Sunday, October 25, 2009

June 2002, Flight Journal - "Soyuz 5's Flaming Return":

As the spaceship fell back into the atmosphere, he heard grinding as the deceleration stresses built up. The ship was slowly tumbling end over end, exposing all of its surface to the growing fireball. Then it stabilized with its nose forward, which was exactly the wrong orientation possible because that part of the capsule's skin was the thinnest. In the top area, there was only an inch of insulation, compared to the 6 inches along the bottom, and during a normal reentry three inches of that was expected to burn away.

Volynov lost radio contact with the ground. He heard and felt the explosions of the equipment module's overheated fuel tanks, and from his seat, he watched the overhead exit hatch bulge inwards under the head-on blast of air. The rubber seal on the hatch began to smoke. As flames seared his cabin walls, he watched as smoke from the singed insulation filled the descent module. Since he didn't have a space suit to wear, he could feel the heat against his unprotected skin. His body strained upwards against restraining straps as it tried to fall "down" onto the steaming hatch. Concluding that he only had seconds to live, he grabbed his logbook, tore out the most recent pages, and stuffed them deeply inside his jacket. By some chance, he thought, they might escape full incineration.