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Creepy cold and frosted walls. How the cosmonauts rescued the Salyut-7 station

“Kolotun, brothers!”  – this phrase Vladimir Dzhanibekov described the atmosphere at the de-energized station “Salyut-7”, and in the control center of flights realized: the case is rubbish. By the mid-1980s, the USSR’s position in the space race was unenviable – the plans for the Moon remained dreams, NASA was already flying around with multiple shuttles, while Soviet engineers were just finishing the “Buran”. And suddenly a new problem: the space complex on the verge of loss.

The stations of the project “Salyut” were calculated for years of work: the cosmonauts had the opportunity to conduct experiments, collect data and conduct studies not in close ships, but in a relatively large space. The seventh and last version of the complex was created taking into account the errors of the previous modifications. But it turned out that the modified station “Salyut-7” would bring most of the troubles only because of one little thing.

We have problems

The complex was sent into orbit in April 1982. Everything went smoothly until February 11, 1985, when a signal came from the station about the voltage drop. The protective measures have worked: to prevent overload, the main radio transmitter has disconnected, and the backup ones have been activated. On Earth, they decided to re-enable the main unit, thinking that the problem with the current was not serious. This was a big mistake: “Salyut-7” was followed by short circuits, and the station was uncontrollable. Remotely nothing could be done.


The opinions of the experts were divided. Some suggested abandoning the complex, especially since the development of Mir was already under way, which in the future was to replace Salyut. Others believed that the station could be resuscitated. Of course, the USSR did not want to admit failure. In addition, information leaked to the foreign press about the uncontrolled Soviet station, which threatened to fall to Earth. Salvation Salute was a matter of an already shaken reputation.

The mission was very risky: no one knew what exactly happened on the ship and in what condition it was. There could be a hole, a fire or any other problem.

The dispatch of astronauts to such an assignment threatened to result in the loss not only of technological iron, but also of people. In this case, the damage to the image would be even stronger.

Nevertheless, the USSR decided to save the complex. According to the plan of specialists, the Soyuz T-13 spacecraft with two crew members was to fly to Salyut-7 instead of the usual three. The pilot had to perform a complicated docking – it is usually done in automatic mode, but in the case of a dead station this method is impossible. It was required manually, with an error of not more than a few centimeters, to dock the ship to the “Salute” lock.

Among the Soviet cosmonauts there were only three who had previously performed such an operation. Leonid Kizim recovered from a recent space flight. Yuri Malyshev did not go out into the open space, and for the planned mission it would certainly be needed. The choice fell on Vladimir Dzhanibekov – with four space flights, he was the most experienced of the three candidates. He was appointed commander of the mission.

The flight engineer had a long time to choose and did not have to. Viktor Savinykh spent more than three months at the Salyut-6 station, which was almost identical to the lost complex. No one knew its structure and features better than the Savins.

Vladimir Dzhanibekov and Victor Savinykh. Image:

The Soyuz T-13 ship changed a little: additional supplies of provisions were placed on the seat of the chair for the third participant of the mission. On the “Salute” food was, but it could deteriorate due to malfunctions. At the same time, engineers have removed the automatic docking system – it will not be needed anyway. Instead, a laser rangefinder was installed to assist Janibekov with the docking.

The ceiling is icy

On the morning of June 6, 1985, Soyuz T-13, with two cosmonauts and wife-bound Savin hats, went to rescue Salyut-7. The first problem was discovered: the solar panels were not deployed to the end. This is a bad sign – the complex could be de-energized, which would complicate its return to life. Dzhanibekov performed the docking. Aligning the pressure between the “Union” and “Salute”, the astronauts opened the hatch to the dead station.

The first thing the crew felt was a severe cold, which the commander described as a “kolotun”. The power supply system still failed. No other system worked, from the cold the internal walls of the Salute were covered with hoarfrost. Dzhanibekov, as an experiment, spat on the thermoplate – the saliva froze after a few seconds.

Astronauts, maximally warmed (the Savin’s wife’s hats came in handy), decided to gradually restore the work of the complex. Two of the eight batteries could not be brought back to life. The rest could be powered from the on-board system of the Soyuz, but the option was too risky: a short circuit could disable the power even on the ship that arrived. Then the astronauts would be trapped without the opportunity to return home. I had to go a long way. Savinykh and Dzhanibekov connected the cables from the batteries to the wires of the solar panels. Then with the help of the “Union” they turned the station towards the Sun. The plan worked: the batteries were charging.

Released in the past year, the film “Salyut-7” has virtually nothing to do with real events. No one beat the sledgehammer at the station, leaving one astronaut to die for the sake of saving another was not planned, and smoking on board is completely beyond the scope of fiction. Image:

Then the crew began to check one system of “Salute” after another: it was required to understand what worked and what did not. Victor Savinykh later recalled that he feared the melting frost most of all – the risk of a short circuit was enormous. At any second, the sparked spark could cause a fire, and then there would be virtually no chance of survival. At the same time, Savinykh and Dzhanibekov were forced to constantly disperse carbon dioxide accumulating from breathing.

Station revitalization

The cosmonauts came to an end with water supplies, and the Rodnik water supply system was still frozen. Return to work it was possible only by mid-June, when the liquid for cosmonauts was almost no longer available. Gradually, the situation on the “Salute” normalized. On June 23, the Progress truck was sent to the station with supplies of provisions.

Around the same time, the cosmonauts discovered the cause of all the problems on the “Salute”: the battery charge control sensor failed. He had to stop the batteries when they were fully charged. But the system falsely worked, not allowing the batteries to get power. Gradually they were discharged to zero, and the connection with the Earth disappeared.

The cosmonauts stayed together at the station all summer long until the Soyuz T-14 crew arrived in September (Vladimir Vasyutin, Georgy Grechko, Alexander Volkov). Dzhanibekov and Grechko returned home, and Savinykh and two other cosmonauts stayed on Salyut-7 until November. They had to postpone the mission ahead of schedule due to health problems that Vasyutin started.

Crews “Soyuz T-13” and “Soyuz T-14”. From left to right: Vladimir Vasyutin, Georgy Grechko, Viktor Savinykh, Alexander Volkov, Vladimir Dzhanibekov.  Image:

Despite the special complexity and danger of the mission to rescue Salyut-7, exceptions for Vladimir Dzhanibekov were not done: the cosmonauts were not supposed to have more than two awards of the Hero of the USSR, but he already had that much. Instead, Dzhanibekov was promoted to the rank of major-general of aviation and was awarded the fifth order of Lenin. In space, he was no longer sent. Victor Savinykh also became the Hero of the USSR for the second time, and in 1988 he again went outside the Earth on the Soyuz TM-5 ship.

The last time on board the “Salyut-7” people climbed in 1986, when for the first time in the history of astronautics a man managed to fly from one station (the new “Mira”) to another. Later the complex worked in automatic mode, transferring information to the Earth. On February 6, 1991, the station burned down when it fell to Earth in the sky over Latin America. Residents of Chile and Argentina found several fragments. Neither the Americans nor the Russians were not needed.

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