“the space­craft went roll, roll, roll, roll”

Don Pet­tit was on the Soyuz TMA-1 when a tech­ni­cal mal­func­tion caused a bal­lis­tic re-enty

All About Space - - Most Dangerous Missions -

What hap­pened?

Don Pet­tit, Ken­neth Bow­er­sox and Niko­lai Bu­darin were on board the Soyuz TMA-1 space­craft for their jour­ney back to Earth only to suf­fer about eight­times the force of grav­ity dur­ing re-en­try and a land­ing some 275 miles short of the planned area.

What mis­sion were they on?

Ex­pe­di­tion 6, which had been ex­tended by two months fol­low­ing the Columbia dis­as­ter in which the space shut­tle broke apart over Texas dur­ing its re-en­try on 1 Fe­bru­ary 2003. the space sta­tion can be a home away from home, a place where you can be with an out­stand­ing group of ta­lented folks and work on the fron­tier. Leav­ing can be hard. from spend­ing six months on board the Iss for Ex­pe­di­tion 6 in 2002 and 2003, to be­ing a mis­sion spe­cial­ist on the sts-126 mis­sion in 2008 and part of the Ex­pe­di­tion 30/31 crew in 2011 and 2012, there are great times both per­son­ally and for sci­ence. Com­ing back in 2003, how­ever, was par­tic­u­larly tough.

the crew re­turned on a soyuz space­craft for a land­ing on the desert plains of Kaza­khstan. un­like the space shut­tle, there was pre­cious lit­tle room for per­sonal ef­fects on board soyuz, but it al­lowed three crew mem­bers to climb aboard.

the time came five days af­ter the Ex­pe­di­tion 7 crew ar­rived at the sta­tion on a tMA-2 space­craft on 28 April. Hav­ing been re­lieved, the Ex­pe­di­tion 6 crew could then use the tMA-1 space­craft that had flown frank De Winne, sergei Za­ly­otin and Yury Lon­chakov to the sta­tion on 1 Novem­ber the pre­vi­ous year. But this is when things be­gan to get interesting.

the soyuz was a ro­bust ve­hi­cle. It had a lot of safety built into its very en­gi­neer­ing de­sign and it had the equiv­a­lent of two spare tyres.

But it is no­to­ri­ous for rough land­ings, and that’s independent of whether you do a bal­lis­tic en­try or not. By bal­lis­tic, we're talk­ing of a re-en­try in which the cap­sule be­haves like a spher­i­cal ob­ject. It's a con­tin­gency mode that lends greater sta­bil­ity, but it leads to a steeper tra­jec­tory, less land­ing pre­ci­sion and in­creased grav­ity loads.

In this case the crew ex­pe­ri­enced a bal­lis­tic en­try and used one of the spare tyres com­ing in. Land­ing via a parachute, there was al­ways go­ing to be a big thump at the end. But there was suf­fi­cient cross­wind so that af­ter the big thump, the space­craft went roll, roll, roll, roll and ended up about a hun­dred feet from where it landed on its side, caus­ing the equiv­a­lent of be­ing strapped in a chair on the ceil­ing for the crew.

In­deed, tMA-1 ended up touch­ing down about 275 miles off-tar­get and com­mu­ni­ca­tion was tem­po­rar­ily lost when an an­tenna was torn away and an­other pair did not cor­rectly de­ploy.

A search party of 50 cars and

15 planes searched for the cap­sule and, luck­ily, even­tually found it with ev­ery­one safe and well.

The Soyuz TMA se­ries of space­craft

used by Rus­sia's space agency

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