Saturday, July 12, 2008

New Soyuz Drama Unfolds at Space Station

In April, reentry of a Russian-made Soyuz spacecraft carrying three astronauts back to Earth from the International Space Station went terribly wrong, and nearly turned catastrophic. "The situation was on a razor's edge," said one Russian official.

That was the second troubled reentry in a row for Soyuz capsules and the third in the previous five years. Why should we care about a Russian space capsule blowing up on reentry? Since NASA is mothballing the shuttle fleet in 2010, Soyuz capsules will be the only way to commute to the Station for anybody from any country until 2015.

Soyuz problems so far have revolved around malfunction explosive bolts, "pyrobolts," which are supposed to separate the Soyuz' "propulsion module" from the "descent capsule." So to get to the bottom of the problem, an "audacious spacewalk is scheduled for Thursday" during which Station commander Sergey Volkov will saw through insulation on a Soyuz and remove an explosive bolt for examination,
reports the NY Times.

The pyrobolt, which packs enough charge to blow somebody's hand off (or a hole in a spacesuit, or perhaps the side of the Space Station), will be placed in a "steel canister strong enough to contain the blast" and taken inside for examination.

Despite the risk, Space Station program officials on Earth said "We are confident that this is a very safe operation."

UPDATE: They got it! Safely.

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I started pound360 to channel my obsession with vitamins, running and the five senses. Eventually, I got bored focusing on all that stuff, so I came back from a one month hiatus in May of 2007 (one year after launching Pound360) and broadened my mumblings here to include all science.