“THE WORLD’S FIRST PASSENGER SPACESHIP”
As the crew debate continued, the spacecraft itself was put rigorously through its paces in the summer of 1964. Air-drop tests to verify its new soft-landing system were conducted close to the Black Sea resort of Feodosia. These proved initially successful, but on 29 August problems materialised when jettisoning the parachute hatch: an error in the circuit design caused it to fail and the test capsule – which some sources suggest was Gherman Titov’s old Vostok 2 – was destroyed. In retrospect, Korolev claimed the test capsule’s electrical system was not representative of a ‘production’ Voskhod and, at a State Commission on 18 September he declared that he was ready to certify the new spacecraft as ready to fly. The final air-drop on 3 October, with Korolev present, was successful. However, other glitches remained.
Firstly, the launch of a Vostok-based Zenit 4 reconnaissance satellite, employing a rocket identical to that planned for Voskhod 1, was aborted on the pad when one of its first-stage strap-on boosters failed to ignite. It was the first such failure in more than a hundred launches of Korolev’s Little Seven. Rescheduled for mid-September, the Zenit liftoff was normal, quantifying the rocket’s capabilities and clearing it for use with Voskhod 1. Then, as the launch neared, the spacecraft’s Tral telemetry system exhibited discrepancies, requiring a week to fix. Finally, on 6 October, a full – duration, day-long unmanned dress rehearsal of the Voskhod 1 mission was flown under the cover name of ‘Cosmos 47’.
Early plans called for dogs to be flown, although this was eventually set aside in favour of full-sized mannequins. The Cosmos 47 spacecraft duly entered a 177-413 km orbit, inclined 64.8 degrees to the equator, and flew for 24 hours before landing in Kustanai. It was returned to Tyuratam on the 8th for examination, which
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confirmed that both its interior, exterior and – perhaps most importantly – its soft – landing parachute were in good shape. Indeed, Cosmos 47 was described as having “zero velocity” on impact with the ground, penetrating merely 90 mm into the soil, and, although strong winds dragged the parachute and capsule some 160 m after touchdown, it was decided that a cosmonaut crew could jettison the canopy and endure this. The Little Seven, too, performed well, despite a slight depletion in thrust which was supplemented by the engine controller.
By 11 October, the Moscow rumour mill was billing Voskhod 1 as the ‘Soviet Apollo’; a false illusion that would endure for many years. Wire services relayed news of a forthcoming flight with a cosmonaut known only as ‘K’, who was described as a violin player, a full Communist Party member and the bearer of a Ukrainian accent! Some observers already suspected Vladimir Komarov’s involvement, particularly in light of an earlier rumour, in mid-August, when the Vostok 3 and 4 cosmonauts revealed that their backups were ready to fly. Those backups happened to be Komarov and Boris Volynov, which made some sense.
More problems with the Tral system on the evening before launch, which necessitated its last-minute replacement and, according to Nikolai Kamanin in his diary, caused Korolev to fly into a rage, did not conspire to delay the flight. The morning of 12 October dawned frosty, wrote Kamanin, although he considered it ideal: wind speeds were gentle and visibility extended to more than 20 km. The State Commission approved the launch at 3:00 am Moscow Time and, shortly thereafter, the Voskhod 1 crew – Komarov, Yegorov and Feoktistov – were awakened. The men washed, ate breakfast and were fitted with biosensors and dressed in blue flight garments. Since no pressurised suits would be worn, all three were fully outfitted by 7:00 am and ready to ride to the pad. During this quiet time, Kamanin advised them of secret code words to be used during the mission: ‘‘Outstanding’’ would mean just that, ‘‘Good’’ would denote the appearance of problems and ‘‘Satisfactory’’ would request an immediate emergency landing.
By 8:15 am, the cosmonauts had arrived at Gagarin’s Start and Komarov rendered a smart salute and a declaration to the State Commission’s chairman that he and his crew were ready to perform their mission. The two fliers whom Kamanin had labelled ‘invalids’ were first to enter the capsule; donning suede slippers, Yegorov boarded first, then Feoktistov moved to his middle seat and Komarov brought up the rear in his couch, closest to the hatch.
Launch itself came at 10:30 am Moscow Time – or 12:30 pm local time in Tyuratam – and the ride to orbit, thankfully, was uneventful. Indeed, Kamanin and Korolev had already discussed the crew’s dire predicament in the event of a booster failure: a safe recovery was simply impossible for at least the first half-minute of the ascent and even an abort during the remainder of the climb to orbit only ‘‘should’’ have been achievable and survivable. (Korolev, apparently, was so nervous that he was visibly shaking during Voskhod 1’s ascent.) With the benefit of hindsight, it is perhaps fortuitous that only two of these exceptionally high-risk ventures were ever attempted with men aboard.
Five hundred and twenty-three seconds later, Voskhod 1 entered orbit. Communications between Komarov and fellow cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin at
The crew of sardines: Feoktistov, Komarov and Yegorov.
Tyuratam had been clear and consistent throughout the ascent phase and the first few hours of the mission were characterised by only minor problems. A false reading was registered by Yegorov’s biosensors, then there was a two-hour delay in confirming the correct operation of Voskhod 1’s orientation system and the cabin temperature rose unexpectedly from 15°C to 21°C. However, by the seventh orbit, all cabin readings – pressure, humidity, gas composition and temperature – were normal and voice contact and televised images from the cabin proved crisp and clear.
At 11:46 am, a UPI wire revealed that “… the Soviet Union today launched the world’s first passenger spaceship with three men aboard…’’ and Radio Moscow’s famous wartime announcer Yuri Levitan boomed out the news to an astonished world. Orbital parameters were given as 178-408 km, inclined 64.9 degrees to the equator, and radio hams in western Europe and North America picked up Morse transmissions from the spacecraft, identifying Komarov’s callsign of ‘Ruby’. The three cosmonauts extended greetings to the athletes of the 1964 Olympic Games, which had begun two days earlier in Tokyo, and spoke to both Nikita Khrushchev and his deputy, Anastas Mikoyan. At one stage, Khrushchev declared that Mikoyan ‘‘is standing next to me and is keen to take the telephone receiver from me’’. Within hours, not only the telephone receiver, but also the mantle of power as head of the Soviet Union, would have been taken from him. By the time Voskhod 1 parachuted to terra firma on the afternoon of 13 October 1964, Russia would be under new management.
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