Yuri Malchenko is one of the most successful Russian astronauts in history. As of December 2015, he is already an experienced man on five separate missions and has logged more than 6441 days in orbit, meaning he has spent more time on the planet than anyone else.
He is also the quiet quiet man that I have met. A quietly spoken, unseen 53-year-old, Yuri is a naturally composed person who can reassure you with the smallest gesture. All in all I can’t expect the stationary commander to get stuck on the side of the journey in space on my first trip.
I look at Yuri and see that he has a shiver in his hand. I know why this is a bad sign.
And it’s all going so well. For six hours, our tiny Soyuz capsule exploded in orbit on a rocket from Kazakhstan, about 25 miles[400 km]from Earth, giving us 25 times the speed of sound. Just 400 meters away to reach the communication, the spacecraft launched the International Space Station (ISS) Standard Fly-Church in automatic mode, before locking in the docking port for the final procedure.
Moving softly, we are now less than 20 meters away, close enough to me to see the chaotic docking area of the space station. Our port camera view starts to get bigger on the monitor in front of Yuri. And, to my dismay, our orbit has just begun to take us across the UK, a piece of a beautiful combination to usher in a whole contemporary phenomenon: one I arrived at my makeshift home for the next six months in full view of my stability.
And then, 17 meters away from contact, the master alarm goes off and the red light on the console turns on. Soyuz is having an abortion. Why? There has never been any automatic docking near the space station. Even for Yuri, it is a new territory.
Obviously this is a thruster sensor failure. But no worries. There is a method. In space flight, there is always a method. In this case, the method is that Yuri will go under manual control and take us by the hand.
Theoretically. The Soyuz slowly retreated 90 meters away from the space station and then Yuri was ready to bring us in front again. Our orbits are taking us from night to night, and the state of illumination is less than ideal. In the darkness of the place, in the light of our little craft search, it suddenly seems like there is a weak range of bedroom torches. Yuri stepped forward and looked at the periscope in front of him.
I notice the trembling hands when I tremble and think, well, if Yuri is worried, it’s probably not such a big situation.
At this point, some of the consequences of my crash should be outlined. It took b 100 billion to build ISST, it took 10 years with many years of cooperation and it is arguably the worst case scenario for the most humane structure ever created. , But a big disaster.
Alternatively, shaking against a visible object can send the craft into a mess that may prove impossible to capture. The space station is not capable of holding a Soyuz capsule in the robotic arm; Unlike cargo vehicles, there is no way to reach and catch you mechanically. You will be left rolling with space forever.
Practically blind, Soyuz flew to the back of the space station, exceeding the target by about 30 degrees. This is where Yuri’s experience really tells us. Perhaps another junior astronaut benefited in the hope of correcting the movement, which would probably have catastrophic consequences. Not Yuri. Despite the pressure and voice from mission control in his ears, he composed the melody to gently bring Sayuj back into space. He then settles himself and prepares to try again.
Perhaps this is just my habitual mentality as a helicopter pilot, who should regularly check your systems and contingency plans, but one of my concerns at the moment is above all our fuel level. We need to have enough fuel to get home safely – and at this stage yes, there is plenty. Yet all these unplanned aircraft under manual control are eating away at our precisely budgeted supplies. If we are out here, it is not impossible that we should give up docking altogether and go back to earth.
After it was built, the hype and bigotry, the formal farewell, the sensitive part of Rebecca, my wife, our two sons and my parents, the huge exit in the clouds of smoke looking at the nation. Needless to say, if I came back 12 hours later I would feel a little lamb.
When Yuri once again faces the periscope and puts Soyuz on the third attempt at docking, I’m interested that it should be found just fine.
Yuri is moving forward to go to the periscope. Again, Tim Copra and I are largely powerless to help him, unable to see what he is seeing. The capsule starts to move and almost immediately I can understand the difference in Yuri’s behavior. Excitement leaves him, he is adamant he brought the capsule for textbook-manual docking because he got it very clearly under control.
When we put Soyuz in hibernation mode, we heard the voice of our Commander Scott Kelly, an ISS passenger, already on the radio. “Welcome to space,” he said. “What would you like to eat for dinner?”
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