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Alexei Leonov told a Friday news conference
Alexei Leonov, the world's first man to walk out into the outer space, told a Friday news conference gathered at the 40th anniversary of his space flight onboard the Vostok-2 space vehicle that he was firmly against making the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center a civilian institution. "One revolution seems never to suffice for this country - only having made at least two of them, people begin to realize that a revolution is even worse than a war," Leonov said, describing the planned restructuring of the space training center into a civilian institution as "unacceptable." The prominent cosmonaut says that currently half the funding for the Center comes from the Russian Defense Ministry, the rest from the Russian Space Agency. "This is a historical reality, and it has to persist, otherwise the unique staff and equipment of the Center might be lost," he argued. Historically, he said, the Center has successfully combined its military and civilian activities. "We have been involved in purely military programs, for instance, the Almaz station, as well as in civilian ones - the Mir and the ISS, but one cannot divide between military and civilian missions here. This is a common state mission," the space expert said. Besides, he said, the Center currently operates a fleet of unique aircraft that have to remain part of the Russian Air Force if the Center becomes a civilian entity. "To train cosmonauts, we have a unique specialized machine onboard a Tu-154 with enormous quartz illuminators, and three Il-76Ks to perform zero-G training. No one else in the world has such aircraft," he stressed. According to him, 90 cosmonauts should be trained at the Center under Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov's order until 2009. "I wonder whether we will be there if we restructure the Center, having to fire unique experts," Leonov says, "What we ask is do everything step by step if you need to."
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