Crisis in Outer Space
Astronaut Leroy Chiao is a veteran of four space missions, recently acting as Commander of Expedition 10 aboard the International Space Station. He has logged over 229 days in space - over 36 hours of which were spent in Extra-Vehicular Activity (EVA, or spacewalks). He served as a member of the White House appointed Review of U.S. Human Spaceflight Plans Committee.
Dr. Chiao left NASA in 2005 and is involved in entrepreneurial business ventures and works in the US, China, Japan and Russia. He is a director of Excalibur Almaz, a private manned spaceflight company. In addition, he is a director of InNexus, a biotechnology/pharmaceutical development company. Active as a consultant and public speaker, he also serves as the Chairman of the National Space Biomedical Research Institute User Panel, which is attached to the Baylor College of Medicine. Dr. Chiao is a director of Challenger Center and of the Committee of 100. He is also an advisor and spokesman for the Heinlein Prize Trust.
Question: Did you ever have a crisis moment in space?
Leroy Chiao: Yes. The biggest thing that went wrong during one of my missions was when we were coming into dock to the International Space Station in our Soyuz spacecraft. We were inside of 1,000 meters and suddenly all of the alarms started going off and we had lights going and alarms, and the next thing you know we actually started rotating away from the space station. We started losing the visual sighting of the space station through the periscope. So, this was a real emergency, and the first thing that hit me was disbelief. You know, usually this is what happens during the training in the simulator. Usually on the actual flight, everything works perfectly.
So, the training kicked in and we quickly went through our emergency procedures, I took manual control and I got the spacecraft under control and stopped about 50 meters from the space station. So, the net effect of the failure was that we were actually turning and speeding up towards the space station when we should have been slowing down, so it was quite a dangerous situation. But we got manual control, performed the first manual docking to the station at night.
It was one of those situations where afterwards, you know, after we were safe and we were all docked and everything that we kind of took a breath and thought, wow, that was pretty dangerous situation. But it shows you that the training pays off. You know, it was just automatic. We just went right to it and got out – we had our books out already, we went right to the right procedures and executed them and everything went well.
Recorded on December 16, 2009
Leroy Chiao was the commander "when all of the alarms started going off" and "we actually started rotating away from the space station."
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