As a student of linguistics and the Russian language, when I heard the words “Runglish” and “Space Creole,” I was immediately hooked. These are two terms used to describe the combination of Russian and English spoken on board the International Space Station, which astronauts and cosmonauts use to communicate.
While the official language of the International Space Station is English, the end of NASA’s space shuttle program in 2011 meant that the only way for American astronauts to get to space is via Russian space shuttles. And commands for Russian space shuttles are given in —you guessed it—Russian. This creates the need for both cosmonauts to learn English and astronauts to learn Russian. On board the International Space Station, the idea is that the cosmonauts will speak English to their English-speaking counterparts, who will in turn speak Russian back to them. This verifies that everyone is sure of what they are trying to communicate, and no one is stuck on the wrong side of a language barrier. Over time, this has given way to a combination of both languages that serves as the primary form of communication.
How often do cosmonauts and astronauts communicate? What are Russian-American relations like in an enclosed and potentially perilous environment like the International Space Station? An article about the Russian side of the ISS on the Smithsonian Air and Space website satisfied much of my curiosity.
While the cosmonauts and astronauts do share the International Space Station, they each have their own laboratories that are kept at separate sides of the station. There, they perform their own experiments and gather their own data. The Russian module is called Звезда (“Star”), and it provides the living quarters and ventilation for the cosmonauts. While the Russian side of the space station isn’t quite as specialized and better suited to a greater range of research as the former Russian space station Мир (“Earth; peace”), but they do have fun coming up with their own experiments to perform.
Cosmonauts and astronauts really only work together during the flight to the space station and practice emergency drills. However, astronauts and cosmonauts to try to gather at least once a day to share food and meals. Apparently, the astronauts have very good deserts, but the quantity and quality of fish are supplied by the cosmonauts. They also gather to discuss current affairs and to watch movies and TV shows together.
Despite the current political tensions between the United States and Russia, the spirit of friendship and cooperation in the International Space Station is still alive and well. I hope that this willingness to work together continues long into the future.