While the engineers at the TsKBEM were modifying the docking mechanism of the Soyuz to eliminate the problem which had prevented Soyuz 10 from linking up with Salyut, on 2 May 1971 Vasiliy Mishin proposed to General Kamanin a revision to the programme. Owing to concern that Salyut's drogue might have been damaged, he proposed that the next mission should carry in its orbital module two spacesuits, identical to those used for the external transfer during the Soyuz 4/5 mission. Once the rendezvous had been accomplished, the spacecraft would 'park' close alongside Salyut and one of the cosmonauts would don his suit and exit the orbital module in order to inspect the station's docking mechanism. He would then cross the gap and, by gripping onto a series of handles on the surface of the station, make his way along to the area of the science module and open the cover that had failed to release immediately after the station reached orbit. As part of this scheme, Mishin proposed that only two cosmonauts should be assigned to the next mission, rather than three. Although he did not mention names, he probably had in mind Leonov and Kubasov, the commander and flight engineer of the second DOS crew. Both were admirably suited to the assignment since Leonov was the first man ever to make a spacewalk and Kubasov, having been Yeliseyev's backup for Soyuz 5, had undertaken training for such activity.
But this was simply unrealistic. First, the TsPK could not prepare cosmonauts for so complex a spacewalk in a time as short as one month. Second, Gay Severin from the OKB Zvezda that had designed the EVA suits and airlock facilities did not have two spacesuits available. Indeed, the inclusion of the exterior hatch on the transfer compartment of DOS-1 was not to enable spacewalks to be undertaken, for none were planned, but was forward planning for the stations that would follow. In late 1970 Kamanin had argued with Mishin to carry at least one EVA suit on board the station, but there had been insufficient time to install the ancillary apparatus and, as a result, Mishin had gone so far as to delete the tanks that would have carried the air to replenish the compartment after a spacewalk. On 3 May, at the meeting with the
cosmonauts and trainers at the TsPK, Kamanin directed that Leonov, Kubasov and Kolodin should train according to the initial plan. Although there would be time for Dobrovolskiy, Volkov and Patsayev to train for external work, this was ruled out as the limitations of the 7K-T variant of the Soyuz meant that to accommodate a pair of spacesuits its crew would have to be reduced to two cosmonauts.1
On 7 May Mishin suggested to the Council of Chief Designers that regardless of the inability of Soyuz 10 to dock, it should still be possible for two crews to occupy DOS-1. It was decided that testing the modified docking system must be finished by 18 May and that the launch of Soyuz 11 should be scheduled for 4 June. The crew would be Aleksey Leonov (37), commander; Valeriy Kubasov (36), flight engineer; and Pyotr Kolodin (41), research engineer. Their assignment was to spend between 30 and 45 days on board Salyut. Then Soyuz 12 would be launched on 18 July with Georgiy Dobrovolskiy (43), commander; Vladislav Volkov (36), flight engineer; and Viktor Patsayev (38), research engineer. The duration of their mission would be determined by the resources remaining available to the station and the outcome of the first mission.
At the meeting of the Military-Industrial Commission (VPK) on 11 May, Mishin explained what had been learned from the failure of Soyuz 10 to dock with Salyut, and how the docking system had been modified for Soyuz 11. With the support of Kerimov he proposed postponing the launch of Soyuz 11 to 14 June and advancing
1 Soyuz 5 was able to be launched with three cosmonauts and two EVA suits because it was a 7K-OK, as opposed to a 7K-T, and because by serving as the passive vehicle in the Soyuz 4/5 mission it had carried less propellant and no active docking system - it had the lighter passive unit. Furthermore, for half of its three days in space Soyuz 5 had only one man on board. The fact that the 7K-T that would have flown as Soyuz 12 would have been required to carry the extra air, water, food and apparatus needed to sustain the planned 30-45-day visit to DOS-1 would have made it difficult to accommodate in the orbital module two spacesuits and the ancillary air tanks.
Kubasov (standing, left), Leonov and Kolodin at the TsPK in Zvyozdniy. General Nikolay Kuznyetsov, the commander of the Cosmonaut Training Centre, stands on the right. (From the private collection of Rex Hall)
Kolodin (left), Leonov and Kubasov in front of the Soyuz simulator. (From the private collection of Rex Hall)
Soyuz 12 to 15 July, with each flight lasting 30 days. But Kamanin refused. If, as he had been advised, the station's resources would last no longer than the end of July or start of August, this would put the final crew at risk. He suggested that the main objectives of the Soyuz 11 mission should be to successfully dock and gain entry to the station; the duration of the mission was a secondary issue that should be decided by how events progressed. The majority of the commission, including Smirnov, its chairman, agreed that the key issue was that the cosmonauts should enter the station. In addition, Smirnov said: "There is no pressure on you regarding the date of launch, and the 30-day duration is not essential. Nevertheless, we must ensure the safety of the cosmonauts. Conduct the necessary calculations, checks and tests. If you have full confidence that the flight will have satisfactory results, report this to the Central Committee. You know that comrades Brezhnyev and Kosygin will consent to this mission only after you have assured its success.'' The next day the ballistics experts said that 6 June was the best launch date in terms of illumination conditions during the docking - if something were to prevent the docking, the spacecraft would be able to make a daylight landing. The maximum duration that would permit a landing at dawn was 25 days. In view of Kamanin's reservations, Mishin accepted 6 June as the launch date.
When Kamanin was asked by his boss, General Kutakhov, about the risk of the Soyuz 11 crew being lost, he replied: "We wouldn't lose the crew, but I don't have a firm conviction of a successful docking, cosmonaut transfer into the station and its activation." Kamanin outlined the potential sources of difficulty, including the poor visibility from the Soyuz, a failure of the automated systems and the strength of the docking mechanism. But he rejected Kutakhov's suggestion that a letter be sent to the Central Committee to say that the Air Force had reservations as to the likelihood of the forthcoming flight succeeding. Kamanin said: "I will do everything possible to avoid losing the crew, and to make possible the accomplishment of their task, but the Chief Designer and the Strategic Rocket Forces must be held responsible for the reliability of the technology.''
On 14 May, at the traditional pre-flight meeting with Ustinov at the Kremlin, the main message to the TsKBEM was similar to that from Smirnov: "Launch Soyuz 11 only if you are certain that the preparations are satisfactory. We are not rushing you. The State Commission will set the final date.'' With these words, Ustinov carefully washed his hands of any responsibility for the potential failure of the mission.
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