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OPS-3 (Salyut-5)

The OPS-3, announced as Salyut-5 after its launch, was equipped with a new radio system, which allowed it to transmit data to the ground in real time. It was launched on June 22, 1976.

Soyuz-21 mission

On July 6, 1976, the crew comprised of commander Boris Volynov and flight engineer Vitaliy Zholobov were launched toward OPS-3 onboard the Soyuz-21 spacecraft. Despite all the upgrades, once again, the rendezvous system onboard the Soyuz developed problems, however this time the crew conducted a successful manual docking.

The first expedition to the OPS-3 was planned for two months, however toward the end of the flight the crew started complaining about bad smell onboard and headaques. Suspecting the presence of toxic chemicals in the station's atmosphere, possible caused by a leak of fuel into the pressurized compartments, the officials decided to cut the mission short. The crew returned home prematurely on August 24, 1976.

Soyuz-23 mission

The next crew to visit OPS-3 was given the assignment to conduct a thorough analysis of the station's atmosphere due to concerns over some materials inside the pressurized compartments, which might have released toxins and caused health problems during the previous expedition.

A fresh crew, commander Vechaslav Zudov and flight engineer Valeri Rozhdestvenskiy, blasted off from Baikonur onboard the Soyuz-23 spacecraft on October 14, 1976. However, the next day, the Igla automated rendezvous and docking system onboard the Soyuz-23 developed problems and by the time the crew switched to manual controls, the spacecraft had spent too much propellant to make another docking attempt.

During landing, the reentry capsule of the Soyuz-23 ended up in the semi-frozen Tengiz Lake, thus becoming the first Russian manned mission to land in water. The splashdown took place in the middle of the night, and in the midst of a snowstorm, with the surrounding temperature minus 20 degrees C. Upon landing, the capsule was turned upside down in the ice-cold slosh by its wet parachute.

To make matters worse, the swampy shores of the lake prevented amphibious vehicles of the rescue team from reaching the capsule stranded two kilometers from the shore. Finally, a rescue diver, wearing only a light diving suit, jumped into the lake from a helicopter hovering over the spacecraft and after several attempts attached a line to the capsule. The chopper, unable to lift the spacecraft out of the water, then dragged the capsule toward the shore.

Soyuz-24 mission

The next expedition, Viktor Gorbatko and Yuri Glazkov, blasted off toward the OPS-3 onboard the Soyuz-24 spacecraft on February 7, 1977. The crew found the atmosphere onboard the station normal, but the cosmonauts conducted an experiment aimed to demonstrate the possbility of "replacing" the air onboard the station. The crew successfully landed on February 25, and a day later the KSI capsule was jettisoned from the OPS-3 station and later recovered.

The next crew scheduled to visit the OPS-3 included Anatoly Berezovoi and Mikhail Lisun, however the three Soyuz spacecraft, assigned to the OPS-3 program had been used up for two successful and one failed flight. But when Valentin Glushko, the head of NPO Energia, which manufactured the Soyuz spacecraft, provided a timeline for the processing of additional Soyuz spacecraft, the dates extended beyond the date when the propellant cache onboad the OPS-3 station would be exhausted. Some veterans of the program speculated that Glushko simply "dragged his feet" in the program. Whatever the case, the Almaz program managers had to kill their plans to man the OPS-3 again. The station was deorbited on August 8, 1977.

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Artist rendering of the of the Almaz space station docked with the Soyuz spacecraft. Credit: NPO Mash

Volynov (top photo) and Zholobov shown inside the habiation section of the OPS-3 (Salyut-5) space station. The station's kitchen table with a built-in heater can be seen at the bottom of the lower photo. Credit: NPO Mash

The KSI reentry capsule, which was returned from the OPS-3 (Salyut-5) station on Feb. 26, 1977. Copyright © 2002 by Anatoly Zak