Tag Archives: Soyuz

At the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia, Expedition 55 backup crew members Nick Hague of NASA (left) and Alexey Ovchinin of Roscosmos (right) pose for pictures during a day of qualification exams Feb. 20, 2018. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

American and Russian astronauts escape malfunctioning Soyuz launch

At the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia, Expedition 55 backup crew members Nick Hague of NASA (left) and Alexey Ovchinin of Roscosmos (right) pose for pictures during a day of qualification exams Feb. 20, 2018. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

At the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia, Expedition 55 backup crew members Nick Hague of NASA (left) and Alexey Ovchinin of Roscosmos (right) pose for pictures during a day of qualification exams Feb. 20, 2018. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Two minutes after launching from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, an American astronaut and a Russian cosmonaut were forced to make an emergency landing after the Russian-made Soyuz rocket malfunctioned. The team was en route to the International Space Station (ISS).

Thankfully, Nick Hague and Alexey Ovchinin landed safely, without any injuries, although the ride was quite uncomfortable — to say the least.

According to NASA, the problem occurred during the staging of the rocket’s booster. The Soyuz was supposed to discard its first stage booster, whose fuel was empty. Something went wrong during the separation between the first and second stages of the booster. The astronauts immediately reported a problem because they were feeling weightlessness instead of the expected g-force acceleration that should have pushed them back in their seats.

The escape system was immediately activated, approximately 114 seconds into flight, and the crew’s capsule made a ‘ballistic descent’ —  “a sharper angle of landing compared to normal,” according to NASA — then landed 400 km east of Baikonur.

NASA  administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted he is “grateful everyone is safe” and that “a thorough investigation into the cause of the incident will be conducted.”

Russian space agency Roscomos also stated it is investigating the malfunction and will collaborate with NASA in the most transparent manner to get the bottom of things. In the meantime, all scheduled Soyuz launches have been suspended.

The Soyuz is considered to be the most reliable spacecraft in the world in terms of its safety record. It has made 139 manned flights so far, the vast majority successful. Before today, the last failure was the 1983 Soyuz T-10a mission.

The incident, however, will likely add friction to already strained relations between Roscomos and NASA. Space is one of the few areas where the US and Russia are still actively collaborating, but recent events are putting into question the Russian space industry’s capacity to meet today’s rigorous standards.

In late August, a 2-millimeter hole, which suspiciously looked like it was drilled there, was found to be leaking air from one of the two Soyuz rockets docked at the International Space Station. NASA wanted to wait a couple of hours to test a solution on Earth but the Russians took it upon themselves to plug the leak and disregarded the American recommendations. The embarrassing little hole was eventually sealed by the crew — an operation which involved glue and duct tape — but at the expense of aggravating NASA. Roscosmos chief, Dmitry Rogozin, didn’t make things much easier after stating that the tiny hole may have been an act of deliberate sabotage.

Since NASA retired its space shuttle in 2011, the Russian Soyuz has been the only space vehicle capable of sending astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). NASA has been buying seats on Soyuz rockets ever since but next year SpaceX and Boeing should debut their launch systems capable of ferrying astronauts to and fro the ISS. Once NASA is free to work with other partners, the collaboration between the US and Russian space programs will likely be significantly renegotiated.

 

 

Russian-launched Progress resupply module crashes on-route to the ISS

The Russian unmanned spacecraft, on its way to re-supply the ISS, has crashed and burned in a remote southern part of the Russian wilderness.

Soyuz TMA-08M .

Bear necessities

Thursday morning, the Russian space agency Roscosmos successfully launched a Progress module packed with some 2,450 kg (5,383 lbs) of water, food, medicinal supplies and equipment, as well as toiletries and other simple bare necessities towards the ISS. The expendable module was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, carried by a Soyuz rocket. It was supposed to be a 9-minute flight, but shortly after the 6:30-minute mark ground control lost communications with the Progress module.

“After the launch of the Soyuz-U launch vehicle along with the Progress MS-04 cargo spacecraft, telemetry connection was lost on the 383th second of flight,” reads a Roscosmos tweet, according to a translation by RT.com (Russian state-controlled news agency).

The Progress was supposed to separate from the third and last stage of the Soyuz at the end of the flight. But losing comms a full 2 minutes before the separation point isn’t a good sign. If the module detached too early, it wouldn’t have enough speed to reach orbit; if it detaches too late, it’s too heavy to reach orbit — so either way, the craft arches back towards Earth, burns up in the atmosphere, crashes down, or both.

NASA quickly informed the Expedition 50 ISS crew aboard the space station about the incident.

“Unfortunately I have some not-so-great news for you guys,” a mission controller told astronauts.

“Basically, what we saw was indications of the third-stage [separation] occurring a few minutes early and we haven’t had any communications with the Progress at all.”

Roscomos has later confirmed the loss of the Progress MS-04 about 118 miles above Tuva, a “rugged uninhabited mountainous territory,” the agency wrote in a release. It also disclosed that most fragments “were burned in the dense layers of the atmosphere”, suggesting that at least part of the craft crashed down. The agency also said that the crash won’t affect the going-ons on board the ISS. NASA has confirmed that the astronauts are well stocked with everything they need, and wants to remind the public that JAXA is preparing the launch of its HTV-6 cargo ship bound for the ISS on December 9, so fresh supplies are incoming.

Russia has formed a state commission to investigate the incident.

Watch: astronauts dock at the International Space Station

It took more than was expected, but the three astronauts set for the International Space Station docked with the International Space Station at 10:46 p.m. E.T. You can watch them here:

The rocket had a successful launch at 5:02 p.m. EDT (2102 GMT) to experienced Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko and rookie astronauts Kjell Lindgren with NASA and Japan’s Kimiya Yui into orbit. The crew will stay there for 5 months, returning on December 22, just in time to make Christmas on Earth. Aboard the ISS, they will join Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko, who have already been in space for 117 days.

The trio was set to launch in May, but the mission was delayed after an issue with the Soyuz rocket destined to take them there. That accident stranded a Progress ship, an expendable cargo spacecraft with the purpose of delivering supplies needed to sustain human presence in orbit. Nine days later, the capsule, loaded with three tons of equipment and supplies, fell back into Earth’s atmosphere and was incinerated.

However, things seem to have settled down and the source of the error was identified and the problem was fixed.

Image via NASA.

 

All astronauts are allowed to take a special item with them, and after we had a tortilla last time, now, we’re going to have some sushi onboard! Yui told a news conference that he was taking some sushi with him as a treat for the others – yum!

Soyuz Spacecraft Russia

US space flight and ISS missions are dependent on Russia. What happens if the country pulls a squeeze?

Following Russia’s invasion of Crimea, the world political scene has been suddenly turned upside down. Many were surprised by this move, and harsh words and threats from the west were thrown down Putin’s alley. Talks of economic sanctions for Russia, in hope its military presence in Ukraine might be withdrawn, have been publically made. ZME Science has often chosen to stay away from political matters, however the present crisis can have dramatic consequences on scientific efforts. Nevermind there’s the distinct possibility of a second Cold War,  the simplest cutting of ties between Russia and the west could spell disaster for the world’s space programs, this includes commercial satellite launches, national security deployments in space, as well as astronaut and cargo ferrying to and fro the International Space Station.

Currently, the space industries belonging to  the European Union, Japan, and the United States are heavily reliant on Russian’s hardware. For instance, the new generation Atlas V rockets developed by United Launch Alliance (ULA), a Lockheed Martin-Boeing partnership, use state of the art RD-180s engines developed by the Russian  Energomash corporation. Atlas V last launched in Decemeber when it carried a secret observation satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office. Even from months back there’s been a political tug of war between the US, namely the Air Force which is looking to licence the RD-180s, and Russia which became upset at the news that its hardware was being used by a rival state for military missions. Imagine what strain on future partnerships of this kind an economic embargo enforced by the US against Russia might pose.

That’s not all. Since the US discontinued its shuttle program in 2011, NASA has relied on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft to launch certain payloads into space and, most importantly, keep the vital Earth-International Space Station route operational. Booked at $60 million a seat, the Soyuz could be kept off limits to the US and any other country that wishes to meddle into Russia’s affairs.

There are of course some alternatives – namely the private space ventures. Currently SpaceX, Boeing, and Sierra Nevada Corporation split some $1.4 billion awarded each year by NASA to support their research programs. Of all these, only SpaceX has proven capable of serving some of NASA’s needs after last year it performed its first mission to the ISS, when the company’s Dragon Capsule successfully docked. However, although the Dragon was designed to carry people from the get-go, the mission only ferried cargo. NASA is set to choose a new partner for manned space launches, and SpaceX as the likeliest candidate might get a slot, but no sooner than 2017. Until then, all crew launches are reserved to Soyuz spacecraft.

Concerning the ISS, it is one of the most extensive and beautiful collaborations in the world, comprising 14 states. It’s a symbol of man’s unity in attempt to conquer space, one that transcends national borders below on Earth or colours. With this in mind, I pesonally hope any political turmoil back on Earth doesn’t affect the efforts in space. Wishful thiking or not…

 

Three new members join International Space Station

Three new members have now embarked on the International Space Station, after docking the Soyuz TMA-06M spacecraft to the Poisk module. After NASA retired their sub-orbital space flight program, the Soyuz shuttles are currently the only way to get people in and out of the ISS.

For Commander Sunita Williams and Flight Engineers Aki Hoshide and Yuri Malenchenko, the station just got a lot more crowded, after Flight Engineers Kevin Ford, Oleg Novitskiy and Evgeny Tarelkin joined them, while back on Earth three more members are preparing to take this trip. No one seemed to mind the crowd however – on the contrary; the ISS can often be a lonely place, so more people is just better.

“It is so great to see all six of you on orbit and to see your smiling faces,” William Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for spaceflight, radioed to the crew from the Russian mission control near Moscow.

The astronauts (cosmonauts or whatever you want to call them) didn’t arrive on the station empty handed however, they brought along 32 Japanese medaka fish, in an experiment to see how they would adapt in the absence of gravity.

“The fish are still alive. Aki already has checked on them. He was very worried that they make it here,” one of the cosmonauts said, referring to Hoshide.

Williams, Hoshide and Malenchenko are scheduled to return to Earth on November 12.

Source: NASA

The Tiangong-1 on top of the Long March II-F rocket, prepped for launch at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. (c) Shu Dong/for China Daily

Tiangong-1 Chinese space-dock set to launch this week

The Tiangong-1 on top of the Long March II-F rocket, prepped for launch at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. (c) Shu Dong/for China Daily

The Tiangong-1 on top of the Long March II-F rocket, prepped for launch at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. (c) Shu Dong/for China Daily

The Chinese space program is set to made a giant leap later this week, when its first orbiting docking station, the Tiangong-1, is set to be launched. Tiangong could pave the way for a future Chinese space station and for exploration further afield, most likely the moon, a long sought after destination by the Chinese.

Last-minute preparations for the launch of the Tiangong-1 spacecraft began at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on Monday, when crews were putting in place pipes and cables that will be used to inject fuel into the rocket that will carry Tiangong-1 into outer space.

“The Tiangong itself is a very small craft, roughly about, I believe, eight tons, and it’s smaller than our SkyLab was.” Dean Cheng of the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. “And the main purpose of this is two things: one, to practice docking maneuvers, and two, to allow Chinese astronauts to have a little more extended time in a microgravity environment.”

The 8.5-ton Tiangong-1 spacecraft will be launched from on top a Long March II-F rocket, part of an unmanned flight. The spaceship is 10.4 meter tall (a three-story building) and has a maximum diameter of 3.35 meters, a dimension shared by its launch vehicle. In comparison, the Shenzhou spaceship, the vehicle that made the first Chinese manned space flight possible in 2003 and for which the Tiangong-1 is designed to dock with, stands shorter, at nearly 9 meters, it’s slimmer, having a diameter of less than 3 meters, and weighs less. Conditions inside its experimental module will be adjusted to ensure the astronauts can live in an environment that contains enough oxygen, moisture and heat to be safe.

“If that works out well then we would expect to see, next year, missions Shenzhou 9 and Shenzhou 10​, both of which would be manned, doing docking with the Tiangong craft and probably moderate-duration stays,” Cheng said.

First female Chinese astronauts set for Tiangong mission

During its two year mission orbiting around Earth, the Tiangong-1 will dock with China’s Shenzou-8, -9 and -10 spacecraft, and will house up to three astronauts at a time. On the confirmed astronaut list for the Shenzou flights there are currently scheduled 2 female astronauts, set to dock with the Tiangong station. This would mark the first female manned flight for the Chinese program. Zhang Jianqi, former deputy director of China’s manned space flights, says that both male and female astronauts train under the same standards; emphasizing that female astronauts do not receive special treatment. “Female astronauts are very likely to be involved in the manual docking procedures with laboratory modules in the future”, he says.

Space Station may be in danger if astronauts are evacuated temporarily

A few days ago we were telling you about the possibility of the International Space Station being temporarily evacuated, given the recent failures of the Russian Soyuz spacecrafts. NASA International Space Station Program Manager Mike Suffred says evacuation is a certain possibility if the Soyuz rockets don’t fix their problems until then, which is very unlikely.

However, NASA claims that if the ISS will remain unmanned for six months, there will be a 1 in 10 chance of critical system failures, with nobody there to handle the protocols; that chance goes to an unbearable 1 in 2 if the period goes up to a year. This is a major problem and a blow to space exploration for us as a species, since the ISS has had people onboard ever since it was launched in 2000.

If things go bad, ground engineers will be unable to maintain remote control of the station, and in that case, the International Space Station is likelyto enter our planet’s atmosphere, where it will crash and burn.

Since the US has stopped all its space shuttle program, Russia’s Soyuz ships remain the only way to put supplies and people on the ISS. To complicate the problem even more, there is an imminent “expiration date” for the two Soyuz spacecraft docked with the station, which are not certified to be in space for more than 200 days.

It’s not clear how engineers can solve this problem, but it’s obvious that for the sake of space program, nations have to work together and solve this.

Photo of a Soyuz spacecraft in orbit. Credit: NASA

International Space Station might be abandoned in November

Following the recent failed launch of an unmanned vehicle in a three stage Soyuz rocket this past Wednesday, the International Space Station might become temporarily devoid of its crew by November, if NASA, who is in charge of the outpost, doesn’t deem the Russian spacecraft fit anymore to transport astronauts.

A Soyuz rocket  crashed Wednesday minutes after lifting off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, apparently after a malfunction caused the vehicle’s RD-0110 engine to turn off early during the Soyuz-U’s third-stage propulsion. The unmanned cargo vehicle crashed minutes later in Siberia, 1,000 miles east of the launch site in Kazakhstan. The Soyuz-U’s third stage is almost identical to equipment used on the Soyuz-FG booster that propels human crews into orbit, according to Roscosmos, the Russian space agency.

This has been the second failed launch in a row for the Russian space agency, after a communications satellite launched Aug. 17 by a Proton rocket was stranded in the wrong orbit due to an anomaly with the mission’s Breeze M upper stage.

Fortunately enough, there haven’t been any reported human casulaties, but the mishap is responsible for raising a lot of eyebrows down at Houston, which is seriously considering whether or not the Soyuz rocket can still be considered as a viable considerate for sending astronauts to the space station.

“Logistically, we can support [operations] almost forever, but eventually if we don’t see the Soyuz spacecraft, we’ll probably going to unmanned ops before the end of the year,” said Michael Suffredini, NASA’s space station program manager in an interview Thursday, one day after Russia lost a Soyuz rocket with an automated Progress resupply ship bound for the space station.

Photo of a Soyuz spacecraft in orbit. Credit: NASA

Photo of a Soyuz spacecraft in orbit. Credit: NASA

But what other alternatives do they have left? Well, there aren’t any other alternatives. After the retirement of the space shuttle program, once with the last mission of its kind this July when Atlantis safely re-supplied the space station, the Soyuz spaceship is currently the only qualified ride to send humans into space left in the world.

The first crew scheduled to leave the station, comprised of Andrey Borisenko, Russian cosmonaut Alexander Samokutyaev and NASA flight engineer Ronald Garan, was set for a  September 8 leave date, but that might be eventually pushed back to as late as October, in the wake of these recent events. A complete de-manning of the ISS might occur as soon as November, if the remaining crew – NASA flight engineer Michael Fossum, Russian cosmonaut Sergei Volkov and Japanese astronaut Satoshi Furukawa – will be sent home.

A board of investigation has been set-up by the Russian space agency to look into the causes of the failure and recommend corrective actions.

To leave the space station, the team uses a Soyuz TMA-02M return-vehicle currently docked with the outpost. The vehicle can remain there until December or January without a problem, however due to landing site difficulties which a harsh Khazakstan winter usually arises, an evacuation must be made before November. Landing in other locations other than Russian space is not an option.

RELATED: International Space Station to get sunk in the Pacific for 2020 retirement

The Russian Soyuz spacecraft is considered one of the most viable and versatile means of sending man into space, with only a few minor failures  since it went into operation in 1978. In all likelihood, after the investigation is fully comprised and both parts come to an agreement, the Soyuz will launch a manned mission soon, albeit with a considerable delay. Otherwise, 11 years of uninterrupted manned presence on the International Space Station might come to an end.

We’ll just have to wait for the inquiries to finish and for the final call from authorities.

 

A propulsion and habitation module at left, linked up with a Soyuz spacecraft at right to create a complex designed for flying around the moon and back to Earth. Artist impression (c) Space Adventures

$150 million for a trip round the moon and back – one seat left

A propulsion and habitation module at left, linked up with a Soyuz spacecraft at right to create a complex designed for flying around the moon and back to Earth. Artist impression (c) Space Adventures

A propulsion and habitation module at left, linked up with a Soyuz spacecraft at right to create a complex designed for flying around the moon and back to Earth. Artist impression (c) Space Adventures

Like i reckoned in some of my past articles, space tourism is getting more and more popular each year, as more aeronautical companies begin to see the high potential of catering for millionaires’ orbital ambitions. One of the most sought after and ambitious space taxi projects is the highly publicized civilian lunar trip, in the works for a number of years now and scheduled to launch in 2015.

The company handling the trip is Virginia-based Space Adventures, which announced yesterday it will add another seat to a Soyuz spacecraft that will take space tourists round the moon, amounting to a total of two seats. The first has been already been taken, while the second one is still vacant. The announcement came as part of a ceremonial procedure celebrating the 10th anniversary of the first tourist flight to the International Space Station, as well as the 50th anniversary of NASA’s first manned spaceflight.

“Space Adventures will once again grace the pages of aerospace history, when the first private circumlunar mission launches. We have sold one of the two seats for this flight and anticipate that the launch will occur in 2015,” Richard Garriott, vice chairman of Space Adventures, said in a statement. “Having flown on the Soyuz, I can attest to how comfortable the spacecraft is, but the addition of the second habitation module will only make the flight that more enjoyable.”

The trip involves a launch inside the Russian Soyuz spacecraft, a 10-day stay on the International Space Station, and a 3.5-day trip to slingshot around the moon and a 3.5-day return to Earth. Eric Anderson, the Virginia-based company’s chairman, said he hopes the second seat will be sold by the end of the year, that would fill out the mission’s crew, which would be headed by a professional astronaut flying in the Soyuz’s third seat.

So far, Space Adventures has flown seven spaceflight participants on eight missions to the ISS, and estimates that by 2020, about 140 people will have been launched into orbital space from various civilian fields, like private individuals, corporate, university and non-profit researchers, lottery winners, or journalists.

“The next 10 years will be critical for the commercial spaceflight industry with new vehicles and destinations coming online,” said Eric Anderson, Space Adventures chairman. “But, in order to truly develop the industry and extend the reach of humanity over the course of time, there will need to be breakthrough discoveries made and innovative propulsion systems designed that will bring the solar system into our economic sphere of influence.”

related: SpaceX unveils world’s most powerful private rocket

I agree with Anderson, space tourism as it is today is highly exclusive, hard to develop and extremely resource demanding to enterprise, but it’s growing – a lot.

Initially, back in 2005 when the project was initially announced, the price tag for a set was $100 million but since then due to currency changes, inflation and of course the Russian inflated cut have amounted to nearly $150 million. Currently, the Russian Soyuz is the only orbital passenger spaceship, which grants Russia the monopole.

In addition to the Soyuz, a Block-DM upper stage and an extra habitation module would be launched into orbit. After the Soyuz finishes up its zero-G familiarization visit to the International Space Station, it would dock with the other modules, forming a complex capable of taking on the seven-day circumlunar odyssey. “You can think of it in many ways as your miniature space station that you take along with you,” said Richard Garriott.

Although Anderson generally refuses to identify future orbital spacefliers, he made an exception today: “There’s at least one person who will plan on flying into orbit in the next decade, and that’s me,” he said.

Well, does anybody have $150 million lying around? I’d advise you give it up for the chance of becoming the first human being to see the Moon up close in nearly 45 years.

‘Yuri Gagarin’ blasts off to the ISS

It’s a pretty busy period for the people over at the International Space Station (ISS). Kazakhstan’s Baikonur Cosmodrome last night paid tribute to Yuri Gagarin as the Soyuz TMA-21 spacecraft named after the first man to walk into space blasted off towards the ISS.

A week from now, on April 12, we will be celebrating 50 years from the groundbreaking first flight into outer space, done by Yuri Gagarin, and astronauts Ronald Garan, and cosmonauts Alexander Samokutyayev and Andrei Borisenko departed from the same pad as their predecessor.

The Soyuz, a legedary Russian spaceship is due to dock the ISS tomorrow, and there it will hook up with Expedition 27 crew members commander Dmitry Kondratyev, and flight engineers Cady Coleman and Paolo Nespoli who have been orbiting the space station since December last year and will return to Earth in May. They will be replaced by NASA astronaut Mike Fossum, cosmonaut Sergei Volkov and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Satoshi Furukawa. NASA will be streaming LIVE videos of tomorrow’s docking here, and if you ask me, it wil be quite a show, so don’t miss it.

EDIT: the live broadcast is already running, you can see the guys gearing up and preparing for the launch.

Soviet Cosmonaut crashes to Earth crying in rage

Open casket funeral. I can't understand why they did this.

It’s one of the most emotional and disturbing space stories I have ever read; the Soviet cosmonaut is on the phone with Alexsei Kosygin, one of the highest officials, and he is crying because he knows he will die. Kosygin is crying to, because he too knows there is no hope. As Vladimir Komarov is about to crash into the Earth, perfectly aware of what is happening to him, U.S. listening posts in Turkey hear him crying in rage, “cursing the people who had put him inside a botched spaceship”.

Komarov was a very close friend of Yuri Gagarin, the first man to ever walk into space, and a national hero. In 1967, to celebrate 50 years Communist revolution, Brezhnev, the Soviet leader at the time, wanted to do something spectacular: he decided to stage a spectacular midspace date between two Soviet spaceships, as follows. Komarov was to be launched in a capsule, and a day from that, another capsule was to be launched, picking him up and bringing him to Earth – at the time, this would have been indeed quite an accomplishment. But the odds of succeeding in such an attempt were not good at all, and the two cosmonauts knew this.

Gagarin and some technicians inspected Soyuz 1 and found 203 structural problems with it, thus suggested that the mission be postponed. Gagarin wrote a thorough 10 page memo and gave it to his best friend, a highly appreciated KGB officer named Venyamin Russayev. Absolutely everybody who saw that memo, Russayev included, was demoted, fired, or even sent to Siberia – postponing wasn’t an option; but the odds were slim. Komarov met with Russayev, now demoted, and told him “I’m not going to make it back from this flight”. Of course, Russayev asked why not refuse the mission. The answer is absolutely stunning.

“If I don’t make this flight, they’ll send the backup pilot instead.” That was Yuri Gagarin. Vladimir Komarov couldn’t do that to his friend. “That’s Yura,” the book quotes him saying, “and he’ll die instead of me. We’ve got to take care of him.” Komarov then burst into tears.

This was the only thing left from Soyuz 1

In the morning of the launch day, Yuri Gagarin came at the launch site and demanded to be put into the space suit, even though nobody was expecting him to fly, in an attempt to save his friend, but the Soyuz launched with Komarov on board. As soon as the Soyuz began orbiting the Earth, problems started to appear. First the power, then the navigation, then the antennas went down. Next day’s launch had to be canceled and the survival chances were already almost inexistant. Soviet premier Alexei Kosygin called on a video phone to tell him he was a hero – he was crying too. He then talked to his wife and discussed what to tell their children. Then it all went silent, and he was alone. He died crying, screaming and cursing the people who put him in that ship.

What he must have felt in those moments is easy to explain, but extremely hard to understand. But, given all the circumstances, in my humble opinion, he is a hero – because he acted like one.

Photo credits: RIA Novosti /Photo Researchers, Inc

$63 million a seat? NASA says ‘fine’

Amidst all the stuff that’s going on for NASA right now, they can still find the resources to strike a $753 million deal with Russia for 12 round trips to the International Space Station, paying about $63 million a seat.

“It’s an 8.5 percent annual increase,” NASA spokesman Josh Bluck told Space.com, referring to the overall increase. “The increase covers just the general inflation rate in Russia for the cost of processing and preparation.”

The already venerable Soyuz spaceship, as well as other of its “team mates” are already well known for ferrying rides for astronauts for more than a decade. This new deal comes after a major transition for NASA, which retired its space shuttle fleet after 30 years of spaceflight.

Discovery, for example, took its last mission just this month, and two other space shuttles will retire no later than June, Endeavour and Atlantis. After these shuttles are retired, NASA plans to use only commercially built spacecraft developed by private companies to take astronauts and equipment to the International Space Station (ISS).

“We are still anticipating having the availability of domestic commercial crew transportation by the middle of the decade,” Bluck said.

How this strategy will fair for them is still a mystery and relies on many factors, but NASA seems confident they have made the right choice – the Russians think so to.

Boeing enters the space tourism market

Commercial space flight is starting to promise to become a very lucrative market since an ever growing interested is harnessed by the big corporations of the world. Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic in cooperation with Scaled Composites (Mojave, CA), announced their sincere intentions of entering the commercial space travel market, after recently the giant Boeing also announced its plans to carry civilians in space.

Apparently, the aerospace manufacturer has reached an agreement with Space Adventures for the marketing and manufacturing of low-orbit space travel, which could see wealthy, yet ordinary civilians travel into space, as well as guarantee regular transportation for the International Space Station or other sub orbital projects, aboard the Boeing Crew Space Transportation-100 (CST-100).

The CST-100 could carry seven people and fly in low-Earth orbit as soon as 2015, Boeing said. The potential customers for excess seating capacity include private individuals, companies, non-governmental organizations, and U.S. federal agencies other than NASA.

“By combining our talents, we can better offer safe, affordable transportation to commercial spaceflight customers,” explained Brewster Shaw, vice president and general manager of Boeing’s Space Exploration division. “To date, all commercial flights for private spaceflight participants to the ISS have been contracted by Space Adventures. If NASA and the international partners continue to accommodate commercial spaceflight participants on ISS, this agreement will be in concert with the NASA administrator’s stated intent to promote space commerce in low Earth orbit.”

This could prove to be the first real step in providing the possibility for commercial space travel, even though in the beginning (first 10-20 years) this will solely be a player’s market, with fare tickets ranging in the the tens of millions. The first space tourist was Dennis A. Tito, a California multimillionaire, who shelved $20 million for a ride and spent eight days in the International Space Station with two cosmonauts in 2001. Guy Laliberte, founder of Canada’s Cirque du Soleil, paid more than $35 million to travel into space last year on a Russian spaceship from Kazakhstan.

“We are excited about the potential to offer flights on Boeing’s spacecraft,” emphasized Eric Anderson, co-founder and chairman of Space Adventures. “With our customer experience and Boeing’s heritage in human spaceflight, our goal is not only to benefit the individuals who fly to space, but also to help make the resources of space available to the commercial sector by bringing the value from space back to Earth.”

What’s interesting is that Boeing’s new jump into the commercial space flight market comes a few months after President Obama‘s decision to retire the Space Shuttle program and shelve lunar missions for the next couple of years, until N.A.S.A. will get completely restructured. Until then N.A.S.A. will be completely dependent on commercial space taxis for ISS cargo transpiration and on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft for astronaut missions. The Russian space agency charges the US $51 million per seat for a ride on a Soyuz, a price tag that is said to reach $56 million by 2013.

UPDATE: Three years since this post was published, a lot has changed in the private space sector. For one, SpaceX, currently the most successful private aerospace enterprise has successfully deployed its own spacecraft to the International Space Station, and the aforementioned Dennis Tito is actually planning one of the most dashing plans yet – a manned mission to mars by 2018.  The space shuttle is long dead and gone, alas.