As the International Space Station celebrates 20 years of the first USA and Russian segment being united in space, imagine this scenario in a “Hollywood Script Synopsis”:
As political ties are severed after mutual embassy closings in Washington, DC and Moscow by the feuding USA and Russian Superpowers, 250 miles up in the International Space Station, two cosmonauts unholster their guns stowed under their spaceships and put four other astronauts under arrest in a takeover of the once internationally-partnered, space complex.
Too far-fetched? Let’s hope so.
But docked to the orbiting, $100 billion ISS are two Russian Soyuz TMA spacecrafts serving as crew ferries and lifeboats…and under the commander’s seat of each spaceship is a three-barreled gun!
Though more like a hunting gun than a hand gun, this same weapon is rumored to be aboard manned Chinese spaceflights in their Shenzhou spacecraft, which looks similar to the bulbous Russian Soyuz.
And it is something that NASA really doesn’t like to talk about. Our American astronauts carried survival knives in a survival kit aboard the one-man Mercury, two-man Gemini, 3-man Apollo and six-person Shuttle spacecraft, but there are no other weapons stowed aboard the ISS.
The secret of a weapon aboard the Soyuz manned spacecraft was kept until American astronauts began training for the six visits to space station Mir from 1995-1997. Our astronauts who were training for Mir missions were taken to the Black Sea and learned the techniques for a water splashdown the Soyuz. And they were surprised to stand toe-to-toe with cosmonauts mastering target practice with a gun aboard the Soyuz.
The TP-82, as it is called, is a strange, three-barrel gun with a plastic shoulder stock that is also a machete. One barrel is for flares, one for a .38-caliber bullet and the third one for shotgun shells. Of course a gun needs ammunition, and the TP-82 has 20 rounds of bullets and shells, and 30 flares. The Soviet arsenal can definitely do some damage if discharged in the confines of a space station!
When it learned the Soviet gun was standard survival equipment for the past 30 years of Soyuz flights, NASA at first protested wanting to know why a weapon was necessary on the Soyuz. The Russians told them it was for survival after landing, and refused to consider removing the gun.
The TP-82 was apparently added to the Soyuz after a 1965 errant landing that had the two cosmonauts fending off wolves in a snowstorm while rescue forces took two days to reach them. That was the mission of Voskhod 2 when Alexi Leonov performed the first spacewalk in history with another cosmonaut watching inside their spaceship.
The Russians have always landed their manned spacecraft in the central plains of the country. After a fiery re-entry, parachutes deploy to bring the spaceship to the ground where retrorockets fire at 8 feet to cushion the impact.
After 150 spaceflights over 40 years, only a dozen or so have had reentry problems throwing the Soyuz off course. In each case, local villagers were the first to see the spacemen, and rescue teams followed within a couple hours. Of course the dramatic and safe launch abort in October 2018 of the ISS-bound Soyuz with an American and Russian emphasized the need for survival training. Those two rocket men were rescued within minutes of the unexpected landing just 200 miles from the launch pad.
Early American spacecraft all landed in the Atlantic or Pacific oceans. The astronauts of Mercury, Gemini and Apollo all trained for ocean, desert and jungle survival, but the only weapon on board was a machete.
The Space Shuttle, which landed like a glider on a three-mile runway, had no guns, only small survival knifes. The astronauts are trained to bail out of the hatch if a launch mishap happens. But for the first two minutes of the solid rocket boosters burning on each side, there is no escape. The boosters must first separate before a ditch effort is tried in the ocean—something NASA has never had to do in the 135 Shuttle launches from 1981 to 2011.
The three surviving Orbiters of NASA’s Space Shuttle fleet were permanently mothballed in museums: Endeavour at Los Angeles Science Museum; Discovery at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.; and Atlantis at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center. Challenger was destroyed during launch in 1986; Columbia was lost during reentry in 2003.
It took 35 Space Shuttle missions and more than 250 space walks to construct the ISS, the size of seven nice mobile homes sprawled out over an area that would cover a football field. The complex arrays of gold, wing-like solar panels extend for another 300 feet out away from the “Station,” as NASA calls it.
Continuously occupied since November 1999, there have been more than 250 astronauts/cosmonauts inside the incredible Station.
The Space Station orbits Earth every 90 minutes, 17 times a day. The ISS is easy to see when passing over inhabited areas just before dawn or after sunset. Download an app on your Smartphone and you will see the ISS usually one week in the morning and one week in the evening every month. It will be the brightest “star,” moving like an airplane but without the blinking lights. And at 5 miles a second, you’ll see it move faster as it moves closer overhead, so don’t forget to wave!