Soyuz TMA-01M landed apparently safely yesterday (16) at 07:54, despite various glitches after its launch – see James Oberg articles “A Digital Soyuz”, September 2010 and “Digital Soyuz Return Could Be Rocky”, 11/3/2011. From the 16/3 ISS On-Orbit Status:
TMA-01M (#701), the first fully “digital” Soyuz, undocked from the MRM2 (Mini Research Module 2) Poisk port early this morning at 12:26 a.m. EDT, after the crew had performed leak checks of the vestibule area between the MRM2 and the Soyuz spacecraft, of their Sokol suits and of the hatch between the Descent Module (SA) and Orbital Module (BO). Three minutes after physical undocking, Soyuz performed the first manual separation burn. This was followed at ~12:33 a.m. by the planned test of the new RODK Manual Attitude Control in Digital Mode which provides automated LVLH (Local Vertical-Local Horizontal) attitude control. After a second manual sep burn (~12:39 a.m.), Kaleri performed the planned test of the ROAK Manual Attitude Control in Analog Mode, which involved the three new orbit-installed rate sensors (“micro ammeters”), designed to provide the crew with information on roll rate & roll angle (officials later pronounced both tests successful). At about 2:56 a.m., the crew activated the spacecraft’s VTsVK MCS (Motion Control System) “Chaika”. The actual de-orbit burn of 4 min 17 sec duration came at 3:03 a.m., resulting in a 115.2 m/sec deceleration. Tri-module separation occurred at 3:28 a.m.. 16 sec after the separation command, software pitched the PAO (Instrumentation/Propulsion Module) in the rear to a specific angle (-78.5 deg from reference axis) which, if PAO would have remained connected to the SA/Descent Module, would have resulted in enough heating on the connecting truss to melt it, thus ensuring separation. Atmospheric entry followed at 3:31 a.m. and nominal parachute deployment at 3:40 a.m.. Following initial observation by Russian SAR personnel in two helicopters, the Soyuz vehicle landed in snow at 3:54 a.m., tipping over in the wind.
“Star City at 50”, Air & Space Magazine, 1/3/2011. Article by Michael Cassutt giving an overview of where the Cosmonaut Training Center is now, and the challenges it faces (mainly chronic underfunding). It is rather disappointing the Russian Air Force does not seem interested in manned spaceflight; this surely would have some strategic value:
Though Roskosmos owns Star City, the agency doesn’t necessarily like the arrangement. According to former cosmonaut Yuri Baturin, “Roskosmos did not plan to absorb GCTC. But the Ministry of Defense specified reductions in armed forces, and simply included GCTC in that.” Apollo-Soyuz astronaut Tom Stafford put it more directly: “The Russian air force couldn’t afford to keep paying the bills. They don’t have an interest in manned spaceflight—they never really did.”
The cosmonaut-pilots also seem to have lost their training aircraft:
Under military control, the training center’s flight support unit, the Seregin Wing, had 16 aircraft, from Aero L-39 training jets to Tupolev Tu-154 transports. These were used by the cosmonauts to maintain pilot proficiency, and for weightlessness training. But in late 2009, the Russian air force disbanded the wing and dispersed the airplanes. “Except for one,” Krikalev notes, “a Tu-154 with glass hatches in its fuselage,” which was formerly used by the Ministry of Defense in NATO’s “Open Skies” program.
12 April marks 50 years since Yurii Gagarin’s first and only spaceflight, and the first manned spaceflight. The problem with these anniversaries is that, with the Russian space program at least, a lot of energy seems to be spent looking nostalgically backward, rather than planning missions for the future. Countries such as China (well, it’s the only other country outside of Russia and the USA to have independently flown humans into space) seem to be forging ahead in their slow but methodical manner. I would be tempted to wager that China will surprise everyone by announcing a manned Mars mission by the end of this decade!