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Preparing joint mission of Soyuz-4 and -5

In the intervening time since Beregovoi's landing aboard Soyuz-3, the newly approved crews for Soyuz-4 and -5 went through simulations of all phases of the flight, took the final exams formally concluding their training, went through medical checks, including spinning on the centrifuge and made several trips to the Zvezda factory, responsible for life support systems, where they did fit checks of their personal spacesuits, flotation and survival gear, flight chairs and clothing. The also participated in the meetings of the State Commission and in a conference with the official press.

Previous chapter: Flight scenario of the Soyuz-4 and -5


Crew members of the joint Soyuz mission (left to right): Aleksei Yeliseev and Yevgeny Khrunov, who launched aboard Soyuz-5 and transferred to Soyuz-4 for the trip back to Earth; Vladimir Shatalov, the pilot of Soyuz-4 and Boris Volynov, who piloted Soyuz-5.

Building Soyuz-4 and -5

The assembly of 7K-OK No. 12 and No. 13 spacecraft was underway in 1967. According to notes by the Chief Designer of the TsKBEM design bureau Vasily Mishin made in May, the completion of their assembly was planned for before the end of 1967. Along with the rest of the Soyuz project, the planned joint mission was slipping during 1968, reaching the November-December launch period by June of that year. It looks like in July 1968 the ships were finally set for shipment to the launch site in September and October.

The first meeting of the State Commission overseeing the launches of Vehicles No. 12 and No. 13 appears in Mishin's notes on Nov. 27, 1968. By that time, the dual launch had slipped into 1969. In his final records of 1968, Mishin lists plans for conducting the launches of Soyuz-4 and 5 spacecraft between Jan. 7 and Jan. 29, 1969. (774)

Final preparations

On the eve of the departure for the launch site in January 1969, Yeliseev, and probably other candidates for the flight, were allowed to make short visits home to see their wives and mothers, but only accompanied by flight surgeons. They were not allowed to divulge any details about their upcoming flight, but their closest family members obviously understood that they were in the final stages of training for the flight. (849)

On Jan. 3, 1969, a group of Air Force medics and engineers departed for Tyuratam aboard an Il-14 aircraft, followed the next day, by a pair of An-24 transports with the primary and backup crews. Aboard one aircraft, head of cosmonaut training Nikolai Kamanin and veterans of previous flights, Beregovoi and Yegorov, accompanied the primary group of cosmonauts: Shatalov, Volynov, Khrunov and Yeliseev. A total of 50 members of the Air Force personnel were dispatched to the launch site to support the preparations of the crew.

Despite severe winter weather in Kazakhstan, with temperatures falling to minus 25 or even 30 degrees with huge piles of snow and strong wind, the Tyuratam test range was bustling with the activity of the escalating Moon Race. In addition to a pair of Soyuz 7K-OK ships going through final tests at Site 31, an 8K78M (Molniya) rocket was counting down to liftoff at Site 1, with the V-69 No. 330 probe bound to Venus. In the meantime, at the heart of the test range, a giant N1 Moon rocket was in the final stages of processing for its first test launch. Simultaneously, on the western flank of Tyuratam, Site 81 was awaiting another attempt to launch the unmanned L1 vehicle on a test mission around the Moon.

As usual, the Chairman of the State Commission Kerim Kerimov greeted the arriving cosmonauts at the Krainy airfield. Along with him were the senior designer of the Soyuz spacecraft Aleksei Topol, key test specialists Yurasov and Voitenko, General Sheulov, Varshavsky and other officials. In Tyuratam, the cosmonauts were housed inside a special compound at Site 17 of the test range.

On the night after their arrival, Kamanin and TsKBEM engineers discussed the familiarization training of the cosmonauts in the flight-worthy Soyuz spacecraft scheduled for the next day. (820) This time, Kamanin had an additional concern about contacts of cosmonauts with the personnel at the site, because of a few cases of flu and common cold. The conditions of Siberian winter in Tyuratam were further exacerbated because barracks for conscript soldiers and hotels for rank-and-file technical personnel were poorly heated. Even worse, at the launch pads, soldiers and officers had no protection from the brutal weather at all. According to Kamanin, in the first five days of January, six members of the military died of frostbite, including four officers who ventured on a hunting trip.

On Jan. 5, 1969, at 09:26 Moscow Time, the Venera-69 probe lifted off without a hitch despite minus 23-degree cold, freeing Site 1 for the rollout of Vehicle No. 13 (Soyuz-5) spacecraft. On the same day, the eight members of primary and backup crews conducted final training aboard the all-but-ready vehicles No. 12 and and 13 inside the processing building at Site 31.

Soviet officials also got news from the US that the launch of the Apollo-9 spacecraft was set for Feb. 28, 1969, aiming to test all the components of the lunar expedition in the Earth's orbit. Kamanin and others also read a statement from NASA's Acting Administrator Thomas O'Paine promising the first two expeditions to the surface of the Moon during the same year and one more lunar landing in 1970. Kamanin wrote in his diary that he still wasn't so sure about the American lunar landing in 1969, however, he admitted that there should have been no doubt in the US beating the USSR to the Moon. "Only a string of major failures on their side and continuous successes on our side could even the chances," Kamanin wrote, "However, the practice of the last three years shows that we have more failures," he concluded.

Landing controversy

On Jan. 7, 1969, Kamanin and General Kutasin, who was in charge of search and rescue operations, discussed the option of delaying the return of the Soyuz spacecraft from the first daylight orbit on the landing day to the second revolution, because during the first orbit, the descent trajectory was crossing the Aral Sea shortly before the touchdown. Kutasin was weary of repeating the situation during the third test flight of the Soyuz spacecraft, which concluded with the sinking of the Descent Module in the Aral Sea. However, the chances of landing there this time were calculated to be only 0.003 and during that time of the year most of the Arals was covered with ice. The remaining unfrozen body of water was easily "covered" by five available helicopters and a Beriev-12 amphibious aircraft. Another factor against shifting the landing was the need to cut an already short 7.5-hour daylight period at that time of year.

The debate over the landing time continued into January 8, when Kamanin discussed the issue with Lt. General Rybalko, the Commander of the 73rd Air Army and his deputy General Dolgushin. Both officers assured Kamanin that they had had enough aircraft and personnel to conduct safe rescue operations in the Aral Sea. They did admit, however, that lifting the capsule out of the water with a 60-meter line might be difficult, because the rotor from the heavy Mi-6 helicopter whips up meter-high waves.

Dolgushin who personally surveyed the expected landing path from an Il-14 aircraft told Kamanin that the whole area, where the ground track of the landing orbit was crossing the Aral Sea was covered with ice between 12 and 50 centimeters thick. Kamanin asked Rybalko to get all his fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters and motor boats ready for operation in the Aral and advised Dolgushin to conduct daily surveillance of ice conditions at sea.

Kamanin also held an additional meeting with the crew on survival in severe cold and authorized the cosmonauts to take additional helmet, undergarments, gloves and protective glasses. The crews also discussed the use of already available equipment including winter shoes, diving suits and garments.

According to Kamanin, all cosmonauts also favored a return to Earth during the first daylight orbit of the on the landing day.

Final countdown

Also on January 8, another wave of industry and military officials, including nine Air Force generals and half a dozen deputies of ministers poured into Tyuratam, though Kamanin believed that all the operations at the launch site could be accomplished without a half of them. (820)

Many top managers traveled to Tyuratam not only to watch the launch, but also to participate in a crucial meeting of the State Commission on the N1/L3 vehicle, which was held on Jan. 9, 1969, at Site 112.

In the meantime, the flu continued spreading around Tyuratam and on January 9 and 10, Deputy Minister of Defense Industry Mordasov had to be urgently sent back to Moscow and General N.F. Kuznetsov was put in quarantine. Kamanin ordered General Karpov to prepare a letter to the Central Committee to authorize relocation of the post-flight medical checks of the cosmonauts from Tyuratam to Moscow. It would also mean that officials deployed in the main ground control station in the Crimea during the Soyuz missions would go directly to Moscow after the landing, bypassing Tyuratam. The letter needed signatures from Afanasiev (Minister of General Machine-building), Petrovsky (Health Minister) and Grechko (Minister of Defense) and it appears that this change was never approved.

January 10

On January 10, at 08:51 Moscow Time another Venera probe successfully lifted off from Tyuratam on a mission to Venus.

On the same day, Kamanin also had two telephone discussions with Marshall Vershinin, the Commander of the Air Force, asking him to authorize equipping Mi-4 helicopters with skies (for search and rescue operations during Soyuz landings.) Kamanin also asked for 12 sets of flight clothing, so that each of the four helicopters involved in the search would have change of clothing for all three crew members onboard. Vershinin approved both requests.

Kamanin also held a meeting with his Air Force subordinates, Goreglyad, Beregovoi, Karpov, Kryshkevich, Khlebnikov, Moiseenko, Nikeryasov and Vashenko. He prohibited any further contacts of the cosmonauts with any outside persons and directed them to reduce meetings with reporters and photographers to a minimum. He reprimanded Beregovoi and Krushkevich for what he perceived as the relaxation of the cosmonauts' regime. (820)

At 17:00, the State Commission on the Soyuz project met at Site 31 and set the launch of Soyuz-4 for January 13, to be followed by Soyuz-5 around 24 hours later.

Vladimir Patrushev reported that 670 hours were spent at the launch site on the processing of Vehicle No. 12 and 700 hours were required for Vehicle No. 13. (774)

During the meeting, Ustinov and Afanasiev demanded that manual control be dropped from docking operations and to rely entirely on the automated system instead, but Mishin successfully deflected the idea to the great satisfaction of Kamanin. (820)

Most importantly, the commission authorized the rollout of the launch vehicle with Vehicle No. 12 to the launch pad at Site 31 the next morning.

January 11

At 7:30 in the morning, the rocket with Vehicle No. 12 began its trip to the launch pad at Site 31. (774)

The State Commission met again at 10:00 on January 11 to review the status of the N1 project, clearing the giant rocket for irreversible operations on January 13 and launch on February 18. In the meantime, the final meeting of the State Commission on the joint Soyuz flight took place on the evening of the same day at Site 17. Unlike others commission meetings, which had some practical significance, that was an entirely ceremonial and scripted event, complete with prepared speeches and official cameras. The gathering would formally approve the crews and "authorize" the two missions to proceed.

The event was scheduled for 18:00, but just 45 minutes before that time, when top officials were already gathering for the event, Kerimov telephoned from Site 31, (where Soyuz-4 was being prepared for launch) and asked that the opening be postponed for an hour. Because such high officials as Minister Afanasiev, Marshall Krylov (the commander of the Strategic Missile Forces), Mishin and other members were already in the building, the organizers scrambled to arrange the watching of a football match on TV between Moscow's Dinamo and the Soviet Army's Sports Club, TsSKA.

During the game, Afanasiev, with the help of Vladimir Barmin and General Karas', several times tried to convince Mishin to drop the manual rendezvous, but, again, to no avail.

Kerimov finally appeared at the conclusion of the game, (which the Muscovites lost 7:0) and said that a technical problem had been found on the launch vehicle with Soyuz-4, but that it was expected to be fixed within an hour and the meeting could still proceed.


Mishin opened the event and Kamanin introduced the primary and backup crew members, who were all approved without a hitch. Despite the total formality of such an "approval" under most circumstances, this time, Kamanin expressed a huge relief in his diary about the end of a tortuous road to the launch pad for Boris Volynov, the commander of Soyuz-5. A member of the original cosmonaut selection, Volynov had previously served as a backup on five space missions, but his assignment to the primary crew faced serious obstacles because he was Jewish (through his mother). Kamanin cited receiving openly antisemitic letters from the Central Committee demanding the withdrawal of Volynov from the crew even on the eve of the flight. (To his shock, Kamanin later learned from Mishin that one of the veteran cosmonauts went behind Kamanin's back to the Chief Designer's office and tried to convince Mishin to derail Volynov's candidacy.)

Fortunately, this time, everything went smoothly and Minister Afanasiev, Marshall Krylov and Col. General Ponomarev wished all the best to all the crew members. (820)

The launch of Vehicle No. 12 was set for 10:30 Moscow Time on Jan. 13, 1969.

After the event, Mishin talked to the cosmonauts and reminded them that after Beregovoi's fiasco with docking, he was under heavy pressure from all but Kerimov and Kamanin to rely solely on the automated system. Therefore, Mishin put his own and the pilots' reputation on the line by defending the manual docking. All four cosmonauts assured Mishin that they had no doubts in the success of the docking. (In a later one-on-one conversation with Shatalov, Kamanin told him not to hesitate to abandon manual docking and switch back to an automated system, in case of problems.)

January 12

On the morning of January 12, both crews participated in a "press-conference" with official Soviet media. The press pool included Yuri Fokin from Soviet TV, Sergei Borzenko from Pravda, (the mouthpiece of the Communist Party), Yuri Letunov from Soviet radio and Mikhail Rebrov, from the Krasnaya Zvezda, (the official daily of the Ministry of Defense.)

Kamanin struggled without much success to get his cosmonauts excited about this pretend press event and later remembered Yeliseev and Volynov not even trying to make a secret of their depressed mood. (820) Yeliseev apparently mentions the same event (but puts it on the evening of January 11) in his memoirs, remembering meaningless questions about their feelings from polite reporters who still looked very thankful and happy despite the cosmonauts' rather mumbling answers. (849)

In the meantime, on the morning of January 12, Soyuz No. 13 was rolled to the launch pad at Site 1. (774)

Also, on January 12, around 16:30, crews arrived at Site 31 where, the Soyuz-4 was being prepared for liftoff. Apparently due to the cold weather, the traditional meeting with launch personnel on the launch pad was moved to a nearby processing building. As usual, the event was complete with prepared speeches, flowers and even poetry reading. Shatalov and Volynov personally thanked the launch personnel on behalf of all the cosmonauts.

The crews spent the rest of the day arranging their personal things at the hotel into two piles: the items they would need at the landing site and the rest of their belongings to be sent back to Moscow. In the evening, they made phone calls to their wives, but were not allowed to mention that the first liftoff had been scheduled for the next day. However, all the women were perfectly aware what those phone calls really meant. Only Yeliseev's mother, who developed heart problems on the eve of the flight, was told nothing. (849)


Next chapter: Soyuz-4 lifts off

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The article and illustrations by Anatoly Zak; Last update: January 16, 2019

Page editor: Alain Chabot; Last edit: January 14, 2018

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Yeliseev during training in a centrifuge.


Yeliseev during training inside a vacuum chamber.


Soyuz-4 and -5 crew during training (left to right): Yeliseev, Volynov, Khrunov and Shatalov.


Volynov during artificial weightlessness training aboard aircraft.


Volynov during training inside a Soyuz simulator.


Yeliseev and Khrunov in their spacewalk suits during training.


Modules of the Soyuz 7K-OK spacecraft undergo testing.



A Soyuz 7K-OK spacecraft with a passive docking port is being prepared for launch at the vehicle assembly building in Tyuratam.


Habitation Module of the 7K-OK spacecraft with a passive docking port.


The pre-flight "press-conference" of the Soyuz-4 and -5 crew with official "journalists."