FORCE OF GRAVITY
The conferment of the title of Hero of Turkmenistan upon Russian astronaut pilot Oleg Kononenko has not only become an exciting occasion in the public life of the two countries but also a certain characteristic of the current state of the comprehensive Russian-Turkmen partnership in all areas of human endeavor.
Oleg Kononenko is a man whose personal space orbit lies extremely high. He is now one of the most experienced active-duty astronauts in the world. He has accomplished four space missions lasting 736 days 18 hours 43 minutes and several spacewalks lasting 32 hours 13 minutes.
Holding many ranks and regalia, Oleg remains a simple person who is open to live communication, never forgetting his homeland. Living and working aboard the International Space Station, he often sent congratulatory messages and words of support to the Turkmen people on national holidays and important domestic events. Despite his busy schedule of work on Earth, Oleg always gratefully accepted invitations to visit Turkmenistan and sincerely rejoiced at new meetings with compatriots.
This time, while expressing gratitude to President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov for awarding him the highest state decoration, the title of Hero of Turkmenistan along with Altyn A medal, Russian astronaut Oleg Kononenko said that he regarded it not simply as a recognition of his merits.
"This award is a symbol of my inextricable link with my homeland, my beloved Turkmenistan," Kononenko emphasized. "I am proud of being a native of this land, a beautiful country that is developing dynamically, that has achieved unprecedented successes in the economy, social sphere, foreign policy, science, culture, art and sports. Being involved in space research, I admire the progress made by Turkmenistan in this industry, which is evidenced by the launch of its first artificial Earth satellite. It is natural that I have special feelings for this country, and I always sincerely rejoice at its indisputable achievements. Turkmenistan is currently a dynamically developing state, living in the atmosphere of peace and harmony, enjoying great international reputation."
The international magazine "Turkmenistan" joined numerous congratulations to the new Hero of Turkmenistan and asked Oleg Kononenko to share his impressions. Here is what the cosmonaut said:
"Travelling into space is not about money (a cosmonaut is paid much less than a senior middle manager) or about a thrill (it is much easier to get adrenaline rush in extreme sports or on park attractions). Travelling into space is about following your dream. A career as an astronaut (one can only compare it with a career as a pilot) is probably that rare case when a profession matches perfectly your desire to reach new heights, which is inherent both in any individual and humanity as a whole.
However, if on Earth an astronaut dreams of space, then in space, given this is also a long orbital flight, an astronaut dreams of returning home and seeing his family and native places. The human fate can make strange turns. For example, it is hard for me to give a simple answer to the question about a place of geographical origin of my destiny as an astronaut. I was born and raised in the Turkmen city of Chardzhou, where, as a young boy, I dreamt about travelling into space. Later, I studied the subtleties of the engineering and space specialty at the Kharkov University. I grew up professionally as a research engineer at the Samara TsSKB Progress. The Korolyov International Science and Technology Center "Energia" opened the way to my joining the astronaut corps. And if we recall all the cities where I had to train before flights to the ISS, we will have to list Houston, and Paris, and Tokyo...
And yet, in my thoughts, I never felt separated from my homeland - Turkmenistan. My every new visit here is a great holiday for me. Wherever I happen to be, I always follow with interest the events in this beautiful country that is so close to me and so beautiful. It was perhaps only during space flights that I could not always track news lines. I could only look at the geographic space of Turkmenistan on the surface of the planet."
Oleg Kononenko has got used to frequent trips abroad. Yet, he admits that only in Turkmenistan he really feels the warmth and comfort of home and connection with the origins of his destiny.