Soyuz TMA-9, with Expedition 14 (Michael Lopez-Alegria and Mikhail Tyurin) and Charles Simonyi aboard, undocked yesterday (21st) at 09:11 UTC and landed at 12:31:30. It was the longest stay by a visiting crew (13d 19h 0m 16s – delayed by one day due to flooding in the original landing zone) and the longest stay by an Expedition Crew (215d 8h 22m 48s). Sunita Williams remains onboard and will accumulate the longest stay by a female NASA astronaut when she eventually returns home (on STS-117, launch delayed to at least 8 June because of damage to the External Tank from hail when it was on the launchpad in February).
News tidbits from the past couple of weeks:
From RIA Novosti, 12/4:
ISS is a mistake we fear to acknowledge – cosmonaut Grechko
“Manned orbital stations lead nowhere, I wrote in my report back in 1978, after a flight that set an endurance record,” Soviet pilot-cosmonaut Georgy Grechko has told the newspaper. “I said that human crews on the stations did not always combine happily with automated instruments. There are plenty of situations where a human being is a nuisance to automatic devices, rather than a help. I argued that stations should be visited only when their equipment needed repairs or replacement.
“Twelve or so years after I wrote that, the United States launched its automatic Hubble telescope into orbit. Since then, astronauts have mended it three times, and are now thinking of doing it a fourth time. The Hubble has made dozens of times more discoveries than all the orbiting stations taken together, complete with their crews and supply craft.
“Experience has shown that I was right 30 years ago. But we are all still sitting snugly on the International Space Station (ISS), in effect keeping it merely alive. For it to bring a profit, it must have a standing crew of six, while the actual number is mostly two. And they have no time for science. My colleague Sergei Krikalyov told me that when he was on board the station he could do science only on Sundays.
“A six-member complement on board the ISS is so far out of the question because no rescue ship that size exists in case something happens. Our Soyuz is a fine craft, but it no longer matches up to new tasks. Even following several upgrades, it is morally outdated.
“The Americans have money both for winding up the ISS program and for launching an interplanetary travel project. But when our state wants to make money on space tourists, you don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
“Russian pioneering space scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky said that space would bring us mountains of bread and a heap of might. But tourists bring neither. And I am not sure that the $20 million paid by the present tourist will all go to benefit space studies.
“As President Boris Yeltsin said in his day, commenting on a $5 billion IMF credit: ‘The devil knows where it has gone’.”
“Russia-Australian launch pad project unfeasible – expert”, Interfax, 15/4. Rather disappointing news that the co-operative project with Russia on building a launch pad at Christmas Island is unlikely to go ahead, due to lack of finances and the building of a launchpad at Kourou.
Discussion at NASASpaceflight.com of an ISS Russian module, the Docking Cargo Module (don’t know the Russian name), to be delivered aboard STS-131/ULF4 in 2009. It is part of the extended NASA contract with the Russian Space Agency.
With the modification, NASA also is purchasing the capability for the Russian Docking Cargo Module (DCM) to carry 1.4 metric tons of NASA cargo to the space station. That module is scheduled to fly in 2010. By adding the module, NASA will be able to fly outfitting hardware for the Russian Multipurpose Laboratory Module on the DCM, eliminating the need to fly a cargo carrier and some ballast on a shuttle flight. NASA is obligated to deliver the Russian outfitting hardware to the station under a 2006 addendum to the ISS Balance of Contributions Agreement between NASA and the Russian Federal Space Agency.
“The Space Partnership Between Russia And Brazil”, Space Daily, 17/4.
Via NK news №622, oligarch Roman Abramovich, looking for more ways to spend his ill-gotten wealth, has expressed interest in a flight around the Moon on a Soyuz spaceship, costing $300 million – mere small change for him. “In my opinion, it is much better for Russia than buying foreign football clubs,” remarks news editor Aleksandr Zheleznyakov somewhat sardonically. Perhaps one of the crew could shove Mr. Abramovich out the airlock. (News items at FP Space and RIA Novosti)