The Soyuz Cap­sule

The Soyuz cap­sule has been fer­ry­ing as­tro­nauts and cos­mo­nauts into space for 49 years

YOU Gateway to Space - - Contents -

HAVE you ever been to the Cape Town Sci­ence Cen­tre in Ob­ser­va­tory? If you have you would have seen the replica of a Soyuz cap­sule do­nated by Mark Shut­tle­worth, our own “afro­naut” – the first South African and African to travel to space.

Shut­tle­worth – a bil­lion­aire entrepreneur who cur­rently lives on the Isle of Man – do­nated the replica to the sci­ence cen­tre af­ter his his­toric 2002 trip in a Soyuz to the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion (ISS) where he spent eight days.

The Soyuz is some­times called the work­horse of space be­cause it has un­der­taken more than 100 space voy­ages over close to 50 years.

Con­sid­ered the world’s safest and most cost-ef­fec­tive hu­man space­craft, it is cur­rently the only way cos­mo­nauts and as­tro­nauts can travel to the ISS.

A Soyuz trip to the space sta­tion can take be­tween six hours and two days, de­pend­ing on the mis­sion plan, but it takes the craft just three hours to re­turn to Earth. At least one Soyuz is docked at the ISS at all times for use as an es­cape space­craft for the crew in the event of an emer­gency.

But back in the 1960s the Soyuz had only one main goal: to even­tu­ally land a hu­man on the moon. While the fa­mous en­gi­neer Wern­her von Braun was per­fect­ing the pow­er­ful Saturn V rocket in the United States, on the other side of the world his Soviet coun­ter­part Sergei Korolev was de­vel­op­ing the N1 rocket, meant to send the Soyuz to the moon.

Un­for­tu­nately Korolev died in 1966 while the N1 was still in devel­op­ment, with dis­as­trous re­sults for the pro­gramme. From 1969 to 1972 the rocket was launched four times on test flights and all four times it blew up. The worst of these dis­as­ters oc­curred in 1969 dur­ing the sec­ond test flight when an ex­plo­sion de­stroyed not only the N1, but a few sur­round­ing build­ings as well.

Devel­op­ment of the Soyuz moon­craft was also plagued with tech­ni­cal set­backs and not mov­ing very quickly.

In the end, when it be­came clear the Amer­i­cans had won the race to the moon, the Sovi­ets aban­doned their moon pro­gramme.

How­ever it was not a com­plete fail­ure – an­other Soviet project called Luna con­sisted of a se­ries of un­manned space­craft mis­sions that, among other firsts, ac­com­plished the first un­manned moon land­ing in 1959 and a month later took the first pic­tures of the far side of the moon (the side in­vis­i­ble from Earth).

Af­ter the N1 dis­as­ters Soviet en­gi­neers turned their at­ten­tion to de­vel­op­ing a space lab­o­ra­tory and in 1971 they launched Sa­lyut 1, the world’s first space sta­tion. In 1986 Sa­lyut 7 was re­placed by the space sta­tion Mir. In 1998 Mir was re­placed by the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion.

And who fer­ried the cos­mo­nauts and as­tro­nauts to the float­ing bases in the sky? You’ve guessed it – our old friend Soyuz. Through the decades it has been up­graded of­ten and made far more so­phis­ti­cated, but it re­mains one of the most hard-work­ing ve­hi­cles in space.

‘An ex­pe­ri­ence like that changes your per­spec­tive on life and on the world’ – Mark Shut­tle­worth

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