Voskhod 1, the seventh crewed Soviet spacecraft was launched on October 12, 1964. Three cosmonauts, Vladimir Komarov (16 March 1927 – 24 April 1967), Konstantin Feoktistov (7 February 1926 – 21 November 2009), and Boris Yegorov (26 November 1937 – 12 September 1994) were aboard, so Voskhod 1 became the first multi-person spacecraft in space.

It also set a crewed spacecraft altitude record of 336 kilometers (209 miles). Another first was, the spacecraft carried either an engineer or a physician into outer space.

Today’s (October 12) story of what happened this day in Science, Technology, Astronomy, and Space Exploration history.

Voskhod 1

Before the historic flight of Voskhod 1, rumors had been circulating for a few days in Moscow about an upcoming two-or-three-person spaceflight.

On the morning of October 12, Soviet papers announced the flight of Voskhod 1.

The origins of Voskhod

After Valentina Tereshkova’s historic spaceflight aboard Vostok-6 on June 16, 1963 (Tereshkova became the first woman in space), the Soviet Union had no fixed plan for what to do next.

A request to build an additional ten Vostoks had been submitted to the Soviet government. However, this plan was downsized from ten to four extra spacecraft.

In July 1963, chief designer Sergei Korolev (12 January 1907 [O.S. 30 December 1906] – 14 January 1966) laid out plans for using these spacecraft:

  • A dog flight to high altitude lasting 10 days
  • An 8-day crewed (solo) flight
  • A group flight lasting 10 days.

In December 1963, the flight manifest was essentially the same but the dog-flight duration had been extended to 30 days. These missions would be a stop-gap measure until the Soviet Union’s next spacecraft, Soyuz would be available at the end of 1964.

However, the additional four Vostoks would not be ready until mid-1964. A group of cosmonauts was put in training for these rather vaguely defined missions.

Postal stamp commemorating Voskhod 1 mission
Postal stamp commemorating Voskhod 1 mission

From the written record it is hard to judge how the idea of a three-person spaceflight came up. On the surface it seems that an order was received “from above” on February 4, 1964, to carry out a three-person flight in order to upstage the United States’ Gemini missions and to temporarily hide the fact that the Soviet Union was falling behind in the space race.

That would be also the case during the mission planning of the first spacewalk ever, performed by performed by Alexei Leonov on March 17, 1965. Korolev had to take a lot of risks in order to “beat” the United States to send the first cosmonaut out of the spacecraft to perform “spacewalk” (the Russian movie “Spacewalker” tells this story).

The plan for a three-person flight was probably invented in discusssions between Korelev, Dmitry Ustinov (see notes 1), Leonid Smirnov (see notes 2), and Mstislav Keldysh (see notes 3).

Design features of Voskhod

The follow-on Vostoks approved in 1963 included soft landing rockets and larger parachutes to make it possible for cosmonauts to land inside the capsule. Previously, Vostok cosmonauts was getting ejected from the spacecraft and landing by parachute.

The Voskhod spacecraft was, essentially, a Vostok spacecraft that had a backup solid fuel retrorocket added to the top of the descent module. The ejection seat was removed for more space. There was no provision for crew escape in the event of a launch or landing emergency.

Voskhod was also equipped with an ion flow sensor for yaw attitude steering in the case the spacecraft was in eclipse. This was probably a feature needed for the “extra Vostoks” since the longer flight time may have made it necessary to consider retrofire in darkness in order to take into account of the precession of the orbital plane during a long flight.

Because of the cramped conditions, the cosmonauts also had to go on a diet to fit in their couches.

Crew selection for the Voskhod 1

The original prime crew of cosmonauts for Voskhod 1, composed of Boris Volynov (Born: December 18, 1934), Georgi Katys (31 August 1926 – 7 August 2017), and Boris Yegorov (26 November 1937 – 12 September 1994), was rejected just three days before the scheduled launch date for the space capsule.

Katys was reportedly removed after the KGB discovered that his father had been shot during the Great Purge in 1937 (a brutal political campaign led by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin to eliminate dissenting members of the Communist Party and anyone else he considered a threat) and Volynov apparently was the victim of discrimination due to his part-Jewish background, although he would later fly on Soyuz 5 and Soyuz 21.

Politics played a role in the crew’s selection. Various factions each supported their own representatives for the flight. Sergei Korolev wanted his engineers to become cosmonauts, believing that spacecraft designers should fly in their own vehicles.

The Soviet Air Force agreed to a crew composed of a military pilot, an engineer or scientist, and a doctor, but advocated for an all-military crew. Konstantin Feoktistov, who had been a design engineer for the Vostok, Voskhod, and Soyuz programs, was selected for this flight, becoming the only Soviet outer space designer to make a spaceflight.

Yegorov, a medical doctor, used his political influence to get selected for the crew through his father’s Politburo connections. The Soviet space program viewed its crews as passengers more than pilots; the new cosmonauts received only three to four months of training, perhaps the briefest in space history other than that received by the American politicians Jake Garn and Bill Nelson for Space Shuttle flights in the 1980s.

The first multi-crewed spaceflight

Voskhod 1 in space
Soviet Union’s Voskhod 1, the first multi-person spacecraft in space (screenshot from Kerbal Space Program)

Voskhod 1 was launched at 07:30 UT on October 12, 1964 and it took 8 minutes and 43 seconds to reach Earth orbit. Shortly thereafter the launch was announced by famous Soviet radio announcer Yuri Levitan.

The spacecraft had entered an orbit between 178 x 408 km (110.5 x 253.5 miles) at an inclination of 64.9 degrees – just as planned. Moscow announced that spacecraft weighed 5320 kg.

Manual control tests and TV transmissions took place on orbits 6 and 7. TV images from Voskhod 1 were relayed to west European viewers by Eurovision at 11:00 UT. Nikita Khrushchev and Anastas Mikoyan, both members of the Soviet leadership, spoke to the crew at 14:00 UT.

Shortly after this conversation, Khrushchev was summoned back to Moscow where he learned that he was being expelled from office and the Communist Party. When the crew returned to Earth the next day, they were greeted by Leonid Brezhnev and Alexei Kosygin in their first public appearance as leaders of the Soviet Union.

On the second orbit, the crew sent greetings to the Olympic Games as the craft passed near Japan around 09:20.

The spacecraft landed at 07:47 UT on October 13 at a spot 312 km (194 miles) northeast of Kustanay in Kazakhstan.

The Voskhod 1 mission was a success, and a large amount of scientific data was obtained.

Notes

  1. Dmitry Ustinov (30 October 1908 – 20 December 1984) was a Marshal of the Soviet Union and Soviet politician during the Cold War. He was chairman of the Military-Industrial Commission dirung the early space race years (until 1963) and later Secretary of the Central Committee for defense and space.
  2. Leonid Smirnov (3 April 1916 – 21 December 2001) was a Soviet statesman. He was the chairman of the Military-Industrial Commission between 1963 and 1985.
  3. Mstislav Keldysh (10 February [O.S. 28 January] 1911 – 24 June 1978) was a Soviet mathematician who worked as an engineer in the Soviet space program. He was the President of the Academy of Sciences between 1961 and 1975.
  4. Sergei Rudenko (20 October [O.S. 7 October] 1904, in Korop, Russian Empire – 10 July 1990, in Moscow, Soviet Union) was a Soviet Marshal of the aviation. He was first deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Soviet Air Force between 1958 and 1968 and oversaw cosmonaut training.

Sources

M. Özgür Nevres
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