U.S. Mir astronauts prepared for possible Soyuz water landings by training with the Russians in the Black Sea. In this June 14, 1996 update, Mike Foale gives a first-person accout of his training.
This document shows a few scenes from the week I spent training at Dujbga, 100Km west of Sochi, on the Black Sea. I was there with Pat McGinnis, our flight surgeon, and the two Mir-23 cosmonauts Vasily Tsibileev and Aleksandr Lazutkin, and a German cosmonaut. Jerry Lenninger followed me, with the Mir-25 crew, the following week. This is a new place for the Russians to do training, as the old training site, nearer Sevastapol, is now part of the Ukraine, and not under Russian jurisdiction. We spent one week, spending each night in Dujbga, and undergoing training on a Russian cargo ship, about a mile off shore, during each day .
The first scene is the descent capsule, in which we would be after a normal reentry by the Soyuz, being lowered into the water, to be towed some distance away from the ship. I was not able to train with my own Soyuz crews, Mir-23, and Mir-24, because it was felt the German cosmonaut, who is actually launching in a Soyuz, would benefit the crew better. It is not planned for me to do an entry in the Soyuz, during my flight to Mir, unless there is an emergency. Myself and two trainers, acting as crew members, are already inside, in our reentry space suits, strapped in, and wondering just how hot and nauseous the next experience is going to be...
The collar around the spacecraft is for training safety purposes only. In a real emergency water landing, only an inflatable balloon like object is available, coming out of the side indentation, from which the parachute would have been deployed. Such flotation is intended to keep the spacecraft upright, and water out of the hatch. In rough seas the situation is nonetheless potentially very dangerous. While a crewmember gets out of the open hatch, it is hazardous for the remaining crew, if water starts to get into the capsule. It will sink in 40 seconds. (Yes, they did a test!)
While inside, we have to either get out of our suits, and put on 4 layers of arctic winter survival clothing, followed by an orange drysuit, or if in warm waters, as we were pretending on this day, simply stay in our reentry suits, and put on life jackets and find all our survival gear. This is all done with the hatch closed, in extremely close quarters, so a significant heat load builds up, added to by the continuous bobbing about in the waves. It takes 1 to 2 hours to get ready, quickly open the hatch and then jump out with the proper equipment. Jumping out is the key to the exercise. The capsule does not float level, and there is great danger of the first person rocking the capsule, so that water comes in through the top and sinks the others. We were told to simply fall, and not push off in any way with our legs.
Finally, after shooting some rocket flares off, and firing our "Pistolette" to scare away sharks etc or more seriously, firing parachute flares, we were picked up. I had 5 litres or more water in my suit by this time - training suits leak worse than real ones. My two colleagues on my left, are Sasha, and Sergei, not cosmonauts, but trainers, who do this sort of thing for fun, again and again. They were very good, at what they do.
Profile: Michael Foale
Michael Foale Oral History (PDF)
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