Sunday, 22 April 2007

TMA-9 back home

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 Even following several upgrades, it is morally outdated.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)

Thursday, 12 April 2007

Happy Cosmonautics Day!

С Днем Космонавтики! It is 46 years since Yurii Gagarin was launched.

Cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin said that Bill Gates is considering a flight into space (he could probably afford to fund his own space program if he were inclined to).

From Novosti Kosmonavtiki news №619:

The number of people wishing to become cosmonauts has decreased considerably

For modern youth, a cosmonaut career has ceased to be prestigious, Pavel Vinogradov, the chief of the flight-test department of Rocket & Space Corporation (RKK) Energiya declared to journalists at the Baikonur cosmodrome. “If in 1985-1988 RKK Energiya examined some hundreds of applications in a year from candidates for the cosmonaut group, now the number of interested persons is only 20-30 people in a year,” Vinogradov complained. In the autumn of 2006 he returned to the Earth after a six-month expedition on the International Space Station. According to Vinogradov, the decline of prestige of the cosmonaut profession in society is in many respects connected with the low level of material compensation for work of the cosmonaut who receive the salary, “as ordinary engineers.” Interfax reported this.

(Russian version, Русская версия)

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Another rich guy in orbit

…Big yawn. Just can’t get enthusiastic about that. The only time the Russian space program gets mentioned in the media here (Australia) is when a tourist goes up. A pertinent article at MSNBC.com: Russians fear becoming space cabbies – “Space experts worry new role will take away from needed development.” Which states exactly what I have been grumbling about in previous entries. The Russian space program has been reduced to a taxi service for bored rich space tourists and if that is all it is to be, they might as well end it. Sergei Korolyov would not be impressed with the way things are now.

However, this focus on tourism and making a profit has distracted the Russians from their original goal of building interplanetary space vessels. Rather, they are focusing on turning their portion of the ISS into a tourist and entertainment center in order to generate the funds to keep their operation aloft.

Leaving Earth, Robert Zimmerman

For the record, Soyuz TMA-10 launched at 17:31:14 UTC on 7 April with ISS-15 and Visiting Crew-12 aboard, and docked at 19:10:44 on 9 April to the nadir port of the Zarya FGB module.

There is also a profile of cosmonaut Oleg Kotov – who is making his first spaceflight (at long last!) – by James Oberg at MSNBC.com. (The previous unflown cosmonaut to fly was Yurii Shargin on Soyuz TMA-5 in 2004.) The promised blogs of cosmonauts Kotov and Yurchikhin at Charles Simonyi’s site failed to eventuate, disappointingly.

More Sergei Krikalyov sightings at the launch: Energiya photo-report, April 6, 2007. Baikonur Cosmodrome, RSC Energia’s branch. Sergei appears in photos 1, 7, and 9 at a meeting of the State Commission the day before launch of Soyuz TMA-10. Energiya photo-report, April 7, 2007. Baikonur Cosmodrome, RSC Energia’s branch. Sergei appears in photos 14 and 16 at the final meeting of the crew and the State Commission.


Some news tidbits, from Space Daily:

Tuesday, 3 April 2007

Mars-500 update

ESA prepares for a human mission to Mars, ESA news, 2/4. ESA is also partaking in the Russian Mars-500 experiment, contributing to the research. The actual experiment seems to have been moved back to 2009 (from the latter half of 2007), with two shorter 100-day missions to take place in 2008 that will test the facility and procedures. A diagram of the complex can be found in a PDF on this page; I posted it at NASASpaceflight.com.

The Expedition 15/Soyuz TMA-12 crew launch on the 7th, so they are now at Baikonur Cosmodrome. Charles’ site takes about two minutes to load (on broadband) and you have to wait for it all to load before anything is visible. Flash-animated sites are evil!

Sergei Krikalyov was there as part of Energiya management: in Energiya photo-report, March 27, 2007. Baikonur Cosmodrome, RSC Energia’s branch. Sergei was at the Baikonur cosmodrome Krainii, Крайний airport with other Energiya managers to greet the Soyuz TMA-10 prime and backup crews. He appears in photos 3 and 6. Also in Energiya photo-report, March 28, 2007. The crew report on their readiness to proceed with their final training phase to General Designer N.N. Sevast’yanov and other managers. Sergei appears in photos 4 and 13.