Feb 16, 2012

Astronaut Ron Garan Describes Re-Entry on the Soyuz Space Capsule

Others said you'll feel like you're tumbling when you hit the ground.

I thought, "No, I'm pretty sure we ARE tumbling."
- Astronaut Ron Garan

In their ongoing superb use of Social Media, NASA offered another TweetUp at the NASA Headquarters in Washington DC and I was fortunate enough to be invited. Speaking with a crowd of 134 twitter followers, NASA Astronaut Ron Garan (@Astro_Ron) gave this amazing description of his trip home from the ISS aboard the Russian Soyuz:
"There is a big difference between the United States Space Shuttle and the Russian Soyuz.  The shuttle is a massive powerful vehicle you are inside, a very violent ride into space.  The Soyuz, on the other hand, as opposed to riding in it, I felt like I was wearing it.  It's so small, everything is right there, every valve that opens, every pump that turns on -- you feel it.  It is a remarkable spacecraft. 

The launch into space on the Soyuz..... 
is about the same, there may be more Gs on the Soyuz, but same ballpark. But coming home is a lot different.

The Soyuz's centerpiece is the only piece that survives.  That's the one we're in, luckily. {laughter}   I could look out the window and see black then pink, thousands of sparks -- fountains of sparks that turned into flames, then pieces -- flaming pieces -- going by.  We were in a steep descent.  I had mirrors on my wrist that I could hold up to the window and see out.  We fired our engines up around the southern tip of South America and then I watched Africa whiz by, lightning over New Zealand.  Soon, the steppes of Kazakhstan.

Then the window burnt over black and I couldn't see any more.  The drum shoot opened to pull out the parachute.
It was like three of us being on the end of a towel being shaken all over.
We were spinning, too.  Then someone yelled out to me, in Russian, “it's just like being in an American amusement park ride!"  The parachute fully opens and it settles down.  The layers on my window peel away and I can see out again.

I'm laying on my back with the instrument panel right in my face.  Six seconds before hitting ground, the soft landing rockets fire. Then bam.  Scott kelly describes it as
going over Niagara Falls in a barrel on fire, then landing in a rear-end collision.
I think the soft engines are smoke screens to hide how hard we actually hit.   That was a big surprise.  I expected it to be hard, but not as hard as it was.

We hit the ground.  I thought "well, it was hard, but I'm glad it's over," but it was just a bounce.  I didn't know that we had several more bounces to go. 

Others said you'll feel like you're tumbling when you hit the ground.  I thought "No, I'm pretty sure we ARE tumbling."  I saw rocks and grass out the window, very cool, since I hadn't seen rocks and grass in so long.  It was fun.  It's fun when you live through it. {laughter}

I grew up during the Cold War.  If you told me I'd fly in space with a Russian crew on a Russian space craft, I'd have told you you were nuts.  Being strapped to a Russian rocket was amazing in a good way.  It's heartwarming to think where we were, what could have been and what has become.  International collaboration.  Working together with a common goal to do something great for humanity. If we can do this in space, we can work together on earth and solve a lot of the problems facing our planet."

Read Astronaut Douglas Wheelock's thoughts on collaborating with the Russians on the ISS - "Last night, "Sasha" Skvortsov (our current ISS Commander) and I sat together in the Russian Service Module for nearly three hours talking about this event coming up Wednesday. though purely symbolic at this point, the Change of Command of a truly International Space Station from an active duty Russian Colonel to an active duty US Army Colonel is something only dreamers could have imagined for our generation.  Read more.

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