Tuesday, August 14, 2012

50 Years Ago: Vostok 3 and 4 Attempt Rendezvous

The R-7 rocket, type used in Vostok missions. Photo by Sergei Arssenei.

Fifty years ago the Soviet Union launched twin missions at the same time. On August 11, 1962 the Vostok 3 spacecraft blasted off on top of a Russian R-7 rocket (technically the Vostok-K) with cosmonaut Andrian Nikolyev on board. A day later, Vostok 4 took off with cosmonaut Pavel Popovich in an attempt to meet up with the first spacecraft.

Andrian Nikolyev.

Cosmonaut Nikolyev was the first space traveller to undo his safety restraints and float freely in his capsule. He spent a record four days in 64 orbits above the Earth.

Pavel Popovich in Vostok 4.

A new record was sent when cosmonaut Pavel Popovich entered orbit a day after Vostok 3. It was the first time two manned spacecraft had been in space at the same time. The Vosotk 4 spacecraft was entered in a trajectory to bring it close to the Vostok 3. The two spacecraft actually did pass four miles from each other. Radio contact was established between the two ships. Popovich stated that he briefly saw the Vostok 3.

Vostok Capsule shell.

Unfortunately, the Vosotk 4 mission ended early. A mission controller evidently misunderstood a statement made by Popovich and thought that he had spoken a code word that told the ground to end the mission early. Remote signals were sent beginning the re-entry process. 

This early mission in Soviet history has a personal meaning for me, as I had the honor of meeting cosmonaut Popovich when he visited the Christa McAuliffe Space Education Center here in Pleasant Grove, Utah. Rest assured I have his autograph!

Pavel Popovich, Hero of the Soviet Union, sitting in the captain's chair of the Phoenix spaceship simulator at the Christa McAuliffe Space Education Center. Seated next to him is cosmonaut Victor Savinykh, who flew several Soyuz missions and was one of the last crewmembers of Salyut 6 space station. The cosmonauts had come to Utah to participate in the Planetary Conference of the Association of Space Explorers in Salt Lake City.

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