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Ups and Downs for October

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1958 NASA begins operations


The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was formally organised and began operation as the government agency in charge of the national civilian space program. President Eisenhower had signed the act establishing NASA on 29 July, and the nonmilitary space projects which had been conducted by the Advanced Research Projects Agency were transferred to the jurisdiction of the NASA. Concurrently, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), after a 43-year tenure, was inactivated, and its facilities and personnel became a part of NASA.



2005 Soyuz TMA-7 launch

Crew: Valeri Tokarev (CDR); Bill McArthur [USA] (FE); Gregory Olsen [USA] (SP)


Tokarev and McArthur were the caretaker crew of ISS Expedition 12, keeping the station running until its full crew of three could be restored when the Space Shuttle came back into service. Olsen was a fare-paying passenger who would return to Earth with Krikalev and Phillips, the Expedition 11 crew. Docking took place two days into the mission as normal. During their time aboard, Tokarev and McArthur carried out two EVAs: on 7 November they installed a TV camera on the station's truss, for use during future assembly work. This lasted 5h 22m. Then on 3 February 2006 they installed an amateur radio transmitter in a surplus Russian space-suit and deployed it into independent orbit: this broadcast greetings in six languages to ham radio operators around the world, though the transmitter stopped after about three hours when the batteries failed. The crew also carried out various other tasks; the whole EVA lasted 5h 43m. On 18 November the TMA-7 spacecraft was relocated from the Pirs docking port to the Zarya module, so that the Pirs airlock could be used for the second EVA. On 20 March the spacecraft was relocated again, docking this time at the Zvezda port. And on 29 March the crew photographed a total eclipse of the Sun, including pictures of the Moon's shadow being cast on the Earth.

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1984 Soyuz T-11 landing

Crew: Leonid Kizim (CDR); Vladimir Solovyov (FE); Oleg Atkov (RC)

Landing site: 145 km SE of Dzheskasgan


The cosmonauts had been launched in February aboard Soyuz T-10 and had been Salyut 7 Expedition 3. Atkov was a medical doctor whose main function was to monitor the crew's health and to carry out various 'household' tasks; he was not involved in the scientific research to any great extent. Flight time was a new record of 236d 22h 49m and 3,748 orbits.



1991 Soyuz TM-13 launch

Crew: Aleksandr Volkov (CDR); Toktar Aubarikov [Kazakhstan]; Franz Viehbock [Austria] (RC)


With the imminent dissolution of the USSR, the Soviet space programme faced a problem in that the Baikonur Cosmodrome was located not in Russia but in Kazakhstan, which was on the point of declaring independence. Aubarikov's inclusion in the crew was partly in an effort to encourage the new country to continue to permit launchings from its territory. Viehbock's seat was paid for by the Austrian government, so the mission had two Research Cosmonauts and no Flight Engineer. As such Volkov would be the only crew member to spend any significant time in space: he joined Mir Expedition 10 with Sergei Krikalev while the others landed aboard Soyuz TM-12 with Anatoli Artsebarky. Under the original flight schedule Krikalev would have returned too, being replaced by Aleksandr Kaleri, but budget cuts resulted in his mission being extended and Kaleri's seat being sold to Viehbock. Some Western media reported that Krikalev was marooned aboard Mir, which was of course nonsense. Viehbock's time on the station was spent conducting mainly medical experiments, including tests on blood circulation in microgravity, studies of the muscles of the limbs and research on orientation by sounds.

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1962 Mercury MA-8 (Sigma 7)

Pilot: Wally Schirra

Landing site: 32° 7' 30" N, 174° 45' W (Pacific Ocean, north-east of Midway Island)


With two successful three-orbit Mercury flights under its belt, NASA’s next step was to double the duration and go for a six-orbit mission. The US was still well behind the Soviets, who had sent Andrian Nikolayev around the world sixty-four times in Vostok 3, a flight lasting just short of four days, much of that flying in tandem with a second spacecraft, Vostok 4. But the basic Mercury design could support a man for only three orbits, and modifications were necessary to prepare it for even the comparatively-modest six-orbit flight. The major problem, though, lay not with the spacecraft itself but with the tracking network: on a mission of this length the Earth would spin 135° on its axis, carrying the existing ground stations out from under the capsule’s orbital path. Extra tracking ships had to be brought in to relay voice and telemetry data from space back to Mercury Control. In addition, the end of the last orbit would be over land, requiring the splashdown area to be switched to the Pacific. The flight had originally been scheduled to take place on September 25th but a leak in the Atlas fuel tank caused a postponement to early October. When Schirra finally got off the ground. he came close to being forced to abort the flight when the Atlas came near to the permitted trajectory limits, but the flight continued and the capsule reached orbit safely, though slightly higher than planned. Glenn’s flight had been basically a manned shakedown test, while much of Carpenter’s was given over to scientific experimentation. On this mission, the prime objective was engineering, examining the capsule’s capabilities in flight. To this end, Schirra checked his ability to align the spacecraft without using the display panel indicator, taking his cues from the views of Earth below. This turned out to be highly successful, the astronaut managing to position the capsule to an accuracy of within 2—3°. Everything seemed to be going very well, apart from an overheating space-suit early on: at the end of the third orbit the capsule was in better shape than either Glenn’s or Carpenter’s had been at the end of their first. Schirra was given the go-ahead to complete the full six orbits. To conserve RCS propellant, the spacecraft was powered down and switched into passive control mode for the duration of the fourth orbit, during which Schirra spent much of the time observing the Earth below (always a popular pastime) and reporting back on his physiological condition. At the end of the orbit the capsule was powered up again and Schirra made a live television broadcast. Telemetry indicated that the capsule’s systems were in better condition than on any previous mission, and as retrofire time approached CAPCOM Al Shepard told Schirra that the spacecraft still had around seventy percent of its attitude control propellant remaining. Even after re-entry, when the surplus fuel was dumped prior to splashdown, there was still more than 50% in the manual tank and nearly 60% of the automatic supply left over. The spacecraft landed within sight of the recovery vessel, the USS Kearsarge. Flight time had been 9h 13m and six orbits. With Schirra still inside, the capsule was taken on board and the astronaut emerged fit and smiling. He later described the spacecraft as “a honey of a machine” but the perfection of the flight led to a sudden waning of public interest that would be mirrored by a similar downturn of enthusiasm after the first Moon-landing at the end of the decade.




1985 STS-51J launch

Crew: Karol Bobko (CDR); Ron Grabe (P); David Hilmers, Robert Stewart (MS); Bill Pailes (PS)


21st Shuttle mission; maiden flight of Atlantis

This was a classified DoD mission, with few details being released to the public. It is known that two military communications satellites were launched, but few other details are available. Most of the remainder of the mission was taken up by operations with the Bios experiment on the Orbiter’s mid-deck. This instrument had been designed to study damage to biological material caused by high-energy cosmic rays, and Atlantis’s interior was being mapped with dosimeters to determine the areas most likely to be at risk. In general, however, there was virtually no coverage of on-orbit activities, and not until 1996 did photographs begin to emerge, including several shots of Air Force officer Bill Pailes, the Payload Specialist, who had previously been something of a mystery with only a single picture being released to the media, and even his name announced just days before launch.



1988 STS-26 landing

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

Landing site: Edwards AFB


This had been the Return to Flight mission, the first after the Challenger tragedy. On Day Four the astronauts had paid tribute to their fallen comrades with a simple ceremony, but otherwise the mission had been as routine as anything can be in space. Re-entry and landing were flawless and the CAPCOM summed it all up as Discovery was rolling along the Edwards runway when he called it “A great ending to the new beginning.” Flight time had been 4d 1h and 64 orbits.


1994 Soyuz TM-20 launch

Crew: Aleksandr Viktorenko (CDR); Yelena Kondakova (FE); Ulf Merbold [Germany] (RC)


Viktorenko and Kondakova would form Mir Expedition 17 along with Valeri Polyakov, who was two-thirds of the way through a record-shattering 437-day mission. Ulf Merbold had already flown two Space Shuttle missions and would spend a month aboard Mir before returning with the Expedition 16 crew. Kondakova, wife of cosmonaut Valeri Ryumin, was only the third Soviet or Russian woman to fly in space: she would return to Mir three years later, this time aboard the Space Shuttle: a sure sign that the US and Russian space programmes had merged together. Docking with the station took place after the usual two-day approach and the six-strong crew began a month of joint operations. Due to budget cuts Merbold had to rely on equipment left behind by previous European visitors: his research programme included 23 life-science experiments, four in materials science and three technological ones.

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1957 Sputnik 1 launch


This is of course where it all began: the first artificial satellite. The launch came as a surprise to the West: though the Soviets had released full details of the satellite beforehand, few had paid any attention. What Western authorities found difficult to believe was the size of the satellite: a 585mm-diameter sphere weighing 83.6kg, which dwarfed the Vanguard satellite being prepared by the US Naval Research Laboratory, which was the size of a grapefruit and tipped the scales at a mere 1.47kg. Some in the West even thought that the decimal point in Sputnik's weight had been misplaced. However the figures were accurate and Sputnik's transmitter broadcast a continuous beep-beep signal that could be picked up by amateur radio operators around the world. The transmissions continued for 22 days until the batteries ran down (the expected lifetime had been two weeks) though the satellite itself remained in orbit until it re-entered the atmosphere on 4 January, having circled the Earth 1,440 times. Reaction in the West was one of fear and anxiety over the apparent technological superiority of the Soviet Union, and it galvanised the US to respond and triggered the Space Race.



1959 Lunik 3 launch


This was the first probe to photograph the previously-unseen Far Side of the Moon, sending back pictures taken at a distance of 63,500 to 66,700km. Around 70% of the hidden side was covered.



1959 Little Joe 6


The Little Joe programme was established to test the Mercury capsule's Launch Escape System, but this was primarily a launcher development flight, with the escape tower inactive. The vehicle was boosted to a peak altitude of around 60km, at which point the spacecraft separated and went into its recovery sequence, landing in the ocean some 128km downrange. With the capsule safely clear, the launch vehicle was deliberately blown up in a test of the range safety equipment that would be used to destroy a malfunctioning launcher once the capsule had separated.



2004 SpaceShipOne Flight 17P

Pilot: Brian Binnie

Landing site: Mojave Desert


This was the third privately-financed space flight, but crucially it came only five days after the previous one and so won the Ansari X-Prize which needed two flights within fourteen days, Mike Melvill, who had flown the previous missions, was at the controls of the White Knight carrier aircraft, which took off at 0649 local time and climbed to an altitude of 13.3km. SpaceShipOne then separated and fired its rocket motor, which shut down over 61km high. The vehicle reached a peak altitude of 112km, well above the 100km mark that defines the edge of space. It then glided back to the spaceport and landed at 0813. Free flight time had been twenty-four minutes.



2018 Soyuz MS-08 landing

Crew: Oleg Artemyev (CDR); Drew Feustel, Ricky Arnold [both USA] (FE)

Landing site: 47°19'20.58"'N, 69°36'27.36"E (152 km southeast of Dzheskasgan)


ISS Expeditions 55/56. Flight time was 196d 18h 0m; 3,152 orbits.

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1882 Birth of Robert Goddard


Goddard was an American engineer who designed and built the first liquid-fuelled rocket, which he launched from his Aunt Effie's farm in Auburn, Massachusetts on 16 March 1926. Peak altitude was 41 feet and it landed 184 feet away after a flight lasting 2.5 seconds. Six years earlier the New York Times had run an editorial commenting on a press release issued by Goddard in which it mocked his findings, pointing out that rockets could not operate in vacuum because there is nothing to push against. The paper eventually published an apology and correction - the day after Apollo 11 was launched.



1984 STS-41G launch

Crew: Bob Crippen (CDR); Jon McBride (P); Kathryn Sullivan, Sally Ride, David Leestma (MS); Paul Scully-Power, Marc Garneau [Canada] (PS)


13th Shuttle mission; sixth flight of Challenger

Primary payload was the Earth Radiation Budget Satellite, deployed on the first day of the mission, measuring the amount of solar energy absorbed and reradiated into space, plus the seasonal movement of energy from the tropics to the polar regions. On 11 October Leestma and Sullivan conducted a 3h 29m EVA in which they demonstrated satellite refuelling techniques. This was the first EVA by an American female: Sally Ride also became the first American female to fly into space twice, though Svetlana Savitskaya had already claimed both of those milestones for the Soviets.


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1990 STS-41 launch

Crew: Dick Richards (CDR); Robert Cabana (P); Bruce Melnick, William Shepherd, Tom Akers (MS)


36th Shuttle mission; 11th flight of Discovery

Deployed the Ulysses Solar Polar probe. Due to the huge velocity change required for the probe to reach its objective, it had to travel via Jupiter, using the planet's gravity to take it down below the plane of the ecliptic. In June 1994 Ulysses began its transit of the Sun's south polar regions, spending four months carrying out its observations at a distance of about 320 million kilometres. It crossed the solar equator in February 1995 and in June began its studies of the northern regions. During its lifetime the probe examined not only the Sun itself but also magnetic fields and the solar wind.



1997 STS-86 landing

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

Landing site: Kennedy Space Center


At landing, Atlantis carried astronauts born in four different countries: in addition to the four Americans, one Russian and one French, Lincolnshire-born Mike Foale had been replaced aboard Mir by David Wolf: though he held joint US-British citizenship and was not officially classed as a British astronaut the UK was still happy to claim him as one of her own - at least until Tim Peake came along! Foale had spent 144d 13h 47m in space, orbiting 2,291 times; flight time for his crewmates was 10d 19h 21m and 169 orbits.

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1985 STS-51J landing

Crew: Karol Bobko (CDR); Ron Grabe (P); David Hilmers, Robert Stewart (MS); Bill Pailes (PS)

Landing site: Edwards AFB


Few details of this classified DoD mission were released: flight time was 4d 1h 45m and 64 orbits.



2002 STS-112 launch

Crew: Jeff Ashby (CDR); Pam Melroy (P); David Wolf, Sandra Magnus, Piers Sellers, Fyodor Yurchikhin [Russia] (MS)


111th Shuttle mission; 26th flight of Atlantis

Delivered the S1 Truss to the ISS, along with equipment and supplies. These included salsa for ISS science officer Peggy Whitson, who jokingly refused to admit the Shuttle crew until Jeff Ashby confirmed that he had brought it! Three EVAs were conducted to attach the new truss, all by Sellers and Wolf, on the 10th, 12th and 14th of October, lasting 7h 1m, 6h 4m and 6h 36m respectively, a total of 19h 41m.



2010 Soyuz TMA-01M launch

Crew: Aleksandr Kaleri (CDR); Oleg Skripochka, Scott Kelly [USA] (MS)


ISS Expeditions 25/26. This was the first flight of the new uprated version of the Soyuz, equipped with digital control systems. The mission patch depicted this with the silhouette of a Soyuz consisting of ones and zeros. Docking took place on 10 October and the crew joined forces with the station's existing team of Wheelock, Yurchikhin and Walker.


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1913 Birth of Robert Gilruth


Gilruth was an aviation and space pioneer who joined the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA) in 1937 and later worked on hypersonic missile research. On the formation of NASA in 1958 he was appointed head of the Space Task Group, whose aim was to put a man in space before the Soviet Union. He was integral to the creation of the Gemini programme, which he advocated as a means for NASA to learn more about operating in space before attempting a lunar landing. Gilruth then became head of the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston and remained its director until his retiral in 1972. During his time in charge he oversaw 25 manned space flights, from Shepard's Freedom 7 to Apollo 15.





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1977 Soyuz 25 launch

Crew: Vladimir Kovalyonok (CDR); Valeri Ryumin (FE)


This should have been the first expedition to the new Salyut 6 space station but the mission had to be abandoned when the spacecraft was unable to achieve a hard dock. The docking probe had correctly latched onto Salyut's drogue but it could not then be retracted to draw the craft together so that the main latches around the hatch could secure them together. Kovalyonok tried four times without success and the crew awaited instructions. Eventually they were told to attempt another docking but this also failed. While Salyut 6 had a second docking port at the far end, the Soyuz had insufficient fuel to reach it and the crew were ordered home. One lasting effect of the failure was that all future flights would carry at least one cosmonaut with previous space experience (Kovalyonok and Ryumin were both rookies), a rule that would not be broken until Soyuz TM-19 in 1994.

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1990 STS-41 landing

Crew: Dick Richards (CDR); Robert Cabana (P); Bruce Melnick, William Shepherd, Tom Akers (MS)

Landing site: Edwards AFB


A shorter-than-normal mission which had deployed the Ulysses Solar Polar probe. Flight time was 4d 2h 10m and 66 orbits.



1991 Soyuz TM-12 landing

Crew: Anatoli Artsebarski (CDR); Toktar Aubarikov [Kazakhstan]; Franz Viehbock [Austria] (RC)

Landing site: 67 km SE of Arkalyk


Artsebarski was returning from Mir Expedition 9 and his flight time was 144d 15h 22m and 2,288 orbits. Aubarikov and Viehbock had been launched a week earlier on TM-13 and their time in space was a more modest 7d 22h 13m and 125 orbits.



2007 Soyuz TMA-11 launch

Crew: Yuri Malenchenko (CDR); Peggy Whitson [USA] (FE); Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor [Malaysia] (SP)


Malenchenko and Whitson would be ISS Expedition 16; Muszaphar Shukor, though referred to as a Spaceflight Participant in English language documentation, had not paid for his flight out of his own pocket: the cost of training two cosmonauts and sending one to the ISS was covered by the Russian government in exchange for Malaysia's purchase of eighteen Sukhoi Su-30MKM fighters. As such he was considered to be a fully-qualified astronaut and not merely a passenger, and NASA astronaut 'Hoot' Gibson said that he regarded Muszaphar Shukor as a peer. Docking was achieved two days into the mission and the crew joined Yirchikhin and Kotov, who were coming to the end of their Expedition 15 and would be returning to Earth alongside the Malaysian.

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1968 Apollo 7 launch

Crew: Wally Schirra (CDR); Walter Cunningham (LMP); Donn Eisele (CMP)


This was the first American manned flight for nearly two years, following the disastrous pad fire that cost the lives of the Apollo 1 crew. As such it flew under intense public scrutiny, but the first manned Saturn IB launch went without a hitch, delivering the CSM (which the NASA authorities had refused to allow Schirra to christen Rubadubdub) into orbit eleven minutes after lift-off. For two circuits of the Earth the spacecraft remained attached to the S‑IVB, while the astronauts demonstrated their ability to control its attitude, which might be necessary in an emergency. Then at last, around three hours into the flight, Schirra used the RCS thrusters to pull the spacecraft free. He rotated the CSM, pointing its nose back at the rocket stage in a rehearsal for the transposition and docking manoeuvre that would join it to the Lunar Module on later flights. On Apollo 7 the adapter section was empty, of course, but a LM docking target was mounted on a strut for rendezvous demonstrations. Here, the astronauts discovered that one of the adapter panels had failed to open properly, which might prevent a lunar crew docking with their LM if it happened again. The process was changed for future missions so that the panels would break free entirely, rather than just folding back. The station-keeping manoeuvres over, the astronauts proceeded to their next task: testing the big Service Module engine. The RCS thrusters were used to push the spacecraft into a higher orbit, safely clear of the S‑IVB; then a little more than a day into the flight the SPS was fired for the first time on a manned mission. Six further tests were carried out over the next nine days, each one with complete success. During the flight, the first live TV from space was transmitted, showing the men enjoying their weightless environment more fully than any US astronauts in the past: the Mercury and Gemini cabins were too cramped to allow the sort of zero-gee gymnastics that were demonstrated by the Apollo crew.




1969 Soyuz 6 launch

Crew: Georgi Shonin (CDR); Valeri Kubasov (FE)


What later became known as the ‘Troika’ flight was originally planned to begin on 5 October, but formal authorisation from the Politburo had not been obtained by 24 September and the preparations came to an abrupt halt. The flight planners waited impatiently for the go-ahead: they knew that the mission could not be delayed indefinitely, for the spacecraft were nearing the end of their ‘shelf life’. Finally, on 30 September permission to proceed was granted. When Soyuz 6 went into orbit there was no immediate announcement as to its objective, other than that an “improved version” of the spacecraft was being tested.




1971 Salyut 1 re-entry


Following the Soyuz 11 tragedy, when the first cosmonaut team to occupy a space station perished during re-entry, Salyut was boosted to a a safe height to ensure its orbit would not decay while investigations were carried out, but as it became clear that the problem was more serious than had been at first thought, the station was deliberately de-orbited with a retrofire manoeuvre so that it would break up harmlessly over the ocean. The station had been aloft for 175 days (24 of them occupied) and 2,929 orbits.




1977 Soyuz 25 landing

Crew: Vladimir Kovalyonok (CDR); Valeri Ryumin (FE)

Landing site: 185 km NW of Tselinograd


Having failed to achieve a hard dock with Salyut 6, the intended first occupants were forced to return to Earth because both propellant and battery life were running low. The spacecraft landed safely, after a flight of just 2d 0h 45m and 32 orbits, but the implications were worrying: if the trouble lay with the Soyuz docking equipment, then it was probably an isolated incident that would not recur on future flights. If, on the other hand, it was the Salyut mechanism that had malfunctioned, then the space station might as well be written off before it had ever been occupied. Nobody could be sure what the position was: the Soyuz docking probe had been discarded when the Orbital Module was jettisoned prior to re-entry and was unavailable for examination. The only way to find out was to send another crew up to Salyut to take a look at the space station’s docking equipment—an operation possible only because of the second port where the repair team could link up before carrying out their inspection. Plans were drawn up to do just that, but in the meantime the Soviet manned space programme seemed to be balanced on a knife-edge yet again.




1980 Soyuz 37 landing

Crew: Leonid Popov (CDR); Valeri Ryumin (FE)

Landing site: 200 km SE of Dzheskasgan


Popov and Ryumin had been the fourth expedition to Salyut 6 and had been launched aboard Soyuz 35; two spacecraft switches had enabled them to remain in orbit far beyond the spacecraft’s ‘shelf life’. Their flight time was 184d 20h 12m and 2,917 orbits. This was the longest to date but was not recognised as an official record because it did not exceed the previous one (175 days, also by Ryumin) by at least ten percent!




1994 STS-68 landing

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

Landing site: Edwards AFB


Carried the Space Radar Laboratory (SRL-2). Flight time was 11d 5h 46m and 182 orbits.




2000 STS-92 launch

Crew: Brian Duffy (CDR); Pam Melroy (P); Leroy Chiao, Bill McArthur, Jeff Wisoff, Michael Lopez-Alegria, Koichi Wakata [Japan] (MS)


100th Shuttle mission; 28th flight of Discovery

Delivered the Z1 truss, Control Moment Gyros and the Pressurized Mating Adapter-3 to the International Space Station. Docking with the vacant ISS was achieved on the third day of the mission and during four EVAs over the course of the mission these were attached to the station, the final preparation for the arrival of the first occupants.




2005 Soyuz TMA-6 landing

Crew: Sergei Krikalev (CDR); John Phillips [USA] (FE); Gregory Olsen [USA] (SP)

Landing site: 50° 44' 00" N, 67° 25' 41" E (68 km northeast of Arkalyk)


Krikalev and Phillips had been ISS Expedition 11 and had notched up 179d 0h 23m and 2,818 orbits. Olsen was a Spaceflight Participant (fare-paying passenger) who had been launched aboard TMA-7; his flight time was 9d 21h 15m and 155 orbits.




2009 Soyuz TMA-14 landing

Crew: Gennadi Padalka (CDR); Michael Barratt [USA] (FE); Guy Laliberté [Canada] (SP)

Landing site: 51°01'26.1" N 67°12'07.74" E (88 km NNE of Arkalyk)


Padalka and Barratt were ISS Expedition 19; their flight time was 198d 16h 42m, 3,130 orbits. Laliberté was another Spaceflight Participant, launched on Soyuz TMA-16; his time was 10d 21h 17m and 171 orbits.




2018 Soyuz MS-10 abort

Crew: Aleksei Ovchinin (CDR); Nick Hague [USA] (FE)

Landing site: 47°35´08´´N, 68°00´25´´E (32 km southeast of Dzhezkazgan)


What should have been ISS Expedition 57 became instead the first Russian in-flight abort in 43 years. Observers on the ground became aware that something was wrong at the moment of booster separation: instead of the strap-ons peeling out and back like the petals of a flower (a display known as the Korolev Cross) they saw instead a cloud of debris surrounding the vehicle. The Launch Escape System immediately went into action: the escape tower itself had already been jettisoned, but contrary to the animation shown on Russian television the payload shroud was still attached; thus it was the auxiliary rockets on either side which pulled the Orbital and Re-Entry Modules clear of the stack, leaving the Equipment Module behind as planned. At the appropriate moment the Re-Entry Module dropped out of the shroud and began a ballistic re-entry subjecting the crew to between 6.7 and 8G. The craft touched down just nineteen minutes and forty seconds after launch and rescue teams were quickly on the scene, reporting back that the cosmonauts were safe and well. However the headaches for the mission planners were just beginning: the Soyuz spacecraft was obviously grounded until the cause of the failure was known, and if there was a fundamental problem with the launch vehicle, the next flight might not be for several months. The crew then aboard the ISS were approaching the end of their stay, and could not remain in orbit much beyond the beginning of January, when the systems of their own Soyuz would begin to degrade. This would mean leaving the ISS unoccupied, which it was not designed for. It would also bring to an end an unbroken human presence in space of nearly eighteen years. Fortunately the problem was found very quickly: it was not a problem with the launch vehicle’s design but an error during assembly: a ball joint had been damaged when the booster was attached to the core, preventing proper separation. Since this was unlikely to happen again the launch vehicle was cleared to fly and the next Soyuz launch was scheduled for December, well within the return deadline for the current ISS crew.


The question was raised as to whether this counted as a space flight or not. Peak altitude reached was 94km, below the Karman Line of 100km which is the international definition of the edge of space. The USA uses their Air Force's definition of fifty miles, meaning that the US classed it as a space flight while the Russians did not.

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1964 Voskhod 1 launch

Crew: Vladimir Komarov (CDR); Konstantin Feoktistov (SC); Boris Yegorov (DC)


With America's two-man Gemini in development, the Soviet authorities needed to go one better, as usual, and orders came down from on high to put three men into orbit. The only way this was possible with the Vostok capsule was to remove the ejection seat and install lightweight couches, leaving the crew with no means of escape in an emergency. In addition, the cosmonauts would be forced to remain aboard the spacecraft during the descent, subjecting them to a severe impact when it hit the ground. To cushion the landing, the engineers used an idea considered for the Vostok EVA flights, which also had the ejection seat removed: a retro-rocket which would fire at an altitude of a metre or so, slowing the capsule a split-second before touchdown. The other major problem was that there was simply not enough room for the crew to wear pressure suits: the crew arrived at the pad dressed in lightweight grey woollen trousers and shirts, with light blue jackets, looking as if they were about to get on board an airliner rather than travel into space. Mission Commander Vladimir Komarov had been Popovich’s original backup on Vostok 4, but was dropped due to a heart irregularity—an odd parallel to the case of Mercury astronaut Deke Slayton. Konstantin Feoktistov was part of the team which had designed the original one-man Vostok and then converted it so that it could carry three, while Boris Yegorov was a physician who would conduct medical examinations during the flight. The atmosphere during launch was tenser than on any since Gagarin’s: with no means of escape the cosmonauts were doomed if anything went wrong. Korolev was seen to be visibly shaking and there was a collective sigh of relief when the spacecraft reached orbit. The crew had the customary conversation with Nikita Khrushchev, as well as sending their good wishes to the Soviet team participating in the Tokyo Olympic Games. These formalities over, the crew settled down to their assigned activities. As Mission Commander Komarov was responsible for monitoring the spacecraft’s systems: beginning on the sixth orbit he tested a set of electrostatic ion engines planned to be used to control attitude on the forthcoming Soyuz spacecraft. Feoktistov carried out a programme of Earth-observation photography, as well as conducting a study of the atmosphere and the polar aurora and stellar backgrounds for navigational and orientation purposes. And Yegorov made a series of medical studies of his fellow cosmonauts, including measurement of blood pressure, vision tests, tactile and tendon reflexes, speed of information processing and research into the crew’s overall condition and behaviour. The cosmonauts took it in turn to sleep, ensuring that someone was ‘on watch’ at all times.



1969 Soyuz 7 launch

Crew: Anatoli Filipchenko (CDR); Vladislav Volkov (FE); Viktor Gorbatko (RE)


Twenty-four hours after the launch of Soyuz 6, it was joined in orbit by Soyuz 7. Some Western observers now anticipated a repeat of the Soyuz 4/5 docking, but others felt there must be more to it than that: the Soviet space programme was not in the habit of repeating itself and each mission had to be a step forward. Thus, they expected further developments, and they would not have long to wait.



1977 Shuttle Orbiter ALT-4

Crew: Joe Engle (CDR); Dick Truly (P)


Enterprise looked different for its fourth free flight: the aerodynamic tail-cone had been removed and replaced by three dummy engine bells, to simulate the configuration of the Orbiter as it flew back from space. The increased drag caused by the engine nozzles would result in a glide slope angle around twice as steep as on the flights with the cone in place: this was steeper even than that predicted for a return from orbit, but again NASA intended to “stretch the envelope” and build in a safety factor. Take-off came at 7:45 local time, the 747 lifting its burden to the release altitude of some 6,900m. Because of the steep descent angle, the crew would have little time for manoeuvres, so separation took place directly downwind from the runway, sixty-five minutes after take-off. Enterprise pulled away and Engle and Truly carried out some pitch and roll manoeuvres before landing two and a half minutes later. After main gear touchdown, the Orbiter’s nose pitched up unexpectedly before the nosewheel dropped to the ground, but despite this the flight was declared another success.



2005 Shenzhou VI launch

Crew: Fei Junlong (CDR); Nie Haisheng (Op)


China's second crewed flight was far more ambitious than their first, when Yang Liwei had spent less than a day in orbit. This time, the two-man crew were able to remove their space-suits and enter the Orbital Module for the first time, not incidentally giving them access to the toilet facilities. The taikonauts' exact activities were not announced by the Chinese authorities, leading some Western observers to assume these included military-based reconnaissance, but most felt this was unlikely given that similar experiments by the US and the Soviets had determined that humans are not particularly suited for this. What is known is that the crew carried out scientific experiments in the field of bone cells and heart problems, as well as evaluating the capabilities of the spacecraft.



2008 Soyuz TMA-13 launch

Crew: Yuri Lonchakov (CDR); Mike Fincke [USA] (FE); Richard Garriott [USA] (SP)


Lonchakov and Fincke were ISS Expedition 18; Garriott was a Spaceflight Participant, though his connection with space went back further than most: he was the son of astronaut Owen Garriott, who had spent 59 days aboard Skylab on the second expedition, as well as flying a further ten-day mission on STS-9, the first flight of Spacelab. The younger Garriott was born in Cambridge but was a US citizen, a computer games designer who later went by the name of Richard Garriott de Cayeux; fortunately the designers of the mission patch did not have to fit this in! Docking took place after the conventional two-day approach and over the course of the next week or so took over activities from the current occupants.


Despite what some Western media reported, Garriott was not the first "second generation spaceman" - Sergei Volkov, part of the retiring Expedition 17 crew who would actually be returning to Earth alongside him, is the son of Aleksandr Volkov, veteran of three missions with more than a year in space under his belt. And more would follow: Roman Romanenko, who would fly on Soyuz TMA-15 the following year, is the son of Yuri Romanenko, another three-flight veteran who had clocked up 430 days in orbit, while Aleksandr Skvortsov, who would fly on TMA-18 and at the time of writing is on-orbit aboard the ISS as part of Expedition 61, is the son of an unflown cosmonaut, also named Aleksandr. 


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1964 Voskhod 1 landing

Crew: Vladimir Komarov (CDR); Konstantin Feoktistov (SC); Boris Yegorov (DC)

Landing site: 54° 02' 00" N, 68° 08' 00" E (312 km northwest of Kustanay)


Voskhod 1's sole reason for existing had been to put three cosmonauts in orbit aboard a single spacecraft, beating the American two-man Gemini before it could get off the ground. To do this three men were squeezed into a Vostok capsule, with no space-suits or means of escape in an emergency. As such there was virtually no room for them to move around so only a limited amount of scientific work could be carried out. Despite this, the crew requested an extension to the flight, which was turned down by Mission Control with a cryptic quote from Shakespeare: "There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio..." This was a guarded reference to the fact that Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev was being deposed from office: the following day Leonid Brezhnev was elected in his place and it was he who greeted the Voskhod cosmonauts on their return to Moscow. They were the first Soviet crew to land aboard their spacecraft, since the ejection seats had been replaced by lightweight couches to make room for them all: ground impact was cushioned by retro-rockets which fired a second or so before landing. Flight time had been 1d 0h 17m and 16 orbits.



1969 Soyuz 8 launch

Crew: Vladimir Shatalov (CDR); Aleksei Yeliseyev (FE)


With two Soyuz craft already in orbit some Western observers anticipated a repeat of the Soyuz 4/5 docking but others expected something more, as a straightforward repeat did not suit the Soviet authorities' desire to be constantly moving forwards. Thus when a third Soyuz was launched, the surprise was possibly less than it might have been. It later emerged that the mission plan had been for Soyuz 7 and 8 to dock, while Soyuz 6 filmed the manoeuvre. As it turned out the docking had to be called off due to equipment problems, and while the Soviets denied that this had been planned, the fact that the two spacecraft were fitted with docking hardware, and that the Soyuz 8 crew had experience from the Soyuz 4/5 docking, seemed clear evidence that this was indeed the intention.



1984 STS-41G landing

Crew: Bob Crippen (CDR); Jon McBride (P); Kathryn Sullivan, Sally Ride, David Leestma (MS); Paul Scully-Power, Marc Garneau [Canada] (PS)

Landing site: Kennedy Space Center


When Columbia was approaching Edwards AFB at the end of her maiden flight, pilot Bob Crippen (a proud Texan) quipped, "What a way to come to California!" Since then he had completed two further missions, both landing at the Air Force Base. Now at last he was making a round trip by returning to his starting point, on the runway at Kennedy Space Center. During re-entry communications were routed through TDRS-A, and contact with the Orbiter was regained two minutes earlier than usual. One of Challenger’s OMS pods suffered heating damage during re-entry as a result of the loss of a strip of protective felt, probably at launch, and would have to be replaced before the Orbiter’s next flight. Mission duration was 8d 5h 24m; 133 orbits.

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1976 Soyuz 23 launch

Crew: Vyacheslav Zudov (CDR); Valeri Rozhdestvensky (FE)


This should have been the second expedition to Salyut 5 but during the approach to the station the automatic system failed. While the crew had been trained in a manual docking they were not able to complete the rendezvous and the mission had to be terminated.



2004 Soyuz TMA-5 launch

Crew: Salizhan Sharipov (CDR); Leroy Chiao [USA], Yuri Shargin (FE)


Sharipov and Chiao would form ISS Expedition 10 while Shargin would remain aboard the station for only a week or so, returning to Earth with the Expedition 9 crew. At this time the Space Shuttle was still grounded in the wake of the Columbia accident, so long-term ISS crews were restricted to two as the only means of delivering supplies was the Progress freighter. Docking took place the usual two days into the flight and following the departure of TMA-4 the crew settled in for a six-month stay. In November Chiao became the first man to vote in a Presidential election from orbit. Two EVAs were carried out during the expedition: on 26 January the crew installed a work platform and relocated a Japanese exposure package: this lasted 5h 28m. Then on 28 March they installed three communications antennae, and Sharipov manually deployed a Russian science experiment called Nanosatellite. This EVA lasted 4h 30m.


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2003 Shenzhou V

Pilot: Yang Liwei

Landing site: 42°14'36" N, 111°29'36" E (Dorbod Xi, Gobi Desert, Inner Mongolia)


After four test flights, China became the third nation to achieve independent manned spaceflight with this mission. The single crewman was a fighter pilot, Yang Liwei (Yang being his family name), whose identity was revealed to the press only the day before the flight. During the mission, Yang dined on specially designed packs of shredded pork with garlic, Kung Pao chicken and rice, along with Chinese herbal tea. State television broadcast footage of him waving small flags of the People's Republic of China and the United Nations. The Shenzhou spacecraft appeared to be modelled on the Soyuz capsule, with a separate Orbital Module (though cylindrical rather than spherical, as on the very earliest Soyuz designs) though on this first flight Yang did not enter it. The Re-Entry Module landed safely in the Gobi Desert on the same day it was launched (according to Universal Time), with the flight lasting 21h 23m, completing 14 orbits.

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1969 Soyuz 6 landing

Crew: Georgi Shonin (CDR); Valeri Kubasov (FE)

Landing site: 180 km NW of Karaganda


With the docking of Soyuz 7 and 8 called off, the crew of Soyuz 6, who should have filmed the manoeuvre, had to fall back on the remainder of their work programme. The main activity was to test vacuum welding, evaluating three different techniques: an electron beam, a low-pressure plasma arc and a consumable electrode. These were conducted remotely, with the cosmonauts sealed in the Re-Entry Module while the Orbital Module was depressurised. Some reports say that one of the attempts nearly went disastrously wrong, with the hull of the Orbital Module nearly being penetrated. However the resulting welded samples were said to be in no way inferior to standard Earth-based work. The crew eventually returned to a safe landing after 4d 22h 43m and 80 orbits.



1976 Soyuz 23 landing

Crew: Vyacheslav Zudov (CDR); Valeri Rozhdestvensky (FE)

Landing site: Lake Tengiz, 195 km southwest of Tselinograd


Soyuz 23 had failed to dock with Salyut 5 and the crew were forced to return to Earth as propellant and battery life were limited. However their ordeal was very far from over. The capsule came down in a snowstorm and by bad luck landed in the partially-frozen Lake Tengiz (the first Soviet splashdown) in temperatures of minus twenty degrees. The parachute filled with water and dragged the spacecraft below the surface. When the recovery teams arrived they were unable to contact the cosmonauts because the radio antennae were under water, as was the exit hatch. Amphibious vehicles were air-lifted to the vicinity, but could not reach the capsule owing to bogs surrounding the lake. Accordingly, the rescue was called off until dawn. The cosmonauts were safe, but they were low on power, so they were forced to shut down everything but a small interior light. The next morning, when operations resumed, it was found that the capsule was too heavy to be lifted by the helicopter, so it had to be dragged to shore. With still no word from the cosmonauts, it was assumed that they had perished, so it was a very pleasant surprise for the recovery team when the capsule hatch was opened and they were found alive. The recovery operation had taken nine hours, on top of a flight time of just 2d 0h 7m and 32 orbits. 



2005 Shenzhou VI landing

Crew: Fei Junlong (CDR); Nie Haisheng (Op)

Landing site: 42°21'58" N, 111°25'52" E (60 km north of the city Wulanha, capital of Siziwang Banner in the Amugulang steppes)


China's second manned flight lasted 4d 19h 33m and completed 76 orbits.



2016 Shenzhou XI launch

Crew: Jing Haipeng (CDR); Chen Dong (Op)


Tiangong-2 Expedition 1. Docking with the station was achieved on the second day of the flight and the taikonauts began a programme of scientific activity. Jing was making his third space flight.

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1969 Soyuz 7 landing

Crew: Anatoli Filipchenko (CDR); Vladislav Volkov (FE); Viktor Gorbatko (RE)

Landing site: 155 km NW of Karaganda


Soyuz 7 had been launched the day after its predecessor, and now a day after Soyuz 6 landed, it followed suit. The planned docking with Soyuz 8 had been called off: since the latter craft carried a crew of two it seems likely that one cosmonaut from Soyuz 7 would have transferred across. The rendezvous failure put a stop to that and the Soyuz 7 crew had to make do with their scientific programme. Flight time was 4d 22h 40m and 80 orbits, three minutes longer than Soyuz 6.

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1969 Soyuz 8 landing

Crew: Vladimir Shatalov (CDR); Aleksei Yeliseyev (FE)

Landing site: 145 km N of Karaganda


With the safe landing of Soyuz 8 after 4d 22h 51m and 80 orbits, the strange Troika mission came to an end. It had lasted about a week, though all three spacecraft were in orbit simultaneously for only about three days of that. It did not seem to have achieved much, other than to demonstrate the Soviets' capability of flying three missions at the same time: certainly the docking and presumed cosmonaut transfer had not taken place. In hindsight it might be felt that with the lunar landing off the table the Soviets were using up the Soyuz craft that had been built for it: there would be one more independent flight before the new version of the Soyuz appeared: the space station ferry.



1989 STS-34 launch

Crew: Donald Williams (CDR); Mike McCulley (P); Shannon Lucid, Franklin Chang-Diaz, Ellen Baker (MS)


31st Shuttle mission; fifth flight of Atlantis

Prime objective was to launch the Galileo Jupiter probe. Originally it was to have been sent on its way using a Centaur rocket stage, but new safety protocols introduced following the Challenger accident prohibited the carrying of a liquid-fuelled rocket in the payload bay, so a less powerful Interim Upper Stage was used instead. This was not capable of sending Galileo directly to Jupiter so gravitational assists from Venus and the Earth (twice) had to be used. Galileo finally reached its target a little more than six years after launch. The mission was controversial because the probe used nuclear power, and environmentalists felt that this was an unacceptable risk, even though similar systems had been used for years. A bid for a court injunction to prevent the launch was unsuccessful and Galileo was sent safely on its way.



1993 STS-58 launch

Crew: John Blaha (CDR); Richard Searfoss (P); Rhea Seddon, Bill McArthur, David Wolf, Shannon Lucid (MS); Martin Fettman (PS)


58th Shuttle mission; 15th flight of Columbia

The second Spacelab Life Sciences mission (SLS-2), Fourteen experiments were carried out, researching into the cardiovascular, regulatory, neurovestibular and musculoskeletal systems of the body. Eight of the experiments used the astronaut crew as subjects and six used rats. Blaha and Searfoss also tested a system called Pilot In-flight Landing Operations Trainer (PILOT), a flight simulator designed to ensure that their flying skills are not diminished following a prolonged mission.



2002 STS-112 landing

Crew: Jeff Ashby (CDR); Pam Melroy (P); David Wolf, Sandra Magnus, Piers Sellers, Fyodor Yurchikhin [Russia] (MS)

Landing site: Kennedy Space Center


This flight had delivered the S1 Truss and other equipment to the ISS. Flight time was 10d 19h 58m, 170 orbits.



2003 Soyuz TMA-3 launch

Crew: Aleksandr Kaleri (CDR); Mike Foale [USA], Pedro Duque [Spain] (FE)


Kaleri and Foale would be ISS Expedition 8. Duque would spend only a week or so aboard the station before returning to Earth with the Expedition 7 crew, as this was during the period when the Shuttle was grounded following the Columbia accident, and for logistical reasons the ISS was being operated by caretaker crews of two.


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