Archive for the ‘Analog Deathwatch’ Category

Ballistic Re-entry for Muszaphar

Monday, October 22nd, 2007

Ripping through the atmosphere, landing in Kazakhstan. Just a little off target, via

The Soyuz TMA-10 spacecraft landed in Kazakhstan today, bringing outgoing space station commander Fyodor Yurchikhin, flight engineer Oleg Kotov and Malaysia’s first man in space, Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, safely back to Earth after a steeper-than-usual descent that left the ship well short of its intended landing site.

The spacecraft undocked from the aft port of the Russian Zvezda command module around 3:14 a.m. EDT. Yurchikhin fired the capsule’s braking rockets for four minutes beginning at 5:47 a.m. to begin the hourlong descent. At 6:14 a.m., the craft reached the discernible atmosphere at an altitude of 400,000 feet.

Plunging back to Earth from west to east over central Kazakhstan, the flight plan called for a landing near the town of Arkalyk. But for reasons yet to be explained, the Soyuz flew a steeper-than-planned trajectory and landed short of the intended touchdown point, subjecting the crew to higher-than-normal braking forces. It was the first "ballistic" re-entry since the Soyuz TMA-1 spacecraft returned on May 3, 2003, with the space station’s sixth full time crew.

Landing some 211 miles west of Arkalyk, there was no live television coverage of the landing. But NASA commentator Rob Navias, monitoring the re-entry from the Johnson Space Center’s mission control in Houston, said Russian recovery forces aboard search aircraft spotted the capsule as it descended under its main parachutes at an altitude of about 5,000 feet. Russian flight controllers said recovery crews contacted the cosmonauts during the final moments of the descent and were told the crew was in good shape.



The account, as provided by the Associated Press

A technical glitch sent a Soyuz spacecraft on a wild ride home Sunday, forcing Malaysia’s first space traveler and two Russian cosmonauts to endure eight times the force of gravity before their capsule landed safely.

All three were fine, with medical tests showing they were not injured during the steeper-than-usual descent, Russian Space Agency chief Anatoly Perminov said at a news conference at Mission Control in Korolyov, just outside Moscow.

He said space officials and experts had "a few tense moments" but the spacecraft landed safely with the crew in good condition.

The Soyuz — with Russians Fyodor Yurchikhin and Oleg Kotov, and Malaysian Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor on board — veered off-course and touched down at 6:36 a.m. EDT, more than 200 miles west of the designated landing site on the steppes of Kazakhstan, Mission Control spokesman Valery Lyndin said.

"That meant that the crew were subjected to higher than normal gravity load on their descent," he told The Associated Press.

Soyuz crews typically must bear four times the force of gravity when the spacecraft returns to Earth. But Lyndin said the glitch meant the crew was subjected to eight times the force of gravity.

Russian teams quickly located the craft, NASA said on its Web site.

Alexei Krasnov, head of the Russian space agency’s manned space programs, said an official commission would investigate the glitch.

"It’s difficult to immediately name a specific reason behind the problem. We need to do an in-depth analysis," he said.

A similar problem occurred in May 2003 when the crew — Russian cosmonaut Nikolai Budarin and American astronauts Kenneth Bowersox and Donald Pettit — also experienced a steep, off-course landing. It then took salvage crews several hours to locate the spacecraft because of communications problems.

Yurchikhin and Kotov were returning home after a six-month stint at the international space station. Sheikh Muszaphar, a 35-year-old physician, had been at the orbital outpost since Oct. 12.

"This is a very momentous and historic occasion for Malaysia," Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak told reporters.

During about 10 days in space, Sheikh Muszaphar, fulfilling both his own dream of space travel and his country’s aspirations, performed experiments involving diseases and the effects of microgravity and space radiation on cells and genes.

"I am also very proud … that finally we have joined the small number of nations that have sent their sons and daughters to space," Sheikh Muszaphar wrote in his Web journal before returning to Earth.

The $25 million agreement for a Malaysian astronaut to fly to space was negotiated in 2003 along with a $900 million deal for Malaysia to buy 18 Russian fighter jets.

Back at the space station, the remaining crew — U.S. astronauts Peggy Whitson and Clayton Anderson, and cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko — monitored the progress of the Soyuz on its return journey.

Whitson, the station’s first female commander, arrived along with Sheikh Muszaphar and Malenchenko on another Soyuz that lifted off from the Russian-leased launch facility in Kazakhstan Oct. 10.

She and Malenchenko are to spend six months in orbit, while Anderson — aboard since June — is to be replaced in the coming weeks by U.S. astronaut Daniel Tani, who is to arrive on the U.S. shuttle Discovery later this month.

The station’s new crew is to perform space walks linked in part with efforts to expand the station, which is due to add a European Space Agency module and a Japanese module in the coming months.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)



Two More to Enter Mile(s) High Club

Tuesday, September 4th, 2007

With all the talk and anticipation lately about the nascent space tourism industry, it’s easy to forget that actual travel in space to this day remains one of humanity’s most exclusive clubs.

But soon, two more people may be able to add their name to the (estimated) 400 to 700 people who have truly slipped the surly bonds of earth.

First up is a Russian grocer who made his money with the Seventh Continent grocery chain: 

A grocery tycoon and politician who planted a flag on the North Pole’s seabed last month will now go into orbit as the first Russian space tourist, leading business daily Vedomosti says.

Vladimir Gruzdev, aged 40, underwent medical tests in June and had been formally approved for a flight on board a Soyuz-TMA spacecraft in September 2008, the newspaper quoted an unnamed source from the Russian space company Energia as saying.

He was one of three submariners who on August 2 planted a rust-proof titanium Russian flag at the North Pole, 4,300 metres under water, in order to boost Russia’s claim for a larger chunk of resource-rich Arctic seabed.

The kid-faced Gruzdev can be seen on the left in this photo from a news report about his exploits at the North Pole last month. 

Next up is Korea’s first astronaut, to be announced later today from two remaining candidates: 

 South Korea’s first astronaut who will fly to the International Space Station early next year will be named Wednesday from two candidates, Ko San and Yi So-yeon.

The Ministry of Science and Technology said that a seven-person committee will pick one name this morning after assessing the scores from their six-month training program in Russia.

Ko and Yi, both with outstanding intellectual and physical abilities, were selected from more than 36,000 applicants last year through a series of rigorous tests and a TV popularity poll. They have been receiving spaceman trainings in Russia’s Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center near Moscow since January.

The ministry said the result will be announced around 10 a.m.

Regardless of who is named by the Ministry of Science and Technology, it’s clear from the numbers that the era of mass space travel is not quite at hand.

A.P. Looks at Virgin Galactic’s Lowered Profile

Monday, August 27th, 2007

Few space stories have captured the public’s imagination (and the press’ attention) more than the efforts of Virgin Galactic to bring the nascent space tourism business to the (well-heeled) masses via the Burt Rutan-designed SpaceShipTwo.


While the attention is surely a boon to Virgin Galactic (and probably a source of resentment for its competitors), it can be problematic when things go wrong, as when an explosion at the factory of Scaled Composites (which made the first private trip into space with SpaceShipOne) killed three people in July during testing of a propellant system.

Today, the Associated Press looks at how the accident has impacted Virgin Galactic’s public profile: 

The accident at the remote site run by famed aerospace designer Burt Rutan rattled the fledgling space tourism industry, which has enjoyed a honeymoon period since 2004 when Rutan launched SpaceShipOne, the first private manned rocket into space.

It also offered insight into how two pioneering companies that forged an unlikely partnership two years ago to fly civilians to space reacted to the tragedy. In a reversal of roles, Richard Branson’s publicity-seeking Virgin Galactic kept a low profile while its usually silent partner, Rutan’s Scaled Composites LLC, took to the Internet to mourn its workers.

Some space experts believe Virgin Galactic is following the right strategy because the accident was of an industrial nature and not directly related to spaceflight. But eventually customers and the public will demand answers, they say.

While Virgin Galactic kept a low public profile after the accident, the company did reach out privately to reassure its "founding" customers, who have already paid $200,000 to be the first to go up in SpaceShipTwo, according to the AP report.

It was Virgin Galactic’s partner, Scaled Composites, that was forced into the limelight following the accident:

Before the accident, hardly anything was known about Scaled’s progress on its suborbital spaceship program. Afterward, Rutan acknowledged for the first time the company was testing a propellent system for SpaceShipTwo, the successor to SpaceShipOne. Many details about the program are still unknown, including how far along Scaled is….

Scaled has since shed some of its stoic image. Its technical Web site was transformed into a virtual shrine for the three rocket workers killed in the line of duty. It set up a memorial fund, posted poignant online remembrances and gave updates on funeral arrangements and conditions of the injured, who are expected to survive.

Scaled also sought outside experts to determine what went wrong and vowed to share lessons learned with the industry to prevent another accident.

"Burt is taking it hard because it’s the first time he’s lost people. There is a feeling of shock that some of his friends died," said space business consultant Thomas Matula.

The Personal Spaceflight Federation, made up of more than a dozen private space companies, has vowed to plow ahead despite the tragedy in Mojave, according to the article. 

Europe Jumping Into Space Tourism Race

Monday, June 11th, 2007

A decade ago, space tourism was just a dream, even for the richest of the rich. In 2001, Dennis Tito became the first space tourist, paying more than $20 million. Since then, a number of multi-millionaire and billionaires have made the journey on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft. (The program is booked-up until 2009.) Now, space tourism might be possible for even six-figure savings accounts.

Looking to cash-in on the new desire for out-of-this-world travel, an explosion of commercial space tourism is underway. Most of the proposed programs propose suborbital flights, which still provide a traveler with a view of the earth’s curvature and a short period of weightlessness, without the danger and expense of full re-entry. Single tickets are expected to sell for $200 to $300 thousand dollars.

While a half-dozen companies are already developing plans (including RocketPlane and PlanetSpace), Virgin Galactic appears to be the most established. Galactic draws together the only company to actually put a privately developed craft into outerspace (California-based Scaled Composites) with the financial and marketing genius of British Billionaire, Richard Branson. The company will launch its “flights” as early as late-2009 from California’s Mojave Spaceport until New Mexico’s Spaceport America is complete (making Virgin Galactic essentially an American enterprise). Watch Virgin’s promotional simulation (very cool):

Now, Europe is expected to jump into the game with an announcement at this week’s Paris Air Show. From the London Times:

EUROPE is to enter manned space travel for the first time, almost half a century after the first cosmonaut orbited the Earth.

EADS Astrium, Europe’s biggest builder of satellites and rockets, is this week expected to announce plans to carry tourists into space. The firm is due to unveil plans at the Paris air show for a spacecraft that will carry tourists out of the atmosphere for a brief ride at 3,000mph before ferrying them back to Earth.

Europe stood on the sidelines during the space race between America and Russia in the cold war, largely because of the vast cost. The first human space flight carried Yuri Gagarin, the Soviet cosmonaut, once round the Earth in 1961, and in 1969 Neil Armstrong became the first person to set foot on the moon.

Europe’s programme, conducted through the European Space Agency, has confined itself to unmanned probes, such as the Giotto mission of 1986, which explored the tail of Halley’s comet. However, European astronauts, including the Britons Helen Sharman and Michael Foale, have flown on Russian and Nasa missions.

A spokesman for EADS Astrium said: “We are going to reveal a space tourism project next week for the Paris air show.” The scheme is thought to be the first step in a plan to take space tourists into orbit and even to dock at a “space hotel”.

You Can Always Go Home Again (Unfortunately)

Monday, May 7th, 2007

An interesting article over on ABC News website, explains that most cosmonauts love their job so much they actually don’t look forward to coming back to earth.


"’The hardest thing is coming back to Earth,’ [Cosmonaut Vladimir Dezhurov] said. The problem is not so much the mundanity of earthly existence — bills to pay, food to buy, chores to complete.

‘The muscle fabric degrades very much. It’s hard to walk. You have to learn how to walk again, like a small child.’

Astronauts train daily aboard the orbiting space station to prevent the atrophy of their legs and feet which are under-used in weightlessness. It takes several weeks under medical supervision to recover from a long stay in space.’"


But then again, any real space geek probably already knew that…

What might be interesting for those of us who know a little more is the information the article provides about Star City, Moscow’s tightly secured 1960s area Cosmonaut space center and the surrounding community, as seen above.

While supposedly time has kind of stopped in area, most cosmonauts never really feeling the full-effect of the collapse of the Soviet Union, what has changed is who is doing a lot of the blasting off in the environs… most notably in the increased presence of tourists.

While we all saw Stephen Hawking have a zero-g experience last week, in Star City, Russia the zero-g experience has you (and for just $3400-4000).


Wednesday, January 31st, 2007

Friends, Earthlings, ETs — lend me your sensory organs!

I send you greetings and good wishes at the beginning of another year. I’ll be celebrating (?) my 90th birthday in December – a few weeks after the Space Age completes its first half century.

When the late and unlamented Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1 on 4 October 1957, it took only about five minutes for the world to realise what had happened. And although I had been writing and speaking about space travel for years, the moment is still frozen in my own memory: I was in Barcelona attending the 8th International Astronautical Congress. We had retired to our hotel rooms after a busy day of presentations when the news broke — I was awakened by reporters seeking comments on the Soviet feat. Our theories and speculations had become reality!

Notwithstanding the remarkable accomplishments during the past 50 years, I believe that the Golden Age of space travel is still ahead of us. Before the current decade is out, fee-paying passengers will be experiencing sub-orbital flights aboard privately funded passenger vehicles, built by a new generation of engineer-entrepreneurs with an unstoppable passion for space (I’m hoping I could still make such a journey myself). And over the next 50 years, thousands of people will gain access to the orbital realm – and then, to the Moon and beyond.

During 2006, I followed with interest the emergence of this new breed of ‘Citizen Astronauts’ and private space enterprise. I am very encouraged by the wide-spread acceptance of the Space Elevator, which can make space transport cheap and affordable to ordinary people. This daring engineering concept, which I popularised in The Fountains of Paradise (1978), is now taken very seriously, with space agencies and entrepreneurs investing money and effort in developing prototypes. A dozen of these parties competed for the NASA-sponsored, US$ 150,000 X Prize Cup which took place in October 2006 at the Las Cruces International Airport, New Mexico.

The Arthur Clarke Foundation continues to recognise and cheer-lead men and women who blaze new trails to space. A few days before the X Prize Cup competition, my old friend Walter Cronkite received the Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award. I have known Walter for over half a century, and my commentary with him during the heady days of the Apollo Moon landings now belong to another era. A space ‘pathfinder’ of the Twenty First Century, Bob Bigelow, was presented the Arthur C. Clarke Innovator Award for his work in the development of space habitats. With the successful launch of Bigelow Aerospace’s Genesis 1, Bob is leading the way for private individuals willing to advance space exploration with minimum reliance on government programmes.

Meanwhile, planning and fund raising work continued for the Arthur C. Clarke Center "to Investigate the Reach and Impact of Human
Imagination", to be set up in partnership with the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Objective: to identify young people with robust imagination, to help their parents and teachers make the most of that talent, and to accord imagination as much regard as high academic grades in the classroom – anywhere in the world.  The Board members of the Clarke Foundation, led by its indefatigable Chairman Tedson Meyers, have taken on the challenge of raising US$ 70 million for this project. I’m hopeful that the billion dollar communications satellite industry I founded 60 years ago with my Wireless World  paper (October 1945), for which I received the astronomical sum of £15, will be partners in this endeavour.

I’ve only been able to make a few encouraging noises from the sidelines for these and other worthy projects as I’m now very limited in time and energy owing to Post Polio. But I’m happy to report that my health remains stable, and I’m in no discomfort or pain. Being completely wheel-chaired helps to concentrate on my reading and writing – which I can once again engage in, with the second cataract operation restoring my eyesight.

During the year, I wrote a number of short articles, book reviews and commentaries for a variety of print and online outlets. I also did a few carefully chosen media interviews, and filmed several video greetings to important scientific or literary gatherings in different parts of the world.

I was particularly glad to find a co-author to complete my last novel, The Last Theorem, which remained half-written for a couple of years. I had mapped out the entire story, but then found I didn’t have the energy to work on the balance text. Accomplished American writer Frederik Pohl has now taken up the challenge. Meanwhile, co-author Stephen Baxter has completed First-born, the third novel in our collaborative Time Odyssey series, to be published in 2007.

Members of my adopted family — Hector, Valerie, Cherene, Tamara and Melinda Ekanayake — are keeping well. Hector has been looking after me since 1956, and with his wife Valerie, has made a home for me at 25, Barnes Place, Colombo. Hector continued to rebuild the diving operation that was wiped out by the Indian Ocean Tsunami of December 2004. Sri Lanka’s tourist sector, still recovering from the mega-disaster, weathered a further crisis as the long-drawn civil conflict ignited again after more than three years of relative peace and quiet. I remain hopeful that a lasting solution would be worked out by the various national and international players engaged in the peace process.

I’m still missing and mourning my beloved Chihuahua Pepsi, who left us more than a year ago. I’ve just heard that dogs aren’t allowed in Heaven, so I’m not going there.

Brother Fred, Chris Howse, Angie Edwards and Navam Tambayah look after my affairs in England. My agents David Higham Associates and Scovil, Chichak & Galen Literary Agency deal with rapacious editors and media executives. They both follow my general directive: No reasonable offer will even be considered.

I am well supported by my staff and take this opportunity to thank them all:
Executive Officer: Nalaka Gunawardene
Personal Assistant: Rohan De Silva
Secretary: Dottie Weerasooriya
Valets: Titus, Saman, Chandra, Sunil
Drivers: Lalith & Anthony
Domestic Staff: Kesavan, Jayasiri & Mallika
Gardener: Jagath

Let me end with an extract from my tribute to Star Trek on its 40th anniversary – this message is more relevant today than when the series first aired in the heady days of Apollo: “Appearing at such a time in human history, Star Trek popularised much more than the vision of a space-faring civilisation. In episode after episode, it promoted the then unpopular ideals of tolerance for differing cultures and respect for life in all forms – without preaching, and always with a saving sense of humour.”

Colombo, Sri Lanka
28 January 2007


Space Station Unloads Supply Ship; Microsoftie to be next Space Tourist

Friday, October 27th, 2006

With the safe arrival of Anousheh Ansari, the first female space tourist, as we reported a few weeks ago, life continues to be interesting aboard the International Space Station. Today, the Space Stations residents were finally able to open the hatch leading to an unmanned supply shipped that docked with the station 24-hours before. As CBS News reports:

"The Progress M-58 cargo ship, carrying supplies to the station’s three-man crew, docked at the station Thursday at 6:28 p.m. Moscow time (10:28 a.m. EDT) on autopilot, as planned.

Mission Control could not confirm, however, that its antenna had folded as required for the craft to clamp securely on the station although later it announced that it had solved the glitch."

Fortunately, Mission control reports, the crew, which was never in danger of being without food or oxygen, has opened the cargo ship and begun unloading supplies.

In other ISS related news, the billionaire who helped create Microsoft Excel and Word, Charles Simonyi, is supposedly set to be the next space tourist according to the Seattle Post Intelligencer. Simonyi is currently set to join the Space Station crew for eight days (during a ten day mission) aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft set to launch on March 9,2007.

Everyone will, of course, be able to follow Simonyi on his travels through his blog at

X-Prize Cup Tournament This Friday & Saturday in New Mexico

Wednesday, October 18th, 2006

For readers that haven’t established weekend plans just yet, you might want to consider a quick jaunt out to La Cruces, NM where the Wirefly X-Prize Cup will be taking place this coming Friday and Saturday (Oct. 20 & 21).

The main event of the weekend will, of course, be the $2.5 million in Prize competitions that will being going on throughout the exposition.

The Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander and Vertical Lander Challenge will probably be on of the most watched events, but the Spaceward Foundation‘s Space Elevator Challenge may be among its most technically interesting. In the Space Elevator Games, teams will be competing for two, separate $200,000 prizes, one for who builds the best climber (a machine capable of traveling up and down a tether ribbon, with powering being beamed to a transmitter on the device) and the team that builds the strongest tether (first competing against other teams and then by proving that its tether is 50% stronger than the off-the-shelf variety.

While we’ve written about the space elevator competition in the past, Really Rocket Science readers will also have a leg-up on other attendees in terms of other events going on at the space exposition. Also taking place during the fair will be the unveiling of the Rocket Racing League’s X-Racer (written about at RRS here) and meet and greet with the world’s first space tourist, Anousheh Ansari (written about on RRS just a few weeks ago).

Stay tuned to Really Rocket Science for all the information coming out of New Mexico in the next few days. While we won’t be there, we’re going to stick to this story in the days ahead.

Inside SpaceShipTwo

Thursday, September 28th, 2006

Virgin Galactic has unveiled a concept interior for its (not-too-distant) future spaceliner SpaceShipTwo — and they’ve also released a great computer animated video showing what it will be like for passengers to travel into space on their flagship. has more: 

NEW YORK – Future passengers aboard Virgin Galactic spaceliners can look forward to cushioned reclining seats and lots of windows during suborbital flights aboard SpaceShipTwo, a concept interior of which was unveiled by British entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson Thursday….

“It won’t be much different than this,” Branson told reporters here at Wired Magazine’s NextFest forum. “It’s strange to think that in 12 months we’ll be unveiling the actual plane, and then test flights will commence right after that.”

Virgin Galactic’s spaceliners will be specially-outfitted SpaceShipTwo vehicles built by Mojave, California-based Scaled Composites and veteran aerospace designer Burt Rutan. The new spacecraft, designed specifically for space tourism, will be three times the size of Rutan’s SpaceShipOne, which won the $10 million Ansari X Prize for privately-developed piloted spacecraft capable of reaching suborbital space twice in two weeks.

The air-launched SpaceShipTwo is designed to seat eight people – six passengers and two pilots – and be hauled into launch position by WhiteKnightTwo, a massive carrier craft currently under construction by Scaled Composites, Virgin Galactic president Will Whitehorn said.

For an initial ticket price of $200,000, Virgin Galactic passengers will buy a 2.5-hour flight aboard SpaceShipTwo and launch from an altitude of about 60,000 feet (18,288 meters), while buckled safely in seats that recline flat after reaching suborbital space. A flight animation depicted passengers clad in their own personal spacesuits as they reached a maximum altitude of at least 68 miles (110 kilometers).

While the spacesuit designs are not yet final, they will likely be equipped with personal data and image recorders to add to SpaceShipTwo’s in-cabin cameras, Whitehorn said….

Branson’s Virgin Galactic spaceliners are slated to roll out and begin test flights by early 2008 in Mojave, California, with future operational spaceflights to be staged from New Mexico’s Spaceport America beginning in 2009.

First Female Space Tourist Readies for Monday Launch

Friday, September 15th, 2006

American entrepreneur Anousheh Ansari is set to become the world’s first female space tourist on Monday when she departs the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on a Russian Soyuz rocket as part of Virginia-based Space Adventures plan to bring ordinary (if wealthy) tourists to the stars. 

The AP provides details: 

After months of preparation at Moscow’s Star City training centre and a payment of some 25 million dollars (20 million euros), Ansari is due to spend 10 days on board the ISS, fast becoming the world’s most exclusive resort.

After Ansari, Michael Lopez-Alegria of the United States and Mikhail Tyurin of Russia have adapted to weightlessness, the Soyuz TMA-9 capsule will dock at the ISS on Wednesday.

Ansari, a 40-year-old engineer who made her millions in the US telecoms sector, is planning to take pictures, shoot film and write an Internet travel blog during her stay. notes that Ansari is no stranger to space flight:

Ansari’s family made a multimillion-dollar contribution to back the Ansari X Prize, a $10 million suborbital competition for privately-developed, reusable spacecraft. A team led by veteran aerospace designer Burt Rutan and backed by millionaire Paul Allen won the contest in 2004 when their piloted SpaceShipOne vehicle launched into suborbital space twice in two weeks.

Together with her husband Hamid and brother-in-law Amir, Ansari also co-founded the Dallas-based company Prodea to develop the Explorer line of air-launched suborbital vehicles under a partnership with Space Adventures.

Explorer spaceport plans in the United Arab Emirates and Singapore are moving ahead in anticipation of the spacecraft’s development. also offers a great interview with Ansari.

We’ll have more coverage of the launch and, of course, Ansari’s blog, on Monday.