Landing of Soyuz 7K-OK No. 5 (Kosmos-188)

The Soyuz 7K-OK No. 5 spacecraft had been sent for landing on Nov. 2, 1967, however a flight control system failure triggered the self-destruct mechanism on the descent capsule.

Vehicle No. 5 blows up on descent

Because the second spacecraft (Vehicle No. 5, aka Kosmos-188) had played a passive role during the rendezvous, it had some propellant supplies left for additional test maneuvers. However Kerimov and Mishin showered with all the congratulatory calls from the Soviet of Ministers and the Central Committee, told controllers to stop their "space games" and return the vehicle to Earth at all costs.

Pressed hard to test the aerodynamic descent, mission controllers spent the following day after the first landing trying to understand the behavior of the star tracker on the still-orbiting Vehicle No. 5 (Kosmos-188). After concluding that the instrument on the second ship was afflicted with the same problem, engineers switched to the backup ion orientation system for landing.

On November 2, controllers finally managed to put Vehicle No. 5 into the correct attitude with the help of the ion system and successfully triggered the landing sequence. However, as the spacecraft began the crucial deorbiting burn, the ion system apparently had a glitch somewhere over the "Brazilian hole," as Chertok apparently dubbed a large untrackable region over the Southern Hemisphere.

The botched orientation left the ship on a very shallow trajectory which violated the navigational parameters programmed in the flight control system. As a result, the APO self-destruct mechanism blew up the descent capsule after it had far overshot its nominal landing area. According to the Soviet anti-aircraft radar, the explosion took place somewhere near the city of Irkutsk. Ironically, had the APO system failed to act, the capsule was projected to land around 400 kilometers east of Ulan-Ude in the Soviet Far East.

With all these glitches under a veil of secrecy, on Nov. 1, 1967, the Pravda newspaper published a celebratory message on behalf of the space industry, dedicating the world's first automated docking in space to the 50th anniversary of the Russian revolution. Chertok and his colleagues got copies of the paper as they were boarding a Navy plane heading from Crimea to Moscow on November 3. (466)


Next chapter: Aftermath of the first Soyuz docking mission


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The article and illustrations by Anatoly Zak; Last update: April 7, 2018

Page editor: Alain Chabot; Last edit: October 30, 2017

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