Into the Black: The Nearly Ill-Fated First Spacewalk

The exclusive BBC interview and huge multimedia feature on the first human to walk in space is not to be missed:

[Alexey] Leonov, now 80, has given a rare interview to the BBC in which he talks about the series of emergencies that made the trek back to Earth worthy of any Hollywood movie.

Minutes after he stepped into space, Leonov realised his suit had inflated like a balloon, preventing him from getting back inside.

Later on, the cosmonauts narrowly avoided being obliterated in a huge fireball when oxygen levels soared inside the craft. And on the way back to Earth, the crew was exposed to enormous G-forces, landing hundreds of kilometres off target in a remote corner of Siberia populated by wolves and bears.

Afterwards, the Soviet authorities revealed nothing about the problems. For years, few people knew the truth.

 
It almost makes the movie “Gravity” look like a walk in the park, and it’s a true story.

Leonov on the first-ever extra-vehicular excursion in space. (Credit: Soviet space program via Wikipedia)

Leonov on the first-ever extra-vehicular excursion in space. (Credit: Soviet space program via Wikipedia)

Russia & UAE: A big week for women in air and space

This week saw the 4th ever female cosmonaut go into space and the first ever United Arab Emirates female combat pilot go into action in Syria.

Russia’s Yelena Serova launched into space yesterday aboard a Soyuz flight from Kazakhstan and arrived overnight at the International Space Station. She is the first woman in Russia’s space program to go to space since Yelena V. Kondakova‘s space shuttle flight (STS-84, Atlantis) in May 1997, which went to the Mir station.

Kondakova, now a member of the Russian Duma (parliament) for the ruling party, went to space twice during her career as a cosmonaut, but was actually only the 3rd ever Soviet or Russian female cosmonaut — making Serova the 4th in the entire program’s history. The Soviet Union, notably, sent a woman into space two decades before the U.S. did the same, but failed to capitalize on that milestone (not even sending its second until 19 years later). This stands in contrast with the opportunities opened to many women in NASA and space programs around the world since then.

In another part of the world, the United Arab Emirates announced on U.S. television that their pioneering female combat pilot, Major Mariam Al Mansouri, led the UAE’s airstrikes on ISIS positions in Syria, as part of the US-led coalition:

[UAE Ambassador to the US] Al Otaiba also confirmed that Major Mariam Al Mansouri, 35, an F-16 pilot, will lead the air strike missions on ISIL.

“I can officially confirm that the UAE strike mission on Monday night was led by female fighter pilot Mariam Al Mansouri,” he said.

“She is a fully qualified, highly trained, combat-ready pilot and she is on a mission.”
[…]
Maj Al Mansouri has an undergraduate degree in English literature and is the first woman to join the Khalifa bin Zayed Air College, graduating in 2008.

 
She is expected to continue commanding the UAE’s missions in Syria in the coming days and weeks.

Ambassador Al Otaiba cited her as a positive example of how Arab states and Muslim societies can be more moderate and open than the stereotype, while retaining their identities. The example was offered in contrast to both ISIS and some of the Emirates’ neighboring countries. You can read more about Major Al Mansouri and her path to the skies here.

Cosmonaut Yelena Serova (via NASA/Wikimedia) and Maj. Mariam al-Mansouri (via WAM/The National)

Cosmonaut Yelena Serova (via NASA/Wikimedia) and Maj. Mariam al-Mansouri (via WAM/The National)

NASA comes out swinging at Russia, US Congress

It appears I spoke too soon in lauding ongoing US-Russian space cooperation amidst the political crisis. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) issued a startlingly aggressive statement tonight against both the Russian government and the American Congress (Congressional Republicans, really, though they didn’t spell it out). My emphasis added:

Statement regarding suspension of some NASA activities with Russian Government representatives.

Given Russia’s ongoing violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, NASA is suspending the majority of its ongoing engagements with the Russian Federation. NASA and Roscosmos will, however, continue to work together to maintain safe and continuous operation of the International Space Station. NASA is laser focused on a plan to return human spaceflight launches to American soil, and end our reliance on Russia to get into space. This has been a top priority of the Obama Administration’s for the past five years, and had our plan been fully funded, we would have returned American human spaceflight launches – and the jobs they support – back to the United States next year. With the reduced level of funding approved by Congress, we’re now looking at launching from U.S. soil in 2017. The choice here is between fully funding the plan to bring space launches back to America or continuing to send millions of dollars to the Russians. It’s that simple. The Obama Administration chooses to invest in America – and we are hopeful that Congress will do the same.

 
naga-logoI think it’s been a while since we heard the typically staid and politically sedate post-Cold War NASA rip this hard into anyone, let alone Russia. The phrase “continuing to send millions of dollars to the Russians” is about as undiplomatic as one can get.

I did notice that they chose to say “reliance on Russia” rather than “dependence on Russia” (which would be more accurate) and I’m sure that was a PR word choice.

Must be pretty tense right about now on the Space Station.

 
Related Reading: Watching the USSR break up, from Space

Russia-US: At least we have Space

naga-logoIf nothing else, let’s all stop for a moment to appreciate that the joint Russian-US space program efforts have continued totally uninterrupted, despite everything happening politically, including a barrage of American sanctions on senior Russian officials.

Russia just launched another NASA astronaut toward the space station today.

30 years ago, as President Reagan was trying to weaponize outer space against the Soviet Union, would it have even been imaginable that the two space programs would be collaborating so closely on manned missions even at a very low point in political relations between their parent nations?

(More on the history of joint US-Russian/Soviet space programs.)

Watching the USSR break up, from Space

mir-orbit-rkk-energiaIt just occurred to me that the Soviet/Russian space program was flying active missions to the Mir space station during the entire collapse of the Soviet Union over the course of 1991, so I decided to do some research to see how that played out.

It must have been totally insane experiencing your home country’s collapse and dissolution from space.
Read more