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

Choosing the Soyuz-3 pilot

After the approval of the 0+1 flight scenario, there was the obvious contentious question of who would pilot the "active" ship intended to dock with the automated target vehicle. Head of cosmonaut training Nikolai Kamanin pushed for Georgy Beregovoi, a prolific test pilot and the oldest member of the Soviet cosmonaut team. Beregovoi had served under Kamanin as a pilot of the Il-2 anti-tank aircraft during World War II.

Previous chapter: Planning Soyuz-2,-3 mission


Beregovoi (left) talks to Kamanin (center).

The cosmonaut training was put on hold for around a month in the wake of the Soyuz-1 tragedy in April 1967. Komarov's backup Yuri Gagarin, who was too politically important after his pioneering flight aboard Vostok in 1961, was barred from further space flight training. (In a tragic irony, the authorities neglected keeping Gagarin from aircraft training flights, one of which took his life.)

To replace Gagarin and Komarov, the Air Force formed new prospective Soyuz crews on May 23, 1967:

  • Crew 1: Georgy Beregovoi, Valery Bykovsky, Evgeny Khrunov, Aleksei Yeliseyev;
  • Crew 2: Boris Volynov, Andriyan Nikolaev, Viktor Gorbatko, Valery Kubasov;
  • Crew 3: Georgy Shonin, Vladimir Shatalov, Petr Kolodin, Vladimir Volkov.

At the same time the State Commission overseeing the Soyuz flight testing also received an official application for cosmonaut training from Konstantin Feoktistov, who in addition to designing the Soyuz, already had space flight experience and had the support of Vasily Mishin, the head of TsKBEM design bureau, among other influential figures within the industry. As usual, Nikolai Kamanin, who oversaw the cosmonaut training on behalf of the Air Force saw Feoktistov's endeavor as an encroachment of civilians into the prestigious military domain.

Citing Feoktistov's health problems, Kamanin blocked him from formal training with the rest of the group, which started in June 1967. At the same time, Feoktistov still began preparations for the flight using TsKBEM's own extensive infrastructure.

From the fall of 1967 and up to January 1968, Bykovsky, Khrunov, Volynov, Nikolaev, Gorbatko and Shonin were taking their exams and defended their diplomas at the Zhukovsky Air Force Academy, so cosmonaut training was on hold during that period. The training resumed in February 1968, but by that time, Bykovsky had moved to the L1 project, leading to another crew reshuffle:

  • Crew 1: Beregovoi, Volynov, Khrunov, Yeliseyev;
  • Crew 2: Shonin, Nikolaev, Gorbatko, Kubasov;
  • Crew 3: Shatalov, Filipchenko, Kolodin, Volkov.

Under pressure from the industry, Kamanin also let Feoktistov join Beregovoi's group for training.

On June 10, 1968, State Commission officially confirmed the long-debated flight program for the Soyuz project, including one unpiloted solo launch, followed by the dual flight of one automated and one piloted Soyuz ship (Mission 0+1). Only then, would two piloted ships be allowed to rendezvous with one pilot in the first and three cosmonauts in the second vehicle (Mission 1+3). At the same meeting, Kamanin recommended Beregovoi as the primary pilot for the 0+1 mission, with Volynov and Shatalov as his backups. Kamanin also recommended Volynov, Shonin, Khrunov and Yeliseyev, as the primary crew for the 1+3 mission and Shatalov, Filipchenko, Gorbatko and Kubasov as their backups.

Nikolaev and Feoktistov were excluded from all crews, because the Soviet officials believed that they could not afford risking the lives of these veteran cosmonauts who were major international public figures, unlike other anonymous trainees.

The Military Industrial Commission, VPK, approved these crew assignments on July 22, 1968, and the full-scale preparation for the mission started at the beginning of August.

On Sept. 15, 1968, the Cosmonaut Training center held an integrated dress rehearsal of a one-day flight inside the Volga simulator. Ironically, Beregovoi scored "satisfactory" during the simulation, while his younger colleagues, Volynov and Shatalov got "good" and "excellent" respectively.

The flight simulation was repeated again on September 24, and that time, Beregovoi got "good" score, while Volynov and Shatalov both got "excellent." Finally, after the third try on September 27, specialists gave "excellent" to all three cosmonaut candidates. (231)

Some members of the State Commission and cosmonauts reportedly opposed Beregovoi's candidacy, but Kamanin still prevailed.

Like Komarov before him, Beregovoi now had the daunting task of piloting a largely brand-new spacecraft through the first manual docking maneuvers without any assistance either onboard or from the ground, because the final docking would fall not only into the shade of the Earth, but also would be performed out of range of Soviet ground control stations. (848)

Bookmark and Share

The article and illustrations by Anatoly Zak; Last update: October 26, 2018

Page editor: Alain Chabot; Last edit: October 26, 2018

All rights reserved

insider content



Beregovoi during an official cosmonaut selection interview. Credit: Roskosmos




Beregovoi during general cosmonaut training. Credit: Roskosmos


Beregovoi during training inside Soyuz.


Beregovoi is training to work with a camera inside the habitation module of the Soyuz spacecraft.