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Landing of Voskhod
On October 13, 1964, as communications between Voskhod and ground control had finally been restored at the beginning of the second work day in orbit, Feoktistov asked Korolev to extend their mission beyond one day, but the Chief Designer did not like the idea. Instead, he made a ceremonial phone call to Khrushchev and asked for his "permission" to complete the flight. It was the last exchange between Korolev and the Soviet leader who oversaw the beginning of the Space Age. (231)
Previous page: Launch of the Voskhod spacecraft
Above: An official greeting of the Voskhod crew at Sergei Korolev's OKB-1 in Podlipki.
October 13: Landing in the coup
When Feoktistov's crewmates onboard Vostok woke up on the second day in orbit, the cosmonauts immediately resumed their hectic program of observations and communications. Feoktistov told Komarov and Yegorov about his conversation with Korolev and proposed his commander to make another "official" request to extend the flight. Without much enthusiasm, Komarov made a call and was rebuffed as well. (Clearly, the cosmonauts and ground controllers were worrying about potential problems during the upcoming braking maneuver and wanted to give the overstretched mission maximum backup opportunities). In preparation for landing, three cosmonauts signed their group photo for Korolev, dated Oct. 13, 06:50 (Moscow Time). (253)
The automated attitude control system on Voskhod came to life at 09:55:39 Moscow Decree Time, during the 16th orbit of the mission. It successfully placed the spacecraft tail first for a braking maneuver. Voskhod fired its braking engine as scheduled at 10:18:58 Moscow Time, as it was zooming toward the coast of Africa over the Gulf of Guinea. (231) Then, the service module separated from the descent capsule. The ball-shaped crew cabin flipped around and the cosmonauts saw their tumbling service module nearby. As Feoktistov peered outside, his window was suddenly sprayed with some liquid escaping from the drainage of the propulsion system in the service module after the braking maneuver. Immediately, the window was covered with frost. The ice melted away only after entering the atmosphere, but soon again, nothing could be seen through the bright light of plasma surrounding the capsule. Cosmonauts started hearing loud flops sounding like gun shots. Komarov and Yegorov looked puzzled at Feoktistov who tried to explain the phenomenon by sharp pressure changes during the burning of ablative layers in the thermal protection system.
Understandably, the crew had some anxiety about new parachutes and the rocket-powered landing system on Voskhod. The soft-landing engines had to be activated by a rather tenuous probe touching the ground and Feoktistov was now worrying whether the probe could deploy prematurely and burn up during the reentry. (196) In the meantime, officials on the ground had their own fears, because no radio messages had come from the spacecraft during its entire descent. Reports from Dolinsk and Krasnodar tracking ships at 10:25 Moscow Time, which confirmed the on-time firing of the braking engine, provided only little comfort for the officials.
Finally, a pilot of an Ilyushin-14 search aircraft spotted the Voskhod descending under a parachute and, after anxious inquiries from mission control, confirmed that both parachutes of the capsule had been deployed.
As Feoktistov later wrote sarcastically, the landing was so "soft" that "sparks were flying from (their) eyes." The capsule then rolled over and came to rest with three cosmonauts hanging on their seat belts from the "ceiling." Komarov, who was sitting next to the hatch, got out first, followed by Yegorov and, finally, by Feoktistov. Fortunately, the first space trio was in good shape. (196)
The crew of the rescue plane circling over the landing site then reported seeing three people waving their hands next to the capsule. Naturally, all who heard the news at mission control had a huge sigh of relief.
According to official sources, the Voskhod spacecraft landed as planned on October 13, 1964, at 10:47 Moscow Time. (253) The descent module touched down 312 kilometers northeast of city of Kustanai (now Kostanai) in Kazakhstan. The mission lasted 24 hours, 17 minutes 3 seconds. (2, 52) The Voskhod completed 16 revolutions around the Earth and covered 700,000 kilometers. (509)
After landing, the cosmonauts first traveled to Kustanai, where they sat waiting for a planned congratulatory phone call from Khrushchev. However by 3 p.m., Leonid Smirnov called and informed Kamanin that the conversation would not take place and the crew should return to the launch site. (18)
By the end of the day, the crew flew to Tyuratam, apparently on the same Ilyushin-18 aircraft that would crash in Yugoslavia just five days later. Upon arrival to the launch site, the cosmonauts were accommodated at their familiar quarters at Site 17. They expected to fly to Moscow the next day, however, instead, they were told to have another day of rest and post-flight medical checks.
On October 14, at the expanded session of the State Commission, the crew made detailed reports about their flight. The event was concluded with an official dinner. By the evening, the Air Force commander Vershinin called from Moscow and told his deputy Rudenko to return to the capital. Next day, Korolev and Tyulin also hastily departed for Moscow without any explanations. The crew spent time hunting and watching movies. (18) When the cosmonauts finally enquired what had been going on and why all the delays, officials told them that "an address is being straightened out." Puzzled cosmonauts were then explained that Vladimir Komarov would have to make a formal post-flight address to a new leader in the Kremlin, since Nikita Khrushchev had been dismissed in a bloodless coup, while being on vacation in Crimea and Leonid Brezhnev took over power in the USSR! As Feoktistov later said in his memoirs, "naive Khrushchev forgot that a dictator can not afford to relax his grip over the police, army and his associates even for a minute." (196)
The crew was finally invited back to Moscow on October 19, where the cosmonauts were greeted by Leonid Brezhnev instead of Khrushchev who had forever disappeared from the public view. On a plane to Moscow, one joker "advised" Komarov to slightly edit a traditional greeting of cosmonauts to Brezhnev to a following: "...We are ready to fulfill any new assignment from any new government." Still, trying not to break traditions of the Khrushchevean era, Brezhnev treated cosmonauts with a parade on the Red Square, followed by a huge reception in the Kremlin. (18) However, for the Soviet people, a new era began, which would last for almost a quarter of the century.
Next chapter: Roots of the Voskhod-2 mission
Page author: Anatoly Zak; Last update: March 18, 2020
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After a successful landing, Yegorov, Komarov and Feoktistov board the plane in Kustanai on their way back to the launch site.
Voskhod crew returns to Tyuratam on Oct. 13, 1964.
A crowd of employees at Korolev's OKB-1 greet Voskhod crew after its return from space. Credit: RKK Energia
Feoktistov addresses Moscovites from the top of Lenin's mausoleum on the Red Square flanked by Komarov (left) and the new head of the Soviet state Leonid Brezhnev (right). When the crew of Voskhod finally reached Moscow on October 19, the former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev had already disappeared from the public view.
The USSR and its "satellite" countries dedicated numerous post stamps to the crew of Voskhod. Click to enlarge. Anatoly Zak's collection