"Soyuz-11": the biggest disaster of Soviet cosmonautics

June 30, 1971 the first in the history of space exploration crew of the orbital space station "Salyut" as part of Georgy Dobrovolsky, Vladislav Volkov and Viktor Patsaeva died while returning to Earth. This tragic incident was the largest in the history of Russian cosmonautics - killed the entire crew.

The Soviet and American space programs operated in extremely tough competition. Each of the parties sought in that whatever was to beat the competition and become the first. Initially owned by the palm of the USSR: the first launch of Sputnik, the first human space launch, the first person spacewalk, the first flight of a woman cosmonaut left for the Soviet Union.

Americans focus on the lunar race and won. Although the Soviet Union had the theoretical possibility to catch the first, but the program was too unreliable and too high was the probability of disaster, so the Soviet leadership did not dare to risk the lives of its astronauts. Soviet cosmonaut moon was transferred to the training program "Docking" for the first flight to the space station.

Successfully landed on the moon, Americans have proven themselves, that is also something that can, and then overly enthusiastic companion of the Earth. USSR at that time had already developed the project of manned orbital station and has gained in this area another victory by launching its space station two years earlier than did the United States.

Station "Salyut" planned to launch the beginning of the 24th Congress of the CPSU, but a little late. The station was launched into orbit only April 19, 1971, ten days after the close of the Congress.


Practically first crew was sent directly to the space station. April 24, five days after leaving the station in orbit, launched from Baikonur spacecraft "Soyuz-10". On board were commander Vladimir Shatalov, flight engineer Alexey Eliseev and test engineer Nikolai Rukavishnikov. It was a very experienced crew. Shatalov and Eliseev already made two flight on "Soyuz", a newcomer to the space was only Rukavishnikov. It was planned that the "Soyuz-10" will produce successfully docking with the space station, after which the astronauts will stay on it for three weeks.

But things did not go as planned. The ship arrived safely to the station and began to dock, but then began failures. Pin docking port grappled with the station, but there was a failure of automation and earned corrective engines, because of what the "Union" and swung the docking station is broken.

On the dock could no longer be considered. Moreover, the entire program was "Salyut" station under threat because the astronauts did not know how to get rid of pin docking port. It could "shoot", but this would make it impossible to dock with the "Salute" and any other ship meant the collapse of the entire program. In the matter involved is on the ground design engineers, who advised jumper and with her help open the lock and remove the pin "Union." After a few hours it was finally able to do - and the astronauts went home.

Crew Change

Preparations have begun for the flight, "the Union-11." This crew was a little less experienced than the previous one. None of the astronauts was not in space more than once. But the commander of the crew was Alexei Leonov - the first man to spacewalk. In addition to his crew included flight engineer Valery Kubasov and engineer Peter Kolodin.

A few months later they were trained in the dock in manual or automatic mode, because you can not was the second time in a row to lose face and the back of the flight and not docked.

In early June, it was determined departure date. At a meeting of the Political Bureau of the date it was approved as part of the crew, who all clearly certified as the most skillful. But it happened unimaginable. Two days before the launch from Baikonur came the sensational news: during a routine preflight medical examination the doctors did Kubasov an X-ray and found in one of the lungs of small opacities. Everything pointed to a sharp tubercular process. However, it remained unclear how it can be viewed, because this process does not develop in one day, and the astronauts undergo rigorous and regular medical check-ups. One way or another, but to fly in space Kubasov was impossible.

But the Politburo and the State Commission and has approved the composition of the crew. What to do? After all, in the Soviet program, astronauts prepared to flights threes and if one has retired, is required to change all three, as it was believed that the trio has worked and replacing one crew member will result in misalignment.

But, on the other hand, no one before in the history of astronautics did not change the crew in less than two days prior to departure. How to choose the right solution in such a situation? heated argument took place between the curators of the space program. Assistant Commander of the Air Force for space Kamanin Nicholas insisted that the crew of Leonov experienced and if we replace the retired Kubasova Volkov, who also had the experience of space flight, then nothing bad will and concerted action on this will not be broken.

However, the designer Misha, one of the developers of "Salute" and the "Union", called for a complete change of three. He believed that the backup of it will be much better prepared and load than the basic, but has undergone a change in the composition of the eve of the flight. As a result, I won the point of view of Mishina. Leonov crew removed and replaced backup crew, consisting of commander Georgy Dobrovolsky, Vladislav Volkov and flight engineer research engineer Victor Patsaeva. None of them had been in space, with the exception of Volkov, already flying on one of the "Union."

Leonov crew is very painful perceived exclusion from the flight. Boris Chertok, later recalled the words Mishina designer: "Oh, what heavy I had a conversation with Leonov and Kolodin - Leonov accused me that I supposedly deliberately did not want to replace Kubasova Volynov once again to push through - he told us!. . Kolodin space Volkova said that he had felt before the last day, that it in the space will not be allowed under any pretext Kolodin says. "I have - a white crow. They all pilots, and I am a rocket. " None of the astronauts angry and could not imagine that the wrong X-ray image (no tuberculosis in Kubasova was not and he later successfully flew into space) saved their lives. But then the situation escalated to the limit. Chertok personally witnessed this scene: "On the State Commission, I was beside Kolodin He sat with low head down, nervously clenched into fists and unclenched his fingers on the face playing nodules was nervous, not only it is both the crew felt unwell first was shocked removal.... of the flight, the second -. After a sudden change in the fate of the second flight crew had to climb the marble staircase Kremlin Palace with much fanfare, the music of Glinka, the heroes get the stars But the joy on their faces was not. ".


"Soyuz-11" was launched from the Baikonur June 6, 1971. The astronauts were worried not only because the two of them had never been in space, but also because of the lush wires: one day before the departure mourners made a real rally, which made speeches.

Nevertheless, the launch of the ship took place in a normal mode and without any glitches. Astronauts successfully and without problems docked with the orbital station. It was an exciting moment, because they would be the first earthlings aboard the space station.

The astronauts safely housed in the space station, which, although it was small, it seemed huge after an incredibly close "Union." The first week they were getting used to their new environment. Among other things, the astronauts on the "Salute" had a television connection with the Earth.

June 16 at the station was an emergency. The astronauts felt a strong smell of burning. Wolves have contacted with the earth and reported the fire. It was a question about the emergency evacuation of the station, but Dobrovolsky decided not to hurry up and turn off some appliances, and then the smell of burning took place. Total cosmonauts spent in orbit 23 days. They had a fairly intense program of research and experiments. In addition, they had to preserve the station for the next crew.

In the evening on June 29 made a successful crew undocked from the "Salute" and went home.


In general, the flight goes well - no one expected any emergency. The crew made contact and ran orientation. As it turned out, this was the last session with the crew. As expected, at 1:35 joined retropropulsion. At 1:47 there was a division lander with an appliance and domestic compartments. At 1:49 am the crew had to get in touch and to announce the successful reentry vehicle separation. The lander had no telemetry system and nobody knew on Earth, what happens to astronauts. It was planned that immediately after separation Dobrovolsky be released on bond. Silence on the radio very surprised experts because the crew differed great talkativeness and sometimes spoke with the Earth much more than demanded by the situation.

Return to Earth took place as planned, without any problems, so at first there was no reason to believe that something happened to the crew. The most likely version is the problem of radio equipment.

At 1:54 air defense systems detected the lander. At an altitude of 7000 meters of the main parachute opened lander, which was equipped with an antenna. The astronauts had to contact any of KV-either on VHF channels and report on the situation. But they were silent, not responding to requests from the Earth. This is the guards, none of safely returning "Unions" had no communication problems at this stage.

Around 2:05 greeting the lander helicopters found it and reported to the Mission Control Center. Ten minutes later the craft had landed safely. Externally, the machine had no damage, but the crew still did not contact, and no signs of life. Already it was clear that there was some sort of emergency, but it was still hoped that astronauts may be unconscious, but still alive. Immediately after landing near the machine landed meeting a helicopter, and two minutes later, rescuers have already opened the door unit. Chertok recalled: "The lander was on his side Outwardly, there was no damage to knock on the wall - no one responded quickly opened the hatch All three sit in a chair in calm poses on the faces of blue spots of blood flowed from his nose and ears pulled out....... them from the SA. Dobrowolski was still warm. Doctors continue artificial respiration. "

Attempts to resuscitate the crew of doctors by artificial respiration and heart massage failed. An autopsy revealed that the crew died of decompression sickness caused by a sharp drop in pressure in the descent module.


death circumstances clearly indicate the ship depressurization. The very next day began the study lander, however, all attempts to detect the leak have failed. Kamanin recalled that "close the sunroof and all other regular openings in the hull, created in the cabin pressure above atmospheric to 100 millimeters, and ... have found no signs of leakage increase overpressure up to 150 and then to 200 millimeters survive.. under such a pressure vessel and a half hours, finally ensure complete sealing of the cab. "

However, if the unit has been completely sealed, while depressurization could occur? There was only one option. Leakage can occur through one of the vent valves. However, this valve is opened only after the deployment of the parachute to equalize the pressure as he could open at the landing office machine?

The only theoretical option: the shock wave and explosions squibs at lander separation forced prematurely trigger squib valve opening. But on the "Union" never had such problems (and indeed there was not a single case of depressurization of both manned and unmanned vehicles). Moreover, after a disaster repeatedly conducted experiments that simulate this situation, but never happened abnormal opening of the valve due to the shock wave detonation or squibs. No experiment has not reproduced the situation. But, as other explanations were not, as the official had accepted this version. Stipulated that this event belongs to the category is extremely unlikely, because under experimental conditions it has not been able to reproduce.

The Commission was able to recover about events that took place inside the lander. After a staff separation apparatus astronauts discovered depressurization as the pressure falls rapidly. In fact, to find and eliminate it, they had less than a minute. Dobrovolsky commander of the crew checks the door, but it is sealed. Trying to detect leakage of the sound, the astronauts disable radio transmitters and apparatus. Most likely, they were able to detect a leak, but not strong enough to close the valve. The pressure drop was too strong, and a minute later the astronauts lost consciousness, and about two minutes later they were dead.

Everything would have been different, whether the crew spacesuits. But Soviet cosmonauts returned to the descent module without them. We are opposed King and Mishin. The suits were very cumbersome, as necessary for their life support equipment, and ships were already too close. So we had to choose between either an extra crew member, or suits, or a radical reorganization of the ship and the lander.


Dead cosmonauts were buried in the Kremlin wall. At that time it was the largest catastrophe in the space according to the number of victims. For the first time the whole crew died. The tragedy of "Union-11" has led to the fact that under this program the flights have been frozen for more than two years.

During this time, fundamentally the program itself has been revised. Since then, astronauts necessarily come back in protective suits. To get more space in the descent module, it was decided to abandon the third member of the crew. layout of controls has been changed to an astronaut, without getting up, could reach all the important buttons and levers.

After making modifications, "the Union" program has established itself as one of the most reliable and has been operating successfully ever since.