The Station Is Huge

After confirming that there were no problems with either the spacecraft or the crew during the first hours of the mission, at 3.00 p.m. on 6 June Kamanin and Shatalov took off in an IL-18 with a dozen Air Force flight control and docking specialists. At 5.00 p.m., the TsKBEM team set off in another IL-18. This group comprised the leading specialists in the spacecraft's systems, namely Mishin, Chertok, Shabarov, Feoktistov and Yeliseyev, accompanied by Minister Afanasyev and some members of the State Commission. After about 4.5 hours in the air, the planes landed at the military airfield near the town of Saki, in Crimea. The passengers were immediately driven to Yevpatoriya. Already at the TsUP were cosmonauts Nikolayev, Gorbatko and Bykovskiy, who had been assigned by Kamanin to talk to the crew. Meanwhile, cosmonauts Leonov, Kubasov, Kolodin and Rukavishnikov flew from Baykonur to Moscow on a third plane.

9 The managers had accepted Rukavishnikov's suggestion that sleeping bags be carried on the Soyuz.

The Chief Operative and Control Group (GOGU) for the Soyuz 11 mission had five members. General Pavel Agadzhanov was in charge. Yakov Tregub, technical supervisor, was responsible for analysing the signals from space and preparing the commands to be transmitted to the two spacecraft. When the specialists from Baykonur arrived at the TsUP, Agadzhanov and Tregub confirmed that everything was normal on both Soyuz 11 and Salyut, and that the crew were resting as planned. Based on the biomedical telemetry and the reports from the cosmonauts, Volkov was in the best condition; his body obviously 'remembered' the weightlessness of his 5-day flight in 1969. Yeliseyev, who had just left the cosmonaut group in order to become Tregub's deputy, took a seat next to Tregub. He was also able to communicate with the crew. The final members were Boris Chertok and Boris Raushenbakh, experts in the spacecraft's guidance, control and electrical systems.

At 6 a.m. on 7 June, as Soyuz 11 made its approach to Salyut, the main control room on the second floor of the TsUP building was packed. Although flight control required only the members of the GOGU and five specialists for data analysis, the command-measurement complex, communications, telemetry and medical support, there were almost 100 people present - many of whom were not directly involved in mission control but had been drawn by the significance of the upcoming event. When the overcrowded room became too stuffy, someone opened the windows and a fresh sea breeze made conditions more tolerable. The communication session was to start at 7.25 a.m., and last for 23 minutes. As the time for contact approached, there was a marked increase in tension.

In the Flight Control Centre at Yevpatoriya, members of GOGU team follow the docking operation in space. In the first row of the left picture are Chertok (glasses) and General Agadzhanov (profile). Beyond Chertok are Tregub (white shirt) and Raushenbakh (black suit). Cosmonaut Gorbatko is in the foreground, with his back to the camera. In the right-hand picture are Minister Afanasyev (left) in the main control room at Yevpatoriya, and Semyonov, the TsKBEM's DOS leader (centre), and Bugayskiy (his counterpart from the TsKBM).

In the Flight Control Centre at Yevpatoriya, members of GOGU team follow the docking operation in space. In the first row of the left picture are Chertok (glasses) and General Agadzhanov (profile). Beyond Chertok are Tregub (white shirt) and Raushenbakh (black suit). Cosmonaut Gorbatko is in the foreground, with his back to the camera. In the right-hand picture are Minister Afanasyev (left) in the main control room at Yevpatoriya, and Semyonov, the TsKBEM's DOS leader (centre), and Bugayskiy (his counterpart from the TsKBM).

After two manoeuvres, Soyuz 11 was known to be in the ideal orbit to achieve the rendezvous with Salyut. When the range was 7 km, the Igla automatic system was to establish radio contact with the station - a milestone known to the cosmonauts as 'radio capture'.10

At 7.26 a.m. Yeliseyev called the crew: ''Here is Zarya. Yantar, how do you read us? On line!"

''This is Yantar,'' came the immediate reply. ''Everything is going according to the programme. Radio-capture passed. The automatic approach is progressing. At 7.27 we are distance 4, speed 14.'' The distance was given in kilometres and the speed in metres per second.

''Understood,'' replied Yeliseyev. ''Everything is normal. Continue reports.''

''At 7.31, the SKD fired for 10 seconds. Distance 2.3, speed 8.'' By SKD he meant the correction engines.

Judging by the radio, it was Volkov making the reports. The stress was evident in his voice.

''Speed is decreasing. I can see a bright point in the VSK. Distance 1,400, speed 4.'' The VSK was the forward-looking periscope, and Salyut could now be seen in it as a bright point of light. The distance was now being reported in metres. ''At 7.37, distance 700, speed 2.5. We have turned. I can see the Earth. Again, there is radio-capture!''

When the radio fell silent, some of the members of the State Commission turned towards the GOGU people in expectation. The NIP-13 ground station at Ussuriysk on the Kamchatka peninsula still had the spacecraft's signal, but it was only static. Yeliseyev called nervously: ''Yantar, this is Zarya. I do not hear you.''

At first there was continued radio static, but then: ''Distance 300, speed 2. I can see the station excellently in the VSK. Roll alignment starts. The docking cone is very clearly visible. Roll alignment ended. Distance 105, speed 0.7. Manual control activated.'' Now that the Igla had brought the spacecraft almost to a halt 100 metres from the station, Dobrovolskiy had taken control for the final approach. Meanwhile, the station had oriented itself to face its front end towards the newcomer.

Yeliseyev called: ''Yantars, when you close in, inspect the docking mechanism.'' He wanted the crew to look for any damage caused during Soyuz 10's unsuccessful attempt to dock.

''Yes, understood. Distance 50, speed 0.28. The DPO is firing.'' By DPO he meant the orientation engines. ''The cone is clean. It is clearly visible. Distance 20, speed 0.2. The ship is stable. We're going to dock!''

A few seconds later the spacecraft passed out of range of NIP-13 and headed out across the Pacific Ocean. The next communication session would begin at 8.56 a.m. If all went well, the docking would be achieved on the station's 795th orbit, and on the 16th orbit of the Soyuz 11 spacecraft.

Leaving only those responsible for the analysis of telemetric data in the control room, the visitors left the building to attempt to relax after the almost unbearable tension. Just as in the case of Soyuz 10, when Soyuz 11 had flown out of radio range

10 American astronauts would refer to this as 'lock on'

An accurate painting of Soyuz 11 about to dock with the Salyut space station above the Kamchatka peninsula. Although the scientific instrument aperture on the main compartment is shown facing away from the Earth, in fact the protective cover had failed to release, rendering the instruments unusable. (Painting by Andrey Sokolov and cosmonaut Aleksey Leonov)

An accurate painting of Soyuz 11 about to dock with the Salyut space station above the Kamchatka peninsula. Although the scientific instrument aperture on the main compartment is shown facing away from the Earth, in fact the protective cover had failed to release, rendering the instruments unusable. (Painting by Andrey Sokolov and cosmonaut Aleksey Leonov)

it was only a few metres from the station with everything progressing smoothly - but look what had happened on that occasion!

As the time for the next communication session neared, everybody crowded back into the control room to hear from the cosmonauts whether the docking had been successful.

This is how Dobrovolskiy described the moments leading up to and immediately following docking:

At 7.24, the approach regime began. ... By a distance of 150 metres, the ship had aligned itself with regard to the main axis, placing the station in the centre of the periscope.

At 100 metres, we switched to the manual regime. Speed: 0.9 metres per second. . . . After switching, the station began to move to the right in the periscope. . . . I began to decrease this lateral speed. . . .

I had the feeling that the left controller was insufficient, so I switched to the right one and slightly raised the ship . . . and then with the left controller I succeeded in reducing the lateral speed. At 60 metres I reduced the speed to 0.3 metres per second. ... Mechanical contact at 7.49.15. We were stable. The docking occurred at 7.55.30. There were no vibrations or shaking. We almost did not feel the final contact.

Yeliseyev began to call just before the communication session was due: ''Yantar, here is Zarya. On line!'' Silence. He repeated his call several times.

Suddenly, the operator responsible for receiving TV signals excitedly announced: ''There is television! Docking achieved! The picture is outstanding!''

Yeliseyev continued his calls: ''Yantars, I'm calling you for the fifth time! Why do you remain silent?"

''Zarya, we report. There were no oscillations during the docking. The programme is complete! We will check the hermetic seal and equalise the pressure according to the programme. We have opened the hatch between the descent and orbital modules and moved into the orbital module. Everything is normal.''

The control room was instantaneously abuzz and someone started to applaud, but Agadzhanov told them not to celebrate until the cosmonauts had entered the station. There were still many things to check. The hermetic seal of the docking mechanism had to be verified, the tunnel pressurised, and the hatches opened. Finally, there was the question of the station's atmosphere - had the problems with the ventilator fans during Salyut's first few days in space allowed the air to become toxic.

On the next orbit Volkov established communication before Yeliseyev could call: ''Zarya, everything is normal. We are still in the ship. All pressures are within the limits specified by the table. We do not have any remarks. Permission to open the hatch?''

Yeliseyev looked at Tregub who nodded his head: ''Open the hatch!''

''Zarya! At 10.32.30 we sent the command to open the hatch. The signal 'Closed' remained. If it doesn't open, we'll use the crowbar.''

''Yantars, all goes excellently. Well done! Don't be disturbed. Work calmly.''

"Zarya! The opening regime is executed. But the indicator didn't light. Evidently, it did not reach the terminal. However, Yantar 3 has opened it and is about to pass through!''

At 10.45 a.m. on 7 June, 26 hours 50 minutes into the flight of Soyuz 11, Viktor Patsayev entered the world's first space station.

"Yantars, attention!'' called Yeliseyev. "The First will talk with you.'' Brezhnyev, the First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, was on a telephone line to Yevpatoriya. Some people in the control room were surprised that he wished to congratulate the crew so early, with only one man in the station.

The cosmonauts were also surprised: "Zarya, wait! Yantar 3 is in Salyut. Don't start until - Zarya, Yantar 3 has returned! There is a strong smell in Salyut! He will put on a mask and go in again!''

Realising that this was an inopportune moment for Brezhnyev to make his speech, Minister Afanasyev called the Kremlin and deferred the relay with the station to the next orbit.

Mishin was nervous: "All conversations and commands to space must be through me!''

Dobrovolskiy called: "When we opened the hatch, we peered through. The station is huge - there seems to be no end to it! After our compact spaces!''

"Yantars, activate the air regenerators. Communication is ending. We'll pick you up on the next orbit. We are all as happy as you are. Congratulations!"

The 25-tonne orbital complex comprising Salyut and the Soyuz 11 spacecraft left the communication zone. The orbital parameters were 212 x 249 km. The TV which had been recorded from space by Yevpatoriya was sent to the Kremlin, but was not yet released to the national television network.

In the meantime, Mishin asked the doctors to investigate whether the strong smell which had been reported posed a risk to the cosmonauts' health, but the doctors had no idea of the source of the smell and therefore were unable to offer any advice.

Before the opening call of the ensuing communication session could be made, the black-and-white screen of the control room came to life and showed Patsayev and Volkov inside the station. When the cosmonauts heard the sound of the controllers celebrating, they looked towards the camera and waved.

"They heard our ovations!'' observed someone in the control room.

"Yantars, here is Zarya! The State Commission and Operative Group congratulate you most sincerely. You are the very first crew on a DOS. We suggest that you take a meal, get some rest, and tomorrow morning we will start the programme.''

The only problem so far was the smell, and Patsayev had activated a system that would cleanse the air. Soon after launch on 19 April, six of the eight ventilator fans had failed and during the time that the station had been unmanned the air had grown stale with the smell of the burned insolation on two of the fans. Initially, Mishin had blamed Leonov's painting tools, but Dobrovolskiy said that the brushes and paints were safe in their box. Patsayev found small tracers used by technicians to identify the air flow during pre-launch preparations. After restoring all eight fans to service,

An unusual depiction of Soyuz-Salyut in an undocked state showing cosmonauts in both vehicles (top). The large conical housing for the main scientific instruments has been edited out. A view from an automatic TV camera as Soyuz 11 approached Salyut (bottom left). A TV view of Patsayev (left) and Volkov just after they entered the station (bottom right).

An unusual depiction of Soyuz-Salyut in an undocked state showing cosmonauts in both vehicles (top). The large conical housing for the main scientific instruments has been edited out. A view from an automatic TV camera as Soyuz 11 approached Salyut (bottom left). A TV view of Patsayev (left) and Volkov just after they entered the station (bottom right).

Patsayev and Volkov rejoined Dobrovolskiy, to sleep in their own spacecraft while the regenerators cleansed the air in the station.

While the station was flying outside of the communication zone, the control room was empty. In the evening, the State Commission met and decided that if everything went according to the programme the crew would return to Earth on 30 June - the maximum duration allowing a daylight landing. If successful, this would exceed by five days the record set by Soyuz 9. At the same time at Baykonur, the final preparations for the third launch of the N1 lunar rocket were in progress, and this

Patsayev (left) and Volkov, the first men on the first space station, seen on the wall screen in the TsUP at Yevpatoriya, with silhouettes of the flight controllers.

now became Mishin's focus. He recalled three of the GOGU members - Tregub, Chertok and Raushenbakh - to Moscow with him, leaving Yeliseyev to lead the specialists in managing the DOS mission, supported by Nikolayev, Gorbatko and Bykovskiy. Generals Kamanin and Shatalov and the other Air Force staff also returned to Moscow. Kamanin's aide, General Goreglyad, was at Baykonur to manage the landing and recovery operation.

On awakening, Dobrovolskiy, Volkov and Patsayev all entered Salyut, which was their new home in space.

Marina Dobrovolskiy recalls of these days: "People were coming and going all the time. The telephone rang. Congratulatory telegrams arrived. The docking was especially important. I remember the flight controllers congratulated mother, saying that the docking was performed excellently and that it was a crucial milestone - the station had begun operations!"

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