Russian cosmonauts armed with 3-barreled gun to fight aliens

***Among the training regimes that Russian cosmonauts pass before being admitted into orbit is the shooting range. The reason is that they must learn how to use a special three-barreled gun found on every Soyuz spacecraft.***

Unlike the Star Wars universe, however, real-life spacemen don’t fire sparkling blasts of energy at charging stormtroopers. The TP-82 gun is part of the survival kit and is meant to be used on terra firma if cosmonauts land in the wilderness.

A gun in orbit is a controversial issue. NASA traditionally keeps a ‘no firearms on board’ policy, and their astronauts’ survival kit has had a machete-like knife as its only weapon for decades. When the International Space Station project was launched, the status of a pistol on Russian ships became one of the tricky legal questions.

Some people like astronaut James Oberg called for discarding the gun, saying the country calling for a ban of weapons in space should show a good example and citing concerns over the enlargement of the ISS crews and the likely rise of tension between members. The Russian Space Agency held its ground and the TP-82 kept its place.

The third space-faring nation China apparently sided with Russia in its attitude towards firearms in space. The Chinese media reported that the Shenzhou-6 expedition in 2005 was armed with pistols for self-defense, but no detail on the model or the number of the weapons was disclosed. Russian space experts believe that China may have borrowed the concept of the TP-82 and developed their own version.

The blaster

The TP-82 – an abbreviation is of the Russian name ‘three-barreled pistol’ – is more a hunting shotgun than a handgun. As its name suggests, it has two larger 12.5 mm caliber smooth bore barrels located side by side and a smaller 5.45 mm caliber rifled barrel under them. The combination gives the weapon a futuristic look, and Russian survival trainers recall some people asking them to show ‘the blaster’ when speaking about the TP-82.

The three barrels are used to shoot rifle bullets, shotgun shells and flares. The standard Soyuz survival kit includes 20 rifle rounds, 20 flares and 10 shotgun shells. The cartridges are reloaded manually from the breach side, which can be done with one hand.

The pistol has a detachable plastic stock that doubles as a machete sheath. The loaded gun weighs about 1.8 kg on its own or 2.6 kg with the butt stock attached. It has a range of 40 meters for shells and 200 meters for rifle rounds. Overall it’s a small and light weapon as befits something to be taken into orbit, which in itself implies strict weight and size allowances.

Not meant for space

Cosmonaut lore suggests that space legend Aleksey Leonov, who experienced an off-course landing, and together with his fellow spaceman Pavel Belyaev spent more then a day in the wild Taiga fending off hungry wolves before rescuers could pick them up. The dramatic episode happened in 1965. The TP-82 was given the green light in 1982, which casts some doubt on the direct connection between the two events, but Leonov did visit the gun workshop in Tula which produced the firearm and he may have given some ideas to the developers.

The gun made the headlines in 2007, when the Russian Space Agency announced that ISS Expedition 16 will not take the TP-82 with them. The media reported that all the remaining ammunition for the weapon was outdated and unsafe, and a replacement is not expected to be produced. The story received international attention, with several major newspapers, including the British newspaper Daily Telegraph, vividly describing the “fearsome triple-barreled space pistol”. Almost two years later the firearm is still part of the Soyuz survival kit, stowed away in a metal case in between two of the capsule’s three seats.

As a weapon for space combat the TP-82 is hardly worth criticism. Its recoil is strong, so a possible attacker would be sent banging around the walls of the space station or the space ship after firing off a shot. In addition, the rifle rounds are extremely dangerous, since they can pierce the spaceship’s hull, leading to a rapid loss of pressure and the subsequent death of everyone on board.

The Soviet space program has tested one space weapon. The Almaz station, launched in 1974, was fitted with an aviation cannon. There are no reports on whether the station was manned or not during the trial.

Aleksandr Antonov, RT