The Night Return

Shatalov and Yeliseyev spent their second night in space snoozing, but their rookie colleague, Rukavishnikov, remained awake, watching the Earth and taking pictures. In fact, he had a criticism of the spacecraft: ''At a temperature of 20 degrees it is impossible to sleep in the flight suits. It is very cold. During the first night we slept only two or three hours. Instead of sleeping, we sat and shivered! It is necessary to carry sleeping bags.'' He was disappointed by the failure of their mission. Instead of setting a new record of 30 days in space, the flight would last just 48 hours! How long would he have to wait to receive another opportunity to fly?

On the original plan, the landing after a 30-day flight would have been in daylight - it was this timing which had required the launch to occur at night. To return after two days meant landing in darkness, which was something that the authorities had always avoided. After examining the options, it was decided to make the descent at the first opportunity on 25 April, aiming to return to a site 80-100 km northwest of Karaganda, a town on the Kazakh steppe. Normally, a Soyuz would automatically orientate itself to perform the de-orbit manoeuvre, but on this occasion Shatalov was told to do this manually - although since it would be dark outside he would have to fly 'on instruments'. In case of a problem that prevented the planned manoeuvre, the TsUP investigated the possibility of making it in daylight and landing in Australia, South America or Africa.

Shatalov aligned Soyuz 10 as specified. In normal circumstances, the cosmonauts would be able to make visual checks to verify the orientation, but outside was pitch black - there was not even moonlight to show the position of the Earth. They would be completely at the mercy of the automated systems. At 01.59 a.m. on 25 April the main engine was ignited to start the lengthy de-orbit burn. As the descent sequence was automated, the crew were passengers. After the engine shut down, pyrotechnic charges were fired to jettison both the propulsion module and the orbital module, and Rukavishnikov said that he had seen the flashes. The crew could only hope that the descent module was aligned with its heat shield facing in the direction of travel. As the module penetrated the upper reaches of the atmosphere, it was enveloped in a shockwave of glowing plasma. It was like being inside a neon tube whose colours changed. This awesome sight had been denied to their predecessors who returned in daylight!

Even the veteran Shatalov was astonished:

As the ablative coating of the ship burns off we can see a real fire around us. To an outside viewer our descent module would have looked like a meteor. The g-forces are increasing. Our breathing is difficult. Around us something is crunching, and the module is shaking. Through the windows we can see a dance of orange and red sparks. The impression is much more dramatic than during a daylight descent. Finally the plasma fades, and a few minutes later the three parachutes deploy: first the pilot chute, then the drogue and finally the main. It was again darkness outside the windows. At an altitude of 5,000 metres we saw the first detail of the surface. Aleksey and Nikolay, who had windows on opposite sides of the cabin, both reported seeing a lake below. We would prefer not to land in the water. When Aleksey again looked out, he shouted "Land!" - just like the lookout of Columbus's sailing ship. Next we heard the soft-landing rockets fire, there was a shock and then - nothing. As there was no motion, we knew that we had landed on soil. Excellent! We shook hands and congratulated ourselves on having made a successful return. Just after we reported by radio that we were down and packed the flight log, we heard knocking on the wall - the recovery team had arrived. Despite the conditions, they had done their job perfectly. They had spotted us during our parachute descent, and as soon as we landed their helicopters had set down alongside.

The landing occurred at 2.40 a.m. on Sunday, 25 April, about 120 km northwest of Karaganda. When it was realised that the descent module might splash into a lake some of the recovery team had donned aqualungs in preparation to jump from the helicopter into the water to attend to the capsule. But then a gust of wind carried it on shore, and it landed 42 metres from the water's edge. Often a capsule would land on its side, but this time it settled in the preferred upright position - as indeed it had for Shatalov and Yeliseyev's previous landings. This first descent in darkness concluded the shortest Soviet space flight for six years.

Shatalov knew before this flight that Soyuz 10 would be his last space mission, as he had promised to accept an appointment to replace Kamanin. In addition, when Soyuz 10 landed Yeliseyev decided not to seek another opportunity to fly in space:

We landed on the shore of a small lake. The helicopter was already circling, awaiting us. The recovery group included three very restrained and taciturn fellows wearing scuba-diving suits. We felt that these were courageous and disciplined people on whom we could rely. . . . As I stood beside the descent module I thought: What next? Should I make one more flight to end this run of failures? ... No.

Several minutes after the landing, the TsUP received a call from one of the rescue helicopters reporting that the cosmonauts were in good health. Finally, the people at the control centre were able to relax. Despite the failure of the main task, everyone was delighted at the completion of this short but tricky flight. However, the Kremlin

The Soyuz 10 cosmonauts meet their wives at the airport.
Despite their inability to dock with Salyut, the Soyuz 10 crew received medals on a visit to the Kremlin. Standing alongside the cosmonauts are Premier Kosygin and General Secretary Brezhnyev. Ustinov (in profile) is behind Brezhnyev. The mood appears to be rather sombre.

was dissatisfied. On Soyuz 8 the Igla rendezvous system had failed. Although it had worked on this occasion, and Shatalov had steered his ship in to make contact with the station, a fault had interrupted the docking process. This was not good enough! But it was not the fault of the crew, and on their return to Moscow Rukavishnikov received a Gold Star as a Hero of the Soviet Union. His veteran colleagues already had two such awards for their previous missions.

TASS announced the landing without saying why Soyuz 10 had returned so soon. Officially, the crew had fulfilled their assignment. The mission was "a stage in the general programme of work'' associated with Salyut. As TASS explained afterwards: "The programme of scientific-technical studies has been fulfilled.'' That is: "Studies directed at checking the efficiency of perfected systems for the mutual search, long distance approach, berthing, docking and separation of the ship and the station were carried out.'' For years, therefore, Soyuz 10 was classified as a successful test flight whose objectives had simply been to test the new docking system and to assess how the two vehicles behaved in a joined configuration. The cosmonauts were forbidden to state otherwise. At a press conference broadcast by Moscow Radio on 26 April, Shatalov said the flight was "not extensive in duration, but tense and magnificent in its tasks''. He repeated what he had said prior to launch, that the flight represented a stage in a programme to develop orbital research stations. He said: "perfecting new systems for sighting, approaching and docking with an unmanned station were the mission's most important tasks'', and

''all these tasks were carried out completely''. Even when Shatalov wrote his autobiography, The Hard Roads to Space, which was published seven years later in the typical Soviet style, he said nothing to imply that his third and final space mission had been anything less than a complete success.

At the press conference Yeliseyev was asked to describe Salyut: ''The station is indescribably beautiful. A most impressive piece of equipment with a huge quantity of instruments, all kinds of antennas, a docking system, and 'CCCP' written on its side in large letters.4 The station was gleaming white, and equipped with a flashing beacon to aid us in our approach.'' Shatalov added: ''Salyut is so heavy that on Earth powerful cranes had difficulty in turning it.''

Apart from the crew of Soyuz 10, few people were permitted to talk to journalists about the mission. One such person was Konstantin Feoktistov, one of the station's designers, who stuck to the official line that the objective of the mission had been to test the docking system: ''The docking of a relatively small transport spaceship with a large orbiting laboratory proved to be more difficult than docking vehicles of the same size.'' He said that a new type of docking unit was tested - which was true. In the course of the manoeuvres, Soyuz 10 changed its orbit on three occasions and the station did so four times. Rukavishnikov had conducted ''a series of important tests and technical experiments'' during the docking - which was certainly true, although Feoktistov did not explain what these ''tests'' involved and why they were necessary. And he repeated the line that it was never intended that the cosmonauts should enter the station.

Some Western observers speculated that Soyuz 10 had landed after just two days because Rukavishnikov had developed 'space sickness'. The story was that a severe case of vertigo had prevented him from going into the voluminous station. Veteran cosmonaut and space physician Dr. Boris Yegorov was quoted as saying that during one communication session Rukavishnikov told ground control he had experienced ''unusual and rather unpleasant feelings'' as a result of the increased blood flow to his head - which was undoubtedly true, because this is a consequence of entering a weightless state. Yegorov was also quoted as saying that this crew had to cope with ''a considerable emotional load'' - which was also true, given the problems that they faced, although the fact that there were problems was a secret. When a Guardian correspondent asked Rukavishnikov how he felt in space, he replied: ''A lot better than I'd expected in advance! On the first day I felt good, ate and worked normally. The next day I ceased to notice weightlessness. For me, working in weightlessness was pleasurable and joyful - for example, it was possible to catch an object in the air.'' Shatalov confirmed that Rukavishnikov's status had been good throughout the flight: ''I think he felt even better than Yeliseyev and I.'' And this was confirmed by the in-flight biomedical telemetry: at the vital moments Rukavishnikov's heart rate was lower than for his more experienced colleagues. So much for the story that he had fallen ill and caused the mission to be cut short!

4 In cyrillic the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) is C0103 Cobctckhx Co^a.HCTii tockhx Pecny6.HK (CCCP). It is sometimes written as Soyuz Sovetskikh Sotsialisticheskikh Respublik (SSSR).

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