''His ambition is to convert a refrigerator into a vacuum cleaner,'' joked Shatalov of Nikolay Nikolayevich Rukavishnikov, the Soyuz 10 research engineer who was an expert in electronics and the physics of cosmic rays. Short and skinny, and quiet but with a serious face, Rukavishnikov was a natural technician who loved to repair old apparatus and to devise new things, even once attempting to improve the design of a helicopter.
Nikolay was born on 18 September 1932 in the town of Tomsk in western Siberia, to a family which, before the Soviet era, owned a brickyard and a bike company. He was raised without his father Nikolay, of whom nothing is unknown. His mother Galina and stepfather Mikhail Mikheyev were railway designers and travelled widely. His early interests at school were geography, mathematics and physics, and after his stepfather introduced him to radio equipment he became a radio-amateur. Because he was always on the move, he grew used to changing houses, schools and friends. He entered high school in 1947 in the small town of Angrem in Uzbekistan, where he gained first grade. Then in 1950, in one year, he passed three grades in the town of Kehtaice near the Mongolian border, where his parents were working on a new railway. Upon finishing his schooling at high school No. 248 in Moscow in 1951, he immediately went to the Moscow Institute of Engineering and Physics (MIFI). In May 1957 he graduated with a physics diploma from the faculty for electronic calculators, having specialised in dielectrics and semiconductors. In July he went to work at the Central Scientific Research Institute TsNII-58 in Podlipkah, a village near Moscow which hosted several top-secret research institutes and organisations, including OKB-1, and which later became Kaliningrad. His early work was on the development of one of the first Soviet computers, named 'Ural', and he participated in the testing of automatic control and protection systems for nuclear reactors.
In September 1959 Rukavishnikov transferred to OKB-1, where he worked as an engineer in the department which made automatic controls for interplanetary probes, and between October 1960 and January 1967 he worked on systems for a variety of spacecraft. One task was to develop apparatus to automatically process information which the crew of the L1 circumlunar spacecraft would require if they were to take manual control. In addition, he was involved in testing guidance systems. Later, he led a team which developed experiments in terrestrial studies and solar physics for satellites. Meanwhile, he had married Nina Vasilevna, a mechanic at OKB-1, and in 1965 she gave a birth to their only child: son Vladimir.
Rukavishnikov's first move towards becoming a cosmonaut was when he passed the medical screening in May-June 1964 as one of 14 candidates that Korolev was considering for a Voskhod flight. Konstantin Feoktistov was also a member of this group, and it was he who was launched 4 months later. In May 1966 the TsKBEM selected its first group of cosmonaut-engineers, but after four failed the Air Force's medical screening it was decided to add to the diminished group, and in November 1966 Sevastyanov and Rukavishnikov were selected for medical tests. They joined the group in January and February 1967, respectively. As Rukavishnikov recalls of this time: ''Of course, I had to catch up on all the training that other cosmonauts had already passed. This included thousands of hours of intensive training, centrifuge, altitude chamber, simulated weightlessness flights and parachute training.'' His first parachute jump was scary, because his hood covered his eyes and he was unable to see where he was going to land. Later, however, he was able to joke about it with his colleagues.
Yeliseyev later said that he had not expected Rukavishnikov's selection: ''To be honest, when I saw him for the first time I expected that the doctors would dismiss him early on in the medical screening. But I was wrong. It appeared Nikolay was in excellent health.'' Rukavishnikov was acknowledged to be devoted to his work. As Yeliseyev told a journalist, the new cosmonaut would stay at OKB-1 day and night until his task was done. Rukavishnikov was notable among the civilian cosmonauts for his unusual passions. The first one was bicycling. In the 1950s he had fallen in love with cycles and motorbikes and would ride at any opportunity, day or night. His second passion was travelling. On summer vacations he would leave the group, and disappear into the hills and mountains to explore nature in solitude. And finally, he was an expert in servicing television apparatus, and even made a set for himself!
Rukavishnikov was assigned to the L1 project, in which a two-man variant of the Soyuz would fly on a circumlunar trajectory. The unimaginative name selected for this project was Zond ('Probe'). The commanders were to be Air Force cosmonauts. When three crews were formed, Bykovskiy and Rukavishnikov were chosen for the second. Unmanned missions were flown to test the spacecraft's systems and perfect the two-stage penetration of the atmosphere, but the success of America's Apollo 8 in December 1968, which orbited the Moon ten times, greatly reduced the value of the simpler circumlunar loop and the L1 project was cancelled. The L1 crews also trained for the N1-L3 lunar landing, but with the development of the N1 launcher suffering problems, after the Americans landed on the Moon in July 1969 most of the lunar group were reassigned. In March 1970, Rukavishnikov joined the Contact project as flight engineer for a Soyuz mission commanded by Lev Vorobyev. This
Nikolay Rukavishnikov, the Soyuz 10 research engineer. His official portrait (top left), during theoretical lessons (top right), and celebrating his nomination to the 'first crew' for the DOS-1 station - in the company of fellow DOS cosmonauts Volkov (left), Leonov (obscured by Volkov), Kubasov, Shatalov, Kolodin and Dobrovolskiy.
was to test in Earth orbit the rendezvous and docking techniques for the N1-L3, in order that these would be available if it eventually proved possible to mount a lunar mission. However, two months later he was assigned to the first DOS-1 crew as cosmonaut-researcher.
On the eve of the Soyuz 10 launch, Soviet cosmonaut number 23 had an excellent reason to be happy, because if everything went according to plan then he, the rookie on the crew, would be the first man to pass through the hatch and enter the world's first space station!
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