Soyuz TMA-11 / ISS Expedition 16

Soyuz TMA-11The sixteenth full-time crew of the International Space Station lifts off from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome aboard Soyuz TMA-11. Yuri Malenchenko and Peggy Whitson take up residence on the ISS for 196 days. Arriving with them on the ISS for a ten-day stay is Malaysian space tourist Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, who returns to Earth aboard Soyuz TMA-10 with the Expedition 15 crew. Like other “space tourists” before him, he has paid for his own Soyuz seat and mission training. When Malenchenko and Whitson return in April 2008 with South Korean astronaut Yi So-Yeon, the Soyuz suffers a dangerous malfunction, failing to jettison its service module; the result is an off-balance spacecraft that re-enters the atmosphere nose-first, exposing under-insulated portions of the vehicle to the heat of re-entry and forcing the crew to endure 10 Gs. The vehicle lands nearly 300 miles off-course and Yi So-Yeon suffers neck and spinal injuries in the landing; the head of the Russian space program doesn’t improve matters by blaming these events on an “old Russian superstition” that having more women than men in a vehicle is bad luck. NASA and Russian space engineers begin investigating the mishap, finally arriving at the more plausible explanation of a malfunctioning spacecraft.