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Ups and Downs for September

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1980 Soyuz 38 landing

Crew: Yuri Romanenko (CDR); Arnaldo Tamayo Méndez [Cuba] (RC)

Landing site: 175 km SE of Dzheskasgan


This had been the seventh Interkosmos flight, with Tamayo Méndez becoming the first black man in space. Unusually, the landing was at night, after a 7d 20h 43m mission covering 124 orbits.



1983 Soyuz T-10A abort

Crew: Vladimir Titov (CDR); Gennadi Strekalov (FE)


Target for this mission was Salyut 7, where the crew--who had failed to complete the rendezvous aboard Soyuz T-8--were again assigned to install additional solar arrays. Instead, the space programme saw its only off-pad abort to date, with the cosmonauts coming within seconds of losing their lives. The problem started at T-90 seconds, when a valve failed to close and caused kerosene fuel to spill onto the launch pad and catch fire. The launch control team tried to activate the escape system but the control cables had already burned through and nothing happened. The cosmonauts were likewise unable to trigger the abort themselves and it took the backup operators--two independent controllers receiving separate commands and acting within five seconds of each other--to set off the escape system. When this was finally triggered it pulled the Orbital and Descent Modules, encased within the payload shroud, free of the stack, leaving the Equipment Module behind as planned. The cosmonauts were subjected to an instant acceleration of between 14 and 17G and the craft reached a peak altitude of 650 metres before the Descent Module dropped out and began its landing sequence, touching down 4km from the pad. Official records state that the rocket exploded six seconds after the escape system was triggered, though some sources put it at as little as two seconds. Either way, the debris burned for around 20 hours. The cosmonauts were bruised but otherwise unharmed; when the recovery team arrived they were given cigarettes and vodka to steady their nerves. The official statement played down the incident, stating merely that there had been a pad accident and the cosmonauts were rescued by the escape system. This could hardly be denied, as the US obtained satellite photos of the devastated launch pad. Years later, when the full story emerged, Titov revealed that the cosmonauts' first action after the escape rocket fired was to switch off the voice recorder because of their bad language!



1985 Soyuz T-13 landing

Crew: Vladimir Dzhanibekov (CDR); Gyorgi Grechko (FE)

Landing site: 220 km NE of Dzheskasgan


Dzhanibekov had been part of Expedition 4 to Salyut 7; his flight time was 112d 3h 12m and 1,774 orbits. Grechko had arrived on the station aboard Soyuz T-14 only a week earlier to oversee the repairs carried out by the T-13 crew; his work complete, he returned to Earth after just 8d 21h 13m and 140 orbits. Viktor Savinykh, who had been launched alongside Dzhanibekov in early June, remained on board as part of the Expedition 5 team of Vladimir Vasyutin and Aleksandr Volkov, who had in turn been launched with Grechko.



1996 STS-79 landing

Crew: Bill Readdy (CDR); Terry Wilcutt (P); Jay Apt, Tom Akers, Carl Walz, Shannon Lucid (MS)

Landing site: Kennedy Space Center


This had been the fourth Shuttle/Mir docking, but it was the first to carry out a partial crew exchange: Shannon Lucid had been aboard the station since March; her place was taken by John Blaha. Lucid's flight time was 188d 4h 0m and 2,977 orbits (a new US record); the remaining Atlantis crew had clocked up 10d 3h 18m and 160 orbits.



1997 STS-86 launch

Crew: James Wetherbee (CDR); Michael Bloomfield (P); Vladimir Titov [Russia], Scott Parazynski, Jean-Loup Chrétien [France], Wendy Lawrence, David Wolf (MS)


87th Shuttle mission; 20th flight of Atlantis

With astronauts from three different countries aboard this was in many ways a forerunner of the missions to the International Space Station that would follow. Titov was actually making his second Shuttle flight: in 1995 he was aboard STS-63, which rendezvoused but did not dock with Mir. It would not have escaped his mind that STS-86 was being launched on the fourteenth anniversary of his narrow escape aboard Soyuz T-10A, but this time everything went according to plan and Atlantis docked with Mir two days later, the seventh time this had happened. Wolf was scheduled to replace Mike Foale as Mir resident: he was a relatively late addition to the crew; under the original plan it would have been Wendy Lawrence who took Foale's place on Mir but it turned out that she was too short to use the Russian EVA suit! During his time on Mir, Wolf would become the first astronaut to vote from space, when he cast his ballot in a local election.

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1973 Soyuz 12 launch

Crew: Vasili Lazarev (CDR); Oleg Makarov (FE)


This was the first Soviet manned flight for two years, testing the modifications made in the wake of the Soyuz 11 accident. The spacecraft had been extensively redesigned, reducing the crew capacity to two men wearing space-suits. The original plan had been to carry out a Salyut expedition but the failures of Salyut 2 and Kosmos 557 meant that Soyuz 12 had nowhere to go and as the ferry version of the spacecraft carried no solar panels its power supply was limited, restricting the flight to a maximum duration of two days or so. The craft did carry a multi-spectral camera and some Earth-resources photography was carried out, surveying crop and forest conditions in co-ordination with the same regions being covered by aircraft.

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2008 Shenzhou VII landing

Crew: Zhai Zhigang (CDR); Liu Boming, Jing Haipeng (Op)

Landing site: 42°16'40'' N, 111°21'35'' E (Inner Mongolia)


China's third manned space flight came to a successful end with the safe landing of the Re-Entry Module. Flight time was 2d 20h 28m; 45 orbits.

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1973 Soyuz 12 landing

Crew: Vasili Lazarev (CDR); Oleg Makarov (FE)

Landing site: 47° 42' N, 69° E (400 km southwest of Karaganda)


This had been the test-flight of the modified spacecraft following the Soyuz 11 tragedy, restricted to a two-day shakedown because there was no Salyut station available for it to visit and the ferry version of the Soyuz used batteries, not solar panels. Flight time was 1d 23h 16m and 31 orbits.



1977 Salyut 6 launch


This was the moment when the Soviet space station programme came of age. Unlike its predecessors, Salyut 6 had a second docking port, which would enable unmanned cargo freighters to deliver fresh supplies and allow for longer missions, as well as the exchange of Soyuz craft to ensure they did not exceed their 'shelf life' while on orbit. Salyut 6 would remain aloft until 29 July 1982, during which time it would host five main expeditions, four Taxi flights in which spacecraft exchanges took place, and seven Visiting flights where there was no switch. Salyut completed 28,024 orbits in 1,764 days (683 of them occupied) before being commanded to burn up in the atmosphere. When it did, a second large crew module, Kosmos 1267, was attached: this was the first test of the on-orbit assembly techniques that would build up the later Mir station and ultimately the ISS.



1988 STS-26 launch

Crew: Rick Hauck (CDR); Dick Covey (P); Mike Lounge, David Hilmers, George Nelson (MS)


26th Shuttle mission; seventh flight of Discovery

This was the Return to Flight mission, the first flight following the Challenger disaster. NASA had spent more than two years modifying the Shuttle system in line with the recommendations of the Presidential Commission, including improved field joints between the segments of the Solid Rocket Boosters, incorporating a third O-ring, thus addressing the cause of the accident. The Orbiter itself was modified: it now had a bail-out system where the crew hatch could be jettisoned and an extendable pole used to ensure crew members would avoid hitting the wing (though privately some astronauts doubted this would work). The mission itself was a straightforward one: a TDRS communications satellite was deployed, and several scientific experiments conducted, but in the main seen in isolation this was a normal Shuttle flight. However it was the first US mission since Apollo 11 where all crew members had previous flight experience and the first where the crew wore pressure suits since STS-4. NASA had also reverted to the old flight numbering system, abandoning the one used since the tenth Shuttle mission (STS-41B) which denoted the fiscal year.



2004 SpaceShip One Flight 16P

Pilot: Mike Melville

Landing site: Mojave Desert


The second privately-funded space flight, defined by the craft exceeding an altitude of 100km. Unlike the previous flight, however, this one was an attempt to secure the Ansari X-Prize, a $10 million award for the first non-government group to launch a reusable manned spacecraft. In June, Melville had piloted the craft on a development flight, but this time all the requirements for the prize attempt were met: ballast equivalent to the mass of two passengers and announcement of the planned launch date at least sixty days in advance. Takeoff of the carrier plane was delayed because of wind conditions but the combination took off from Mojave Airport at 0711 local time. At 0809, at an altitude of around 14km, SpaceShipOne was released and after gliding for six seconds fired its rocket motor. The burn was due to last 87 seconds, but around fifty seconds in the spacecraft began rolling rapidly. Melvill was not highly concerned and allowed the burn to continue: the craft was too high for the roll to cause aerodynamic stress and also meant the control surfaces would have been ineffective. Once the vehicle was high enough to ensure it would break the 100km mark, ground controllers recommended that the pilot shut down the engine, which he did eleven seconds short of what had been planned. Peak altitude was 102.9km: after this point Melvill feathered the wing for re-entry and damped out the roll (the craft had rolled 29 times). Re-entry proceeded normally and after the wing was returned to glide configuration the spacecraft landed safely at 0834. SpaceShipOne had completed the first of two flights needed to win the Ansari prize: the second, according to the rules, had to be made within fourteen days.



2006 Soyuz TMA-8 landing

Crew: Pavel Vinogradov (CDR); Jeffrey Williams [USA] (FE); Anousheh Ansari [USA] (SP)

Landing site: 51° 02' 42" N, 67° 17' 58" E (92 km north of Arkalyk)


Two years to the day after SpaceShipOne carried out the first of two flights in pursuit of the Ansari X-Prize for privately-funded space flight, one of the people behind the prize--Iranian-born US businesswoman Anousheh Ansari--returned from a space flight of her own as a fee-paying passenger aboard Soyuz TMA-8. She had been launched on TMA-9 and had been in space for 10d 21h 5m and 171 orbits. She landed alongside the returning Expedition 13 crew, whose own flight time was 182d 22h 43m and 2,886 orbits.


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1994 STS-68 launch

Crew: Michael Baker (CDR); Terrence Wilcutt (P); Steven Smith, Daniel Bursch, Jeff Wisoff, Thomas Jones (MS)


65th Shuttle mission; seventh flight of Endeavour

The first launch attempt on 18 August was aborted just 1.9 seconds prior to liftoff, with the engines already running, after one of the liquid oxygen turbopumps appeared to be overheating. This time all went smoothly, Endeavour reaching orbit with the Space Radar Laboratory aboard. This included the Spaceborne Imaging Radar-C/X-Band Synthetic Aperture Radar (SIR-C/X-SAR), and the Measurement of Air Pollution from Satellite (MAPS). X-SAR was a joint German-Italian system, while MAPS had first flown way back on STS-2.



2009 Soyuz TMA-16 launch

Crew: Maksim Surayev (CDR); Jeff Williams [USA] (FE); Guy Laliberté [Canada] (SP)


Surayev and Williams were ISS Expeditions 21/22, while Laliberté was a fare-paying passenger who would return to Earth in around eleven days' time. He was founder and CEO of the Montreal-based entertainment company Cirque de Soleil. Docking with the station was achieved two days after launch.


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