The capsule after making an emergency landing (AP)

New Facts Emerge from Soyuz Emergency Landing

21 Apr , 2008 by

The facts behind the “ballistic re-entry” of the Soyuz descent capsule are beginning to come to light. According to several news sources, after the capsule made an unusual steep descent through the atmosphere, putting it at least 400km off-target, the parachute was set alight causing a small bush fire on landing. The crew, who had to wait upside down, reported smoke inside the capsule. Although the Russian space agency overseeing the rescue helicopters reported that the crew were safely on the ground, in reality they were struggling to find their location. Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko had to unhook himself from the askew craft, get outside and use a satellite phone to confirm they were alive and well. Tough questions are now being asked as to why mission control lost track of the capsule in the first place and why they covered up the reality of the landing till so long after the event…

As previously reported on the Universe Today, something went wrong with the Soyuz descent capsule as it completed its return mission from the International Space Station on Saturday. Back then, the Russian space authority reported the capsule had undergone a ballistic re-entry (rather than the planned “guided descent”) after the crew changed the flight plan without communicating the alteration to mission control. This was the sole (official) reason given for the hard landing the three crew members suffered. South Korea’s first astronaut, Yi So-yeon, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko and American Peggy Whitson endured forces exceeding nine-G (nine-times Earth gravity) as they tumbled through the atmosphere.

One Russian space official cited an old naval superstition that having women on board the flight was a “bad omen” and that planners would reconsider having a female-dominant crew in the future. These remarks understandably caused a stir.

According to one news source, it is more likely that the capsule’s autopilot failed, causing the ballistic re-entry. On the ground, Russian officials guessed that the capsule had overshot the landing zone and sent rescue helicopters to a location far east. By chance a helicopter in the west (a location reserved for emergency landings) reported seeing the parachutes of the capsule, but no contact was made with the crew until 30 minutes after landing. Way before contact was made (via satellite phone), the Russian space agency had been publicising the safe return of the Soyuz crew to divert attention from the problems they were having.

Perhaps the most worrying report is that the descent parachute caught fire and burnt surrounding vegetation. Apparently smoke even got into the capsule. This would have undoubtedly caused a lot of stress to the crew.

In a recent interview with South Korea’s first astronaut Yi So-yeon, the 29 year-old bioengineer remembered her ordeal and admitted she was “really scared” as the capsule began its emergency re-entry:

During descent I saw some kind of fire outside as we were going through the atmosphere. At first I was really scared because it looked really, really hot and I thought we could burn.” – Yi So-yeon

The shaken crew members were still shaken as they gave a press conference on Monday. Malenchenko remained adamant that none of the crew were to blame for the ballistic re-entry. “There was no action of the crew that led to this,” he said. “Time will tell what went wrong.

This incident highlights the risk involved with space travel, and whilst access to space is becoming more and more routine, the fact remains that things can go wrong. Many news sources are highly critical of the Russian space agency, arguing that they are incompetent. This might be a little strong, but in matters such as the safe return of astronauts, absolute clarity is needed. Attempts to cover up technical faults, citing of “bad omens” and misinformation will not help the Russian efforts in space.

Sources: AP, MSNBC, Yahoo!, Space.com


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www.actionforspace.com
Guest
April 21, 2008 11:16 PM

Even if I had to withstand 10 Gs during reentry I would do it. I would bring a lucky rabbits foot for luck though. You never want to take any chances

Silver Thread
Member
Silver Thread
April 21, 2008 7:37 PM

Going on a Witch hunt would be damaging to the future collaboration of Space Agencies all over the world. I hope investigators remain fixed on resolving problems and spend no time trying to pin the blame on individuals.

Matthias
Guest
Matthias
April 21, 2008 10:39 PM

@BR: it’s a rather robust basket, and IMHO this incident shows it again. even having something like a backup plan is worth a lot.

Gaius
Guest
Gaius
April 21, 2008 7:58 PM

I think it’s funny that you guys all laughing at that “old naval superstition” thing.

The superstitions are part of their culture, is it not?

Why do people protest for culture preservation and then laugh at the Russian traditions at the same time?

BR
Guest
BR
April 21, 2008 8:26 PM

What worries me, is that this will be the only manned orbital spacecraft in the world after 2010. All our eggs in one very fragile basket, methinks.

Astrofiend
Member
Astrofiend
April 21, 2008 8:28 PM
“Although the Russian space agency overseeing the rescue helicopters reported that the crew were safely on the ground, in reality they were struggling to find their location. Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko had to unhook himself from the askew craft, get outside and use a satellite phone to confirm they were alive and well.” Good old Russian dodgy-ness. They get the job done in space, but by goodness they can be dodgy about it. This incident reminds me of the early Soviet manned space flights, where I think it was three times in a row that re-entering (Vostok? Vokshod?) capsules spun out of control until landing. And smoke in the capsule!? That doesn’t exactly give you confidence of its… Read more »
Dave
Guest
Dave
April 21, 2008 8:29 PM
No, it is not, the article said “old navel superstition” it is commen among most navies world wide. Good heavens where have you been? Have you never heard on old movies or read a book where it was stated that having a women on board is bad luck? What was the problem is that Russia has been in the forfront of putting women in space, at one time a Russion woman was in space for a longer time than any American astronaught, that is why the comment was a little silly as it contradicted the “cultural precedent” Russia set early on the space program by utilizing women in a equal manner. The thing is, that probably many Russians… Read more »
Joel Raupe
Guest
April 22, 2008 12:26 AM
Thanks for the insights, as I was running into brick walls trying to pry information from my sources for a report for Lunar Networks. This and a few subsequent reports are helping put the pieces together. This is what I managed to put together for a smaller audience earlier: The Soyuz TMA spacecraft has proven to be an amazingly dependable support vehicle, first for MIR and now for ISS. Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency, plans to replace the vehicle soon, and if NASA’s solidifying status quo timeline is upheld through the winds of politics until the Constellation’s Orion Block One and Ares I booster is available, the United States will be depending on some version of the… Read more »
Afonso
Guest
Afonso
April 22, 2008 12:29 AM

@BR: Have you fagotten about past space flight fatality statistics?
I think they more than clearly state wich is the most fragile basket nowdays…

David
Member
David
April 22, 2008 1:28 AM

Getting back to the women on ships superstition… if you think back when ships were at sea for several years at a time… all those men and a woman out in the middle of nowhere… yeah that could have caused complications!

shane1b
Member
shane1b
April 22, 2008 3:24 AM

Back in the “age of sail” women were often times out to sea with men. Heck the term “son of a gun” comes it has been said comes from women having childbirth on the deck next to the guns!

Miguel V.
Guest
Miguel V.
April 22, 2008 3:57 AM

I think that the most worrying thing, are the attempts to cover the problems rather that the security of astronauts or problems in the spacecraft itself. Specially if there is a foreign crew involved.

Astronauts know the risks involved in space flights. Anyone knows that going outside is complicated. The Soyuz has shown that is a very reliable spacecraft, albeit its very old design.

Lawrence McCurrach
Guest
Lawrence McCurrach
April 22, 2008 5:32 AM

hahah, you gottta love the russians!!!

tareece
Member
tareece
April 22, 2008 8:10 AM
The Russians have a history of lying about things. From submarine incidents, to other cosmonaut accidents to colds for their leaders, I thing I remember Chernoylbl being explained as a earthquake or some such for a few days until the truth made its way out. Unfortunately, because of the way things are, we HAVE to attach ourselves to other nations space programs in order to keep our man program going. As nice and newage as that sounds, it can become dangerous and risky when compromises that we would never do internally are made because we have no other choice but to agree in order to continue the greater mission. We have always had news cameras and an open… Read more »
Vanamonde
Guest
Vanamonde
April 22, 2008 12:01 PM

Space flight is dangerous. Spacecraft can always be improved. And this was horrible news. Still, I am impressed that the crew was able to walk away, especially after reading the spacecraft was disorient so parts is it without a heat shield were exposed to the fires of reentry – including the hatch! That is probably how smoke got inside!

I hope it never happens again but I would not mind travel to the ISS and returned by Soyuz, because inspite of the finger-pointing and the spin that is going around now, I am so sure it will be a long time before anything like this happens again!

Spoodle58
Member
April 22, 2008 2:13 PM

The Russians got one thing bang on in their spin, ‘our people are alive, thats all that matters’ .

Still though in future we all could benefit from the exact facts.

The more we learn from each other, the easyer access to space will be for us all.

tontotoo
Guest
tontotoo
April 22, 2008 2:16 PM

Time to get that Space Elevator built!

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