Most people know Lance Bass for his time with 90s boyband NSYNC, with their hits such as "Bye, Bye, Bye" and "It's Gonna Be Me" or more recently as a contestant on Dancing with the Stars (the US version of Strictly Come Dancing).


But what not many people know is that he is also a space fanatic and has completed cosmonaut training.

He is now narrating a new podcast, The Last Soviet, about cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev who was on board space station Mir when the Soviet Union fell.

We spoke with Lance Bass about how he almost became a cosmonaut and what it was like training in Russia.




Chris Bramley Hello and welcome to Radio Astronomy, the podcast from the makers of BBC Sky at Night Magazine. You can subscribe to the print edition of the magazine by visiting, or to our digital edition by visiting iTunes or Google Play.

Ezzy Greetings, listeners, and welcome to Radio Astronomy, the podcast for the makers of BBC Sky Night Magazine. Today I am joined on the show by Lance Bass, formerly of the nineties boyband NSYNC. Lance is now presenting a new podcast called The Last Soviet. It tells the story of Sergei Krikalev, a cosmonaut who was on the space station Mir when the Soviet Union fell. Hello, Lance. Thank you very much for joining us on the show. Not the subject of this podcast is a really fascinating one, but I do have to ask, how is it that an American pop star became so interested in the Soviet space program?

Lance Good question. Yeah. I mean, I was always interested in space and space exploration, even as a little kid. And that always stayed with me. I went to space camp as a kid. I watched the Shuttle launch, and I just got so obsessed with it that I just loved math and science. And my first dream was to become an astronaut, but then kind of NSYNC. Throw a wrench in that. And that was my lap at 16. So my, my, my space exploration days were just kind of over at that moment. But yeah, a few years later I got asked to go on a mission with Russia to go to the International Space Station. They wanted to do a flight with the youngest person to ever go to space to kind of really liven up that young generation and really let them start loving math and science more and really looking up to to space. And so I entered training and became a cosmonaut six months later. So, yeah, it's something I couldn't believe. Two of my dreams came true.

Ezzy You underwent your training in 2002. Do you know why it was specifically that they asked you to be a cosmonaut? Do they know of your deep passion for space?

Lance They did. They were looking for some kind of celebrity to be able to go. And there were the producers that were trying to do this they were in an AOL chat room back in the day, and they were asking the fans, you know, "if there's a celebrity that you would like to see to go to space, who would it be?" And majority of the people said Lance Bass. His first dream was to be an astronaut. And so they knew, since it was my dream, that I would really take it seriously. And I did.

Ezzy I'm guessing it wasn't something you were particularly shy about sharing, that whenever you had the opportunity?

Lance Oh, not at all. Not at all, no. I was always a space nerd and the all the fans knew it.

Ezzy You joined NSYNC in 1995 when you were just 16. So by this point, you must have been very familiar with the kinds of intense and hectic schedules that cosmonauts and astronauts experience when they're going through these kinds of training schedules. What was it like being in Russia, though? How did that compare to your experience in the US?

Lance And strangely very similar, like you said, you know, with NSYNC the intense, you know, schedule that we had and the training that we would have was very similar to what I went through in Russia. And it really prepared me for what I was about to do because, I mean, cosmonaut training is something special. It is as intense as you can get. But, you know, being with these guys for so long and never having an hour off for years and the gruelling schedule of the dance rehearsals and the singing and recording, it really did prepare me for what I needed to do in Russia to have that work ethic that I needed.

Ezzy And what kind of training did you go through when you were out there?

Lance I mean, everything from studying astrophysics to learning how to live on the ISS, how to fly the Soyuz. You know, it's most of the training, I would say would be emergency training. You know, what do you do if you your capsule, you know, lands in the ocean when you come back or in the middle of the forest where no one can find you. A lot of my you know, the things that I was in charge of on the Soyuz, you know, the oxygen, you know, So you had to really know exactly what you were doing every second of the mission. So, yeah, I mean, it was it was pretty it was pretty crazy and detailed. And, you know, you learn a lot more than you probably should have known. But they're so proud of, you know, their technology and everything that they've built that they want you to know every nut bolt and every machine that you'd be working with.

Ezzy One of the things that struck me in the podcast was there's a quote in the second episode "Nothing ever goes wrong in the Soviet space program." of course, that's not true. It was just that the Soviets didn't publicise it very often, but they did train for it. What was it like doing that, something that you've dreamt so long for running through every single scenario about what could possibly go wrong?

Lance I know at first it's a little scary. You're like, Oh, okay. Because, you know, you're just really flirting with death the whole entire time. But as many mock missions as you do and as many professors that you work with, there's hundreds of people behind you every second of the way. And in fact, you have a script in your lap that you're you know, every day, every minute of this mission is scripted out. So you know exactly what to do at every time. So if anything, you know, if your oxygen starts going low, if there's a crack somewhere, you know exactly what to do in a split second to make sure that you survive this. You know, which is it sounds scary, but I'm telling you, the more you do it, the more you just trust everything that that is around you and the people just have your back.

Ezzy Now in the podcast 'The Last Soviet' you focus on the story of Sergei Krikalev, who was on space station Mir as the Soviet Union collapsed. But what was it that drew you to his story in particular?

Lance Yeah, this is a story that I kind of heard when I was over there, you know, training. They're very proud of their cosmonauts and what they've done in the history of the space program. So a lot of my professors, everyone living on the base, you know, they would tell stories of Yuri Gagarin. I mean, every single person that I worked with from, you know, learning the astrophysics to learning to how to live on the ISS. The person, you know, making me taste all the food I'll be eating up there to the person building my space flight suit, It was the exact same people that worked with Yuri Gagarin and all of these cosmonauts from the very beginning. So that in itself was just it was just incredible to know. And I was just like picking their brain about everyone. And this is a story that I kind of her not too many details of. But, you know, Sergei Krikalev was definitely, you know, a major hero. So when they came to me and wanted to do a scripted podcast about this man and his journey, I jumped at the chance because, you know, I knew it was such an insane story about spending 313 days in space and going up, you know, a Soviet and coming down to a country that is completely in disarray. And I've always wondered, like, what? What was he what was going through his mind? So in doing this documentary, it was just incredible to really get what was going through his head at that time.

Ezzy You said just then that you met a lot of cosmonauts when you were out at Roscosmos. Was Sergei Krikalev one of those?

Lance That is a good question. You know what? I probably did and I had no idea it was him. You know, I was such a young American at the time that I knew nothing about the Russian space program. I mean, we barely learned about Yuri Gagarin in our history books because, you know, we're embarrassed that we weren't the first to space. So, you know, you're you're very limited in the history that, you know, you learn in your country. So going over there, I had no idea what to expect. I didn't know that. It's basically our Apollo days still in Russia. You know, it's their idea is if it ain't broke, don't fix it. So they've been using the Soyuz for decades now. They haven't changed the technology much. This is how they've been sending their cosmonauts up since the beginning. So it was really interesting to kind of go back in time. I always tell people when I got to Star City, I walked in and it felt like I walked into like 1968. Everything looked like the 60s. Everyone acted like they were in the 60s dressed that way. You know, the machines, everything was just still stuck in this this paradigm. And it was just fascinating to me because obviously I didn't get to experience what it was like to be in the 60s. So it really did feel like I just took a time machine and went back to the Gagarin days.

Ezzy And as you said, a lot of these stories from the Soviet side of early spaceflight have been forgotten, partly because they get ignored in the West and partly because a lot of records were destroyed when the Soviet Union fell. Are there any stories that you think should get a bit more airtime?

Lance You know, there's there are some I mean, there's been a lot of, you know, flirts with disaster for sure. But I forget his his name. But with the guy who crashed, I think it was Mir accidentally. I don't make fun of him today. And that was definitely one of the stories that they kept making fun of, was this cosmonaut that, you know, was the reason that it crashed. And that is the cosmonaut that they gave me as mentor. So it was kind of a joke, I think, on me to give me this particular cosmonaut. But I embraced it and I respect him.

Ezzy Now as well as being an American. You were only 23 years old when you went through this training. You would have been the youngest person to fly into space. Was that an issue whilst you were out there, or did you find people were treating you as an equal?

Lance No, not at all. No. No one wanted to be there, you know. Especially at the beginning, because and I understand that I was very young. I'm a pop star, you know. NASA did not want me there. In fact, Nasser, you know, sent a letter to the White House saying, look, we met with Lance. They thought that I might have, you know, an alcohol or drug problem because, you know, I have this rock star lifestyle and that I don't have the ability to learn how to go to space. So basically, I was an idiot. So they were very against me being over there. Russia was more open because they just they knew this would be great for their program. It would bring attention to it. But you could tell a lot of the cosmonauts didn't think I deserved to be there because, you know, these astronauts, they train years and years and years and most of them don't even get to fly. So you have this kid come in and be like "oh, in six months I get to fly, how fun." so I understand why they would be a little upset that I'd be over there. But I think after a month or two, I really proved myself and it really made them calm down and start to accept me. And I really did, you know, in the middle of the training is when I really felt like I was embraced and felt like a real crew member.

Ezzy Now, unfortunately, even though you completed your training, logistics and funding issues ultimately meant that the flight itself fell through. Today, though, there's an increasing number of people going into space, particularly through private companies. Do you still have a hope of getting up to space one day yourself?

Lance Oh, yes. There's always hope. And that's the reason I finished training. You know, I wanted to be certified so that I could go at any moment and not have to do the training again. You know, it is, you know, a very long line of people wanting to go with the privatisation of spaceflight. It's been great. I love the idea of Blue Origin and Virgin doing this. I would easily hop on Blue Origin to go to the ISS. The one thing I'm not interested in is one, I'm not paying for a flight, that's for sure. If I have, I have no want to just pay and go up to space and float around and come back. So if I were to do, you know, the spaceflight, it would be for a mission, You know, for a company that has me up there doing their experiments, living on the ISS, like what I was doing, you know, 20 years ago, you know, I had my experiments, the ones that I really wanted to do. And so I would love to complete that one day.

Ezzy Throughout your career, you've been a very vocal space advocate promoting space exploration and science. But what is it that you hope people can take away from learning about space and space exploration?

Lance You know, it's the unknown, you know, and it's the only thing that really brings us together as a planet. We're so divided right now. You know, even in our own states, in our own country and the world, everyone is just kind of super divided. And and it's sad that we all don't really feel like we're in this together. And the space program has always been this camaraderie of countries coming together. Yes, we're fighting here and there, but something about space. Even with this last mission today, I was asked to fix the coolant and the Soyuz. We all got together as countries and we did it together. And sharing space is as close as we're going to be able to get because, you know, this earth is finite. You know, hopefully in our lifetime, we won't see too many major disasters, although, you know, the environment is getting harder and harder. But we have to look to the future for other future generations. And these are the baby steps that we're making right now to make sure that the future generations are able to survive. And if it's on this planet, if it's on a moon, if it's on another planet, it's on a space station, you know, humanity has to go on. And in order for that to happen, all of this has to be happening right now. And we're just we're right at chapter one. I mean, we have many chapters to go, but we're the ones writing the first chapter right now. So just the possibilities are endless. And it's a beautiful thing. And the discoveries we're going to have are are beautiful, and it's just going to bring our whole Earth together as one.

Ezzy I think that's a lovely sentiment and looking forward to the future. So thank you very much for taking the time out of your day to talk to us, Lance, and for sharing the podcast with us.

Lance Well, thank you so much. Glad you're listening.

Ezzy The Last Soviet podcast is available now on all podcast platforms and is produced by iHeart Podcasts with Kaleidoscope and Samizdat Audio. And while you're there, don't forget to subscribe to the Radio Astronomy podcast and make sure you never miss out on one of our interviews with the leading voices of space Science and Exploration, or our weekly stargazing guide Star Diary.


Chris Bramley Thank you for listening to this episode of the Radio Astronomy Podcast from the makers of BBC Sky at Night Magazine. For more of our podcasts, visit our website at, or head to iTunes or Spotify.


Elizabeth Pearson
Ezzy PearsonScience journalist

Ezzy Pearson is the Features Editor of BBC Sky at Night Magazine. Her first book about the history of robotic planetary landers is out now from The History Press.