Soyuz 4 and 5 – Drama in the Early Soviet Space Program.

Soyuz 4,5 Crew
Crew of Soyuz 4 and 5: Alexei Yeliseyev, Yevgeni Khrunov, Vladimir Shatalov, and Boris Volynov
Image Credit: Joachim Becker / SpaceFacts.de

Ben Evans at AmericaSpace has a great two part series on the early Soyuz 4 and Soyuz 5 docking and crew transfer mission.

Part One describes the events leading up to the dual flight. Early unmanned trials of the new Soyuz capsule had parachute problems. Docking experiments were conducted under the disguise of the Cosmos 186 and 188. They achieved only a soft dock, and Cosmos 186 suffered a steep reentry and hard landing, while Cosmos 188 suffered a ballistic reentry and was ordered to self destruct. Cosmos 212 and 213 succeeded with a hard docking, clearing the way for a manned rendezvous mission. Parachute problems persisted, however, and Vladimir Komarov was killed on Soyuz 1 when both the main chute and backup failed. Additional problems with spacesuits too big to fit through the exit/entry hatches used for the two crew transfer were resolved with news suits and a larger hatch design. Eventually, the mission got underway with with the launch of Vladimir Shatalov on 14 January 1969 at 10:30 AM Moscow time. Soyuz 5 was launched at 10:04 AM on 15 January with Boris Volynov, Alexei Yeliseyev and Yevgeni Khrunov.

Part Two details the docking, exchange of crew members along with the trials of spacewalks by Khrunov and Yeliseyev, and return. The morning after docking and transfer, Shatalov, Yeliseyev, and Khrunov “descended through a wintry blizzard and thumped onto the snowy Kazakh steppe at 9:53 AM”. Volynov began his descent in Soyuz 5 the following day. It was a harrowing journey, and it would be three decades before the West learned any of the details. Volynov had just four words for the recovery team: “Is my hair gray?”

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