Sunday, 26 July 2009

What never was

From NK №796. Reminisces by Academican Mikhail Marov on why the USSR’s manned lunar program was unsuccessful, and of watching the Moon landing from TsUP.

21/07/2009/20:53 – The Soviet machines did as much science as the American “Apollo” – scientist

The Soviet program for the exploration of the Moon using robotic missions brought about the same amount of basic science knowledge as the U.S. “Apollo” manned missions, but were much cheaper, said Academician Mikhail Marov, who was one of the developers for the Soviet lunar program.

“I can say that we have got equivalent results, because we have sampled a substance, we investigated, and it was a major task. Moreover, we received very meaningful results from the automatic lunar rover or mobile devices, they worked on the surface for many months,” said the Agency representative.

However, he stressed that he does not want to minimize the scientific value of these flights. Marov recalled that one of the members of the Apollo expedition – Harrison Schmitt – a professional geologist: “And he walked on the moon with hammers, and, of course, he, being a professional, garnered much important geological information.”

“Man is a very important component, because he is much more able to multi-task, he is able to adapt to the challenges he poses for himself. But this in no way underestimates the role of machines as well,” said the Agency representative.

21/07/2009/20:53 – The Soviet moon landing program was prevented by the death of Korolyov – opinion

That the Soviet program of manned flights to the Moon did not take place is largely due to the sudden death of Chief Designer Sergei Korolyov, and also because of problems with the carrier – the N-1 rocket, said one of the participants of the Soviet lunar program, Academician Mikhail Marov.

Korolyov had always dreamed about exploring the Moon and, of course, it is surprising that less than two years after launching the first satellite we were able to implement the first launches to it, said Marov.

He recalled that the Soviet probe Luna-2 in September 1959 was the first one in the world to land on the lunar surface. Then this program was successfully developed, but in 1961, following the flight of Gagarin, the “Moon race” started – U.S. President John Kennedy's message to Congress set a target of within 10 years to plant people to the moon, and thus negate the achievements of Soviet space exploration.

“We could not surpass this, and our efforts at the Design Bureau Korolyov start the program to grow. But there were many difficulties, and the main difficulty was the development of the heavy vehicle N-1 – the equivalent of the American Saturn-5, with the help of which were carried out expeditions to the Moon,” said Marov. The N-1 heavy vehicle, which was to bring the Soviet L3 lunar spacecraft to the Moon, had suffered setbacks since the first launch in February 1969. All four test launches ended in disaster. The American lunar vehicle Saturn-5 first launched in November 1967.

“If you now look at the situation in retrospect, I believe that our failure to a very high degree was associated with the sudden death of Korolyov in January 1966, and this, of course, had very, very harmful consequences,” said the Academician. Korolyov died in January 1966, several days after a routine operation.

21/07/2009/20:53 – Soviet-era TsUP met the landing of Americans on the Moon with silence – Academician

The Soviet military, engineers and scientists, observing the disembarkation of American astronauts on the moon in the Mission Control Center near Moscow, responded to this event with silence, remembers one of the participants of the Soviet lunar program, academician Mikhail Marov.

Exactly 40 years ago, on 20 July 1969, American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin left the landing module Eagle and became the first humans to set foot on the lunar surface. “I watched this in the mission control center, Korolyov, Moscow. This information was not broadcast on normal television, but was broadcast on the big screen in TsUP. We observed all phases of flight carefully, but the culmination, of course, was the landing,” said Marov, who already in those years was one of the leading researchers of the Institute of Applied Mathematics, Keldysh, which was developed by the Soviet lunar program of study.

He remembers that he experienced contradictory feelings, which in his opinion, did not differ from those of colleagues.

“First – this is certainly admirable – I saw such a landmark event, which was a few years ago and the dream it was not easy. And, of course, I was delighted that this was realized in the lifetime of my generation when I could witness it,” said the scientist. “And the second feeling was, but why have we not done this. We are also able to do it.”

However, those assembled in TsUP did not express their emotions. “For the most part they were silent. At the time, space was controlled by the military to a very strong degree. There were a lot of military generals, conservative, tough-minded people. They were silent. There was admiration, applause,” remembers Marov. According to him, the professionals assembled understood what a colossal achievement this was, and how this was a great engineering achievement.

“Although later it became clear that Americans on several occasions were literally on the verge of breakdown, including the first flight, but they did have great flexibility in system management, and had superbly trained crew to ensure perfect execution of the program,” said the Academician.

Russia getting humans first to Mars would make up for the disappointment of missing out on the Moon.

Unraveling Russia’s moon riddles”, James Oberg,, 24/7. Many Soviet-era space artifacts ended up being auctioned off in the West, rather sadly, because those in the space program at the time needed money more.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Armchair experts

One source of continuing amusement and exasperation is the pontificating of the “armchair experts” regarding the future of the U.S. space program. They proliferate on spaceflight forums. Many are of the opinion that NASA should “get out” of designing and launching rockets, and leave this to the “expertise” of private industry (despite NASA employing hordes of experts and launched rockets for 50 years or so). This commenter on a NASA Watch article had what I thought was a great rebuff:

Sorry to rain on the “private space is great” parade, but as of today they have yet to make even one orbit of this rock for all of the money they’ve spent.

What happened to the second flight of SpaceShipOne? No floating candy as it falls back to Earth, unable to break free of the gravity well.

Listen up, people! This isn’t aviation, nor ocean sailing. It’s spaceflight, and it’s much more difficult to accomplish than it looks. Sure, NASA and the Russians make it look easy, but 50 years ago, it wasn’t. And if you are realistic about it, it still is not easy. Other than submarining, it’s the most difficult activity known to humanity.

So keep on trumpeting the “accomplishments” of the private space industry, but don’t be so quick to turn over access to space to the same people who brought us the meltdown of our financial system. 30 years ago, trusting Wall Street with your retirement made as much sense as playing the ponies. It still does.

Meanwhile, Stevie Wonder created a song just for the “private space industry”: “You Haven’t Done Nothing”.

Orbit the planet. Bring the pilot back alive. Then we’ll talk.

“Perhaps a better analogy would be ‘Why doesn’t the federal government farm out its automobile transportation needs to Hertz or Avis or Enterprise Rent-A-Car’ ‘Why should the government own cars?’ ‘The government should get out of the car ownership business’.”

Yes, by all means, let’s turn this over to companies who will collude to give the government a “special rate”. And please, spare me any talk about “competition”.

When Warren Buffett and Bill Gates pony up their billions for private spaceflight, then we the taxpayers will do the same.

We buy enough snake oil every day!

– Posted by: Dave H. at July 24, 2009 9:01 p.m.

There doesn’t seem to be the equivalent for the Russian space program; perhaps there are some on Russian-language forums, but I can’t read these.

Alexey Leonov: ‘I Could See Armstrong Bouncing on the Moon’ ”, Roskosmos, 20/7 (a better-formatted version at Russia Today). A lengthy interview with cosmonaut Aleksei Leonov on various topics, including the Apollo Moon landings (he gets irate at those who believe the program was faked), Yurii Gagarin’s death, and the prospect of a Mars mission (not any time soon).

Cosmonaut Gennadii Padalka, currently in orbit on the ISS, accumulated 500 days in space on 18/7, over 3 missions (Soyuz TM-28, TMA-4/ISS-9, TMA-14/ISS-19).

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Sergei on the Moon

Cosmonaut/Star City Chief Sergei Krikalyov is quoted in this article at, “Russia still blue over moon landing”:

“Beginning with the first flight with a primitive capsule, and then getting to the moon, it was a great achievement for humanity,” Russian astronaut Sergei Krikalev said.

“Of course, we would have liked to see the first man on the moon be Soviet, Russian, but that’s life… Our own achievements were very many,” he told Associated Press Television News.


Russian space officials meanwhile still seem to be dreaming about winning the next stage of the space race. They keep talking in tantalizing terms about mounting a manned mission to Mars, although they say that would take at least another 20 years to get off the ground.

“I think this is fine. It’s like sports – at one stage one person wins, at another it’s somebody else,” said Krikalev.

I wonder if he will go into space again; in 2005 he said he would be willing to fly to the Moon if a program was developed.

Soviet Top Secret Space Project Gets Second Life”, Roskosmos, 20/7. The NK-33 rocket engines used in the unsuccessful N-1 lunar rocket project are still quite advanced, and Russia and the USA are co-operating to make use of them.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Space welding anniversary

A somewhat obscure anniversary for the 15th is the first electrical welding during an EVA, according to Roskosmos:

Electrical welding was first performed in space 25 years ago by Svetlana Savitskaya and Vladimir Dzhanibekov, Russian cosmonauts. They spent 3.5 hours in outer space cutting and welding pieces of metal. The universal space welding machine was designed by Electrical Welding Institute, Kiev. For more than 10 years, the scientists were developing this complicated instrument.

Today the cosmonauts involved in this first space welding attempt tell about their experience.

“It was easy due to 0-gravity”, says Svetlana Saviskaya. “However, many people thought that we had made a special performance, that we hadn’t been working in space. Like with the first step on the Moon.”

“In outer space, with this invisible ray, it was a real miracle,” adds Vladimir Dzhanibekov.

The machine was tested deeply, but the developers could not define its behaviour in space precisely.

Specialists of the Kiev institute are still sure that their instrument will be used in future. The first welding in space opened one more page in the space exploration history.

Today Russian cosmonauts and scientists from Kiev recollect their past achievements and the time when Russia and Ukraine were conquering space together…

Below is a photo of Svetlana welding, possibly the only photo of a female cosmonaut doing an EVA? (From the Capcomespace site)

Svetlana Savitskaya welding

STS-127 Atlantis launched at long last on its 6th attempt. More segments for the Japanese Kibo module will be installed, and two crewmembers will swap places (Koichi Wakata down; Timothy Kopra up). With 6 people on board going up or down at different times on different spaceships, keeping track of them all can be confusing!

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Mars-105 completed

The Mars-105 isolation experiment was concluded yesterday (14th) at 10:00 UTC, the 6 participants emerging in good spirits. One wonders if the same will be the case after 500 days! I suspect not. Mars-500 is currently due to begin in early 2010. “Mars flight simulation experiment ends”,, 14/7, has some details. Having no Internet access would be a major deprivation for me!

NASA’s fifth launch attempt of STS-127 Atlantis was unsuccessful, so they are trying for a sixth today! (22:03 UTC) The record for the most launch attempts is 6 for STS-61C in 1985-86 (launched on the 7th attempt). The External Tank is certified for 13 refill cycles before it is no longer usable. There are 7 flights left before the Shuttle program ends.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Moon melancholy

The 40th anniversary of the first Apollo Moon landing is coming up, so there is a lot of blather and angst in the media and on various forums. No Russian cosmonaut has yet been out of low Earth orbit – one wonders if they ever will. The anniversary has inevitably brought out the Paranoid Patriots, as evidenced in these quotes:

Now potential rivals such as China seek to challenge US dominance in space, and some see the new space race as once again a battle between ideologies.

“From the point of view of the future of the western world and its Asian allies it’s imperative that the US, Europe, Japan, Australia, Canada and other like-minded countries be competitive in deep space,” Moonwalker and geologist Harrison Schmitt told AFP.

Schmitt said he believed that “non-democratic nations of the world, China, Russia and maybe others, fully intend to be dominant in space…[and] gain that kind of prestige, that kind of advantage in technology and education and other fields that come with being the dominant space power.

“With the Apollo program we taught them how,” said Schmitt, who was the last astronaut to step out of a lunar craft and onto the moon surface in 1972.

– “Space, man’s greatest challenge, 40 years after Moon walk”, Space Daily, 12/7/2009

STS-127 Atlantis is still trying to launch; it has had 4 scrubs so far! Originally to have launched on 13 June, the first delay was due to a hydrogen gas vent leak; the second because of a work light knob embedded between the pressure pane on Atlantis’ pilot window and the dashboard panel, and the last two because of thunderstorms. The next attempt is in a few hours. A very frustrating process for all involved, as the orange External Tank has to be drained and refueled each time, and the Shuttle crew has to prepare themselves, only to be disappointed. (Maybe they should try sacrificing a goat.) The Soyuz manned rocket launches are, in contrast, rarely delayed (I don’t know if any have been).

Posters at the Novosti Kosmonavtiki forum are not too impressed with the proposed names (6/7/2009 entry) for the next 3 Russian ISS modules, describing them as “utilitarian”, lacking in romanticism, difficult to pronounce (i.e. too long) and imitating NASA’s pointedly symbolic names. Some proposed are: «Спектр», Spektr (Spectrum), «Природа» Priroda (Nature), «Радуга», Raduga (Rainbow), «Горизонт», Gorizont (Horizon). The names are “recycled” (used on previous projects, such as the Mir space station) but are nicer than the officially-proposed ones.

Progress M-02M successfully performed a re-rendezvous test today to verify the new passive KURS-P system antennas and TORU target installation accuracy at the SM PkhO (Service Module Transfer Compartment) zenith port. There was some nervousness about this as a similar 1997 Progress (M-34) rendezvous with Mir bumped into the space station.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Quit whinging!

The front page of the Roskosmos site featured a graph showing government funding of the civil space programs of various countries for 2008. The figures, in billions of dollars, are:

  1. USA: $17.903
  2. ESA: $4.216
  3. China: unknown
  4. France: $1.748
  5. Japan: $1.692
  6. Russia: $1.538
  7. India: $0.92
Civil spaceflight funding graph

The USA, represented by NASA, gets more funding than the other countries put together! People on space forums keep whinging about NASA’s supposed lack of funding, but compared to what little Russia and other countries have to make do with, NASA is comfortably well-off.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Future directions

Anatolii Perminov gave some indications of the future directions of the Russian space program when he answered the questions of Russian and foreign students:

Answering one of the questions, Anatolii Nikolaevich said: “Designs of this type are not carried out in Roscosmos entities. On the other hand, these issues are studied in some R&D institutes. My opinion, not as a manager, but as a specialist, is that it is necessary to search for new energy-generation forms and ways based on different principles for space exploration. However my personal point of view may differ from the views of scientists…”

Foreign students were interested in development of the lunar habitation.

“Currently, we carry out an outstanding international project Mars-500. It intends to test feasibility of human spaceflight to Mars and return back to the Earth. Roscosmos and ESA researchers are involved in the project. The experiment is controlled from the Mission Control Center. NASA’s lunar base project has been approved. But now some changes may occur in their program due to changes of NASA Administration. We discussed it with NASA representatives in Paris. Today it is unclear if the USA will build the lunar base on their own, or involve some international partners. Lunar projects on different development stages exist in China, India, Japan, and Russia as well,” Mr. Perminov said.

Roscosmos Head also explained about perspectives of the Vostochnyi space port construction in Amurskaya region:

“Russian Government defined that up to late 2011, design and research on-site activities are to be completed and Vostochnyi construction plan is to be prepared. That is, what we are doing now on the funding appropriated. This funding is not so big, but still sufficient to accomplish this objective. Then, we will report to the Government which is to make the decision about the date to start the construction. Roscosmos believes that the construction shall start in 2012. This is in line with the space exploration strategy approved by the Russian Government, which intends maiden launch of the first cargo vehicle from Vostochnyi in 2015, and the first human spacecraft launch in 2018.”

Aldrin thinks U.S. should set its sights on Mars”,, 6/7. Apollo astronaut/Moon Man №2 Buzz Aldrin, who is outspoken on space matters, is of the opinion that:

  • the U.S. “oversee” an international team of lunar explorers, which includes China.
  • While other countries are occupied there, the U.S. sneaks off to Mars and gets there first.

I would, of course, like to see a Russian manned mission get to Mars first! Would be compensation for missing out on the Moon.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Module names

Anik posted some names for the next 3 Russian ISS modules suggested by Roskosmos to Energiya:

  • MRM-2: Поиск/Poisk/Search (or Quest ;-) )
  • MRM-1: Развитие/Rasvitie/Development
  • MLM: Перспектива/Perspektiva/Perspective

Hmm…not very evocative? I would like to continue with the theme of the first two modules, something like:

  • Zarya, «Заря»: Sunrise
  • Zvezda, «Звезда»: Star
  • Svet, «Свет»: Light
  • Voskhod, «Восход»: Dawn
  • Avrora, «Аврора»: Aurora

Friday, 3 July 2009

Mars-500 pointless?

From NK 792. Former cosmonaut Valentin Lebedev is of the opinion that the Mars-500 experiment will not reveal anything new, and is not an effective simulation of a journey to Mars.

03/07/2009 / 00:05 – Valentin Lebedev: Mars-500 experiment “will not provide the necessary scientific data for a manned flight to Mars”

The Mars-500 scientific experiment, which is scheduled to begin next spring, will not give scientists the data needed to understand the possibility of interplanetary flight, said the member of Russian Academy of Sciences, pilot-cosmonaut, twice Hero of the Soviet Union Valentin Lebedev.

“As for the ground experiments, the similar Mars-500 experiments, which now try to mimic the conditions of the Martian mission, offer little understanding of the problems of human flight in deep space, while we have for decades made long flights on orbital stations,” said V. Lebedev, whose paper is published on the Roscosmos site.

According to him, an experiment with human habitation in an enclosed space does not provide the necessary psychological conditions, as participants at any time may leave the premises. “It's conditional, as if preparing to drift on ice floes in the Arctic held in winter on a pond near Moscow,” said the cosmonaut.

As noted by Lebedev, ground-based studies have little relevance to real interplanetary flight, adding that experiments on living people in closed spaces were conducted in the country several times, and the Mars-500 experiment is just a repeat of this.

The cosmonaut suggested that a special module be developed that would simulate a Mars mission, and attach it to the ISS. “Then it will be possible to create conditions in the module closest to interplanetary flight,” said V. Lebedev.

The beginning of the Mars-500 experiment, during which the scientists are planning to simulate a manned flight of six volunteers to Mars, is scheduled for the beginning of 2010. During the 520-day virtual flight, scheduled work will take place on the Martian surface for a month by two participants in the experiment inside the simulator constructed in the Institute of Biomedical Problems building.

He does have a valid point – the experiment also takes place in full gravity with no worries about radiation exposure from deep space. Attaching a specialized module to the ISS is a valid alternative; but it would be expensive (though perhaps not much more than the $10 million or so for the ground experiment?).

The rather graphic diagram below – “Mechanism of lumbar spine distraction fracture (Chance Fracture)” – is from a report on the STS-107 Columbia accident, showing the seatbelt of a crewperson cutting through their waist and snapping their spine. Ugh! That’s about the most gruesome image in the report – no photos of the bodies, alas. I suppose they would have looked something like the charred cosmonaut in my 30/11/2008 entry, but broken into pieces. There is another of a charred helmet, also below – temperatures it endured are given as 300-400°C, so one can imagine the state of the head inside. (If I go asking such morbid questions on forums though, I will be told off, so I will have to restrict my ghoulish curiosity about such things to my blog. Well, Dad was an Airworthiness Inspector [who saw dead bodies!] and Mum was a nurse [who saw dead bodies!], so I’ll blame this on them.)

Seat belt injury image from STS-107 report Charred STS-107 crew helmet

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Phobos-Grunt on schedule

According to Anatoly Zak who was at the Paris Air and Space Show on 15 June, and who spoke to the head of NPO Lavochkin Georgii Poleshyuk, the components of the Phobos-Grunt, «Фобос-Грунт» probe were being integrated, beginning 20 June. The probe’s main propulsion unit is the most complex and critical element. Everything will be transported to Baikonur Cosmodrome in September of this year.

Progress M-02M undocked from the ISS (Pirs docking module) on 30/6 for autonomous flight tests of its systems; it will redock on 2/7.

From NK №789:

19/06/2009 / 08:46 – The economic crisis could derail the creation of a new Russian cosmodrome

The economic crisis could prevent modernisation of the Russian space-rocket industry, and also disrupt the establishment of our own “window” in space – the Vostochnyi, Восточный cosmodrome, Vitalii Davidov declared on Thursday.

According to him, last year’s re-financing of the industry has dramatically increased.

“Before it was one per cent, and in order to re-branch had about 70 years, starting this year, especially for the next year we have planned investments in retooling the industry, which should have been raised by 15% -20% of the overall funding level,” said the official, speaking at a meeting of the working group on innovative legislation in the Presidential Administration of the Russian Federation.

He noted that the same magnitude of re-financing was needed during the implementation of programs for the Soviet space shuttle Buran in the late 1980s.

But Davydov fears that the crisis could disrupt plans for re-equipment: “What happened at the end of last year, this crisis, we thought it would not affect our plans, but today we realize it is not possible. This is a significant impact on our plans, especially in terms of security, including independent access to space, the development of the new cosmodrome on the territory of Russia,” said the Roscosmos Deputy.

Sergei Krikalyov’s photo has at last appeared on the Gagarin Cosmonauts’ Training Center website (the Russian version so far), so he must now have officially assumed command. According to Anik, he left the Cosmonauts’ Group of RSC Energiya on 27 March 2009.