Site news | Site map | About this site | About the author | Testimonials | Mailbox | ADVERTISE! | DONATE!

Soyuz-3 in orbit: "You make me run like a rabbit"

On October 29, Beregovoi was completing his final full day in orbit, highlighted by a live TV broadcast from orbit, as investigators on the ground delivered their first preliminary verdict on the causes of the spectacular failure of the docking between Soyuz-3 and Soyuz-2 on October 26, which immediately led to political recriminations.

Previous chapter: Landing of the Soyuz-2 spacecraft


Russian press announces the landing of Soyuz-2 and the continuation of the Soyuz-3's flight.

Following the landing of Soyuz-2 on Oct. 28, 1968, mission control could finally dedicate its full attention to Beregovoi and the completion of the Soyuz-3 flight.

After all the problems with the AO astro-orientation system and its star trackers on the unpiloted Soyuz-2, on October 28, mission control asked Beregovoi to try his own 45K sensors on Soyuz-3. He was instructed to immediately shut off the system, if the tracker failed to catch the star, so the spacecraft would not waste propellant. Beregovoi then reported that after finding the sun, the spacecraft made two turns around its own axis, but that the 45K had failed to lock onto the star and he had turned off the system. Mission control asked Beregovoi to try to find particular stars on the daylight side of the Earth with his own eyes, which he was able to do three times, but failed to tie any of them to a particular constellation. (820)

Mission control also asked Beregovoi to photograph the snow cover on the Earth's surface, to monitor glowing particles and photograph atmospheric layers. "You make me run like a rabbit," Beregovoi reportedly complained about all the assignments from the ground.

At 13:00 on October 28, mission control conducted a review of activities for Orbits 48, 49 and 50.

During Orbit 51, the pilot was scheduled to prepare for a manual attitude control exercise, known as RO, which would also be recorded by the onboard gyroscopic system, GSP. The RO orientation itself was conducted during Orbit 52 and it was followed by the manual activation of the DKD engine for orbit correction beyond the view of ground stations.

At 17:25, mission control conducted a post-landing review of ground control operations in Vehicle No. 11 (Soyuz-2) mission. (774)

From 15:17 to 15:30 Moscow Time during Orbit 52, the spacecraft flew within range of ground stations, which apparently allowed mission control to review the results of the orbit correction.

Mishin recorded following orbital parameters for the flight, which were very close to target:

Orbital period
88.78 minutes
88.81 minutes
Perigee (lowest point)
196.7 kilometers
199.4 kilometers
Apogee (highest point)
243.7 kilometers
244.2 kilometers

October 29: Preparations for landing of Soyuz-3

At 8:15 in the morning, mission control reviewed operations for Orbits 61, 62 and 63. In the meantime, preparations for landing were underway. General Kamanin conducted a meeting of the landing team, which delivered several reports on the status of the Soyuz-3 spacecraft and its pilot, on the ballistic calculations of the descent trajectory and a weather forecast for the landing zone. The landing was planned during 81st orbit of the Soyuz-3 flight on October 30. The planned touchdown area was located between 50 and 100 kilometers north of the city of Karaganda in Kazakhstan.

There was some concern about stormy conditions on the Aral and Caspian seas, even though both bodies of water were far short of the projected landing site. In the unlikely situation of the descent system, SUS, failure, which could lead the capsule with the cosmonaut into the Aral or the Caspian, Kamanin ordered a pre-deployment of helicopters on the shores and the preparation of vessels large enough to set sail under the conditions, which forced the grounding usual means of search and rescue at sea, such as Be-1 amphibious aircraft and small caters. (820)

In case the automated landing sequence would fail, mission control had Beregovoi prepare for a manual orientation for landing. The rehearsal began during the 62nd orbit of the mission, when the pilot had to put the spacecraft into the right position for a braking maneuver and keep it stable for the entire revolution around the Earth. When the spacecraft entered the communications range during 62nd orbit, it found Soyuz-3 in right attitude for the maneuver.

According to Mishin, during Orbit 63, the valves to the DO-2 subset of tanks were opened, apparently to make them available for further maneuvers of the spacecraft. The AO astro-orientation system aboard Soyuz was activated during Orbit 65 at 10:28:25 Moscow Time and during Orbit 66, the AO system successfully locked in on the star Sirius. (774) Then, at the assigned time, Beregovoi activated the orbit correction engine for a 3-second test firing. (820)

Mishin notes appeared to indicate that Soyuz-3 still had 19.5 kilograms of propellant in the DO sub-set of tanks (slightly more than estimated during Orbit 35), an unchanged 7.5 kilograms in the DPO sub-set and the potential for a 160-meters-per-second change in velocity for the SKDU system (only 10 meters per second less than in Orbit 35). Mishin also recorded that Beregovoi was in excellent shape, (774), though Kamanin noted that at one point a communications specialist ran to management with a panicking report that Beregovoi's pulse jumped to 150, which after additional checks was found to be within the normal 75-80 per minute. (820)

At 17:10 on October 29, mission control held a critical meeting on the final orbits and preparations for landing of the Soyuz-3 mission the next day. Mishin described the following expected timeline on October 30:

  • Orbit 77: Beregovoi to conduct a TV session with mission control documenting the transfer from the Habitation Module to the Descent Module;
  • Orbit 78: The preparation of key specifications for the descent process;
  • Orbit 79: Manual orientation and switch to the ion, IO, and infrared IKV, attitude control;
  • Orbit 80: Firing of the SKDU propulsion system for a braking maneuver, while maintaining attitude with the IO/IKV systems. The SKDU firing begins at 09:44:59 (on October 30); the 143-second firing was expected to slow down the spacecraft by 95 meters per second;
  • Orbit 81: Controlled aerodynamic descent and landing.

The ground stations in Sary Shagan (in Kazakhstan) and Ussuriisk (in the Soviet Far East) were expected to be the last in contact with the orbiting spacecraft before the braking maneuver.

At 10:12:12 Moscow Time, the Descent Module was expected to reach an altitude of seven kilometers above the surface under a parachute at a projected point of 50.4 degrees North latitude and 73 degrees East longitude, west of Karaganda.

Recriminations into failed docking begin

On the evening of October 29, investigators presented a preliminary review of the initial phase of the flight to the members of the State Commission and to the several cosmonauts. (466) From Mishin's notes it is clear that key rendezvous expert from TsKBEM Yevgeny Bashkin was delivering the results, (774) but Chief Designer of the Igla system Armen Mnatsakanyan also supported the data. (820) By that time, the specialists had completed the inspection of telemetry tapes and confirmed that one of the spacecraft was in upside down position. (774)

Kamanin, who was Beregovoi's main backer, admitted clear problems with his protege's explanations of the accident during TV sessions between Soyuz-3 and mission control. "For a long time, Beregovoi could not answer the question about the position of navigation lights (on the target ship)," Kamanin wrote, "We also saw on TV that he was a bit lost, he tried to find an answer in his journal, but when he failed to find it he said evasively: "the lights were as usual". Beregovoi clearly did not remember whether the blinking lights were at the bottom (and steady lights were at the top or another way around), Kamanin concluded. (820)

According to Chertok, by that time it was clear that the cosmonaut had made irreversible control errors, but Kamanin and the cosmonaut were categorically against formally blaming Beregovoi in the official conclusions of the investigation. (466)

Instead Kamanin, tried to shift the blame to hardware and organizational issues. "If even such an experienced test pilot as Beregovoi was unable to complete a manual docking, it means that the entire docking system is overly complex and "accomplishing" the docking is very difficult. (820)

That obviously did not sit well with Mishin, who Chertok remembers sharply confronting Kamanin, accusing the Cosmonaut Training Center of a less than serious approach toward training cosmonauts. Mishin quickly pivoted toward the old debate over the issue of who should pilot the spacecraft. "We don't need the (professional) pilots here; even our engineer could complete such a simple task," Chertok quoted Mishin as saying, "...And we can do away with all these parachute jumps."

Still, other influential members of the State Commission, including Head of Academy of Science Mstislav Keldysh, General Karas and the chairman of the commission Kerim Kerimov, who privately were agreeing with Mishin, preferred to avoid the confrontation. The majority agreed to direct the secretariat of the State Commission to come with a compromise wording in the final report which would not implicate the pilot. (466)

Broadcast from orbit


Beregovoi enters Habitation Module of the Soyuz-3 as seen in a TV broadcast on the ground.

During the 61st and 62nd orbit of the mission on October 29, Beregovoi conducted a live TV session from orbit, floating with the camera from the Descent Module to the Habitation Module, producing the first semblance of a tour of the spacecraft in orbit, which was later publicly broadcast on the Soviet TV.

Next chapter: Soyuz-3 returns to Earth


Read much more about the history of the Russian space program in a richly illustrated, large-format glossy edition:



Bookmark and Share

The article and illustrations by Anatoly Zak; Last update: November 5, 2018

Page editor: Alain Chabot; Last edit: October 31, 2018

All rights reserved



insider content



Georgy Beregovoi during training inside cockpit of the Soyuz spacecraft.



A view of the Earth's surface from a window of Soyuz-3 as seen in a TV broadcast on the ground. Credit: Roskosmos



Beregovoi works with a movie camera aboard Soyuz-3 as seen in a TV broadcast on the ground. Credit: Roskosmos