer space is the next frontier with many layers of near term applications, such as: space tourism, space medicine and pharmaceuticals, industrial manufacturing, land and ocean farming and the harnessing of climate and weather forecasting.  There are already today startups with positive contributions in these sectors. 

I think the USA is well along the road technologically to land humans on Mars and establish long term bases.  Whether we have the required determination and political foresight is less apparent.  I hope we do!

The long term prospects of Space Exploration, beyond Mars and Moon colonies, are mind boggling!  To paraphrase Einstein, “…What lies ahead of us depends only on our imagination.”