10 Surprising Facts About Astronaut Training

ISS Astronauts Must Learn Russian
(From left) NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Kimiya Yui at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center (GCTC) in Star City, Russia in May 2015.  NASA

Right now, the only way to get up to the International Space Station (ISS) is by hitching a ride on a Russian ship. The Soyuz line of spacecrafts was originally created for the Soviet lunar program in the early 1960s. Since then, Soyuz ships have carried out over 1,500 launches. The vehicles include a capsule where the astronauts sit atop a set of detachable rocket boosters. Modern Soyuz crafts blast off from a cosmodrome (i.e.: "space port") located in Kazakhstan [source: NASA].

The ISS uses Soyuz ships to ferry over supplies and transport its astronauts to and from Earth. No other vehicles are currently being employed to make such manned missions. In other words, anyone who wants to visit the ISS had better brush up on their Russian [source: McKie].

All ISS astronauts, regardless of national origin, are now required to study the language. And we're not just talking about basic greetings here. Astronauts need to understand a lot of technical jargon in the Russian tongue. For some of them, it's a daunting challenge. European Space Agency astronaut and ISS crew member Tim Peake has gone on the record as saying that learning Russian was the toughest aspect of his training [source: Knapton].

Today NASA puts its future space travelers through intensive language tutoring. In every American astronaut's schedule, a large amount of time is set aside for one-on-one meetings with Russian teachers. And like foreign exchange students, some of the NASA trainees are sent to live with host families in Moscow for a few weeks [source: Howell].