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On September 10, the last three members of International Space Station Expedition 36 landed in Kazakhstan. At the time, it seemed like a picture-perfect return to Earth, but Commander Pavel Vinogradov told reporters afterwards that their landing was luckily soft – but far from perfect. It seems a display in the Soyuz blanked out after separation of the landing module. The crew was not able to read their altitude, and were reliant on relay reports from mission control to know when to fire engines for landing.

Roscosmos quickly responded to the comments, which were widely covered in the media. As RIANovosti reports:

The head of Russia’s Federal Space Agency on Friday denied reports that the spacecraft that brought a crew of the International Space Station back to Earth this week had to execute a “blind landing” due to malfunctioning sensors.

“It wasn’t a blind landing,” Vladimir Popovkin told journalists, adding that mission control simply switched off an information display in the landing module of the Soyuz TMA-08M spacecraft.

“Two dates simply overlapped in a program, and we had to turn off the [information] display so that [the readings] would not be patchy on the screen,” Popovkin said.

While it sounds like the problem was a software issue, there are few details available aside from Popovkin’s comments. It does seem odd that if the display had been intentionally shut off that the crew – including Commander Vinogradov – would be unaware of that fact. At this point, we have no indication as to whether this problem is isolated to Soyuz TMA-08M or if it could crop up in other units.

Image caption: Christopher Cassidy, Pavel Vinogradov, and Alexander Misurkin rest after landing in a malfunctioning Soyuz TMA-08M (Credits: NASA).

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Merryl Azriel

Merryl Azriel

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Having wandered into professional writing and editing after a decade in engineering, science, and management, Merryl now enjoys reintegrating the dichotomy by bringing space technology and policy within reach of an interested public. After three years as Space Safety Magazine’s Managing Editor, Merryl semi-retired to Visiting Contributor and manager of the campaign to bring the International Space Station collaboration to the attention of the Nobel Peace Prize committee. She keeps her pencil sharp as Proposal Manager for U.S. government contractor CSRA.