The USSR launches first military station crew

On July 3, 1974, the Soyuz-14 mission carried what was announced as an expedition to the newly launched Salyut-3 space station. In fact, it was a specialized military team heading to the Almaz OPS-2 orbital observation outpost publicly camouflaged behind the civilian space station program. For the first time, a piloted military orbiter armed with a self-defense gun and an array of reconnaissance equipment operated in space.

Previous chapter: Salyut-3 (Almaz OPS-2)

Soyuz-14 mission at a glance:

Spacecraft designation
Soyuz 7K-T, 11F615A9 No. 62, Soyuz-14
Launch date
1974 July 3, 21:51:08 Moscow Time
Launch site
Landing date
1974 July 19, 15:21:36 Moscow Time
First expedition to the Salyut-3 (Almaz OPS-2) space station
Mission duration
15 days 17 hours 30 minutes 28 seconds
Primary crew
Pavel Popovich (Commander), Yuri Artyukhin (Flight Engineer)
Backup crew
Boris Volynov (Commander), Vitaly Zholobov (Flight Engineer)

First Almaz crew

The successful launch of the OPS-2 space station, on June 25, 1974, finally paved the way for the first crew expedition within the Almaz project, almost a decade after its inception and one false start.

According to the order established back in 1972 among the Almaz project trainees, the Vostok-4 mission veteran of the Pavel Popovich and a rookie, Lt. Colonel Yuri Artyukhin, served respectively as Commander and Flight Engineer aboard Soyuz Vehicle No. 62 ultimately assigned to carry the first expedition to OPS-2. During his days in the Vostok project, Popovich had been involved in early experiments with military reconnaissance from orbit in an effort to attract the interest of the Ministry of Defense to piloted space vehicles and his experience came handy in a much more sophisticated attempt to build an observation post in orbit.

In parallel with training flight crews, the TsKBM design bureau in Reutov, which developed the Almaz project, also formed its own simulation teams whose members worked on ground prototypes of the station in order to support cosmonauts in orbit. (1059)

Vehicle 7K-T No. 62 prepares for launch

The first two Soyuz spacecraft originally assigned to the Almaz project — Vehicles No. 61 and 62 — were largely completed at TsKBEM's production plant in Podlipki before the end of 1972. The post-production testing of Vehicle No. 62 was completed at the TsKBEM's Checkout Station, KIS, in Podlipki, near Moscow, by mid-July 1973.

By October 1973, a decision was made to reconfigure Vehicle No. 61 for an unpiloted test flight. (INSIDER CONTENT) In the meantime, the crew deliveries to the next Almaz station were re-allocated to Vehicles No. 62 and 63. By November 1973, the launch of Vehicle No. 62 was scheduled for June 1974, but it eventually slipped to early July of that year. (774)

As of March 1974, Vehicle No. 62 had to be ready for a joint operations with Almaz by April 30, 1974.

The April 1974 campaign was taking place with an unprecedented seven Soyuz vehicles in Tyuratam: 7K-T No. 61, 38, 39, 62, 63, 7K-TM No. 72 and 7K-S No. 2L, plus the Salyut DOS-4 and Almaz OPS-2 space stations also at the launch site. (774)

On April 2, 1974, Head of TsKBEM Vasily Mishin and his political supervisor at the Soviet government Dmitry Ustinov inspected Vehicles 7KT No. 62 and 38 undergoing preparations at the spacecraft processing facility, along with the DOS-4 space station and the payload section of the N1 No. 8L Moon rocket. (774)

Soyuz-14 lifts off


The Soyuz-14 spacecraft lifted off from Tyuratam's Site 1 on July 3, 1974, at 21:51:08 Moscow Decree Time. Upon entering orbit, the mission was announced to the world as Soyuz-14, while the military control team set up at NIP-16 ground station near Yevpatoria, on the Crimean Peninsula, began tracking the flight's progress.

According to the recollections of Pavel Popovich, the rocket released the Soyuz into orbit within just 600 meters from the station, so the automated rendezvous system immediately started pushing the ship toward a docking planned for 24 hours after launch.

On July 4, 1974, the crew switched to manual control 100 meters from the station, but after crossing half of that distance, Soyuz-14 started drifting to the right of its destination, apparently, due to an accidental push of the control handle by one of the cosmonauts. Frustrated with his bulky gloves, Popovich took them off (and depressurized his Sokol safety suit in the process) to get a better grip on the control handles.

Around the same time, the flight path took the ship out of communication range with ground control, so the crew was on its own during the critical moments of final approach. Artyukhin warned Popovich that in case of a collision and depressurization of the ship, he would be doomed in his unsealed suit, to which Popovich remembered "comforting" his crew mate by saying that Artyukhin would live to tell that Popovich had volunteered to do it.

Fortunately, with his bare hands, Popovich was able to quickly correct the ship's trajectory and "plug the docking probe right into the center of the (station's) docking port" as he later remembered. However, the subsequent berthing revealed a small air leak in the periphery of the docking mechanism, which was perceived to be serious enough by mission control to potentially prevent the transfer into the station.

Popovich remembered appealing directly to Chief Designer Vladimir Chelomei, who was at hand in mission control, to permit the hatch opening. After a whole orbit (around 1.5 hours) of consultations on the ground, Chelomei called back and informed the crew that the State Commission had cleared them to proceed with the move into the new station.

"Had we had a bottle, Yura, I would gladly had a glass to relieve all this tension," Popovich remembered telling Artyukhin. (153)

The second Soviet space station begins operations


Once aboard Salyut-3, the crew activated the station's systems and payloads, initiating an intensive two-week-long program of military observations and civilian experiments. Among the station's new service features was the gyroscopic attitude control system, which for the first time, made it possible to orient the space lab in space without use of precious propellant.

According to public reports, the "remote-sensing equipment" (read — surveillance cameras) was activated on July 9, followed by several days of photographing of the "Earth surface." (34) The Central Asia was among officially disclosed targets of the station's cameras. Western sources also said that a set of targets laid out near Tyuratam were also photographed to test the capabilities of the surveillance hardware.

Unknown to the general public at the time, the cosmonauts operated a large Agat reconnaissance camera with a focal length of six meters and the Panoramic Observation Device, POU. To locate targets, the crew also had the OD optical range finder with a 120x power of magnification, however, Popovich found it ineffective beyond 100 times, due to vibrations of the station.

Popovich also remembered using a special circular survey periscope built into the OPS-2 to track NASA's Skylab space station from a distance of between 70 and 80 kilometers, though the US outpost no longer had a crew onboard at the time.

Popovich claimed that his crew's work periods were timed to take place during passes of the station over the USSR, while sleeping periods would be during out-of-communications-range orbits, but, because of the high work load, the cosmonauts switched to alternating four-hour work shifts. The pair also split in halves the grueling job of constantly reloading the 14 various film cameras. The two-three-hour process of winding exposed film on special drums before loading it into a return capsule had to be performed in darkness and involved a great deal of physical stress. Excess film had to be separated and discarded separately causing quite a chaos — after turning the lights on, the cosmonauts would find numerous pieces of fire-prone film floating all over the station's interior.

After fully stuffing the return capsule with film, the cosmonauts apparently used some risky volleyball-like technique to fly the massive 360-kilogram bucket-shaped canister along the station, before they placed it into the ejection airlock. (1059)

The "civilian" part of the Soyuz-14 flight program included medical checks, some geological and environmental imaging and the Tropeks-74 experiment, which involved photography of the cloud cover, hurricanes and cyclones over the Atlantic. (231)

The cosmonauts also had to perform various house-keeping chores aboard OPS-2, including onboard systems checks, interior temperature adjustments and relocations of some air fans. The cosmonauts also installed some wall attachments for portable instruments.

Starting on the third day, the onboard alarm system, monitoring interior air pressure, electric power levels and CO2 concentrations, started waking up the crew, but it was proved to be a false alarm every time. (153) Popovich finally short-circuited the over-sensitive system, apparently with the tacit approval of mission control.

The cosmonauts also had to turn off their main radiation monitor due to faulty readings and rely on six small radiation dosage sensors instead.

After busy two weeks in orbit, the crew boarded the Soyuz-14 spacecraft, undocked from the station and headed for landing.

The Descent Module touched down as planned at 15:21 Moscow Time on July 19, 1974, some 140 kilometers southeast of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan, but, in the first hours on the ground, both cosmonauts experienced some really bad health effects from nearly 16 days in space with high blood pressure and heartbeat and body temperature spiking to 40 degrees. Fortunately, both men quickly recovered. (1059)


The article by Anatoly Zak; Last update: July 3, 2024

Page editor: Alain Chabot; Last edit: July 3, 2024

All rights reserved


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Artyukhin (left) and Popovich during preparation for the Almaz mission at the Cosmonaut Training Center. Click to enlarge.


Popovich and Artyukhin during training inside the Soyuz simulator. Click to enlarge.


Popovich and Artyukhin during training inside the Almaz simulator. The main reconnaissance camera assembly of the Almaz station is visible on the background. Click to enlarge.


Primary and backup crews of the Soyuz-14 spacecraft during the traditional ceremony on the launch pad in Tyuratam on the eve of the launch (left to right): Popovich, Artyukhin, Volynov and Zholobov. Click to enlarge.


Popovich and Artyukhin visiting the launch pad on the eve of Soyuz-14's launch. Click to enlarge.


Popovich (right) and Artyukhin prepare for a ride to the pad on July 3, 1974. Click to enlarge.


The Soyuz-14 crew arrives at the launch pad on the evening of July 3, 1974.


Members of the Soyuz-14 crew report to the Chairman of the State Commission overseeing the launch about their readiness for flight.


Click to enlarge.


Popovich (top) and Artyukhin bid farewell to well-wishers at the steps of the launch pad elevator that would take them to their spacecraft.


Only few grainy TV images of the Soyuz-14 crew were released to the public during the presence of the crew aboard Salyut-3, in contrast to the previous expedition to the Salyut-1 space station, creating the first suspicions about the true nature of the flight. The interior of the Almaz' habitation area is discernable.


The crew of the Soyuz-14 spacecraft, Pavel Popovich, left, and Yuri Artyukhin, working onboard Salyut-3. Note a slide ruler in Popovich's hands. Credit: NPO Mash


Artyukhin (left) and Popovich with the Designer General of TsKBM Vladimir Chelomei (center). Click to enlarge.


A Soviet stamp dedicated to the Soyuz-14 mission.