back to article Korean astronaut recounts 'ballistic' Soyuz re-entry

Korean astronaut Yi So-Yeon has recounted the "ballistic" re-entry of the ISS Mission 16 Soyuz capsule on Saturday which, due to a technical hitch, "exposed the crew to twice the usual gravitational forces", put on a nice display of external flames for the understandably nervous 29-year-old biotechnology engineer, and eventually …


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  1. Elmer Phud Silver badge

    Red Dwarf

    Sounds more like a Starbug landing than a carefully planned re-entry.

  2. Ishkandar

    Politicall correctness at its best

    Ballistic = Uncontrolled free-fall !! I'd bet the young lady must be glad of her space suit's biological functions !! I'd also bet that, along with the flames, she saw her life flash by before her very eyes !! The ultimate extreme adventure !!

    A very apt icon, methinks !!

  3. Ishkandar

    They should have added....

    ..."on opening the capsule, the aroma of pre-digested satay was prevalent !!"

    He probably looked and felt as gob-smacked as this poor little bird !!

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Went ballistic

    How nice to see the phrase "went ballistic" used literally. :)

  5. Fluffykins Silver badge

    The Moon may be made of green cheese

    But adrenaline is definitely brown.

  6. Anonymous Coward

    That may not be a good thing

    Hopefully the engineering culture at the ex-Soviets has not fallen prey to the same "normalization of deviance" behaviour as exhibited by NASA - i.e. "we might have a problem but we got away with it these two times, so it's probably ok; give me that waiver template". You don't want that descent to become exceedingly steep next time.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Bumpy Landings...

    This makes that slightly bumpy landing I had at Glasgow Airport yesterday seem somewhat inconsequential........

  8. Jonathan Richards

    Gender error at line 51

    Ishkandar wrote:

    He probably looked and felt as gob-smacked as this poor little bird

    The Korean person in question was female. Or were you referring to her as a poor little bird?

  9. hugo tyson

    What's *meant* to happen?

    So what's supposed to happen in an optimal re-entry if it's not "ballistic"? It's not going to be aerodynamic, is it. Should it be the same but with better attitude and course control?

    So long as they avoid lithobraking. (I do like that word....)

  10. Mike Richards Silver badge


    Some of the reports say they pulled 10Gs during their landing.

    The nice thing about Soyuz is that it's a very forgiving design. A normal re-entry should use the capsule's shape to develop some lift and reduce the load on the passengers, but if something goes wrong, the ballistic trajectory ensures that they get home in one piece.

    The modern Soyuz is a relative of the Soviet Soyuz 7K-L1 probes (with the spooky name Zond) sent around the Moon between 1968 and 1970. These were designed to become the first manned missions to pass behind the Moon beating Apollo 8. At the time the Soviets knew they couldn't beat America to the landing, but they could get some publicity for the missions and test their lunar hardware. However,problems with the capsules and the Proton booster caused the manned program to be cancelled.

    One of the problems with Zond was that it had a nasty tendency to make ballistic re-entries in excess of 20Gs.

    That'd be nasty.

    Zond returned some stunning, and rarely seen, images of the Earth and the Moon, you can see a few of them at:

  11. Graham Dawson


    "Hopefully the engineering culture at the ex-Soviets has not fallen prey to the same "normalization of deviance""

    landing off-course and other "deviances" were planned for from a very early point in the Soyuz program. It's why they still carry pistols.

  12. Pyros

    Soviet tech

    Soviet space tech pretty much exemplifies USSR-era ratings--uglier than a peasant woman, but strong enough to withstand a nuclear explosion. (Or so to speak. Chernobyl is a good lesson in the latter parts of USSR, and still is today.)

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Blame it on the crew

    According to a very respected (sic) national broadcasting company, funded by license payers,

    'The crew missed the target because they changed their landing plan at the last minute without telling mission control.'

    Any space experts confirm that the crew can actually change the landing site at will?

  14. ImaGnuber

    G whiz

    Anybody know what G force mushifies the brain? How many Gs to turn you into a smear?

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Yup, Its the crews fault indeed.

    After all, the only thing needed is to wait for the time it takes you to say.. Now and Now... to press the button and you are already way off the mark.

    Then again thats why the soyuz guys have guns.

    Just in case they land in:

    a: Syberia with the wolves.

    b: france.

    *Paris, cos she just can't resist a ballistic entry.

  16. Aubry Thonon


    "During the descent there was some kind of fire outside the Soyuz capsule because we were going through the atmosphere. "

    Let me get this straight - SK's first astronaut was blissfully unaware of the plasma display seen during *all* re-entries? Sheesh!

  17. Anton Ivanov

    @Graham Dawson

    AFAIK they carry pistols after Leonov and his mate made a mistake not to carry some on that disastrous landing which put them in the middle of the Perm woods. More that 1000 km off target. Still, something has to be said for a capsule that can survive reentry while not complete separated from its service module (that is not Soyuz, but its predecessor).

  18. Robert Hill

    @Aubry Thonon

    You must remember, she was the BACKUP Korean astronaut, who went up after the primary candidate disgraced himself during training by removing some "classified" training documents from the training center and brought them back to his dorm to study at night...

    Good marks to the American astronaut, who didn't even blanch when confronted with homespun Russian astrotech...10gs ain't pretty, and even harder for a woman who has been in orbit for a long period of time to deal with. Too bad Danica Patrick got all the press for woman's achievement's this weekend...

  19. Moss Icely Spaceport

    Ballistic Undies!!

    I bet you won't find those spacesuits for sale on eBay

  20. Bloody_Yank
    Thumb Up

    No Thanks

    While I'm always ready for a ride in a F-22 or a trip into orbit ... I'd be scared shit-less riding in any Russian (Soviet) hardware. Especially re-entry ... I'd need a double set of space-diapers.

    Of course thats ironic as we Yanks have only record of re-entry disintegration of a space craft. But that was not due to an engineering failure - but a process / management failure.

    I have to give this lady thumbs-up ........

  21. Bill Fresher

    Bright light

    "During the descent there was some kind of fire outside the Soyuz capsule"

    Sounds like some fool pointed a laser pointer at the thing and almost caused a disaster.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Built like a tank.

    I love Russian engineering- it really exemplifies the Keep it simple philosophy.

    Ive read that most Russian designs allow for part of the capsule to be destroyed to protect its occupants - whereas the US design relies on a complex balance of Aerodynamics & mathematics with little room for error.

    I'd rather be wearing a shell than falling in a clever lego plane especially if something goes wrong.

  23. Matt Piechota
    Dead Vulture

    G to brain-mush conversion table

    For a peak G input, the brain can take upwards of 200G (although there's some question at that point about the integrity of the body). It doesn't mention how long they were at 10G, but it's sure to be unpleasant.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    G force

    It's the heart that suffers - too many Gs and it moves too far inside your chest, tearing some fairly vital blood conduits leading to quite a rapid death.

    In plane crashes, this is the primary cause of death for almost all victims.

  25. oldfartuk
    Thumb Up


    ."on opening the capsule, the aroma of pre-digested satay was prevalent !!"

    I want the number of the Take Away that delivered it in the first place.

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