Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko has a word of caution for the future of the planet

Russian pilot and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, who completed 342 days in outer space in 2015, the longest single flight mission till date, got a bird’s eye view of the earth. And he did not like what he saw.

He said, “Seeing earth from space made me understand what we are doing to our planet and its environment, polluting it with garbage and filling it with junk. This, by far, was one of the most frightening experiences for me.”

Mr. Kornienko was in the city in connection with the Rosatom Festival of Science and Culture, organised by Russia’s Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corporation and Nehru Science Centre, Mumbai with support from the Embassy of Russian Federation to the Republic of India. Addressing students from various city schools at the Nehru Science Centre on Friday, he said, “The earth is our home and we behave very poorly with it.” Mr. Kornienko talked about undergoing intense physical tests before embarking on the mission, watching movies, celebrating birthdays, conducting biological experiments and preserving the water available in the expedition that he participated in along with Scott Kelly, an engineer and astronaut from NASA. The primary objective of their mission was to find out what happens to the human body after prolonged exposure to weightlessness, cramped quarters and damaging radiation, he said. “Every drop of water counts in space. We occasionally took sponge baths and tried to recycle as much water as we could,” he said.

Speaking to The Hindu following the interaction, Mr. Kornienko said, “My feeling about the environment changed, along with my feeling towards the earth.” If people on the planet continue to behave the way they do, he said, “we will not have a lot of time in future.”

Mr. Kornienko said he was among the very few people who had experienced life both on earth and in space, and that the experience gave him a different understanding of the concept of time. “The physical state of time is exactly the same but we all feel it differently. For me, one hour in space felt like almost five hours on earth. It was like time has been stretched like rubber,” he said. Calling long-distance space missions “critical” for space exploration, Mr. Kornienko said they are extremely helpful in understanding how the space environment affects the human body physically and mentally.

A highlight of the event was Mr. Kornienko displaying his endurance by sitting still for 40 minutes without a fan or air conditioner, with his coat on despite the difference in temperature between Russia and India, while a student of the J.J. School of Arts made a portrait of him. He then signed the portrait with the student’s paintbrush.