Russian Scientists Have Been Trying to Make a ‘Space Motorcycle’ for Decades

Orbital commutes made easy.
February 6, 2018, 5:28pm

Last Friday, two Russian cosmonauts spent over eight hours on a space walk outside the International Space Station (ISS) to do repairs. To keep them safe, the pair were tethered to the ISS exterior, but Russian space scientists have long dreamed of implementing a more liberating orbital apparatus—a “space motorcycle,” capable of transporting astronauts between locations off Earth.

A video posted Tuesday by Roscosmos, the Russian space program, summarizes this decades-long quest to bring motorcycle joy rides to outer space. Beginning in the 1960s, prototypes of maneuverable space vehicles were developed first by the Tomilino-based manufacturer Zvedza, and then for the Soviet military station Almaz. The project never materialized, and was dropped for several years.

But visions of space motorcycles reemerged in 1984, after NASA debuted its manned maneuvering unit (MMU), a propulsion backpack that enabled astronauts to potter around in space, untethered to any spacecraft. The Russian space community subsequently produced the maneuverable 21KS unit, which was tested by cosmonauts Aleksandr Viktorenko and Aleksandr Serebrov on the Mir space station in February 1990.

The 21KS units never caught on with the Mir crews, and ended up buckled to the exterior of the station until it burned up in the atmosphere in 2001. The diverse crews of the ISS have since developed the Simplified Aid For EVA Rescue (SAFER) unit, and its successor the Draper suit, both of which are designed to return astronauts to a spacecraft in case of emergency.

While the dream of a space motorcycle for cosmonauts to use for jetting between stations, as originally envisioned in the 1960s, has not come to pass yet, Roscosmos said “work on it continues” in their summary of the video.