Volkov: ''As always. We are on your schedule. We will put on our 'penguin' suits now. Everything is in order. The systems of the Soyuz are normal.'' Dobrovolskiy: ''What is the weather like in the recovery region?'' Zarya: ''The weather is excellent. All is ready. We are waiting for you.''

The State Commission met at 7.30 p.m. and confirmed the landing parameters. General Nikolayev reported that everything on the station and the ferry craft was as it should be. Re-entry was to take place on the third orbit after undocking from the station, with the landing timed for 2.18 a.m. on 30 June, approximately 100 km east of Dzhezkazgan in northern Kazakhstan. The crew were not to open the hatch, they were to await the recovery team led by General Leonid Goreglyad and the physician Colonel Anatoliy Lebedyev, who expected to arrive within 20-30 minutes in order to assist them out of the capsule.

When the communication session started at 7.45 p.m. Dobrovolskiy and Volkov reported that the 'mothballing' of Salyut had been finished, all items that were to be returned to Earth had been stowed in the descent module, and the cosmonauts were wearing 'penguin' suits and were ready to depart as planned. Yeliseyev pointed out that telemetry indicated that Volkov had forgotten to switch on Salyut's noxious gas

Dobrovolskiy towards the end of the mission, re-entering the station after checking out the Soyuz 11 spacecraft. On his left shoulder is the TsPK patch.

filter. Volkov initially argued that the TsUP had actually recommended leaving this switched off, but when the log of the previous day's communication was reviewed he accepted his error and returned to the station to activate the filter.

Finally ready to exit, they closed the hatches: first the hatch between the working compartment and the transfer compartment and then, after they had passed through the tunnel into the ferry, the hatch with the passive docking unit. Next was the hatch in the orbital module with the active docking unit. First Volkov, then Patsayev and finally Dobrovolskiy passed into the descent module.

A hermetic seal of the final 60-cm-diameter hatch was of key importance, because when the orbital module was jettisoned this hatch would separate the men from the vacuum, extreme temperatures and radiation of the space environment. As the last man in, Dobrovolskiy closed the hatch, which was on a single 127-mm arm and was sealed by rotating a large grip. But the Hatch Open indicator on the display panel remained lit - without a hermetic seal, the air would leak from the descent module when the orbital module was jettisoned. For the crew, who did not possess pressure suits, this would be fatal.

The TsUP heard Volkov's strained voice: "The hatch is not hermetically sealed! ... What can we do? ... What can we do?''

Yeliseyev calmly advised: "Don't be disturbed. Open the hatch and turn the grip fully to the left, then close the hatch again and turn the grip six and a half times to the right.'' He also directed that while the hatch was open they should use a tissue to swipe the ring of the hatch to see whether something had become lodged inside and was precluding a hermetic seal. Volkov and Dobrovolskiy carried out this operation, but the indicator remained illuminated. They repeated the procedure several times, but to no effect. After assessing the situation, the TsUP told the cosmonauts to inspect the sensors which sent the open/closed signal to the display panel.

Yeliseyev recalled of this dramatic time: "We asked the cosmonauts to verify the operation of the sensors that sent signals to the display panel. The sensors are in the form of buttons - just like a door bell. As the hatch closes, it pushes the sensors and they produce signals. All the sensors were in working order. But the guys found that the hatch hardly touched one of the buttons, with the result that it did not push down sufficiently to send the signal. We asked them to verify this repeatedly, and this was confirmed. We requested that they verify visually whether the hatch closed tightly, and they reported that it did. Because the automation would not permit carrying out further operations unless it received the correct signal from the hatch, we decided to generate the signal artificially - we simply asked them to apply a strip of insulating tape to hold the button in the correct position and then to shut the hatch. They did so, and visually confirmed that the hatch was correctly closed.''

Once Dobrovolskiy had taped the problematic sensor, he closed the hatch and the Hatch Open indicator went out.

"It turned off! The indicator turned off! Everything is in order!'' Volkov joyfully informed the TsUP.

During the 20 minutes that it had taken to resolve the problem, the mood both on board the spacecraft and in the TsUP had been tense.

Left: The hatch between the descent and the orbital modules. Right: Yeliseyev tells the cosmonauts how to circumvent the warning indication and hermetically close the hatch.

In the second half of the 15th orbit of the day, the pressure in the orbital module was reduced to 160 mm of mercury to verify the seal of the descent module's hatch; it proved to be airtight. By the 16th orbit of 29 June Soyuz 11 was finally ready to undock from the station.

Patsayev: ''The Hatch Open indicator is off.'' Zarya: ''All clear. Go ahead and undock.'' Patsayev: ''The Undock command was issued at 21.25.15.'' Volkov: ''Separation achieved. Separation achieved.''

Volkov: ''I watched the undocking visually. The station moved left of us, during a turn.''

Zarya: ''The landing will occur ten minutes before sunrise.''

At 9.35 p.m. the cosmonauts reported through the ground station in Yeniseysk in Siberia that they had achieved a normal separation. Having sufficient propellant to manoeuvre, Dobrovolskiy drew to a halt at a range of about 35 metres and then turned his spacecraft to enable Patsayev to take photographs of Salyut through his porthole in order to document its condition.

Day 25, Wednesday, 30 June

The crew of Soyuz 11 had two full orbits to make the preparations for their descent. With two hours remaining to re-entry, Kamanin (call-sign 'No. 16'), his retirement imminent, made one of his rare calls.

Kamanin: ''Yantar, I am No. 16, how do you hear me?'' Dobrovolskiy: ''No. 16, I hear you excellently.''

Kamanin: ''Here are the landing conditions. Above the territory of the USSR it is

After undocking, Patsayev snapped these pictures of the first Salyut space station. (Courtesy Mark Wade)

slightly cloudy: 3-4 marks. In the landing area it is clear with a visibility of 10 km, the wind is 2-3 metres per second, the temperature is 16°C, the pressures at ground level is 720 mm of mercury. During your descent, constantly report by short-wave and VHF on all antennas - especially those under the hatch of the descent module and on the parachute. After landing, follow your instructions: don't open the hatch, don't make any rash movements, await the medical team. I wish you a soft landing. See you soon on Earth!"

Dobrovolskiy: ''Understood: the landing conditions are excellent. Here everything is in order, the crew is excellent. We thank you for your help and good wishes.'' And then a few moments later, Dobrovolskiy: ''We are following the programme. The Earth will appear shortly. I am starting orientation. To the side is the station. Splendid, it is a beauty. Now, I am starting orientation.''

Patsayev: ''I can see the horizon in the lower part of the porthole.'' Volkov: ''The 'Re-entry' indicator is blinking. The SOUD indicator is blinking. It is normal.'' The SOUD was the system for orientation and control. Zarya: ''Yes, it is.''

Dobrovolskiy: ''Systems checked. Everything is normal. The horizon has already appeared. The station is above me.''

Zarya: ''Good-bye Yantars, until the next communication session.'' As the crew of Soyuz 11 began their journey back to Earth, the Salyut station on which they had lived for so long receded to a tiny speck gleaming against the dark background of space.

Specific references

1. Vasilyev, M.P., Salyut on Orbit. Mashinostroenie, Moscow, 1973, pp. 107-155 (in Russian).

2. Yeliseyev, A.S., Life - A Drop in the Sea. ID Aviatsiya and kosmonavtika, Moscow, 1998, p. 81 (in Russian).

3. Kamanin, N.P., Hidden Space, Book 4. Novosti kosmonavtiki, 2001, pp. 325332 (in Russian).

4. Harvey, Brian, The New Russian Space Program. Wiley-Praxis, 1996, pp. 278279.

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