Cosmonauts abroad the Soyuz TMA-11 spacecraft recounted yesterday in Star City how they returned to Earth. According to Kommersant, ship commander Oleg Malenchenko (Ukraine) said the craft`s unguided course was caused by technical problems. The craft landed 420 km. from the planned landing site, and the cosmonauts experienced twice the G force they would have in a guided landing. Malenchenko was accompanied by two women astronauts, American Peggy Whitson and South Korean Yi So-yeon.
The South Korean astronaut said that the emergency landing procedure on the 16th expedition to the International Space Station was frightening to her. “I saw flames around the craft,” she said. “At first, I was very frightened, because they were strong flames. I thought we could burn up. Then I looked at the faces of Yury and Peggy and I did not see fear. And I calmed down.” The flight was Yi`s first, but Malenchenko`s fourth and Whitson`s second.
“All systems had worked,” Malenchenko said, “but after we entered the atmosphere, the system automatically converted to so-called ballistic descent. The crew took no action that could have lead to it.” They noted several irregularities at the Flight Control Center outside Moscow while the Soyuz TMA-11 was landing. First was the ballistic descent.
t the same time, voice contact with the crew was lost. Not even the crew`s report that the reentry vehicle had successfully separated from the ship was received. Thus, the control center found out about the landing only after Malenchenko was able to leave the craft and telephone in using a special satellite telephone. Forty minutes later, the ship was found on the steppe of Kazakhstan.
Of the 11 Soyuz flights, three have had unguided landings. The others occurred with the TMA-1 on May 4, 2003, and TMA-10 on October 21, 2007. The first instance was due to an equipment failure on board and the second due to a damaged cable. Sources at the flight center say that the American NASA has already expressed its concern about two control outages in a row. Beginning next year, only Soyuz craft will be used to deliver crew to the International Space Station and the number of flights to the station will increase from two to four per year. Currently, an American shuttle is also used for that purpose. NASA has paid $719 million for it astronauts to fly on Soyuz flights through 2011 and negotiations are underway to extend that contract to 2014. After that, the Americans hope to begin flight on their own Orion spacecraft.