The Man Who Was Not On Earth When His Country Collapsed

In 1991, while tanks were rolling through Moscow's Red Square and the Soviet Union was collapsing, Sergei Krikalev was in space, 217 miles away from earth on the Mir space station. He was nicknamed “the last citizen of the USSR.” When the Soviet Union broke apart into 15 separate states, Krikalev was told he couldn’t return home, because home no longer existed. Officials said there was no money to bring him back, and a month later, he still got the same answer — mission control was asking him to stay out there a bit longer. Another month passed, but still the same answer yet again. In reality, he actually could have left. There was a Raduga re-entry capsule onboard the Mir, which was designed specifically for making the return to earth. However, taking it would have meant the end of Mir, since there was no one else left to look after it. In the meantime, Krikalev was faced with the consequences of a prolonged space mission — muscle atrophy, radiation, cancer risk, and the immune system becoming weaker with every passing day. He finally returned to earth on March 25, 1992 after Germany paid $24 million to purchase a ticket for his replacement, Klaus-Dietrich Flade. Krikalev had spent 311 days in space, unwittingly setting a world record in the process.