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Propelled by sports, inspired by Verne & Tolkien: Anna Kikina, only woman on Russian cosmonaut team, opens up on cosmic challenges

Propelled by sports, inspired by Verne & Tolkien: Anna Kikina, only woman on Russian cosmonaut team, opens up on cosmic challenges
Anna Kikina is currently the only woman on Russia’s team of 30 cosmonauts. Speaking to RT, she talked about what helped her overcome the odds along the way and what inspired her.

Kikina, 36, was left as the sole female member on Roscosmos space agency’s team of cosmonauts in 2016 when her only female colleague, Yelena Serova, traded a career in space for an MP’s mandate after winning election to the State Duma.

Only woman on the team

Although Roscosmos holds new team selections every few years, including 2017-18 and 2019-20, Kikina remains the only woman on the team. She believes it’s due to the harsh criteria and rigorous selection process.

“Women always participate in the selection process. There are women who have almost made it to the end,” she told RT in a live broadcast on April 9, adding that “it is usually for medical reasons” that women are cast aside. “The medical criteria are very stringent.”

Legendary Soviet cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya – the second woman in space and the first to perform a spacewalk – is more critical of the situation, saying it is caused by Roscosmos’ reluctance to hire more women to the team.

“There is no strict order to enroll women; that’s why they cast them aside,” Savitskaya told TASS in 2019, adding that medical reasons to declare a candidate unfit for the job can always be found. Kikina, however, believes she simply made it due to her excellent physical shape, experience, and the will to win.

The cosmonaut also says she feels no prejudice towards women in Roscosmos or on the team. All cosmonauts are like a big family, she explains. Every member of the team tries to closely follow every manned space launch, every docking to the International Space Station and generally every important milestone of every expedition into orbit. “You just have this feeling of belonging to all of this,” Kikina, who has not yet been to space, explained.

Every experience counts

Kikina believes that training for sports during her school years and the competitions she was in as a teenager also helped her pass the trials on her way to the team.

Born in Siberia, Kikina said her first victory at a regional swimming competition was a turning point that inspired personal development and encouraged her to conquer new heights.

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“My first victory… showed me that I can be just as good as anyone else while competing on a non-preferential basis,” she said. In her high school years, Kikina did not stop at sports, enrolling in search-and-rescue training as well – along with backpacking and spelunking.

This experience turned out to be useful in cosmonaut survival training, which is designed to teach cosmonauts how to survive, sometimes for days, after their return from orbit, if they find themselves in a deserted area and harsh weather conditions with only the remains of a re-entry module and some standard equipment at their disposal.

“It is not about just survival. It is about survival in some given circumstances and with very specific gear designed for cosmonauts,” Kikina explained, adding that the gear is usually very limited and the team of three usually has just one machete and no shovel.

“One should know what to do with a re-entry module, whether one should leave it or use it as cover; how to draw attention to oneself,” she said, adding that cosmonauts have virtually nothing to dig snow, so they used the top of a medicine box to do that at one point.

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“Everything you do in your life, your every experience as well as all your physical and mental skills are making you stronger and prove useful at some point,” Kikina believes.

Sometimes, you realize that something you did 10 or 15 years ago was in fact preparation for this very moment. Everything I did before proved useful, comes in handy now and will be useful in the future.

Vast knowledge & inspiration

Being in good physical shape is not all that makes an excellent cosmonaut, Kikina says. Having vast knowledge and a higher education is just as important. “Passing the trials requires a certain level of education,” she explains, adding that it is university-level.

The studying does not end when you make the team. Apart from physical training, cosmonauts also have an extensive curriculum and take numerous tests and exams to gain the necessary scientific and engineering skills to perform tasks in orbit.
“Basic education is very important,” Kikina says, and “every single school subject” helped her on her way to making the team.

But to become a cosmonaut, you also have to be prepared to follow your dream and go all the way to reach it, she said, noting that she was inspired by French novelist Jules Verne, who is known for his adventure novels and is considered one of the fathers of science fiction.

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“I am greatly impressed by this man and he never cease to amuse me.”

J. R. R. Tolkien is another inspiration for Kikina. The cosmonaut said she once devoured the entire ‘Lord of the Rings’ novel and was impressed by it so much it made her “sit and think,” and eventually re-evaluate her life.

“If one really wants something, one can always muster sufficient strength and ability to overcome all the difficulties and reach a desired goal,” Kikina said, adding that Yuri Gagarin, the Soviet cosmonaut who was the first man in space, is one such person whose deeds will shine through the ages.

“The first cosmic flight by a man from our country will be always remembered by everyone on Earth.”

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