Saturday, May 3, 2008

Dr. Whitson's Wild Ride

After her second busy six-months weightless on Station, Peggy Whitson's return to Earth begins with "smoke and crushing force - Tells the story to reporters Friday

Mark Carreau - Houston Chronicle

The 400,000-foot plunge lasted about 23 minutes. It seemed longer.

American Peggy Whitson can't recall whether she was right-side-up or upside-down in the Russian Soyuz capsule as it dived violently through the atmosphere, smoke wafting from the controls, communication lost with the ground.

What the 48-year-old astronaut recalls are the waves of nausea that engulfed her as the Soyuz neared the Earth's surface. And the crushing force of gravity — eight times normal — that lasted, she said Friday, for about 60 seconds.

The capsule fell until the lower atmosphere slowed it down, with the friction causing the vehicle to glow red-hot as outside temperatures soared several thousand degrees.

Finally, the first of four parachutes deployed. As the craft closed on the surface — about three feet from it — small rockets fired in an attempt to cushion the impact.

But it was a rough landing on the central Asian plains of Kazakhstan, about 300 miles from the target area, Whitson said at Johnson Space Center, like a rolling car crash.

"It was just one big hit and a roll," she told a CNN reporter.
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