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1993 - Piloted Space Missions

As the new year of 1993 dawned, the twelfth expedition to Mir was drawing to a close. Cosmonauts Anatoli Y. Solovyev and Sergei V. Avdeyev had docked their Soyuz TM-15 spacecraft at Mir on 29 July 1992 along with French cosmonaut M. Tognini, who had returned to Earth on 10 August 1992 with that Soyuz TM-14. Also attached to Mir was the Progress M-15 cargo spacecraft which had arrived at the space station on 29 October 1992. The entire complex was circling the Earth at a mean altitude of 395 km with an orbital) inclination of 51.6 degrees. The schedule for 1993 drawn up by the Russian Space Agency called for three new expeditions as well as five Progress M logistical missions (Reference 109).

During the first three weeks of January, Solovyev and Avdeyev conducted a variety of geophysical and astrophysical observations and refueled the Mir module with propellants from Progress M-15. Meanwhile, final preparations were being made on Earth for the launch of the Soyuz TM-16 spacecraft. Commander Gennady Manakov, a veteran of the 5-month Soyuz TM-10 mission, and Flight Engineer Aleksandr Poleshchuk, a rookie cosmonaut, arrived at the Baikonur Cosmodrome on 11 January along with their backup crew. The launch of Soyuz TM-16 occurred on schedule on 24 January with a planned docking at Mir 49.5 hours later (References 110-113).

Soyuz TM-16 differed from all its 15 predecessors by being equipped with the new APAS-89 (Androgynous Peripheral Docking Assembly) system designed specifically for docking with the forward port of the Kristall module. The device had originally been created to permit dockings between the Mir space station and the Buran space shuttle, and a Soyuz TM test flight had been repeatedly delayed since 1991. Although Buran was destined to never fly again, the test of the APAS-89 system was vital to the proposed matings of Mir with US Space Shuttles.

As Soyuz TM-16 approached to within 150m of the Mir space station on the morning of 26 January Manakov and Poleshchok disengaged the automatic rendezvous and docking system to assume manual control during the final few minutes. The spacecraft was slowly brought to within 70 meters where a final maneuvering system check-out and visual survey of the Kristall port were performed. Approval for docking was then given, and Soyuz TM-16 docked without incident several minutes ahead of schedule. Not only had a spacecraft docked successfully with the special Kristall port, but also the Mir complex for the first time consisted of seven linked vehicles with a mass of approximately 100 metric tons (References 111, 113-115).

For the next six days the four cosmonauts were busy engaged in the traditional handover tasks and preparing the Soyuz TM-15 spacecraft for its return to Earth. A Rezonans experiment was conducted to evaluate the dynamic and structural characteristics of the new Mir configuration, and Solovyev and Avdeyev spent time wearing the Chibis pneumatic suit designed to improve circulation in the lower extremities prior to going home. After loading Soyuz TM-15 with experimental results and personal effects, Solovyev and Avdeyev entered their spacecraft, closed the hatches to Mir, and undocked precisely at the stroke of midnight (GMT) on the morning of 1 February. Three hours and 48 minutes later the duo had safely landed after a mission of nearly 187 days (References 116-117).

The Soyuz TM-15 post-mission review highlighted the achievements of the twelfth expedition which included four spacewalks (three for the installation of an attitude control unit on the Sofora girder) and experiments in a wide range of scientific disciplines. Of particular significance was the hatching of quail eggs in the Incubator-2 facility. On the other hand, the delay in launching the remaining two modules, Spektr and Priroda, to Mir and the increasingly frequent equipment breakdowns on the space station were also acknowledged as limiting the potential of the Russian man-in-space program. The new Soyuz TM-16 mission was assigned only moderate objectives, including up to three EVAs and the reception of three unmanned Progress M spacecraft. However, only a few days after assuming command of Mir, Manakov and Poleshchuk were to initiate an experiment of extreme scientific and engineering interest (References 118-120).

After a stay of 97 days, Progress M-15 was undocked from the Kvant 1 aft port early on 4 February, setting the stage for two final tasks. Twelve minutes after undocking and still at a distance of only 160 m, the Znamya (Banner) 2 solar reflector experiment commenced with the 3-minute unfurling of a 20-m diameter, circular Kevlar sheet from a special unit attached to the forward end of Progress M-15. An initial spin rate of 95 rpm (later reduced to 14 rpm) kept the eight triangular sections relatively flat, forming a nearly uniform disk. The spacecraft was then reoriented to begin the "New Light" experiment four hours and 15 minutes after undocking and 12.1 km from Mir. For six minutes the reflector projected a spot up to 30 km in diameter onto the Earth, but the experiment was abruptly terminated when Progress M-15 crossed the terminator into the sunlight portion of the Earth. Within minutes the Znamya apparatus was ejected from the spacecraft to permit another experiment the following day. Future experiments involving protracted illumination of regions of the Earth and solar sail propulsion have been proposed, although funding appears to be lacking (References 116, 121-130).

On 5 February Progress M-15, under command of the Flight Control Center (FCC or TsUP) outside Moscow, was maneuverer back toward the Mir space station. At a distance of 200 m the cosmonauts on Mir took control of the cargo craft with a new teleoperator system and practiced guiding the spacecraft manually. Unbeknownst to Mir program managers, this successful test would later be highly valuable. Finally, on 7 February Progress M-15, its mission now over, was commanded to de-orbit: after which it was destroyed during reentry into the atmosphere (Reference 131).

For the next two weeks Manakov and Poleshchuk tended to less dramatic chores and experiments, including medical checks and exposures of materials to outer space. A new resupply spacecraft, Progress M-16, was launched on 21 February, docking with the Kvant 1 aft port on schedule two days later with nearly 2.6 metric tons of needed material. During the following four weeks the Mir crew performed a series of maintenance tasks, including the replacement of a faulty airconditioning unit and a communications system regulating contact with the Luch geostationary data relay satellite, work on the atmospheric water extraction system, and installation of newgyrodyne stabilizers in the Kvant 2 module.Meanwhile, propellant was transferred from Progress M-16 to Mir, and the former's propulsion system was used to make the first of several orbital maneuvers for the space station during the 1993-1994 period (Reference 132).

To expand upon the experience in remote control of a Progress M spacecraft gained during February, Progress M-16 was undocked on the morning of 26 March. Once again the cosmonauts took control of the robot vehicle, first backing it away from the orbital laboratory to a distance of 70 m and then guiding the spacecraft to a redocking with Kvant 1 after only 17 minutes. The following day Progress M-16 yes undocked again under the control of Danakov and Poleshchuk, but control was quickly passed to the TsUP which commanded the vehicle into a destructive reentry into the atmosphere (Reference 133).

Flight control managers rarely leave Mir unattended by a Progress M spacecraft, so the launch of Progress M-17 on 31 March and its docking with Kvant 1 on 2 April were routine. The next major event on board Mir occurred on 19 April when Manakov and Poleshchuk conducted their first EVA of the mission. The objective was to transfer a solar array drive from the Kristall module to Kvant 1 in preparation for the later transfer of the entire solar array, a project which was already years behind schedule. The spacewalk, planned for a 4 hr 57 min duration, started well but ran into several problems.

The solar array drive was transferred with the aid of the Strela crane, but the cosmonauts experienced difficulty in completely installing the unit in its new location on Kvant 1. Poleshchuk's space suit was also indicating a problem in the ventilation system. Finally achieving their task, the two cosmonauts began returning to the EVA compartment of Kvant 2, only to discover that one of the two operating handles for the Strela crane had floated away. The EVA was safely concluded after 5 hr 25 min. but future EVAs were postponed until either a makeshift handle could be devised or a new handle could be delivered (References 134-136).

Activities on board Mir during the following month were uneventful, and a replacement handle could not be improvised. Therefore, when the next resupply ship, Progress M-18, was launched on 22 May (three days behind schedule), a new handle for the Strela crane was on board. Progress M-18 docked with the Mir forward port on 24 May while Progress M-17 remained attached to Kvant 1, thus marking the first time that two Progress spacecraft had ever been docked to a Soviet/Russian space station simultaneously. The reason for retaining Progress M-17 was not apparent until almost three months later. In addition to the Strela handle and the normal supplies, Progress M-18 also carried a 1-kg aluminum sculpture entitled Cosmic Dancer under a commercial agreement with a Swiss non-profit organization. The new Mir visitor was also the first Progress M spacecraft of the year to be equipped with a Raduga return capsule (References 137-140).

With the Strela replacement part now inhand, a second EVA was scheduled for 18 June. This time all went well, and the cosmonauts were able to fix the Strela crane and transfer the remaining Kristall solar array drive to Kvant 1. In fact, the entire operation lasted only 4 hr 33 min. less than the allocated 5 hours. For the rest of the month, Manakov and Poleshchuk were engaged in routine experiments and maintenance as they awaited the arrival of their relief crew (References 141-143).

The Soyuz TM-17 mission was to be the fourth French visit to a Soviet/Russian space station and would allow Air Force pilot Jean Pierre Haignere a stay of nearly three weeks on Mir. In charge of the flight was Lt. Cal. Vasiliy Tsibliyev assisted by Flight Engineer Aleksandr Serebrov. Tsibllyev was making his first entry into space, while his Russian comrade was a veteran of three previous missions. Lift-off occurred on schedule in the afternoon of 1 July, and a normal two-day rendezvous brought the Soyuz TM-17 spacecraft to the vicinity of the Mir complex on 3 July (References 143-147).

Mission managers took advantage of a rare photo opportunity as Soyuz TM-17 approached the space station. With both the standard docking ports occupied by Progress M spacecraft, one had to be vacated to give Soyuz T-17 a berthing space. As the new manned spacecraft hovered nearby, Progress M-18 undocked and slowly backed away from the Mir forward port. Just 26 minutes later, Soyuz TM-17 had successfully docked in its place. Progress M-18 then continued in independent flight for another day before returning to Earth in a destructive reentry, but not before releasing its small Raduga capsule which retrieved intact in the designated recover region in Russia (References 143, 148-149).

This short French mission to Mir was code-named Altair and was designed to conduct biomedical and technical experiments, including the completion of two experiments started by Haicinere's fellow countryman M. Tognini the previous year (Soyuz TM-15). From 3 to 21 July the five cosmonauts were busily engaged in scientific studies and the preparation of the Soyuz TM-16 spacecraft for its return home. Manakov, Poleshchuk, and Haignere departed Mir in the early morning of 22 July and safely landed 140 km east of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan (References 150-152).

The 14th expedition of Mir by Tsibliyev and Serebrov was originally planned to last only 147 days and to include three EVAs, but in reality both measures were increased. In early Augusta new Progress M logistics vehicle was being prepared as work with the long-term Progress M-17 resident was ending. Progress M-19 was launched on 10 August, and to make room for it Progress M-17 was finally undocked on 11 August after a stay of 131 days. However, instead of being recalled to Earth, Progress M-17 began a secondary mission of verifying the reliability of spacecraft systems, with emphasis on those also common to Soyuz TM spacecraft. When the International Space Station is operational, Soyuz TM spacecraft will serve as Assured Crew Return Vehicles (ACRVs) and will need design lifetimes of at least one year. Progress M-17 was maneuvered into an orbit 18km below Mir on 12 August, the day Progress M-19 docked with the space station, and was allowed to decay naturally during the remainder of the year (References 153-155).

Just as Progress M-17 and Progress M-19 were changing places, the Mir space station was battered by numerous micrometeoroids originating from the annual Perseid meteor shower representing the remnants of Comet Swift-Tuttle. Tsibliyev and Serebrov retreated to their Soyuz TM-17 spacecraft and closed the hatches to permit a quick getaway if the station was severely damaged. Although a large number of hits on the station were noted, the most serious effects appeared to be holes in some of the solar arrays.

The next noteworthy event on Mir came a month later when the two cosmonauts performed a pair of EVAs to erect the Rapana truss on the Kvant 1 module. Rapana closely resembled the Sofora girder which was constructed in 1991 but was shorter with an extended length of only 5 m. The 26-kg structure was designed not only to test additional space construction techniques but also to serve as a site for future experiments, particularly the exposure of material samples to the near-Earth space environment. During a 4 hr 18 min EVA on 16 September Tsibliyev and Serebrov transferred the stowed Rapana package to Kvant 1 and attached it to a base platform. Four days later the duo returned to erect the truss and to attach the first experiment cartridges during an EVA lasting 3 hr 13 min (References 156-160).

After resting for eight days, Tsibliyev and Serebrov prepared for their third and last planned EVA. The principal objective of this outing was simply to inspect and to photograph the exterior of the complex for the purpose of evaluating the effects of seven and one-half years in the harsh space environment. Upon exiting the Kvant 2 EVA compartment the cosmonauts attached a new cassette of samples for more exposure tests and retrieved an older unit. However, before the inspection of Mir could begin in earnest Tsibliyev's space suit began to overheat. Consequently, the EVA was terminated after only 1 hr 52 min without accomplishing the primary task (References 161-162).

October proved to be a significant month for the Soyuz TM-17 crew. Early in the month Russian officials announced that the launch of Soyuz TM-18 had been postponed until January, 1994, necessitating an extension to the current mission. The reason given for the change of plans was a delay in the preparation of a Soyuz-U2 launch vehicle. Since the next mission was to involve a three-man crew, use of the lower capacity, Soyuz-U booster was not available option. Unfortunately, the delay also meant that plans to keep one of the Soyuz TM18 cosmonauts on-board Mir for 16 months had to be revised to only a 14-month stay (References 162-164).

Shortly after hearing the news of their involuntary extension, Tsibliyev and Serebrov prepared to receive yet another resupply ship. Progress M-20, carrying a commercial US biotechnology experiment, was launched on 11 October and docked at the Kvant 1 aft port two days later. Meanwhile, on 12 October Progress M-19 undocked from that port and returned a Raduga capsule to Earth about six hours later,early on 13 October. Back on Mir, the crew was initiating the newly delivered foreign experiment, which was to be returned in another Raduga capsule also brought by Progress M-20 (References 165-168).

On 22 October Serebrov set a new world record for the number of EVAs performed by an individual by completing his ninth. This fourth EVA of the Soyuz TM-17 mission, coupled with his five EVAs in 1990 during Soyuz TM-8, gave Serebrov a total of 27 hr 37 min outside Mir. Unexpectedly, however, the EVA of 22 October lasted only 38 min. allowing the two cosmonauts only to install a micrometeoroid detection experiment and to briefly photograph portions of Mir's exterior. The EVA had been scheduled to last more than five hours. A fifth EVA on 29 October with a duration of 4 hr 12 min apparently allowed the team to complete all assigned tasks (References 166,169-170).

The final two months of 1993 were spent engaged with routine activities and maintenance chores. The Progress M-20 spacecraft was undocked on 21 November, returning its Raduga capsule to Earth later that same day. Inside the capsule were the crystals grown under microgravity conditions for the US Boeing company. As the year drew to a close, final preparations for the start of the delayed Soyuz TM-18 were underway. Meanwhile, Progress M17 continued on its solo flight with a mean altitude of 294 km on New Year's Eve (References 171 -174).

In other news from the Russian Mir space station program during 1993, four women began a six-month-long bed-rest experiment to study potential countermeasures to microgravity effects on the human body. Not too long after the test's conclusion in 1994, a female cosmonaut was scheduled to be launched to Mir for a record-setting mission of nearly six months, by far the longest space flight for any woman. Also in 1994, Sergei Krikalev was scheduled to be the first Russian cosmonaut to fly on board a US Space Shuttle in a prelude to later Mir-Space Shuttle docking missions. On a more somber note, Air Force Major and cosmonaut trainee Sergei Vozovikov drowned during survival training on 21 July 1993 (References 174-177).

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Page last modified: 10-04-2016 19:05:07 ZULU