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The USSR launches world's first space crew
On October 12, 1964, the USSR continued its pioneering conquest of space orbiting the first multi-member crew onboard the Voskhod ("sunrise") spacecraft. This achievement was made even more sensational by the fact that three cosmonauts blasted into space after only single-pilot missions. However unknown to the world was the unfathomable risk taken by the cosmonauts. Without any viable emergency rescue at liftoff and without spacesuits, the trio faced certain death in case of even a small air leak, let alone a launch failure.
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Above: On Oct. 10, 1964, Konstantin Feoktistov (left) greets the launch personnel at Site 1 in Tyuratam, as preparations for the liftoff of the Voskhod spacecraft are drawing to a close.
October 12: Launch!
Final preparations for the launch of Voskhod were clouded by a failure during test firing of the main engine similar to the one installed on third stage of the Voskhod launch vehicle. However the culprit was quickly traced to the ground test equipment. (18)
On October 9, Komarov, Feoktistov and Yegorov conducted their final familiarization training inside of their future home in orbit and by the end of the same day, the State Commission set the launch for October 12, 1964, at 10:30 Moscow Time. (231) On October 11, the rocket with the spacecraft was rolled out to the launch pad. During final tests on the pad, the troublesome Tral telemetry system failed again. Engineers scrambled to replace it on the launch pad. The incident apparently triggered one of Korolev's famous outbursts, this time directed at the system's main developer Aleksei Bogomolov. (18)
On the eve of the flight, Feoktistov slept well and final preparations for launch ran smoothly. On the morning of October 12, the crew woke up in good, business-like spirit, Feoktistov remembered. As all three climbed to the top of the launch gantry, Feoktistov caught a glimpse of a huge junkyard of rocket debris, which accumulated over the past seven years from various launch accidents in the vicinity of the launch pad. However even that grim reminder could not sour Feoktistov's excitement for the upcoming mission. Still, as they squeezed into their tiny compartment and went through long wait for the liftoff, doubts about the reliability of the rocket booster creped back into Feoktistov's mind.
The 11A57 launch vehicle with the 3KV spacecraft blasted off from NIIP-5 near Tyuratam on Oct. 12, 1964, at 10:30:01 Moscow Time, with Vladimir Komarov, Konstantin Feoktistov and Boris Yegorov onboard. Following the exhilarating 523-second climb uphill, the third stage of the rocket flawlessly released the Voskhod into orbit. For the first time, space travelers could share their impressions with each other in the cabin of an orbiting ship. Feoktistov felt some discomfort and realized that their short-term simulations of weightlessness on an aircraft were far from realistic. He also realized extremely cramped conditions inside the spacecraft, yet when he needed to get a camera, he unbuckled and was able to turn around and get it from under his seat. The crew's first of two workdays in space turned out to be very hectic. They struggled with their minute-by-minute flight program even during training and now found it even more difficult to keep up with the tight schedule. (196)
During the mission, Komarov piloted and oriented the spacecraft in space, while Feoktistov had responsibility for observations and photography of the Earth, as well as the work with the sextant, an experiment studying the behavior of the liquid in weightlessness, monitoring and recording characteristics of newly installed ion sensors relative to the velocity vector of the spacecraft. All these responsibilities left Feoktistov little time for sleep. Still, the crew was able to fulfill a lot: cosmonauts took several hundred photos of the Earth's surface, hurricanes, clouds and ice sheets, sunsets and sunrises, the Sun and the horizon. The crew was able to discern several layers of the atmosphere with different levels of brightness, which could help to provide more accurate angular elevation of stars over the horizon, if it would be necessary to determine the ship's exact position in space.
As they soared in darkness over the night side of the Earth, cosmonauts noticed a shiny layer at altitudes of 80 or 100 kilometers above the Earth surface. Feoktistov interpreted it as cirrus clouds or aerosols lit by the lunar light.
When the spacecraft reached its southernmost points at 65 degrees latitude, the crew was treated with a fantastic light show of Aurora Borealis. Their entire field of view was filled with yellow pillars of light emanating from the white line above the horizon, towering to a height of several hundred kilometers and spanning 20 or 30 kilometers across. As the morning approached, the lights faded and disappeared. The spectacle replayed for the crew during two more orbits.
Feoktistov conducted experiments with liquid and photographed the results. The experiment was built as a pair of connected transparent spheres containing liquid and gas. The cosmonaut was expected to shake the unit and document how liquid and gas behave. When Feoktistov was setting up the experiment, he discovered that the unit had already been shaken up, probably during the launch. Water and gas had already mixed and were not in hurry to separate.
With the help of Komarov, Feoktistov recorded characteristics from ion sensors. While they recorded the data, Feoktistov noticed strange rays on the monitor connected to the external camera. He photographed the mysterious lines on the screen but the effect was later traced to sunlight bouncing off the camera.
In the meantime, Yegorov conducted his medical studies. To the surprise of his crew mates, Yegorov succeeded with most of his program of taking blood samples, measuring pressure and pulse.
Fall of Khrushchev
Although Voskhod successfully began its historic mission, the Kremlin officials in Moscow apparently "forgot" to make a traditional phone call to Khrushchev, who went on an ill-fated holiday in Pitsunda on the Black Sea. Worried about the progress of the mission, the Soviet leader himself called Leonid Smirnov and harshly reprimanded him for not delivering the news. It could be the first clue for Khrushchev that the Kremlin plot which would topple him from power in less than 24 hours had already been in motion. However, Khrushchev apparently suspected nothing and made a congratulatory phone call to the Voskhod crew.
When the sensational news about the three-man Voskhod reached America, one US official reportedly called the new Soviet spacecraft a prototype of the 'space cruiser.' Korolev's engineers, of course, knew better. "We wished it was true," wrote Boris Chertok. (466)
As their first work day in orbit had come to an end, cosmonauts had dinner from their toothpaste-like containers. They also "went to bed" in shifts. Because Yegorov was getting cold (as he believed from the window), Feoktistov let him to take his middle seat, while Feoktistov took the "night shift" during mostly "deaf orbits", when the spacecraft was out-of-range of mission control. He spent most of the time peering into the window. (196)
A summary of crew activities on October 12:
Next page: Landing of the Voskhod spacecraft
Read (and see) much more about the history of the Russian space program in a richly illustrated, large-format glossy edition:
Page author: Anatoly Zak; Last update: November 6, 2014
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Feoktistov, Komarov and Yegorov walk to their spacecraft on October 12, 1964.
Voskhod spacecraft is being rolled out to the launch pad in Tyuratam. Credit: RKK Energia
Voskhod spacecraft is being rolled out and erected onto the launch pad in Tyuratam on Oct. 11, 1964. Credit: RKK Energia
An access gantry is being retracted from the Voskhod spacecraft in preparation for liftoff on Oct. 12, 1964.
Voskhod lifts off.
TV images in mission control showing members of the Voskhod crew during the flight.