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Paper models, photos and musings of a Paper Kosmonaut

18 December 2011

André Kuipers - a real cosmonaut!

André Kuipers in business suit.
© ESA
Now the second launch of André Kuipers, Netherlands' second spacefaring person is imminent I wonder whether the first Dutch astronaut, Wubbo Ockels, feels any envy.
He really wanted a second flight and after his seven-day trip in Challenger in late 1985 he started to lobby for a next one. Then his dream went up in smoke, just as Challenger did and his chance of another flight was gone, it seems. STS-61-A would remain Ockels' only voyage into space. After his resignation at ESA he started to work on the technical university in Delft and does a very good job promoting sustainable energy.
 Mustachioed Wubbo and his shuttle, around 1984. 
© NASA / ESA


André Kuipers went to space in Soyuz TMA-4 in 2004 and stayed in the ISS for eight days. The trip up and down lengthened his stay in space to almost eleven days. He will return to the ISS with Soyuz TMA-03M for a long stay of about  six months. That must have made Ockels at least envy his colleague a little bit, I think.
Besides being able to write more space hours on his CV, Kuipers had to learn to fly the Soyuz. Now, how cool is that? In case of an emergency André is able to guide the capsule home by hand. He trained for it and he even excelled in flying the spacecraft, pulling less g's than nominally is measured. Good job!

The TMA-03M is a new version of the Soyuz, with completely new electronics and a full "glass cockpit". It will perform the 112th Soyuz flight since its first flight in 1967.
The "glass cockpit" layout of the new TMA-M Soyuz.
© Chris Hadfield

The panel in Soyuz as it used to look in the early days. Click for bigger.
© Yuri Tiapchenko
 The chance Kuipers will actually fly the Soyuz is small, since the Russians are very strict about who does what on board the spacecraft. In the old communist days, the story went guest cosmonauts (from satellite states or countries under the Soviet influence) always returned from space with blue knuckles because all the hits they received on them from their commander. But the fact he can fly a spacecraft makes him, at least in my eyes, a True Cosmonaut. He really can navigate and maneuver a spaceship through space.  He is not just a scientific researcher in space. Besides, if I could choose between a launch inside a shuttle or in a Soyuz, I immediately would go for the rocket.
The shuttle might have always looked impressive but however beautiful the returning shuttle looks, the launch stack feels to me like an aircraft strapped to a huge streamlined jerrycan of fuel, sandwiched by a giant firecracker tandem, asking for trouble. I really think it's a good thing that the shuttle retired.
© Patrick Chapatte / Intl. Herald Tribune
Allright, back to Kuipers. If all goes well, he'll launch on the 21st together with Oleg Kononenko and Dan Burbank. I'm looking forward to it. I think he might be too.
As we Dutchies say, "hij is een bofkont - en dat is ie".

PS. The first Dutch-born person in space wasn't Wubbo, but Lodewijk van den Berg, who became an American citizen in 1975. He beat Ockels into space just six months earlier...

(And as far as Astronaut or Cosmonaut, the latter means "space voyager" while the first term means "star voyager" - and we haven't even sent a crew to Mars!)

PS.2: As an addition, here's yours truly meeting his one and only astronaut up until now, for the first time* in 1979! Thanks for the picture, mom!
* I met him again in 2007 at a lecture.
Martinikerk, Groningen, 1979.
© Kiekert

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