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The Sokol space suit: the ultimate onesie!

The Russian Sokol suit has been fun to draw and adapt for Soyuz Blue!

The original Soyuz spacecraft was designed to maintain a “shirt sleeve” environment where the cosmonauts launched to space and returned without needing space suits. After the disaster of Soyuz 11, when a faulty valve accidently vented the spacecrafts atmosphere into the vacuum of space and killed the unprotected crew, the Russians developed a new kind of “soft rescue suit.” Sokal is fairly comfortable and compact, yet still provides protection to crews during critical phases of their mission — launch, docking and landing.

The suit is one-piece and entered through a “V” shaped opening in the chest. Once the cosmonaut steps into the opening and draws the suit around him or herself, the excess material is gather together and sealed with a rubber band, then the suit is zipped shut. Boots are integrated with the suit, but gloves are removable and attach by aluminum locking rings. The visor can open on hinges mounted near the ears. When the visor is closed it seals with an aluminum flange. When the visor is open the hood, or ‘soft helmet,’ folds away. The classic suit is designed to be worn up to two hours when inflated and 30 hours when deflated.

When I designed the Soyuz Blue moon suits I included an additional layer of distinctive blue radiation shielding. A flight to the Moon takes the cosmonauts beyond the protective layer of Earth’s’ radiation belts, so they may need to wear their suit more often, and for longer periods. The boots are removable so that a cosmonaut can wear the suit up to a week, if needed, with relative comfort. I made my Moon design a little more aggressive looking, inspired by Zuni Indian costumes I saw on display at the Chicago Field Museum.

If you want a first hand look, space tourist Denis Tito’s sokol suit on display at the National Air and Space Museum.

More Russian space trivia included in the hard science fiction thriller Soyuz Blue, on sale now on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. http://bit.ly/soyuzblue

Yes, they pee on the tires.

Male Soyuz crew members do indeed urinate on the tires of the transport bus that drives them to the launch pad.

According to retired astronaut Chris Hadfield in his book An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth. “Much is made of this as a tradition, but really, if you’re going to be locked in a rocket ship, unable to leave your seat for quite a few hours, it’s just common sense. The only problem is that, when clad in a launch suit, one cannot simply unzip one’s fly. The suit techs on board had to help us undo all the tricky fasteners they’d painstakingly closed not an hour before, so we were able to urinate manfully on the tire without spoiling our plumage.”

I have detailed this and a handful of other Russian pre-launch rituals in my novel, but there are even more rites:

  • A visit to Yuri Gagarin’s office to autograph a book
  • Planting a tree in the cosmonaut grove
  • Custom matryoshka dolls are commissioned for each crew member
  • Coins are flattened under the train that transports the Soyuz to the launch pad (Cosmonauts must not watch this roll out – it is bad luck –  and get their hair cut instead)
  • The night before the launch the crew watches the Russian 1969 movie White Sun of the Desert (an action film set during the 1917 revolution)
  • The crew poses with women in traditional Kazakh costumes for photographs
  • No mission can take place on 24 October since it is the anniversary of a catastrophic missile failure in 1960 (this is subject of a future blog post: “Biggest space screw-up ever”)
  • There is also a welcoming ritual of bread and salt for visitors arriving to the ISS

Not to be outdone, American crews have their superstitious rituals as well:

  • On the day of launch, NASA astronauts eat eggs and steak in tribute to Alan Shepard, who ate a breakfast of this before the first American launch
  • Before launch, the crew is given a cake – that no one is supposed to eat
  • Contemporary astronauts sit on the same recliner chairs as the Apollo era crews the suit-up room
  • The crew plays five-card poker or Blackjack until the commander loses, only then can they drive to the launch pad (one shuttle crew almost was late to the launch pad because the commander kept winning)
  • No mission has been numbered ’13’ since Apollo 13 failed to land on the moon
  • Jars of peanuts are considered good luck charms for unmanned landings on other worlds
  • Successful manned launchings are celebrated with a meal of beans and cornbread
  • After their first flight, rookies in the team have their neckties cut
  • A ship’s bell is rung onboard the ISS when the command changes to a new crew

More adventures when Soyuz Blue, Volume Three debuts in September at SPX!

“Outside the Space Center, the crew is presented to the Space leadership. Each crew member stands on a square painted on the tarmac and salutes, declaring himself fit and ready for the mi

“Outside the Space Center, the crew is presented to the Space leadership. Each crew member stands on a square painted on the tarmac and salutes, declaring himself fit and ready for the mission.”

“We then bus to the launch pad. Just Outside the final checkpoint, the male members go through another ritual; We ing the tires of the bus.”

“We then bus to the launch pad. Just outside the final checkpoint, the male members go through another ritual; wetting the tires of the bus.”

“Yuri Gagarin did this on the bus ride before the first human spaceflight, and we have observed the custom ever since. The women are Excused from this rite.”

“Yuri Gagarin did this on the bus ride before the first human spaceflight, and we have observed the custom ever since. The women are excused from this rite.”

Lots more adventures ahead! Buy the novel on Amazon: http://bit.ly/soyuzblue

Casting the characters in Soyuz Blue.

Soyuz Blue is a science fiction thriller set in the not too distant future. All of the space vehicles and hardware are very similar to what currently exists. As an illustrator I felt a realistic style would be best for this kind of story. I also wanted each of the characters to have a distinct look. I tend to be cinematic in my storytelling, so I needed source material on my characters from many different “camera angles.”

I found one of the best places to “audition” characters was the art museum. Statues and portrait busts hold still, are great to sketch from, and happy to be photographed. They also won’t sue you if you make them the villain of your tale.

Andrew-Jackson-as-Dr-Ouspenskaya

My Dr. Ouspenskaya, with his rugged features and mad scientist hair, is based on  a bust of President Andrew Jackson. I sketched his likeness in Washington DC’s National Portrait Gallery from various angles. Also useful were the additional sculptures of Jackson at different ages. Of course, I still had to make decisions on what the character would look like smiling, laughing, and talking. A basic knowledge of human anatomy allowed me to make up certain rules: “Ouspenskaya shows his lower teeth when he talks…”

General Zhukov is based on a portrait of a seventeenth century nobleman from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.

General Zhukov is based on a portrait of a seventeenth century nobleman from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. His countenance is perfect for a successful military officer who is politically savvy and has mastered his area of expertise.  Zhukov also knows that a lot of what goes on in the military is nonsense, but he is in on the joke.

In this way I collected faces to match my script, but also found that it was much easier to edit and sharpen dialogue once I had a likeness of each player in the drama.

Did I cast the novel correctly? Buy the novel on Amazon: http://bit.ly/soyuzblue and let me know!

Journey to space starts on the DC Metro Orange line.

That really is the Arlington, Virginia Orange Line in the opening pages of Soyuz Blue.

And those really are the stations you visit until you pass beneath the Potomac River, where our heroine, Dr. Elizabeth Floyd, is trapped in a crowded commuter train by a power outage.

The DC metro is the second busiest metro system after New York, with an average of 727,000 trips per workday. The rail system has received numerous design awards, including the American Institute of Architects Twenty-five Year Award for “architectural design of enduring significance that has stood the test of time.” The open and airy stations are a lot of fun for the illustrator to draw.

But these vaulted spaces can lull the rider into a false sense of security before plunging him or her into a dank and crowded metro car. Metro has a troubled history in the past few years brought on by insufficient funding and lack luster maintenance. Riding the metro everyday is a constant source of uncertainty. There are always problems; you just hope it is on the other person’s train. The only criticism I have received on this scene is that “ The train driver in a real situation would not have been so communicative. Generally you’re left without a clue as to why you are not moving.”

A funny place to start a story about a journey to the International Space Station? Not if your heroine is claustrophobic.

Hey Washington! Did I capture the real Metro experience? Read it for yourself! See samples on Amazon: http://bit.ly/soyuzblue