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Soyuz has problem during return to Earth

In returning three astronauts safely to Earth yesterday from ISS the Soyuz spacecraft experienced a technical problem immediately after its engines had fired, causing it to go to a backup system.

Moments after the completion of the braking maneuver, the emergency signal was heard inside the Descent Module and the communications between the crew and mission control discussed a failure of the first manifold in the integrated propulsion system of the Soyuz spacecraft and the switch to the second manifold. Kononenko first reported K1B (Manifold DPO-B) emergency at 05:02:54 Moscow Time and subsequently confirmed a switch to the second manifold. NASA later confirmed the problem, but did not provide any details.

There is no explanation what the “first manifold” is, though I suspect it is a direct translation from Russian for their term for a primary system. That the system automatically switched to its back-up is a good thing. That there was a failure of the primary system is not.

Once again, this raises more questions about the quality control throughout Russia’s aerospace industry. While so far none of the recent Soyuz problems, which have also included a launch abort and a still-unexplained drilled hole, have caused a loss of life. I fear that soon or later they will.

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  • Roland

    US: Apollo 1; 3 deaths, Challenger; 7 deaths, Columbia; 7 deaths Total: 17.
    USSR/Russia: Soyuz 1; 1 death, Soyuz 11; 3 deaths. Total: 4. Last deadly accident 1971.
    The numbers speak for themselves.

  • Wodun

    Not exactly Roland. For one you make apples and oranges comparisons and you also ignore the rate of serious incidents, launch and mission failures.

  • Edward

    As they like to say in investment, past performance is no guarantee of future results. For instance, there were almost two hundred X-15 flights before one killed its crew.

    The logic of only using “the numbers” rather than more realistic indicators is that we would also conclude that the Mercury and Gemini spacecraft were completely safe, as well as the Lunar Module, Shenzhou, SpaceShipOne, Voskhod, and Vostok. We might even conclude that Apollo was only unsafe on the ground or as mounted to the Saturn IB rocket.

    That being said, I have noticed that every manned spacecraft that has flown more than fifteen crews has killed a crew. This does not bode well for manned commercial space, which plans to take many more than fifteen crews to space in each of its spacecraft.

    So far, we haven’t had any lost lives on space stations, but MIR came close on a couple of occasions.

  • Andi

    Another thing to consider is that the USSR ran a secretive and closed space program. They generally never announced launches until after the fact, and then only if they were successful, so we don’t really know how many failures they had.

  • Andi: Actually, we now have a very good handle on exactly what happened in the Soviet Union’s space program, including their failures. You should read Leaving Earth. I spent more than a month in Moscow interviewing several dozen cosmonauts, going back to Alexei Leonov, to find out what happened. There are really few secrets left from that time.

  • Andi

    Thank you for the update, Bob. I will definitely read Leaving Earth.

    Must have been a fascinating time in Moscow!

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