Thursday, April 24, 2008

Big problems with Soyuz "handled" - NASA

Depending on who you listen to, the malfunction that nearly burned through the Soyuz hatch bringing American space endurance record-holder and ISS Expedition XVI commander Dr. Peggy Whitson down to Earth in the steppes of Kazakhstan, April 19, was either a near disaster or not much of a problem.

From Spaceflight NOW, April 23:

"The Russian Soyuz TMA-11 spacecraft that carried two space station crew members and a South Korean guest cosmonaut back to Earth Saturday may have started its fiery re-entry with a normally discarded propulsion module still attached officials said today, putting the craft in an unusual orientation and subjecting the returning space fliers to higher than normal stresses and buffeting.

"I saw 8.2 Gs on the meter and it was ... pretty dramatic," outgoing space station commander Peggy Whitson, flying as the left-seat Soyuz engineer, told a NASA interviewer shortly after landing. "Gravity's not really my friend right now and 8 Gs was especially not my friend. But it didn't last too long. Chute deploy was nominal and impact ... wasn't quite as bad as I was expecting."

But the separation of the Soyuz modules "was a little more dramatic than I was expecting."

"It was the second Soyuz entry in a row to experience apparent module separation problems, raising questions about quality control and the spacecraft's overall reliability. But Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's director of space operations, said the Russians were treating the issue with the thoroughness it deserved and he expressed confidence in their ability to resolve the matter before the next Soyuz launch Oct. 12.

"We don't see this as a major problem, but it's clearly something that should not have occurred, we don't like to see things repeat on two flights," he told reporters in an afternoon teleconference. Warning against speculation, he said "it appears, based on what we hear, we may have missed the most probable cause (of the earlier problem). We may have something else going on. ... The important thing is the Russians are taking this extremely serious, they've got the commission started, they're bringing in some independent folks on their side to take a look at this and they'll understand what the problem is."

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