Apr 23, 2008

Of Atheists, Omens, and Women…in Space

Two weeks ago, Eternal Remont noted that even professed non-believers in Kazakhstan’s Baikonur Cosmodrome were nervously offering up prayers for the safe return of South Korea’s first astronaut, Yi So-yeon.

Looks like someone answered.

First, her Soyuz TMA-11 space capsule re-entered the atmosphere hatch-side first. This is the opposite of heat-shield-side first, which is an important detail in re-entry.

Second, Yi So-yeon and her fellow cosmonauts experienced an unintended “ballistic re-entry." This is an uncontrollable, steep trajectory dive at 10x Earth’s normal gravity. The cosmonauts subsequently landed 260 miles away from the intended drop zone, but couldn’t phone home because their antenna had burned off in the process.

A quick call from US military (who was tracking the flight) saved the day. Russian officials eventually found Yi So-yeon, American Peggy Whitson, and Russian Yuri Malenchenko alive and well in the wastes of Central Asian.

But here’s the best part: Russian Federal Space Agency Chief Anatoly Perminov wants to blame the whole thing on the women.

"You know in Russia, there are certain bad omens about this sort of thing, but thank God that everything worked out successfully,” Perminov said, adding, “Of course in the future, we will work somehow to ensure that the number of women will not surpass [the number of men]. This isn't discrimination. I'm just saying that when a majority [of the crew] is female, sometimes certain kinds of unsanctioned behavior or something else occurs, that's what I'm talking about."

Unsanctioned behavior?

We have no idea if Perminov was referring to the botched “ballistic re-entry,” or all of those special space experiments you can only perform on Cinemax after prime time.

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