Journalists And The New Crew

The final meeting of the State Commission started at 6.00 p.m. on 4 June. In the past these sessions had been fairly ceremonial in nature because all the details had already been resolved and the purpose was to confirm readiness for the launch. The most interesting part of the session was always the presentation of the cosmonauts. However, this occasion set a precedent. Dobrovolskiy, Volkov, Patsayev, Leonov, Kubasov and Kolodin were seated in a line behind a long table. The men who had been assigned to fly looked serious, almost anxious. According to Leonov they even appeared to have been frightened by the sudden change in their schedule. Established in mid-February, Dobrovolskiy's crew knew that they should have had more time to train - another month at least, to prepare themselves for the next visit to Salyut. Leonov's crew held their heads low, clenched their fingers, and appeared nervous. Behind them sat the Soyuz 10 crew. The tension in the air was oppressive.

Kamanin introduced the prime crew. As he announced the names, the cosmonauts stood up. Dobrovolskiy briefly said that his crew was ready to conduct the assigned tasks.

At the session, Leonov was very disappointed: "At the previous session I thanked the Commission for their trust. Now I can only express my regret about what has happened.''

How about Kubasov? He felt especially guilty because his ailment meant neither of his crewmembers would be allowed to fly.

After just 20 minutes the meeting was concluded.

The famous journalist Mihail Rebrov was present: "I recall the intense silence in the room of the State Commission during the announcement of the decision. Then an explosion of protest! Leonov and Kolodin defended their right to fly the mission, saying that they knew the station better, that they had trained for longer, and that the promotion of Volkov from the backup crew would not have complicated their task. However, the State Commission had made its decision: the backup crew would fly. On the faces of the two crews you could feel the tension, envy . . . Everything had happened unexpectedly and painfully. Kolodin suffered more than the others. The anger was apparent on his face.''

Reportedly, Kubasov approached Chertok and apologised. "I believed I had only caught a cold - that it would pass in a week and nothing would be visible on the X-ray scan.'' No one could console him. The great irony is that the diagnosis of the physicians proved to be spurious. A more detailed medical examination in Moscow showed him to be healthy! It was decided that he must have an allergy to the spray applied to the trees at Baykonur. Many years later, however, Kubasov revealed that the pollen from the trees flowering in the late-season spring had initiated his allergy. What was certain was that the dark spot on his lung wasn't the onset of tuberculosis.

Another irony is that the comprehensive medical screening failed to establish that Patsayev had a chronic kidney inflammation.

Thus, the incorrect diagnosis of tuberculosis symptoms on Kubasov's lung led to a healthy cosmonaut being grounded and one with a chronic medical problem being launched into space!

At 7.00 p.m., shortly after the conclusion of the State Commission, Dobrovolskiy, Volkov and Patsayev gave their press conference. Sitting between Kamanin and the Soyuz 10 crew, they were now relaxed and replied to the questions enthusiastically. The journalists knew Volkov as a veteran, but Dobrovolskiy and Patsayev were new. There were so many journalists, with so many questions, that as the room became uncomfortably hot Volkov suggested that they go outside, which they did, and the session was concluded with the crew sitting on a bench with their jackets off and their sleeves rolled up.

The Soviet space journalists knew that they were expected to ask only about the cosmonauts' lives, their backgrounds, their families, and stories about their training;

''You could feel the tension between the crews," observed a reporter at the dramatic meeting of the State Commission when the 'second crew' was named to fly instead of the 'first crew'. Leonov, Kubasov and Kolodin sat dejectedly with Dobrovolskiy, Volkov and Patsayev.

The mood was more relaxed at the press conference following the State Commission meeting: Yeliseyev (left), Volkov, Dobrovolskiy, Patsayev, Kamanin and Shatalov.

"Soyuz 11 was a difficult assignment". Volkov (left), Dobrovolskiy and Patsayev after the press conference. (From the private collection of Rex Hall)

not about the upcoming mission, the major tasks and the planned experiments. Once the mission was underway TASS would publish all that was necessary. The excited cosmonauts spoke willingly, often simultaneously. They jumped from topic to topic. They began by speaking about themselves, in particular about their early years, switched to their training, and then returned to their childhood years. At one point, Patsayev spoke of Korolev. Despite tradition, Dobrovolskiy felt obliged to offer an insight into their mission. As he put it: "Soyuz 10 inaugurated work with the orbital station. Our mission is to complete the next stage of the work begun by Soyuz 10." The official story was that the Soyuz 10 crew had not been meant to enter Salyut. Volkov said the Soyuz 10 mission was "rather successful", and that "Soyuz 11 has a difficult assignment". Of course, the journalists knew that with these words Volkov was saying that complex manoeuvres and a docking operation were to be attempted, and that the crew would board the station. After half an hour, the cosmonauts drew the unusual conference to an end because they had to prepare flight documentation.

Dobrovolskiy (left), Volkov and Patsayev meet the launch team at the pad. (The lower pictures are from the book Hidden Space, courtesy www.astronaut.ru)

Cosmonaut Nikolayev (second left) and Mishin (centre) embrace the cosmonauts for the Soyuz 11 mission in relaxed mood. Nikolayev had handled their training at the TsPK. Patsayev is on the left, and Dobrovolskiy and Volkov are on the right.

But before they departed Volkov and Patsayev shared a cigarette offered by one of the journalists.

Interestingly, after the press conference Patsayev went to Leonov's room in the Cosmonaut Hotel to apologise. He especially respected Leonov, and was not happy at being nominated for his first mission into space in such circumstances.

On 5 June the final crew for Soyuz 11 were introduced to the launch team at the traditional preflight meeting. Almost 3,000 people gathered at the base of the rocket. There were generals, officers, soldiers, technicians, engineers, politicians, designers, and even some people from the other launch pads. For the first time there were a lot of women present - Korolev's colleagues say that he had not wanted woman on the pad, believing that they would be unlucky for the forthcoming mission. But on this occasion it appeared that everyone at Baykonur wanted to see the cosmonauts who were to lift off the next day for one of the most important missions in the history of cosmonautics. They formed a ring in front of the rocket, with the cosmonauts in the centre, holding flowers.

Visibly excited, Dobrovolskiy said: ''While on my way here, I prepared a speech. Now, seeing your smiles, I'll simply say, dear comrades and friends, thank you very much for your effort. We will do everything that is necessary to complete our task.'' It was traditional for the prime and backup crews to take a brief walk in homage to their predecessors, but Leonov did not wish to participate, and therefore his crew remained in place. In fact, Leonov and Kubasov had not even wished to attend the ceremony. When Kamanin had told them that they must do so, Kubasov replied: ''If I am healthy then I must fly. If I am sick, I should not be there.''

When the ceremony was over, the journalists went to see the cosmonauts' room in the Cosmonaut Hotel. It was not very large, but contained three beds, chairs and a table in the middle draped with a white tablecloth. There were also three displays of flowers which the cosmonauts had picked nearby to freshen up the room. There was a fridge with mineral water, but despite the weather the physicians had ordered the cosmonauts not to add ice to the water. In the meantime, the prime crew had a final session with Mishin and his engineers. At this meeting an unusual photograph was taken showing the three men in an embrace with Mishin and ex-cosmonaut General Nikolayev, who was now one of the training leaders at the TsPK.

Mission commander Lieutenant-Colonel Georgiy Dobrovolskiy, flight engineer Vladislav Volkov and research engineer Viktor Patsayev found themselves on the threshold of space earlier than they or anyone else had expected.

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