The Disco Ball

Collaborate with us on Grisha’s backstory by detailing his kind disposition and how he rose the ranks of the Russian space system while maintaining such a nice guy attitude.

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Co/Create: Grisha Petrovich Backstory
Newbie to understanding ISS and Russian cosmonauts, however I thought I’d try to get at the heart of Grisha, what makes him tick.

Grisha Petrovich Backstory

The Disco Ball

Sarah Behnke


Location: ZvyozdnyGorodok- “Star City”, 19 miles from Moscow

“Grisha, Grisha, Grisha!” Wiping drops of sweat from his forehead, Grisha Petrovich leaned out from the underside of a Soyuz shuttle, dropping his wrench with a clang that made a couple of silver haired commanding officers stop their conversation, stare him down. “Yuri, he looked up into the shining eyes of the younger man, in the same program he was, about twenty pounds lighter and at least ten years younger. Whenever something happened, good or bad within the ranks of men and women toiling to make this space program worthwhile, effective, and renowned, one that brought honor to their country, Grisha was the one sought out time and again. He knew how to make repairs, not just mechanically, although few could best him when it came to figuring out a blown fuse or separating a jammed gasket without damaging the main component. Grisha knew how to read hearts; he understood what made people tick. His comrades, one Yuri Slutskaya in particular, brought their struggles to him, a wife at home sick with worry over a high-risk pregnancy, a father losing his memory, their own disappointing test results indicating they would be put on watch and not immediately sent to space. Space. The magnitude of that final frontier, the possibility that some of them would be there someday stirred up a fever that filled the halls and hangars, the white walled rooms with their uniform bunkbeds. Everything seemed touched with that magic. And Grisha had that rare blend of warmth and wit, he’d pull your ear when you weren’t looking and send you off with a gold coin. No one gave much thought to where he’d come from, what brought him to the program, it seemed as though he belonged. Like the lamps bolted to the walls, the neatly dusted control panel, labeled and accessible, Grisha was always there, ready and available. He served his purpose and then some.

And there were white nights. Nights when Yuri and other young or unsure ones like him trembled at the thought of survival exercises, pitting them against the wilds of nature, dredging up whatever animalistic urges they possessed to keep themselves and their counterparts safe. Alive. Grease smeared cheeks and flash of smile in the moonlight, Grisha led the way, thick blade of a knife in his teeth, hauling more gear than it seemed a team of oxen his father had driven would be tasked with. “Come, come” he’d encourage, a lilt in his voice, splitting ropes, making snares and traps, showing them edibles in the forest, ways to search out the fresh water, scare up the furred mammals, their little hearts quick beating faster and faster until they made a dash, an easy target for Grisha across the moonlit field. Many of them wouldn’t have made it through the preliminary exercises if they hadn’t heard his steady voice, the hearty gust of his laugh, their nervous eyes scanning across the room, watching him push through the underwater training, holding his breath, straining his muscles, restraining all his human urges to panic, to check out, to quit at the fear of the unknown. The great expanse of water was so similar to the open nothingness of space, it took a toll on their breath, their endurance, pressed down upon them, drew out all the weak hidden things, brought some of them to their knees. And there was Grisha, calling them forward. Breathe slow, wait, listen to yourself, remember who you are, breathe again, now move. Forward, forward. Let's go.

All types had converged here, hoping to utilize what they’d absorbed in school biology classes, college level engineering and physics, a beginning or sometimes finished medical degree. Some were presidents of astronomy clubs, had been the gangly gawky faced teen that spent all their waking hours talking of artificial intelligence and moon rocks and quasars, that dressed up as cosmonauts before they ever had a chance at coming to work with Roscosmos. The Russian space program was verifiable, intensive, no faint hearts could last long. Grisha was a rarity, he didn’t come with the polish and pedigree many of the would-be space explorers did. Humble home in back fields, a father who kept his eyes on the stars even while he milked the cows, tilled the fields, who talked to his son of going beyond the natural world, made him believe he could walk the moon if he so desired. “It is will my son, that is what carries us when everything else disappoints. I have had many days without food, without much hope left in my pockets, I have wanted to give up a thousand times over, but my will would not let me. My will said keep going. And look at me now. We have this fine home and land, we have a table set with food every night, because I willed myself to keep going.” The resoluteness of his father, the hands that toiled because they believed, these things sunk deep into Grisha’s consciousness, the fabric of his very self. He determined in his heart to be the same. To seek the life that called to him, to make it so by the strength of his own will.

These conversations with his father echoed inside his head as he moved through the different phases of schooling, the rigors of preparing his body and his mind for a frontier he could only dream of. The light that flickered in his eyes warmed the others, they would listen quietly at night while sleep eluded them, listen to his songs and his stories, the deep velvet of his voice coating their nerves, shushing the fears rampant on their insides.

They were nearing the end of a phase, Yuri had made it further than he’d anticipated, definitely further than his mother Nalya and her neighborhood friends had, snickering as they stuffed joke presents in his duffel bag before he boarded the bus, a bag of nuts key among them, “so you might not show up without any” wink wink. This big eval was a compression chamber test, a lengthy one. The first times he had made it through because it was short, because he could sense Grisha nearby, leeched onto his warm strength, like the sun was shining just outside the dark tunnel, he would see it when he got out. Yuri was a skilled engineer, he’d spent almost every waking hour tuning up some engine or creating an invention to show at science fairs and to sell in town, a milking machine that was speedier, a suction to clear drains, connective piping to irrigate gardens that was more indestructible, less expensive, he was a whiz and he came highly recommended, if not for his quaking heart, his shaky hands and knocking knees he would be prime for the program. He was a scarecrow with a cowardly lions lack of heart. And Grisha, Grisha was the tin man, bluster and clink and kindness, tears for joy and pain, tears with a couple of fists raised. That was Grisha, the watchful one.