Did cosmonaut Andrian Nikolayev speak on shortwaves during the flight of Soyuz-3?

An old recording

Mailing box for 1968 Soyuz-3 tapeWhile visiting Kettering in the beginning of June 2002 Derek Slater, a colleague of Geoff Perry's at The Kettering Grammar School and the radio expert of the school's satellite tracking group, gave me a little tape reel that I sent to Geoff Perry in 1968. From the postmark of the little box it seemed that it was mailed (see picture on the right) in November 1968.

When playing it back on I indeed found that it contained a report from me to Geoff Perry about Soyuz-3. Despite its age (34 years old) its sound quality is OK. There are two good recordings on the tape of shortwave telemetry from Soyuz-3 on 20.008 MHz. There are also some strange voice signals with someone shouting "Zemlya ya Sokol" on at least two occasions early on 27 October 1968 (calm call at 0525 UT and excited call at 0625 UT). Clearly these voice signals were not directly from Soyuz-3, because the call sign of Georgi Beregovoy, the only occupant of Soyuz-3, was "Argon". However, I thought that the "Sokol" calls to Zemlya might have been related to the flight anyway because "Sokol" was the call sign of Andrian Nikolayev during the flight of Vostok-3 in 1962. Later that year (on 27 December 1968 , the day Apollo-8 was recovered) the "Zemlya ya Sokol" calls were again heard by Geoff Perry on 19.995 MHz, so I started doubting that these voice signals were at all related to Soviet space activities.

Soyuz-3 was launched from Baikonur at 0834 UT on 26 october 1968 carrying WW II veteran Georgi Beregovoy as its sole occupant. Already on the very first orbits an unsuccessful attempt was made to dock with the unmanned Soyuz-2 launched on 25 October 1968. Beregovoy landed in Kazakhstan on 30 October 1968. Not a very promising resumption of flights after the disaster with Soyuz-1. However, it was soon determined that the reason for the failure was pilot error! The Kettering group tracked Soyuz-3 extensively and Geoff Perry put together a composite log (1) of all receptions from stations spread out over the globe. The figure below summarizes the observations.

By the way, Soyuz-3 was the first manned spacecraft that I was able to track and the first reception i shown below.

When I found the old tape I was glad to hear the telemetry signals from Soyuz-3 (listen here for a long segment of a signal on 20.008 MHz recorded just before command-off 1814:26 UT on 29 October 1968. Click here or on the picture of the telemetry below to listen to a short segment of the recording). I had not kept my own copies of these. Since this was the first manned spacecraft that I ever tracked the old recording had a sentimental value.

However, I thought that maybe it was worth pursuing the thought that the "Zemlya ya Sokol" calls had something to do with the Soyuz-3 flight. Therefore I distributed copies of the voice signals to fellow space trackers of the Kettering Group that may have picked up similar signals in the 1960's.

What "Sokol" said

On June 20, 2002 I received the following reply from veteran space tracker Chris van den Berg about what was on the little tape (see picture on the right):

"... Indeed the voice communications by 'Sokol' (Nikolayev) took place during the flight of Beregovoy ('Argon').  During that flight I monitored 'Argon' now and then in traffic with a 'Vjezna' tracking station.

Sokol opens the voice with the report that he had opened something. The counterstation is indeed 'Zemlya' (earth), but I had to concentrate very long to be sure for it could have been 'Zarya'.   The counterstation could be heard saying that he had a very bad reception. The voice of the operator on the counterstation sounds familiar for me. So I hope to find somewhere a recording with that voice!

In my opinion 'Sokol' was working as Capcom on a tracking ship or tracking station. I am always  willing to re-evaluate old recordings of the good old days in space flight!! ..."

An intriguing glimpse into the past

A day or two later Chris wrote to me and other members of the Kettering Group:

"... 'Sokol' was the call sign of Andrian Nikolayev, which he used during his flight with Vostok-3, during the group flight with Vostok-4 (The call-sign of cosmonaut Pavel Popovich in Vostok-4 was 'Berkut'). Nikolayev  also used this call during his second flight in Soyuz-9 with Sevastyanov.

But, there have been occasions when he could be heard during communication tests or training. On several occasions I monitored him while calling on 20.008 MHz when there was no relation whatsoever with active space flight. Other calls during were used during some sessions with  'Zarya Odin' (sounded like Zaryadin) and  VIKA's with numbers (tracking stations for intercontinental ballistic missile tests). Once I heard 'Sokol' speak with such a station. I also picked up a station 'Zemlya-4'.

Two days before the first flight of Leonov (Voskhod-2: 18 March 1965) with Belyayev there was a communication training during which  'Sokol' used short wave (20 MHz) during a contact with 'Berkut' (Popovich),  there was also a station involved 'Pervyj' (nr. 1), and sometimes telemetry signals! Also such test sessions could be heard on 17 March 1965.

Often cosmonauts and selected cosmonauts acted as capcoms on tracking ships and tracking stations.

I discovered the beginning of the flight of Bykovskiy (Vostok-5) on 20 MHz when a Russian controller ordered VIKA to leave this band immediately for 'there was working a cosmonaut' ..."

More evidence about the extensive use of shortwaves during early Soviet space flight and missile tests.

At Jack M. Gallimore's now defunct web site there are intriguing accounts of how he participated in monitoring of Soviet space and missile tests from the Trabzon monitoring site in Turkey operated by the USAFSS's (USAF Air Force Security Service) 6939th Radio Squadron Mobile unit. He served at Trabzon during eight months from October 1961 to May 1962. Jack describes how countdowns at the Kapustin Yar and Tyuratam launch sites  were monitored on shortwaves and how telemetry from spacecraft and missiles was picked up on shortwaves and VHF/UHF. He also describes how Soviet air defence radars reported their plots of aircraft to a central point via shortwaves. In this way the USAFSS could plot the movements of Soviet interceptors and US spy planes in real time. This shows the heavy Soviet reliance on shortwaves which obviously was the case also for missile and space tests. Later, of course, microwave links largely replaced shortwaves to tie together tracking sites.

Checking on another source

The messages from Chris van den Berg sounded very reassuring and my old recording from 1968 took on a new significance. To carry this inquiry one step further I wrote to Bart Hendrickx to find out if there is any evidence in General Kamanin's diary as to the whereabouts of flown cosmonauts during Soyuz-3 or other early Soyuz flights: Did they go to tracking stations or did they go to Baikonur?

Here is what Bart Hendrickx graciously replied:

"... I've checked Kamanin's diary entries for Soyuz-3. Nikolayev was at Baikonur for the final launch preparations. On launch day Kamanin writes : 'Up to the T-15 minute point I and Andrian Nikolayev talked to Beregovoi via the radio and then we went to the bunker'. Shortly after the launch Kamanin flew to Yevpatoriya to monitor the flight from there. The capcoms there were Volynov and Shatalov (Beregovoi's back-ups).  On 27 October Kamanin writes that Nikolayev and two generals (Shcheulov and Goreglyad) had received an order from the State Commission to fly to Karaganda to welcome Beregovoi after landing. So it seems to me that Nikolayev remained at the cosmodrome for about one day after launch and that if he did talk to Beregovoi in orbit it must have been during that time ..."

Well, the flight flight started on 26 October and ended on 30 October 1968. The "Zemlya ya Sokol" calls were only heard by me on 27 october 1968, so perhaps Nikolayev left for the recovery zone on 28 or 29 October. Other voice signals (not from "Argon") were heard on 29 and 30 October.


Adding everything together, I may have heard Andrian Nikolayev, but I fear that the only way of finding out for sure is to ask the old cosmonaut himself! In any case, the little tape reel provoked interesting comments from several sources and revealed hitherto unknown facts about early Soviet space flight operations. Also, I finally found my earliest Soyuz telemetry recording!


  1. "The joint flight of Soyuz 2 and Soyuz 3, 1968-93A and 1968-94A. Cospar Station 2289, Kettering." Internal Kettering Group memo written by Geoff Perry and dated 30 Decemberl 1968.

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