After 1957, the Soviets became accustomed to achieving “world firsts” in space accomplishments. Nevertheless, 10 years later they were not confident that they could pull off the world’s first fully automatic rendezvous and docking of two un-piloted Soyuz spacecraft. At the time the chance for success was estimated at only 50/50.
“It’s a terrible scene. Komarov burned up. All the instruments burned. We must quickly find out what prevented the main parachute from unlatching.” Chief Designer Mishin after he arrived at the Soyuz 1 crash site.
“I was the last one to see him alive and I told him ‘See you soon!’” Yuri Gagarin, recalls bidding farewell to his friend Kamarov in Soyuz 1.
With the success of Kosmos 146 and in spite of the failures of the first three 7K-Ok’s it was now time to plan for a Soyuz manned mission. The planned involved the launch and docking of two piloted Soyuzes. Soyuz 7K-OK production model number 4 was assigned the role of the active vehicle. The active vehicle was supposed to carry one cosmonaut into earth orbit. Twenty-four hours later, vehicle No. 5 (the passive vehicle) carrying three cosmonauts would be inserted in orbit. After rendezvouing, two cosmonauts from vehicle No. 5 would transfer through open space to vehicle No. 4.
Chief Designer Mishin proposed a two-launch “stopover” scenario for the piloted flight to the moon. This was similar to one of NASA’s earth orbit rendezvous modes to reach the moon. The gist of the plan was, the UR-500K would insert the 7K-L1 into orbit with no crew. Then the R7 derivative Semyorka would launch the 7K-OK carrying two cosmonauts. If everything went well on the two vehicles, they would dock, and the cosmonauts would transfer from the 7K-OK to the 7K-L1 via spacewalk. Then they would set out for the Moon, and, after flying around it, they would return to Earth.
The first Soyuz test flight was a catastrophic failure. Due to negligence, the attitude control system malfunctioned and used all of its fuel before a rendezvous could be attempted or even the second Soyuz rocket could be launched. When the Soviets attempted to return the first Soyuz to earth, the vehicle’s self-destruct system activated because it was unable to make a landing in the Soviet Union. OKB-1 was disgraced.
After many delays in launching the first Soyuz due to design complications, equipment deliveries, the learning curve for testing new designs, unreasonable launch dates, persecution from the communist party, and the death of Chief Designer Korolev. The first unmanned test flight is nearing launch. Two Soyuz 7k-OK’s have made it through testing. Both Soyuz have been attached to their carrier rocket and are nearly ready to launch. The plan is to launch both vehicles 24 hours apart in order to perform a rendezvous.
“In those days, the Party organizations in industry were not only involved with policy, ideology, and the “struggle against nonconformist thought,” but tried to get involved in technology and production engineering. Wielding real authority over people who were Party members, they had the opportunity to affect the production process. With few exceptions, every chief designer was a Party member. It was far more dangerous to receive a Party reprimand than a reprimand ordered by the head of an enterprise or even a minister.
The Communist Party of the Soviet Union was a party of power. This was a party that actively meddled in the production process not only from the top—through the Central Committee or Politburo—but also from the bottom. Things did not always turn out as planned, but as a rule, they had the best of intentions. The Party attempted to encompass all aspects of a person’s life with its ideological influence. Any job was supposed to be a “thing of virtue, honor, and heroism,” not for the sake of personal prosperity, but to strengthen the power of the state. “So long as our motherland lives, there are no other cares”—these words succinctly and rather accurately reflected the spirit of a myriad of Party propaganda campaigns. Any deviation from the Party line was punished mercilessly. The Party allowed no liberalism within its ranks.“ Boris Chertok.