Another birthday piece, for one of my girlfriends who always had a soft spot for Peter Rabbit and spaceflight.
The story of cosmonaut lagomorphs starts pretty early on, with the rabbit Марфуша ("Marfusha"
, or "Little Martha") making a flight on a R-2A Rocket
on July the 2nd, 1959.
Because there is little chance of a Soyuz going up without a Russian Cosmonaut at the controls, I decided pretty early on that Peter was going to fly with a Russian rabbit - I briefly considered Marfusha herself, before I realised that, rather than a relatively unknown real rabbit (even if it actually flew into space), it would make better sense to have the other rabbit be a Russian children's icon, like Peter.
What other candidate then than Заяц ("Zayats", or "Hare"), from the popular Soviet era cartoon " Ну, погоди!" ("Nu, Pogodi!", or "Just you wait!")? I mean, even though I'm not Russian myself, I am, however, from Eastern Europe, and I still remember seeing them on the television before the fall of communism...
When it comes to the actual spacecraft and the spacesuits, I tried to be as accurate as possible, by studying a lot of post-flight imagery from the the current Soyuz missions. The capsule herself is the descent module of the Soyuz TMA-M, the current generation space capsule
manufactured by the firm "Ракетно-космическая корпорация «Энергия» им. С.П. Королёва"("Raketno-kosmicheskaya korporatsiya “Energiya” im. S.P. Koroleva", "The S.P. Korolev Corporation for Rockets and Space "Energiya" [Energy]"), the main Russian manufacturer of spacecraft. It is recognisable from the earlier Soyuz TMA by the extra wiring in the antenna bay at the upper left.
Also typical of the current spaceflight recoveries are the fact the astronauts are sitting on wooden rocking chairs, in distinctive nautically themed sleeping bags (this is as close as I could get to the actual pattern, unfortunately, without drawing it from scratch) and covered with blue blankets with the "Роскосмос" ("Russcosmos", or "Russpace", the name of the Russian Space Agency) logo. They are wearing the KV2 version of the "Cокол" ("Sokol", "Falcon") space suit introduced in 1973 (1980 for the KV2) and still worn by all cosmonauts who fly the Soyuz spacecraft.
Traditionally, one of the first things the cosmonauts do once on the ground is sign their name on the capsule in chalk, along with the mission name and the date. In this case, though, each of the two also wrote a birthday wish in their own respective language - "Happy Birthday!" from Peter Rabbit and "С днём рождения!" ("S dniom razdhenya!", lit. "on your day of birth", a contraction of "поздравляю с днём рождения", ["pozdravlioiu s dniom razdhenya!", "congratulations on your day of birth"]) from Zayats.
The mission number is Soyuz TMA-14M, which happens to be the number of the current Soyuz flight that launched September 25 carrying cosmonauts Aleksandr Samokutyayev, Yelena Serova and Barry E. Wilmore. It is the 123rd flight of a Soyuz spacecraft and it docked with the ISS six hours after launch, being scheduled to return on March 25, 2015. The port solar array initially failed to deploy, but this was fixed after docking with the ISS.
In my alternate reality, the mission carries only two cosmonauts rather than the standard three, because I wanted to bring to mind the
"Интеркосмос" ("Intercosmos") goodwill flights of the late 70s and early 80s which were designed to
give nations on friendly terms with the Soviet Union access to space, the first of which were held aboard the second generation Soyuz spacecraft, Soyuz 7K-T
, which could only carry two passengers (it had been redesigned so that the cosmonauts would be wearing spacesuits during launch and reentry following the Soyuz 11 disaster in which three Russian cosmonauts, flying the original Soyuz 7K-OK, asphyxiated on reentry as a pressure equalisation valve was jerked open in the upper atmosphere by the separation of the service module).
Amusingly, the final mission flown with the 7-KT was Soyuz 40
, which ended the first phase of the Intercosmos program by carrying Romanian cosmonaut Dumitru Prunariu and Soviet cosmonaut Leonid Popov to the Салют-6 ("Salyut-6, "Salute-6") space station. The descent stage is currently displayed in the National Military Museum of Romania, one of my regular haunts.