At that moment, when the engine of the last stage ceases to work, an extraordinary sensation of lightness begins - as if you fall out of the seat of the chair and hang on the seat belts. The movement with acceleration stops and the cold lifeless Cosmos takes in its arms those who risked breaking away from the small Earth.
But why is this happening right now? A puzzled look at the timer - 295 second flight. Early to shut off the engine. Six seconds ago, the second stage of the launch vehicle separated, and the third stage engine started at the same time. Intensive acceleration should continue for another four minutes.
Sudden overload in the transverse direction, slight dizziness. A sunbeam darted around the cabin. An alarming siren. Flash on the instrument panel. A fiery red banner slashed in his eyes: “The accident of the RN”.
By this time, the rocket and space system had already reached an altitude of 150 kilometers. They are on the threshold of the Cosmos, but they cannot take their final, final step to go into orbit! The general illogicality of the situation in which the Soyuz-18 expedition found itself, the improbability of the incident and vague ideas about the consequences of such an emergency situation shocked the crew and ground observers. A similar case with a critical accident in the upper atmosphere occurred for the first time in stories Soviet Astronautics.
- Chief, what happens at the top?
- For some unknown reason, there were problems with the design of the launch vehicle, at 295-second flight, the automatics separated the ship from the third stage. For the next couple of minutes, the Soyuz will continue moving up the ballistic trajectory, after which an uncontrollable fall will begin. According to our express calculations, the top point of the trajectory will be at an altitude of 192 kilometers.
- How dangerous is it?
- The situation is really serious, but it is too early to despair. Those who created the "Union" worked through this situation ...
- Start aborted. What happens next?
- Rescue program. Algorithm number XXUMX. This option is triggered when an accident occurs at the launch site between 2 and 157 seconds of flight. The height of a couple of hundred kilometers. The speed is close to the first space. In this case, an emergency separation of the Soyuz from the launch vehicle takes place, followed by the separation of the spacecraft into a descent vehicle, orbital and instrument-aggregate compartment. The descent control system must orient the capsule with the astronauts in such a way that the descent takes place in the "maximum aerodynamic quality" mode. Further, the descent will take place in normal normal mode.
- So, cosmonauts are not in danger?
- The only problem is the correct orientation of the descent vehicle. At the moment, specialists have no confidence that the capsule will assume the correct position in space - in the first seconds of the emergency third stage, the rocket-space system has been offset relative to the vertical plane ...
Meanwhile, the struggle for the life of two people aboard a falling ship unfolded in the upper atmosphere. The genius of the human mind came to grips with mighty gravity and heat. High-precision gyroscopes recorded every displacement around any of the three axes — based on the data obtained, the on-board computer determined the position of the ship and promptly issued corrective signals to the engines of the orientation system. In an unequal battle with the elements entered Teflon "shield" - until the last layer burns through, the heat-insulating screen will firmly protect the ship from the mad fire of the atmosphere.
Can the fragile man-made “prow” resist the sizzling heat and the monstrous loads that accompany the hypersonic flight through the dense layers of air? The descent vehicle, wrapped in a raging cloud of plasma, flew down from a height of 192 kilometers, and no one could have imagined how this “despair leap” would end in the abyss of the aerial ocean.
From the speakers in the Mission Control Center, there were hoarse, muffled cries of Vasily Lazarev and Oleg Makarov. The worst fears of experts were confirmed - the descent took place with a negative aerodynamic quality. The situation on board the descent vehicle caused more and more fears with each passing second: the overload went too far for 10g. Then on the telemetry tape a terrible figure 15 appeared. And, finally, 21,3g - the script threatened to turn into the death of the brave explorers of the Cosmos.
The vision began to "go away": at first it turned into black and white color, then the angle of view began to narrow. We were in a faint state, but still did not lose consciousness. While the overload is pressing, you only think that you need to resist it, and we resisted as best we could. With such a huge overload, when it is unbearably hard, it is recommended to scream, and we screamed with all our might, although it looked like it was a squeezed wheeze.
- from O. Makarov's memoirs
Fortunately, the situation began to return to normal. The speed of the descent vehicle decreased to acceptable values, the slope of the trajectory almost disappeared. Earth, meet your lost sons! The parachute gently slammed over his head - the heat-resistant container withstood the test of the roaring plasma, retaining a saving piece of matter inside.
The capsule with the astronauts confidently walked to the surface of the Earth, but the joy of happy rescue was suddenly overshadowed by an attack of anxiety — the navigation system’s evidence clearly showed that the ship was dropping in the Altai region. Landing area is near the border with China! Or behind the line of the Soviet-Chinese border?
- Vasya, where is your gun?
- "Makarov" in the container, along with other special equipment.
- Immediately upon landing, you need to burn a secret journal with the program of the expedition ...
While the plan of action was discussed, the engines of a soft landing worked - the descent module touched the earth's firmament ... and immediately rolled. Obviously, no one expected such a turn of events: the space capsule “landed” on a steep mountainside! Subsequently, Makarov and Lazarev will understand how close they were to death at that time. Only by luck, the astronauts did not shoot off the parachute immediately after landing: as a result, the canopy, caught on stunted trees, stopped the descent vehicle in 150 meters from the cliff.
Installation of the landing place "Soyuz TM-7". Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics
Wow! Twenty minutes ago they were standing on the launch pad №1 of the Baikonur cosmodrome, and the warm steppe wind caressed their faces - then the Earth seemed to be saying goodbye to their children. Now both astronauts were standing across the chest in the snow and looking with horror at the descent vehicle, miraculously hovering over a precipice.
At this time, search and rescue flew into the alleged area of the proposed landing aviation: the aircraft quickly spotted the beacon of the returning vehicle and established the location of the astronauts - “The situation is normal. Landing occurred on the territory of the Soviet Union. I’m watching two people and a landing capsule on the slope of Mount Teremok-3 ... Reception. "
To communicate with the aircraft, it was necessary to return to the lander, which threatened to leave the place every second and roll into the abyss. The astronauts took turns descending into the hatch: while one was busy inside with the radio station, the crew member remaining on the slope insured his comrade, “holding” the three-ton apparatus by the lines. Fortunately, this time everything was fine.
Typical landing site of the "Union"
After circling over the landing site, the aircraft proposed dropping a batch of paratroopers to help, which was decisively rejected - there was no need for that. The astronauts were waiting for the rescue "turntable". The helicopter arrived, but could not evacuate people from a steep slope. The insane adventure ended only the next morning - the Air Force helicopter took the astronauts and safely delivered them to Gorno-Altaisk.
The rise and fall of "Soyuz-18"
In accordance with the tradition of Soviet cosmonautics, "clean" numbers were assigned only to successful launches. The suborbital flight of Oleg Makarov and Vasily Lazarev received the designation “Soyuz-18-1” (sometimes 18А) and was buried in archives under the heading “top secret”.
According to stingy reports, the launch of the ship was made on 5 on April 1975 of the year from the Baikonur cosmodrome and ended after 21 a minute 27 seconds in 1574 kilometers from the launch point, on the territory of Gorny Altai. The maximum lift height was 192 kilometers.
As it was established later, the wrong opening between the second and third stages became the cause of the accident - as a result of the wrong command, three of the six locks prematurely opened. The multi-ton launch vehicle began to literally "bend" in half, the thrust vector deviated from the calculated direction of motion, and dangerous lateral accelerations and loads appeared. Smart automatics took this as a threat to the lives of people on board and immediately took the ship away from the launch vehicle, transferring the returning vehicle to a ballistic descent path. What happened next, we already know. The capsule landed on the slope of Mount Teremok-3, on the right bank of the Uba River (currently the territory of Kazakhstan).
The crew of the Soyuz-18-1 spacecraft consisted of two cosmonauts - commander Vasily Lazarev and flight engineer Oleg Makarov. Both were experienced specialists who had already been in orbit as part of the Soyuz-12 expedition (it is noteworthy that for the first time, in the 1973 year, they flew in exactly the same composition).
Despite the dizzying descent to cosmic heights, both astronauts were not only alive, but also completely healthy. After returning to the USSR Cosmonaut Detachment, Makarov flew into Space again (Soyuz-27, 1978 Year and Soyuz T-3, 1980 Year) - each time the flight was successful. Vasily Lazarev was also allowed to fly into space, but he didn’t manage to go more into orbit (he was the understudy * of the crew commander of Soyuz T-3).
* Two crews usually arrive at the cosmodrome: the main and the backup ones. They have identical training, are familiar with the program of the upcoming flight and are consistently interchangeable. If on the launch pad a member of the main crew pushes a leg up - a double will immediately take its place.
In the “era of glasnost”, the incredible story about falling from cosmic heights became the property of the media. Oleg Makarov did not just give interviews, joked how “they fell and reported on this with foul language,” recalled with horror how they were nearly strangled by a monstrous overload, told about their experiences about the landing site and how they drowning in the snow, burned the logbook and other important documents. But he spoke with particular warmth about the creators of the super-reliable Soyuz spacecraft, which saved their lives in a situation when it seemed that death was inevitable.
Epilogue. Chance of salvation
The Soyuz rocket-space system provides crew rescue in the event of any emergency situations in all parts of the trajectory of the introduction of the ship into Earth orbit. The exceptions are the catastrophic destruction of the launch vehicle (similar to the explosion of the American Shuttle Shuttle), as well as such terrible exotics as “captives of the orbit” - the ship cannot maneuver and return to Earth due to engine failure.
A total of three scenarios were provided, each for a specific time range.
Scenario number XXUMX. It was carried out from the moment when the hatch of the spacecraft slammed and the attendants descended on the elevator to the foot of the giant rocket. In the event of a serious problem, the automatic system literally “breaks” the spacecraft in half and “shoots” aside a block from the head fairing and a capsule with people. Shooting is performed using a solid engine of the head fairing - in view of this condition, scenario No. 1 is valid until the 1 second flight, until the time of discharge of the head fairing.
According to calculations, during an accident on the launch pad, the capsule with the astronauts flies up a kilometer up and a couple of hundred meters away from the launch vehicle, then a soft landing with a parachute follows. Engine thrust head fairing reaches 76 tons. The running time is just over one second. Overload in this case rolls over 10g, but as they say, you want to live ...
Of course, in reality everything was much more complicated - many factors were taken into account when saving astronauts. For example, after passing the “Rise” command (the rocket broke away from the launch pad), the first stage PH engines had to work for at least 20 seconds - in order to take the system to a safe distance from the launch pad. Also, during an accident in the first 26 seconds of flight, it was assumed that the descent vehicle was landing on a reserve parachute, and after the 26 second flight of the aircraft (when the required height was reached), on the main flight.
Scenario number XXUMX. It was demonstrated by the Soyuz-2-18 spacecraft emergency rescue system.
Scenario number XXUMX. The upper part of the trajectory. The ship is already in open space (a height of several hundred kilometers), but has not had time to gain the first space velocity. In this case, a regular separation of the ship’s compartments follows - and the descent vehicle produces a controlled descent in the Earth’s atmosphere.
Space launch from the Plesetsk cosmodrome. View from the embankment of the City Pond in Yekaterinburg