The 20th century was full of awesome breakthroughs and historical events. But some of them stood out even from that incredible crowd. And one such event was the mission of Soyuz 5, which made huge headlines not only for its importance but for its amazing style — and its incredible landing.
Soyuz 5 was a Soviet spacecraft launched on January 15, 1969. Just like the U.S. space program, Soyuz had numbers for each of their spacecrafts, but Soyuz 5 had one peculiarity. It was sent to the orbit just a day after another craft, Soyuz 4, went there. They had one mission between the two of them: it was manned docking and transfer of the crew. If the mission had become a success, it would’ve been the first such feat performed in the history of humankind…
- First, on January 14, Soyuz 4 was launched into orbit with one man on board: Vladimir Shatalov. He was to wait for the second spacecraft and help its crew with the docking.
- It was the first space flight for all four of the cosmonauts, which made their responsibility even higher.
- Soyuz 4, which was the active craft in the mission, maneuvered carefully and gave instructions to the other ship’s crew so that everything went smoothly.
- The mission was a success. As the principal Soviet news agency put it, that was the first experimental space station ever, with room for four members of the crew.
- Two members of the Soyuz 5 crew, engineers Aleksei Yeliseyev and Yevgeny Khrunov, were to walk through the stretch of open space between the crafts and board Soyuz 4, joining its commander.
- Moscow television covered everything that happened on board and brought it live to the Soviet citizens.
- It was a complete success. No one in the whole world had done before what the brave cosmonauts achieved that day.
- All in all, the two spacecraft stayed connected for 4 hours 35 minutes, after which Commander Volynov pulled away. He was scheduled to descend on January 18, a day after the Soyuz 4 crew.
- Volynov started his re-entry already not in a normal way. For some reason, he was unable to complete orientation of his spacecraft for retrofire, which is a sort of a space braking system.
- The blast didn’t disconnect the two modules, and Volynov’s capsule re-entered the atmosphere with the wrong side.
- For the next harrowing half hour, he watched and felt how the insane pressure and heat destroyed the capsule around him.
- He knew the protective layer wouldn’t last long, but kept reporting his status into the voice recorder.
- The tumble sent the module flying astray, and the parachutes opened only in part because their lines got entangled. So instead of falling more or less peacefully on the ground, the capsule with a man inside dropped like a rock from the sky.
- Soyuz 5 landed almost 350 miles away from its intended landing point.
- He got up, located a column of smoke in the distance, and walked there until he reached some peasant’s house.
- The owner took him in, and together they waited for the rescue party. When they came at last, Volynov looked at the men arriving to pick him up, and only asked, “Is my hair gray?”