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Previous mission: Soyuz TM-33

During manned missions onboard the International Space Station, a three-seat Soyuz spacecraft plays a role of a rescue vehicle for the crew of the outpost.

The onboard resources and properties of propellant loaded in the Soyuz's reentry capsule limit safe operation of the craft in space by six months. Since at least one Soyuz had to be docked to the International Space Station constantly to provide emergency escape for the three-person resident crew, Russia committed to fly a fresh Soyuz to the ISS every six months to replace its predecessor. Missions to replace the Soyuz at the station became known as "taxi" flights.

The Soyuz TM-34 crew

The Soyuz spacecraft with a "tail" number 208 became the 4th spacecraft of this type to fly to the ISS. It was scheduled to replace the Soyuz TM-33, which arrived to the station in November 2001.

In the spring 2001, European Space Agency, ESA, and Russian Aviation and Space Agency, Rosaviacosmos, signed an "frame" agreement on several commercial flights of European astronauts with the taxi crews to the ISS. The crew including Russian commander Yuri Gidzenko and a researcher from European Space Agency Roberto Vittori, representing Italy started active training for the taxi mission to the ISS in the summer of 2001.

Vittori was scheduled to conduct a series of four experiments, including those studying the influence of space rays on the human body, as well as to test a new blood pressure monitor.

Around the same time, a 28-year-old South-African Internet tycoon Mark Shuttleworth joined the Soyuz TM-34 crew, as a second space tourist after the US millionaire Dennis Tito. Shuttleworth completed his initial training in Russia in September 2001.

After somewhat difficult negotiations, in December 2001, Shuttleworth and the Russian Space Agency agreed on the conditions of a contract for his flight. Shuttleworth reportedly dropped his demand to extend the duration of the Soyuz taxi mission beyond standard 10 days, as well as the demand for another free-of-charge flight, in case his first mission fails to reach the ISS.

In the meantime, NASA and other ISS partners suddenly reversed their objections to the tourist missions, which soured their relationship with Rosaviacosmos on the eve of the Dennis Tito's flight in April 2001. At the beginning of 2002, NASA welcomed Shuttleworth at Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX, for a training on the US segment of the ISS.

Shuttleworth, who preferred not to call himself a "tourist," made an effort to emphasize educational and scientific importance of his mission. He volunteered to conduct medical and scientific experiments for a university in South Africa. In live interview with CNN in April 2002, Shuttleworth said that NASA agreed to provide facilities onboard the US segment of the ISS for some of his work.

Shuttleworth also actively promoted space flight in his native country. On the eve of the Soyuz TM-34 launch, South-African press dedicated unprecedented amount of attention to his mission in to space flight in general.

The Soyuz TM-34 mission

On April 5, 2002, a Russian interagency commission officially certified the Soyuz TM-34 crew for the mission to the ISS and three men left Star City for Baikonur on April 19, 2002.

In accordance with the old tradition in the early hours of the morning, two days before launch, a locomotive rolled out the Soyuz launch vehicle with the Soyuz TM-34 spacecraft to the launch pad Number 5 at Site 1 in Baikonur.

On April 25, 2002, at 12:26 local time (10:26 Moscow Time), the Soyuz TM-34 spacecraft, carrying a Russian commander Yuri Gidzenko, an Italian researcher Roberto Vittori and a South-African tourist cosmonaut Mark Shuttleworth blasted off from Site 1 in Baikonur Cosmodrome.

Shuttleworth became a second space tourist, after a US millionaire Dennis Tito, who made his flight a year ago.

The crew was expected to spend about one week onboard the ISS and return to Earth onboard the Soyuz TM-33 spacecraft, currently docked to the station.

The Soyuz TM-34 spacecraft successfully docked to the nadir docking port of the Zarya module of the ISS at 7:56 GMT, on April 27, 2002, as the two vehicles flew over Central Asia.

After eight days onboard the station, the taxi crew had returned to Earth onboard the Soyuz TM-33 spacecraft.

This was the last mission of the Soyuz TM spacecraft. Later in 2002, Russia was to introduce the Soyuz TMA spacecraft (where "A" stands for "anthropometric"). The TMA version will feature a number of upgrades, most of which are aimed to reduce the limitations on the height of the crewmembers, who can fly the vehicle.

End of mission for Soyuz TM-34

The Soyuz TM-34 spacecraft remained docked to the ISS until November 2002. After eight days onboard the station, the fourth taxi crew boarded the Soyuz TM-34 spacecraft, which then undocked from the nadir port of the Zarya control module of the ISS on Saturday, November 9, 2002 at 23:44 Moscow Time (2044 GMT).

The braking engine of the Soyuz spacecraft was fired at 02:09:49 Moscow Time on November 10. The burn lasted for 4 minutes 39 seconds, as the craft descended from 419.7 kilometers to 411.6 kilometers.

The reentry capsule with the crew then jettisoned from the habitation module and the instrument module of the Soyuz spacecraft and at 02:37:49 Moscow Time at the altitude of 101 kilometers reentered the atmosphere. At 02:46:58, at the altitude of 40 kilometers, the crew experienced maximum 4g acceleration.

The parachute system of the reentry capsule was activated at 02:49:20 at the altitude of 10.7 kilometers.

The reentry capsule of the Soyuz TM-34 spacecraft landed safely some 100 kilometers northeast of the town of Arkaluk in Kazakhstan on November 10 at 03:04:20 Moscow Time (0004 GMT).

At the post-flight press-conference, the crew members said that night conditions and strong winds during landing prevented them from seeing the ground before the touchdown and the firing of the braking engines came very suddenly. Despite hard landing, everybody onboard was feeling fine, they said.

Next mission: Soyuz TMA-1

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This page is maintained by Anatoly Zak; Last update: May 5, 2012







The Soyuz launcher with the Soyuz TM-34 spacecraft on the launch pad in Baikonur. Credit: RKK Energia

The crew of the Soyuz TM-34 spacecraft greets photographers on the launch pad Number 5, before boarding their spacecraft. Credit: RKK Energia

The launch of the Soyuz TM-34 spacecraft. Credit: RKK Energia