Lessons From a Space Dummy

Before a man could head into space, the Russians felt a mannequin needed to get there first.

It was on this day (March 9) in 1961 that Ivan Ivanovich — the mannequin, or space dummy — made his first flight in a Sputnik. He then took another turn in space later that month before being placed into storage for decades. United States businessman (and failed presidential candidate) Ross Perot bought him at auction in the 1990s, and lent him to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. He’s on display there today.

Universe Today caught up with Cathleen Lewis, the museum’s curator of international space programs and spacesuits in the division of space history. She explained that the mannequin was actually designed and built by three organizations:

– Zvezda (aka JSC Zvezda and RD&PE Zvezda), a firm known for high-altitude suits and spacesuits;

– The Institute for Bio-Medical Problems, which performed aerospace medicine research;

– The Moscow Institute for Prosthetics, which built the mannequin using specifications from the first two groups.

Yuri Gagarin - first human in space. Credit: Russian Archives
Yuri Gagarin – first human in space. Credit: Russian Archives

Here are some of the lessons the Russians learned from Ivan Ivanovich’s flight, according to Lewis:

What the environment is like inside the spacecraft. While the Soviets had already sent dogs and other animals into space in that time, Lewis said they were sent up in their own self-contained canisters. The chest cavity of Ivan included accelerator and angular rate changes to see what gravity changes he was experiencing. He also measured the level of radiation. Notably, Ivan actually went up twice before the first man in space (Yuri Gagarin), but the reasons are still unclear. “One assumes that because they did do it twice, they weren’t satisfied with the result the first time,” Lewis said. “But there were not a lot of modifications [between flights], so it might have been a testing failure or ambiguity in the results.”

– The communications network. During the early years of the space program, the Americans had a number of ground and ship stations scattered around the world. These stations allowed constant, but not completely continuous, contact with the astronauts. The Soviets had a much smaller network, and wanted to know exactly when the cosmonauts would be audible to ground control. The solution? Recorded singing. “They were broadcasting a song, a folk song from the spacecraft,” she said. The song had an unintended consequence: those listening in from other countries thought there was an actual cosmonaut on board, leading to rumors that other cosmonauts died before Gagarin’s flight, she said.

Limited public outreach. In the closed Soviet society of the time, public broadcasts of missions generally happened after the fact. Engineers had to figure out how not to alarm the locals if Ivanovich ended up falling nearby a populated area and officials could not retrieve him first. They therefore wrote the word “mannequin” on Ivan to make sure people understood what was going on. It turned out the precaution was never needed, though. “He was more on target than Gagarin,” Lewis said.

Russia Opens Talks With NASA And ESA With Plans For Manned Lunar Base

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On January 19, 2012, Roscosmos, the Russian Space Agency began talking to the United States and Europe about the stuff dreams are made of… a manned research base on the Moon. The agency’s chief, Vladimir Popovkin, led off the discussion with officials from NASA and the European Space Agency for a permanent facility. “We don’t want man to just step on the Moon,” Popovkin told Vesti FM radio station, according to the Ria Novosti news agency. “Today, we know enough about it, we know that there is water in its polar areas … we are now discussing how to begin [the Moon’s] exploration with NASA and the European Space Agency.”

But that’s not all. One giant leap for mankind often begins with one small step – or two. In this instance, Russia is planning to launch two unmanned missions to the Moon within the next 8 years. According to Popovkin, the plan is to either set up a stationary base on the lunar surface, or to put a working laboratory into orbit around it.

Don’t shoot these comments down just because they’ve come to light after a recent run of bad luck on behalf of Russia’s current space missions – most notably the doomed Mars probe Phobos-Grunt which crashed back to Earth following a malfunction. According to Fix News, “It was the latest mishap for Roscosmos and came after Russian president Dmitry Medvedev threatened to punish those responsible for previous space failures, which included the loss of satellites and botched launches.”

In the meantime, let’s focus on the positive contributions the Russians have made towards lunar exploration – in particular, the Luna missions which set many milestones. Of these, they were the first to successfully land a craft of the Moon, the first to photograph the far side, the first to achieve a soft landing and send back panoramic, close-up images, the first to become an artificial lunar satellite, the first to deploy rover missions and the first to return lunar soil samples which they shared with the international scientific community.

Russia? Keep talking… Spasiba for your contributions!

Original Story Source: Fox DC News.

Not Giving Up Yet: ESA Resumes Effort to Communicate with Phobos-Grunt

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Editor’s note: Dr. David Warmflash, principal science lead for the US team from the LIFE experiment on board the Phobos-Grunt spacecraft, provides an update on the mission for Universe Today.

Russia’s Phobos-Grunt spacecraft is in no better position than it was a month ago, when it reached low Earth orbit on November 9 yet failed to ignite the upper stage engine that was to propel it to Phobos, the larger of Mars’ two small moons. Indeed, with an orbit measuring 204.823 kilometers at perigee (the low point) and 294.567 kilometers at apogee as of today, the spacecraft is well on its well to a fiery reentry through Earth’s atmosphere in early January if it cannot be rescued in the intervening time. But the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, is not ready to give up on the probe yet, and have asked ESA to resume trying to contact Phobos-Grunt.

Despite success in contacting Grunt and getting it to send telemetry two weeks ago using a modified antenna in Perth Australia, subsequent attempts to command the spacecraft to boost her orbit failed.

Then last week, after modifying another antenna, this one in Maspalomas on the Canary Islands, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced that efforts to track and communicate with the spacecraft would end. As a result, any remaining hope that the craft might at least be boosted to a more stable orbit to allow for diagnoses and eventual repair faded away.

Maspalomas station hosts a 15-metre antenna with reception in S- and X-Band and transmission in S-band. It is located on the campus of the Instituto Nacional de Tecnica Aerospacial (INTA), in the southern part of the Canary Islands' Gran Canaria, at Montaña Blanca.Credit: ESA

But, in response to requests from the Russian Space Agency (Roscosmos), ESA now has decided to renew tracking and communications efforts from the Maspalomas station. Located off of the northwest coast of Africa, Maspalomas is well-situated with respect to Phobos-Grunt’s course around Earth. Since fewer communication attempts have been made from Maspalomas as compared with Perth, ESA and Roscosmos may be thinking that not all potential tricks to get the geometry right have been exhausted. Thus, new attempts to hail the unpiloted science probe began on Monday and will continue through Friday, December 9th. Presumably, ESA would continue to support the mission beyond Friday, if anything happens suggesting that Phobos-Grunt has received the instructions and is capable of responding, even in part.

Designed to land on the surface of Phobos, the Grunt spacecraft carries about 50 kilograms of scientific equipment built to make celestial and geophysical measurements, and to conduct mineralogical and chemical analysis of the regolith (crushed rock and dust) of the tiny moon. The chemical analysis that is to be conducted includes a search for organic matter, the building material for life. Studies to be conducted on the Phobosian surface potentially could elucidate the origins of Phobos and the other Martian moon, Deimos. Additionally, the presence of organic matter on Phobos would suggest that the surface of Mars itself contains organics. Despite findings by NASA’s Viking landing crafts in the 1970s suggesting that the surface of Mars lacks organic material, studies by more recent probes suggest that compounds known as perchlorates –detected by Viking but dismissed as contaminants from Earth– may have been native to Mars. This issue will be investigated further when NASA’s Curiosity rover arrives on the Red Planet several months from now.

The Planetary Society’s Living Interplanetary Flight Experiment (LIFE) capsule, on board the Phobos-Grunt spacecraft. Credit:The Planetary Society

Grunt also carries Yinhou-1, a Chinese probe that is to orbit Mars for 2 years. After releasing Yinhou-1 into Mars orbit and landing on Phobos, Grunt is designed to launch a return capsule, carrying a 200 gram sample of regolith back to Earth. Also traveling within the return capsule is the Planetary Society’s Living Interplanetary Flight Experiment (LIFE), designed to investigate how readily living forms could spread between neighboring planets.

Although prospects for this ambitious mission still look bleak, Alexander Zakharov of Russia’s Space Research Institute, who was instrumental in getting the LIFE experiment onto the Grunt mission, has suggested that a new Grunt mission might be launched, presumably on time for the next launch window to Mars, which opens in approximately 26 months.

Meanwhile, today, NASA’s space debris chief said that Phobos-Grunt would pose no threat to Earth when it reenters the atmosphere.

Although the window for a trip to Mars is about to close, should control over Phobos-Grunt be restored, it might be kept in a higher orbit for two years, or sent to an alternate destination, such as Earth’s own Moon, or an asteroid.

The Human Cost of Russia’s Lost Spacecraft

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It hasn’t been a great year for Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency. In the last twelve months, it has lost four major missions on top of the aerospace industry’s failure to produce its planned number of spacecraft.

For the most part, lost missions conjure up feelings of despair for the spacecraft from a scientific or exploration perspective – what does the silent satellite or failed launch mean for the agency’s immediate and overall goals? But there’s another side to lost missions that are less common. What does a lost mission or failed launch mean for the people responsible? All four missions Roscosmos has lost in the last year have been substantial. In December 2010, a Proton-M booster failed to put three Glonass-M satellites in orbit. These were meant to enhance Russia’s Global Navigation Satellite System, the Russian counterpart to America’s GPS system, and just recently, Russia successfully launched replacements.

In February, a Rokot booster carrying the Geo-IK-2 satellite ended in failure. The satellite was designed to build on Russia’s geodesic research. Acting as a precise reference point, it would help scientists take accurate measurements of the Earth’s shape and the properties of its gravitational field and support such fields as cartography, missile guidance, study of tectonic plate movements, ocean tides, and ice conditions.

A schematic showing the loss of theProgress M-12 expendable spacecraft. Credit: RIA Novosti.

The loss of these missions was doubtless devastating for the teams who designed them, but the After the loss of Geo-IK-2, a number of senior space industry officials were fired and Roscosmos’s chief, Anatoly Perminov, was forced to resign.

In August, another Proton-M rocket failed to launch an Ekspress-AM4. The communications satellite was designed to provide digital television and secure government communications throughout the Russian Federation extending far into Siberia and the Far East.

This failure prompted further disciplinary action. A Russian State Commission of inquiry was established to determine the reasons for the failure. The International Launch Services (ILS), a joint US-Russian venture with exclusive rights to launch commercial payload from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, formed its own Failure Review Oversight Board to review Roscosmos‘ final internal report. The final verdict was both missions were lost due to negligence.

Things didn’t get better for the Russian Space Agency. Only a week after the loss of Eskpress-AM4, A Soyuz-U booster failed. Its cargo, the Progress M-12 expendable cargo spacecraft, never reached the crew waiting for its contents aboard the International Space Station.

Now, it looks like further harsh disciplinary action might befall the scientists and engineers behind the failed Phobos-Grunt. Designed to land on Mars’ larger moon and return a soil sample, the spacecraft got stuck in Earth orbit in November. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has suggested that those responsible for the failure need to be punished. They could he fined, he said. He even went so far as to suggest criminal prosecution. The threat might be directed at Lavochkin, the company that built Phobos-Grunt.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Credit: RIA Novosti

It’s possible Medvedev is protecting the Russian people who, like Americans, foot the bill of their nation’s space program. But he might not be. The failures do, after all, deal a serious blow to Russia’s technological pride and standing as a power in space.

“I am not suggesting putting them up against the wall like under Josef Vissarionovich (Stalin), but seriously punish either financially or, if the fault is obvious, it could be a disciplinary or even criminal punishment,” Medvedev said.

Surprisingly, or perhaps not, Roscosmos isn’t the only Russian industry to be target by Medvedev’s calls for disciplinary action. Similar calls have been made for disciplinary action after carelessness, corruption, and problems within Russia’s infrastructure, such as a riverboat sinking in July that killed 122. The difference is that no one dies when an unmanned spacecraft fails to complete its mission.

Source: Russian President Warns Space Officials Over Failures. RIA Novosti.

ESA Issues Invitation To Russia To Partner ExoMars Mission

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What’s new in the avenue of space exploration? Right now the European Space Agency (ESA) has issued a formal invitation to Russia to join the U.S.-European Mars exploration program in a last-ditch attempt to save the project from being cut in half, ESA Director-General Jean-Jacques Dordain said October 13th.

The appeal to Russia, which came in the form of a letter to the head of the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, is likely ESA’s only hope of saving the full U.S.-European Mars exploration project, which Europe calls ExoMars, Dordain said in an interview. At this point in time, the agency is hoping for a solid answer by the beginning of 2012. This will allow for planning for a two-launch mission of the ExoMars program and lead to a full partnership between the Russian Space Agency and NASA. What’s more, this partnership could mean additional support for the U.S.-European program and even incorporate a Proton rocket launch carrying a jointly-build Mars telecommunications orbiter and an entry, descent and landing system in 2016.

By cutting NASA’s budget, the U.S. contribution to world-wide space programs looks bleak… even with the planned 2018 launch, aboard a NASA-provided Atlas 5 rocket, of the Euro-American Mars rover. This lack of funds hurts everyone – including ESA – dashing hopes of of purchasing its own Ariane 5 rocket for the 2016 mission. Even though NASA appears to be committed at this point, there’s always the uncertainty of the U.S. economic picture.

“At this point I am becoming a Doubting Thomas in that I believe only what I can see,” Dordain said. “But NASA has said nothing that would lead me to believe the 2018 mission is not going forward. At this point I have only two options: Keep the mission as we would like it by finding an additional partner, or reduce the mission.”

This doesn’t mean that ESA isn’t trying. Even by cutting the budget to a single-launch isn’t totally the answer. By making such drastic changes in the middle of an already planned scenario means changing tactics when design teams are already on a tight schedule. Cutting the budget also means cutting jobs – and that’s a problem in its own right. At this point, ESA is even willing to release nations from their commitments to keep the program, with modifications, intact.

Dordain said his approach to Roscosmos is not simply a request for an in-kind contribution of a Proton rocket for the 2016 launch. He said he would like Russia involved in ExoMars as a full third participant with NASA and ESA, and that the Russian role could include provision of experiments. “This could end up being an even grander mission than it would have with a full Russian participation,” Dordain said. “It’s not simply a matter of asking the Russians, ‘Please provide us a launcher.’”

Dordain briefed ESA’s ruling council on the ExoMars situation October 13 and will give an update at the council’s mid-December meeting. The current ExoMars contract for the 2016 mission, which had already been extended while ESA waited for a NASA commitment that never came, runs through December and can be extended to January, Dordain said.

It will be a waiting game from here. With luck, the Russians will answer by January 2012 and NASA will have a clearer picture of its own financial responsibilities by February 2012. Let’s hope the ExoMars Mission doesn’t have to pay the price.

Original Story Source: Space News Release.