Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Soyuz Launch of Expedition 31

Last Night's 23:01 EDT Launch
Last night (aka today, if you were in Russia) I watched the lift off of Expedition 31 which put three men into orbit aboard the Russian Soyuz rocket. Although it only takes about eight or nine minutes to get into orbit, it'll be about two days until they rendezvous with the ISS. One member of the crew, Joe Acaba, was the only American and he'll be spending a few months aboard the ISS.

Last night's 23:01 EDT liftoff was the first time that I watched a live launch of a Soyuz rocket. Since it doesn't have solid rocket boosters, like the space shuttle, it burns very clean like the old Saturn V rockets.

Astronauts Shane Kimbourgh (L) and Joe Acaba (R)
I was amazed at the elegant simplicity of the entire Soyuz launch system. It's moved out to the launch site via a railroad just a few days before launch and it's propped up on what are essentially a few pegs. The pegs act as the levers of its tower support systems (imagine stepping on the tines of a rake - the wooden shaft of the rake will pop up). At lift off, once the weight of the rocket is no longer on the pegs, the towers fall back just like stepping off a rake.

What makes this launch system so elegant is that it inherently works - you don't have to rely on electrical or hydraulic systems for the supporting towers to move away at launch.

The video of the ride to orbit looked very smooth inside the capsule. The only downside that I could see is that it's cramped. I hear that the return landing is very bumpy for the crew since the capsule lands on the ground, not in the ocean, like the Apollo capsules, or on a landing strip like the space shuttle.

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