Dave Scott showed incredible presence of mind during the unexpected events of the Gemini 8 mission. Even in the middle of an emergency, out of contact with Mission Control, he had thought to reenable ground control of the Agena before the two vehicles separated. This allowed NASA to check the Agena from the ground and use it for a subsequent Gemini mission. Scott’s competence was recognized by NASA when, five days after the brief flight, he was assigned to an Apollo crew and was promoted to lieutenant colonel.
The twelve day Apollo 15 mission was scheduled to launch on July 26, 1971. It would be the fourth United States human exploration of the Moon. As compared with earlier missions, Apollo 15 would double the time and extend by a factor of ten the range of lunar surface exploration.
It was decided that henceforth, cosmonauts would wear pressure suits for launch and the return to Earth. Also, a system was installed to automatically pump air into the descent module in the event of decompression. Additionally, the ventilation valves were modified so a premature opening would cause them to re-close automatically. Of course these changes meant the spacecraft could only accommodate two cosmonauts.
The recovery team quickly opened the hatch and were shocked to find the men motionless, as if asleep or unconscious.
Volkov transmitted to Flight Control: “The hatch is not hermetically sealed! … What can we do? … What can we do?”
Just before the start of another communication session, Volkov noticed a smell of smoke from somewhere at the rear of the station. As soon as communication with the ground was established, he reported: “Aboard the station is ‘the curtain’!”
Dobrovolsky wrote in his diary, “Some days were a nightmare. There was a general absence of everything: no interesting things, no happiness, the monotonous sound of the ventilators, strong smells, numerous experiments. It seemed to me that Flight Control simply wished to test our endurance.”
Volkov radioed “Zarya, wait! Yantar 3 is in Soyuz. Don’t start until Yantar 3 has returned to the Salyut! There is a strong smell in Salyut! He will put on a mask and go in again!”