Category Salyut – The First Space Station

The fire


To the national TV audience, the flight of the Yantars had settled into an established routine with the cosmonauts working to the timetable of scientific experiments, exercises and other activities. The programme was going to plan and the crew were in excellent spirits. There was not even the slightest hint in their transmissions of the clashes between Volkov and Dobrovolskiy. At the TsUP, Yeliseyev, Nikolayev, Bykovskiy and Gorbatko, who were jointly responsible for communicating with the station, worked hard to calm the tensions on board.

Day 11, Wednesday, 16 June

Dobrovolskiy and Volkov performed a test of the various methods for controlling the station. When doing so manually they used the wide-angle optical periscope. In addition, the accuracy of the ion automatic control system was tested. They also checked the intensity of the flashes while the attitude control system’s engines were firing. Later, they studied the cloud formations in the upper atmosphere using a radio-mass-spectrometer.[81] During the brief time when all three men were awake, Patsayev performed routine medical tests. In terms of heart rate, Dobrovolskiy had 78 beats per minute and Patsayev 77, but Volkov had just 58; the norm being 60-80. And whereas Dobrovolskiy had an arterial blood pressure of 135/75 and Patsayev 135/85, Volkov was lower at 118/55.

From Dobrovolskiy’s notebook:

16 June: At the beginning, we did not drink much water. Nor did we eat the assigned amounts. But, like at home, we ate when we felt hungry. However, the days are passing and we are slowly adopting the planned regime.

“Stupid weightlessness! Another pencil has gone!’’ yells Vadim.

Weightlessness is an interesting state. I am writing with Viktor’s pencil – I lost mine a long time ago; almost all our pencils have gone.

It appeared that apart from problems with weightlessness and the lost pencils, the mission was progressing normally. But suddenly the situation changed. Just before the start of another communication session, Volkov noticed a smell of smoke from somewhere at rear of the station. As soon as communication was established, he reported: “Aboard the station is ‘the curtain’!’’ The anxiety in his voice was evident. To confuse the Westerners eavesdropping on the station’s transmissions, a number of code words had been defined, and ‘the curtain’ meant something related to fire and smoke. Unfortunately, having forgotten what this code meant, the controllers asked Volkov for an explanation. He furiously shouted in plain language: ‘‘There is a fire onboard! We are now entering into the ship!’’ He meant that they were retreating to the Soyuz ferry. He added that there was also a strong smell of burning electrical insulation. In their haste, they neglected to get the instructions for an evacuation, so he requested assistance: ‘‘Read us the instructions for an emergency undocking from the station!’’

When the TsUP sought information about the source of the smoke, they were told that it was coming from a panel on the aft wall which separated the habitable part of the station from the propulsion section. The controllers could tell from the agitated voices that the crew were alarmed. While it was logical to evacuate the station, they should not do this while there was any prospect of extinguishing the fire. The first thought that came to mind was that one of the scientific instruments had caught fire. At that time, scientific organisations had yet to develop highly reliable equipment for use in space, and some faults were likely. In the main control room at the TsUP, Yeliseyev and Nikolayev acted to gain control of the situation by telling the crew to switch off all the scientific equipment, try to find the source of the smoke, and then retreat to the Soyuz. But the communication session expired before the cosmonauts could report.

Immediately after the communication session the leaders of the various groups at the TsUP met in the main control room to plan what to tell the crew to do during the next session. Their dilemma was that they did not know the situation on the station. Were the cosmonauts in the ship? Had they sealed the hatch to the station? Might they even have undocked! Since this was obviously no time to engage in a lengthy discussion, everyone was brief and businesslike:

‘‘What should we do?’’

‘‘It is necessary to prepare several options.’’


‘‘Let’s begin with the worst case: that they have undocked the spacecraft from the station.’’

‘‘We’ll need several orbits to determine the status of the station. If they remained nearby, will they have enough fuel and life support to dock again?’’

‘‘We will have to calculate that.’’

‘‘Ask your specialists.’’


Life on board Salyut. In the two upper photos Dobrovolskiy and Volkov are in the working compartment, wearing their ‘penguin’ suits. Dobrovolskiy relaxes (middle left) after the fire on board the station. Dobrovolskiy (right) and Volkov discuss the flight programme (middle right). At times they were in conflict over how best to proceed. Patsayev can be seen working the Orion telescope (bottom left), and with Volkov taking blood samples (bottom right – note also the shoulder strapping of Volkov’s ‘penguin’ suit).

“It is important to know whether they closed the station’s hatch before undocking, because if they didn’t then we’ve lost it!’’

“That is clear. If they have undocked, then there is no urgency about the ship. We must focus on checking the station: first, the composition of the atmosphere and the power supply system.’’

“We should switch on the internal camera and assess the situation for ourselves.’’ “Agreed. Analysis Group, see to this.’’

“What if the cosmonauts are still on board the station?’’

“We must question them. But first we must calm them down. They will probably have switched off the faulty instrument, but what if this had no effect?’’

“Then the situation will be urgent.’’

“Let us prepare two additional plans: one for an urgent evacuation of the station, and the other a normal evacuation that returns the systems to the automated regime. Planning Group, this is for you.’’


“If the faulty apparatus is switched off, the first step is to identify it, as otherwise we won’t be able to reactivate the other instruments. Today’s programme of work is already lost. Let us form a working group to find the problem. Representatives of Planning, Analysis and Experiments will participate, with the latter in charge.’’ “Agreed.’’

“We will have to remove the smoke from the station.’’

“The Analysis Group should prepare proposals.’’

“A longer period of communication will be required. We urgently need to connect all the command-measuring sites and arrange additional [telemetry] communication channels from the Ministry of Telecommunications.’’

“Okay, good. Now get to work. We will reconvene five minutes before the start of the next session and coordinate our efforts.’’

After the specialists had dispersed for their assignments, Minister Afanasyev rang from Moscow to ask what was happening on Salyut; as did Kerimov and members of the Central Committee. Yeliseyev explained only that a scientific instrument had caught fire, the cosmonauts had switched off all of the instruments, and specialists at the TsUP were studying a number of options to overcome the problem.

Yeliseyev also called Mishin, who immediately convened Bushuyev, Semyonov, Tregub, Feoktistov and Chertok. As Mishin told the TsKBEM team: “Yeliseyev has just reported that there is a fire on the DOS. The crew is preparing for an emergency landing. We must alert Kamanin to prepare the recovery team. Tregub must initiate work with the Ballistics Group to determine the best orbit on which to undock to ensure that the landing will be on our territory.’’ It was decided that Tregub should go to assist Yeliseyev – although because a flight to Crimea would take five hours it was entirely possible that by the time he arrived the cosmonauts would themselves be back on Earth. The others would remain in Moscow and monitor the situation via internal channels. If it proved possible to continue the programme as planned, then in five days Chertok and Raushenbakh would join Tregub at the TsUP for the final phase of the mission.


The controllers met again five minutes before the next communication session and Yeliseyev’s team prepared brief instructions appropriate to each of the three options. Just in case, he invited Eleonora Krapivina, who had spent a lot of time studying the crew in training and could evaluate their capabilities in an emergency situation. For Yeliseyev, it was important to have someone on hand to assist him in providing the most important instructions to the cosmonauts in the brief time available during the communication session.

When radio contact could be expected, Yeliseyev called: “Yantar! This is Zarya! On line!’’

Instead of the station commander, who was responsible for reporting on incidents as serious as this, the response came from Volkov.

Volkov: “Zarya, this is Yantar. We hear you well.’’

Zarya: “Where are you?’’

Volkov: “In the station.’’

Zarya: “Report what is happening.’’

Volkov: “The smoke isn’t being produced any more, but there is still smoke in the station. We have headaches.’’

It was evident from Volkov’s voice that he was tired, almost exhausted, but there was no sign of the previous anxiety. The smoke had come from the control panel of the scientific apparatus (PUNA) located on the wall at the rear of the main working compartment. This suggested that the problem was simply the failure of one of the science instruments. The controllers were greatly relieved. The instructions for this situation were very simple – to switch on the filter to cleanse the atmosphere.

Flight director Yeliseyev and Colonel Gorbatko played an important role in calming the Salyut crew after a fire broke out on the station, convincing them to continue the mission.

For reassurance, Yeliseyev explained the procedure for abandoning the station: “The order of the steps for an emergency evacuation is printed on pages 110 to 120. It lists what you should do after your transfer into the descent module. After transfer, prepare the spacecraft according to the instruction on 7K-T, pages 98a and 98b.[82] To undock, read pages 133 to 136. However, return only on command from the Earth. Don’t hurry. With the panel switched off, the smoke should cease. If you choose to depart, leave the filter on. Take tablets for your headaches. The telemetry indicates that the carbon dioxide and oxygen concentrations are normal. The commander will take the decision about transferring to the ship and undocking from the station.’’

As commander of the station, Dobrovolskiy understood that it was time for him to take control of the communication: “Zarya, I am Yantar 1. We understand. There is no hurry. PUNA is switched off. Now two of us will be on duty, one will rest. Don’t worry, we want to continue working.’’

Zarya: “Yantar 1, this is Zarya. We have analysed the onboard systems and we believe our recommendations will restore the situation. We hope you will be able to continue the flight according to the plan. The smell of the smoke will disappear. We suggest that you rest tomorrow, then resume the normal regime. Later, after you have left the communication zone of the ground stations, the ship Academician Sergey Korolev will contact you.’’

General Kamanin, who was planning to fly to Yevpatoriya on the afternoon of the same day, had been informed of the problem by General Shatalov in Zvyozdniy.[83] When Kamanin arrived at Yevpatoriya, Colonel Bykovskiy informed him: “The situation has improved. There is no longer smoke, just the smell of soot. But in the last six hours the crew has been so busy that they have not had dinner, and therefore are in need of rest.’’

During the emergency Volkov had become extremely nervous and, as the veteran, had usurped Dobrovolskiy’s role and attempted to resolve the situation by himself. When he used expressions like “I decided’’ and “I did’’ in later conversations with Yeliseyev, Nikolayev and Bykovskiy it became clear that he was too emotional and independently minded to realise or acknowledge his errors.

In one of his last interviews, published in 1989, Mishin recalled: “I had a complex conversation with Volkov. He declared himself to be in command. When the cable burned, they lost their heads and wanted to depart the station. I calmed them down.’’ In addition, Mishin ordered Volkov to respect the commander: “Everything must be solved by the crew commander; carry out his orders.’’ But Volkov had replied: “The whole crew decides things together. We will sort out how to proceed by ourselves.’’

The tracking ship Academician Sergey Korolev.

At 10.30 p. m., the station entered the communication zone on its 155th orbit with the crew on board. Dobrovolskiy and Patsayev had calmed Volkov and sent him to rest, and he had fallen asleep. Kamanin conversed with Dobrovolskiy and Patsayev. After recounting the sequence of events on the station and describing the health of the crew, Dobrovolskiy judged the situation to be “almost normal”. Although it was clear that they were exhausted by the day’s events, he concluded: “We’ll probably be able to continue the flight.’’

In his diary Kamanin added: “Prior to the launch of Soyuz 11 we agreed with Georgiy Dobrovolskiy that in describing the status of the station and the crew, if he had no doubt about continuing the flight he should say ‘outstanding’ or ‘good’, and if he had doubts then he should say ‘satisfactory’. But the station commander forgot this.’’ Kamanin was also dissatisfied that Dobrovolskiy appeared to have deferred to Volkov, who, after reminding everyone that he was the most experienced member of the crew, had dominated the communications with the TsUP.

A few orbits later, Academician Sergey Korolev made contact with the station and then informed the controllers at the TsUP that the situation on board was improving: Dobrovolskiy and Patsayev had eaten a meal and Volkov was still asleep.

The sudden emission of smoke in the station had strained the relationships between the members of the crew to the limit. During the crisis the cosmonauts continued to make entries in their notebooks. One remark by Dobrovolskiy clearly indicates his concern: ‘‘If this is harmony, what is divergence?’’

Day 12, Thursday, 17 June

The next day, while the controllers analysed the telemetry received from the station, the crew visually inspected the locus of the fire, identified the faulty apparatus, and isolated it from its power supply. It was the fan to cool the panel for controlling the orientation of some of the scientific equipment. When the fan seized, the motor had continued to try to drive it, and the winding of the stator had overheated and issued a dense smoke. Although there had been no flame, as such, this was the first case of a ‘fire’ on the manned space mission.

On the recommendation of the TsUP, the cosmonauts reactivated the instruments one by one until all the scientific equipment was again operational.

Although the filter removed the smoke, the crew remained concerned about the composition of the atmosphere.

4.26 a. m.

Zarya: ‘‘During the 955th orbit, perform a functional test with the apparatus.’’

Dobrovolskiy: ‘‘What is the composition of the atmosphere?’’

Zarya: ‘‘It is normal.’’

Dobrovolskiy: ‘‘Are you watching the oxygen?’’

Zarya: ‘‘The oxygen is normal. We are watching it for you.’’

With this assurance, Dobrovolskiy retired for some much-needed sleep. Patsayev was already asleep. Volkov, now sounding less anxious, was on duty.

7.31 a. m.

Zarya: “Yantar 2, please remind Yantar 3 that on the 957th orbit he is scheduled to do a stabilisation.”

Volkov: “I won’t awake them, they’re so tired.”

Zarya: “It isn’t necessary now. Let them rest.’’

11.56 a. m.

Zarya: “We have a question. How many times did each of you use the vacuum unit – how often and for how long? You can reply tomorrow if you don’t have the details to hand.’’ This was an enquiry about the Veter lower-body negative-pressure apparatus.

Dobrovolskiy: “Understood. The vacuum unit is good. During one test, I reduced the pressure to -70 mm [of mercury] and felt excellent. The loads aren’t like those on Earth, they are much less, and it is possible to increase the vacuum level without risk.’’

Later in the day, General Agadzhanov advised members of the State Commission that the situation was satisfactory, and since the crew were in no immediate danger there was no reason to curtail the flight. When the issue was raised of whether a fire might occur in another system, it was decided that the cosmonauts should switch off all the scientific apparatus until Chertok and his team could determine the status of the station’s electrical system and assess the potential of another fire.

How did the families of the cosmonauts react to these dramatic events? Svetlana Patsayeva was at a Young Pioneers’ camp and hence was personally unaware of the problem in space: “But,’’ she recalled, “for my mom these days were very difficult. She wrote a diary during the entire mission. I read these very personal records only following her death. Her diary clearly shows how much she worried about the crew. She knew the dangers. Indeed, she worked at an enterprise near dad’s and actually knew the complexities of a space mission.[84] Mom was present during the periods of communication with the crew, and was up to date with what was happening on the station. I didn’t know of the fire, but mom knew from the conversations of the crew with the Earth. And she knew how serious it might become.’’

Marina Dobrovolskiy was also unaware of the incident: “The technical side of the flight did not greatly concern me. I thought about dad, how he was feeling, what he was doing, and when he would return. But I was always sure that my father would find the correct solution and skillfully overcome even a very difficult situation. So it was with the fire. Indeed whether or not the station would continue in operation was dependent on a command decision.’’

In the meantime Western observers picked up Volkov’s unencrypted transmission that there was a fire on board the station, and, their suspicions aroused, observed an intriguing change to the daily routine on 17 June – the Soviet press reports made no mention of either scientific work or a TV transmission, they referred instead to the

cosmonauts having carried out “minor corrective work”, explaining that there were tools, spare parts and safety devices on the station.


The first to present was Vasiliy Mishin, who described how the Soyuz 11 spacecraft differed from its predecessors. He pointed out that a total of 19 spacecraft had been

launched since November 1966, with Soyuz 10 and Soyuz 11 being the 7K-T crew ferry. The main difference between the two recent ships was the modification to the docking system following its failure on the Soyuz 10 mission. According to Mishin, Soyuz 11 suffered no major problems until the separation of its modules. It is not clear whether he told the Commission of the difficulty in closing the hatch prior to undocking. Based on data recorded by the onboard memory device, Mir, the module separation occurred at an altitude of about 150 km (some sources say 168 km) and lasted just 0.06 seconds. The pressure in the descent module began to fall rapidly at that moment. At a. m., two seconds prior to jettisoning the orbital module, the pressure in the descent module was 915 mm of mercury, which was normal. But some 115 seconds later the pressure had dropped to 50 mm, and was still falling. In effect, there was no longer any air in the cabin! In fact, the book relating the history of RKK Energiya (as the TsKBEM later became) states that the pressure fell even more rapidly than this, reaching near-zero in only 30-45 seconds.

Decompression could result from two causes: (1) the premature opening of one of two valves located at the top of the descent module, or (2) leakage from the hatch. Mishin presented diagrams featuring curves corresponding to these two modes of decompression. The curve calculated for a loss of pressure due to the valve opening exactly matched the actual loss of pressure recorded by the ‘black box’. In addition, the force resulting from the air venting from this valve upset the stabilisation of the module, which prompted the automated control system to fire six 10-kg thrusters to compensate. The thruster firings calculated on the assumption that the air was being vented matched those recorded by the ‘black box’. The maximum deceleration load of 3.3 g was recorded when the descent module reached an altitude of about 40 km, where the atmosphere began to thicken. At this point, air began to enter through the inadvertently opened valve. The second valve was automatically opened as planned, at an altitude of about 5 km. Although the cabin rapidly filled with fresh air, it was too late for the cosmonauts.

The conclusion was inescapable: one of the two valves had opened prematurely as the orbital module was jettisoned. The possibility of an incorrect command could be discarded because both valves were on the same electric circuit. Based on the 2-cm size of the valve’s tube, the internal volume of the descent module, and the fact that the air would have passed through the valve at the speed of sound, the time for the pressure to diminish to near-zero was calculated at 50-60 seconds. If Dobrovolskiy, Volkov and Patsayev had been wearing pressure suits they would not have been in danger, but the Soyuz was a ‘shirt-sleeve environment’ and so they became the first men to die in space.

For the State Commission, two facts relating to the tragedy of Soyuz 11 crew were of crucial importance: spacesuits and valves. The decision to send cosmonauts into space without pressure suits had been taken years earlier. To create a ‘spectacular’ for Khrushchov, in early 1964 Korolev had ordered Feoktistov to adapt the Vostok spacecraft to accommodate three men, and in order to create the impression that this was an entirely new vehicle it was to be named Voskhod. As there was insufficient room for three men dressed in the pressure suits worn by the Vostok cosmonauts, it was decided that the crew should wear casual clothing. During a meeting on this issue Korolev said that working in the spacecraft in a pressure suit was as uncomfortable as working inside a submarine wearing a wet suit. Furthermore, to fit three couches into the capsule, it was necessary to discard the ejector seats, so the Voskhod crews were the first to be launched with no means of escape if their rocket were to have a malfunction during the first 27 second of its flight. Feoktistov was initially doubtful, but led the modification when Korolev promised that one of the designers could be a member of the first Voskhod crew. Because the descent module of the three-seat Soyuz was not much larger than the old spherical capsule, it was likewise designed for use without pressure suits.1 In March 1964 Korolev advised Khrushchov of the possibility of sending a three-man crew into space. The American Apollo that was to be capable of carrying three astronauts was not expected to start flying until late 1966, so Khrushchov eagerly accepted Korolev’s proposal; he was unperturbed that the cosmonauts would fly without pressure suits – for him the most important thing was once again to beat the Americans.

During Korolev’s lifetime, only Kamanin had sharply objected to this idea. In fact, he had attempted to force a return to the use of pressure suits. On 5 and 7 July 1971 he made the following entries in his diary expressing his disappointment:

Cosmonauts and the Air Force specialists insisted many times both verbally and in writing to the Central Committee of the Communist Party on the need to have on the ship pressure suits and equipment to pump air. But they were always refused – over a period of seven years! Responding to our requests, Mishin several times said that we were overcautious, that the decompression of the Soyuz spacecraft is completely excluded, meaning that “it is possible to fly [on it] in shorts’’.

The crews of our ships have flown without pressure suits for seven years. Cosmonauts have written to Khrushchov, Brezhnyev, Ustinov and Smirnov about the danger of such flights. Kutakhov sent a letter to Mishin concerning the fact that cosmonauts “fly in shorts’’, with a request to have pressure suits on board. But all our requests were refused – first by Korolev and in recent years by Mishin, who said that hundreds of unmanned satellites and piloted spacecraft have flown in space without a single case of decompression.

In the early phase of the Soyuz programme Mishin’s responsibilities were related to rocketry; he had very little involvement in the design of manned space vehicles. When he succeeded Korolev as the Chief Designer in 1966 the development of the Soyuz was nearing completion. It would have been possible to modify it to accommodate a crew wearing pressure suits, but only by eliminating one of the couches.[106] [107] Korolev’s fundamental error, with the active

support of Feoktistov, was to have designed the spacecraft for use without pressure suits. As Feoktistov said 24 years after the loss of the Soyuz 11 cosmonauts, “the feeling of guilt persists”. The second major error was the decision not to install the tanks which would have supplied additional air to the crew in the event of a decompression. This was accepted by Mishin despite the protests of General Kamanin and the specialists at the TsPK. Interestingly, no one at the OKB-1/TsKBEM had the courage early in the design to seriously analyse the risk of flying without pressure suits and then challenge Korolev and Feoktistov.

Later, in one of his interviews, Mishin defended Korolev’s decision by saying that during over 1,000 tests of the descent module there had been no problems relating to decompression. Noting that for decades hermetically sealed aircraft have flown at altitudes of 10 km or greater carrying crew and passengers wearing casual clothes rather than pressure suits, Mishin said: “I think Korolev’s decision was correct, and that after this it was necessary to focus attention not on individual protection, but on the protection of the entire module – on group protection. Our idea was to develop such a robust hermetic unit that we would not need a backup for each element.’’

While the descent module was at the landing site, it was established to be pressure tight. On its arrival in Moscow it was examined by experts from the TsKBEM. The hypothesis that a valve had been inadvertently opened when the orbital module was jettisoned looked good on paper, but despite being subjected to powerful shocks and vibrations the valves remained shut. The fortnight deadline allowed by the Kremlin for the investigation expired without such tests validating the hypothesis that on this occasion there had been an unexpectedly severe shock associated with the release of the orbital module. Later, Academician Keldysh pointed out that since the tests had been done in normal atmospheric conditions the forces would have been diffused by the air, and he suggested that the separation of the modules should be simulated in vacuum in an altitude chamber. Two tests were made in the TsPK, but in both cases the valves remained shut. Undeterred by this ‘proof’ of the design of the valves, the specialists devised tests involving incorrectly configured valves in an effort to gain insight into the issue. Tests that applied a variety of individual loads and modes of malfunction to the valve failed to open it. However, when these were all applied simultaneously, the valve opened. With this proof that it was possible for the valve to be shocked open, the premature opening of the valve during the separation of the modules of Soyuz 11 was officially accepted as the cause of the decompression.

On 10 July 1971, while the tests were underway, the State Commission released a 200-word statement. After pointing out that the flight of Soyuz 11 was normal until the onset of re-entry, it went on: ‘‘On the ship’s descent trajectory, 30 minutes prior to landing, a rapid drop of pressure occurred in the descent module leading to the sudden deaths of the cosmonauts. This is verified by the medical and pathological – anatomical examinations. The drop in pressure was the result of a loss of the ship’s hermetic seal. An inspection of the descent module showed there to be no failures in its structure. A technical analysis has determined several possible causes for the loss of the seal. The study of these continues.’’ Incredibly, this is the only report ever to

have been officially released describing the deaths of the Soyuz ЇЇ crew!

The fact that the Commission’s statement said that the cosmonauts died suddenly ЗО minutes prior to landing owing to a pressure leak, whilst also saying there were no failures of the structure, led Western observers to conclude that the cosmonauts must have erred! In fact, two days after the tragedy some Western newspapers had reported an anonymous Soviet journalist who claimed the crew died because “they failed to seal the hatch of their spacecraft properly’’. At week’s end, the Evening News in London reported that Russian scientists attending the funeral had blamed the cosmonauts. Victor Louis, the paper’s Moscow correspondent, wrote: “human error and mechanical failure between them caused creeping depressurisation in the spacemen’s 9-foot cabin and deprived the cosmonauts of life-supporting oxygen during the final phase of their journey’’. During the turbulent re-entry, Louis said, the spacecraft’s hatch had opened sufficiently to allow the air to escape into space. Although there was some basis for this story – the difficulty in sealing the hatch just prior to undocking – the State Commission had ruled out the hatch seal as the cause of the decompression.

The Commission completed its investigation in early August and recommended a number of improvements intended to preclude a repeat of the Soyuz ЇЇ tragedy. At the final meeting, Academician Keldysh pointed out that the “opening of the valve was due to a shock wave propagating across the metal structure of the spacecraft’’, and after noting that “to be simulated it is necessary to perform tens or hundreds of experiments in the altitude chamber’’ he suggested that if the steps proposed by the Commission were adopted then to continue “expensive and complicated tests’’ in an altitude chamber would “not make sense’’.

Interestingly, three of the most important documents about the Soyuz ЇЇ tragedy were not made public, and presumably remain in the archives of either the Kremlin or the TsKBEM. These are:

• The final report of the State Commission, including the individual reports of its subcommissions.

• The data recorded by the ‘black box’ in the descent module prior to, during, and after the separation of the modules.

• The full reports of the autopsies by the Burdenko Military Hospital – even the Ministry of Heath’s Institute for Biomedical Problems, which is the leading space medicine institution in Russia, does not have copies of the autopsy results!

As in the case of Komarov’s death, the Kremlin hid the truth about the Soyuz ЇЇ tragedy from the Soviet people. The fact that Dobrovolskiy, Volkov and Patsayev died as a result of a valve inadvertently opening was revealed by the Washington Post on 29 October Ї97З – more than two years after the fact! In planning the joint mission during which an Apollo was to dock with a Soyuz in the summer of Ї975, the NASA officials said during a visit to Moscow that they had a need to know what had gone wrong with Soyuz ЇЇ. The Washington Post reported that a vent valve was accidentally forced open, and that the air in the descent module leaked to space in a matter of seconds. The valve had opened just after the orbital module was jettisoned. This procedure involved the firing of explosive bolts, and it was reported that the

shock, which was greater than that expected, had been sufficient to cause the valve to open. Two of the cosmonauts had tried to unstrap from their couches in order to close the valve but had not been able to act fast enough. In ten seconds the cabin pressure was so low that it could no longer support human life. After a further 45 seconds there was no air left at all. Following a period of unconsciousness, the crew died from pulmonary embolisms. The tissue damage to their bodies was due to the boiling of their blood during the 11.5-minute interval that they were exposed to vacuum – a symptom that could at first have been misinterpreted as being indicative of an instantaneous and catastrophic decompression.


Kamanin’s involvement with the space programme began in the best possible way, with the selection and training of the first cosmonauts, including Yuriy Gagarin, the first man to orbit the Earth. It ended with the deaths of Dobrovolskiy, Volkov and Patsayev. However, during his 11 years as head of cosmonaut training there had been other deaths. In March 1961, shortly before Gagarin’s launch, the young trainee cosmonaut Valentin Bondarenko lost his life as a result of burns from an accidental fire in a pressure chamber that was providing a pure-oxygen atmosphere. Although this occurred in the Institute for Space and Aviation Medicine, which was not under Kamanin’s control, he directed the training regime. For many years Bondarenko’s death remained a secret. And, of course, in 1967 Vladimir Komarov lost his life on impact with the ground after the failure of Soyuz 1’s parachute system. Kamanin announced his attention to retire prior to the Soyuz 11 mission.[135] He was simply fed up of disputes with the leaders of the space programme – first with Korolev, then with Mishin. And it was not only with civilians that he clashed. His relationship with his new boss, Pavel Kutakhov, was far from ideal. Immediately upon taking office in 1969 Kutakhov had decided that Kamanin should be replaced, and it had been decided that cosmonaut Vladimir Shatalov would supersede him.

Although Kamanin became a Lieutenant-General at the end of the Second World War, aged 37, it was 22 years before he was promoted to Colonel-General in 1967.

Whereas cosmonauts gained medals and the Gold Star of Hero of the Soviet Union, he was persistently bypassed, even when space flights in which he played a key role were successful. But on his death he was laid to rest bearing the Hero of the Soviet Union which he received in 1934 for risking his life to save the passengers of the icebreaker Chelyuskin.

Kamanin was highly critical of the manner in which the Soviet space programme was directed. He particularly criticised the men who “pulled the strings” behind the scenes. In his celebrated diary, published as Hidden Space,[136] he sharply criticised Korolev for underestimating the role of cosmonauts in piloting a spacecraft, and for wasting time during the development of the Soyuz spacecraft automating its control and guidance systems. He also criticised the decision that cosmonauts should cease to wear pressure suits. Finally, he constantly battled with Mishin for the selection of crews. His relationship with the cosmonauts was sometimes very formal and harsh, but he displayed an affinity for some of the first group, especially Gherman Titov.

Kamanin’s family life was also marked by tragedy – his son was lost in an aircraft crash. Although after retirement he played no further role in the space programme he sometimes visited Zvyozdniy, which he had done so much to create, to take part in celebrations involving the cosmonauts. He died on 11 March 1982 at the age of 74, and was buried in Novadevechye Cemetery in Moscow.

SPACE BIRTHDAY Day 13, Friday, 18 June

On the second day after the fire the mood of the cosmonauts noticeably improved. Volkov and Patsayev even gave a 5-minute TV report in which they showed some of the scientific equipment – in particular demonstrating how the enormous bulk of the solar telescope dominated the compartment. They also talked about monitoring the Earth from the station. Of course, by this point they had removed all evidence of smoke, and at no time did they refer to the fire. Watching the broadcast, Kamanin noted a “discordance” between the tired unshaven faces of the cosmonauts and the impressive background of the solar telescope.

On direction from Chertok, the controllers read to the crew the plan for switching on the apparatus. One by one all the medical equipment and several of the scientific instruments were reactivated. All worked normally. The scientists were keen for the remaining apparatus to be reactivated in order to resume the scientific investigations but Yeliseyev and Tregub, who was now at the TsUP, with the support of Chertok in Kaliningrad, decided to await a comprehensive analysis as to which of the various investigations should be continued.

After a brief medical check, Patsayev resumed using the Orion telescope to study stars in the ultraviolet.

7.24 a. m.

Patsayev: “Can you hear me well? The Orion experiment was performed at the planned time: the second regime, the second star on map No. 3. I started working at 6.34 and the timer was started at 6.45. Exposures of 10, 30, 90 and 270 [seconds] were made. I will determine the rewind time and let you know later. All indicators changed colour: green, orange and white. As for the rest, it was all normal. Report finished.”

Zarya: “Yantar 3, continue. The Control Group appreciate you resuming normal work.”

Dobrovolskiy: “Yes, he is happy too.”

Zarya: “Yantar 3, a reminder: don’t forget to check the No. 5 panel for the control of the scientific apparatus before the start of the second part of the experiment.”

Patsayev: “I won’t forget. I prepared it earlier. I cleaned the porthole and the glass of the visor. All is normal.’’

Zarya: “Excellent, excellent. According to preliminary results, everyone is happy with the first part of the experiment.’’

Patsayev: “Yes, it wasn’t bad. We are happy too. The object was held stable, and the automatic system worked well.’’

1.21 p. m.

Patsayev: “I’m reporting the situation with the Orion. The third star went well except that we could not finish the final exposure planned for 810 seconds owing to the sunrise; it was just 720 seconds, f had to cut it short because of the glare from an illuminated antenna, The remainder of the operation was normal,”

Zarya: “Understood, Yantar 3, Thank you for the information,”

Patsayev: “You’re welcome,”

Zarya: “Yantar 3, as we aren’t going to be on duty tomorrow, Happy Birthday from the Control Group,’’

Patsayev: “Thank you, thank you,’’

Zarya: “We wish you all the best, The others are preparing greetings for tomorrow, Most sincere greetings to you,’’

Patsayev: “Thank you,’’

Zarya: “All of you should have a tube of juice tomorrow, to make a toast,’’ Patsayev: “But there is no glass,’’

Zarya: “We hope Yantar 2 will find something for this occasion, See you later,’’

At 2,30 p, m, Salyut began its 182nd orbit in its manned regime,

ft had been intended that on 20 June the cosmonauts would observe the launch from Baykonur of the third N1 lunar rocket in order to test the Svinetz instrument that the military had designed to detect intercontinental ballistic missiles, but on 18 June the launch was delayed, initially to 22 June, then later to 27 June, which ruled out the possibility of the cosmonauts making the observation since on that day the station would not pass over the cosmodrome, However, Kamanin confirmed that the plan for them to observe night launches of solid-propellant missiles from Baykonur would proceed, Meanwhile, Mishin had flown to the cosmodrome to supervise the preparations for the N1 launch, The postponement meant that he would not be able to fly from Baykonur to Yevpatoriya until a few days before the planned end of the Soyuz 11 mission,

10.19 p. m.

Volkov: “f have just awakened, f slept for about seven hours, f slept well, and feel well, The others are now resting,’’

Zarya: “Where are the others sleeping? fn the working compartment?’’

Volkov: “Yes, Again on the floor, next to the filters, They support themselves on both sides by their legs, and sleep,’’

From Patsayev’s notebook:

Here, we don’t need legs – we swim like fish in an aquarium, Loose objects will float out of reach if you don’t attach them to something, Untidy people are not welcome in space! There are interesting differences to being on the Earth – for example to drink water, to eat, in movement, with clothing, and with sleeping, Here, we must learn everything afresh, , , , Weightlessness is both good and bad, ft is good when working with instruments, and facilitates easier movement, But the return to gravity will be difficult, fn the future we will need spacecraft with artificial gravity,

Although the Soviet press resumed their familiar routine of reportage on 18 June, the radio monitors at the Kettering Grammar School in England detected telemetry on the Soyuz 11 frequency – the first such transmissions since 9 June – indicating that for some unannounced reason the cosmonauts had powered up their ferry.[85]

Day 14, Saturday, 19 June

The birthday of Viktor Patsayev on 19 June further relieved the stress on the crew. They performed medical examinations and operated such scientific apparatus as the TsUP permitted. In fact, the Control Group had decided to scale down the scientific experiments, prohibit the communication of unnecessary information, and gradually increase the physical exercise regime in preparation for the return to Earth.

Several times during the day, the cosmonauts were moved from one experiment to another. They were physicians, biologists, astronomers and meteorologists, and the scientists back on Earth were keen for the results. Astronomers wanted observations from above the atmosphere of cosmic radiation that would provide information on how the universe was structured. Physicians and biologists wanted to know how the human body and other organisms reacted to long-term exposure to space – both in terms of weightlessness and the radiation environment. Physicists wanted to know how various materials behaved – fluids, for example, display interesting properties in weightlessness. Technologists wanted to know if it would be possible to create a whole new range of materials possessing unique attributes. When Salyut was being designed the Academy of Sciences had suggested that a scientist be included in the crew, the logic being that only a scientist could analyse the results of an experiment in space and suggest a procedure to follow up an interesting observation. However, because a commander and a flight engineer were required to operate the station, and the Soyuz could accommodate a maximum of three cosmonauts, there was room for only one researcher on the crew. It was therefore decided that the third member of each crew should be a professional cosmonaut who had been trained as a researcher and investigator – which is why Patsayev’s role on the crew was ‘research cosmonaut’. The scientific programme was developed by the scientists, who spent a great deal of time explaining how to use the apparatus and how to analyse the results. In addition, senior representatives for each scientific investigation were permitted access to the TsUP, and there was a special radio channel between the scientists and the station’s crew to enable the scientists to discuss the performance of their experiments and to offer the cosmonauts advice. Although the scientists and the crew worked together closely, the cosmonauts never spoke the surnames of the scientists on the radio for security reasons. When an experiment was successful, the contented scientists were often able to exit the TsUP with graphs and tables. If a problem developed, then the scientists would retire to attempt to understand the failure and devise a remedy for the next opportunity. Despite some frustrations, the experience gained in attempting to undertake a scientific programme on an orbital station was priceless. Sometimes a modification of the apparatus or a revised operating procedure was suggested for a future flight. In some cases, it was concluded that the work would be better done by an automated satellite – for example, once a telescope had been precisely aligned on a celestial source, the observation could be marred by the vibration of the station in response to the cosmonauts moving around. But, on the other hand, there was merit in testing new apparatus on a manned station to ensure that it worked properly prior to assigning it to an automated satellite.

Volkov and Patsayev conducted a multispectral optical study of the atmosphere at sunrise and sunset – each of which occurred in orbit every 90 minutes, providing a wealth of data. During this experiment they established the diversity in colour of the atmospheric upper layers during sunset and sunrise, and its correlation with aerosol particles. At 2.58 p. m., when the station flew over the northwestern coast of Africa, the cosmonauts saw a vast sand storm. In addition, they placed the station into solar orientation and checked the accuracy of the gyroscopes after such a prolonged time in space.

Continuing their medical programme, the cosmonauts made further measure­ments of their cardiovascular systems and bone density. They also assessed the ability of their eyes to differentiate colours in order to determine the degree to which the eye is affected by weightlessness.

Conditions inside the station were normal: the temperature was 22°C, the pressure was 880 mm of mercury, and the smell of smoke had cleared.

7.13 a. m.

Zarya: “We all send Happy Birthday greetings to Viktor Ivanovich. We wish him successful work.”

Patsayev: “Thank you.”

Zarya: “We hope that the commander will organise a party.”

Dobrovolskiy: “We offered him a day of rest apart from physical exercise, but he has so much technical work.”

Then, after a pause, Dobrovolskiy reported: “We performed photography of the twilight horizon. When the Sun appeared, a small part, less than half of its disk, was visible. We took pictures of it.”

10.19 a. m.

Zarya: “Yantar 3, again we all send our greetings on your birthday – we wish you a successful flight and happiness in your life. Your family sends their most sincere wishes.”

Patsayev: “Thank you for your greetings. Although you are far away from us, we always feel your support.”

Patsayev’s 38th birthday was the first birthday to be celebrated in space. Knowing the recent crisis and tensions between the members of the crew, the psychologists at the TsUP had prepared a special programme. Patsayev’s wife and children were in the communication centre in Kaliningrad, watching the TV signal from the station.

With them was the famous TV anchor, Yuriy Fokin. The communication officer at the TsUP was Nikolayev.

Nikolayev: “How is the table prepared?”

Patsayev: “The table is prepared excellently: cold veal, cookies and blackberry juice in tubes.”

Nikolayev: “Did you find the bottle?” He was referring to the traditional bottle of celebratory champagne.

Patsayev (laughing): “No, we didn’t. We looked for the bottle everywhere, but we couldn’t find it. The delicacy was the onion, which was a present from Vadim. We sliced it into three parts and shared it. Zhora’s present was lemon.’’

The onion and lemon were smuggled on board by Volkov especially for the first birthday in orbit. The TV viewers could see the table set with tubes of juice, cheese, fruits, nuts and cans of veal. The items were held in place by tapes across the table. Patsayev sat at the table and Dobrovolskiy and Volkov floated in the background, smiling happily. Not having champagne glasses, they toasted loudly with the plum juice tubes. Patsayev said that of his presents he most enjoyed the onion, which was the first ‘fresh’ food that any of them had tasted since entering space.

His son Dmitriy recalls: ‘‘We were invited to the communication centre and had a chance to talk with dad, but only for a brief time. I don’t really remember what we said – I was 13 years old and there were many interesting devices in the room that distracted me. However, I do remember that Dobrovolskiy and Volkov presented an onion to him.’’

Svetlana Patsayeva, even younger, remembers the visit only by what her mother

‘‘Did you find the bottle?’’ asked General Nikolayev (right) as Patsayev celebrates his birthday in orbit.

told her: “The crew were given congratulations from their friends and relatives. And there was music too. Our friends especially asked that our father’s favourite song be played. Previously, the people on the ground had recorded the congratulations from our family. They brought me home from Young Pioneers’ camp for this. Someone came to our home with the equipment to record our words, me playing the piano (in fact, I was just starting to learn music, and my playing was not very good), and the sounds of our parrot.’’

After the communication session Patsayev’s friends gathered in his apartment in Moscow, where his wife, Vera, had prepared a celebratory lunch. It was an unusual birthday party, as the person being honoured was not present. Someone had a bottle of French champagne, but it was decided to defer opening it until Viktor was home. A note was affixed to the bottle bearing the signatures of all the attendees, together with the message: ‘Vitya, you were searching for this bottle in space, but it was here on Earth.’

From Dobrovolskiy’s notebook:

19 June. Viktor’s birthday. His wife sent a greeting letter with the words: ‘‘Mum has arrived, she is feeling well.’’ Viktor was so impassioned.

From Volkov’s diary:

19 June. Today is Viktor’s birthday. We laid the table. The onion was a real delicacy. Zarya gave him their greetings. The Earth asked for a report.

21.30. Start my duty. I will be the first to see the globe instrument indicate ‘1,000 orbits’. This historic event will occur during my time on duty. Simply unbelievable.

I slept at the new place, which is similar to the roomette in a wagon.[86] For the last two days I have slept well – about eight hours. Tomorrow we expect the radio programme With Good Morning to be transmitted.

So, with the stress of the fire behind him, Volkov was once again sleeping well.


Let us consider the function of the valve which was the technical cause of the loss of the Soyuz 11 crew. The limited capacity of the launch vehicle obliged Feoktistov and his design team to make the Soyuz descent module a very small vehicle – it is so cramped that it is right on the limit for accommodating the human body. In fact, the bell-shaped module stands 2.16 metres tall, has a maximum diameter at its base of 2.2 metres and weighs only 2.8 tonnes. Yet it had to contain couches for three cosmonauts and all the necessary life-support equipment, together with the systems to operate the spacecraft in space and two large parachutes for landing. The ‘free volume’ of the cabin is a mere 2.5 cubic metres, which is less room per cosmonaut than the Vostok capsule! The air in such a cramped module can support the lives of three men for only a short time – but this is viable because it operates autonomously only for the 30 minutes from the separation of the orbital and propulsion modules through re-entry and landing. Nevertheless, once the main parachute deployed at an altitude of approximately 5 km, two valves were to be opened to allow fresh air to enter the cabin; both to equalise the internal and external pressures and to eliminate the risk of the cosmonauts asphyxiating in the event of their having to remain inside for some time after landing, as might occur if the hatch were unable to be opened as a result of a technical problem or if the module were to land in water and the hatch was partially submerged.

The fact that both valves are closed during the majority of the mission and then opened only a few minutes prior to landing confused the State Commission. Surely the recovery team would open the hatch promptly, or if the module landed off target the cosmonauts would open it themselves! Given that the premature opening of one of the valves caused the deaths of three cosmonauts, what where the valves actually for? Was their inclusion a terrible error by the designers? The explanation from the TsKBEM of the risk of asphyxiation if for some reason the hatch was unable to be opened promptly was inconclusive. An additional confusion concerned the fact that each valve had two shutters. In fact, this aspect of the design would prove to be one of the most important factors in the Soyuz 11 tragedy.

To understand what happened, we must examine the valve’s structure. The design was straightforward, involving a cylinder of cork with a rubber ring and a piston rod supported by a ball-lock shutter that was automatically controlled. The crew had no

The valve 303

control over the automatic shutter, which would be opened by a pair of pyrotechnic charges after the deployment of the main parachute. Next to the automatic shutter was one that the cosmonauts could open manually by a small rotating knob. So long as at least one shutter remained closed, the valve ought to be shut. The valves were placed below the ring of the hatch: the No. 1 valve above Dobrovolskiy’s couch and the No. 2 valve above Patsayev’s couch, on opposite sides of the hatch so that if the module were to land on water there would be no chance of both of the valves being submerged. In the event of a splashdown, the manual shutters would be operated as required to prevent water ingress. This was the only circumstance in which the crew were to operate the manual shutters.

Why did the automatic valve open at an altitude of approximately 150 km, rather than at 5 km? The orbital and descent modules were connected by a dozen bolts in the ring that housed the hatch. During the assembly of the spacecraft, the bolts had been fastened using a special tool, then the joint was checked in an altitude chamber to ensure a hermetic seal. The combined force of all the bolts was about 100 tonnes. To separate the modules in space, the bolts had to be severed simultaneously. Hence each bolt incorporated a small explosive charge and an electric circuit. According to the programme, a timer would cause electricity to be supplied to the bolts in order to detonate the explosive charges and sever the bolts, applying a force of 100 tonnes for

At the top of the Soyuz cabin is the hatch, with one of the ventilation valves visible under its ring on the right, next to a black box. (From the book Soyuz – A Universal Spacecraft, courtesy Rex Hall)

a duration of one microsecond, in the process sending a shock wave across the metallic surface of the craft. The valves were located close alongside the connecting ring, and so would have been particularly sensitive to the propagation of this shock. In the case of Soyuz 11 this caused an automatic valve to pop open. The fact that particles of gunpowder were found inside one valve was conclusive proof that it had opened at the moment of separation.


On 26 April 1971, immediately after his return from the Soyuz 10 mission, Shatalov was promoted to Major-General. Two months later he superseded Kamanin. This appointment was largely the result of his close relationship with Marshal Kutakhov, who was his mentor prior to becoming a cosmonaut, his participation in organising the historic visit to Baykonur of President Charles De Gaulle in June 1966,[137] and his excellent management skills. His promotion coincided with the Soyuz 11 mission, and his first duty was to participate in the State Commission which investigated the loss of that crew. This recommended a thorough restructuring of the manned space programme. As part of this review, the training of cosmonauts was broadened and, among other things, they became more actively involved in the preparation of the experiments which they were to perform in space.

During Shatalov’s 16 years as the head of cosmonaut training he was responsible for equipping the TsPK with simulators and other training facilities, the recruitment of new military cosmonauts, and the selection of crews for a succession of DOS and Almaz space stations. In the meantime, in April 1972 he defended a master’s thesis at the Gagarin Military Air Force Academy, and in 1974 he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-General.

Kamanin’s successor, General Vladimir Shatalov, with Lebedyev (centre) and Klimuk in training for Soyuz 13.

When Gorbachov initiated his reforms of the Soviet Union in 1985, these affected the Army too. The structure of the Air Force began to change. Many older generals were retired, including Georgiy Beregovoy, the 65-year-old Director of the TsPK. After three possible successors had been rejected, it was suggested to Shatalov that he should take on this role in addition to his existing duties. As he was 58 years old at the time and according to the new law his retirement would take effect at age 60, he asked that he be allowed to remain in post for longer. On being promised that he would be able to serve until 65, he accepted. His task would be to organise training for the ambitious Mir and Buran programmes. For Shatalov, the direction of this unique training center, which at that time employed about 400 people, represented a special challenge. When it was put to him that the TsPK should be transferred from the Air Force to the Space Army (as the Strategic Rocket Forces, which managed the Baykonur cosmodrome, had become) he disagreed. When he was promised the rank of Colonel-General in return for his acquiescence, he refused. He also resisted Glushko’s efforts to transfer the TsPK to NPO Energiya. His campaign to keep the

TsPK in the Air Force was not helped by the antipathy of the leading military figures. In the aftermath of the upheaval in the Soviet Union in 1991 he was transferred to the reserve corps of the Commander in Chief of the Air Force, and then ordered to retire in March 1992.

By September 1991 Shatalov had been a member of all State Commissions over two decades that had made the final decisions on launching manned space missions. He related his role in the space programme in his autobiography, published in 1978 as The Hard Road to Space.14 He also co-authored the books The Application of Computers in Spacecraft Guidance System (1974), People and Space (1975), The Soviet Cosmonauts (1979) and Space to Earth (1981). For almost three decades he led a society which promoted friendly relations with Cuba. A 21-km-diameter crater on the Moon was named after him.

As regards retirement: “I have decided that after 65 years of life, of which almost 50 were devoted to the Army, I have some right to live for myself. I have not started attaching myself to political, religious or commercial organisations…. They have no interest for me. Although I had many offers, especially in 1992, I have not gone into politics either – it was suggested that I become a member of one of the many parties and enter parliament.” Ever since 1957 he has been interested in underwater fishing. The sea attracts him now, as once he was attracted to the sky and to space: “I cannot imagine the sea without submarine life. What is the point of lying on the sand to sunbathe, without wondering what might be found under water. No matter where I travel, I carry my mask, my fins and 8 kg of iron as ballast for diving. If the weather is suitable, I also like to ski. I love to spend time in my vacation house, to mow, and to tend my small garden. My wife is devoted to agronomy. Every spring we start with transplantation, and plant new sprouts. . . . I want to spend what is left of my life peacefully with my family, children and grandchildren. Now, as a retired person, I analyse the events of my tempestuous life in cosmonautics.”

ONE THOUSAND ORBITS Day 15, Sunday, 20 June

At 2.14 a. m. the Salyut space station completed its 1,000th orbit since its launch on 19 April. It was in the communication zone at the time, and cosmonaut Gorbatko was the communication officer at the TsUP. He pointed out that the crew had been on board for 206 orbits, and joked that perhaps they should remain for an additional thousand orbits. In accordance with the flight plan, 20 June was a rest day in space. They made a TV report showing off the station’s various sections and its equipment. While in radio contact, they reported observations of the Earth and its atmosphere that they had made in recent days, including the African sand storm they had seen the previous day.

From Volkov’s diary:

20 June. The third week of our work in orbit has started, but the station has been in space for two months, making 1,000 orbits. Because the commander Dobrovolskiy and research engineer Patsayev are sleeping, I’ll be on duty at the time of the 1,000th orbit. In the sleeping bags, I can only see their heads. In these ‘beds’ you get so comfortable that sometimes you grow reluctant to get


There is only one orbit until the 1,000th circle. It has just started the 999th. In a few minutes, Zarya will call me. Through the static I hear:

‘‘Yantar! Here is Zarya. On line!’’

‘‘Zarya! I am Yantar 2, I hear you excellently!’’

‘‘Yantar 2, how is it going?’’

‘‘How is it going? Normal. My crewmates are asleep. With no one to talk to, I don’t feel so cosy in this huge space home. It is a feeling that is familiar to anyone who, as the sailors say, has duty on the ship’s bow. As I speak to you I feel as if I am at home. I know that the weather below isn’t very good, being cloudy, windy and rainy. Up here, away from the portholes, the Sun is blinding and the Earth is covered with the clouds.’’

‘‘Don’t you have rain?’’ Zarya asked in jest.

‘‘No, we don’t have rain. Nothing Earth-like is in this vicinity. Just the real splendour of space!’’

‘‘Here, they are preparing the With Good Morning radio programme.’’ ‘‘That is good news.’’

We have heard the pre-recorded selections of music on our tape recorder so often that they are no longer our favourites! We are therefore eager for the promised radio programme, in particular our music requests.

It is interesting how the commander and I look with bearded faces on the TV screens. My beard reminds me of a Tatarian-Mongolian man. Honestly, I don’t tend to it any more.

The Earth asked: ‘‘How do you hear the short waves?’’

‘‘It is good – especially in the western hemisphere. It is so pleasant to hear words in your own language while passing over South America.’’

Next a question about our plants: ‘‘Do you look after the shrubs?’’

‘‘Of course! In fact, more often than planned in our flight programme. We have a special love for our greenery. We feel that it links us to the remote – yet so close – Earthly realm. We devote great attention to our ‘little cosmic garden’. The vegetables grow well.’’

The communication session is over. The next will be on the 1,000th orbit. How long will my two crewmates sleep? Will I alone see the number 1,000 appear on the display of the globe? No, the crew commander will be with me. I’ll awaken him in half an hour. He will take the duty, and communicate with Zarya.

We know that the 1,000th orbit will start at 00.44.44 on 20 June. In these final minutes, the only thing that I do is watch the onboard clocks. Yes! The first seconds of the jubilee orbit have begun.

When journalists at the TsUP asked Yeliseyev, the flight director, about the crew, he said: “Each man has a different character and, of course, during communication sessions this is very noticeable. Patsayev doesn’t speak very often, we almost never hear him. He will just let us know which experiment he has finished, or ask details about his work. Volkov speaks the most. He also expresses his emotions the most. He not only talks about the flight programme and the investigations, he also asks us about soccer scores and weather conditions. He sends his regards. This is totally in accordance with his spirit and nature – on the Earth he was also so communicative. In terms of emotions, Dobrovolskiy is somewhere in the middle. He always speaks calmly and certainly.’’

0. 59 a. m.

Volkov: “The 1,000th orbit is a working orbit. Although today is a rest day, we decided to devote it to the Earth – we photographed the cloud cover, the oceans and the landscape for geological studies and issues relating to the national economy. In general, we are doing work which is usually assigned to working orbits. We want to spend every minute of our ‘leisure’ time maximising the results for return to Earth.’’ Zarya: ‘‘We send you our warmest regards – there are so many greetings.’’ Volkov: ‘‘About 4 o’clock, when Viktor wakes up, we’ll do our physical exercise and then do what I have already said – photographing and monitoring the Earth.’’ Zarya: ‘‘If you have the information to hand, please tell us what you have done for the last 24 hours in terms of medicine.’’

Volkov: ‘‘We are doing all the experiments required by the physicians.”

Zarya: ‘‘Understood. Thank you. Well done!’’

Volkov: “I carefully log our food and water consumption. Tell our comrades there who are responsible for this that I am logging it all. We have written reports on the operation of all the systems.[87] On board this ship, we are sharing our duties – each of us has a different area of responsibility. Everything is as planned.”

3.57 a. m.

Zarya: “Yantar 3. Firstly, we are happy with your Orion work. Tomorrow we also plan Orion work. Did you perform two sessions with Orion with one or two stars?”

Patsayev: “Two stars.”

5.30 a. m.

Dobrovolskiy: “Yesterday at 14.58.00 above the northwestern coast of Africa, I observed a sand storm at 344 degrees longitude and 17 degrees latitude.”

8.36 a. m.

Zarya: “One request: please water the plants twice a day – at the start of the day, and at the end.”

Patsayev: “In the instructions it says to water once only.”

Zarya: “Understood. However, it is necessary to do so twice. Report the general conditions of the shrubs, and in particular the development of the first real foliage. Report on it daily.”

For most of 20 June the cosmonauts rested and monitored the Earth, its clouds and ocean, and made observations of the stars. In addition, Dobrovolskiy provided a TV report for viewers on Earth – the request for which was probably an attempt by the TsUP to highlight his role as the station’s commander.

Television Report:

Zarya-25 (TV reporter): “Yantar 1, as the first commander of the Salyut orbital station, do you have any impressions?’’

Dobrovolskiy: “I have great impressions. I am lucky that my first space flight is to this station. It is composed of two spacecraft: the station itself and the transport ship docked with the station. It is a large complex. It allows us to conduct a great deal of scientific work. The designers, engineers and diligent workers did an excellent job of providing comfortable living conditions for the crew.’’

Zarya-25: “We understand that you have controlled both the Soyuz spacecraft and the Salyut station. Obviously, they have different characteristics. Can you speak of the differences in flying these vehicles in space?’’

Dobrovolskiy: “I can tell you that our training enabled us to master the techniques required. We have no difficulty. It is very easy to control the transport

Tracking ships 237

ship, and the entire orbital station is very responsive – easily controllable. In general, it is just as each of us dreamed flying in space would be like.”

Zarya-25: “Understand. Yantar 1. Specifically, what have you done as the station commander?”

Dobrovolskiy: “As a matter of fact, my first task was one of the most interesting operations – docking. We wanted so much to conduct it in the best possible manner. As for work, the station is so large and there are so many possibilities for work that each member of the crew has specific responsibilities. It is a complex issue. On the flight to the station we had some discomfort [adapting to weightlessness], but after entering the station we began to work at full strength and soon it was as expected.”

Zarya-25: “Thank you very much, Yantar.”

Despite the fact that the general health of the cosmonauts was acceptable, in their two weeks in space they had spent considerably less time on physical exercise than planned owing to the following reasons:

• when the load-bearing ‘penguin’ suits were worn during exercise, they tore, and their function was greatly reduced once the elastic sections had become damaged;

• some of the supporting struts of the Veter lower-body negative pressure unit were damaged early on, and thereafter the cosmonauts rarely used it; and

• use of the treadmill was restricted because the noise was sufficient to disturb anyone attempting to rest, and because it transmitted vibrations through the station’s structure which caused the solar panels and antennas to oscillate and the propellants to slosh.


How did the cosmonauts react? It is possible to make inferences from the analyses performed by the medics, the state of the cabin, and the data recorded by the ‘black box’. During the descent, each cosmonaut wore a medical belt with various sensors and the data on their vital functions was recorded. Prior to their return, the general physical state of each man was good. Dobrovolskiy’s pulse in a normal, unstressed state was 78­85 beats per minute. Volkov, being more dynamic and emotional, was usually higher, and at the time of undocking from Salyut his pulse increased to 120, perhaps reflecting his concern about the hatch seal. Patsayev’s pulse was between 92 and 106.

During the first second after the separation of the spacecraft’s modules the pulses of all three men dramatically increased. Dobrovolskiy rose to 114. Volkov shot up to 180! Four seconds after the onset of depressurisation Dobrovolskiy’s respiration rate was 48 breaths per minute; the normal rate is 16. Such rates are characteristic of a sudden oxygen starvation. The rapid increases in pulse and respiration indicate that the crewmembers were immediately aware of what was occurring. In addition to hearing the air leaking out and feeling the pressure fall, they would have heard a loud siren and seen the value of the cabin pressure decline on the indicator set in the lower left corner of the main instrument panel. There would also have been physical indications, including a rapid fall in temperature and air fogging as the water vapour condensed. They would have suffered the effects of decompression – an immediate strong pain in the head, chest and abdomen, followed by burst eardrums and blood streaming from the nose and ears. Their heart rates rose during the first 20 seconds, but by 60 seconds had reduced to just 40 per cent of the baseline.

Death was not instantaneous. Due to out-gassing of oxygen from the venous blood supply to the lungs, the men would have remained consciousness for 50-60 seconds. However, they could have moved about and tried to remedy their plight only during the first 13 seconds; this being the ‘time of useful consciousness’, corresponding to the time that it took for the oxygen-deprived blood to pass from the lungs to the brain. Because the valves were situated above their couches, Dobrovolskiy and Patsayev attempted to take action. Being in the centre, nearest the hatch, Dobrovolskiy was in the best position to act. However, the cosmonauts did not know the actual source of the leak. Recalling the difficulty that they had faced in sealing the hatch, their initial diagnosis must have been that the air was leaking through the hatch. Dobrovolskiy unbuckled and pulled himself to the hatch. However, it was properly closed. When Volkov and Patsayev switched off the radio equipment in order to listen to the hiss in an effort to identify the source of the leak, this was realised to be one of the two valves. But which one? Valve No. 2, above Patsayev, was marked as ‘open’, so he went to try to close it. But it was No. 1 which was open. It is difficult to know who did so, but either Patsayev or Dobrovolskiy began to close the hand-operated shutter of valve No. 1. However, in normal circumstances it required at least 35 seconds to close the valve by hand, and by the time they passed out it was only partially cycled. Volkov was too far away from the valves to assist, so he remained strapped into his couch. By virtue of being more active, Dobrovolskiy and Patsayev would probably have lost consciousness before Volkov, for whom the frustration of being unable to assist must have been intense.

They died rapidly. The initial paralysis due to oxygen starvation would have been followed by general convulsions. During this time, water vapour rapidly formed in the venous blood, and in soft tissue. Blood and other bodily fluids boiled and turned to vapour, causing the body to swell to perhaps twice its normal volume. The heart rate initially soared, but then diminished to an unsustainable rate. The arterial blood pressure dropped to zero after about 60 seconds, but the venous pressure rose due to gas and vapour distending the venous system. Within a minute, the venous pressure exceeded the arterial pressure. In effect, there was no circulation of blood. After the initial rush of gas from the lungs during decompression, gas and vapour continued to flow out through the airways, and the sustained evaporation of water chilled the mouth and nose to almost freezing temperatures. The remainder of the body would have cooled more slowly. The first fatal damage occurred in the cosmonauts’ lungs, as the most vulnerable part of the body in such circumstances. They naturally tried to hold their breath, but as the cabin pressure declined the lungs and thorax became over-extended, tearing and rupturing the lung tissue and capillaries. The trapped air was forced directly into the blood, following the ruptured blood vessels and creating massive air bubbles in the vital organs, including the heart and brain. Clinical death began after 90-100 seconds, simultaneously in all three men. By 110 seconds after the separation of the modules there were no heart or respiration rates recorded. Ten seconds later, life was extinct. The cabin remained in vacuum for 11.5 minutes, then began to fill with air from the upper atmosphere.


After his third and final space flight on Soyuz 10 in April 1971 Yeliseyev became one of Yakov Tregub’s deputies, being responsible for the preparation and control of manned missions. He worked mainly on the development of the programmes for missions and the onboard instruction, the technical aspects of crew training, and the control of a flight. When Prime Minister Aleksey Kosygin and America’s President Richard Nixon signed an agreement which called for the first joint space mission involving the two space-faring nations, Tregub suggested that Yeliseyev should fly, but Yeliseyev did not wish to make any more flights. “I had the feeling that Tregub saw me as a potential rival. Supposing that I would be interested in working with the Americans, he said several times that perhaps I should fly as the flight engineer, but I had already made up my mind and did not wish to change my decision. Very soon I [138]

realised that my suspicion about Tregub was justified. When I was called by Minister Afanasyev, … he asked me whether I would agree to run mission control for the Soviet-American flight. … By rank, this offer ought to have been made to Tregub, so I concluded that they must have something against him. I accepted the offer.” In this way Yeliseyev became the director of manned spaceflight. In parallel, he gained his doctorate in February 1973.

It was at this time that the new Mission Control Centre was built in Kaliningrad. It was more capable than the old facility in Yevpatoriya. In the next eight years (until 1981) thirty manned flights were conducted under Yeliseyev’s technical direction. In the case of the historic Soyuz-Apollo mission he was given a delicate task. Once the docking had occurred, the intention was that two of the three astronauts would join the two cosmonauts in the orbital module of the Soyuz. Shortly beforehand, Yeliseyev was called to the office of the State Commission and was told by Ustinov that he was to transmit a congratulatory message by Leonid Brezhnyev. This would not be easy, as every minute of the joint activities had been meticulously planned. But the message had to be read. To avoid sending the message himself, Yeliseyev proposed that it should be done by a professional TV reporter. Ustinov agreed. Such a person was urgently delivered to the TsUP, given the text and instructed to read it, word by word, without omitting anything. Some minutes later the reporter came to Yeliseyev:

“I cannot do it.’’

“What can’t you do?’’

“I can’t read this word by word.’’

“Why not?’’

“It says here ‘L. Brezhnyev’.’’

“So what?’’

‘‘I cannot say ‘L. Brezhnyev’. I can say ‘Leonid Brezhnyev’, ‘Leonid Ilich Brezhnyev’, or simply ‘Brezhnyev’. What should I say?’’

Just in case, I decided to ask Ustinov. There was not much time left before the start of the session with the cosmonauts. Without hesitating, I sprinted to Ustinov and put to him the question posed by the reporter. Ustinov remained silent, pretending that he had not heard me. I realised that he did not wish to take the responsibility. I tried my best to assist: I suggested that the reporter should say ‘Leonid Brezhnyev’. Still Ustinov said nothing. I started to sweat. There was now just one minute to the beginning of the session. Noticing my nervousness, Afanasyev volunteered, ‘‘I agree with the suggestion.’’ Ustinov made a slight ambiguous nod that could be interpreted as his agreement, but also indicated that he considered the conversation over.

As the director of space flight, Yeliseyev sometimes had to make decisions on which depended the lives of cosmonauts in orbit: for example during the flight of Soyuz 25 in October 1977, which was unable to dock with Salyut 6 and had to be ordered home, and again when Nikolay Rukavishnikov was commanding Soyuz 33 in April 1979 and had a problem with his main engine (see below).

In December 1985 Yeliseyev officially left the cosmonaut-engineer group briefly

Flight director Aleksey Yeliseyev (insert) and the new Mission Control Centre in Kaliningrad, Moscow.

in order to serve as a deputy to the General Designer of NPO Energiya. Then, at the suggestion of the Minister of Education, for five and a half years he was the rector of Moscow’s Higher Technical School (MVTU) Bauman. But this was not a happy experience because his proposal to restructure the school faced opposition. He gave up the rectorship and went to work for IBM, which had begun to make a presence in the Soviet and Asian markets, remaining with them until January 1996. Today he is the head of the Festo international fund. In Russia this fund promotes education and directs a department of the Moscow Energy Institute. He travels a lot. With his wife Larisa he visits historic places in Russia. He reads books on economics by Western authors. He also thinks about life and his contribution to the space programme: “On asking myself what I achieved in all those years, it does not seem very much when compared to what was being done around me. Obviously that is the way it ought to be. A life time is no more than a particle in the kaleidoscope that represents men’s destinies – no more than a drop in the sea.” This sentiment inspired the title of his autobiography, Life – A Drop in the Sea, which was published in 1998.[139]


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).