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Soyuz-6 returns to Earth

After failed attempts at docking, the crews aboard three Soyuz spacecraft focused on the individual flight programs filled with multiple experiments. The most ambitious and dangerous solo portion of the flight was assigned to the Soyuz-6 spacecraft.


Valery Kubasov (left) and Georgy Shonin inside the Descent Module of the Soyuz.

On October 16, 1969, in parallel with preparations for landing, the crew of the Soyuz-6 spacecraft set up the world's first welding attempt in space. The activation of the Vulkan robotic welding system inside the Habitation Module was scheduled for 06:30 Moscow Time, after the cosmonauts had retreated to the Descent Module and closed the hatch between the two compartments. (774) These precautions turned out to be well justified, because when Kubasov and Shonin reentered the Habitation Module, they discovered to their horror that the machine had welded through the samples, and then went on, melting the tray and the decorative covering of the spacecraft wall! Fearing that the thin hull of the module could also be compromised and suffer explosive decompression, the cosmonauts quickly picked up their belongings and scrambled back to the Descent Module, where they would remain for the rest of the mission.

Fortunately, the dangerous experiment was the final task of the Soyuz-6 crew before landing.

At 08:20 on October 16, specialists on the ground gathered for the final landing planning. Soyuz-6 was scheduled to reenter during the 81st orbit of its mission. The weather at the landing zone was expected to be good.

Return to Earth operations were set to begin at 12:02:39 Moscow Time, when the NIP-3 ground station (located in Sary Shagan, Kazakhstan) would command Soyuz-6 to initiate the automated landing sequence. Another opportunity to trigger the operations would come exactly 10 minutes later, when the spacecraft entered the range of the NIP-15 station near Vladivostok. The firing of the braking engine against the direction of the flight would then begin at 12:12:39 Moscow Time, slowing down the vehicle by 105 meters per second. The parachute would be released at 12:40 Moscow Time. After a nominal aerodynamic descent, the landing point was projected to be at 50º36' North latitude and 72º East longitude. In case of a ballistic descent, the capsule was expected to end up at 47º52' North and 62º40' East.

The attempted landing in the primary area could be repeated during the 82nd and 83rd orbit, while a reentry during the 84th orbit of the mission would put the Descent Module into a backup landing zone.

During Orbit 80, the crew of Soyuz-6 broadcast final TV images from orbit and then prepared for landing. As planned, Soyuz-6 began a braking maneuver with the SKDU engine. The firing lasting 165 seconds successful pushed the spacecraft from orbit toward reentry.

All further reentry operations also went by the book and the Descent Module landed around 12:50 Moscow Time, around 20 kilometers from the projected point. (774)

The first search and rescue helicopter reached the Descent Module 10 minutes after its touchdown. Members of the rescue team reported that the capsule was in a vertical position and one of the cosmonauts was already outside. (820)

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The article by Anatoly Zak; Last update: October 18, 2019

Page editor: Alain Chabot; Last edit: October 16, 2019

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Cosmonauts aboard Soyuz-6 work with the Vulkan welding system.