Fri, 10 Jul 2020

Russia's manned space voyage launches after October horror

By Sheetal Sukhija, Toronto News.Net
04 Dec 2018, 03:49 GMT+10

MOSCOW, Russia - Nearly two months after a horrifying accident in which a Russian rocket failed to launch, forcing the two-man crew to abort the mission, Russia launched its first manned mission to space on Monday.

A three-man crew were blasted into orbit by a Russian-made Soyuz rocket, that lifted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 17:30 (11:30 GMT) on Monday. 

Monday's manned voyage to the International Space Station dubbed the Expedition 58, put three astronauts into the orbit.

The Soyuz carried 54-year-old Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, 39-year-old American astronaut Anne McClain, and 48-year-old Canadian engineer David Saint-Jacques.

Following the successful liftoff on Monday, authorities announced that the spacecraft was due to dock at the International Space Station at 17.36 GMT on Monday.

The crew will spend six-and-a-half months on board the International Space Station.

'Risk is part of the profession'

With a total of 534 days in space, including three spacewalks, the Russian cosmonaut Kononenko is the crew commander and has been part of three space flights on ISS in 2008, 2011-12 and 2015.

The NASA astronaut McClain is an experienced pilot who studied as a postgraduate at the University of Bath and Bristol in U.K.

Meanwhile, Saint-Jacques from the Canadian Space Agency is an astrophysicist and a family doctor, in addition, to be an engineer.

Before the launch on Monday morning, the three-man crew made a brief media appearance as they left a hotel to board a bus on their way to prepare for the flight.

With the disastrous October launch still fresh in their minds, relatives of the three astronauts watched nervously, waving and blowing kisses, as the crew headed out for the launch. 

Speaking to reporters, the three astronauts repeatedly denied being nervous about flying and stressed that the two-man crew aboard October's abortive mission to the ISS had managed to safely return to Earth despite the rocket's failure. 

They insisted that despite the mishap, the crew had demonstrated the reliability of the rocket's safety mechanisms.

Kononenko told reporters that his crew "absolutely" trusted the flight's preparation.

He said, "Risk is part of our profession. We are psychologically and technically prepared for blast-off and any situation which, God forbid, may occur on board."

First serious launch problem since 1983

In the horrific launch accident on October 11, a two-man Russian-American crew bound for the ISS were forced to abort their mission and perform an emergency landing.

Miraculously, the space capsule carrying the Russian cosmonaut Aleksei Ovchinin and a U.S. astronaut Nick Hague landed safely in Kazakhstan, and both the crew members managed to escape before a launchpad explosion.

At the time, experts noted that the accident was the first serious launch problem experienced by a manned Soyuz space mission since 1983, in which the crew survived.

Weeks after the accident, Russia's space agency Roscosmos revealed that a faulty sensor was to blame for the incident. 

Sergei Krikalyov, Executive Director of the Manned Spaceflight Program at Roscomos announced last month, "At the moment of separation [of the rocket's first and second stages], one of the lateral first-stage engines was not ejected far enough and hit the propellant tank of the second stage, which caused the tank's rupture."

NASA, which ended its space shuttle flights in 2011, provided reassurances about their continued co-operation with and trust in the Russian programme.

Then, in mid-November, a rehearsal unmanned flight successfully delivered cargo including food and fuel supplies.

Avoiding autopilot

While Monday's launch was originally scheduled for later this month, Russian officials brought it forward to avoid the ISS being left unmanned for long, as its current crew returns to earth.

Sergei Krikalyov, Executive Director of the Manned Spaceflight Program at Russia's space agency Roscosmos announced last month that Russia was trying hard to prepone the mission so as to ensure that a crew is present on the ISS.

Krikalyov said, "In order to avoid shifting the ISS to an unmanned mode, the industry is exerting considerable efforts to make the launch possible on December 3."

He had also estimated that the three-person crew currently working aboard the ISS may return home on December 20.

The top Russian official said, "The industry is making significant efforts to move the launch to December 3 so that the station does not switch to autopilot mode, and landing is expected around December 20."

The European Space Agency's Alexander Gerst, NASA's Serena Aunon-Chancellor and Russia's Sergey Prokopyev have been in orbit since June and are due to fly back to Earth this month.

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