From the publisher: Pace of our development depends primarily on the level of support from our readers!
Soyuz-8 completes orbital armada
On October 13, 1969, the Soyuz-8 spacecraft blasted into orbit with Vladimir Shatalov and Aleksei Yeliseev onboard bringing to seven the total number of Soviet cosmonauts in orbit and the number of piloted ships in space to three. The next day, Soyuz-8 was scheduled to dock with Soyuz-7 in view of Soyuz-6, but the last-minute problem interrupted the ambitious scenario.
Vladimir Shatalov (left) and Aleksei Yeliseev board Soyuz-8.
Soyuz-8 mission at a glance:
October 13: Soyuz-8 lifts off
At 7:50 in the morning of October 13, 1969, the medical team declared Shatalov and Yeliseev ready for flight. (820) As with the two previous launches, nasty weather was complicating, but not preventing, the operations on the launch pad. (774)
At 10:30 local time, the State Commission had a short final pre-launch meeting at Site 31, and at 13:05 local time (11:05 Moscow), Shatalov and Yeliseev reported their readiness for flight to the chairman of the commission at the base of the rocket. The cosmonauts then rode the elevator of the access gantry to their spacecraft.
However soon after the pair got into the spacecraft, Shatalov reported a crack on one of the three beams of the sealing mechanism in the hatch between the Descent Module and the Habitation Module. Any attempt to replace the hardware would require to postponing the launch, but Vasily Mishin took responsibility for continuing pre-launch operations.
Soyuz-8 lifted off as planned and ascended to orbit without problems, according to the following timeline:
Soyuz-8 makes first rendezvous attempt
With all three Soyuz spacecraft finally in orbit, the stage was set on October 14, 1969, for the docking between Soyuz-7 and Soyuz-8, followed by the approach of Soyuz-6 to as close as 50 meters from the docked pair. (820)
All necessary orbit corrections for the long-range rendezvous went as planned, allowing Soyuz-8 to begin the approach to Soyuz-7 from an initial distance of around 250 kilometers. By the end of the automated rendezvous process, the two ships came no farther than one kilometer from each other, but the Igla rendezvous system aboard Soyuz-8 failed to make the radio capture of Soyuz-7 necessary to perform the final approach and docking (52, 466)
According to recollections from Nikolai Kamanin and Boris Chertok, the cosmonauts on both sides saw each other's ships and were ready to complete the linkup manually, but Shatalov first requested from the ground permission to do so. In the tense atmosphere of the main ground control station in Crimea, Mishin hastily discussed the situation with Chertok and other specialists and gave the green light to the manual attempt on the condition that the ships be not farther than 1.5 kilometers from each other. The flight managers were apparently concerned that an attempt to manually control the vehicle from a greater distance without adequate navigation aids and without the ability of mission control to carefully monitor the progress of the rendezvous could lead to overspending of propellant and even endanger the return to Earth.
Mishin quizzed Armen Mnatsakanyan, the top official responsible for the automated rendezvous system, whether the faulty Igla system could be jump-started but to no avail. (466)
After two failed attempts at rendezvous, the mission control considered alternative ways of saving the flight program, as the spacecraft trio went out of range of communications with Soviet ground stations for several orbits. Experts in ballistics proposed a new series of high-precision orbital correction maneuvers under careful guidance from the ground, which could bring the vehicles close enough for Shatalov to perform manual rendezvous and docking. (820)
October 15: Second docking attempt
By the end of October 14, mission control estimated that around 9:00 the next morning, the ships would be no farther than one kilometer from each other. However, in reality, at the start of October 15, when the orbital trio re-appeared over the Soviet ground stations, the ships were found to be around 40 kilometers apart. As a result, the next two orbits had to be spent on trajectory measurements and additional orbit corrections to re-start the rendezvous. (820)
The first orbit correction on October 15 was conducted at 11:10 Moscow Time during the 64th orbit of the joint mission. At 12:10 Moscow Time, the ships were around 10 kilometers from each other, but by 12:20, the distance was reduced to just four kilometers. At 12:25 Moscow Time, the Soyuz-8 was commanded to perform another orbit correction, which according to Mishin's notes, appeared to be aimed at bringing the ships within 250 meters from each other with a relative speed of 1.5 meters per second by 12:30 Moscow Time. (774)
According to Kamanin, by 12:40 Moscow Time, Soyuz-8 and Soyuz-7 came within 1,700 meters and the crews began manual rendezvous maneuvers. (820) Mission control saw that Shatalov aboard Soyuz-8 had activated the propulsion system four times. Again, both crews saw each other's ships, but, one more time, without reliable data on the mutual position and the rendezvous rates, Shatalov was unable to perform the necessary maneuvers to cross the divide. Instead, the ship's began drifting apart. (820) Mishin's notes indicate that at 15:30 Moscow Time, the vehicles were 1.5 kilometers apart and moving with a relative speed of 1.5 meters per second. (774)
The tense situation in orbit was evidenced by a report from the medical team at mission control that heart rate of the cosmonauts exceeded 100 beats per minute.
Ground controllers and officials were overstressed as well by endless debates over the next course of actions, leaving very little time for the head of flight operations Pavel Agadzhanov and his associates to relay the latest instructions to the crews during short communications windows with the spacecraft. (466)
Before any further rendezvous attempts could be made, ground control did an audit of propellant reserves aboard the spacecraft to make sure the vehicles had enough resources for the return home. Mishin's notes had the following parameters:
Mishin also recorded the following communications windows between the mission control and Soyuz-6 for the remainder of October 15 and the morning of October 16 (Moscow Time):
Before the conclusion of the workday on October 15, Soyuz-6 piloted by Shonin approached as close as 800 meters from Soyuz-7, but, unlike Shatalov's Soyuz-8, Soyuz-6 had no docking port to dock. Still, Shonin earned praises from the ground for his excellent maneuvering skills. (820)
Shatalov (left) and Yeliseev bid farewell before boarding Soyuz-8 on October 13, 1969.