Valery Bykovsky pilots Vostok-5

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Mission of Vostok-5

As a result of the launch delay, Bykovsky's hourly flight plan was now off, but he proceeded to follow the program according to orbits. He completed a 10-minute attitude-control exercise turning the spacecraft around and trying to catch a glimpse of the free-flying rocket stage that had delivered him into orbit. He did see a flickering star near the horizon. He also put the spacecraft into a very slow spin around its main axis. Taking a note of the Moon's periodic appearance in the window, Bykovsky calculated that the ship was making one rotation every eight minutes.

During this practice, he "spent" 10 atmospheres out of compressed gas tanks, which fed the attitude control thrusters. He spent another 5 atmospheres, orienting the spacecraft tail first to simulate preparation for the braking maneuver. His initial attempts to stabilize his ship left the vehicle pitching a little, requiring him to repeat the thruster "firings" to achieve full stabilization.

To the delight of ground control, the previously failed UHF transmitters were working just fine after launch. (574) However the actual orbit turned out to be lower than expected. According to post-launch calculations, the orbit of Vostok-5 would not decay for 10 or 11 days, however more conservative estimates, taking into account increased solar activity and the resulting "bulging" of the upper atmosphere showed that the spacecraft could plunge back to Earth as soon as eight days after launch with no way of predicting its landing location. As a result, the planned eight-day mission was now in question. Ground stations were ordered to be extra vigilant with their forecasts of orbital parameters. (466)

Apparently by the time, the lower-than-expected orbit of Vostok-5 had became apparent, the parameters of the planned orbit (181 by 235 kilometers) had already been publicly announced, followed by the publication of the actual parameters (175 by 222 kilometers). (50)

During Vostok-5's fourth orbit, (at 19:30 Moscow Time (465)), Khrushchev himself called Bykovsky, wished him a good flight and promised a great reception after his return.

During the 5th orbit, Bykovsky radioed to Kamanin that he felt great and all parameters in the cabin were normal. Even better, during its 6th orbit, as Vostok passed over Leningrad, Sverdlovsk and Tashkent, ground control downlinked TV pictures from a camera inside the capsule, along with excellent voice communications. According to Kamanin, Bykovsky's face looked serious and a bit tired on a TV screen. "Are you going to bed earlier or on schedule?" Kamanin radioed, "We see you on TV, smile!" Bykovsky smiled momentarily causing an explosion of laughter in the control room. Kamanin asked whether he saw the third stage or the Sun's corona, to which Bykovsky replied that just saw a bright star and the Sun was too blinding to discern any details, and using a finger to block the disk was far not enough. (574)

June 15: between launches


In the meantime, back in Tyuratam, top officials were already celebrating despite another upcoming launch. Marshall Krylov organized a late-night party from which Gagarin and Titov came out drunk to the consternation of Kamanin. Moreover on the morning of June 15, Krylov invited both male and female cosmonauts to a "breakfast" complete with champagne!

Kamanin's decision to clarify the military status of female cosmonauts with party bosses in Moscow suddenly ricocheted, when he arrived to Site 2 at 5 p.m., Tyulin reported that Leonid Brezhnev had informed him that it had been decided not to publicly disclose Tereshkova's military rank. Brezhnev had "recommended" that all female cosmonauts change to civilian clothes. The young women, who had flown to the site in their Air Force uniforms, now faced the challenge of urgently obtaining new toilets at a military test range in the midst of the Kazakh steppe.

As the women scrambled for their new outfits, the State Commission approved the launch of Vostok-6 on June 16, 1963, at 12:30 Moscow Time, enabling to insert the spacecraft as close as possible to the latest orbit of Vostok-5.

Around 8:00 in the morning of June 15, the launch vehicle with the Vostok-6 spacecraft was rolled out to the launch pad.

At 7 p.m., Tereshkova and her backups arrived at the pad to meet the launch personnel. After the meeting, the cosmonauts and Korolev rode to the top of the vehicle to see the spacecraft. Tereshkova and Solovyova then went to spend the night at cottages at Site 2, as all their predecessors.

Vostok-5 prepares for orbital rendezvous

In the meantime, Bykovsky continued his largely successful journey in orbit. He unbuckled and left his ejection seat at least twice. Initially unaccustomed to the experience, he floated to the ceiling.

During the second free-floating exercise, he got as close as possible to various windows and noticed an antenna and a dangling piece of insulation. Unlike some of his predecessors, he really enjoyed the experience and would later admit that he was actually looking forward for orbits reserved for free-floating exercises.

In the evening, as Bykovsky entered communications range during the 22nd orbit of his mission, no messages came from the pilot. TV images showed him with his eyes closed and motionless, but, fortunately, telemetry data registered a pulse of 54. Clearly, he was sleeping, even though his schedule called for a rest period starting during the 24th orbit, when the spacecraft would leave communications range until 8 a.m. next morning (June 16). Eager to confirm his status, before the communications breakdown, Gagarin called him at 11:50 p.m. during the 24th orbit. "Why no communications on the 23rd orbit," Gagarin asked. "Everything is good, I kept communications with Zarya-1," Bykovsky replied. Kamanin, who started his communications shift at the ground station in Tyuratam around 2 a.m. on June 16, assumed that Bykovsky had simply fallen asleep and didn't realize the passing of time. (574)

After an initial rather uncomfortable 30 degrees heat in Bykovsky's cabin, the temperature fell to 15 degrees in the first day of Vostok-5's mission. Khrunov jokingly told Bykovsky that he had to be really comfortable with his 14 degrees in the cabin. "We have almost three times of that," he said referring to a heat wave pounding Tyuratam. "But you have the advantage of never getting upside down," Bykovsky grumbled in response, possibly hinting that he did experience some sickening effect of weightlessness after all.

Next chapter: Mission of Vostok-6

Page author: Anatoly Zak; Last update: March 27, 2019

Page editor: Alain Chabot; Last edit: June 30, 2013

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TV images of Bykovsky during his orbital flight onboard Vostok-5 in June 1963.




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