May 18, 2022

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The Americans may have wanted to plunder the Soviet space station

By 1985, the Saljut-7 space station was obsolete. His systems closed, he began to fall into space, and ground control lost contact with him. Soviet experts feared that 20 tons of monster would fall to Earth uncontrollably and collide with a large city. So, the Soyuz T-13 spacecraft sent two astronauts to the frozen Salute 7 to recover from the crash. It turned out that the Soviets wanted to prevent the Americans from capturing the Challenger spacecraft and bringing the space station to Earth.

Frost recovery operation

June 8, 1985 Two astronauts, wearing knitted hats and thick winter warmers, work without gloves on a cold and dark metal cylinder 350 to 400 kilometers from Earth. Everything in the cylinder is covered with ice. The systems were really frozen, and the space station was dead. Vladimir Zanibekov and 43-year-old Victor Savinih are fighting to prevent a 20-ton body from falling uncontrollably into this lifeless place.

Savinih and Zanibekov in their civilian winter hats aboard the Frozen Salute-7Source: astronomy.com

The two astronauts continue to fly back to Soyuz in the heat. The ground medical team is still watching them with concern as Savini has a fever. But the work cannot be stopped, otherwise the multi-billion dollar space station will inevitably crash.

That’s how it started

The space station ran smoothly for 3 years. The problem began shortly after midnight on February 11, 1985, when commanders noticed a voltage fluctuation between two voyages aboard the Salute-7, which was flying empty with a robot pilot. The organization has closed the primary communication system to protect it from insurgencies. Managers did not take the situation seriously as backup radio systems were in operation. An error was reported in the service report as their 24-hour service was about to expire. The next shift managers call the designers of the communication system and fix the error.

Saljut-7 Space StationSource: spinor.com

However, the controllers that replaced them inadvertently or incorrectly attempted to activate the primary radio transmitter, and the space station’s electrical system was short-circuited in several places, which now shut down the entire communications system.

Saljut-7 was silenced at 1:21 pm and the rest did not respond to any radio signals.

Should the space station be abandoned or saved?

The leaders of the Soviet space program were in a bad position. It may have been said that in a year after leaving the salute the new generation space station Mirt would be launched anyway. However, the entire space program would have slipped for a year, and the flights and tests already planned for Saljudra would have to be canceled. Not to mention the political consequences, that is, the Americans – who have successfully launched the space shuttle – will overtake the Soviets again in space racing.

So all that is left is to send a repair team to Salutra. However, by the time they got here, the mission had to be called a rescue team because the salute was slowly but surely approaching Earth’s atmosphere and would sooner or later crash.

Who should fly?

Selecting astronauts has not been easy. A total of three astronauts can be considered pilots because the hardest part of the aircraft is the dock. Normally, the space station itself sends data to the spacecraft for docking, but Saljut’s radio systems do not work. Unrestricted salute, rotating back and forth in all directions, must be approached manually and connected by hand. No one in the history of space exploration has attempted such an operation with manual control.

Vladimir Zhanipkov was the most experienced of the three candidates, and he was once forced to take control of the system at the last minute, so he was selected as a pilot despite his ill health. True, doctors allowed him 100 days in space for this mission.

Victor Vasini and Vladimir Zanibekov aboard the Soyuz spacecraftSource: Spacefacts.com

The list of internal engineers was even smaller: it consisted of one person. For a variety of reasons, only Victor Savinih could have been the other astronaut.

Both astronauts began preparations for the voyage, and engineers worked to modify the Soyuz spacecraft, e.g. A two-person rescue team was put out of the third seat to bring in more food and tools and repairs.

Soviet Apollo-13

After a two-day journey, Zanibekov and Savinih were seen with Salute. Toking succeeded sooner than expected, with Janipekov guiding Choi with brilliant sense and proving that manual communication between any spacecraft was possible.

Saljut-7 approachSource: Astronomy.com

However, by that time the astronauts were already facing Saljut’s predicament They received no feedback or internal pressure from the space station, so they were only able to “feel” whether they were securely attached to the Salut-7. Due to the silence of the space station, the three chambers began to open very carefully. The control allowed the chicks to open gradually, inch by inch, to prevent the spacecraft from exploding and sealing.

Janibekov: Pressure 700 mm. Decrease 20-25 mm. We equalized. Open the hatch.
Control: Are you listening to hissing? Move the card slightly.
Zanybekov: Oh, I’m smelling familiar at home … I’m opening the lid. His. The pressure is 714 mm.
Control: Is there a cross flow?
Zanybekov: Yes.
Control: When you are ready, you can go inside.
Zanybekov: We are ready, I will open the lock … Open.
Management: First impression? What is the temperature?
Zanybekov: Kids, everything here is covered in ice, and it’s very cold.

Already in the approach, astronauts saw that there would be a lot of work for themselves from the semi-open position of the solar panels, but now they are facing physical difficulties in doing so. The entire electrical system of the space station was shut off so they were greeted almost by minuses inside. All equipment was cooled to a temperature not designed by the engineers. Could not figure out how damaged the systems were and whether it was safe to stay in the salute. Savini writes in his diary

As we entered an abandoned, old house. Silence rang in our ears.

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