Hungary entered the ranks of spacefaring countries on 26 May 1980. Bertalan Farkas, the first Hungarian cosmonaut and 97th human in outer space.
Farkas, along with Soviet cosmonaut Valeri Kubasov, was launched into space on Soyuz 36 from Baikonur Cosmodrome on May 26, 1980, at 18:20 (UTC).
Bertalan’s fellow crewmember on the Soyuz 36 flight to the Salyut 6 space station was veteran cosmonaut Valeri Kubasov. He and Bertalan returned to Earth aboard Soyuz 35, on 3 June 1980, after 8 days in space – which took Valeri’s total to 18 days over three missions. Their backups were Béla Magyari and Vladimir Dzhanibekov.
While in orbit, Farkas conducted experiments in material science. After 7 days, 20 hours and 45 minutes, and having completed 124 orbits, Farkas and Kubasov returned to Earth, landing 140 km southeast of Jezkazgan. Bertalan Farkas was awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union on June 30, 1980.
Valeri Kubasov and Bertalan Farkas photographed over 60 percent of the area of Hungary using the MKF-6M camera, while at the same time an Antonov AN-30 laboratory airplane filmed the same area from an altitude of four to five miles (6.4 to 8.0 kilometers). As well, four types of film were taken from helicopters flying between 5,000 and 8,000 feet (1,524 and 2,438 meters) above the ground. Heat-sensing devices also took measurements.
The MKF-6M was not simply a matter of point and shoot; first the camera had to be primed, then the Salyut station had to be oriented to aim the camera directly at the ground when the photograph had to be taken.
The international crew obtained new data by performing technological experiments on the Kristall and Splav electric-heating installations. These experiments, aimed at the further study of melting, diffusion and crystallization in conditions of weightlessness, were considered to be of great importance for improving the technological processes in series production of new semiconducting materials and for the further development of electronics.
The Soyuz craft was used to boost the station’s orbit on May 29, 1980, then Valeri Kubasov and Bertalan Farkas swapped Soyuz craft with the long-duration crew, exchanging seat liners, pressure suits and personal items, before departing the station in Soyuz 35 on June 03, 1980.
The Soyuz spacecraft is composed of three elements attached end-to-end – the Orbital Module, the Descent Module and the Instrumentation/Propulsion Module. The crew occupied the central element, the Descent Module. The other two modules are jettisoned prior to re-entry. They burn up in the atmosphere, so only the Descent Module returned to Earth.
Having shed two-thirds of its mass, the Soyuz reached Entry Interface – a point 400,000 feet (121.9 kilometers) above the Earth, where friction due to the thickening atmosphere began to heat its outer surfaces. With only 23 minutes left before it lands on the grassy plains of central Asia, attention in the module turned to slowing its rate of descent.
Eight minutes later, the spacecraft was streaking through the sky at a rate of 755 feet (230 meters) per second. Before it touched down, its speed slowed to only 5 feet (1.5 meter) per second, and it lands at an even lower speed than that. Several onboard features ensure that the vehicle and crew land safely and in relative comfort.
Four parachutes, deployed 15 minutes before landing, dramatically slowed the vehicle’s rate of descent. Two pilot parachutes were the first to be released, and a drogue chute attached to the second one followed immediately after. The drogue, measuring 24 square meters (258 square feet) in area, slowed the rate of descent from 755 feet (230 meters) per second to 262 feet (80 meters) per second.
The main parachute was the last to emerge. It is the largest chute, with a surface area of 10,764 square feet (1,000 square meters). Its harnesses shifted the vehicle’s attitude to a 30-degree angle relative to the ground, dissipating heat, and then shifted it again to a straight vertical descent prior to landing.
The main chute slowed the Soyuz to a descent rate of only 24 feet (7.3 meters) per second, which is still too fast for a comfortable landing. One second before touchdown, two sets of three small engines on the bottom of the vehicle fired, slowing the vehicle to soften the landing.
Present days Bertalan Farkas, although retired, is active in promoting education for the next generation of astronauts, giving public lectures worldwide.
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