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Soyuz-4 lands successfully

Following the undocking between the two spacecraft on Jan. 16, 1969, Soyuz-4 made a picture-perfect landing on the morning of the following day.

Previous chapter: Cosmonauts "spacewalk" from Soyuz-5 to Soyuz-4

Soyuz-4 and Soyuz-5 complete joint flight


After 4 hours 33 minutes and 49 seconds in a joint flight, Soyuz-4 and -5 parted on Jan. 16, 1969, and both crews began preparations for landing.

Once again, mission control had an opportunity to monitor the undocking live during a communications window from 15:54 to 16:03 Moscow Time, during the 37th orbit of the mission for Soyuz-4. (774) According to the official Soviet announcement, the undocking took place at 15:55 Moscow Time.

After making a swing around the planet, the both ships again flew within range of Soviet ground stations from 17:26 to 17:35 Moscow Time, during the 38th orbit, before entering a long period of "deaf" orbits, lasting until 03:33 Moscow Time on January 17. (774)

The official rest period for the cosmonauts on both ships started on January 16 at 18:30 Moscow Time. According to a public announcement, Khrunov and Yeliseev slept in the Habitation Module of the Soyuz-4 spacecraft, while Shatalov stayed in the Descent Module. In the meantime, Volynov slept in the Habitation Module of Soyuz-5.

As late as January 17, the cosmonauts were reportedly able to maintain communications between the two ships.

January 17: Soyuz-4 returns to Earth

At 16:00 on January 16, Kamanin chaired a meeting on recovery operations in support of Soyuz-4's return to Earth. The officials approved the landing during the 49th orbit of the Soyuz-4 mission on Jan. 17, 1969. The Descent Module was scheduled to touch down near the city of Karaganda in Kazakhstan at 09:40 Moscow Time. (820)

Mishin recorded the following timeline for the conclusion of the Soyuz-4 flight on January 17:

Beginning of the orbit
Communications window opens
Communications window ends
Orbit 45
03:30 Moscow Time
03:33 Moscow Time*
Orbit 46
05:00 Moscow Time
Orbit 47
06:30 Moscow Time
Orbit 48
08:00 Moscow Time
07:58 Moscow Time
08:18 Moscow Time
Orbit 49
09:30 Moscow Time
09:26 Moscow Time
09:49 Moscow Time

*According to official announcement

When preparing for the braking maneuver scheduled for 09:10:48 Moscow Time (during the 48th orbit of the mission), ground stations received telemetry indicating that the ion orientation system aboard Soyuz-4 had failed to activate. Shortly thereafter, Shatalov also said that the "Ion flow" signal had not lit up on his control console inside the Descent Module. If the spacecraft was not able to orient itself for the braking engine firing, the landing would have to postponed for at least one orbit. However, controllers remembered a similar glitch at the conclusion of the Soyuz-3 mission, when Georgy Beregovoi experienced a three-minute delay in the signal confirming the operation of the ion system. Sure enough, after a few torturous seconds of silence, Shatalov radioed: "(Now) everything is good, everything is good!"

Officials had a sigh of relief that Soyuz-4 was on its way to Earth, but the spacecraft was to be greeted with Mars-like conditions. The temperature in the landing region was minus 30 degrees, fortunately with mild winds only and clear skies. The flatlands around Karaganda were blanketed with a cover of snow between 60 and 80 centimeters thick. Officials now worried about frostbites, so Kamanin instructed the crew not to leave the Descent Module until the arrival of the first search and rescue helicopter. (820)

After the nominal braking maneuver, the Descent Module with the crew separated from the Habitation Module and the Instrument Compartment at 09:22:52 Moscow Time.

Seven minutes later, the capsule hit the dense atmosphere and began its aerodynamic descent at 09:29:43 Moscow Time. (774) The parachute was released at 09:35:30 Moscow Time.

Unusually, even before the Soviet Krug radio system detected the capsule, General Kutasin announced that two of his search aircraft were following the Pritok radio beacon, which would normally be heard around 12 or 15 minutes after the parachute release, when the capsule was already on the ground.

Upon hearing this news, many officials at the command center were ready to celebrate, but Mishin warned them that the touchdown 15 minutes ahead of schedule could not possibly be normal. Kamanin immediately called Kutasin and asked how it was possible that he could hear Pritok signals ahead of the confirmation from the Krug network. Kutasin only responded that "everything goes as planned," without elaborating that he had confused voice transmissions from Shatalov via a small UHF antenna in the Descent Module (while it was still in the air), which were picked up by a search aircraft, with the post-landing radio navigation beacon.


Soyuz-4 with Shatalov, Khrunov and Yeliseev onboard made a successful landing on Jan. 17, 1969, around 09:53 Moscow Time, 40 kilometers northwest of Karaganda. (820) From Mishin's notes, it appears that the landing was scheduled at 09:55 Moscow Time, but could take place as late as 10:03 Moscow Time. The Descent Module remained in vertical position after the landing, probably thanks to the low winds.

The touchdown point was determined to be 49 degrees 58 minutes North latitude and 72 degrees 39 minutes East longitude. (774)

Yeliseev and Khrunov spent a total one day, 23 hours in space, becoming the first space travelers flying two different spacecraft on a single mission. Shatalov logged two days, 23 hours 20 minutes during the Soyuz-4 mission. (231)

Kamanin noted the excellent performance by Shatalov during all phases of the flight: he accomplished all his flight tasks, kept ground control very well informed in his actions and his excellent maneuvering skills resulted in considerable propellant savings aboard Soyuz-4.

The soft-landing system worked well and after the touchdown, Shatalov immediately reported the successful landing.

Rescue helicopters quickly reached the capsule. Just five minutes after the landing of the first helicopter, the cosmonauts were already dressed in heavy winter clothing delivered by rescue specialists.

Around 10:30 Moscow Time, just 25 minutes after the landing, helicopters delivered Shatalov, Khrunov and Yeliseev to Karaganda. They went to the Chaika hotel before a planned departure for Tyuratam at 14:00. (774)

However, while they shaved, had a snack, medical checkup and a meeting with the official press, the departure had to be delayed. The crew accompanied by General Goreglyad departed Karaganda for Tyuratam aboard an Antonov-24 at 16:24 Moscow Time. (820)

Next chapter: Soyuz-5 landing

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The article and illustrations by Anatoly Zak; Last update: January 21, 2019

Page editor: Alain Chabot; Last edit: January 16, 2018

All rights reserved



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Soyuz-4 undocks from Soyuz-5 on Jan. 16, 1969.


A member of search and rescue team throws a warm jacket to Vladimir Shatalov, who just emerged from the Descent Module of the Soyuz-4 spacecraft after its landing in Kazakhstan on Jan. 17, 1969.


Members of the Soyuz-4 crew after landing and rescue specialists after landing.