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Three Soyuz vehicles prepare to fly

The final launch campaign for the triple Soyuz mission began in Tyuratam on September 22, 1969, with the arrival of the cosmonaut team and the support personnel. Despite the worsening fall weather bringing strong winds and rain to the steppes of Kazakhstan, all three Soyuz spacecraft were ready for launch by the end of the day on October 10, 1969.


The crew of the Soyuz-7 spacecraft inside the Descent Module (left to right): Vladislav Volkov, Anatoly Filipchenko, and Viktor Gorbatko.

On September 22, 1969, at 15:00 Moscow Time, a pair of Tupolev-124 aircraft landed at Tyuratam airfield with the three Soyuz crews, their backups, and support personnel. As usual, the group was led by General Nikolai Kamanin, in charge of cosmonaut training. On the runway, leading Soyuz engineer Yevgeny Frolov told the new arrivals that by 10:00 the next day, all three Soyuz ships (undergoing processing at the vehicle assembly building of Site 31 would be ready to receive the cosmonauts for the familiarization training. In addition to usual logistical issues, Kamanin also had to worry about another outbreak of dysentery at the launch site several weeks earlier, which still affected some workers at the now overcrowded center. Fearing for his crews, Kamanin had to restrict the contacts of the cosmonauts with other members of the personnel. For example, Kamanin arranged not to stop buses with cosmonauts at the multiple check points of the super-secret facility.

As planned, on September 23, from 10:00 to 13:00, the cosmonauts trained inside their flight-ready spacecraft. Still, the subsequent technical meeting revealed 24 open issues with Vehicle No. 14 (future Soyuz-6), 52 remaining problems with Vehicle No. 15 (Soyuz-7) and 26 issues with Vehicle No. 16 (Soyuz-8). According to Kamanin, 90 percent of the problems were being resolved and the others declared insignificant by the chief designers.

Interestingly, Kamanin wrote that as late as September 25, the triple Soyuz mission was yet to be approved for launch by the government. Kerim Kerimov, Head of the State Commission overseeing the preparations, called Kamanin on the evening of that day and told him that he had just got off a meeting on the subject with Ustinov, Sergei Afanasiev, the Minister of General Machine-building, and Vasily Mishin, Designer General at TsKBEM. Despite the presence of the highest industry officials, the final go ahead was left to a gathering of the Politburo then planned for September 26. Apparently, a delay of the flight to as late as November was under consideration. Kamanin was at loss about the reasons, but, possibly, the political leadership wanted the mission to coincide with the anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, celebrated on November 7. Kamanin was concerned that the delay would further reduce the already dwindling warranties and resources aboard the three Soyuz vehicles, which he cited as between 20 and 30 percent.

The next day (September 26), Kerimov called again and told Kamanin that Ustinov had informally okayed the flight, but that Politburo meeting, which would give the formal green light, was then expected not before Monday, September 29. Nevertheless, the fueling of the Soyuz-6 spacecraft, marking the start of irreversible operations, was scheduled for September 27, allowing its launch no earlier than October 9, 1969, or four days behind the previous schedule. The final training of the crew inside Soyuz-6 was set for the morning of October 1, 1969.

The Politburo finally met on September 30 and officially blessed the triple flight and the State Commission then met to approve the final processing schedule at 16:00 at Site 31 in Tyuratam, where 7K-OK vehicles were undergoing preparations. The unprecedented launch of three piloted spacecraft was set for a period from October 11 to October 13 with 24-hour intervals. (820)

On October 2, Mishin and his engineering entourage landed in Tyuratam, and the next day, a technical meeting on the status of the Soyuz 7K-OK project took place at Site 31. The launch dates and times for all three upcoming launches had been re-confirmed as following:

7K-OK spacecraft Launch date Launch time
Vehicle No. 14 (Soyuz-6) 1969 October 11 14:10 Moscow Time
Vehicle No. 15 (Soyuz-7) 1969 October 12 13:45 Moscow Time
Vehicle No. 16 (Soyuz-8) 1969 October 13 13:25 Moscow Time

As of October 4, the launch campaign was expected to proceed according to the following schedule:

The technical management was scheduled to gather at 17:00 local time on October 6 to review the status of the campaign. The first of the three rockets integrated with the 7K-OK spacecraft No. 14, was scheduled for rollout to the launch pad at Site 31 on October 8. (774)

The next day (October 9), Vehicle No. 15 would be delivered to a nearby launch pad at Site 1. At 17:00 (local time), at the end of the workday, the crews and officials were scheduled to participate in a traditional meeting at Site 31 to thank military personnel preparing the missions. Finally, the third vehicle (7K-OK No. 16) would arrive at Site 31 after the liftoff of Vehicle No. 14.

During a technical meeting October 6, Mishin recorded the following planning milestones:

  • Vehicle No. 14: ready for transportation (for integration with the launch vehicle) on October 6;
  • Vehicle No. 15: ready for transportation (for integration with the launch vehicle) on October 7 at 13:00 local time;
  • Vehicle No. 16: ready for integration of the payload fairing on October 7; ready for integration of the spacecraft and the launch vehicle on October 9.

The plan of operations with Vehicle No. 14 (Soyuz-6) on October 11 at Site 31 looked as follows:

  • 10:00 - Start of operations;
  • 11:00 - State Commission meets;
  • 12:00 - Launch personnel begin fueling the rocket;
  • 14:00 - Crew boards the spacecraft on the launch pad;
  • 16:10 - Liftoff;
  • 18:00 - Vehicle No. 16 rolls out to Site 31.

On October 12, the action was scheduled to shift to Site 1 where Vehicle No. 15 (Soyuz-7) would be prepared for launch according to the following timeline:

  • 09:30 local time (7:30 Moscow): Beginning of operations;
  • 10:30: The State Commission meets;
  • 13:30: Cosmonauts board the spacecraft on the launch pad;
  • 15:45: Liftoff.

On October 13, the operations were to be back at Site 31, where Vehicle No. 16 (Soyuz-8) would be prepared for launch according to the following schedule:

  • 09:10 local time (7:30 Moscow): Beginning of operations;
  • 10:30: The State Commission meets;
  • 11:10: Launch personnel begins fueling the rocket;
  • 13:10: Crew boards the spacecraft on the launch pad;
  • 15:45: Liftoff.

At 17:00 on October 7, the State Commission convened again, where all officials confirmed full readiness for flight. (774)

Kamanin cited some last-minute proposal from Mishin to replace Volkov with Grechko on the crew of Soyuz-7, but the idea was apparently dropped by October 8. (820)

On the morning of October 8, the launch vehicle with the 7K-OK No. 14 spacecraft (Soyuz-6) was rolled out to the launch pad at Site 31 and by 17:00, a series of tests planned for the day were successfully completed. The State Commission met at 19:00 and formally approved all three crews for the mission. Officials also reported that Soyuz-7 was ready for rollout on the morning of October 9 and Soyuz-8 was ready for integration with its rocket. (774)

The only issue was a scratch on the fuel tank of one of the strap-on boosters comprising the first stage of the rocket for the Soyuz-6 mission, resulting from strong winds on the launch pad.

On the morning of October 9, the rocket with Vehicle No. 15 rolled out to the launch pad at Site 1 as planned.

The weather in Tyuratam worsened on October 10, bringing rain and strong cold winds. Nevertheless, at 10:00 personnel began fueling of four boosters of the first stage with propellant components. At 12:30, Mishin got a phone call from Sochi from Ustinov, who wanted to hear the news about the launch campaign. Again, despite the terrible weather, the traditional meeting between cosmonauts and launch personnel started as planned at Site 31 at 15:00 on October 10. Everything was now ready for the first launch of the triple mission the next day. (820, 774)

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The article by Anatoly Zak; Last update: October 18, 2019

Page editor: Alain Chabot; Last edit: October 15, 2019

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Valery Kubasov and Aleksei Yeliseev next to a Soyuz 7K-OK spacecraft in the vehicle assembly building in Tyuratam.