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Sergei Krikalev: The Time Travelling Cosmonaut

BY Gavin Alexander February 3, 2020
Sergei Krikalev

Sergei Krikalev. (NASA)

We have all read or watched movies about time-travellers; people who travel back in time or into the future by some unexplainable medium or device. For example, various types of ‘Time Machines’ as famous, generic mechanisms which are present in many of these stories. These are either fiction or conspiracy theories of course, but there is another type of time travelling which is very much real. Although it happens in a very much shorter space of time.  

Time travelling conspiracy photo

A famous time travelling conspiracy photo from the 1940’s (Note the man on the right with futuristic sunglasses, camera and attire.) (www.virtualmuseum.ca)

Time dilation

The factual type of time travel is through the concept of time dilation – a difference of elapsed time between two events. It is an extremely hard thing for us mortals to get our head around – that is, people who are not well versed in the fields of physics and astronomy for instance. This is because Einstein’s theory of relativity plays a part.

In short, when astronauts orbit Earth they are noticeably further from the planet than those who reside on the surface. This means their gravitational time dilation is less because gravity is less and that everything they do is faster (even the clocks run slower on space stations). When they return to Earth they are literally travelling back in time. It is by no means a large number because the time dilation is caused by gravity which is a weak force. (As forces of attraction in the Universe goes). It has been calculated that Russian astronaut Sergei Konstantinovich Krikalev has time travelled the most. Here is a brief summary of how he did so.

Early life of Sergei Krikalev

Sergei Konstantinovich Krikalev was born in Leningrad (what is now St. Petersburg) during the USSR in 1958. He graduated with a mechanical engineering degree and gained employment for a company called NPO Energia who organized manned space flights. Part of his primary work was testing equipment and developing operations. This included a rescue operation when the Salyut 7 Space station had problems in 1985. He would later achieve his dream of becoming a cosmonaut in 1985 and joined the Buran program however it was later cancelled. It would not be long until he would take part in a successful mission.


In 1988 he was selected for a long-duration flight to join the Mir space station. Soyuz TM-7 launched on November 26 with Krikalev as flight engineer. The team carried out maintenance and also added new equipment to Mir in what is known as an EVA (Extravehicular activity) – moving outside a spacecraft. They also played a Pink Floyd cassette they brought along which is said to be the first music played in space. Soyuz successfully returned to Earth 27, 1989. This would be Krikalev’s first successful mission. In 1991 he returned to Mir and then again in 1992.

His defining mission would come in April 1993 when he was named a Prime Mission Specialist for the STS-60 Discovery. It would be the first joint US/Russian mission and he would partake in many more after this, travelling regularly to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

To keep himself amused on his missions Sergei spoke to many amateur radio broadcasters (AKA Ham Radios) as he was something of an enthusiast himself. One such relationship was with Margaret Iaquinto who was a graduate of Boston University in Russian Language. Later in life she moved to Australia becoming a teacher and operated a Ham Radio from her back garden. At one stage they communicated with each other every day for one year, Iaquinto let her children and students speak to Krikalev and other astronauts on board. From Australia they would see the light in the sky from the MIR Space Station. They would later meet in Houston in 1994 at the bequest of Sergei.

She kept him abreast of the situation during the collapse of the Soviet Union as he was in space during the dissolution in 1991. For that reason, he is known by many Russians as the last citizen of the Soviet Union.

Another famous mission was the STS-88 Endeavour launched in 1998.  It would be the maiden mission to the ISS (International Space Station) where Krikalev would later live as part of Expedition-1 Crew. They were the first crew to occupy the ISS station.


2005 would be a record breaking year. Aboard a Soyuz rocket, Krikalev would overtake the record for the total time spent in space. It was formerly held by fellow Russian Sergei Avdeyev with 747.5 days but Krikalev made it to over 803. This is why Sergei Krikalev also holds the record for time-travelling.

If you add up the accumulated speed cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev has traveled in space – the most of any human with a total time spent in orbit of 803 days 9 hours and 39 minutes – he has actually time-traveled into his own future by 0.02 seconds.”

He would return to Earth with many accolades including: Hero of the Soviet Union, the Order of Lenin, L’Officier de la Legion d’Honneur, Hero of Russia and Space Flight Medals. Moreover, he has an Asteroid 7469 Krikalev named after him.   

Although having the record for time dilation, the Russian is third in the list of most time travelled in space behind Gennady Padalka and Yuri Malenchenko. (At STSTW Media we are still researching why their time dilation is not higher but we believe it is to do with speed travelled. If you know please leave a comment or send us an e-mail.)

Life after space

After he retired from space missions Sergei Krikalev decided to pass on his wisdom to younger astronauts becoming the administrator of the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonauts Training Center at RSC Energia, a spacecraft manufacturer. He was made an honourary citizen of Saint Petersburg to add to his many accolades and was selected to be one of the Russian flag carriers at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. He looks back on his career and life with fondness as well as togetherness for the human race as a whole.

“The further you travel, the more you feel part of a big group of people. Travelling outside of Earth, I get this feeling of being part of mankind. So we do not represent only our countries in space; it’s an international adventure. It’s similar to what sailors feel when they are out at sea – if they meet another ship, they probably feel some kind of brotherhood; it doesn’t matter what flag if on the ship. The sea is a hostile environment, so people help each other to fight with nature.”

The future of time travel

While 0.02 seems inconsequential, remember that we are at the very beginning of space travel. In the future this effect will surely enlarge as technology increases and spacecraft can travel faster. This has been proven on space stations and satellites.

“…after 6 months on the ISS, an astronaut has aged less than those on Earth, but only by about 0.007 seconds“. The effects would be greater if we could get the ISS to orbit Earth at near the speed of light (approximately 300,000 km/s), instead of the actual speed of about 7.7 km/s.

There is still much to be achieved in this field and cosmonauts like Sergei Krikalev are pioneers, paving the way for future developments. Dr. J. Richard Gott, a Princeton astrophysicist makes an excellent comparison by stating that,“The astronauts are the Lindberghs of time travel”.

Enjoyed this article? You would also love The Philadelphia Experiment: When an American Navy ship Supposedly Teleported“.

Fact Analysis:
STSTW Media strives to deliver accurate information through careful research. However, things can go wrong. If you find the above article inaccurate or biased, please let us know at [email protected]


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