Why did cosmonauts land on land while astronauts landed on water?

Simplicio - I think that Bosda Di’Chi of Tricor is correct about the Soviets wanting as much control over what would get reported.

From what I understand, the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin, parachuted from the capsule before it hit the ground. (It seems the Soviets were also worried about returning space travelers dying in the final second of their flight).

I believe the Soviets kept Yuri Gagarin’s parachuting from being reported because the journey would not be a true “space flight” because the person did not travel in the space capsule from beginning to end.

According to Wikipedia:

He said Soviet desire for control was the reason they chose land over water recoveries. That isn’t true, the reasons for the choice were technical.

Simplicio–in totalitarian governments, control concerns always get the last word.

Do you have any cite that “control concerns” played a role in the decision of spacecraft landing method?

In my defense, Simplicio did not cite terrain as a factor; he/she cited land area and population density.
Powers &8^]

All I know of Alaska is from reading Jack London, so I too thought there was a lot of tundra to land in. :slight_smile:

Thank you,** XT**. I was wondering how long I’d have to wait!

There are specific technical reasons for the choices, although like most things there are tradeoffs. Location of the launch on the Earth makes a huge difference. If you simply want to get into orbit you want to use as much of the Earth’s rotational speed as possible. Ideally you therefore try to be as close to the Equator as possible. For the USSR this was Baikonur, and was about as far South as they could go and feel comfortable. This impllcitly put them in the middle of a huge land mass. For the US, getting a Southern latitude was easier. The next issue is range safety. Dropping failed rockets on the populace is not a good thing, and given Baikonur was primarily a ICBM test range, they were doing a lot of this, it needed to be remote. The US has the luxury of launching over the sea at Southern latitudes. So Florida (or Texas) were obvious sites, since launches that use the rotation of the Earth to help are to the East. But the other issue was search and rescue. How do you find an errant landing quickly? The Mercury planners felt that the Navy was a good bet, having lots of experience in this. So they pencilled the Navy in for this role even before landing mode had been really worked out. NASA actually worked on both land and sea landings. They dropped pigs in capsules on the ground to test designs and the ability of animals to cope. The Mercury capsule could protect an astronaut in a 20g impact with no additional protection. All of the tests of and in support of Mercury were over water with Naval recovery. A critical issue for Mercury was the the launch escape system. It needed to be able to haul the capsule off the top of an inflight booster as the booster exploded, quickly enough that the occupant would survive. So in this circumstance, with an Easterly oceanic launch you are going to get wet. On pad aborts could have dropped back onto land, but much into flight there would be a water landing. (There were other on pad options considered.) In all it probably just all added up to a water landing for Mercury for all circumstances, since they had to plan for it in some anyway, and adding explicit land capability only added weight and complexity. Something that they wanted neither of.

Adding to myself.

The Gemini programme was a mix of upgraded Mercury and pathfinder for Apollo. So it followed suit. For Apollo there is a need to be able to land almost anywhere around the planet. When coming from the moon you are committed to your landing site to a large extent at the moment you perform the burn to exit lunar orbit, some ability to fine tune the location is provided by correction burns on the way, but these take fuel and won’t give to the entire 24 hour rotation of the Earth to pick from. The Earth will be cheerfully rotating beneath you as you come home, and the point at the edge of the atmosphere where you must insert into re-entry is very very fine. The bit of geography underneath the entry point is determined by where the Earth has rotated to when you hit it, and nothing else. In the event you have an emergency and have to come home right away, there may be no option but to land half a world away from the usual site. The was a serious consideration during Apollo 13, although eventually they had the flexibility to have a reasonably easy landing. During Mercury they had no idea how bad things might become, and the option to bring the capsule down at a moments notice also played into planning.

Cecil’s original answer skates past a critical point of re-entry. He writes that the capsule slows with a retro-rocket, and then (if you were Russian) uses retro-rockets to cushion the landing. This ignores the fact that the actual speed is removed by aerodynamic forces in the atmosphere. To deorbit, the retro-rockets only re-orient the orbit enough that the capsule starts to dip into the atmosphere. On the return from the moon, even this isn’t done. The de-orbit burn at the moon points the capsule back to the Earth, and it slams into the atmosphere at full speed with only feeble attitude control rockets to perform manoeuvring. The Apollo capsule was a lifting body and had some modicum of control in the atmosphere to fly to a landing point, but not much. Enough that it could fly close to the pickup craft if the reentry point was good, but not enough to compensate for any change to re-entry point.

In the end the US has of course performed the vast majority of its manned landings onto the ground, and not the sea.

This is the most enjoyable forum I’ve read in a long time.

Plus “marauding reactionary nomadic pawns of the capitalists” is a phrase that deserves to be immortalized. Maybe as the name of a group funding the remains of the Tea Party. MARENOPAC anyone?

This is the SDMB!

We are what the Interwebs was supposed to be!

I’d like to point out that this particular letterism screams “Political Action Committee (PAC)” to the unenlightened, so it still works.

Francis Vaughan, thank you for that! Wow. Next time I get to do a little cross-country skiing, I will think of those cosmonauts.

So, in essence, one could (oversimply) say that the US flights landed on water because they TOOK OFF over water; and they took off over water (after the first minute of liftoff) because (given US territorial geography) that was the safest thing for people on the ground, in case something went wrong in the first minutes.