Space Station I: Promises and Problems

The Soviets, in fact, did have their hands full. They were preparing a second manned rendezvous with Salyut 1, which they had placed in orbit on 19 April. Billed as the first "space station," Salyut was designed for long-term flights of approximately one month. As early as March 1971, the Soviets had begun to hint that they were preparing for a flight that would exceed the 18-day record mission of Soyuz 9. The unidentified "Chief Designer of Spaceships"* said that such a flight would be the prelude to creating a permanent space laboratory. The interview in Sotsialisticheskaya Industriya indicated that the Soyuz had "undergone necessary modifications [139] to insure fulfillment of a long and extensive program" and suggested that the spacecraft, which were in "serial production," would remain the standard spaceship for Some time.34

On 23 April 1971, the Soviets had placed Soyuz 10 into orbit. Following an early morning launch, Soyuz began its rendezvous maneuvers and docked with Salyut I on the afternoon of the 24th. The final docking took place in two stages. The automatic systems brought the manned craft within 180 meters of the target vehicle, and then spacecraft commander Vladimir Alexandrovish Shatalov took over. After ninety minutes, he guided the Soyuz to a successful docking. The two vehicles remained joined for five hours and thirty minutes while a series of experiments were conducted with the flight systems of both Soyuz and Salyut. Much to the surprise of most observers, there was no attempt to transfer either Alexei Stanislavovich Yeliseyev or Nikolai Nikolayevich Rukavishnikov into the space station. After separation from Salyut, the crew of Soyuz 10 conducted circular maneuvers around the station, taking photographs and transmitting live television pictures of it to the ground.35

Even as the three-man crew returned safely to earth, there was considerable speculation over the success of the mission. The Soviets had themselves given rise to the questions. After the mission, designer Feoktistov indicated that there had been some difficulties in the rendezvous and docking aspects of the flight. First, there had been a number of orbit changes during rendezvous. "In the course of this experiment 'Soyuz 10' changed its orbit three times and 'Salyut' station four times on commands from the earth." With respect to the docking, Feoktistov said:

In servicing orbital stations . . . it will become necessary in the future to learn to dock a relatively small transport spaceship with a huge flying multipurpose laboratory. . . . The docking of this type is a more difficult task as compared with the docking of two "Soyuz" or "Cosmos" spaceships - craft of roughly the same mass.36
While second guessing continued over the "problems" encountered by Soyuz 10, the Soviets launched Soyuz 11 on 6 June 1971. As the preparations advanced for the second rendezvous with Salyut I, Petrov cabled Gilruth on 24 May, proposing a 20 June arrival date in Houston for the Working Group members. Gilruth, wishing not to lose the momentum of the joint talks, accepted that date and requested information on the size and arrival time of the delegation.37

* Although the "Chief Designer" was tentatively identified by the New York Times as being M. K. Yangel, it was more likely that K. P. Feoktistov was speaking to the Soviet press.

34. Theodore Shabad, "A Long Manned Orbital Flight Is Predicted by Soviet Official," New York Times, 15 Apr. 1971; and Shabad, "A Decade after Mans First Space Flight; Soviet Sets New Goals," New York Times, 13 Apr. 1971.

35. "Polet Soyuza 10" [Flight of "Soyuz 10"], Priroda [Nature], No. 6 (1971), pp. 2-3 (available as NASA Technical Translation F 13, 931).

36. Tass International Service radio broadcast transcript in English, "Soviet Union FBIS," 26 Apr. 1971, p. L5. For a fuller description of the docking process, see T. Borisov, "A Meeting in Space," Trud, 25 Apr. 1971. For American news media comments, see "Salyut Boosts Self to Higher Orbit," Aviation Week and Space Technology, 3 May 1971, pp. 14-15, which claims the mission was "aborted." Also see "Soyuz Review Leaves Puzzles Unresolved," Aviation Week and Space Technology, 10 May 1971, p. 19.

37. TWX, Petrov to Gilruth, 21 May 1971; TWX, Gilruth to Petrov, 1 June 1971; and TWX, Secretary of State to American Embassy, Moscow, "Meeting of Compatible Docking Working Group," 1 June 1971.

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