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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

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!

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.

Read it for yourself! Buy the novel on Amazon: http://bit.ly/soyuzblue

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