Soyuz TMA-2 mission at a glance:
Main task: To deliver and return the 7th long-duration crew of the International Space Station, ISS.
Backup launch date:
Previous mission: Soyuz TMA-1
The mission of the Soyuz TMA-2 spacecraft to the International Space Station in the spring of 2003, was intended to be a routine exchange of a rescue vehicle onboard the outpost.
The so-called "taxi crew," would fly Soyuz TMA-2 to the station, spend a week onboard and then parachute back to Earth inside the reentry capsule of the Soyuz TMA-1 spacecraft. The Soyuz TMA-1 served as a "lifeboat" for the crew of the station since the fall of 2002 and safety rules required a replacement of the vehicle with a fresh craft after six months in orbit.
The original Soyuz TMA-2 crew
The Soyuz TMA-2 spacecraft with a "tail" number 212 became the 6th Soyuz to fly to the ISS. The original crew of the Soyuz TMA-2 was typical for a "taxi" mission: a Russian commander, a European researcher and, possibly, a paying passenger.
In the spring of 2001, European Space Agency, ESA, and Russian Aviation and Space Agency, Rosaviacosmos, signed a "frame" agreement on several commercial flights of European astronauts with the taxi crews to the ISS. Under this agreement, ESA astronauts, representing different European countries, would accompany Russian crewmembers during a week-long taxi missions to the ISS.
By the end of 2002, Russian space officials named cosmonaut Gennady Padalka and ESA astronaut Pedro Duque, representing Spain, as the commander and flight engineer, respectively, for the 5th taxi mission to the ISS. The third seat onboard the Soyuz TMA-2 remained available for a highly anticipated "tourist" candidate.
A Chilean candidate
In mid-September 2002, Russian sources reported that an astronaut-candidate from Chili visited Moscow for medical examinations intended to clear him for flight to the International Space Station.
Upon completion of medical tests, Chilean pilot Klaus von Storch was to join a Russian commander and a European flight engineer, training for a week-long mission onboard the Soyuz TMA-2 spacecraft, scheduled for launch to the ISS in April 2003.
A formal agreement for the flight of the Chilean cosmonaut onboard the Russian spacecraft was to be signed in October 2002, during the summit in Moscow between Chilean president Ricardo Lagos and Russian president Vladimir Putin.
However, due to lack of funds, Chilean space dreams had never materialized, and neither had the ambitions of a Russian tycoon, who, reportedly promised to pay for his seat onboard the Soyuz TMA-2.
Impact of the Shuttle tragedy
By the beginning of 2003, Russian space officials realized that no viable candidate had emerged to pay his way onboard the Soyuz TMA-2. "Space tourism boom" trumpeted in the press on both sides of the Atlantic turned out to be another hype.
As a result, Russian officials considered including a trained Russian cosmonaut into the Soyuz TMA-2 crew or even flying a cargo container onboard the spacecraft. All these plans came to an abrupt end on a fateful morning of February 1, 2003.
A tragic loss of the Shuttle Columbia during her voyage home at the end of the STS-107 mission, essentially grounded the US manned space program for the indefinite period of time.
Although the exact impact of the Columbia tragedy on the ISS program was not immediately known; every possible scenario would require Russia to play an active role in the project in the foreseeable future.
The Shuttle fleet could be grounded from several months to several years, requiring the Russian Soyuz spacecraft to return the current crew of the International Space Station to Earth, or to replace it with a fresh shift of astronauts and cosmonauts. In addition, the Russian Progress cargo ships had to play an increased role in resupplying the station.
During a press conference on February 1, NASA officials said that the station crew had enough supplies onboard until June 2003. In the past, Russian space officials said that the station had capability to fly unmanned for prolonged periods of time.
Prior to Columbia tragedy, a number of US politicians and "analysts" of all sorts criticized NASA for letting Russia into "the critical path" in the ISS project. The Columbia tragedy underscored how shortsighted this criticism has been, as the Russian participation turned out to be the only factor, which prevented the station from plunging back to Earth. Moreover, the international nature of the ISS program became a major driving force behind the effort to resume Shuttle missions.
New mission for Soyuz TMA-2
On April 1, 2003, or exactly two months after the loss of Columbia, NASA officially confirmed that had been known for weeks -- a veteran Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko (Col., Russian Air Force) and veteran NASA astronaut Ed Lu have been named as the primary crew for the planned April 26, 2003, launch of the Russian Soyuz TMA-2 spacecraft to the International Space Station.
At the time of the Shuttle accident, Malenchenko and Lu, along with the Russian cosmonaut Alexander Kaleri had been in training as the 7th long-duration crew of the ISS. The trio was scheduled to blast off toward the ISS onboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis on March 1, 2003. In the wake of the Columbia tragedy, Kaleri was bumped from the ISS-7 crew to save resources onboard the station. Instead, Kaleri and his NASA colleague, astronaut Michael Foale, were named the backup crewmembers to the primary ISS-7 crew.
The 7th expedition onboard the ISS was planned for 185 days and it could be replaced by a fresh crew arriving onboard the Soyuz TMA-3 spacecraft in October 2003.
Preparations for launch
On April 15, 2003, Russian space officials in Baikonur Cosmodrome green light to irreversible operations in the pre-launch processing of the Soyuz TMA-2 spacecraft, including loading of the toxic propellant components onboard the craft. The operation was conducted on April 16.
Two days later, the Soyuz TMA-2 was integrated with its transfer ring, which provides interface with the launch vehicle, and on April 20, the spacecraft was covered with its payload fairing.
On the same day the members of the 7th expedition to the ISS and their backup crew arrived to Baikonur.
In accordance with 45-year old tradition, the rollout of the Soyuz spacecraft to the pad was scheduled for the early morning hours, two days before launch.
On April 24, 2003, at 5:00 a.m. Moscow Time, (7:00 a.m. local) the transporter with the Soyuz FG launch vehicle and the Soyuz TMA-2 spacecraft left the assembly building at Site-2 in Baikonur and arrived to the launch pad at Site-1 for the final pre-launch processing.
The launch and docking
The successful launch of the Soyuz TMA-2 (No. 212) spacecraft took place at 7:53:52 Moscow Time on April 26, 2003.
After a two-day autonomous flight, the Soyuz TMA-2 successfully docked to the nadir (Earth-facing) docking port of the station's Zarya FGB module at 09:56:20 Moscow Time on April 28. One hour and twenty minutes later transfer hatches separating the station and the Soyuz spacecraft had been opened and two crews reunited onboard the ISS.
Soyuz TMA-2 returns to Earth
After arrival of the eight expedition to the station in October 2003 and a week of handover operations, the seventh crew of the ISS and the European visiting researcher, boarded the Soyuz TMA-2 spacecraft and undocked from the station's Zarya module at 02:17 Moscow Time on October 28, 2003.
According to Russian officials, shortly before undocking, an erroneous command onboard the Soyuz TMA-2 apparently activated its thrusters, which disrupted the attitude control of the ISS and required unplanned maneuvers to counteract the change in the orientation of the outpost, which reached as much as 25 degrees.
At 04:47 Moscow Time on October 28, the Soyuz TMA-2 initiated a braking maneuver, which lasted four minutes and 17 seconds. The separation of the habitation and service modules from the reentry capsule took place around 05:14 Moscow Time, RKK Energia said. According to NASA, a braking parachute was released around 9:25 p.m. EST (Oct. 27). Russian search and rescue personnel reached the reentry capsule safely on the ground shortly before 10 p.m. EST on October 27, 2003. (It was October 28, 2003 Moscow and Kazakhstan time.)
According to RKK Energia, the touchdown took place at 05:40 Moscow Time 38 kilometers from the town of Arkalyk in Kazakhstan (49.55 degrees N and 66.57 degrees E). The Soyuz TMA-2 and its crew logged 185 days in space.
In the wake of the problems with search operations during the landing of the Soyuz TMA-1 spacecraft in May 2003, Russia requested and received permission from Kazakhstan to restrict larger areas of airspace around the landing zone. Extra backup search and rescue resources were reportedly allocated for the Soyuz TMA-2 landing. As many as 13 helicopters and four planes participated in the operation.
Next mission: Soyuz TMA-3
Cosmonaut Yuri I. Malenchenko (foreground), Expedition 7 commander; and astronaut Edward T. Lu , NASA ISS science officer and flight engineer, practice in a Soyuz TMA simulator as part of their training at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia. Credit: NASA
RKK Energia technicians lower the Soyuz TMA-2 spacecraft into horizontal position, prior to covering the ship with its protective fairing. Credit: RKK Energia
The Soyuz TMA-2 blasts off. Credit: RKK Energia
The view of the International Space Station through the camera of the approaching Soyuz TMA-2 spacecraft. Credit: RKK Energia