THE DISMISSAL OF VASILIY MISHIN
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. 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, 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, 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.
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).