The remarkable story of Afghanistan’s first astronaut

Abdul Ahad Momand Afghan astronaut

Most stories involving Afghanistan at the moment are fairly grim. But back in 1988 the country had something to cheer about. The first Afghan spaceman had just returned to earth.

Abdul Ahad Momand was a 29-year-old Afghan Air Force Colonel and a member of the three-man crew on a Russian mission to the Mir space station. He spent 8 days 20 hours and 26 minutes in space.

During his time in space Momand took photographs of the earth, in particular his homeland, and assisted with astrophysical, medical and biological experiments aboard Mir. He also brewed traditional Afghan tea for the crew, and during a telephone conversation with the Afghan president and his mother he made Pashto the fourth language to be spoken in space.
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Bachem Ba 349 “Natter” – vertical takeoff, rocket-powered interceptor death trap

Bachem Ba 349 Natter rocket powered fighter aircraft

The Bachem Ba 349 “Natter” was a radical prototype aircraft produced by Nazi germany during the final years of the war when the allies were starting to push ever closer to Berlin. The aircraft was essentially a very early version of a homing missile, and it was just one of several similar projects to be under development in Germany at the time. The primary target of the Bachem Ba 349 was to be the allied bombers which were slowly bringing the German war machine to a halt.

The Bachmen Ba 349 was designed by Dr Eric Bachem, an engineer who until 1944 worked for aircraft manufacturer Fieseler. In fact the Ba 349 was a development of one of his Fieseler designs. The aircraft was built from wood, glued and nailed together. The pilot was afforded some protection in the form of a bulletproof windshield and an armour plated seat.

Powering the Bachem Ba 349, nicknamed “Natter” (adder in English), were five rockets. Four Schmidding SG34 solid fuel rocket boosters provided the thrust to fire the aircraft up its 20-metre high vertical launch ramp and into the air. After 10 seconds these burnt out and were jettisoned. A larger bi-fuel rocket motor inside the fuselage provided the thrust for the remainder of the flight.
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U-2 Spyplane pilot talks about what it takes to fly at over 70,000 ft

U-2 spyplane cockpit view

It’s safe to say that Colonel Lars Hoffman, Commander of the US Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, is probably one of the most experienced and skilled pilots in the world. He’s flown many of the world’s most advanced aircraft, but one of them, the Lockheed U-2 is among his personal favorites.

And that’s strange, because in an interview with Richard Hollingham of the BBC, his accounts of flying the U-2 make it sound like a complete pig.

For starters, its nickname is “Dragon Lady” – because it’s a dragon at low altitude, and a lady at high altitude. I’m guessing dragon is polite Air Force slang for “doesn’t fly very well”. It requires chase cars to help with the landing because getting it down on the ground safely is so difficult. Even when it’s at its 70,000 ft (13 miles) cruising altitude it’s not all plain sailing. Amazingly Hoffman reveals there’s just a 10 knot window between the maximum speed that the aircraft can fly before it breaks up, and the stall speed! Because of this ludicrously small margin for error, at altitude the U-2 always flies on autopilot.
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World’s first supersonic private jet to have windowless cabin

Spike Aerospace S-512 supersonic jet

Spike Aerospace, a Boston-based company currently developing the world’s first supersonic private jet, have just announced that in the interests of performance and safety, their S-512 jet won’t have any windows in the passenger cabin. Instead the passengers will view the world outside on massive ultra-high definition displays that run the length of the cabin.

Spike Aerospace say there are several reasons for removing the windows from the cabin. Firstly, windows cause significant challenges in designing and constructing a strong, safe, aerodynamic aircraft fuselage. They require addition structural support, which in turn adds to the overall weight of the aircraft, reducing performance and efficiency.
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Strange Vehicles: Payen Pa 49 Katy

Payen PA 49 Katy

The Payen Pa 49 Katy was a pocket-sized prototype aircraft developed in France during the 1950s. It was remarkable for a number of reasons. Firstly it was small, very small. In fact it was the smallest jet-powered aircraft of its day. Secondly it had a delta-wing configuration – which wasn’t ground-breaking by the mid-fifties, but it was still unusual. And thirdly it was a truly tailless aircraft, having no separate horizontal stabilizer.

The aircraft was designed by Roland Payen, who was a pioneer of delta wing and tailess aircraft. Before the second world war he had built two previous aircraft, but the Payen Pa 49 Katy was his first post-war design.
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Strange Vehicles: Dornier Do 31 VTOL jet transport

Dornier Do 31 VTOL aircraft

The Dornier Do 31 was a West German experimental VTOL aircraft built in the late 1960s. To this day it is the only VTOL jet transport aircraft ever built. The aircraft was designed to meet a NATO requirement for a tactical support aircraft to work in conjunction with the EWR VJ 101 VTOL strike aircraft.

The origins of the Dornier Do 31 project began in the early 1960s when German air force top brass started to realise that their airfields were vulnerable to attack from Eastern Bloc forces and the Soviet Union. In an effort to counteract this weakness the Luftwaffe started looking at VTOL and STOVL options. The Dornier Do 31 was one of the results.
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5 insane vehicle related jobs

5 insane vehicle related jobs

There are many, many vehicle related jobs out there. Ranging from the normal ones – like mechanics and bus drivers – to the extraordinary ones – like racing drivers and fighter pilots. And then there are jobs which are truly breathtaking, either because they’re so mind-blowingly awsome, or so ridiculously dangerous. Usually a combination of the two.

Listed here are 5 jobs which are so extreme only a special kind of person would even think of showing up for their first day.

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MiG-105 “Lapot” Spaceplane

MiG-105 Spiral Spaceplane

The Soviet-built MiG-105, or to give it its full name, the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-105, was a manned prototype aircraft developed to explore the low-speed handling and landing characteristics of possible future orbital spaceplanes. The aircraft got its Russian nickname “Lapot” because it looked a bit like a flying shoe. Lapot is Russian slang for shoe.

Design work began on the MiG-105 in 1965, primarily as a response to the lifting body experimental aircraft being tested at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center in California. The MiG-105 project was also sometimes referred to as EPOS (Experimental Passenger Orbital Aircraft) and was part of the Soviet Union’s Spiral aerospace progam.
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10 things you probably didn’t know about… the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress

Boeing B-52H Superfortress

In the new series 10 things you probably didn’t know about… We’ll reveal some amazing and unusual facts about various cars, bikes, boats and aircraft. Today we’re covering the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, an aerial behemoth which has been a part of the US Air Force for decades. But do you know how old it really is? Or how long it will be around for? Or how many Toyota Camrys – in weight – it can carry in its bomb bay? No. Well read on.
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Voyager 1 – The loneliest vehicle

Voyager 1 spacecraft

Voyager 1 space probe, launched on September 5, 1977 is by far the loneliest vehicle in our solar system. It’s currently well over 11.18 Billion miles (18.6 Billion km) away from earth, and heading away from us at a rate of around 10.5 miles (17 km) per SECOND. Or to put it in layman’s terms. Very, very quickly.

A quick visit to the official Voyager probe NASA website – covering Voyager 1 and 2 – shows just how quickly the probes are moving. The site is updated in real-time and it makes for some pretty impressive reading.
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