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return, by contrast, the vehicle blows itself up and separates
into all these pieces. And then this tiny little piece that has you
in it comes straight back into the atmosphere with fireworks
going o all around it. So you're in the thick of it.
Olsen: Remember that to land, the Soyuz is only one-third
the size of what it is when it's launched, and most of the cargo
space is missing. It has to be packed very carefully, because
the mass distribution a ects some of the aerodynamic char-
acteristics of the Soyuz. It has to be done by the commander.
This is the sort of thing we really want to help out on, but all
you can do is stand by and watch, because it is a one-man thing,
and it has to be done very carefully.
Simonyi: The living room is packed up with garbage so it will
be burned up on return. The garbage bags are these rubber-
ized bags that are closed with rubber rings just like the space
suit---pretty much hermetically sealed.
Olsen: We put our space suits on, got in, and couldn't quite
adjust the pressures between the habitat module, which is
docked, and the docking compartment. For an hour we kept
adjusting, and they finally said, "All right, let's go with it."
Simonyi: There's always pressure-integrity checks. It seems
like that's all we do on the spacecraft: check pressure integrity.
There's a very important instrument, a manometer---essen-
tially a barometer, but for low pressure. It measures all the
pressure on the spacecraft. It's big and brass, and it has these
pipes that connect to everything. Again, it could literally have
been constructed in the 19th century.
Olsen: Anyway, on our descent, we noticed that the pressure was
dropping. We still don't know what happened, but some people
think that a half-inch strap was lodged in the O-ring seal.
Simonyi: There was a valve that didn't close---it's anyone's guess
why---and when the pressures dropped, these garbage bags
started to explode. Can you imagine the mess? Oh my God!
Olsen: Finally Commander Krikalyov says, "Olsen, kislorod,"
which means "oxygen." I had to reach over to the oxygen valve.
It's really di cult, because the valve is spring loaded. I held it
open for about a minute, and finally the pressure came up to
where it should be. But the problem now is that I'm enrich-
ing the air with oxygen. The normal air is roughly 21 percent
oxygen. We got up to about 32 percent. If we reach 40 percent
the cabin automatically depressurizes, because more than 40
percent oxygen tends to get spontaneous combustion.
Ansari: In most cases, something goes wrong.
Shuttleworth: The Soyuz is designed in a way where it has a
very graceful degradation if things fail. Big chunks of subsys-
tems can fail, and you can still make it home.
Simonyi: The critical point is when the three segments of the
spacecraft separate and two segments are left to burn up.
Garriott: Separation really has three noises associated with it.
First there is a kind of "pop" noise, which is a preseparation
event---a disconnect of cables of some kind, or pipes. Then
there is a pop where the habitation module is separated from
in front of you. You can feel that force push you directly back
with a nice, clean, smooth, directed-back movement. Another
pop, and we separated from the instrument compartment.
You can just feel if it's clean. Pop, pop, pop.
Simonyi: I could actually see parts of the spacecraft floating by
the window. We were going Mach 20 or 22 in, like, the thinnest
of thin air, but it was enough to make a sizable piece of insula-
tion that was torn o by the separation kind of flap next to us.
It was kind of slapping us in the wind, left and right. Then it
hit our wall, and it kind of flew away.
Ansari: There was this orange glow, with sparks and things.
Simonyi: It looks like Pepto-Bismol. It's this solid pink plasma.
Garriott: It's like being on the inside of a blast furnace.
Ansari: Looking out the window, I blurted out, "My God, it
feels like I'm riding a shooting star!"
Olsen: All of a sudden things start vibrating, and you can feel the
deceleration. We get about four and a half G's, and it becomes
hard to breathe. The capsule is being tossed around. There's no
radio contact. You just kind of have to go through it.
Simonyi: It was getting dark, but in fact it was the window
NO WORSE FOR WEAR Inside the Soyuz, Mark Shuttleworth and
crewmembers await extraction in Kazakhstan. Right, Greg Olsen gets
a lift upon his return. Terminal velocity is about 25 miles per hour.
REUTERS/MIKHAIL GRACHYEV (CAPSULE); REUTERS/NASA/BILL INGALLS (OLSEN)
Hear space tourists talk about their experiences:
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