Ship’s Blog

Ship’s Blog

Soyuz Blue Author’s Notes

Space weather is not science fiction.

Space weather can be complex and dramatic. In volume one of Soyuz Blue I depict the International Space Station’s orbit degraded by sunspots and solar flares. Solar storms can indeed degrade the orbits of satellites by heating and expanding the upper atmosphere and increasing drag. The erosion of orbit due to solar weather was one of the main reasons that NASA was unable to rescue America’s first space station, Skylab, from a fiery re-entry in 1979.

These kinds of solar events can also generate radiation and put astronauts and cosmonauts at risk. During solar flares they will need to fall back to more shielded parts of the Space Station. As depicted in my novel, these “safe” areas are in the Russian sections.

How bad can space weather be on the Earth’s surface? We only have been aware of this phenomena for 200 years, which is nothing in the life span of our 5 billion year old sun. Thousands of miles of exposed wires in power grids are at risk of overload from storms. Transformers can explode, and once destroyed, are difficult and expensive to replace. Oil and gas pipelines are also at risk, and it is thought that sunspots can increase corrosion and degrade the integrity of the metal.

The worst recorded solar storm is the Carrington Event of 1859. This storm generated intense aurora borealis displays that were seen from Canada to the Caribbean. The auroras were so bright that people were able to read a newspaper in the dead of night. Telegraph systems all over Europe and North America failed. Sparks flew off pylons. Telegraph operators received electrical shocks. Even when the power supplies were disconnected, some telegraph stations could continue to receive and send messages.

Sun weather comes in 11 year cycles, and in 2014 we were at a period of “solarmax:” a period of intense activity. Fortunately, this “max” seems much quieter than in previous years.

What would a really gnarly solar storm look like?
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The signature building that Baikonur Cosmodrome should have.

Launch site of the:

first artificial satellite…

first manned space flight…

first woman in space…

first multiple cosmonaut spacecraft…

Yet for all of the pathfinding missions this installation has seen, the architecture of Baikonur remains functional and dreary. For Soyuz Blue I took the liberty of creating the signature building that the spaceport SHOULD have, given its dramatic history.

This fantasy building is a combination of Russian constructivist Vladimir Tatlin (Monument to the Third International) and Eero Saarinen (who did the soaring Dulles Airport Terminal, and the classic TWA terminal at JFK ) .

My structure has sweeping curtains of glass that twist up into a double helix that towers 26 stories above the Kazakh steppes. The atrium displays notable spacecraft and probes and features a large relief of Sergei Korolev, the chief designer himself. Offices and meeting rooms are scattered through this steel and glass monument to human aspiration and spaceflight.

Careful readers will notice that I have also taken a few liberties with the Cosmonaut Preparation Area, which in real life really DOES sport a persian carpet on the floor (Russian definitions of clean rooms are a bit more liberal than NASAs!). My preparation room also has a Persian rug.  But the Louis XIV paneling and moldings are my invention and a tribute to Astronaut David Bowman’s final hotel stay in 2001 a Space Odyssey.

comonaut prep ceiling

How nerdy do you want to get? Russian space hounds will also notice the diesel locomotive that rolls the soyuz rockets out is not Russian at all, but in fact a West German V200 diesel hydraulic. I chose the V200 because it has great postwar design lines that complement the 1950’s rocket feel of the Soyuz launcher. I also enjoyed putting a free market capitalist locomotive deep in the heart of the old USSR.

V200 locomotives were finally phased out of service in the early 2000s after a very successful run of almost 50 years.

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Soyuz has been in use for almost 50 years!

Soyuz Blue is a two-fisted tale, and as such, full of over the top action and heroics by square jawed men and women. But there is nothing far-fetched about the Soyuz spacecraft featured in the novel.

The Russian Soyuz has been in use for almost 50 years. First launched in 1966, it overcame a series of mechanical glitches, and two fatal accidents, to become a benchmark flying machine. Today it is considered the safest and most reliable way to get astronauts into space. It belongs in the pantheon of successful, rugged, and long lived 20th century inventions, along with the 747, DC-3, and the humble Volkswagen Beetle.

The spacecraft was the brainchild of master aeronautical engineer Sergei Korolev. Korolev was the mysterious Cold War “chief designer” and responsible for the remarkable Soviet space triumphs of the 50’s and 60’s.

Soyuz is a masterpiece of simplicity. The orbital module (OM) provides living and working room while in orbit. The descent module (DM) provides tight quarters for the crew of 3 to launch to orbit and return to earth. The service module (SM) provides air, water, and electricity. The craft is also a product of the “better is the enemy of good” engineering philosophy. This means, outside of a few upgrades, soyuz has remained largely unchanged over the last half century.

In my novel the Cosmonauts use a hybrid spacecraft that is intended for tourist flights around the moon. Outfitted with additional supplies, more powerful engines, a slightly larger OM, this spaceship is entirely credible.

A variant like this (called 7K) was on the drawing board back in 1963. It would have rendezvoused with a supply and propulsion section (launched separately), and gone on a circumlunar voyage. This Soyuz would never have been able to land on the Moon, as a much larger booster was needed to carry a landing craft, but a first manned circumlunar mission by the Russians was a very real possibility in the late 60s.

This soyuz spacecraft configuration was copied by the Chinese Shenzhou spacecraft. In one form or another, Soyuz or Shenzhou, we are likely to see this kind of ship well into the next century.

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