Cosmonaut loves feeling of weightlessness

Anton Shkaplerov wearing his space glove and standing next to his inner space suit at the Russian Space Exhibition.
Anton Shkaplerov wearing his space glove and standing next to his inner space suit at the Russian Space Exhibition.PHOTO: SCIENCE CENTRE SINGAPORE.

The memory of looking down at Earth from an altitude of 400km in outer space is one that will always stay with Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov.

Eyes widening, he tells The Straits Times through a translator: "I never realised how beautiful Earth is, looked at from a distance. No camera can transmit its beauty, unlike the naked eye."

Shkaplerov, 44, has travelled to the International Space Station twice - in 2011 and 2014 - and spent about a year in total in zero gravity.

He was in Singapore last week to launch the Russian Space Exhibition at the Science Centre Singapore, a showcase celebrating the achievements of his nation's pride, Yuri Gagarin, the first man to travel to the cosmos in 1961.

The exhibition is produced by the Department for External Economic and International Relations of Moscow, and the Embassy of the Russian Federation. It runs until Jan 3 and is free for Science Centre Singapore ticket-holders.

The exhibition offers visitors a glimpse of Gagarin before, during and after the historic flight through 20 black-and-white photographs.

In one photo, he is captured in the spacecraft minutes before blast-off, while another shows him after his return, face aglow with jubilation.

A highlight is a bust of Gagarin wearing a space helmet, donated to the Science Centre Singapore by the external economic and international relations department.

There are videos, too, of Gagarin's life as a cosmonaut and Russia's contributions to the International Space Station.

Shkaplerov contributed eight stunning snapshots taken by himself while in space.

One shows the whirlwind form of Typhoon Maysak shot in April last year, a particularly vivid image for the cosmonaut. "At that point, I was thinking how bad it will be for the people affected," he says.

In another photo, he captures a fiery image of a desertscape in Africa just as the sun is setting.

Also on display is his blue inner space suit and a large white space glove adorned with scribbles noting down his space expeditions.

As a child, it was his dream to be a cosmonaut and he used to watch many movies and read books about space and famous cosmonauts such as Gagarin.

The father of two girls, aged 21 and 10, worked hard to make the dream a reality and, like Gagarin, decided to first become a pilot before going on to spaceflight. It took him eight years after being selected as a test- cosmonaut candidate in 2003 to go on his first cosmic expedition.

His favourite part about being in space is the feeling of weightlessness. "At first, there is the constant feeling of being upside-down, but after a month, your body adjusts," he says.

Although he is connected to his loved ones via the Internet, he says it is tough being away for long periods of time. He spent 165 days in space during his first expedition and 200 days in the second one. "It would be much easier to return home on weekends and fly back to space on weekdays," he says with a laugh.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 28, 2016, with the headline 'Cosmonaut loves feeling of weightlessness'. Print Edition | Subscribe