“For decades, the standard Soyuz survival pack included a deluxe all-in-one pistol called the TOZ 82 with three barrels and a folding stock that doubled as a shovel and contained a swing-out machete,” space junkie journo James Oberg writes at spectrum.ieee.org. “There were a few dozen rounds of three types of ammunition—rifle bullets, shotgun shells and flares—in a belt attached to the gun.” This is not new news. What’s interesting: Oberg now claims the Russkies have stopped packing the TOZ 82 for their flights to the International Space Station. I’ll explain how he came to that conclusion in a moment. First, some tales of multi-national TOZ 82 training on the Black Sea . . .
In the early years of the ISS, NASA astronauts also trained with the TOZ 82. Familiarization usually took place during survival training in the Black Sea, when the crews trained to safely exit a spacecraft floating on the water. After floating around in the water for a day or two, the astronauts and cosmonauts would take a few hours to fire several rounds from each chamber off the deck of the training ship.
“It was amazing how many wine, beer and vodka bottles the crew of the ship could come up with for us to shoot at,” astronaut Jim Voss, who spent a stint aboard the international space station in 2001, told me. “It was very accurate,” he continued. “We threw the bottles as far as possible, probably 20 or 30 meters, then shot them. It was trivial to hit the bottles with the shotgun shells, and relatively easy to hit them with the rifle bullets on the first shot.”
Astronaut Dave Wolf, who spent four months aboard Russia’s Mir space station in 1997-98, agreed that the space weapon was “a wonderful gun.” He added, “I found it to be well-balanced, highly accurate and convenient to use.”
Mike Foale, the only astronaut who served aboard both Mir and the international space station, trained with the gun and found it to be pretty standard. “Other than firing flares, birdshot and a hard slug from its three barrels, during sea and winter survival training, I can’t say it is very unique,” he told me. He added, as if in reassurance, “The Soyuz commander controls its use.”
OK, so Oberg addresses the central question: do Cosmonauts have access to the TOZ 82 onboard the International Space Station, just in case crew relations become a bit . . . strained? He says they did, but don’t now.
“The pistol is still on the official list of kit contents,”Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti recalled the Russian review committee chairman saying. “But before every mission we meet to review that list and vote to remove it for this specific flight.”
The reasons for this remain obscure. Her crewmate, Terry Virts, told me he suspected it was connected with the transfer of the cosmonaut training center from military to civilian jurisdiction. And there is growing pressure in Russia to return the center to military control.
So it’s clear that while there are, as of now, no guns aboard the space station, the option remains to put a pistol back on board a future mission. Maybe a special treaty IS needed, and those diplomats might earn their keep!
And maybe they’re lying. And maybe American astronauts are not without their own personal defense weapons . . .