The Soyuz Experience in Photos

A trio of Canadian astronauts in the Soyuz simulator.
From left to right: David Saint-Jacques, Chris Hadfield and Jeremy Hansen.
(Credit: CSA)

Riding in a Soyuz spacecraft is an experience like no other, but to have the privilege of travelling in one of the Space Age's most reliable and durable vehicles, astronauts and cosmonauts have to pay their dues. From survival training in the wild and woolly Russian forests, to the challenges posed in a cramped Soyuz simulator, astronauts and cosmonauts must refine their skills under pressure and adversity.

The following images show significant moments in the process of preparing for and riding on a Soyuz spacecraft. Included are: training, pre-flight ceremonies, launch, in-flight and arrival, as well as return in a Soyuz spacecraft.


Soyuz Simulator Training

Before an astronaut is considered ready for flight, they must be able to perform all tasks relevant to their position in the Soyuz spacecraft. To that end, astronauts can spend hundreds of hours performing simulated missions in the Soyuz Simulator.

Outside the Soyuz Simulator – The crew of Expedition 34/35 pose in front of the Soyuz Simulator. From L to R: Canadian Space Agency (CSA) Astronaut Chris Hadfield, Cosmonaut Roman Romanenko, NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn. (Credit: CSA)

Inside the Soyuz Simulator – Bob Thirsk (R), dressed in his Sokol suit and helmet, takes part in a practice session in the Soyuz Simulator. To his left is cosmonaut Roman Romanenko who was the Soyuz crew commander during their Expedition 20-21 flight. (Credit: CSA)

Survival Training

The Soyuz capsule returns to Earth on the steppes of Kazakhstan. Under ideal conditions, the Russians know the approximate location of where it will land. However, if any unforeseen circumstances should complicate the Soyuz's return, such as bad weather or a malfunction, the crew could find themselves stranded in unknown territory for an indeterminate time. Hence they receive winter survival training, which includes learning how to hunt, use flares, set up a makeshift shelter, and how to forage for kindling and food.

Setting his sights – CSA Astronaut Bob Thirsk sets his sights on an out-of-frame target. Should the crew be threatened by a wild animal such as a bear, they could use this gun as a last recourse. (Credit: CSA)

Taking Shelter – Chris Hadfield's Expedition 34/35 crewmate Tom Marshburn puts together a makeshift shelter in an emergency wintertime landing simulation. (Credit: Gagarin Research and Test Cosmonaut Training Centre)

Splashdown Training – There is a possibility that a Soyuz capsule could go off course and make a splashdown in the ocean. In this photo a Soyuz capsule, with crew inside, is lowered into the water to run a simulation of such a scenario. (Credit: CSA)

The Forel Suit – Chris Hadfield (left) and colleague astronauts wear the Forel anti-immersion suit and multiple thermal under-layers to train for an emergency splashdown scenario. (Credit: CSA)

Other Training

To withstand the rigours of spaceflight, astronauts and cosmonauts need to be in top physical condition. While staying in the Baikonur Cosmodrome before their flight, they'll train under the watch and guidance of on-site medical professionals.

Tilting the Tables – Prior to launch, astronauts undergo tilt-table training at the Cosmonaut Hotel in Baikonur. This procedure is designed to expose astronauts to the "fluid-shifts" they'll experience in weightlessness. Cosmonaut Gennady Padalka (left) and NASA astronaut Michael Barratt listen to their mp3 players while a medical doctor supervises. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Heavy Lifters – Prior to their launch and while staying in the Cosmonaut Hotel, astronauts will exercise under the supervision of medical doctors. Here NASA astronaut Michael Barratt lifts weights in the hotel's gym. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Russian Pre-flight Ceremonies

By embracing science and engineering, the Russians have developed one of the world's most successful space programs. Yet they have also been able to imbue their program with cultural richness, weaving Russian traditions and ritual into their activities. These cultural flourishes are largely reflected in their pre-flight ceremonies. Whether Russian or not, all astronauts take part. Here are just a few of their traditions.

Flowers at the Memorial Wall – While in Star City and just before departing for the Baikonur Cosmodrome, both prime and backup crews will place red carnations at the foot of the Yuri Gagarin Memorial Wall. In this photo ESA astronaut Andre Kuipers pays his respects. (Credit: NASA)

Flag Raising Ceremony – During their stay at the Cosmonaut Hotel in the Baikonur Cosmodrome, astronauts will take part in a flag raising ceremony. This will occur approximately five days before launch. Among the astronauts depicted here are Canadians Chris Hadfield and Bob Thirsk hoisting the Maple Leaf. (Credit: NASA/Victor Zelentsov)

Tree Planting Ceremony – Behind the Cosmonaut Hotel is an avenue of trees planted by astronauts and cosmonauts who have flown from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Each crew member will plant a tree. In this photo Canadian space tourist Guy Laliberté (center) is joined by cosmonaut Maxim Suraev (left) and NASA astronaut Jeff Williams. (Credit: NASA/Victor Zelentsov)

Signatures at the Museum – Astronauts will tour the Korolov Museum in the Baikonur Cosmodrome and add their signatures to the museum's walls. NASA astronaut Don Pettit is captured in the midst of signing a picture of a Soyuz rocket. (Credit: NASA)

Coins on Tracks – Until very recently guests and personnel used to place coins on the railroad tracks of the train that would haul the Soyuz rocket to its launch pad. The squashed coins were considered good luck charms. These are from Expedition 20/21 – Canada's first long-duration mission. (Credit: ESA/S. Corvaja)

Links to the Past – Vestiges of Russia's Soviet-era past remain in Star City as evidenced by this monument to Vladimir Lenin. Pictured here are the crew of ISS Expedition 8. (Credit: NASA)


48 hours prior to launch, the Soyuz rocket is transported to its launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Within that time period astronauts and cosmonauts will be suited up, meet the media, and give their farewells to family and friends. They will then be taken by bus to the launch pad, en route to their appointment with destiny.

Soyuz Rollout – Like the Western tradition that stipulates a groom should never see his wife-to-be in her wedding dress before the ceremony, so too are astronauts and cosmonauts forbid to see the Soyuz rocket as it makes its way to the launch pad. In this photo, the rocket for Expedition 21 is rolled out under the watch of armed guards at the Baikonur Cosmodrome. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Contrasts – The Soyuz rocket, one of the world's most sophisticated spacecraft, is transported to its launch pad by a low-tech train, the kind of visual contrast that is commonplace in the Baikonur Cosmodrome. (Credit: NASA)

The Soyuz Rocket – The Soyuz rocket is raised on its launch pad in the Baikonur Cosmodrome. (Credit: NASA)

Blessing – An Orthodox priest is on-site at every launch to bless the crew and the Soyuz rocket. Here he turns his attention towards the press. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Soyuz Seat Fitting – Long before launch, astronauts and cosmonauts will have their Soyuz seat custom-molded for their body. Since the seat absorbs tremendous shock upon landing, any deviation from the measured specs could result in injury for the cosmonaut. Pictured here is Chris Hadfield in his custom-fitted Soyuz seat while in the midst of a pressure suit check. (Credit: CSA)

Pressure Checks – Prior to launch, astronauts and cosmonauts have pressure checks performed for their launch and entry Sokol suits. This trio has just completed their suit-donning procedures. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Media Scrum – The suited-up astronauts and cosmonauts talk with space officials and media before their appointment with the Soyuz spacecraft. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

The Salute – The astronauts and cosmonauts, having left the suit-up facility, will take their place on their designated squares and the Commander will give a final salute to the Baikonur Cosmodrome Committee Chairman before they head out to the Soyuz launch pad. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Getting on the bus – The astronauts and cosmonauts, dressed in their Sokol suits with ventilators in tow, enter the bus that will take them to the Soyuz launch pad. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Waves before the ride – The astronauts and cosmonauts, on the pressurized bus that will take them to the Soyuz launch pad, wave goodbye to the crowd. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

The Entourage – Surrounded by officials and technicians on the launch pad, the astronauts and cosmonauts are escorted to the Soyuz rocket. In the centre of this photo is cosmonaut Roman Romanenko and behind him, CSA Astronaut Bob Thirsk. (Credit: CSA)

Ascent – The astronauts and cosmonauts ascend a flight of stairs to enter the Soyuz rocket. They will enter through the top third hatch, the Orbital (habitation) Module, and descend through a second hatch to seat themselves in the centre Descent Module. (Credit: CSA)

Lift off – The Soyuz rocket, carrying three astronauts and cosmonauts, lifts off in dramatic fashion. A three-stage rocket, once the propellant is used up in one stage, it will fall off and another rocket stage will kick in, creating extreme shifts in G-forces. (Credit: ESA/S. Corvaja)

In case of an emergency during the Soyuz launch, 8 planes, 13 helicopters and a ship wait along this launch path that stretches from Baikonur to Japan.

In-flight and Arrival

Astronauts and cosmonauts will typically spend two days in the Soyuz spacecraft before it docks with the ISS. During that time they will acclimatize themselves to weightlessness and monitor the Soyuz systems to ensure that everything is in working order. The Ground Station will send commands to the onboard computer to put the Soyuz on a path to rendezvous with the Station. In an ideal situation the Soyuz will dock to the ISS automatically. However, in instances where the radar fails, astronauts and cosmonauts will use the onboard visual targeting system to manually dock with the Station. That's when all those countless hours spent in the Soyuz simulator really pay off.

En route – The Soyuz spacecraft, jettisoning its main rocket thrusters after reaching low-Earth orbit, is on its way to a rendezvous with the International Space Station. Once in orbit the Soyuz will deploy its solar arrays and antennas. (Credit: NASA)

In flight – Astronauts and cosmonauts will typically become aware that they've reached space when a small, tethered figurine (it varies per mission – it was Smokey the Bear for Expedition 31!) begins to float. This is called their "G-Meter". The crew will migrate from the center Descent Module to the Orbital (habitation) Module, and trade their Sokol suits for more comfortable work clothes. (Credit: NASA)

Arrival – Cosmonauts will live in the cramped quarters of the Soyuz for two days before docking to the ISS, and in that time will eat only room-temperature food and have access to only a few basic amenities. However, it is a small sacrifice to pay in order to live and work in the world's most sophisticated large-scale orbital laboratory. (Credit: NASA)

Return to Earth

The Soyuz spacecraft can return to Earth a mere 3.5 hours after undocking from the Space Station. Though relatively quick compared to the launch and ascent, the final stages of the descent can be very physically demanding. Astronauts and cosmonauts are subjected to a G-load effect that can first be detected when dust particles begin to sink in the crew capsule. This G-load effect consists of intensifying pressure to the body as the capsule re-enters the atmosphere. This can cause nausea and impaired vision. But the worst of it is saved for last as the Soyuz impacts with the ground – it is often compared to the experience of being in a car crash!

The Return – Upon its return to Earth the Soyuz will separate into three separate components—only the capsule (the Descent Module) containing the crew will return in one (scorched) piece; the other modules will burn up in the Earth's atmosphere.
This photo is of the Soyuz TMA-7 shortly after its departure from the ISS. (Credit: NASA)

Impact – In the final stages of the Soyuz's return to Earth, parachutes are deployed and four rockets fire to cushion the impact with the ground. However, the collision is still severe, and if not for the spring-loaded Soyuz seats the crew are strapped into to absorb the brunt of the impact on their bodies, survival would be nil. In this photo the Soyuz TMA-22 successfully lands in the plains of Kazakhstan. (Credit: NASA/Carla Cioffi)

Retrieval – Upon landing, the crew of the Soyuz will remain inside the capsule until a rescue team arrives. Soyuz capsules will usually land just outside the Northern Kazakhstan town of Arkalyk. In this photo, the crew of Expedition 29 have returned after five months aboard the ISS. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

On firm ground – The returning astronauts and cosmonauts will not attempt to stand after being retrieved from the Soyuz capsule. Rather, the rescue team will place them in chairs and they will be evaluated by doctors. They will then be carried to an awaiting helicopter and flown to Kustenai, Kazakhstan. This photo features cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin of Expedition 14. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Celebration – As one of several welcome-back celebrations, the astronauts and cosmonauts are first feted in Kustanai, Kazakhstan where they are dressed in traditional Kazakh attire. Later, they will receive another official welcoming in Star City, Russia. (Credit: ESA)