Saturday, January 24, 2009
Friday, January 23, 2009
Here's your Story of the Day:
On June 25, 1997, Vasily Tsibliev, Aleksandr Lazutkin, and Michael Foale were aboard Mir. Tsibliev was attempting to dock the Progress resupply ship to the space station. Something went wrong, and the 7-ton, bus-sized Progress slammed into the side of Mir. A loud hissing sound made it clear that the crew was in mortal danger. By an incredible stroke of luck, the three men found the damage in the Spektr module almost immediately. They cut the wires to the resupply ship and sealed the holes. The crew had to go to minimal power during the crisis; therefore the gyrodynes were inoperative. Mir started to spin. To right the ship and re-orient the solar arrays toward the Sun, the crew needed to know the spin rate of Mir. But of course, the computers were powered down. Michael Foale held his thumb up to the stars outside the window and used celestial nagivation and physics to estimate the rate of spin. The damaged Mir, Foale said, was spinning at 1°/sec, which meant it made a 360° turn in just six minutes. This information was radioed to Moscow Ground Control, who fired the rockets of Mir and stopped the spin.
You can imagine that this latest mishap, coming on the heels of the famous Mir fire, caused a bit of concern among some in the space community.
Astronaut Blaine Hammond said, “We have been extremely lucky so far. We may not be so lucky next time and, in my personal opinion, there will be a next time, it’s just a matter of when and how bad."
Hammond went on to call Mir "a disaster waiting to happen."
A year after Hammond left NASA, he told a reporter, "You’d have thought I was preaching heresy, the way people reacted to that. They would let me talk, but they didn’t act like they ever were going to take it forward. You’d see eyes rolling or you’d get the impression, 'Geez, here he goes again.'"Evidence to back up Hammond's claims came from an e-mail he had, an e-mail sent by none other than our birthday boy.
On July 1, 1997, chief astronaut Bob Cabana rebuked Hammond by e-mail for his negative statements about Mir. Cabana, in his words, wanted to remind Hammond of the duties of his position, which did not include the critique of Mir. Or the critique of anything, for that matter.
Cabana chided, "I was told that you stood up at a meeting and said, 'It would be criminal for us to send Wendy [Lawrence] to Mir.'" He then criticized Hammond for making such a statement without clearance. "Our primary goal right now is to help the Russians fix Mir and ensure that it’s done correctly. Your job is to make sure the system is supporting [our decisions], doing all the right things to fly safely, not to express [emotional] personal opinions that may or may not coincide with policy."The e-mail ended with the ominous, dreaded "I would like to talk with you."
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Today is the birthday of astronaut Tom Jones.
After I read Dr. Jones' book "Skywalking", I sent him an e-mail to tell him how much I enjoyed it.
I was delighted when he sent me back a very kind note to thank me. When I responded back with a sort of specific conversation, he wrote me *again* and addressed every point I had made. I get the feeling that Tom Jones is one of those rare people who, though he is smarter and more fascinating than the vast majority of the planet's inhabitants and even though he is asked the same questions over and over again, treats every person kindly and patiently addresses each person's points as though he's hearing them for the first time. That's how astronauts are in our imaginations. That's the ideal astronaut. They aren't rude or conceited. They don't get irritated by admiration and they don't act bored with your questions. They certainly don't act like this. They act like --- heroes.
And heroes are kind.
In an age of violent athletes and slutbag celebrities, it's good to know that guys like Tom Jones exist.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
It's also the birthday of Valentin Gavriyilovich Yershov.
He was a scientist in cosmonaut training for the planned lunar missions from 1967-1968, but he was dismissed by TsPK Director Beregovoi after he refused to join the Communist Party.
char-ac-ter [kar-ik-ter], n.
4. qualities of honesty, courage, or the like; integrity: It takes character to face up to a bully.
Today is the birthday of Valentin Ignatyevich Filatyev, one of the first pilots to be chosen for cosmonaut training.
Filatyev was by all accounts a good and decent and talented and well-liked cosmonaut; naturally, his story is a tragic one.
On March 27, 1963, Filatyev and two fellow cosmonauts (Nelyubov and Anikiyev) were detained by the MPs at Chkalovskiy. Apparently, all three men were drunk and disorderly. The MPs, perhaps being a bit star-struck by the cosmonauts, were quite willing to forget the entire incident. All they asked was that the men apologize. Filatyev and Anikiyev readily agreed. Nelyubov, however, refused.
Yuri Gagarin and the other members of the Sochi Six (Russia's equivalent of the Mercury Seven) pleaded on behalf of Filatyev and Anikiyev, but to no avail. On April 16, 1963, all three men were dismissed from the cosmonaut corps.
The subsequent discovery of an airbrush removal of Nelyubov from the "Sochi Six" photograph fueled Cold War speculation that there was a massive coverup in the Soviet space program and that cosmonauts who were anything less than perfect soon disappeared.
Nelyubov committed suicide by stepping in front of a train in 1966, Anikiyev died of natural causes at age 59, and Filatyev died of lung cancer in 1990.
- Front row: A.G. Nikolayev; Y.A. Gagarin; S.P. Korolioff; Karpov; N.K. Nikitin.
- Back row: P.R. Popovich; G.G. Nelyubov; G.S. Titov; V.F. Bykovsky.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Monday, January 19, 2009
Today would have been the birthday of Soviet cosmonaut Aleksandr V. Shchukin.
Shchukin was a test pilot for the eventually-scrapped Buran shuttle program.
He died when his SU-26M crashed on August 18, 1988.
Sadly, all but one of his fellow Buran Group members met untimely deaths, too.
Oleg G. Kononenko died at age 42 when he crashed his Yak-38 VTOL fighter while taking off from the carrier Minsk in the South China sea.
Anatoli S. Levchenko died at age 47 of a brain tumor.
Rimantas A. Stankiavicius died at age 46 when he crashed his Su-27 fighter at an airshow in Italy.
Igor P. Volk is the only member of Buran Group still alive; he retired from Gromov Flight Research Center in 2002.
After the Buran project was scrapped following the collapse of the USSR, the original shuttle remained in a hangar in Kazakhstan until it was totally destroyed (and 8 people were killed) when the hangar collapsed due to lack of maintenance a few years back.
Below: The windshield of shuttle OK-1K1 is visible through the rubble after the hangar collapse.