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

Post-flight analysis of the Soyuz-3 mission

While the Soviet press hailed the Soyuz-3 mission as a great success of the Soviet cosmonautics and the Kremlin was giving a hero's welcome to its pilot Georgy Beregovoi, behind the scene engineers sifted through data to determine what exactly had gone wrong during the botched rendezvous with Soyuz-2 and what improvements to make on the spacecraft to prevent such situation in the future.

Previous chapter: Landing of Soyuz-3

Post-landing operations


By the conclusion of the Soyuz-3 mission, investigators had a pretty good idea what had prevented the docking of the spacecraft with Soyuz-2.

After getting a report from General Kutasin about the successful landing of the Soyuz-3 spacecraft on October 30, head of the cosmonaut training Nikolai Kamanin told him to make sure that cosmonaut Georgy Beregovoi would get back to the Tyuratam launch site on the same day by 18:00. Kamanin himself, along with other officials got on a plane and left the mission control station in Crimea for Tyuratam around 14:00. On the plane, officials were cheering and congratulating each other on the safe landing. While in the air, Kamanin got assurances from Kerimov (who chaired the State Commission) and from Vasily Mishin, head of the TsKBEM design bureau, that during the upcoming formal meeting of the commission members with Beregovoi, nobody would ask the cosmonaut the embarrassing question "why did the docking not take place?"

When they finally reunited with Beregovoi in Tyuratam, Kamanin remembers the cosmonaut exchanging kisses with Mishin and Kerimov and "almost strangling" him in his hugs.

Shortly after his return to the launch site, Beregovoi attended a "press-conference" for 12 selected representatives of the Soviet media and official photographers. Chairman of the State Commission Kerim Kerimov opened the event with the following introduction: "The report about this mission will be issued at one point and all who are interested in its details will be able to learn them from that report. The main thing that I can say for now is that the task was completed, and it was completed perfectly. We had no issues with the flight."

Head of TsKBEM design bureau Vasily Mishin followed up: "During the flight of Soyuz-2 and Soyuz-3, all the technology worked perfectly. I have to tell the same about the cosmonaut as well." The chorus of lower rank specialists continued that theater with endless praises for the cosmonaut, which were then published in the Soviet press hailing the successes of the mission. (848)

Beregovoi speaks

On Oct. 31, 1968, at 10:00, barely a day after his landing, Beregovoi met the members of the State Commission in Tyuratam. First of all, Beregovoi complained about having had too little time training for the actual flight program, which he wished would have been ready at least a month before launch, "so we could live through it and debate." (466) He then described an unpleasant (shaking) of the spacecraft at the moment of fairing separation during his ride to orbit. Right after the fairing came off, the spacecraft window fogged in. When the spacecraft separated (from the upper stage), Beregovoi saw numerous moving particles. The antenna (of the Igla system?) was producing a significant glare, (774) apparently creating a distraction in the viewfinder of the periscope in darkness.

Beregovoi then addressed the "elephant in the room" of the botched rendezvous attempt, which was quoted in Kamanin's diaries:

The rendezvous of the (two) spacecraft went normally from a distance of 11,000 to 200 meters. At 200 meters, I began manual control. The ships came to a distance of 30-40 meters and at that point, I clearly saw that lights of Soyuz-2 were forming a trapezoid and I struggled (or "rushed," according to Chertok) to drive them into a single line.

Chertok then quoted Beregovoi as saying that the trapezoid (formed by navigation lights) on Soyuz-2 appeared to be expanding in size, instead of folding, as he maneuvered Soyuz-3. Both Mishin and Chertok also quoted the cosmonaut as admitting that he had not realized right away that he had to bank the spacecraft 180 degrees for the correct approach to Soyuz-2. (774)

I realized that the docking would not take place and decided to hang on and wait for dawn (while station-keeping relative to the target spacecraft). On the lit side of the Earth, (I) saw the Soyuz-2 ship (between) 30 and 40 meters away. The courses of the ships were off by 30 degrees. I made an attempt to approach Soyuz-2, but upon the further movement, the misalignment in the course had only increased.

(I) decided to consult with the command center during the overflight of the USSR and to image the Soyuz-2 spacecraft.

When I unbuckled and was reaching for a photo-camera (in the bag), I touched the control handle either with a seatbelt or with my feet. I only noticed that the handle was in the position of propellant expenditure, when more than 30 kilograms had already been spent. (820)

In addition, the accidental firing of thrusters apparently caused the tumbling of the spacecraft. Beregovoi complained that even without an accidental touching, the control handle of the motion control system, SOUD, was too sensitive to the slightest movement, making it difficult not to overuse propellant.

Chertok remembers Beregovoi estimating that at the beginning of the station-keeping process with Soyuz-2, the pressure indicator of the attitude control system was showing 160 atmospheres and that he had accidentally wasted around 30 atmospheres.

He suggested that the hand controller should be re-designed to give it some level of non-responsiveness and resistance at the start of its motion by a pilot. (774, 466)

Beregovoi described several other factors which contributed to his unfortunate situation, first off all, the effects of weightlessness:

During the first day of the flight, when not buckled up, there was a feeling of the head being pushed back. With fast movement of the head, there were unpleasant feelings even when strapped on. In the final days, I had no such feelings. (820)

Beregovoi recommended that in the future the pilot be given at least half a day in orbit before scheduling extensive maneuvering in order to avoid his/her delayed reaction due to the adverse effects of weightlessness. (774, 466) Beregovoi also said that the Volga simulator used to train pilots did not provide a good representation of the flight. "We were thought to compensate for a minor deviation of the spacecraft along the roll axis, but here, the passive vehicle turned out to be upside down almost 180 degrees," Beregovoi said, "We were not trained for this. Only now they are telling me that I had to watch for the position of the main Igla antenna. On the simulator that antenna is not represented." (466)

Beregovoi provided many other comments about his experience and made a number of other suggestions for the improvements of the spacecraft:

  • Fogging of the right-hand window (of the Descent Module) on the exterior of the spacecraft and the presence of some dust between the layers of glass;
  • The (interior) of the Descent Module itself was too dusty, especially during the modules' separation and one ionized bolt fell out during the descent;
  • The module was vibrating near the sound barrier.

Beregovoi also criticized the onboard photo and movie camera as well as the tape recorder.

Hero's welcome in Moscow

On Nov. 1, 1968, at 08:50, Georgy Beregovoi, accompanied by Kamanin and other officials, departed Tyuratam for Moscow aboard an Ilyushin-18 aircraft. Upon landing at 13:45 at Vnukovo airport, they were met with a typical gloomy and cold November weather, but it did not prevent the Soviet officials from organizing a full-blown red-carpet ceremony on the tarmac of the airport, matching the arrival of Gagarin after his historic flight aboard Vostok in April 1961.

Beregovoi was greeted by the Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, his fellow cosmonauts Andriyan Nikolaev, Pavel Belyaev, and Valentina Tereshkova, and other dignitaries.

The ceremony at the airport was followed with a limousine ride to Moscow and a reception in the Kremlin.

The Soviet leaders also bestowed Beregovoi with all the usual honors reserved for pioneering cosmonauts, including Hero of the Soviet Union, the highest award in the USSR, (which was the second for Beregovoi). The cosmonaut also got another Order of Lenin, and the rank of Major General, which was actually the first for any flown cosmonaut!

Beregovoi, accompanied by Kamanin, also gave a carefully choreographed and rehearsed TV interview. Once again, everything was done to hide any sign of problems in orbit, let alone the notion of a botched flight. (848)

Shifting the blame

By his own admission, Kamanin urged Beregovoi not to take the blame for the problems in flight. Beregovoi apparently took that advice, at least during his informal technical meeting with the engineering management of the TsKBEM design bureau, among them Mishin, Feoktistov, Chertok, Syromyatnikov and Legostaev. The event apparently took place on Nov. 16, 1968, at 12:00.

Although by that time engineers had already compiled a fairly good picture of the docking fiasco, Beregovoi, emboldened by his political immunity, went on the offensive, at least as remembered by one leading engineer behind the Soyuz spacecraft Valentin Babkov.

In Bobkov's interpretation of the meeting, Beregovoi made some rather bizarre and hilarious arguments, even though they echoed his previous complaints, but in a less grotesque way. "I have big questions toward for the comrades responsible for the design of the flight control system," Beregovoi reportedly said, "What kind of flight control handle is that? I had no feeling for it at all! I am a battlefield pilot and know how important it is to have a feel for your controller. It is as if a chauffeur driving the Volga (the biggest Soviet sedan) was required to drive a toy pedal car with a toy steering wheel! Also, why was there so little peroxide (attitude control propellant). Couldn't you pour more in there? If I had a cistern of peroxide, I would have certainly completed this docking!"

To add an insult to injury, Beregovoi presented Mishin with a TV camera, which he had ripped off the wall of the Habitation Module, clearly by applying a great deal of force based on the appearance of the damaged connection cables, which could potentially cause a short circuit aboard the spacecraft. Even worse, Beregovoi had kept the camera on his lap during the reentry and landing, to the horror of dynamics specialists who only then realized that the bulky device could have shifted the center of mass of the capsule with catastrophic results.

Perhaps admitting his awkward situation, Beregovoi tried to end the meeting on a humble note: "I, of course, understand, that I am the oldest and it is necessary to clear the road for the young. But I would like to thank all those who gave me an opportunity to make a space flight... Maybe this is because I have eyebrows as those of Brezhnev (then Soviet leader). (There were many fables within the industry about Beregovoi's resemblance to Brezhnev) (848)

Laundry list of issues

Despite a very critical attitude toward Beregovoi's performance from Bobkov, Feoktistov and, probably some other engineers, Mishin wrote down many suggestions from the hapless cosmonaut during the November 16 meeting. Mishin clearly considered these notes important enough to refer the list of issues to his key associates Bushuev, Korzhenevsky and Topol. Beregovoi comments focused on the contamination of the ship's windows and other obstructions to observations, as well as flight control issues and problems during ascent and reentry.

Window contamination and other visibility issues:

  • There was not a total dust cover (on the glass) but rather patches of particles less than one millimeter in size that were sparkling in sunlight;
  • More particles accumulated over time;
  • The activation of the DKD engine did not affected the accumulation of dust on the glass;
  • There was a lot of dust between the window layers;
  • Knocking from the inside caused more particles to separate from the exterior (of the spacecraft);
  • During the passive flight, the particles were rarely seen;
  • Particles were seen after the firing of the DO (attitude control) thrusters;
  • Fogging of the windows on the exterior was observed right after the payload fairing separation;
  • There were frost-like crystals on the exterior of windows in the Habitation Module facing the sun;
  • The antenna and solar panels shone (too much);
  • There was a lot of dust and dirt, especially at separation of the Descent Module at reentry;
  • The fan drives a lot of dust and needs a filter.


  • On the night side, the Earth can be seen through the window;
  • On the night side, the stars and constellations are easily observed, even near the Moon;
  • At night, city streets, lit billboards and other things like that are visible;
  • The horizon is also easily visible on the night side;
  • The sky has a dirty gray color;
  • The wakes of the ships at sea are very well visible;
  • Airports are very well seen, including runways and taxiways.

Flight control:

  • It is possible to orient the spacecraft using windows (two in the Descent Module and one in the Habitation Module) without the use of the VSK periscope;
  • The VSK periscope gets a lot of glare from the Sun;
  • It is good idea to increase the size of windows, because the spacecraft is blind;
  • Spin stabilization distracts the work, but reduces dust contamination; One feels better during spinning, ("acting as" artificial gravity);
  • It is necessary to give some time for the adaptation of the cosmonaut after launch, due to some delayed reaction at the beginning (of the flight);
  • For (more comfortable) flight control, seat belts are needed in the abdominal area;
  • The hand controller needs some free movement. The spacecraft is too sensitive to the initial movement of the handle. There should be some resistance in the handle;
  • The spacecraft is better than the simulator;
  • The KSU (display console) is inconvenient and does not provide a good picture of the flight;
  • The light signals (on the display console) are not satisfactory, the lights (representing various operations) should remain on (during their respective actions);
  • The (integrated light indicator), KEI, is inconvenient for work. If the cosmonaut is tasked to monitor parameters, (he/she) would need a good indicator system.

Flight events:

  • Very unpleasant feeling during fairing separation (during ascent), triggering low-frequency vibrations;
  • After jettisoning of the parachute cover (during the descent), smoke appeared in the Descent Module.


Final verdict

The investigation into the failed docking between Soyuz-2 and -3 established without much doubt that the entire automated rendezvous process had worked as planned, however by the time Beregovoi switched to manual control, there had been some minor mismatch in the position of two ships along the roll axis. Instead of a slight roll maneuver, which would re-align the pair, Beregovoi banked the spacecraft so much that it ended up upside down relative to the main axis of its target. Likely disoriented by poor visibility, and/or confused by the position of lights on the target ship, Beregovoi pressed ahead with the rendezvous. However, the automated stabilization system on Soyuz-2 detected the error and correctly commanded the ship to yaw in order to avoid docking in the wrong orientation. (That's what Beregovoi clearly observed as a "deviation" from the correct course.)

Beregovoi then performed a propellant-consuming flyaround of Soyuz-2 and rushed to another rendezvous attempt, again overusing the propellant.

Specialists checked and ruled out the possibility that the navigation lights on the Soyuz-2 could have been erroneously installed in wrong positions.

A number of factors could have contributed to Beregovoi's disorientation during docking: limited visibility, too much work load on a single pilot, the lack of communications with mission control. The Volga simulator used to train Soyuz pilots was also cited as inadequate for rendezvous practice.

However, during the simulations, Beregovoi (who happened to be the oldest member of the cosmonaut team) was known to underperform, when compared to his younger classmates. The training records showed that Beregovoi had consistently earned lower test scores than Vladimir Shatalov and Boris Volynov.

During the "integrated" (final) training around a month before the flight, Beregovoi scored "3", while Shatalov and Volynov got solid "5's". During the second such session, instructors "pulled" Beregovoi's score to "4", while Volynov and Shatalov again got their "fives." Only during the final theoretical exam, did Beregovoi finally score "5". (848)

All these details became publicly known only in the 1990s.

Needless to say, Beregovoi would never be allowed to pilot a spacecraft again, but he would continue working at the Cosmonaut Training Center for many years.

Behind the scene, engineers working on the Soyuz project could comfort themselves with the thought that the second-generation Soviet spacecraft had carried a cosmonaut into space and, finally, successfully returned him back to Earth two years after the beginning of flight tests. The engineering team also accumulated great experience in flight control. However, the overall Soviet human space flight effort approached a critical point in the Moon Race. In October 1968, three NASA astronauts successfully completed the Apollo-7 mission in the Earth's orbit, which gave the US space agency enough confidence to prepare the next Apollo crew for a flight into the lunar orbit ahead of the USSR.

Next chapter: Zond-6: the USSR presses ahead with circumlunar spacecraft test


Want to take a look behind the scene of the latest space flight effort?
Subscribe to our Insider Content section!


Bookmark and Share

The article and illustrations by Anatoly Zak; Last update: November 14, 2018

Page editor: Alain Chabot; Last edit: November 6, 2018

All rights reserved



insider content

Want to take a look behind the scene of the latest space flight effort?
Subscribe to our Insider Content section!



red carpet

Beregovoi walks on the red carpet at Vnukovo airport on Nov. 1, 1968, after returning Moscow from the Soyuz-3 mission. Credit: Roskosmos



At the tarmac of Vnukovo airport in Moscow, Beregovoi reports to the Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev the successful completion of the Soyuz-3 flight. Credit: Roskosmos


Beregovoi greets well-wishers during his triumphant return to Moscow.


Beregovoi (left) and Kamanin during a press-conference after the completion of the Soyuz-3 flight.