Category Salyut – The First Space Station



The tragedy was revealed to the world in a message released by the Soviet national news agency at 6 a. m. on the 30 June:

TASS reports the deaths of the crew of the spaceship Soyuz 11, Lieutenant – Colonel Georgiy Timofeyevich Dobrovolskiy, Flight Engineer Vladislav Niko­layevich Volkov and Research Engineer Viktor Ivanovich Patsayev.

On 29 June 1971 the crew of the Salyut orbital station fully completed the flight programme, and was directed to make the landing. The cosmonauts transferred the results of their scientific research and logs to the transport spaceship Soyuz 11 for return to Earth. After completing the transition, the cosmonauts took their seats in the Soyuz 11 spaceship, checked the systems and prepared the spaceship for undocking from the Salyut station.

At 21.28 the Soyuz 11 spaceship separated from the Salyut station, and continued its flight separately. The crew of Soyuz 11 reported to Earth that the undocking operation had occurred normally, and that all their systems were functioning normally.

In order to make the descent to Earth, at 01.35 on June 30, after orienting the Soyuz 11 spaceship, the braking engine was fired. This functioned for the required duration. Once the braking manoeuvre had been concluded, all communication with the crew ceased.

In accordance with the automated programme, after aerodynamic braking in the atmosphere the parachute system was operated and the soft-landing engines were fired before landing. The flight of the descent module ended in a smooth landing in the preset area.

A helicopter-borne recovery team landed at the same time as the Soyuz 11 spaceship, and upon opening the hatch found the crew of the spaceship in their couches without any signs of life. The causes of the crew’s deaths are being investigated.

By their selfless work in the testing of sophisticated space equipment – both the first manned orbital station Salyut and the transport ship Soyuz 11 – Dobrovolskiy, Volkov and Patsayev have made a tremendous contribution to the development of manned orbital flights. The exploits of the courageous cosmonauts Georgiy Timofeyevich Dobrovolskiy, Vladislav Nikolayevich Volkov and Viktor Ivanovich Patsayev will for ever remain in the memory of the Soviet people.

On Moscow TV, the reading of this announcement was followed by portraits of the cosmonauts and the continuous playing of solemn music. It was announced that the space heroes were to be given a full State funeral. The nation was stunned. The deaths of the Soyuz 11 crew shook Moscovites even more than the death of the first man to fly in space, Yuriy Gagarin, in 1968. People wept openly in the streets. For over three weeks the record-breaking flight had been featured on both radio and TV. Dobrovolskiy, Volkov and Patsayev were not seen as just the latest cosmonauts, but as a crew that had accomplished something really new, had broken records, and had unquestionably demonstrated the Soviet lead in the development of orbital stations. Yet, at the final stage, the victory had been transformed not merely into failure but into an overwhelming tragedy.


Set against the tremendous success that the Americans had with Skylab, the dismal losses of DOS-2, OPS-1 and DOS-3 severely disappointed the Kremlin. The case of DOS-3 was unforgivable. A special investigating Commission was formed, chaired by Vyacheslav Kovtunenko, who was a Deputy Chief Designer at KB Yuzhnoye. Its members included experts in guidance and control – most notably Academician Nikolay Pilyugin, who was a colleague of Sergey Korolev, a legendary member of the Council of Chief Designers, and therefore had decades of experience in the development of rocket guidance. The KGB conducted a parallel investigation. What particularly caught the attention of the Commission was the change in the plan and the order to perform the orientation of the station by using the thrusters at their maximum level. Given that ionic sensors were in use, this sealed the fate of DOS-3. At an academic level, the question was why it had been decided to use the ionosphere, which is an extremely unstable part of the atmosphere, for such a crucial orientation process. A great deal of data on the operation of the sensor in such conditions should have been collected before attempting to use it in this manner. Finally, the Commission was confused by the fact that there was not a Chief Designer for guidance systems in the TsKBEM’s structure. The last-minute proposal to change the plan by operating the thrusters at their full power ought to have been put to such a Chief Designer who, knowing the implications, would certainly have refused. Dozens of people who were in one way or another linked to the debacle were questioned, ranging from the TsKBEM managers to the people whose actions or inactions directly caused the loss of the station. The tempestuous outburst from the Kremlin that followed the Commission’s report was of a nature never before seen in Soviet cosmonautics – not even after the deaths of cosmonauts.

The burden of blame fell on Yakov Tregub, the DOS-3 flight director. On being urged to leave the TsKBEM, he transferred to the design bureau which had built the Igla automatic docking system. Ex-cosmonaut Aleksey Yeliseyev was appointed in his place, and proceeded to completely revise the organisation and structure of the mission control operation. In addition to transferring the technical facilities from the Army to the TsKBEM, it was decided to create a new TsUP in Kaliningrad, not far from the TsKBEM.[122] After this became fully operational in early 1975, the facility in Yevpatoriya was used only for military space missions.

Also criticised was Boris Raushenbakh, who led the group that developed control and guidance systems. When one of his engineers said that modelling indicated that it would be better to perform the DOS-3 orientation process with the thrusters set at maximum power in order to complete the task as rapidly as possible, Raushenbakh had verbally agreed. When this engineer (whose identity remains unreported) made the suggestion to Tregub, he ordered the revision. Raushenbakh was relieved of his duties and replaced by Viktor Legostayev. Although Raushenbakh was retained as a consultant, he found this unacceptable and soon left the TsKBEM. His boss Boris Chertok was in charge of the general development of control and guidance systems, and received instructive admonition from both Minister Afanasyev of the MOM and the Communist Party organisation at the TsKBEM. Disciplinary measures were also taken against others involved in developing the ionic orientation system, as well as those from the TsKBEM and the Army who were at the TsUP and whose actions or inactions directly contributed to the loss of the station.

The DOS-3 debacle also highlighted weaknesses in the leadership structure at the TsKBEM. At the top was Vasiliy Mishin, who had regarded the DOS programme as a distraction. It had started because in late 1969 a group of his deputies and senior designers had, without his knowledge, put to Ustinov the idea that the Almaz which Chelomey was developing for the military could be made into a station for scientific research. Mishin had argued against the idea when he found out, but was told by the Kremlin to implement it. Wishing to concentrate on the N1-L3 lunar programme, in February 1971 Mishin had suggested to Ustinov that DOS should be handed over to Chelomey, but Ustinov, who did not like Chelomey, had refused to do this. Then in April 1972, during preparations to launch DOS-2, Mishin made an agreement with Chelomey that after four DOS were launched the programme would be transferred to the TsKBM, to enable the TsKBEM to concentrate on its N1-L3 work. The most important point of this Mishin-Chelomey ‘contract’ called for the production run of DOS stations to be limited to the four which were specified in February 1970 by the Central Committee of the Communist Party and the Council of Ministers. In a letter to Minister Afanasyev, Mishin and Chelomey recommended that future research in space intended to aid the national economy be done by the Almaz programme. This did not mean that Mishin was uninterested in space stations – he fully supported the TsKBEM’s Multipurpose Orbital Complex (MOK). This was based on the Modular Space Base Station (MKBS) and would be launched by an N1 rocket. Pointing out that the MOK would be larger than either the OPS or its DOS derivative, and hence would have greater requirements, Mishin and Chelomey suggested that the TKS be used to resupply it. Finally, they broached the subject of the joint mission with the Americans planned for 1975. One suggestion had been that an Apollo should dock with a DOS station, but Mishin and Chelomey rejected this, arguing instead that the docking should be between an Apollo and a Soyuz. Mishin and Chelomey sent their ‘contract’ to Minister Afanasyev, who gave it his endorsement.

Mishin had evidently not consulted his deputies prior to drawing up his agreement with Chelomey, for it provoked intense reactions in the TsKBEM. It was supported by those who sympathised with Mishin – most notably Yuriy Semyonov, a leading figure in the DOS programme,[123] and Sergey Okhapkin, one of Mishin’s deputies for the N1 rocket. It was opposed by Konstantin Bushuyev, Boris Chertok and Dmitriy Kozlov. It was Bushuyev and Chertok who had recommended Mishin to supersede Korolev as Chief Designer in 1966. The critics also included Konstantin Feoktistov, who had led the conspiracy to approach Ustinov with the DOS proposal, and Sergey Kryukov, a close colleague of Korolev who had led the development of the R-7 missile and then been reduced in rank when Mishiin took over. In 1970 he moved to the Lavochkin Design Bureau, and became its manager in August 1971 after the death of Chief Designer Georgiy Babakin. The TsKBEM was therefore split into two factions, one of which favoured concentrating on the N1-L3 and the other wished to focus on space stations. As a result, the design, testing and preparations to launch DOS-3 occurred in a strained and unpleasant atmosphere. To the group centred on Bushuyev and Chertok, DOS was a more realistic project and of greater relevance to the nation. But to Mishin, DOS represented a distraction which he wished to rid himself of as soon as possible.

Afanasyev and Ustinov had for some time been concerned by the situation at the TsKBEM, and in February 1973 a working efficiency assessment conducted by the Ministry for General Machine Building criticised the TsKBEM’s performance over the last several years. Deficiencies in the organisational structure directly influenced the entire organisation and had, in particular, resulted in the degradation of both the quality and the safety of its systems. Mishin was not mentioned by name, but the message was clear: the Kremlin was losing patience with his leadership of what was supposed to be the nation’s principal space organisation. Soon after this assessment, Bushuyev, Chertok, Kozlov, Feoktistov and Kryukov, with the support of Ustinov, who as we have seen had rejected an earlier attempt by Mishin to offload the DOS project to Chelomey, sent a joint letter to the Central Committee of the Communist Party and the Council of Ministers in which they criticised both Mishin’s work and the state of the TsKBEM, particularly expressing their dissatisfaction with both the manner in which Mishin ran projects and the fact that he ignored their criticism of his management. They concluded by demanding that Mishin be replaced.

Ustinov paid an unannounced personal visit to the TsKBEM. Such behaviour can be interpreted as being meant to signal to Mishin that the Politburo was concerned. As it was, when Mishin arrived Semyonov was showing Ustinov a scale model of DOS-3 and they were discussing the possibility of fitting a station with two docking ports. Of course, this idea was not new. The designers had been considering it since right after the first Salyut was launched in June 1971. It would enable an occupied station to be supplied with fuel, food, water and air. With regular servicing, a DOS would be able to be operated for years. The idea had been proposed by Semyonov, Feoktistov and Viktor Ovchinikov, an expert in spacecraft system development. But because Mishin was eager to hand the entire programme over to Chelomey he had refused to waste time on improvements beyond the DOS-3/4 configuration. Taking advantage of the moment, Semyonov asked if Ustinov would personally support the development of further DOS stations. Noting that Ustinov saw promise in the idea, Mishin figured that if he reversed his position and agreed to continue to build DOS stations, then he might gain Ustinov’s support against those who had demanded his resignation. And that is how it turned out. Alone in Mishin’s office, Ustinov pointed out that a station with two docking ports would have tremendous potential, and then he said in a friendly manner that Mishin should give some thought to his position at the TsKBEM. It was clear to Mishin that the only way in which he could remain as Chief Designer would be to support continued DOS development. This rendered the agreement with Chelomey obsolete. As Mishin’s opponents had hoped, this behind the scenes manoeuvring ensured that the TsKBEM focused its efforts on operating space stations – which was just as well, because the N1-L3 lunar programme was in deep trouble from which it was destined never to recover. And, of course, by acting in this way Ustinov was able once again to frustrate Chelomey.

As a result, the TsKBEM directed its efforts towards designing a new generation of DOS with two docking ports, the first of which was launched in September 1977 as Salyut 6. It was manned by five long-term crews, four of which were able to set successive endurance records. By being supplied a dozen times by automated cargo ships and occupied for a total of 684 days, it was a spectacular demonstration of the soundness of the design.

Despite the appearance that Mishin had secured his position, he was undermined by the list of failures by the TsKBEM since his appointment as Chief Designer in January 1966:

• November 1966 – The first unmanned Soyuz (Cosmos 133) suffered a series of faults; it was deliberately destroyed during its return in order to prevent it landing in China.

• February 1967 – Although the second Soyuz (Cosmos 140) was better than the first, it also suffered various difficulties, and ended up on the floor of the Aral Sea.

• April 1967 – Despite two less than satisfactory unmanned test flights, it was decided to start manned flights. Soyuz 1 suffered serious problems early on, and cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov was killed on impact after the parachute failed to deploy.

• October 1968 – Cosmonaut Georgiy Beregovoy failed to dock his Soyuz 3 with the unmanned Soyuz 2.

• January 1969 – The first launch of the N1 lunar rocket failed.

• July 1969 – The second N1 failed.

• October 1969 – The docking of Soyuz 8 with Soyuz 7 had to be cancelled in flight as a result of the failure of the Igla automated rendezvous system.

• November 1969 – The circumlunar L1 programme was abandoned without even one cosmonaut flying in the spacecraft.

• April 1971 – Soyuz 10 failed to completely dock with the first DOS space station owing to a technical failure.

• June 1971 – The third N1 failed.

• June 1971 – After spending a record time in space on board the first DOS space station, the Soyuz 11 crew died on their way home.

• July 1972 – The second DOS space station failed to reach orbit owing to a technical failure in the Proton launcher – although to be fair, this was not the fault of the TsKBEM.

• November 1972 – The fourth (and as events would prove, final) N1 failed.

• May 1973 – DOS-3 was lost soon after it achieved its initial orbit as a result of procedural errors.

As a result of losing DOS-2 and DOS-3, there were five Soyuz spacecraft sitting in storage. They could not be kept indefinitely, since their systems would gradually degrade to the degree that they would be unreliable. The State Commission decided that two would be flown unmanned and two would fly with crews on solo missions. On 15 June 1973, in the guise of Cosmos 573, a Soyuz spacecraft was launched into a 206 x 268 km orbit; it returned after two days. On 27 September 1973, more than two years after the Soyuz 11 tragedy, Soyuz 12 was launched. Aleksey Leonov and Valeriy Kubasov, veterans of the DOS-1 programme, had trained as the first crew for DOS-2, then for DOS-3, and immediately after DOS-3 was lost they were reassigned to the joint mission with the Americans that was to fly in 1975. The Soyuz 12 mission therefore went to Vasiliy Lazaryev and Oleg Makarov, who had trained as the second crew for both DOS-2 and DOS-3. On their two days in space they checked the Sokol-K pressure suit and the operation of all the revised systems. The spacecraft changed its orbital parameters several times. And, for the first time, NASA’s Mission Control Centre played a role in controlling a Soviet mission, as an exercise in preparation for the joint mission.

On 30 November 1973 another Soyuz was launched to a 195 x 295 km orbit in the guise of Cosmos 613. This was the craft in which Leonov and Kubasov would have flown to DOS-2. It remained in orbit for two months to assess how well the systems stood up to prolonged exposure to the space environment, and then returned safely. DOS-2 had carried an Orion advanced astrophysical telescope, but DOS-3 had not, so it was decided to install this apparatus on a Soyuz by substituting it for the active docking system and make observations of Comet Kohoutek as this passed

Soyuz 12, the first manned mission of modified Soyuz spacecraft, was flown by Makarov and Lazaryev (foreground).

Soyuz 13, the last mission before Vasiliy Mishin was dismissed as Chief Designer, was flown in December 1973 by Klimuk (left) and Lebedyev and was primarily to conduct astrophysical research.

In May 1974 Vasiliy Mishin was dismissed as the TsKBEM’s Chief Designer.

near the Sun. In addition, solar panels were added to enable the spacecraft to remain in orbit for a week. Cosmonauts Pyotr Klimuk and Valentin Lebedyev flew this Soyuz 13 mission between 18 and 26 December 1973. The fifth spacecraft from the DOS-2 and DOS-3 stock was used for engineering tests of the special docking system made for the Apollo-Soyuz mission.

Soyuz 13 was the last manned mission to be launched under Mishin’s leadership. His downfall came as no surprise to his TsKBEM colleagues – for many of whom it was long overdue. It would appear that after consulting Ustinov, Brezhnyev decided that Mishin would have to go, and Afanasyev, Mishin’s protector, was powerless to intervene.

The formal decision was made at a meeting of the Politburo in mid-May 1974. As a result, Academician Pilyugin informed Chertok that Mishin was to be replaced by Valentin Pavlovich Glushko, the famous designer of rocket engines and, after Korolev, the most imposing figure in the early Soviet space programme. Chertok has written that it was clear from the behaviour of his colleagues that they knew what was going on, and yet no one wished to talk about it. In fact, Mishin must have been aware. On 22 May Afanasyev and Glushko arrived at the TsKBEM unannounced. Mishin was in hospital, but all of his deputies were convened. Afanasyev announced that the Politburo had decided to replace Mishin with Glushko. In shaking up the TsKBEM, Glushko merged it with his own bureau,[124] creating the Research and Production Association Energiya (NPO Energiya) with himself as Director and General Designer. This organisation became a veritable empire which addressed all areas of the manned space programme, from the development of motors and rockets, transport spacecraft, space stations, and even lunar bases. In mid-1974, therefore, a new era in the history of Soviet cosmonautics began.

Specific references

1. Chertok, B. Y., Rockets and People – The Moon Race, Book 4. Mashinostrenie, Moscow, 2002, pp. 422-434 (in Russian).

2. Afanasyev, I. B., Baturin, Y. M. and Belozerskiy, A. G., The World Manned Cosmonautics. RTSoft, Moscow, 2005, pp. 231-232 (in Russian).


As noted, the mission of the first Salyut station was controlled from the TsUP in Yevpatoriya, Crimea, supported by several tracking ships of the Soviet Academy of Sciences.

In March 1971 Academician Sergey Korolev had relieved Cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov in the North Atlantic, near Sable Island off the Canadian coast. Its first task had been to support Soyuz 10 in April. Now it was supporting Soyuz 11. Most of the crewmen of Academician Sergey Korolev originated from Odessa, the city in which Dobrovolskiy was born. They also had fond memories of Volkov, who had visited the ship in December 1970 and attended its launch. It had all the apparatus needed to control the most complex operations of the Soyuz-Salyut orbital complex, including orbital manoeuvres. It could communicate with the TsUP via a Molniya satellite. When the station’s path took it over the eastern region of North America or the North Atlantic, Academician Sergey Korolev would be able to communicate with it for up to 12 minutes, and two or three communication sessions were possible each day.

An older and less sophisticated ship was stationed in the equatorial region of the Atlantic Ocean. This was Bezhitsa, which was on its fifth voyage since its launch in

February 1967. It had taken its station at 13 degrees west and 1.5 degrees south in March 1971 to support the Salyut mission. It could communicate with the crew of a spacecraft and receive telemetry, but did not routinely transmit to the TsUP – this required the use of the internal channels of the Soviet Navy. Also in the southern Atlantic Ocean was Kegostrov, which was another of the smaller vessels launched in 1967, and also on its fifth voyage. It had sailed in February 1971 and taken its station at 24 degrees west and 22 degrees south. Like Bezhitsa, it was equipped to receive telemetry from the spacecraft and communicate with its crew. Depending on the schedule decided for the return of Soyuz 11, one or other of these two ships was to monitor the critical braking manoeuvre.[88] Several other communication ships were located in the South Atlantic to assist with the operation of Salyut: Morzhovets, Borovochi, Nevely and Ristna.

Specific references

1. Yeliseyev, A. S., Life – A Drop in the Sea. Aviatsiya and kosmonavtika, Moscow, 1998, pp. 77-79 (in Russian).

2. Siddiqi, Asif A., The Soviet Space Race with Apollo. University Press of Florida, 2003, pp. 778-780.

3. Vasilyev, M. P., Salyut on Orbit, Mashinostroenie, Moscow, 1973, pp. 81-107 (in Russian).

4. www. ski-omer. ru (in Russian, about Soviet tracking ships).

5. Kamanin, N. P., Hidden Space, Book 4. Novosti kosmonavtiki, 2001, pp. 320­325 (in Russian).


After the mission of Soyuz 10 Rukavishnikov was nominated as the flight engineer on Leonov’s Soyuz 12 crew, which was to make the second visit to the Salyut space station, but this crew was stood down when it became necessary to revise the design of the spacecraft after the deaths of the Soyuz 11 crew. He made two further space flights. The first occasion was on Soyuz 16, which was a six-day test in December 1974 in preparation for the joint mission with the Americans the following summer. The spacecraft was commanded by Anatoliy Filipchenko, and Rukavishnikov was the flight engineer. He trained as the commander of the backup crew for Soyuz 28. This was the first flight of the Interkosmos programme, and took a Czechoslovakian cosmonaut to Salyut 6. When he flew Soyuz 33 in April 1979 he became the first civilian to command a Soviet ship. His passenger was Georgiy Ivanov (Kakalov) of Bulgaria. The Igla rendezvous system locked onto Salyut 6 and began to navigate towards it, but when the range reduced to 4 km and they saw the station for the first time a six-second firing of the main rocket engine was cut short after three seconds! Rukavishnikov manually restarted the engine, but there was a terrible noise and it cut off again. On board the station, Vladimir Lyakhov and Valeriy Ryumin reported to the TsUP that they had observed sparks from the spacecraft’s propulsion module. The rendezvous had to be abandoned. This was the first and only failure of the main engine of a Soyuz. The crew were told to rest while the engineers on Earth decided what to do. The technical director of the flight was Yeliseyev, who precisely eight years earlier had flown with Rukavishnikov on Soyuz 10 in an attempt to dock with the original Salyut station!

Meanwhile in space, Rukavishnikov found it difficult simply to rest:

Throughout the night I told myself that as commander I was responsible not only for myself and the ship but also for Georgiy. I had to analyse all of the variables and be ready to answer any queries from Earth, or to execute any directions they provided.

As I was thinking, Georgiy asked: “Captain, shall we refresh a bit?’’

We carried Bulgarian foodstuffs as a gift for the Salyut 6 crew. “Let’s get out the presents,’’ I decided.

“Can we?’’

“Now we can.’’

We refreshed ourselves. I only had a little, but Georgiy really ate well.

“Off to sleep,’’ I told him. “We have to get good rest. Tomorrow we’ll be busy.’’

Meanwhile, Yeliseyev called the engine designers and experts in ballistics to the TsUP and together they thoroughly analysed the situation. Luckily, the Soyuz had a reserve braking engine (DKD). Unlike the main engine this could be fired just once, for the braking manoeuvre. But there was some concern, because its propellant and electrical lines were located close to those of the main engine, which had evidently suffered a serious problem. ft was to be hoped that the reserve engine had not been damaged. ft was possible that the engine would start and then cut off prematurely. ff it were to fire for less than 90 seconds, the crew would require to execute a series of firings of the small docking and orientation engines (DPO) to depart from orbit, but this would result in a return far from the planned landing site. At 6.46.49 p. m. on 12 April the reserve engine was activated to make a 188-second burn. Rukavishnikov inferred from the buzzing sound transmitted through the structure of the spacecraft that the engine was not operating at full power. After 188 seconds had elapsed and it failed to shut off automatically he took the decision to keep it running for another 25 seconds before he turned it off. As a result, the descent was steeper than normal, and followed a ballistic trajectory that subjected the occupants to peak deceleration load of 8 g. To everyone’s relief, the descent module landed safely at 7.35 p. m. at a point 320 km southeast of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan. When he reflected upon his second failed attempt to dock with a Salyut, he joked: “the stations did not wish me on board’’.

fn April 1980 Rukavishnikov gained a master’s degree at the Moscow fnstitute of Engineering and Physics (MfFf). Meanwhile, he was training as commander of the backup crew for Soyuz T-3. fnitially, the objective of this flight was to undertake an extensive medical research programme on board Salyut 6, but this was altered to perform maintenance on the station to enable it to operate long enough to complete the fnterkosmos programme. Undeterred, Rukavishnikov focused his hopes on the forthcoming Salyut 7, and from September 1983 to February 1984 trained as flight engineer for the mission that was to carry the first fndian cosmonaut. However, with just two months remaining to the launch date he caught the flu, and thereby lost not only his opportunity to visit a space station but also the chance to become one of the few Soviets to fly four times in space. His unsympathetic colleagues joked that all Salyuts had a built in “anti-Rukavishnikov device’’.

On leaving the cosmonaut group in July 1978 Rukavishnikov became a deputy to the director of one of the departments of NPO Energiya, then retired in November 1999. fn 1981 he became president of the Soviet Cosmonautics Federation,[140] and in this role vigorously sought support from the Kremlin for a number of programmes. He also arranged for a medal to be given to an anonymous artist who had for many years painted artwork depicting the space programme. fn addition, he led the radio show On Space Orbits. Although he gave the appearance of having a very serious personality, those who knew him well said he was vibrant and always interesting to be with.

Two views of Nikolay Rukavishnikov (foreground) and Anatoliy Filipchenko in the Soyuz simulator.

“The stations did not wish me on board.” Rukavishnikov (foreground) and the Bulgarian cosmonaut Georgiy Ivanov made a dramatic return after their Soyuz 33 spacecraft suffered a main engine failure on the way to the Salyut 6 space station.

Rukavishnikov stands in front of the Soyuz simulator with the prime and backup crewmembers for the Indian mission to Salyut 7, but a medical complaint caused his replacement 2 months before the launch.

In the space of six years Rukavishnikov’s family suffered three tragedies. First his wife Nina died in 2000. Those closest to him gathered for his 70th birthday on 18 September 2002, but his memory was impaired by Alzheimer disease. Although he had survived one heart attack, the second was followed by pulmonary problems and he died in Burdenko hospital on 19 October 2002. He was buried in Ostankinsko Cemetery. Finally, in January 2006 his only child, Vladimir, succumbed to a severe illness and died aged only 41. He was buried alongside his father. Until the very end of his life Vladimir had unselfishly offered details of his father’s life to anyone who expressed an interest.


The post-mortems were conducted in the Burdenko Military Hospital in Moscow by 17 physicians. All three cosmonauts had suffered brain haemorrhages, subcutaneous bleeding, damaged ear-drums and bleeding of the middle ear. Nitrogen was absent from the blood; it, together with oxygen and carbon dioxide, had boiled and reached the heart and brain in the form of bubbles. The formation of gas in the blood was a symptom of rapid depressurisation. The blood of all three men contained enormous amounts of lactic acid, fully ten times the norm, which was an indication of terrible emotional stress and anoxia.

On Thursday, 1 July, the bodies of the cosmonauts were delivered to the Central House of the Soviet Army on Spaskiy Street, where they were laid in open coffins on a catafalque with sombre drapes and multicoloured military banners. Garlands and wreaths were arranged around the coffins. Dobrovolskiy was the nearest to the entrance, Volkov was in the middle and Patsayev was furthest. All three had been dressed in dark civilian suits and bore on their chests Gold Stars to signify that they were Heroes of the Soviet Union. Dobrovolskiy and Patsayev had been awarded the nation’s top honour posthumously, and Volkov, who had already received one after his first space flight in 1969, gained a second star.

The only one to display any sign of an injury was Patsayev, who had a dark mark similar to a bruise covering most of his right cheek. Dobrovolskiy and Volkov were said by journalists to look uninjured. But for General Kamanin, who was himself in a state of deep shock, only Volkov looked “as alive’’; the faces of Dobrovolskiy and Patsayev were “almost unrecognisable”.

Cosmonauts (right to left) Kubasov, Filipchenko, Gorbatko and Teryeshkova form a guard of honour for their fallen colleagues.

In the eight hours in which the cosmonauts were on display, tens of thousands of people filed past to pay their respects. Among them were the First Secretary of the Communist Party Leonid Brezhnyev, Premier Aleksey Kosygin, President Nikolay Podgorny, members of the Politburo, senior members of the military, academicians, spacecraft designers and cosmonauts, and foreign leaders and ambassadors. The three-man military guard of honour was exchanged every three minutes. For a time they were joined by members of the cosmonaut corps.

The family mourners were in the front part of the room: Lyudmila Dobrovolskiy with daughters Marina (12) and Nataliya (4); Lyudmila Volkova with son Vladimir (13); and Vera Patsayeva with son Dmitriy (14) and daughter Svetlana (9). With them stood Valentina Teryeshkova, who been the person who informed them of the tragedy. Behind, in black suits, were the cosmonauts’ parents: Mariya and Timofey Dobrovolskiy, Olga and Nikolay Volkov, and Mariya Patsayeva, together with their siblings. After several minutes spent standing in silent tribute, Brezhnyev and his colleagues went to the families to express their personal condolences. At one point, Brezhnyev covered his face with his hand and started to cry.

An emotional farewell to the Soyuz 11 crew. Top: Patsayev (left), Volkov (centre) and Dobrovolskiy (right) lie in state in the Central House of the Soviet Army. Middle: Party and government leaders form a guard of honour. Bottom left: Cosmonaut Teryeshkova presents Brezhnyev and Kosygin to the mourners. Bottom centre: Brezhnyev covers his face in grief. Bottom right: Of the three cosmonauts, only Patsayev showed any visible sign of injury, in the form of a dark mark covering most of his right cheek.

At 10 p. m. the Central Army House was closed to the public. At 1 a. m. on 2 July the bodies were cremated. At 10 a. m. the urns containing the ashes were returned to the hall, and for two hours the room was reopened to the public.

Shortly before noon, the American astronaut Colonel Thomas P. Stafford arrived in Moscow to attend the funeral as President Nixon’s representative. He flew there from Belgrade, where, with cosmonaut Pavel Popovich, he had been attending an exhibition entitled Space for Peace. “Before I reached Belgrade, I heard the news that the Soyuz 11 crew had died on their return to Earth. My first worry was that the stress of a long-duration flight had killed them, and I wondered what it would mean to our Skylab crews.’’ The call from the American embassy in Belgrade to urgently pack his bags and travel to Moscow came as a surprise. When Komarov was killed in 1967 Washington had asked to send astronauts Alan Shepard and Frank Borman to the funeral, but the request had been refused. On landing in Moscow Stafford rode with cosmonaut Beregovoy, his host, to the Central Army House, where he paid his respects. While there, he was introduced to Aleksey Leonov, unaware that Leonov was the original commander for the Soyuz 11 mission.[102]

Colonel Popovich had also returned to attend the funeral. He had hastily called the Space for Peace organiser to explain why he must curtail his visit: “The guys have died! This weightlessness will kill all of us.’’

At noon the Central Army House was closed to the public, in order to enable the family mourners, close friends and members of the cosmonaut corps to prepare for the procession to Red Square. Each urn was decorated with a large looped garland and mounted on a rectangular metal cradle that had two long carrying handles. The urns were taken to individual carriages that were drawn by armoured cars. The pallbearers for Dobrovolskiy’s urn included Leonov, Shatalov, Nikolayev and Stafford.

As the cortege made its way slowly to Red Square with the carriages side by side, military officers walked ahead, some with portraits of Dobrovolskiy, Volkov and Patsayev and others carrying cushions bearing their decorations. A guard of honour marched alongside. And Brezhnyev, Kosygin, Podgorny, members of the Politburo and the government, friends, relatives and other cosmonauts followed behind with the mourners. An accompanying military band played solemn music. The route had been closed to normal traffic. Despite the hot and humid day, hundreds of thousands of people stood in line. Buildings along the route flew their flags at half-mast and displayed black-framed pictures of the dead cosmonauts.

As the procession turned into the cobbled Red Square, thousands of people stood behind barricades around its periphery to observe the final farewell in front of the Lenin Mausoleum. The party on the reviewing platform included national leaders and senior military officers.

The main speech was read by Andrey Kirilenko, a member of the Politburo and head of the State Funeral Commission which was formed on the day of the tragedy, whose membership included Ustinov, Smirnov, Afanasyev, Keldysh and Shatalov.

Pallbearers carry the urn with Dobrovolskiy’s ashes. On the near side are Leonov and Stafford. Cosmonauts Nikolayev and Popovich are partially visible behind Stafford. On the opposite side, are Kirilenko and Shatalov. (Courtesy NASA)

Members of the public join the funeral procession in Moscow’s Red Square.

Chertok and Semyonov among the mourners in Red Square. (From the book Rocket and People, Book No 4, courtesy www. astronaut. ru)

“They died at their post, as heroes die”. The urns with the cosmonauts’ ashes during the final part of the funeral.

In addition, he was the coordinator of the special commission created to investigate why the cosmonauts had died.

“Together with the entire Soviet people and our friends abroad,’’ Kirilenko began, “the Central Committee of the Party, the Presidium of the USSR, and the Soviet government deeply mourn the loss that befell our country. . . . To the last second of their lives Georgiy Dobrovolskiy, Vladislav Volkov and Viktor Patsayev stayed at the controls of their ship. They died at their post – as heroes die. They were full of vigour, fully confident of fulfilling the assignment from the Party and the people. And they fulfilled that assignment. The results of their observations are

The final farewell was in front of the Lenin Mausoleum.

priceless for science, for the future of cosmonautics, for mankind. … It wasn’t idle curiosity that drew them into space, but the need to unravel more and more of the mysteries of the universe for the good of men. We will continue this difficult but necessary work.’’

Mstislav Keldysh, the head of the Academy of Sciences, was the second orator. He agreed that the Soyuz 11 mission had been a major step in the development of Soviet cosmonautics: “The Salyut-Soyuz 11 flight heralds the start of a new stage in exploring outer space, namely using long-term orbital stations in near-Earth orbits.’’

Generals Nikolayev and Shatalov represented the cosmonaut corps. Shatalov read an open letter written by their colleagues: “We know that our road is a difficult and thorny one but we do not doubt the correctness of our choice, and are always ready for the most difficult flight. . . . We express our firm confidence that what occurred must not halt ongoing development and perfection of space engineering and man’s striving for space. . . . Today, we pay a final tribute to our talented and courageous comrades, but there is not just grief in our hearts, there is also pride in what they did for their country in space.’’

Finally the urns were taken behind the Lenin Mausoleum to the Kremlin’s wall, to be interred alongside those bearing the ashes of cosmonauts Vladimir Komarov and Yuriy Gagarin. As the urns were inserted into their niches, cannons fired in salute. Each niche was sealed with a black plate that bore the name of the cosmonaut and the dates of his birth and death. Their photographs and decorations were placed on pedestals alongside, and the families and friends moved in to pay their final respects.

The whole world shared the grief. The Soviet newspapers were full of tributes and messages of condolence from foreign leaders. Among many who sent messages of sympathy to the Soviet people were Queen Elizabeth II, the Pope, Presidents Nixon and Pompidou and Premiers Chou En-lai and Indira Gandhi.

In a letter to Podgorny the Queen wrote: “My husband and I were shocked to hear of the deaths of your three cosmonauts. We extend our sincerest sympathy to you and to the Soviet people on the occasion of the sad loss of these intrepid men.’’

On behalf of the United States, President Nixon wrote to the Soviet leaders: “The American people join in expressing to you and the Soviet people our deepest sympathy on the tragic deaths of the three Soviet cosmonauts. The whole world followed the exploits of these courageous explorers of the unknown and shares the anguish of their loss. But the achievements of cosmonauts Dobrovolskiy, Volkov and Patsayev remain. It will, I am certain, prove to have contributed greatly to the further achievements of the Soviet programme for the exploration of space and thus to the widening of man’s horizons.’’

President Pompidou wrote: “All Frenchmen, like me, admired their extraordinary exploits.’’

In the Vatican, Pope Paul interrupted a general audience to announce the deaths. He expressed sadness for “this unexpected and tragic epilogue’’, and offered prayers to the families of the three men.

The Chinese Prime Minister Chou En-lai sent a telegram to express sympathy to the Soviet people for their “deep grief” over the deaths of the cosmonauts, and to “convey heartfelt condolences to the bereaved families’’.

Brezhnyev and Kirilenko help to carry Dobrovolskiy’s urn to its final resting place in the wall of the Kremlin.

The ashes of the three cosmonauts have been interred in the wall of the Kremlin.

Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi said that the three men had “died as heroes on behalf of science. Their achievement in the exploration of space [was a major] contribution to progress.’’

In the wake of the successful Apollo 11 lunar landing, NASA and the Soviets had begun to consider the possibility of a joint manned space mission. In January 1971 George Low, NASA’s Deputy Director, had led a group of specialists on a visit to Moscow to explore the options, and they met several cosmonauts. Low now sent a letter of condolence.

Valentina Teryeshkova comforts Dobrovolskiy’s daughter Marina at the wall of the Kremlin. Dobrovolskiy’s mother Mariya stands in the background together with cosmonauts Feoktistov (with glasses) and Gorbatko. (Courtesy Peter Pesavento)

Patsayev’s family (left to right): daughter Svetlana, wife Vera and son Dmitriy. Behind is Viktor’s mother Mariya. (Copyright Svetlana Patsayeva)

The popular writer Konstantin Simonov wrote in Pravda: “Warriors know that the most difficult aspect of a reconnaissance mission is to return across the front line to one’s own position. The front line in space reconnaissance, in the struggle to reveal the mysteries of nature, is re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere; the final step before landing. It was precisely at this final step that the crew of the Salyut orbital station perished.’’

Mikhail Rebrov, a special correspondent of the newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda, and a close friend of many of the cosmonauts, summed up to the overwhelming feeling at this tragic, yet triumphant, moment in the history of the Soviet space programme: “We know the road to space is difficult and dangerous. But once having embarked upon this road we must continue, for no difficulty or obstacle can turn a man away from his chosen path. The cosmonauts have told us: ‘As long as our hearts beat, we will continue to explore the universe.’ Wonderful and brave people are now dead. Their names will illuminate the arduous road into outer space like stars.’’

Kenneth Gatland, vice-president of the British Interplanetary Society, wrote: ‘‘The entire space community today mourns the three space heroes whose ashes are being buried in the wall of the Kremlin. Before the tragedy that befell them, they opened a new era of space conquest by occupying the world’s first space station. Their epic flight will stand as a landmark in space history.’’

The writer and broadcaster Patrick Moore said: ‘‘Certainly, the uppermost thought in my mind is sadness at the deaths of these three brave men. They will never be forgotten. Unfortunately, nothing can bring them back, but the sympathy of the whole world will go out to their relatives, to their countless friends, and to all the people of the USSR.’’

One of the last sites to record the three cosmonauts alive was the amateur satellite tracking station at Kettering Grammar School in England. Its leader, Geoffrey Perry, said that they received signals from Soyuz 11 as it was passing 200 km above the island of Madeira in the Atlantic, off the northwest coast of Africa. ‘‘At that time we were certain that all three men were still living. After you have been listening to three men’s heartbeats for 24 days, it is difficult to put into words your feelings on discovering that they are dead. We are all very upset.’’

The leaders of the Soviet space programme were quick to reaffirm that manned missions would continue.

Writing in Pravda on 4 July Academician Boris Petrov, who was the chairman of the Interkosmos Council, spoke of the conquest of space as a ‘‘difficult path’’, then repeated Brezhnyev’s statement, made prior to the launch of Salyut: ‘‘Soviet science considers the creation of orbital stations with replacement crews to be the highway to space.’’ Petrov argued that platforms in ‘‘near-Earth space’’ would enable man to make comprehensive studies of the Earth and of astronomy. He said that ‘‘the 1970s will see the development and application of long-term manned orbital stations with replacement crews, making it possible to switch from occasional brief experiments in space to regular work by scientists and specialists in space laboratories.’’ He went on: ‘‘The experience of the Soyuz 11 crew has shown that the Salyut station is well designed for experiments in orbital flight conditions. Such stations offer broad prospects for the continuation and development of the research that was undertaken

by the first Salyut crew…. In due course larger and more complex multipurpose and specialised space stations will be built. But the significance of the work carried out by the first crew of the first manned orbital station … will never fade.” Speaking of the tragedy, he said: “Soyuz ships have already made several space flights, and have safely returned cosmonauts to Earth. When such complex machinery is being tested and mastered, accidents can never be ruled out.”

The disaster overshadowed the Congress of Soviet Writers’ hosted by the Kremlin, where the famous poet Yevgeniy Yevtushenko read a memorial poem:

Two-way Link for Ever

In Kamchatka and in Arbat,

Above the Angara rapids
The sorrowful expiration: guys have perished,

As the requiem above the country

None – no matter how it was crowned –
Will not return to its house finally
To three hearts, large, human
It became less in Russia hearts.

And what heavy burden,

For the people, to whom they were
Simple Vitya and simple Gosha,

And simple Slava – during the recent days.[103]

O, Matrosovs[104] of the cosmodromes!

You left to us your regulations:

Even in space – by vein without having trembled,

To die at the work sites.

As much there are still difficulties
In the sky to be yielded!

And thus far humanity exists
The flame of future spaceships
Will be the eternal fire in your honour

You are as immortal as the cry:

“We have ignition!”

And it’s not true that contact has been lost:

Between you and our native land
There is two-way link for ever.


As soon as TASS made the announcement that the Soyuz 11 crew had been found dead in their couches, people all around the world began to consider whether their deaths were due to a technical fault or were the result of a fundamental limitation of the human body.

One of the prevailing theories was that man might not be able to survive for long periods in weightlessness. For several years there had been a serious debate among scientists about the effects of long-term exposure to weightlessness. In 1965 one of NASA’s Gemini missions had spent 14 days in orbit in order to demonstrate that it was possible to remain in space for the length of time required to fly a lunar landing mission. However, there were indications that the heart grew lazy when exposed to weightlessness. In July 1969 the monkey Bonny died of heart failure after the 9-day flight of NASA’s Biosatellite 3. After the 18-day flight of Andriyan Nikolayev and Vitaliy Sevastyanov on Soyuz 9 in 1970 the Soviets had discovered the debilitating effects of weightlessness: the loss of body fluids, the loss of calcium from the bones and the loss of muscle tone, including the heart. It had taken more than a week for them to readapt to gravity. Perhaps, it was suggested, the Soyuz 11 mission, having lasted six days longer than the previous record, had exceeded man’s limits in space. Medical experts admitted that weightlessness could have played a part in the deaths, but were sceptical that the hearts of three men having different physiologies could have failed simultaneously.

According to one source, the crew of Soyuz 11 complained to the TsUP that they were having breathing difficulties soon after undocking from Salyut, but were told that it was normal.[105]

Western experts in space medicine did not think that the deaths of the cosmonauts resulted from the time they spent in weightlessness. Dr. Charles A. Berry, the chief physician at NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, Texas, said: “There is no evidence whatsoever from either our experience or that of the Russians in space, or from ground-based experiments, to suggest that weightlessness could have been responsible.” He thought that the accident may have been caused by the release of a toxic substance. Dr. Walton Jones, Deputy Director of Life Sciences at the NASA Office of Manned Space Flight, said that since the three men were found strapped in their couches, they likely died as a result of sudden decompression, such as would have occurred if a valve had leaked or if the cabin shell had ruptured or was struck and punctured by a meteoroid.

Within hours of the news of the loss of the crew, Kenneth Gatland of the British Interplanetary Society dismissed the effects of returning to Earth after such a long flight as the cause of death. There must have been a mechanical failure. But it was possible that after 24 days in space the cosmonauts were so tired that they had failed to verify all of the spacecraft’s systems, or when an emergency had developed they had been unable to react sufficiently rapidly.

NASA was relieved when the official report ruled out weightlessness and physical deconditioning as causes for the accident. The American space specialists felt sure that the Soyuz must have suffered a mechanical or structural failure. Because the crew were not in protective pressure suits, they could have died from any number of causes: excessive heat, carbon dioxide fumes from a small fire, a nitrogen leak from the spacecraft’s air-supply system, or a rapid drop in cabin pressure. Such theories were supported by unconfirmed reports that all radio transmissions – telemetry as well as voice – had ceased at the conclusion of the braking manoeuvre. In fact, most speculation centred on a failure in the oxygen supply. This was based largely on the rumour in Moscow that the cosmonauts had been found with serene expressions on the faces – such composure is characteristic of hypoxia, a starvation of oxygen that can produce a rapid and relatively painless death.

On learning of the difficulty in closing the hatch prior to undocking from Salyut, Western analysts theorised that if the hatch was insecure the mechanical stresses of re-entry could have made a minor leak into a disastrous one. But in September 1971 cosmonaut Dr. Boris Yegorov said that the disaster struck when the air leaked from the cabin during a period of several seconds as the orbital module was released. He insisted that the hatch was properly sealed, and said that suspicion had fallen on one of the valves used to equalise the pressures across the hatch.

The authorities had deemed the post-mortems sufficient to determine the cause of death, and had proceeded with the State funeral, but were waiting until they fully understood what had gone wrong before concluding the technical investigation.

Specific references

1. ‘They Made Accomplishment’. Politika, Belgrade, 2 July 1971 (in Serbian).

2. ‘Breathless clue to Soyuz space deaths’, The Sunday Times, 4 July 1971.

3. ‘Moscow to go ahead with plans for manned space stations despite Soyuz disaster’. The Times, 5 July 1971.

4. Stafford, Thomas P. with Cassutt, Michael, We Have Capture – Tom Stafford and the Space Race. Smithsonian Institution Press, 2002, pp. 154-156.

5. Kamanin, N. P., Hidden Space, Book 4. Novosti kosmonavtiki, 2001, pp. 333­338 (in Russian).


For more than 36 years the ashes of cosmonauts Georgiy Dobrovolskiy, Vladislav Volkov and Viktor Patsayev have rested in niches in the Kremlin’s wall. In addition to their families, they were mourned by hundreds of engineers, technicians, officers, cosmonauts and politicians. Despite the tragedy, there was a determination that the DOS programme must continue. The programme would never have come about if it were not for the support of Dmitriy Ustinov and Sergey Afanasyev, the so-called ‘Space Minister’. They supported the proposal initiated by Boris Raushenbakh, Boris Chertok and Konstantin Feoktistov at the TsKBEM to modify the Almaz military reconnaissance station which was being developed by a rival bureau led by Vladimir Chelomey, to serve as a long-term station for scientific research. Although Vasiliy Mishin, in charge at the TsKBEM, was antagonistic, these men succeeded not only in getting the programme started but also in making it the dominant element of the Soviet space programme.

On the operational side, General Nikolay Kamanin managed the training of the cosmonauts. The cosmonauts whose lives were most affected by the early years of the DOS work were Vladimir Shatalov, Aleksey Yeliseyev, Nikolay Rukavishnikov, Aleksey Leonov, Valeriy Kubasov and Pyotr Kolodin. For months, together with Dobrovolskiy, Volkov and Patsayev, these men trained to operate the world’s first space station, Salyut.

Let us conclude by reviewing the lives of the key people of the programme after its disastrous early years.

Drawing away from the station


In their first fortnight on board the Salyut station the cosmonauts had performed a large amount of scientific work and accumulated results to be returned to Earth for analysis by specialists. As the mission drew to a conclusion, the crew were in high spirits.

Day 16, Monday, 21 June

Work resumed with the Orion astrophysical observatory, this time with stars in the constellation of Serpens. Volkov was in charge of navigation. He spent a lot of time ‘sitting’ by a porthole on the station’s floor, ‘hunting’ for landmarks on the Earth and in the sky. Once Volkov had selected a landmark, Dobrovolskiy would orient and stabilise the station to enable this to be viewed. During the next orbit, Patsayev controlled the two telescopes of the Orion system, one on the exterior of the transfer compartment and the other affixed to a porthole inside it, to simultaneously record spectrograms of a single star in different sections of the ultraviolet spectrum.[89] The cosmonauts also continued measurements of gamma rays, the electrically charged nuclei in cosmic rays, and the intensity of free electrons in the orbital environment. At 2.21 p. m. Patsayev, who had started his career in meteorology, sent a greeting on behalf of the Salyut crew to the attendees of the National Meteorological Congress in Leningrad.

From Patsayev’s notebook:

21 June. The Moon looks the same as when viewed from Earth. Sometimes a round rainbow ‘spot’, or halo, is visible through a porthole on the opposite side to the Sun.

The boundaries of clouds can be determined by their shadows. Thicker

clouds are moving away in regular order, and cloud belts on the night side are visible in moonlight. …

The can openers are inadequate, often creating shards while opening the can. The seal of the rubbish bags is unsuitable, letting the stench out. …

It is essential to have a work site for performing repairs, a workbench with instruments. . . .

The station lights are inadequate. The inscriptions on the push buttons for switching on the food heater and the vacuum cleaner are barely visible. It is too dark at the work sites, especially at No. 3 [which was located adjacent to the large conical module housing the main scientific equipment].


Following the loss of the DOS 3 station in May 1973 Leonov and Kubasov were reassigned to the Apollo-Soyuz programme. They lifted off in Soyuz 19 on 15 July 1975. The Apollo carried a special airlock on its nose and was the active partner in the docking. In the two days during which the two spacecraft were linked the crews visited each other several times. Half an hour after separation, the Soyuz played the

After almost 10 years of continuous training for circumlunar, lunar landing and space station missions, Aleksey Leonov (foreground) finally returned to space in July 1975 with flight engineer Valeriy Kubasov, for the Apollo-Soyuz mission.

As one of the chiefs at the TsPK, Leonov was responsible for selecting and training cosmonauts. On the left he takes the exams from Popov and Lebedyev in 1980 (for the Salyut 6 programme), and on the right from Manarov, Titov and Levchenko in 1987 (for the Mir programme).

active role and docked again. Three hours later they undocked and took spectacular photographs of one another prior to moving clear. Leonov and Kubasov returned to Earth on 21 July. As had been the case for the launch and docking, the landing was also broadcast ‘live’ on TV – marking a new degree of openness in the Soviet space programme. For this mission Leonov was awarded a second Gold Star of a Hero of the Soviet Union and was promoted to Major-General.

In March 1976 he was appointed commander of the cosmonauts at the TsPK. In March 1981 he was awarded a master’s degree by the N. A. Zhukovskiy Air Force Engineering Academy. In January 1982 he was made first deputy to the chief of the TsPK, General Beregovoy. This marked the end of his 22-year cosmonaut career. In 1985 Beregovoy retired. Shatalov proposed Leonov as his successor, but Glushko at NPO Energiya objected so Leonov continued to run the training of the cosmonauts, their exams, and the selection of the crews. He played a key role in the preparations for the mission of Soyuz T-13 which brought the crippled Salyut 7 back to life in 1985. Leonov was retired in September 1991 at the age of 57. He got a letter from the Commander in Chief of the Air Force in which, together with an expression of thanks, he was praised as a ‘‘founder of the school for cosmonaut training’’ – which was not far from the truth, given that since the death of Gagarin in 1968 he had not only trained space flight candidates but had also prepared many of the crews.

Having left the TsPK, Leonov was made president of the Alfa-Capital Investment Fund, and also of the companies Bering-Vostok and Vostok-Capital. In July 1996 his family was struck a terrible blow when his elder daughter Victoria Alekseyevna died during a medical operation at the age of 35. In 1997 he became vice-president of the Alfa-Bank, and in December 2005 also became a consultant to the Sladko confectionery company. Despite his age, he is in excellent health and is very active in the Association of Space Flight Participants, often attending the meetings which deal with key events in the history of cosmonautics. He was one of the initiators of the project to make a movie about the life of Sergey Korolev, which was released in January 2007 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of this giant of the Soviet space programme. In 2005 Leonov became president of the Russian-Serbian

Society of Friendship. A 38-km-diameter crater on the Moon has been named after him. Having previously co-authored two books, in 2004 he co-authored Two Sides of the Moon with the American astronaut David R. Scott, in which they interleave their parallel stories in the rival space programmes as a unique dual autobiography. Although he travels a lot, Leonov frequently indulges his old passion by painting cosmic themes. So far, eight albums of paintings have been published with Leonov as author or co-author.

Thirteen seconds to eternity


A special 12-member State Commission was formed to determine the specific cause of the Soyuz 11 tragedy. The chairman was Academician Mstislav Keldysh, and his deputy was Georgiy Babakin, who was the Chief Designer of the Lavochkin Design Bureau which developed lunar and interplanetary probes. The membership included Sergey Afanasyev, head of the Ministry of General Machine Building, and General Designer Valentin Glushko. Although Glushko developed the engines for Korolev’s rockets in the 1950s, his relationship with Mishin was strained. The Commission set up ten subcommittees to investigate every aspect of a Soyuz flight, including launch, orbital operations, mission control, working with the Salyut station, undocking, the braking manoeuvre, re-entry and landing; and then to recommend ways in which to improve the design and operation of the spacecraft. Six of the subcommittees were led by the Air Force representatives, who included cosmonauts Shatalov, Nikolayev and Beregovoy. Interestingly, although General Kamanin was replaced in his post by Shatalov, he led the subcommittee that analysed conditions on Salyut and drew up recommendations for its future use. This would prove to be the final assignment of his 11-year career in charge of the Air Force’s manned space programme.

The State Commission held its first meeting on 3 July, the day after the funeral, at which time it planned the investigation and specified the subcommittees. It had two weeks in which to undertake its investigation and submit its report. For its first operative meeting on 7 July, Keldysh invited the attendance of the most important TsKBEM people involved in the DOS programme – Mishin, Bushuyev, Chertok, Tregub, Shabarov, Semyonov and Feoktistov.


Although Mishin’s leadership of the TsKBEM was criticised in the aftermath of the Soyuz 11 tragedy, he retained his position owing to support by Sergey Afanasyev, the Minister of General Machine Building, and Andrey Kirilenko, who was a close colleague of Brezhnyev in the Politburo. Mishin’s relationship with Ustinov is very interesting. At first sight it may appear that he was always backed by Ustinov (for how else could he have remained in post despite the deaths of four cosmonauts, the fiasco of the L1 circumlunar programme, the repeated failures of the N1 rocket for

the N1-L3 lunar programme and the loss of two DOS stations before they could be visited) the relationship between the two men was actually much more complex. For instance, when asked in an interview with the eminent space journalist Vladimir Gubaryev about Ustinov’s nomination to lead the Soviet rocket programme, Mishin said: “I am not sure that it was the best choice! It is hard to say whether he brought more harm or good.’’

During the eight years that Mishin ran the main Soviet space institution, he was a controversial figure. He was unfortunate in gaining leadership at a time that NASA accelerated its space programme and won the ‘race’ to be the first to land a man on the Moon. To understand how the Soviet Union lost this race it is necessary to analyse Mishin’s leadership in the context of the roles of Afanasyev and Ustinov, and indeed of the input of Brezhnyev and Kosygin. However, in technical terms, the failures of Mishin’s years in charge of the TsKBEM were, in large part, the result of decisions made by this organisation, initially by Korolev and later by himself.

In terms of Earth orbital flights, Mishin’s period will be remembered for a series of failures, two of which concluded tragically for the crews – the only such losses to date in the programme. Even so, he retained the support of Afanasyev and Ustinov. He was replaced only after the cancellation of the N1-L3, the organisation of which was largely directed by Afanasyev and Ustinov!

The year 1971 marked a low point for the Soviet space programme, with the third launch of the giant N1 lunar rocket ending in failure, the Soyuz 11 tragedy and the deaths of three of the leading rocketry specialists: Aleksey Isayev, Georgiy Babakin and Mikhail Yangel. The disasters continued in 1972 with the loss of DOS-2 and the final N1, and into 1973 with the loss of DOS-3.[125] Although the design of the N1 was criticised by the leading designers at some of the other organisations (and indeed by some of the people in OKB-1/TsKBEM), Mishin continued to work on it, confident that it would soon become operational and enable cosmonauts to walk on the Moon. But the L3 concept was also criticised – if the manner in which the Americans had gone about landing on the Moon was extremely risky, the way that Mishin planned to do it seemed highly likely to result in the loss of the cosmonaut who attempted to execute it.

Mishin often did things in his own way. When dealing with issues about which he really ought to have consulted with his deputies, he made decisions on his own. An excellent example was his ‘contract’ with Chelomey – which marked the beginning of his downfall. Also, owing to his abrupt manner, his intolerance of criticism, and his frequent heavy drinking (sometimes at the TsUP during missions) the number of people whose respect he lost progressively grew. When he lost the support of some of his close colleagues, including Bushuyev and Chertok, this divided the TsKBEM into two factions, one wishing to push on with what was now really no more than a dream of a lunar programme and the other considering the DOS programme (which Mishin wished to discard) as the basis for a strong space programme. When Mishin ignored this ‘mutiny’ by his closest colleagues, the Kremlin stepped in and made its

“The gene of renunciation.” During his 8 years in charge of the TsKBEM, Vasiliy Mishin (third from the left), with the support of Minister Sergey Afanasyev (fourth from the left), worked with the objective of reaching the Moon. After his dismissal in 1974, Mishin (right photo) worked as a professor of space rocket technology at the Moscow Aviation Institute.

dissatisfaction clear, and in 1974 he was replaced by his old rival Valentin Glushko. To Ustinov, Mishin said: “I understand everything, except the reason for choosing Glushko.” Although Glushko’s management had its critics, he successfully turned the TsKBEM into an empire on a scale that Mishin could never have achieved.

Mishin was appointed as a professor of space rocket technology at his alma mater, the Moscow Aviation Institute (MAI). In fact, since 1958 he had been lecturing at Lomonosov University in Moscow, and he continued to do this in parallel with MAI. One of his students was Valentin Lebedyev, who joined the TsKBEM, trained as a cosmonaut, and flew as the flight engineer of Soyuz 13, which was the last mission to be flown during Mishin’s term as Chief Designer. While a professor at the MAI, Mishin was able to supervise nine master’s theses and eight doctorates. Those who knew him in these years say he showed two different personalities. At times he was rough, explosive, intolerant and brusque, just as he had been when Chief Designer while speaking his mind in dealing with politicians and generals. But the second personality on display at the MAI was much more pleasant. As a teacher, he transmitted to generations of students his rich experience in the design of rockets. He directed the Department for the Design and Construction of Flying Vehicles at the MAI (later Department 601, Space Systems and Rocket Design) until 1990, and in 2002 its laboratory was given Mishin’s name. He co-authored a number of study-books that are still in use today. In addition, he directed a students’ design bureau where, among other projects, the first Soviet non­hermetic satellite was constructed.[126]

In the second half of the 1980s, after Mikhail Gorbachov had become the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Mishin gave interviews and published several works designed to vindicate his still controversial contribution to cosmonautics. Although the CIA had been aware since the 1960s that a man named

Mishin was a key figure in the design of Soviet rockets, it was not until now that his identity was allowed to become public. In Why Didn’t We Fly to the Moon? which was published in December 1990,[127] he described, for the first time, the Soviet lunar programme in detail. Always sharp and direct in his manner, he wrote:

They accused me of not defeating the Americans. But everyone knew right from the beginning that the Americans would win. Our leaders did not listen. After the Americans had done it, we said that we were ready to do it better, but they would not let us try.

In conclusion, he wrote:

Often the question arises: If Korolev had not died, what would have come of our space programme? It is my view that not even he, with all his authority, persistency and predisposition for achieving goals, could have dealt with all the processes that have caught all areas of activity in our society. It would have been difficult for him to work without directives, . . . which followed an incomprehensible politics even during his lifetime. Without doubt, he would have achieved something. We could have had a landing on the Moon, … but sadly not within the deadlines that were imposed on us for prestige over the USA. Too much time had been wasted, and so much money was needed, but the directives did not provide it.

I do not wish readers to think that I am trying to avoid my responsibility as Chief Designer for some of the mistakes that were made in the course of the lunar programme – some by myself. He that does not do anything, does not make errors! We, the successors of Korolev, did everything that we could, but it was not enough.

Aleksey Leonov has strongly criticised Mishin for wasting the money available to the lunar programmes. Leonov firmly believes that in 1968 the Soviets could have beaten the Americans to a circumlunar flight. In fact, Leonov was to command the first L1 crew and, if the N1 rocket had worked and the N1-L3 programme had gone ahead, he would have been the first cosmonaut to attempt to land on the Moon. It is likely that Leonov’s hostility towards Mishin originated with the cancellation of the L1 programme without even attempting a manned mission, and was then worsened by Mishin’s order for Leonov’s crew to stand down and let Dobrovolskiy’s crew fly the Soyuz 11 mission.

Although Mishin persistently denied being directly responsible for the failures of the Soviet manned space programme in the years 1966 to 1973, when asked why he had been so antagonistic to the DOS programme he confessed: “I only understood it later on. In those years, I was not aware that I was making a mistake. The point is that 80 per cent of the tasks that were beneficial to the national economy could have been done by unmanned spacecraft.’’

Few people at the TsKBEM felt sorrow at Mishin’s dismissal as Chief Designer.

In writing his memoirs, Boris Chertok did not feel it appropriate to explain anything about Mishin’s subsequent career.

After leaving the TsKBEM, Mishin left its work behind. Only twice did he cross the doorstep of NPO Energiya. His only real support was his family: his wife Nina Andreyevna, with whom he spent 63 years, and his daughters Yelena (who worked for Korolev and for her father for 40 years), Kira and Vera.

Vasiliy Mishin died on 10 October 2001, aged 84, and was buried five days later in Trekurovskoye Cemetery in Moscow.[128] During a ceremony on 18 January 2007 to mark the 90th anniversary of his birth, his eldest daughter, Yelena, said: “As time goes by, all the things which remind me of my father and link me to him become dearer to me. He did not have relatives in high positions or strong contacts with the top man. He had only his wife and three daughters. . . . Yes, he always said what he thought. He never stepped back from anyone. He was wise, intellectual and a man of honour. It has been said that every scientist must have a gene of renunciation. . . my father had such a gene.’’