Site news

Site map


About this site

About the author




Previous mission: Soyuz TMA-10

Bookmark and Share

The mission of the Soyuz TMA-11 spacecraft, taking off in the fall of 2007 had a goal of delivering and returning the 16th long-duration crew to the International Space Station. The launch was scheduled for October 10, 2007, at 17:22:33 Moscow Summer Time.

Expedition 16 crews:

Name Status
Primary crew
Peggy A. Whitson Commander NASA  
Yuri Malenchenko Flight Engineer; Soyuz commander Roskosmos  
Daniel M. Tani Flight Engineer NASA Joins Expedition 16 in progress, arriving with the Shuttle Discovery during mission STS-120. Returns onboard Atlantis during the STS-122 mission.
Léopold Eyharts Flight Engineer ESA (France) Joins Expedition 16 as a flight engineer after launching to the station aboard space shuttle Atlantis on mission STS-122.
Garrett E. Reisman Flight Engineer NASA Flies to the station aboard space shuttle Endeavour on STS-123 and join Expedition 16 as a flight engineer. He will also stay aboard the station to join Expedition 17.
Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor Spaceflight participant Malaysia Launched with Expedition 16 and lands with Expedition 15.
So-yeon Yi Spaceflight participant South Korea Launched with Expedition 17 and lands with Expedition 16.
Backup crew
Salizhan Sharipov Commander Roskosmos -
Michael Fink Flight Engineer NASA -
Faiz Ben Khalid Spaceflight participant Malaysia -

A formal contract for the mission of a Malasiyan cosmonaut onboard the Russian spacecraft was signed on September 29, 2006. At the time, training of Malaysian candidates was expected to start within days. According to the Russian press, the Russian government offered to fly a Malaysian citizen into space to "sweeten a deal," calling for the purchase of Russian fighter jets by the Malaysian Air Force.

According to the Russian space agency, total 48 experiments were planned during Expedition 16. The Soyuz TMA-11 was scheduled to return to Earth in Spring 2008.

Expedition 16 milestones (as of October 2007):

Oct. 10, 17:22:14 Moscow Summer Time: Soyuz FG to launch Soyuz TMA-11 from Baikonur toward the ISS. (Delayed from Aug. 27 - Sept. 2 period; advanced from Oct. 6). Docking was expected on October 12, 2007.

Oct. 21: Soyuz TMA-10, carrying members of Expedition 15 and a Malaysian astronaut, to undock from the Zvezda service module and to land.

Oct. 23: The Launch of Discovery on the STS-120/10A mission.

Oct. 25: Discovery to dock to ISS' Pressurized Mating Adapter-2 (PMA-2). Anderson and Tani swap places as Expedition 16 crewmembers.

Oct. 26: The Harmony Node 2 module to be unloaded from the Discovery cargo bay and installed on the port side of Unity Node 1.

Nov. 1: US EVA 9 (spacewalk) to be conducted by Whitson and Malenchenko, while Discovery is still docked to the ISS.

Nov. 3: Discovery to undock from ISS' PMA-2 module.

Nov. 5: PMA-2 to be relocated from forward end of the Destiny lab module to the forward end of Harmony Node 2.

Nov. 7: A combination of Harmony Node 2/PMA-2 to be relocated from port side of Unity Node 1 to forward end of Destiny lab module.

Nov. 13: USA EVA 10 (spacewalk) to be conducted by Whitson and Tani to hook up connections between the Harmony Node 2 module and the Destiny lab module.

Nov. 17: USA EVA 11 (spacewalk) to be conducted by Whitson and Tani to hook up connections between the Harmony Node 2 module and the Destiny lab module.

Nov. 20: The ISS crew to enter the Harmony Node 2 module from inside the station and initiate the outfitting of the newly arrived element of the station.

Dec. 6: NASA Shuttle Atlantis to be launched for STS-122/1E mission.

Dec. 8: Atlantis to dock to ISS' PMA-2 module.

Dec. 9: The ESA's Columbus module to be installed to starboard docking port of the Harmony Node 2 module. Tani and Eyharts to swap places as Expedition 16 crew members.

Dec. 15: Atlantis to undock from PMA-2.

Dec 22: The Progress cargo ship (Mission P26) to undock from Pirs docking compartment.

Dec 23: The Progress cargo ship (Mission P27) to launch toward the ISS.

Dec 25: Progress to dock to ISS


Jan. 31: The ATV Jules Verne cargo ship to be launched toward ISS

Feb. 6: Progress (Mission 27P) to undock from ISS's Pirs docking compartment.

Feb. 7: Progress (Mission 28P) to launch toward ISS.

Feb. 9: Progress to dock to ISS

Feb. 10: ATV Demo Day 1

Feb. 12: ATV Demo Day 2

Feb. 14: NASA Shuttle Endeavour to launch for the STS-123/1J-A mission.

Feb. 16: Endeavour to dock to ISS' PMA-2; Eyharts and Reisman swap places as Expedition 16 crew members.

Feb. 17: Japanese Experiment Logistics Module-Pressurized Section (ELM-PS) to be installed on the zenith port of the Harmony Node 2 module.

Feb. 27: Endeavour to undock from PMA-2

March 3: ATV to dock to the aft docking port of the Zvezda service module of ISS.

April 4: ATV to undock from ISS.

April 7: Progress (Mission 28P) to undock from Pirs docking compartment.

April 8: The Soyuz TMA-12 spacecraft, carrying Expedition 17 and a tourist to launch toward ISS.

Preflight processing

2007 Oct. 3: At Site 254 in Baikonur, engineers of RKK Energia conducted final inspections of the Soyuz TMA-11 spacecraft and placed the vehicle inside the payload fairing of the Soyuz-FG rocket.

2007 Oct. 5: At Site 254 in Baikonur, a primary crew conducted a second training session inside the flight-ready Soyuz TMA-11 spacecraft.

2007 Oct. 8: The Soyuz-FG rocket with the Soyuz TMA-11 spacecraft was rolled out from the assembly building at Site 112 to the launch pad at Site 1 in Baikonur Cosmodrome.


2007 Oct. 10:Russia sent the 16th long-duration crew for a half-a-year shift onboard the International Space Station.

The Soyuz FG rocket carrying the Soyuz TMA-11 spacecraft, lifted off from the launch pad at Site 1 in Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Oct. 10, 2007, at 17:22:14 Moscow Summer Time.

Onboard is a crew of three, including Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko, NASA astronaut Peggy A. Whitson, and a citizen of Malaysia Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, flying under an agreement with the Russian space agency, Roskosmos.

After a nine-minute powered flight, Soyuz TMA-11 had reached the orbit and all its elements were successfully deployed, mission control in Korolev said. On October 10, the spacecraft was scheduled to conduct two engine firings at 12:00 and 12:45 p.m. Houston in order to adjust its orbit. Two more orbital manuevers were scheduled for October 11, 2007.

After a two-day autonomous flight, Soyuz TMA-11 successfully docked to the station on October 12, 2007, at 18:50:07 Moscow Time.


2008 April 19: In preparation for landing, the Soyuz TMA-11 undocked from the station on April 19, 2008, at 09:06:27 Moscow Time (05:06 GMT, 1:06 a.m. EDT). The braking engine firing was initiated at 11:40:46 Moscow Time and was expected to last 258.3 seconds.

Onboard Soyuz TMA-11 were Yuri Malenchenko and Peggy Whitson, members of the Expedition 16 to the International Space Station and the Korean scientist So-yeon Yi, flying under the commercial agreement between Russia and South Korea. Malenchenko and Whitson spent 192 days in space. So-yeon Yi launched to the station April 8, 2008, with the Expedition 17 crew.

As it transpired after the touchdown, at the initial phase of descent, the reentry capsule of the Soyuz TMA-11 spacecraft switched to a ballistic trajectory, which is steeper than a nominal landing, when the flight control system is capable of taking advantage of the capsule's aerodynamic properties. The ballistic reentry trajectory increases G-forces experienced by the crew, however the acceleration should remain well within acceptable limits even for an untrained person.

As a result of the ballistic descent, the Soyuz TMA-11 touched down short of its intended landing zone, Anatoly Perminov, the head of the Russian space agency, Roskosmos, said at the post-landing press-conference. Perminov was also quoted as saying that the crew had not reported about the switch to the ballistic descent mode, leading to delays on the ground. According to Perminov, officials learned about the off-target landing from the crew of the aircraft, which, was assigned to "cover" a ballistic trajectory, however this information came too late for the recovery crews to arrive to the right spot ahead of the landing. As it transpired later, the aircraft detected the radio beacon of the crew capsule, which activated nominally eight minutes after the touchdown, using one onboard and one heat-shield antennas deployed after the landing. Pilots followed the radio beacon and then saw signs of fire near the landing site.

According to NASA, the Soyuz TMA-11 touchdown away from the planned site delayed the arrival of the recovery crews by approximately 45 minutes.

According to the RIA-Novosti news agency, the Soyuz TMA-11 landed near the Russian city of Orsk, which is 420 kilometers away from the nominal landing site near the town of Arkalyk in Kazakhstan. NASA announced that landing took place "around" 4:30 a.m. EDT on Saturday, April 19, 2008. The scheduled landing time was 12:31 Moscow Time (4:31 a.m. EDT).

Journalists who arrived to the landing site with the rescuers photographed extensive grass fires near the capsule. They also reported that the capsule's parachute was burning as well.

Speaking at the post-landing press-conference in Star City, on Monday, April 21, Yuri Malenchenko said that the late arrival of the rescue team did not pose any danger to the crew, because they "were not dying and needed no rescue." Exhausted crew members, still in their entry suits, started climbing out of their spacecraft. By that time, stunned local residents reached their capsule (several cars were seen on the photos of the landing site).


Malenchenko was apparently first to get out of the capsule, he and the locals then helped his crewmates to get out as well. Cosmonauts asked their unexpected helpers to reach inside their reentry capsule to remove a telephone and GPS gear. Malenchenko was then able to call the search coordination center and confirm a safe landing. At the time, rescue helicopters were already heading toward the landing site based on the coordinates provided by the search aircraft.

This was the third landing of the Soyuz spacecraft in the ballistic descent mode in the past five years. The Soyuz TMA-1 mission in 2003 and the Soyuz TMA-10 mission in 2007 also ended with a ballistic descent.

The Soyuz TMA-11 planned landing sequence on April 19, 2008, according to Roskosmos (Moscow Summer Time):

Hatch closing between the spacecraft and the station 06:03
Undocking 09:03:30+3
Deorbit engine burn activation 11:40:42
Separation of the reentry capsule from the habitation and service modules 12:04:37
Parachute release 12:16:07
Touchdown 12:30:45

Source: crew faced danger during landing

The landing of the Soyuz TMA-11 spacecraft on April 19, 2008, could end in a catastrophe, sources told Russia's semi-official Interfax news agency on April 22.

Quoting an industry official close to the investigation of the off-nominal landing, Interfax said that during its initial plunge into the Earth atmosphere, the crew module of the Soyuz spacecraft was flying with its entry hatch first, instead of exposing its thermal shield at the bottom of the vehicle to the heat of reentry. As a result, the hatch experienced a considerable heat damage, which could potentially lead to the loss of pressure inside the capsule. In addition, an external portion of the valve, which equalizes pressure between the interior and the exterior of the module was also damaged, along with the communications antenna, which left the crew without contact with the ground.

Although all Soyuz crew members wear safety pressure suits, which designed to protect them in case of depressurization, further melting in the front section of the reentry module could potentially damage nearby parachute containers, leading to the loss of the crew.

It was not immediately clear what caused wrong orientation of the capsule during landing, however the failure of the propulsion module to separate completely from the crew module was suspected. During the separation, multiple connectors between two sections of the spacecraft should be activated. In 1969, two modules of the Soyuz-5 spacecraft failed to completely separate from each other, preventing the ship's flight control system from placing the capsule into the correct attitude for reentry. Following thermal and aerodynamic loads of the reentry eventually tore two modules apart, thus allowing the crew capsule to obtain the correct attitude. Cosmonaut Boris Volynov, who piloted Soyuz-5, was injured but survived a very rough touchdown.

The investigation

On April 22, 2008, Bill Gerstenmaier, chief of space operations at NASA, told reporters that the cause of the problem during the landing of the Soyuz TMA-11 was still unknown. Yet, he provided several new details about the incident:

  • Malenchenko and Whitson reported unusual buffeting, jarring and shaking before entering the ballistic descent, likely confirming previous reports that the propulsion module may not have detached properly.
  • Malenchenko did report some signs of smoke inside the Soyuz spacecraft during reentry and powered down a display panel at times. The source of the smoke was unknown.

Later on the same day, NASA released a post-landing audio report by Peggy Whitson, giving eyewitness details about the descent. "Shortly after (separation of the crew capsule and the propulsion module) we switched automatically to the ballistic mode, which means we were going to be spinning up to 8 Gs and coming in on a steeper descent... I saw 8.2 Gs on the meter."

By April 23, 2008, the reentry capsule of the Soyuz TMA-11 had been delivered to RKK Energia's facilities in Podlipki. According to unofficial reports, preliminary examination of the capsule confirmed more extensive heat damage, however not to the point of a catastrophic failure.

Although Russian officials remained silent, on April 25, 2008, another report on the Novosti Kosmonavtiki web forum confirmed that the PAO service module failed to separate from the reentry capsule. Some 55 seconds after entering the upper atmosphere, the automated flight control system switched from aerodynamic to the ballistic mode of reentry upon the formation of the "Oshibka orientatsii" (attitude control error) command. (With the PAO module still attached to the crew capsule, the correct orientation was not possible.)

Some 100 seconds after the beginning of the reentry, the PAO module finally tore off from the crew capsule.

The reentry capsule and apparently a loosely attached PAO were flying its entry hatch first, but with a slight tilt, which exposed the belly of the reentry capsule. As a result, a small gondola on the belly of the capsule, housing a pitch attitude control thrusters burned through, possibly becoming a source of smoke, which made its way inside the cabin and was reported by the crew. Fortunately, it happened late in the descent, when the loss of pressure was not as critical.

Although at the time of the report, the engine had not been yet removed from the vehicle, its preliminary examination revealed holes in thermal insulation of the capsule. In the meantime, the examination of the hatch showed that its integrity was not breached, even though it suffered more extensive heating than usual.

Possible separation system failure

At the time, a failure of pyrotechnic devices in the PAO module separation system was suspected as the most probable culprit in the incident. However, the overload of the power supply system, which failed to deliver necessary electric current to the pyrotechnic devices was also suggested. Each connecting lock between the modules is attached via a dual pyrotechnic charge. According to unofficial reports both charges on the culprit lock failed to fire. Also, telemetry reportedly showed lack of electrical current on both pyro-devices in one of the separation locks.

In the aftermath of the Soyuz TMA-11's botched landing, the assembly of the next Soyuz vehicle (Production No. 223) was stopped, until the root cause of the problem was found. At the same time, an unmanned landing of the Soyuz TMA-12 spacecraft, currently in orbit, was under consideration. The ship's move from the Pirs docking compartment to the nadir port of the FGB control module, originally scheduled for May 7, 2008, was also under review. In case of the failure to dock to the new location on the station, the crew of the Soyuz TMA-12 would have to land, something, which had to be avoided until the investigation of the Soyuz TMA-11 landing is completed.

So-yeon Yi health problems

On April 29, 2008, reports came from South Korea that So-yeon Yi was hospitalized at the Aerospace Medical Center in Cheongju, North Chungcheong with back pain previous morning. One source described So-yeon Yi symptoms as "severe pain in her waist." According to the Korean media, So-yeon's face was expressing pain on April 28, as her mother hugged her at Inchon International Airport. At the time, bodyguards were helping her walk.

It wasn't immediately clear if the pain was a result of a trauma during landing, however Gagarin Training Center in Star City, was quick to announce that a post-flight medical examination of So-yeon at the facility hadn't found any problems and she had no complaints about her health. As a result, she was allowed to leave Russia for South Korea on April 27, Star City said.

In the meantime, a meeting of So-yeon Yi with South-Korean President Lee Myung-bak scheduled for April 28 was cancelled, South-Korean media said.

On April 30, France Press news agency quoted a hospital director colonel Jung Kee-Young as saying that Yi was suffering from mild dislocation and bruising of the vertebrae. Jung said that injuries were "not severe and did not pose a serious health risk."

According to the transcript of the interview with So-yeon Yi which was also released on April 30, she experienced much higher G-forces during the descent than she had expected. She also mentioned that at least one alarm light was on in the cabin.

"I'm pretty good when it comes to dealing with pain. Usually I can get by with a little 'ouch.' But at the time of the landing I couldn't help but scream out," So-yeon Yi said, "I thought that this is how I might die..."

So-yeon Yi also said that a manual and a bag fell on her, apparently as the crew capsule hit the ground. She said she ended up at the very bottom of the cabin (after the touchdown), perhaps an indication that the capsule landed on the side, where So-yeon was.

Soyuz TMA-11 landing through the eyes of outsiders

Although rescue helicopters often manage to document Soyuz landings, the Soyuz TMA-11 apparently made a rare touchdown, which was actually witnessed by people on the ground from a relatively short distance.

On April 24, Almira Alishbaeva of the Kazakh publication Diapazon published a remarkable account of the landing by the members of the Shalkar agricultural community based in the town of Kumkuduk in the Aitekibiysky Region of Kazakhstan. According to Zhalgaskan Shurenov, the head of the community, on April 19, he and his brigade went to their fields to prepare them for planting seeds.

Around 1 p.m. workers stopped for lunch:

"Suddenly, there was a boom in the sky and the black smoke appeared," Shurenov said, "It was like the aircraft exploded. It split into three parts in the sky (perhaps a reference to the heat shield separation) and one of them started descending under a white cupola. It looked like somebody was coming down on a parachute. Object was flying in our direction and soon landed around three kilometers from us."

Shurenov and several tractor drivers took UAZ and ZIL trucks and headed toward the landing site:

"On the ground there was a black apparatus, which looked like a pot. A moment we approached there was a boom. We jumped back. Immediately, a cover, which looked like a fry pan flew off and an antenna jumped out. The apparatus was so hot that ground started burning. We were waiting what would happen next. Then a man fell out of the pot. He was in the cosmonaut outfit. As we approached we could read "Yuri Malenchenko." "We are cosmonauts," he told us, neither his hands or feet were moving. He was pale and sweaty. We put him on the ground, gave a pillow under his head, while he asked to get others out. There were two women. I carried in my hands Peggy (Whitson) and So-yeon Yi, who appeared from the capsule. The American removed her glove and shook my hand. I said that this is Kazakhstan, Aitekibisky Region, but she did not understand Russian. Neither did So-yeon Yi, so I mostly communicated with Malenchenko. He asked us to take some gadget out of the capsule. The capsule was very small, while all our guys were huge. We picked the skinniest in our brigade -- Kanat Kydyralin -- he pulled the radio and some other electronic device.

Sometimes later the aircraft appeared in the sky. On the radio, we heard that cosmonauts landed safely, local people were helping them."

Upon realization that they can't document the event, Shurenov sent one of his workers to Kumkuduk, some 15 kilometers away. From there many townsfolk set out to see cosmonauts, some even walked. Locals still managed to take still photos and even a 15-minute video at the site. Some of the images were taken by Shurenov's grandson, Abai Duisenov, a fifth grader.

According to Shurenov, seven helicopters arrived to the landing site. Soon after professional rescuers landed, the site was cordoned off and local people were no longer allowed to approach cosmonauts or the crew. Radiation was quoted as one of the reasons for the restrictions to the landing site.

Next mission: Soyuz TMA-12

Bookmark and Share

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

All rights reserved



Soyuz TMA-11

The Soyuz TMA-11 spacecraft during pre-launch processing in Baikonur at the beginning of October 2007. Credit: Roskosmos

Soyuz TMA-11 fairing

Soyuz TMA-11 hidden under a payload fairing of the launch vehicle during the installation on the launch pad. Credit: Roskosmos

launch of Soyuz TMA-11

Soyuz TMA11

Launch of Soyuz TMA-11

Launch of Soyuz TMA-11 on Oct. 10, 2007. Credit: NASA TV

Soyuz TMA-11 staging

Soyuz TMA-11 staging

Soyuz TMA-11 staging

Four boosters of the first stage are seen as bright spots shortly after their separation from the core stage of the Soyuz FG rocket. Credit: NASA TV

Soyuz TMA-11 crew

Soyuz TMA-11 crew

Crew of Soyuz TMA-11 during a ride to orbit on Oct. 10, 2007. Credit: NASA TV

Soyuz TMA-11 docking

Soyuz TMA-11 (left) docked to the station. The Progress cargo ship can be seen on right. Credit: NASA TV


Very first images of the Soyuz TMA-11 crew after landing showed So-yeon Yi on the foreground, greeting its worrying relatives in the Korolev mission control. Credit: NASA TV

Soyuz TMA-11 landing

The reentry capsule of the Soyuz TMA-11 at the landing site. Credit: NASA TV

Soyuz TMA-11 crew

The crew of the Soyuz TMA-11 spacecraft at the post-landing press-conference in Star City in April 2008. Click to enlarge. Credit: Odi Busman via Jakob Terweij

Soyuz TMA-11 reentry

The configuration of the Soyuz TMA-11 during its troubled reentry on April 19, 2008. The pitch thruster assembly, which was damaged during the reentry, can be seen right below a circular entry hatch. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak

Soyuz TMA-11

Artist rendering of the Soyuz TMA-11 reentry showing the spacecraft seconds after the separation of the SA reentry capsule and the PAO propulsion module. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak

Soyuz TMA-11

Artist rendering of the Soyuz TMA-11 reentry showing the spacecraft seconds after the separation of the SA reentry capsule and the PAO propulsion module. Note the reentry capsule flying its hatch first. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak

Soyuz TMA-11 landing site map

Estimated landing site of the Soyuz TMA-11 spacecraft based on local press reports. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak