Soviet Manned Space Programs:
MANNED MISSIONS TO SALYUT 6: 1977-80
SOYUZ 25: OFF TO A BAD START
The first manned mission to the new Salyut 6 was a failure. The crew was unable to dock for reasons that remain unclear.
Soyuz 25 (call sign Foton) was launched at 0240 GMT on October 9, 1977 carrying the crew of Vladimir Kovalenok and Valeriy Ryumin. Tass announced the orbital parameters as 318x280 kilometers. On October 10, Moscow Domestic Service announced that "At 0709 [Moscow Time] today the automatic docking of the Soyuz 25 ship and the Salyut 6 station was begun. Then, from a distance of 120 meters, the docking was carried out. Due to deviations from the planned procedure for docking the linkup was called off." Pravda reported that the "final approach was conducted" (131) rather than "the docking was carried out," and later stated that the docking failed because of "an unexpected malfunction in the docking regime." (132) Tass later stated that the docking had been "put off because of "off-design" operation of the approach and docking system. (133)
This left unclear whether the crew had not been able to dock at all, or had soft docked but could not attain a hard docking. The docking attempt had been at the transfer compartment end of the space station. When Soyuz 26 was launched, the Soviets announced for the first time that Salyut 6 had two docking ports, and that Soyuz 26 had docked at the other side because "the first docking device . . . had become somewhat suspect." This furthered speculation that a soft dock had taken place but not a hard dock. When the Soyuz 26 crew inspected the forward docking port on EVA, however, Grechko reported that the "butt end is brand new as though just taken off a machine tool. There are no scratches, traces, or dents on it. All the docking equipment ... is in full order. The receiving cone is also clear, without a single scratch." (134)
Gordon Hooper has reported that a second docking attempt might have been made, based on NORAD data which indicated that "for an unspecified time after revolution 23 the 2 craft were tracked as 1 object," and that "East European sources in Moscow said that they understood that the cosmonauts made three approaches in an attempt to dock with Salyut 6." (l35) One might have expected the docking port to show some wear if any contact between the two ships occurred, so the question of exactly what went wrong remains unanswered. (136)
The docking failure surely was a disappointment to the Soviets, not only because it was the first mission to their new generation space station, but also because the flight had been timed to coincide with the 60th anniversary celebration of the October revolution, and also celebrated the new Soviet Constitution which had been adopted on October 7, 2 days before launch. According to the Soviets, it guaranteed the broadest human rights recognized anywhere. The Soviets announced that the Soyuz 25 crew had requested and received permission to carry a copy of the new constitution with them on the flight.
The crew landed at 0326 GMT on October 11, 195 km northwest of Tselinograd. Mission duration was 48 hours 46 minutes.
A. SOVIET SPACE PROGRAMS: 1976-80, (WITH SUPPLEMENTARY DATA THROUGH 1983) MANNED SPACE PROGRAMS AND SPACE LIFE SCIENCES PREPARED AT THE REQUEST OF HON. BOB PACKWOOD, Chairman, COMMITTEE ON COMMERCE, SCIENCE, AND TRANSPORTATION UNITED STATES SENATE, Part 2, OCTOBER 1984, Printed for the use of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, U.S. GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE, WASHINGTON, D. C., 1984
131. Pravda, Oct. 11, 1977, p. 1.
132. Pravda, Oct. 11,1977, p. 6.
133. Tass, 1402 GMT, Dec. 20, 1977.
134. Tass, 1402 GMT, Dec. 20, 1977.
135. Hooper, Gordon. Spaceflight, March 1978, p. 120.
136. Downlink voice communications monitored by the Kettering Group at 0550 GMT, Oct 10, 1977, and hitherto undisclosed, revealed that one of the cosmonauts reported, "At the third attempt, our force was not sufficient—the contact light did not come on." The other cosmonaut interjected, no, no, no, four," indicating that at least four attempts were made. [Information obtained following peer review.]