Okay, okay. I know I like to make fun. But you’ve got to hand it to Russia. They’ve put some tough motherfuckers into space. Take this story from Wired (who’s really been on their game with interesting space news).
To say that Volynov experienced one of the roughest re-entries in the history of space flight (at least by anyone who lived to tell the tale) is to say the least. Soyuz 5’s service module failed to detach at retrofire, causing the vehicle to assume an aerodynamic position that left the heat shield pointed the wrong way as it re-entered the atmosphere. The only thing standing between Volynov and a fiery death was the command module’s thin hatch cover.
The interior of Volynov’s capsule filled with noxious fumes as the gaskets sealing the hatch started to burn, and it got very hot in there (which, a short time later was something he probably missed). Luckily for the cosmonaut, the stress and heat being generated outside the spacecraft caused the connecting struts on the service module to finally give way. When they did, Volynov’s module, now freed, immediately corrected its position so that the heat shield faced in the right direction.
But wait. There’s more.
In the chaos of re-entry, some of Soyuz 5’s parachute cables fouled, resulting in only a partial chute deployment. Just to ice the cake a bit, the soft-landing rockets failed, too, so Volynov was very aware of impact when his hardy Soyuz module plowed into the earth. It hit the ground so hard, in fact, that Volynov broke his teeth.
But wait. There’s more.
[…] it’s perhaps unsurprising that Volynov came down well short of the intended landing area. In fact, he landed in the Ural Mountains, where he was greeted by a local temperature measuring a brisk minus 36 degrees Fahrenheit. With rescue several hours away at best, our intrepid cosmonaut decided to hoof it for safety. He plodded a few kilometers before finding a cheery fire and a brimming samovar in the cottage of a welcoming peasant.
But wait, as they say, there’s more.
Seven years later, the dude flew into space again and spent eighteen days aboard a Soviet space station.
Now, not to diminish the bravery of any of the people the United States has strapped onto a billon tons of dynamite and fired into orbit (I’m sure if they’d had any problems like this, they may well have handled it with as much grit and suave) but goddamn, man!
They say once bitten, twice shy, and maybe that’s the reason why it took another seven years for him to go back up. Or maybe he was trotted around for a little while as a Hero of the Soviet Union, I don’t know, I didn’t bother to look it up. But still.
After I went to the STS-118 shuttle launch where they put Christa McAulliffe’s replacement, Barbra Morgan, into space finally, a buddy texted me and said, “Another teacher? How much you want to bet some mission specialist leaned over with ‘Hold Fast’ tattooed on his knuckles?”
Challenger was sad and it was a poor joke but I laughed anyway. I’m tasteless that way.
Still, it was twenty-one years until NASA finally tried it again. Volynov climbed back into the saddle in seven.
Ah, whatever. They’re all tough motherfuckers, really. But I thought I’d give Russia a shout out for once and Volynov in particular given what a bad ass he was.