Preparing Soyuz-1 mission

While engineers feverishly worked to complete preparations for the launch of the first Soyuz, official and cosmonauts still debated the exact details of the ambitious flight plan.

Previous chapter: Training crews for the first Soyuz mission


Komarov (left) and Bykovsky (center) discuss the Soyuz flight flight program with an officer of the cosmonaut training center.



Last preparations

On the morning of April 14, 1967, a number of high-ranking space officials including Vasily Mishin and Boris Chertok flew to Tyuratam to oversee final preparations for the first Soviet manned launch in more than two years. On the same day, at 18:00, at Site 2, Kerim Kerimov chaired a crowded meeting of the State Commission, which reviewed pre-flight processing of the two Soyuz spacecraft. There were 29 open issues with Vehicle No. 4 related to telemetry, communications and the attitude control system. There were also 20 issues with Vehicle No. 5, pertaining to Krechet space suits and the telemetry systems. (774)

Mishin recorded the status of several key systems as reported by responsible officials on April 14:

Responsible official System Remarks
Vladimir Bogomolov Power supply systems No issues
Ivan Kartukov SAS propulsion system Vehicle ready for work
Konstantin Kobzarev TP Nominal
Armen Mnatsakanyan the Igla rendezvous system KDI tests finished, interference tests finished
Dmitry Solodov Fakel and Rubin systems A converter replaced
Vladimir Krechevskiy Krechet spacesuit Nominal
Grigory Voronin ? Nominal
Gai Severin Life-support system All systems ready for upcoming work
Feydor Tkachev Main and backup parachutes (OSP, ZSP) Ready for tests

Despite some outstanding technical problems, the both ships were cleared for irreversible fueling operations. Mishin's deputy Yurasov, who was in charge of the pre-launch processing, reported on various aspects of the work. Next, the head of launch personnel, Colonel Anatoly Kirillov also spoke, pointing out hundreds of issues, which came up during tests. He concluded that vehicles had still been "undercooked." In response, Vasily Mishin went into rage and sharply told Kirillov that he "would teach him how to work."(27)

After the meeting, Kirillov expressed his outrage about Mishin's behavior to Chertok and Yurasov. "You better explain to your boss that I am not a boy to listen to this lecturing. I am as interested in the success as he is. But if anything happens, he can hide behind his academic rank, while I will be declared unfit for service at the very least..." (466)

On the same day, Mishin noted in his diary that Ustinov had called expressing his own worries and asked him to call the Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. Mishin apparently apparently complied asking Brezhnev to get his personal blessing for the launch. (774)

On April 15, it was turn of Nikolai Kamanin to complain to Chertok that his cosmonauts were allocated only four hours for training inside the flight-worthy spacecraft. In response, Chertok arranged with Boris Raushenbakh, the flight control expert, to do additional coaching for the pilots with the focus on various contingencies during the rendezvous, the manual attitude control, manual spinning of the spacecraft relative to the sun, while paying close attention to the propellant consumption.

Also, on April 15, the management responsible for the 11A511 (Soyuz) launcher met with Mishin to report on the preparations of launch vehicles RN 03 and RN 07, assigned to lift Soyuz-1 and Soyuz-2 into orbit. According to the managers, the rockets underwent following upgrades:

Responsible official
Aleksandr Soldatenkov
Payload section/Emergency Escape System, GB-SAS
Design and emergency-protection upgrades
Aleksandr Soldatenkov
Flight control system, SU
Aleksandr Soldatenkov
Propellant expenditure synchronization system, SOBIS
One instrument upgraded
Aleksandr Soldatenkov
RKS driving mechanism
Aleksandr Soldatenkov
Navigation sight fairing, VSK GB
Mikhail Osipov
Motion Control System, AUD
Upgrades bench-tested in Kharkov, Ukraine
Vladimir Krotov
Motion Control System, AUD
All new components added to the AUD were flight tested
Boris Mirsky
UM-50Ts instrument
Certified for flight testing with manned spacecraft
Anatoly Iyudin
System certified for flight
Aleksandr Golubev
System certified for flight
Major Sokolov
RN 03 vehicle testing
All tests completed without issues, but...

According to Sokolov, recently closed issues with the RN 03 launcher included:

  • The leak in a monitoring reverse valve on a Block D strap-on booster, which was resolved with the rising pressure. During the flight that component is closed off with a cover;
  • One warning light was on due to inaccuracy in documentation;
  • The ignition command failed to go through during integrated tests, due to an accidental grounding of the power distributor.

In the meantime, the RN 07 slated to launch Vehicle No. 5 (Soyuz-2) was expected to complete electric tests on April 17 and, a day earlier, its payload adapter was to be sent for integration with the spacecraft. (774)

The head of testing in Tyuratam, Anatoly Kirillov reported that there were problems with the system responsible for vertical installation of the rocket on the launch pad. He also discussed potential fire safety issues for his personnel working high up on the service gantry of the launch pad and the need for a formal manual for emergency procedures on the pad, likely prompted by a deadly accident in the previous December.

On April 16, Soyuz 7K-OK No. 4 (Soyuz-1) was fueled with propellant, while the cosmonauts training to fly the second spacecraft had a chance to sit inside Soyuz-2 undergoing final processing. The next day, Soyuz-1 underwent final close-out operations, while the Soyuz-2 was to be delivered for fueling. Soyuz-2 was to fueled on April 18.

Manual control controversy

On April 17, Mishin apparently had a meeting with cosmonauts, which brought more arguments over the manual control during the upcoming docking to the two spacecraft. (774) As Chertok remembered, Gagarin and Komarov insisted that the automated rendezvous would be limited to a distance of 200 meters, allowing the pilots to complete the docking manually. Because the previously approved program called for a fully automated docking, Mishin brought this issue before the Chief Designers Council. From his record it appears that this meeting convened at 10:00 on April 18.

The council's meeting grew into a huge gathering, including all members of the State Commission, cosmonauts, specialists of the cosmonaut training center and test officers. Mnatsakanyan, who was responsible for Igla rendezvous system, insisted that the rendezvous should be fully automated, while Feoktistov sided with cosmonauts to the chagrin of Mishin. It was eventually decided to let cosmonauts to fly the ship from a distance of 200 meters, as long as the officials on the ground had no objections based on the latest status of all the systems. (466)

Interestingly, Mishin wrote that, per cosmonauts's proposal, the manual control would be required from the distance of between 50 and 70 meters, because the accuracy of the automated system did not exceed 15 meters. The cosmonauts promised to provide mission control with regular updates on the available propellant and power supply levels.

As of April 18, the pre-launch processing timeline looked as following:

During the night from April 19 to April 20, the upper composite of Vehicle No. 4, including the spacecraft under its payload fairing, was to be transferred from the processing building at Site 31 to the launch vehicle assembly building at Site 2, for integration with its rocket on April 20. Two meetings of the State Commission to clear the vehicle for the rollout to the launch pad were scheduled for 16:00 and 20:00 on April 20.

The rollout of Vehicle No. 4 (Soyuz-1) to the launch pad was planned at 7:00 on April 21, while the Soyuz-2 vehicle would undergo the final assembly of its upper composite.

On April 22, the soldiers and officers of the launch complex had a "back-up" day, which in the absence of technical problems with the rocket or its launch equipment, would give the personnel an opportunity to meet with cosmonauts on the pad during a traditional moral-boosting ceremony.

The liftoff of Soyuz-1 (Vehicle No. 4) was scheduled for 05:35 in the morning local time on April 23. Later during the day, the Soyuz-2 (Vehicle No. 5) would be rolled out to the launch pad for its launch at 5:10 local time on April 24.

The final "pre-fueling" commission was to gather around mid-night from April 22 to April 23, followed by the beginning of the launch vehicle fueling at 24:00 local time. Cosmonauts were to board the spacecraft two hours before launch.

On April 19, Mishin recorded a criteria for canceling the launch of the second spacecraft. They included the failure of the Igla rendezvous system on the first Soyuz and, prophetically, its failure to deploy solar panels. Under latter situation, Mishin hoped to rely on batteries keeping the spacecraft alive for up to two days. (774)


Next chapter: Final decision to launch Soyuz-1



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The article and illustrations by Anatoly Zak

Last update: November 27, 2022

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Experienced pilots, Komarov and Gagarin argued for fully manual control during Soyuz rendezvous.



Soyuz 7K-OK spacecraft during pre-launch processing in Tyuratam.



Testing of the Krechet suit in the Soyuz simulator circa 1966. Credit: RGANTD