The flight of Voskhod-1, what a surprise!

Sven Grahn

I remember very well that day in October 1964 when the first multi-man spacecraft flew. There had been rumours in Moscow the day before, a fact that newspapers and media reported early in the morning of 12 October. That morning I went to lectures at the Royal Institute of Technology as usual. During a before-noon break I rushed to a phone booth at the student union house and called the Swedish news agency TT telephone news service and heard the fascinating news about the flight of Voskhod. Just like everyone else I thought that this was the "Soviet Apollo".  However, history later revealed this impression to be a mirage, a faked image created by Soviet engineers and the propaganda machine.

In any case this historic flight convinced me to finally buy my first short-wave radio for tracking Soviet spacecraft. The money for the radio I had earned as a rocket assembly technician during sounding rocket launches in the north of Sweden.

The origins of Voskhod

After Valentina Tereshkova's flight aboard Vostok-6 in June 1963 there was no fixed plan what to do next. A request to build an additional ten Vostoks had been submitted to the Soviet government. However. this plan Vostok flights was downsized from ten to four extra spacecraft. In July 1963 chief designer Sergei Korolev laid out plans for using these spacecraft: a dog flight to high altitude lasting 10 days and an 8-day manned solo flight and 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 (14). These missions would be a stop-gap measure until the 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 were put in training for these rather nebulously defined missions.

From the written record it is hard to judge how the idea of a three-man flight came up. On the surface it seems that an order was received "from above" on 4 February 1964 to carry out a three-man flight in order to upstage the U.S. Gemini flights and to temporarily hide the fact that the USSR was falling behind in the space race (8).  Kamanin's notes (8) seem to indicate that the plan for a three-man flight was invented in discusssions between  Korelev, Ustinov15 , Smirnov16, and Keldysh18.

In any case, the pace of Voskhod, once the basic decision was taken, was breathtaking as can be seen from short listing of major dates:

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. This design feature was crucial for the Voskhod plan beacuse there was no room for three ejection seats! Also, high altitude flights were envisaged which made it impossible to use natural decay as an emergency recovery method. Therefore a back-up retrorocket was probably also included in the design for these extra Vostoks (a cylinder on top of the re-entry capsule in the picture above right). 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.

Crew selection for the three-man  flight

This was a complicated process with many considerations, even related to the political background and other non-professional factors. This is very well described in Hendrickx summary of General Kamanin's diary (9). However, the decision to proceed with the project on 13 March 1964 set out that the crew should contain "a cosmonaut, a scientist and a doctor". Vladimir Komarov's name came up as candidates for the "cosmonaut" seat was not inlcuded in the candidate list until 23 April 1964. On 21 May 1964 the list of possible candidates for "cosmonaut" was down to Volynov, Komarov, Leonov, Khrunov. On 26 May four doctors had been picked to form a candidate group: Boris Yegorov, Boris Polyakov, Vasiliy Lazarev and Aleksei Sorokin. The only "scientist" selected at that point was Georgiy Katys. Later Korolev's design bureau provided a list of "engineer" candidates: Feoktistov, Grechko, Kubasov, Makarov, Rukavishnikov, Volkov and Yazdovskiy. In early July 1964 the final group of seven crew candidates was established: Komarov, Feoktistov, Yegorov, Katys, Lazarev, Volynov, Sorokin. (Photo credit for the crew pictures below:

Flight preparations

Tests were carried out during the summer of 1964 to verify the design of the new parachute and the soft landing system that would make it possible for the cosmonauts to stay inside the capsule all the way down to earth. Air-drop test were carried out near the Black sea resort Feodosia. Initially the tests went well, but starting on 29 August problems with jettisoning the parachute hatch appeared. Obviously an error in the circuit design caused the hatch to fail to release during a test in early September and the capsule was destroyed (some sources say it was Titov's Vostok-2 capsule). A final drop test with Sergei Korolev present just 9 days before the Voskhod flight - on 3 October - cleared the system for flight.

The State Commission met at Baikonur in the evening of 29 September and received the news of problems with the Tral telemetry system of Voskhod. Designer Bogolomov (10) reported that the spacecraft had to be dismantled to replace the system and this would take 6-7 days. (8)

The cosmonaut group training for the flight (Komarov, Feoktistov, Yegorov, Katys, Lazarev, Volynov, Sorokin?) arrived at Baikonur on 4 October to witness the unmanned test flight of Voskhod. In the evening of 5 October the State Commission decided to launch the test flight carrying two "mannequins" the following day. At this time the cosmonaut group was not aware of who was going to be the crew of Voskhod. (8)

Kosmos-47 (64-062A) was launched into orbit at 0700 UT on 6 October and flew for 24 hours just like the upcoming manned flight. It entered a 177-413 km orbit at 64.8 degree inclination, and TASS announced a frequency of 19.994 MHz. The capsule was returned to Baikonur on 8 October for examination. A mere four days before the manned flight! Korolev was certainly operating with small margins. It was important to get the manned flight off promptly because tracking ships in the Pacific and Indian Ocean only had supplies that would allow them to remain "on station" up until mid-October! (9)

The plan was to launch Voskhod-1 on 10 October 1964, but on 8 October the news arrived from ground tests of the third stage engine that it had suffered high-frequency oscillations in the combustion chamber. The engine was being tested by the Kosberg Design Bureau (OKB-154) and had been flown many times without problems. The prevailing view was that the oscillations were caused by the effects of the test stand and designer Kosberg reported this conclusion to the State Commission meeting at Baikonur on 9 October.  At this meeting Korolev also described the successful landing tests at Feodosia and the successful test flight of Kosmos-47. (8) Also, at this meeting, the cosmonauts were probably told who would actually fly the mission! (9)

But even with this problem cleared there was additional trouble in the evening before launch. The Tral telemetry transmitter in the booster malfunctioned and had to be replaced, an operation that took at least two hours. According to Kamanin (8) Sergei Korolev completely lost his temper when he received this report and took quite a while before he could compose himself and telephone defence minister Ustinov15 to report that Voskhod-1 was ready to fly.

Rumours in Moscow

Interestingly there were three sets of pre-launch rumours for Voskhod-1:

The mission finally gets off

"A quiet, frosty morning. The thermometer  reads -8, gentle winds, cirrus clouds, visibility over 20 kilometers - almost ideal weather for a launch". This is how cosmonaut training chief Nikolai Kamanin (8) described the scene at Baikonur on the morning of the launch of Voskhod. The State Commission met at the launch pad 200 meters from the rocket at 0500 UT and all officials reported that all was ready for launch. Korolev stated that "the rocket can be fueled and launched" (8).

The flight was launched at 0730 UT on 12 October 1964 and it took 523 seconds (8 minutes 43 seconds) to reach orbit. A UPI wire at 0846 UT read: "THE SOVIET UNION TODAY LAUNCHED THE WORLD'S FIRST PASSENGER SPACE SHIP WITH THREE MEN ABOARD, AUTHORITATIVE UNOFFICIAL SOURCES SAID". Shortly thereafter the launch was announced by famous Soviet radio announcer Yuri Levitan (listen here). The spacecraft had entered an orbit between 178 and 408 km 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 revolution 6 and 7 (3). TV images from Voskhod were relayed to west European viewers by Eurovision at 1100 UT. Nikita Khrushchev and Anastas Mikoyan, both members of the Soviet leadership, spoke to the crew at 1400 UT (listen here) (4). Kruschchev told the crew that "Anastas Mikoyan is standing next to me and is eager to take the telephone receiver from me". This was later interpreted as symbolic of Mikoyan's participation in the plot to oust Khruschchev (see below).

On the second orbit (rev 1 in US Space Command parlance), the crew sent greetings to the Olympic Games as the craft passed near Japan around 0920. (Listen to the message here).

Western space trackers tune in to the mission

Kettering, England

In Kettering, England, Geoff Perry's school tracking station promptly picked up signals from the new flight:

"On the morning of Monday, October 12, the group tuned in on 19.995 Mc/s after reading newspaper reports that a Soviet manned space flight was believed to be imminent. Mr Perry was with the 6B physics practical group in Physics A when Vostok-type beacon signals - an irregular bleeping - began to come through just before 10 a.m. Mr Slater was teaching in a top-floor laboratory when a sixth-former came in and asked 'Would you come down and listen to satellite, please, Sir?' Mr Slater would, did, and agreed that the signals were indeed Vostok-type. They continued for 15 minutes.

Mr Perry then telephoned the Radio and Space Research Station at Datchet to report the signals. The expert in the satellite section suggested that they were from Electron . But Electron 1 did not transmit on 19.995, Mr Perry pointed out. Well, maybe it was Cosmos 46, the expert suggested. Since Cosmos 46 was known to have been recovered over a week before, Mr Perry rang off. Five minutes later a Mr Pankhurst of the Kettering Evening Telegraph telephoned to say that Tass had announced the launch of a three-man spacecraft. Mr Perry told him about the signals received, and asked him to ring back if the transmitting frequencies were quoted.

Kettering had picked up Voskhod on its first orbit. Further signals were received on the second revolution. Just before lunch the Evening Telegraph phoned, got through to the Headmaster, apologized for bothering him and asked if he would mind passing on a message - "Try 18.035 Mc/s" - to Mr Perry. The Headmaster not only did not mind but joined the sixth-formers in Physics A during their lunch to try 18.035. Sure enough, Russian voices were picked up and taped on the spacecraft's third orbit. Positive identification came on orbit 4, when a phrase from a further transmission was translated by Mr C G Brown, master in charge of Russian in the department of modern languages, as "I am Ruby. Do you receive me? Over." Whether or not ground control at Baikonur received him, Ruby was coming in loud and clear at Kettering."

In the recording That I got from Geoff Perry back in 1966 you can hear Komarov say "Zarya Eight, this is Ruby. How do you read?".  This is quite interesting because this means that Komarov was calling a specific person or rather, a person with a specific function. For example, the head of the Main Operations Group (Glavnaya Operativnaya Gruppa Upravleniya) used  "No. 12" and Korolev was "No. 20" (7). Had Komarov just called the shortwave ground station, he would have used the call-sign Vjezna. Does this mean that theis person (No.8) was actually at the shortwave station that Komarov called? Perhaps at Baikonur? The beacon signals on 19.994 MHz contained biomedical telemetry where the interruption rate of the CW carrier represented the cosmonaut pulse rate and the interruption length represented the respiration rate (see separate article).

Gainesville, Florida

Voskhod-1  was also tracked by students at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Here is what my old friend Richard Flagg writes (6):

"... I went out to Bivens Arm [the university's radio observatory site outside Gainesville] I think between 8 and 10 AM [The flight was announced at about 4 a.m. local time in Florida] and heard voice on one of the observatory receivers and a big Yagi but didn't have a tape recorder.  I think he said "Greeting to American people"  - then we picked up the voice and CW that you have on tape in the evening using a dipole antenna and the National NC125 receiver at the Student Satellite Tracking Station [at the campus in Gainesville].  We were trying to get a strip chart record using an old 6 channel Brush recorder but the ink wouldn't flow so we were blowing into the ink reservoir thru a piece of insulation spaghetti.  I have no recollection if we got it working or what ever happened to the trace.  The tape was recorded on my old Revere reel to reel machine..."

The voice and CW that is referred to above are the beautiful voice transmission from Vladimir  Komarov and also the hand-keyed Morse code signals from Komarov that reads: WZN 2 DE RUN QSA 5 DE RUN K. The interpretation of the Morse code is probably: WZN 2 ="Vjezna 2", a short-wave ground station, DE="From" in normal morse-code parlance, RUN=probably means "Rubin", Russian for "Ruby", Komarov's call-sign, QSA 5=The international Q-signals system is used here by Komarov. QSA 5 means "the strength of your signals is very good"! (2), K=Means simply "over" in normal morse-code parlance. So, the whole transmission reads "Vjezna 2, This is Ruby. I hear you very well. This is Ruby. Over."

The map to the left below shows the passes near Gainesville when the "greetings to the United States" were sent by Komarov. Even if Richard Flagg seems to remember that the radio call from Komarov between 8 and 10 a.m. (1300-1500 UT), it could have been as late as 1130 a.m. (1630 UT) when the spacecraft passed right over the eastern parts of the United States. The map on the right shows the "evening" passes near Florida. Possibly the 0155 UT pass near Gainesville (8.55 p.m. local time) was the pass on which the voice and Morse code (see links above) were recorded.

Bonn, Germany

Dieter Oslender in Bonn, Germany, picked up the telemetry beacon on 19.994 MHz (listen) during a large part of 12 October and also early in the morning of 13 october 1964 - just before the landing phase (see map below).

The flight proceeds and ends

The three flight control operations groups were headed by Kerimov, Kamanin, and Prevetskiy, respectively. During Kamanin's shift which was a night shift Korolev and Tyulin19 telephoned several times for information about the progress of the flight (8). A few anomalies were noted during this time. The temperature in the cabin climbed from 15 to 20 degrees Celsius. Also, Yegorov's pulse during his sleep dropped to 46. Komarov was asked to take his crew mate's pulse and reported back "Pulse 68" (8). Kamanin left his shift at 3 in the morning. If this was local time at Baikonur it happened at 2200 UT, at which time it was impossible to reach the spacecraft via VHF voice and telemetry from tracking stations in the USSR. At 0128 UT Boris Yegorov reported on the state of the crew as the spacecraft again was able to communicate directly with stations on Soviet territory (5)

Kamanin writes that there was no report on shortwaves from the spacecraft about the operation of the retro-rocket. Instead this had to come from a tracking ship off the "African coast" (7) (This must have been the east African coast). However, this report was incomplete and it was not until Krug short-wave direction finders ("Krug"=circle) could pick up the capsule beacon as it passed over the Caucasus (7) that confirmation of the correct initiation of landing sequence was received. But the beacon from an antenna in the parachute shroud lines could not be heard and everyone held their breath until a pilot reported seeing an object "in the air, 40 kilometres east of Maryevka" and "two parachute canopies". Finally the same pilot reported seeing the three crewmen standing outside the craft waving their arms. The spacecraft landed at 0747:03 UT at a spot 312 km northeast of Kustanay in Kazakhstan, and he successful conclusion of the flight was announced by Soviet media at 0900 UT.

When the crew arrived at Kustanay there was no telephone call from Khrushchev and they flew on to Baikonur to report about the flight, which they did the following day. After a celebratory luncheon at the launch site Marshal Rudenko17 was ordered to fly to Moscow immediately. A plenary of the party central committee was to be held the same evening. As General Kamanin puts it in his diary: "It seemed from everything that something unusual was happening in Moscow". The crew's report at Red Square was cancelled and Korolev quietly left the cosmodrome for Moscow on 15 October. Khrushchev - the chief political supporter of space stunts had been ousted! The Voskhod-1 crew finally left the launch site and flew to Moscow on 19 October 1964 and were greeted by the new leader Leonid Brezhnev. A flight that had been designed to politically eclipse the Americans was eclipsed itself by political events in the Soviet Union!

References and footnotes

  1. Kenneth Owen, "Kettering's Cosmos Scholars", Flight International, 22 July 1965.
  2. Radio Amateur's Handbook, ARRL, 1974 edition p. 647
  3. Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet, 13 October 1964, p.9
  4. Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, 13 October 1964.
  5. Conquest of Cosmic Space by the USSR,  official TASS communiques and material from the central press, 1957-67, Nauka Publishers, Moscow 1971, p. 438.
  6. E-mail message from Richard S Flagg, 15 september 2002.
  7. E-mail message from Chris van den Berg, 22 september 2002.
  8. N.P Kamanin, "I would never have believed anyone...", Sovietskata Rossiya, 11 October 1989, p.4
  9. Hendrickx, Bart. "The Kamanin Diaries 1964-1966, JBIS, Vol 51, No. 11, Nov 1998, p.413-440.
  10. The Russian Space Web: Bogomolov, Alexei Fedorovich. Born in 1913. Chief Designer of OKB MEI (Moscow Energy Institute), developer of radio for Russian rocketry.
  11. Swedish daily  Norrländska Socialdemokraten, 14 Augsut 1964.
  12. Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet, 20 August 1964
  13. Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, 12 October 1964.
  14. Siddiqi, Asif, "Challenge to Apollo", NASA  SP-2000-4408, pp.380-386.
  15. Dimitriy Ustinov 1908-1984 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
  16. Leonid Smirnov was chairman of the Military-Industrial Commission 1963-1985
  17. Sergei Rudenko was first deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Soviet Air Force 1958-68 and oversaw cosmonaut training.
  18. Mstislav Keldysh, President of the Academy of Sciences 1961-75.
  19. Georgi Tyulin, 1914-1990, During the period 1961-65, first deputy Chairman of  the State Committee of Defense Technology (which oversaw all ballistic missile and space programs).

Back to Space Tracking Notes