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Ups and Downs for October

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1968 Soyuz 3 launch

Pilot: Georgi Beregovoy


Two weeks after the successful launch of Apollo 7, Soyuz 3 marked the Soviet Union's own return to manned flight following the Soyuz 1 tragedy. The flight plan was relatively unambitious: the spacecraft, with its single pilot, would rendezvous with the unmanned Soyuz 2 (launched the previous day). Not for many years was it revealed that a docking had also been intended: though Beregovoi was able to close within a metre of the target he was unable to achieve the actual link-up. Post-flight analysis determined that he had been attempting to dock upside-down! Soyuz 2 was equipped with two sets of navigation lights: the upper pair shining steadily, the lower pair flashing. Beregovoi failed to identify them properly and his spacecraft was in the wrong attitude for the docking mechanism to operate. The docking attempt was abandoned but the flight continued, testing the modified systems that had been introduced since the accident.




1977 Shuttle Orbiter ALT-5

Crew: Fred Haise (CDR); Gordon Fullerton (P)


The final Orbiter landing test was another “cone off” flight, though this time the glide slope was shallower than on ALT-4, more representative of a return from orbit. The climb to release altitude took fifty minutes: as before, separation took place downrange of the runway so that the pilots could concentrate on bringing the spacecraft down safely without having to worry about manoeuvring it into position. Touchdown took place on a concrete runway for the first time, as opposed to the lakebed, but the landing itself sent observers’ pulse rates soaring as Enterprise bounced from one main gear to the other and wobbled alarmingly before Haise managed to set her down. It was later established that the Orbiter had again been travelling much faster than predicted and in an attempt to reduce airspeed Haise had lowered the elevons, which increased lift, and when trying to correct this the commander had inadvertently set up the oscillations which alarmed everyone. This was not seen as a major problem, however, and NASA declared the ALT programme at an end.


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1961 SA-1


The first flight of a Saturn-family launch vehicle (and the first launch of any kind in the Apollo programme) was of what was at that time called a Saturn C-1, with inert second and third stages carrying water ballast in place of propellant. After a smooth countdown in which there were no holds for technical problems, the vehicle left the pad on a trajectory that took it to a peak altitude of 136km and ended with an impact in the ocean around 345km downrange of the Cape exactly fifteen minutes later. The flight’s principal objective had been to check out the Saturn’s structural integrity and aerodynamic properties and no attempt was made to separate the dummy upper stages from the S-I first stage when it burned out. The flight was seen as a complete success, with the only unexpected factor being the amount of sloshing of the propellant, somewhat greater than anticipated, which was cured from the third launch onward by installing baffles in the tanks to bring the phenomenon under control.

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1974 Luna 23 launch


Luna 23 was an unmanned probe intended to return a soil sample from deeper down than previous flights: around 2.5m as opposed to 0.3m. The probe reached the Moon on 9 November but unfortunately toppled over on landing and was unable to carry out its mission. In March 2012 NASA released an image taken by its Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter showing the probe lying on its side.





2003 Soyuz TMA-2 landing

Crew: Yuri Malenchenko (CDR); Edward Lu [USA], Pedro Duque [Spain] (FE)

Landing site: 49° 57' 06" N, 67° 02' 15" E (42 km south of Arkalyk in Kazakhstan)


ISS Expedition 7. The station was being operated by a caretaker crew following the grounding of the Space Shuttle earlier that year, though it could temporarily accommodate up to five during crew exchanges: thus Pedro Duque had arrived with the new Expedition 8 team but would remain only until the retiring crew came down. Duque's flight time was 9d 21h 2m and 155 orbits; the Expedition 7 crew's was 184d 22h 46m and 2,890 orbits.

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1998 STS-95 launch

Crew: Curtis Brown (CDR); Steven Lindsey (P); Stephen Robinson, Scott Parazynski, Pedro Duque [Spain] (MS); Chiaki Mukai [Japan]. John Glenn (PS)


92nd Shuttle mission; 25th flight of Discovery

What was originally a routine science mission became instead one of the highest-profile flights of the Shuttle era, thanks to the addition to the crew of America’s first man in orbit, Mercury astronaut John Glenn. Following his flight aboard Friendship 7 in February 1962, Glenn was allegedly grounded by order of President Kennedy, to avoid the risk of a national hero being lost in a space accident. Glenn moved into politics, serving as Senator for Ohio for three terms, but always wanted to return to space. His chance came when it was realised that the physiological effects of long-term space missions were similar to those experienced by elderly people: calcium loss in bone structure, for example. Glenn pointed out to NASA that as medical records existed for him dating back forty years, he would be the ideal subject for an in-flight study along these lines. Though initially wary, NASA eventually agreed to consider him for a mission, so long as he passed the medical exam. Glenn sailed through and the stage was set. Though many dismissed his presence aboard as a publicity stunt, the remainder of the crew seemed happy enough to have him aboard. There was certainly no lack of publicity: in the weeks leading up to the flight many comparisons were drawn between Glenn’s Mercury capsule and Discovery. On the day of launch, Glenn was aged 77 years and 103 days, shattering by some 25 years the previous record of the oldest man in space. As Discovery climbed away, the PAO described the crew as “six astronaut heroes and one American legend”. There was brief concern at lift-off, however, as a piece of debris was observed to fall from the tail of the Orbiter: this was soon identified as the hatch cover for the drogue parachute and not any cause for concern, though comparisons were drawn to the erroneous landing-bag signal which had alarmed the controllers on Glenn’s previous flight! Soon after orbit entry, Glenn radioed back: “Zero-gee and I feel fine!”, echoing his report from thirty-five years earlier. It was, however, a whole new experience for him: unlike the cramped Mercury capsule, where Glenn was strapped into his couch, there was of course enough room in the Shuttle cabin for him to move around and enjoy the sensation of weightlessness. At the beginning of the fourth orbit, Mission Control advised him that he had exceeded his flight time from the Mercury mission, and a further surprise was to come when the city of Perth, Australia, flashed their lights to him just as they had done in 1962. During the mission the SPARTAN 201-5 free-flyer was deployed and later retrieved using the Shuttle's mechanical arm. It was designed to investigate physical conditions and processes of the hot outer layers of the Sun's atmosphere, or solar corona. While deployed from the Shuttle, SPARTAN gathered measurements of the solar corona and solar wind. This was a reflight of SPARTAN 201-04, which developed problems shortly after being deployed from STS-87 the previous November. After it was released, SPARTAN failed to perform a pirouette manoeuvre because of an incomplete initialisation sequence. The spacecraft was sent into a spin when Columbia's robotic arm bumped it during a retrieval attempt. After spacewalking astronauts recaptured the free flyer four days after its deployment, NASA was cautiously optimistic that SPARTAN could be deployed for a shortened mission. In the end, however, the mission had to be cancelled because Columbia would not have had enough propellant for the rendezvous and capture activities.







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1968 Soyuz 3 landing

Pilot: Georgi Beregovoy

Landing site: 70 km N of Karaganda


Following the failed attempt to dock with the unmanned Soyuz 2, Beregovoy carried out numerous tests of the modified spacecraft before returning to Earth. His flight time was 3d 22h 51m and 64 orbits.



1985 STS-61A launch

Crew: Henry Hartsfield (CDR); Steven Nagel (P); Bonnie Dunbar, James Buchli, Guion Bluford (MS); Reinhard Furrer, Willi Messerschmid [both West Germany], Wubbo Ockels [Netherlands] (PS)


22nd Shuttle mission; ninth and last flight of Challenger

STS-61A carried a record eight people, including one Dutchman and two from West Germany. This was a Spacelab mission, known as D-1 because it was largely financed and operated by West Germany. As such, while ground control of the Orbiter remained with Houston, control of the scientific operations was carried out at Oberpfaffenhofen near Munich.



2000 ...er, Nothing


There's a Sherlock Holmes story called Silver Blaze in which the Great Detective uses the phrase "the curious incident of the dog in the night-time." Watson replies, "But the dog did nothing in the night-time!" to which Holmes says, "That was the curious incident." (The point being that because the dog did not react to the arrival of a person during the night, it was clearly familiar with him, thus he was not a stranger.)


In a similar way. 30 October 2000 is a historic date in space exploration, even though there were no launches or landings and there was nobody in orbit - because this was the last time this was the case. The following day Soyuz TM-31 would be launched carrying the Expedition 1 crew to the ISS, beginning an unbroken human presence in space that has lasted nineteen years to date.



2002 Soyuz TMA-1 launch

Crew: Sergei Zalyotin (CDR); Frank De Winne [Belgium], Yuri Lonchakov (FE)


This was the fourth ISS Taxi Flight as well as the first manned mission using the newest version of the Soyuz craft. Originally the third seat was to have been occupied by American musician Lance Bass of the boy band *NSYNC as a Spaceflight Participant, but his financial backers were unable to meet the terms of the contract and his cosmonaut training was discontinued. His place was taken by Yuri Lonchakov. Docking took place two days later and the crew settled in for a week's joint work alongside the Expedition 5 team.



2016 Soyuz MS-01 landing

Crew: Anatoli Ivanishin (CDR); Takuya Onishi [Japan], Kate Rubins [USA] (FE)

Landing site: 47°21'28,98"N, 69°40'43,38"E (155 km southeast of Dzheskasgan)


The safe landing brought to an end ISS Expeditions 48/49. Flight time was 115d 2h 22m and 1,792 orbits.

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2000 Soyuz TM-31 launch

Crew: Yuri Gidzenko (CDR); Sergei Krikalev, William Shepherd [USA] (FE)


This flight carried the first ISS resident crew and would begin an unbroken human presence in space that has lasted nineteen years to date. Docking with the station was achieved two days later.



2001 Soyuz TM-32 landing

Crew: Viktor Afanasiyev (CDR); Claudie Haigneré [France}, Konstantin Kozeyev (FE)

Landing site: 50° 02' N, 66° 59' E (26 km southeast of Arkalyk in Kazakhstan)


The crew had been launched aboard Soyuz TM-33 in the second ISS Taxi Flight; the mission lasted 9d 20h and 155 orbits.

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