Three astronauts returning from the International Space Station (ISS) this week landed their capsule without incident after the failure of height sensors – crucial to telling the crew when to use boosters to soften their landing.
NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and cosmonauts Pavel Vinogradov and Alexander Misurkin landed the Soyuz capsule safely in Kazakhstan despite the fact that they had lost all data about the capsule’s height from the ground.
“There were problems. For some reason after the undocking all our parameters disappeared. Essentially, after the undocking, we flew blind,” Vinogradov said.
The crew improvised. They flew blind, only having data relayed to them from a team on the ground. Rescue teams, he said, radioed in when the capsule reached 1,000 feet, 330 feet, etc.
Soyuz lands vertically after it enters the atmosphere and is slowed with the help of a parachute.
“I managed to count eight seconds and we touched down very softly,” he said, noting that besides G-force jolting “everyone felt normal”.
Russia is the only nation that is currently able to transport humans to the ISS using the Soyuz rock and capsule system, since the US shuttle was retired in July 2011, according to Raw Story. Soyuz is a series of spacecraft designed in the Soviet Union in the 1960s. It’s launched into space using a rocket launcher at the Baikonur Cosmodome in Kazakhstan.