Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A while back in Russia...Pt.3

 Russia - Mir Launch - Normand Thagard
Today's adventure starts out with a view from the hotel/barracks window as I woke on this very cold morning. I'm not sure if they are ice fishing or simply retrieving the water buckets so we can flush our toilets....
The agenda today is is to attend a press conference with the cosmonauts and media that are present for the launch and then we'll be off to take a tour of all of the launch facilities and hangers.

Russia - Mir Launch - Normand Thagard
The media frenzy at the press conference with the cosmonauts as everyone is jockeying for the best angle as they enter the room on the other side of the glass window. At this point the cosmonauts are under quarantine since the launch is only a couple days away.

Russia - Mir Launch - Normand Thagard
Research Cosmonaut Dr. Norman Thagard, Commander Vladimir Nikolayevich Dezhurov, and Flight Engineer Gennadi Mikhailovich Strekalov.

Russia - Mir Launch - Normand Thagard 
In this shot backup cosmonauts Flight Engineer Nikolai Mikhailovich Budarin and American Research Cosmonaut Bonnie Dunbar are seated to the left of the primary crew.

Russia - Mir Launch - Normand Thagard
Russia - Mir Launch - Normand Thagard
The obligatory "thumbs up" from the crew.

After the press conference it was time for lunch which I honestly don't remember but I'm sure it consisted of borscht and possibly some unidentifiable meat along with a shot of vodka to wash it down with. With lunch over with it was time to go on the launch pad tours so we piled into the van and headed out. This place really is a sprawling complex with many roads and intersections that appeared to lead to nowhere.
Russia - Mir Launch - Normand Thagard
If my crude notes from the time are correct, this is the roadside marker indicating the turnoff to launchpad 1 or Yuri Gagarin's launch pad.
Russia - Mir Launch - Normand Thagard
The roadside marker and launch pad for the Proton "Heavy-Lift" rockets.
Russia - Mir Launch - Normand Thagard
Russia's VAB or Vertical Assembly Building.
But why you may ask would Russia need a VAB if they transport their rockets to the launchpad by rail in a horizontal configuration? Well, you may remember yesterday that I hinted the Russia space program had many similarities to ours. They also had a space shuttle program very, very, some would say eerily similar to ours.
Russia - Mir Launch - Normand Thagard
Just looking at the roadside marker you might think we have been magically transported back to Florida but the answer is NO, we are still in Kazakhstan and this is the launch site for Russia's Buran space shuttle.
Russia - Mir Launch - Normand Thagard
On our drive up to one of the buildings I spot this just sitting out in an open field. I learn that this is the mock-up to their shuttle that only flew in the atmosphere to test aerodynamics. Again, very similar to our program and the shuttle Enterprise that only flew from the back of the 747 as a test model.
Russia - Mir Launch - Normand Thagard
As we near the facility the immense size of this building becomes more apparent. Outside sits the crawler that transported the shuttle Buran to the launch pad several miles away.
Russia - Mir Launch - Normand Thagard
We are given an opportunity to jump up on the crawler and pose for a photo. At this point I realize just how sad this portion of their program has become. The crawler sits outside along with their "Enterprise" exposed to the harsh tundra weather and it is clearly taking its toll. Rust can be seen forming at every rivet and joint.
Russia - Mir Launch - Normand Thagard
Once inside the huge building we are treated to a really up close an personal tour of the one actual Buran Space Shuttle that has flown in space.
Russia - Mir Launch - Normand Thagard
Russia - Mir Launch - Normand Thagard
Russia - Mir Launch - Normand Thagard
 Russia - Mir Launch - Normand Thagard
Russia - Mir Launch - Normand Thagard
Russia - Mir Launch - Normand Thagard
Russia - Mir Launch - Normand Thagard Russia - Mir Launch - Normand Thagard
Hey that's me standing under the shuttle! Even inside this hanger it was freezing cold. I have never experienced cold like I did on this trip and that includes standing atop Kilimanjaro! Of course I wasn't nearly as prepared for this trip as you can see I'm wearing jeans and a relatively lightweight leather jacket instead of snow pants and gortex. But what's a good ol' Louisiana boy supposed to know about winters, right? But at least I had my stylish Ushanka hat and I kept the flaps tied down over my ears. 

Russia - Mir Launch - Normand Thagard
A closeup under the wing area showing a few missing tiles. My first thought was that these were tiles that came off during flight but looking over the shuttle I began to notice quite a few tile missing that surely would have caused serious problems if they had fallen off before re-entry.
Russia - Mir Launch - Normand Thagard
A shot of the rear landing gear area. Notice all the tiles missing.

  As we were wrapping up our incredible tour of the shuttle hanger we began to file out a hallway and I noticed everyone gathering around a table where a couple women were seated. On the table they had two stacks of shuttle tiles. One stack of white tiles and one stack of the carbon black tiles used on the more sensitive underside of the shuttle. Amazingly enough these two women were SELLING them to anyone interested. I picked up one and examined it closely and a few of us talked about whether or not they were legitimate.
Russia - Mir Launch - Normand Thagard
Russia - Mir Launch - Normand Thagard
The consensus of our group seemed to believe they were the real deal so of course I had to make a purchase. I believe the going rate was $10 for the white tiles, $20 for the black tiles or $25 for one of each.  I'll take one of each please!

On a very sad note, while doing a bit of research for this blog entry I learned that back in 2002 the building shown here that was housing the Buran Shuttle collapsed and completely destroyed the shuttle and killed seven workers as well.

  As similar to our shuttle as it may be on the surface seem there were some striking differences to our program. Notably is the fact that their shuttle only flew once into orbit and it was unmanned during that flight. Also, the engines that can be seen on the rear of the shuttle were NOT used as additional lift sources during launch. They were only used during orbit for maneuvering and de-orbit burns to bring the shuttle back into the atmosphere. Also, you may be familiar with the large external tank on our shuttle that is orange in color. That tank provided fuel to the shuttle engines for liftoff. On the Buran version that large center tank is feeding fuel to large rocket motors at the bottom of that tank.
Russia - Mir Launch - Normand Thagard
Russia - Mir Launch - Normand Thagard
I believe this is the business end of the Buran main rocket or what we consider to be the external fuel tank.

  Before leaving you for the day I'll give you another bit of trivia. If you remember the very first and second launch of our space shuttle the large center fuel tank matched the other components in paint scheme being solid white. Starting with the third flight though it became the more familiar rusty orange color. Ever wondered why the change in color? Weight! The rusty orange color was the natural color of the insulation on the tank and it was originally painted white not for aesthetics but because NASA believed there would be UV damage to the insulation because of the amount of time it would be exposed to sunlight on the launch pad. After it was determined the sun would not cause any damage they decided to leave off the paint because it required over 600lbs of paint to cover the entire tank. By leaving the paint off they could carry an extra 600lbs of payload or simply save the money because it was estimated to cost approximately $23,000 for every pound put into orbit.

  Tomorrow we get to witness the roll out of our Soyuz rocket to the launch pad and you'll hear about an interesting conversation with a gentleman that was actually working on the Russian "Apollo" program in the race to the moon.  Stay tuned!