Have you ever wondered why, in the 1960s,
NASA used splashdown landings and the Soviet Union landed on land?
Yeah, I was curious about that one too!
Okay! To answer this question,
we have to look at other things beyond just the landing method itself.
We actually have to start with
why the launch sites for the two countries are where they are.
When the US Air Force and, eventually,
NASA started launching things into orbit from Cape Canaveral,
it wasn’t just an arbitrary choice.
There are a lot of reasons
that this as a launch site made a lot of sense.
Engineers already knew- they’d known for decades
that the best way to take advantage of
the earth’s rotation to put something into orbit
was to launch closer to the equator.
Cape Canaveral is probably the southernmost point in the United States
that actually makes sense to launch,
because it’s not just the latitude that matters,
it’s the area around that launch site that’s really important.
Being coastal and having the Atlantic Ocean east of the launch site
but anything going into orbit could take advantage of
the earth’s rotation and also launch over unpopulated areas, AKA:the ocean.
The Atlantic Ocean, engineers realized,
was also a really great landing pad. Not only are there
no people there to hit and potentially injure,
it’s much softer and more yielding than the land.
Engineers realized that with a parachute, the ocean
was soft enough to land on without risking bodily harm to the astronauts.
It was also unpopulated,
so if any winds came and moved the spacecraft over
during that last phase of landing,
they wouldn’t risk hitting a person or a house or some building.
Being away from all populated areas was the best bet.
同样 降落伞方式是最简单 也最容易的
Also, the parachute method was the simplest; it was easiest.
When you’re dealing with all the new
unknowns of space flight with the Mercury program,
just use a parachute and land in a safe spot.
Then there’s also the fact that the United States has a massive Navy.
Landing in the Atlantic Ocean meant that a Navy ship, or a fleet of ships,
could reach the astronauts within a few hours of landing.
Even if they didn’t hit their primary or secondary zone,
if they hit a contingency zone,
there could always be a ship in international waters
less than two days from the crew.
If you want to know why that two days is important,
I’ve got a video about it right up here.
The Soviet Union was in a bit of a different situation
when it started looking at launching men into space.
Russia is very far north and there isn’t a very good
southern launch site that would take advantage of
the earth’s rotation the same way Cape Canaveral does
for getting spacecraft and payloads into orbit.
That’s why the Soviet launch site was not in Russia, it’s in Kazakhstan.
The Kazakh government leased the site to the Soviet Union in the 1950s.
It’s the southernmost point that was within the Soviet Union’s empire,
but it’s still pretty far north.
It’s on about the same latitude as Portland, Maine.
The site is also landlocked.
There isn’t exactly a nice cushion of yielding soft,
welcoming ocean around the launch area
in case crews had to abort during launch
or to land near where they took off from.
The bodies of water that the Soviet Union
did have access to you are all in the Arctic Circle,
meaning that they could be very dangerous for cosmonauts
if they splash down and then had to egress from the spacecraft
while waiting for recovery crews. But the Soviet Union
did have a lot of, that the United States lacked is land.
Lots and lots of areas with no people in it
that would be a safe spot for a landing.
It was simpler for Soviet engineers to figure out
how to bring their cosmonauts down on land
than it was to figure out navigating international waters or arctic seas
in a splashdown scenario.
As we know this required a much more complicated landing system.
See, the cosmonauts in the early Vostok days
didn’t actually land inside their spacecraft.
The parachute was still not gonna slow the capsule enough
to spare the cosmonaut from a really hard landing,
so he had to eject
before landing and land by a personal parachute,
while the spacecraft also used its own parachute.
It wasn’t until the Soyuz days
that the Soviet engineers perfected the system
that is still in use with Soyuz today.
The retrorockets fire at the last second before landing,
slowing the spacecraft so it’s a nice smooth landing in an open field.
Although, anecdotally i have heard from a number of
astronauts but it’s still a pretty hard landing.
But you know what?
I’d take that hard landing
if it meant I got to go to space.
This wasn’t a question that only I had,
a lot of you guys have asked me about this as well
and as such I’ve got a little bit more information
in the companion blog post over on Discover,
The link is in the description,
so definitely check that out if you would like to know
a little bit more about landings in the 1960s.
And of course, if you have other questions or other things
you’d like to see covered in future episodes,
leave those in the comments section as well.
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