NASA Offers Only Minor Insight Into Soyuz Off Course Landing

By Keith Cowing
April 22, 2008
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NASA Offers Only Minor Insight Into  Soyuz Off Course Landing

NASA Associate Administrator for Space Operations William Gerstenmaier spoke with reporters today via teleconference about Saturday’s errant Soyuz landing on Saturday in Kazakhstan.

Aboard were cosmonuat Yuri Malenchenko, american astronaut Pefggy Whitson, and South Korean astronaut So-yeon Yi.

By all accounts the Soyuz spacecraft made avery steep re-entry, subjecting the three crew members inside to higher than average G-levels. The spacecraft landed 300 miles away from the planned landing site.

Various media reports suggest that the Soyuz Descent Module and Service Module did not separate properly causing the Descent Module to begin entry into Earth’s atmosphere with its hatch taking the brunt of the heat – not its heat shield.

According to these reports, eventually the Service Module dropped away and the Descent Module oriented itself properly for the rest of the trip back to Earth.

Gerstenmaier was rather reluctant to get into any specifics preferring instead to defer, and to “let the Russians get the spacecraft back, dump the data from its computers, and allow the commission that has been established to look at what happened”. He would repeat this caveat more than a dozen times during the press teleconference.

Gerstenmaier did confirm that there were communications problems during reentry, that there has been some indication that there was a separation issue between the descent module and the service module, and that two of the crew members felt vibrations that they did not feel were normal.

However, Gerstenmaier would not comment on whether antennas had been burnt off, if there was any abnormal charring or burn marks on the exterior of the spacecraft, or if the descent module was in an incorrect attitude long enough during reentry to raise significant risks (i.e. burn through). He deferred again to studies that are just getting underway.

He was also unwilling at this time to draw any comparison between this ballistic reentry and the one experienced by the Soyuz reentry immediately previous to this one.

“We do not see this as a major concern but we do not like to see things like this on two successive flights.”

SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.