A Single International Language in Space – Do we need it?

In today’s time, almost every single person leaving Earth on a space mission has to do so from Russian land in a special parcel in Kazakhstan. The space fliers do so on Soyuz, the Russian spacecraft. A Russian citizen commands these missions and majority of the destinations. Also, The International Space Station has its modules and operations based out of Russia. 

All of it means, that all astronauts approaching the ISS, no matter the number of languages they know and speak they also need to learn and understand the Russian dialect, as all astronauts and every cosmonaut from various parts of the world needs at least some English, to be working with NASA. English is said to be very challenging language to learn for foreigners.

According to experts, it is the time to consider, what do we need an international language for space? As there are probabilities that ISS could run short of funds and wrap up all operations by 2020. The world of space is always changing and China, with strong space power, in future may partner with Europeans. Countries all around the globe have been talking about placing humans on Mars, another massive project scope that would no doubt require collaboration on international levels to succeed.

How difficult is it to learn Russian?

Foreign Service Institute, of the U.S. State Department, has set scales for English speaking people, in undermining the difficulty to learn any other language. The Russian language has been ranked as the Category II language, similar to Icelandic, Greek and Croatian that it is significantly different from English in linguistic and cultural traits, as per the department. To achieve a reasonable fluency level in Russian language, students are expected to spend around 1100 hours of classroom study along with many hours of individual research, as compared to 575 to 600 hours in learning languages like Spanish, French, Afrikaans and Dutch. 

As per an interview on the website of NASA, former astronaut Bonnie Dunbar described the difficulties she faced in learning the language. She said that she was readying for Russian Mir space station that – in her first six months of the training phase, though she was aware of the answers, she was unaware how to communicate in Russian and felt like a small kid. 

Another language to choose 

For aviation, the International Civil Aviation Organization, ICAO, has recommended and is studying to use English as the language for aviation. The purpose behind the same is to have all operators – the air traffic control, ATC to the pilots and crew on board, speaking one single language, will enhance the abilities to get their job done safely. There have been notable incidences of the indifference of words that have resulted in fatalities and accidents.

As crews in space move out farther in the solar system, they feel isolated, and communication language becomes even all the more critical for them. While there is still a lot of debate to happen on which word to be used, Ansdell, recommends that speaking with the astronauts to decide what language best suits them is the best option for comfort and safety of the crew.