50 years ago: A new endurance record

This day 50 years ago: Soyuz 11 breaks all records

            For more than two weeks the peoples of the Soviet Union had thrilled to the flight, launched June 6, of Soyuz 11, the first crew to occupy the world’s first space station, Salyut 1.  With Soyuz attached, the huge complex measured 65 feet long, 13 ft. in diameter at its maximum girth, with an Earthly weight of 55,000 lbs. and a volume of a small dacha.   For the first time, the public was provided daily updates during an ongoing space mission, including video of the crew — mission commander Georgi Dobrovolsky, 43; flight engineers Vladislav Volkov, 35, and Viktor Patysayev, who celebrated his 38th birthday in space on June 19.  

            The public did not know that the crew had been elevated to the prime slot only two days before launch, replacing Alexi Leonov — the first human to walk in space — Valery Kubasov and Pyotr Kolodin after an X-ray showed a spot on Kubasov’s lung (which eventually was determined to be from an allergic reaction.)  

            The public only saw the marathon of success, the flight as opening the road to the permanent habitation of space, a much more important  step to the long-term exploration of the solar system that America’s short jaunts to the Moon.  No one knew of the look Leonov saw before launch of fear in the undertrained crew’s eyes. 

            Every day in the flight marked another step, another success.  No one knew of the small fire on Day 11, of the crew’s panic, nearly abandoning the station.  No one knew of the ensuing friction between crewmembers, how Volkov, as the only space veteran on the flight (Soyuz 7 in 1969) attempted during and after the fire to seize command of the mission from Dobrovolsky.

            Since the fire, which had been in the fan of a science experiment, extinguished by simply cutting power to it, some semblance of normalcy returned.  Enough to continue the mission, although consideration of extending it from 24 to 30 days was dropped.

            Of course the public didn’t know that as at 12:54 a.m., Moscow time, on June 24, 1971 (5:45 p.m. on June 23 in the Eastern United States), as Soyuz 11 broke the endurance record by Soyuz 9 one year before.  That solo flight of a Soyuz lasted 17 days, 16 hrs., 58 min., 50 sec. — breaking the U.S. duration record of 14 days by Gemini 7 in 1965.

            On this Moscow morning in 1971, everyone expected the success of Soyuz 11/Salyut 1 to continue.

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