Part II Post #2: Space Race Even as James Wood, the First Man in Space, was enjoying a ticker-tape parade in New York City on October 17th 1962, on the other side of the globe the Zarya-1 space capsule was arriving at the Assembly and Testing Building (MIK) at Tyuratam. Over the next week, the spaceship was unpacked, tested, and moved for integration with her R-6A carrier rocket. In the nearby town of Leninsk, no less careful preparations were underway as Air Force pilot Yuri Gagarin and his back-up, Valentin Bondarenko, underwent final training and medical examinations for his mission. As had been the case throughout the selection process, Gagarin passed all these tests with flying colours. He was by every measure the finest example of Soviet manhood - fit and fearless, rising from humble beginnings to greatness in service to the Motherland as was only possible under Socialism. On 28th October the integrated R-6A/Zarya stack was rolled out of the MIK to Launch Complex 1, the same pad from which ISZ-1 had launched almost four years earlier. Under the watchful gazes of Chief Designers Mishin and Chelomei, she was raised vertically and clamped securely into place on the pad. After a further day of checks and double-checks, the order was given to begin fueling. Clad in protective gear, technicians raised the fueling arm and gingerly connected the pipes. Even after years of experience in both the space programme and military service, no-one was taking any chances with the Blok-A and B’s highly toxic AK271/UDMH propellants - propellants which Mishin intended would soon be fully replaced by the kerosene and liquid oxygen now starting to fill the Blok-V upper stage. Their hazardous task completed, the fueling technicians withdrew the arm and retreated from the pad. It was now time for Gagarin, fully sealed in his spacesuit and accompanied by two more hazmat-attired technicians, to ascend the support gantry and climb into his ejection seat in the waiting SA capsule. With Gagarin safely sealed inside Zarya, the countdown resumed and final checks were made. Everything proceeded smoothly. Mishin had learnt hard lessons in preparation over the last few years, and had not allowed artificial deadlines to distort his timetable. For Chelomei’s part, the R-6A was now a very familiar creature, and he and his staff knew all her little quirks. The rocket and her payload were both as ready as they could be made. All that remained was to launch. Liftoff came at 09:12 am local time on Tuesday 30th October. “Davay!” (“Come on!”) yelled Gagarin as the R-6A cleared the pad and began its ascent. Back in the firing room, everyone nervously watched the incoming telemetry from the rocket and the chain of tracking stations down-range of Tyuratam. They thought they knew this vehicle, but this was the first time there had been a man strapped to its nose. Nothing must go wrong! As the Blok-A depleted and Blok-B separated, everything looked good. The RD-221 engine lighted on command, speeding Zarya-1 towards orbit. In its turn, the Blok-B shut down and fell away, leaving the Blok-V to give Zarya the final push to a perfect 180 x 330 km orbit about the Earth. “I feel fine,” Gagarin reported. “I am in good spirits. I can see the Earth very clearly. She is beautiful!” After a single orbit of the globe, Zarya-1 automatically re-oriented itself and fired the single rocket of its PA service module off the African coast, slowing the ship for a re-entry over the USSR. Its job done, the PA separated cleanly, and the SA began its fiery descent into the atmosphere. After experiencing forces of up to 7 gee, at 7 km altitude Zarya’s hatch was jettisoned and Gagarin ejected from the capsule. His parachute deployed as planned and he landed safely in the Samara region of the Russian SFSR, to be picked up forty minutes later by a Red Army team. The Zarya capsule landed nearby under its own parachute, with automatic measurements indicating that the impact would have been harsh, but survivable. Both Gagarin and Zarya-1 were rushed to Moscow and a hero’s welcome. Yes, the Americans had made a little hop in their Mercury, but it was the USSR who had first put a man into orbit! Finally, it seemed that the Soviet Union was starting to overhaul the Capitalist states, just as Khrushchev had predicted they would. A replica of the Zarya-1 capsule, seen here on display for the Cosmonautics Exhibition at the Moscow Polytechnic Museum in 1968. The triumphant reception of Gagarin in Moscow was echoed around the world, and the Soviet propaganda machine wasted no time in portraying their man, not Wood, as the “real” First Man in Space. The fact that Gagarin had bailed out before Zarya-1 reached the ground, technically violating the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale’s rules for aviation records, was omitted from official Soviet reports, but rumours nonetheless managed to reach the West. It was also pointed out that, strictly speaking, Gagarin landed before completing a full orbit, and so the accomplishment was in fact little more than an extension of Wood’s feat. This argument gained little traction worldwide, with the FAI accepting Gagarin’s position as the first human to “Orbit the Earth”. American complaints risked the appearance of being the sour grapes of a sore loser, so Washington offered their official congratulations on “the sending of the first Soviet man into space,” whilst at the same time pushing forward their own response with the Mercury programme. That response was not long coming. In November, the Air Force launched two simian-crewed Atlas-Mercury missions in quick succession, both of which performed multiple orbits and successful re-entries, their Astrochimp passengers returned in good health. Based on these results, the official go-ahead was given to proceed with mission MA-9, or “Mercury-2” as it was inaccurately named in the press. On 12th December 1962, Joe Walker became the first American to orbit the Earth in his capsule “Columbia”, completing two orbits before returning to a successful splashdown just over 400 km East of the Bahamas. His three hours aloft gave the US the duration record for manned spaceflight and demonstrated that the two Superpowers remained neck-a-neck in the Space Race. 1963 would see the race continue and escalate, as the rocket scientists of both sides came under pressure from their respective leaderships to go further and faster. In February, the Soviets once again took the lead, when Zarya-2 carried cosmonaut Valentin Bondarenko on a six-hour mission. However, things did not go entirely to plan, with Bondarenko feeling the effects of severe motion-sickness within a few minutes of unstrapping from his seat on-orbit. When reporting this to mission control in Podlipki, he down-played the seriousness of his symptoms, insisting that he could continue the mission. After some discussions with the flight surgeon, Mishin authorised the mission to continue on the understanding that all control of the spacecraft was in any case automated or commanded from the ground, so should Bondarenko’s condition worsen he could be brought back without needing to use the controls himself. In the event, the cosmonaut’s symptoms did recede a little, although he later admitted to feeling very queasy for the entire mission. Following consultations between Bondarenko and Podlipki Control, it was decided to forego the option of ejecting as Gagarin had done and instead proceed with the plan of landing him with his ship. This he did, ending Zarya-2 with a successful (if bruising) parachute landing for the capsule and cosmonaut. The American counter-punch came with the flight of Al Perini in Mercury-3. Originally scheduled for launch on 3rd April, the mission was delayed two days when a wiring fault was detected in the command link to one of the Atlas sustainer engines. This was quickly corrected, and so it was on 5th April that Perini and his capsule “Liberty” ascended for a five hour mission. Although not matching Zarya-2’s time on orbit, Perini’s flight further validated the Mercury capsule and provided more data on human reactions to microgravity which were greedily seized upon by flight surgeons working on the Dynasoar programme. Despite concerns over Bondarenko’s adverse reaction to spaceflight, the Soviets decided to push ahead with their Zarya programme by conducting an even more ambitious mission. Mishin had from the start intended that Zarya would be an upgradable spaceship, to which a variety of modifications could be added over time to increase her capabilities. Already he was working on Zarya-B, a two-man version with an expanded service module and some limited manoeuvring capability, for launch on his M-1 rocket now under construction. If everything went to plan, the M-1/Zarya-B combination should be ready to launch by the end of 1963. However, with the initial objective of beating the Americans to orbit achieved, Chelomei was now working his political connections to cut back on the Zarya missions and focus all efforts on his own Raketoplan project. To fight this Mishin felt it necessary to continue pushing the envelop and provide new “Firsts” for the Soviet leadership to boast about. Mishin’s initial idea was to advance the timetable for a two-man mission by modifying the Zarya-3 SA capsule to a similar configuration to that planned for Zarya-B. Mishin’s deputy, Zarya’s lead designer Mikhail Tikhonravov, objected strongly to this. Adding a second cosmonaut would mean removing the ejection seats, both to provide more room within the capsule and because Zarya’s hatch was in any case only designed to fit one ejecting cosmonaut. For Zarya-B this would be no problem, as that capsule would be fully enclosed within a fairing equipped with an escape tower similar to Mercury’s, which would pull the entire fairing/Zarya combination to safety in the event of a launch accident. In theory Zarya-A could be modified to use an escape tower too, but the tower had not yet completed testing. If it should fail when needed, the two cosmonauts would both perish. Mishin reluctantly accepted Tikhonravov’s arguments, and so it was instead decided that the next Soviet “first” would be a demonstration of the equality of Socialist womanhood. When Zarya-3 stood on the pad in June 1963 it carried 22-year-old Tatyana Kuznetsova. A regional and national champion parachutist, Kuznetsova was not only the first woman to be assigned to a space mission, but also the world’s youngest trained cosmonaut or astronaut, a record that remains unbroken to the present day. Unfortunately the mission did not go well. Less than three seconds after ignition, one of the R-6’s RD-215 engines ruptured, causing the entire rocket to explode on the pad. Kuznetsova was thrown clear by her ejection seat, her expert parachute skills allowing her to land with only minor bruising despite the low altitude of the jump, but she found herself caught down-wind of the toxic cloud now emanating from the doomed rocket. Despite keeping her respiration gear on after landing, some of the noxious gasses managed to find a way through her suit seals, causing serious chemical burns around Kuznetsova’s wrists and lower arms. She also suffered injuries to her nose, throat and lungs through breathing in a small quantity of fumes. Members of the fueling team, heroically acting without orders and clad in their own protective gear, immediately jumped out of their bunker and ran to the aid of the fallen cosmonaut. She was rushed first to the base medical facility, then rapidly transferred to a specialist military hospital in Moscow. Despite their best efforts Kuznetsova never fully recovered from her injuries, which were officially declared to be the result of exposure to fumes from an on-board aircraft fire whilst training for a parachuting competition. She would continue to suffer respiratory and neurological problems over the following six years before finally sucumbing to a complication of pneumonia in December 1969. The Zarya-3 tragedy was kept secret from the outside world, but within the Soviet space community it served to graphically illustrate all of Mishin’s worst fears about using storable propellants on manned space missions. In angry exchanges at the Rocket Propulsion Coordination Committee (KKRD), Mishin declared that he would not risk any more lives on Chelomei’s vehicles, with all future Zarya flights put on hold until the M-1 became available. He also pushed for the future Raketoplans to be either transferred to his Bureau's non-toxic rockets or be scrapped outright in favour of Zarya upgrades. Chelomei of course considered this to be an overreaction, claiming that Kuznetsova had simply been unlucky to land downwind, and even then would have escaped unharmed if Mishin had provided her with a better spacesuit. At this Mishin exploded, hurling his notes across the table and storming out of the meeting. From this point on he would refuse to communicate directly with Chelomei, or even to be in the same building with him unless absolutely unavoidable. Where contact was needed between OKB-385 and OKB-1 it would be Tikhonravov who would represent the Miass team. With the Soviets observing a temporary moratorium on manned flights, the Americans were given a clear field for the rest of 1963. There would be two more Mercury flights before the end of the year: Robert “Bob” White’s Mercury-4 in August and Albert Crews’ Mercury-5 in December. White’s flight was marred by a failure of one of the gyroscopes used for attitude determination, causing an early end of the mission to be called after just three orbits. It was left to Crews to finally beat Zarya-2’s duration record, staying in orbit for over seven hours. However, a number of minor mechanical problems also occurred during that mission, highlighting the fact that the Mercury spacecraft was already approaching the limits of its capabilities. In order to extend man’s ability to live and work in space the US would need a new ship.