Anousheh Ansari, at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center, studies Russian ahead of her flight.
Ansari: When you go to Star City, it’s down to basics, and sometimes not even basics.
Olsen: Star City used to be an air base; it’s now a college for cosmonauts. It’s a woodsy setting on a lake, a small village of about 3,000 people–a very idyllic place.
Garriott: There is an ambiance about the place that doesn’t feel like a traditional American overly well-lit bright and shiny office. It’s all a little dimmer and kind of surreal.
Ansari: Everything is on the verge of falling down.
Garriott: Nothing is wrong with old. I have been at NASA during some of their downturns and seen it in disrepair, too.
Ansari: The first day I came, there was no hot water. The next day, there was no hot water. I was going to the gym and taking showers over there. Finally I went down, and it’s like, “Do you know when the hot water will come back?” They said, “Yeah, in about a month.”
Olsen: The plumbing was a little rusty, so I had to get in and fix it, but I didn’t mind.
Ansari: When you turn on the faucet, brown rusty water comes out. If you let it run for 10 or 15 minutes, it starts getting clear, and you can take a decent clean shower.
Olsen: It’s kind of a culture shock.
Ansari: It is a military base. It taught me that you don’t need a lot of things to live happily. At home I go to 10 different places to buy just that one product that I’m used to, that one shampoo.
Olsen: Things are real cheap at the store they have on base. Like, bread is maybe 20 cents U.S.
Ansari: I’m lactose intolerant, so I drink soy milk. But there’s no soy milk over there on the military base.
Olsen: I ate at the cosmonaut cafeteria. Tea, hard-boiled eggs, and goulash was a typical breakfast, but I rolled with the punches. I wasn’t there to live like an American.
Simonyi: I grew up in Hungary; also, I’m a programmer, so I eat anything. The food was perfectly good.
Olsen: I grew up during the Cold War. Now all of a sudden I’m living with the enemy, okay? It’s a culture shock.
Simonyi: You run into people like Sergei Krikalyov. He’s probably the all-time most-adapted human to space: 800 days, six times, he flew.
Olsen: The only English you hear is around the NASA section. I’m not going to tell you I’m fluent in Russian. By far that was the hardest part, learning Russian. Class was 9:00 to 4:00, including four hours of Russian three days a week. Then, 4:00 to 6:00, weights and all kinds of stuff in the gym. Then go home and study. And every Friday we had exams, oral exams. You can bet I burned the midnight oil before the exams. Boy, you talk about being nervous. The so-called multimillionaire American businessman who’s a research scientist failing an exam!
Garriott: On the space station everybody speaks English, so it is no big deal. But on the Soyuz all the commands are in Russian, and all the instruments are labeled in Russian. So you want to get some fundamental mastery of Russian.
Shuttleworth: Four hours a day of intensive Russian is a little like brain surgery without anesthesia, but it was worth it. The faster you could get over that hump, the faster you could really start to interact.
Simonyi: Learning about the docking, communication, and reëntry systems was interesting.
Olsen: Sometimes I saw things that were a bit crude. They don’t have the budget NASA has, so a lot of things that they do, they do by ingenuity.
Shuttleworth: The other day I got a little guided tour of a high-end racing yacht with carbon fiber walls and floor, computerized gadgetry and winches, stuff like that. Someone said, “Wow, this is just like a spaceship!” I laughed and said, “A spaceship is a hell of a lot simpler than this.”
Simonyi: In the James Bond movies there’s Q, who creates all these fantastic devices. It’s not like that at all. Many of the devices on the spacecraft are almost from Jules Verne!