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Soyuz 26 and Soyuz 27



Soviet Manned Space Programs: 1957-80



Despite the failure of Soyuz 25, the Soviets soon had another space mission to cheer about. The Soyuz 26 mission demonstrated the full range of capabilities of the new space station. The crew set a new duration record of 96 days, performed EVA to inspect the suspect docking port, received the first Progress transport craft and with it performed the first in-space fuel transfer, and was visited by two other crews (Soyuz 27 and 28) which included an exchange of ships (Soyuz 26 and 27), and the first non-Soviet cosmonaut.

Soyuz 26 (Tamyr) was launched on December 10, 1977 at 0119 GMT into an initial orbit 245x205 km. The crew was composed of Yuriy Romanenko and Georgiy Grechko. After several trajectory adjustments, the ship approached Salyut 6 and achieved a successful docking at the aft docking port at 0302 GMT on December 11. The docking led the Soviets to publicly announce that the space station had two docking ports.

On December 19,137 the crew performed an EVA to inspect the forward docking port, as described under Soyuz 25. This was the first Soviet EVA in almost 9 years, the last having been performed on Soyuz 4/5 in January 1969. The hatch was opened at 2136 GMT and Grechko, wearing a new semi-rigid space suit with a built in autonomous life support system, moved out, attached by a tether. Romaneko was suited up, but remained in the hatch to supervise operations. (138)

In addition to inspecting the docking unit, Grechko also checked the outside of the station, assessing the condition of joints, sensors, and other surfaces, and apparently attached flasks containing biopolymers for the Medusa experiment to the surface of the space station (139) (see p. 585). He carried a mobile color TV camera with him so specialists on the ground could see for themselves what he was seeing. The cosmonauts spent 88 minutes in the "difficult conditions of outer space," although the space walk itself apparently only lasted 20 minutes. Gordon Hooper has observed that the exercise took place over the southern hemisphere, outside direct contact range with flight control center. When it began, the station was over the Cook Islands, with the Sun directly overhead, and ended 12 minutes before the station entered the Earth's shadow while they were over Santa Cruz in the Argentine. (140)

During the course of the mission, the cosmonauts lived on a schedule patterned after Moscow time. This was made possible by the increased use of ships for communication so that it didn't matter when certain activities (such as the EVA) occurred, and by storing information on recorders for later dumping when convenient.

The Soviets reported that Grechko was an "even-tempered' fellow, while Romanenko's personality was described as "volatile." Although distractions such as a chess set were available for the crew, Tass reported that the crew didn't use then very much, but that Grechko "fusses with a camera and sketch book near the port holes in the transfer compartment, the cosiest and darkest nook on board the station," while Romaneko spent most of his free time rechecking the operation of control systems. (141)

A New Year's tree and toys were provided to help the cosmonauts celebrate the beginning of 1978, and although no champagne was allowed on board, they toasted each other with orange juice.

By early January, press reports on crew activities did not indicate a high level of work. Tass reported that the crew had a "high capacity for work, enthusiasm" and had asked for additional assignments. It could be that with such a long-duration mission, planners had decided to deliberately keep the workload low during the initial phase, or it could be that the cosmonauts were performing activities which were not publicly reported.

From January 11 to 16, the Soyuz 27 crew visited. The Soyuz 26 crew moved into their Soyuz ferry craft and sealed the hatch during the docking operation.(142) Whether this was a general safety precaution or represented concern that there still might be a problem with the forward docking unit is unknown. (As far as can be determined, the procedure was not used for subsequent dockings at either end of the station). The Soyuz 27 crew transferred their couches into the Soyuz 26 ship so they would return in the old spacecraft and leave their new one for the long-duration crew. The couches are individually contoured. The Soyuz 26 ship with the Soyuz 27 crew landed on January 16. Ship duration was approximately 37 days (898 hours, 6 minutes).

Returning in Soyuz 26 also freed the aft docking port for Progress 1, which docked with Salyut 6 on January 22. Operations with Progress took place through February 6, and are described above. Briefly, the crew accomplished the first fuel transfer on February 2, and on February 5 the Progress engines were fired to raise the altitude of the space station. The Soviets referred to this as a "tug" type of operation. Progress brought new life support system regenerators, which the crew later installed, and a furnace called Splav which was later used for materials processing experiments. Progress 1 undocked on February 6, after 15 days of being docked with the space station, and was used as a target for navigation studies before it reentered. .

The third visit was that of Soyuz 28 from March 2-10. During this visit, at 0235 GMT on March 4, the Soyuz 26/27 crew broke the old endurance record of 84 days set by the U.S. Skylab 4 crew in 1974. The members of the Skylab crew relayed congratulatory messages to the new record holders.

The Soyuz 26/27 crew returned to Earth on March 16, 1978 at 1119 GMT, landing 265 km west of Tselinograd. The crew's duration was 96 days, 10 hours (2,314 hours) exactly; the duration for the Soyuz 27 ship was approximately 65 days (1,558 hours 53 minutes).

Radio Moscow reported that during their first days back on Earth the cosmonauts tried to "swim" out of bed, and found it difficult to walk or even lift a cup of tea. They found standing possible, but were more comfortable lying down. By March 20, however, the men were taking walks, and by March 30, were reported to be regaining their preflight condition, and were doing remedial gymnastics and other exercises. Each had lost 5 kilograms while m orbit In addition to breaking the duration record for a crew, Grechko broke the record for time spent in space by a single individual— 3,023 hours 20 minutes (126 days) compared to 2,017 hours 16 minutes (84 days) for the members of the Skylab 4 crew.


The first crew to "visit" another in space was Soyuz 27 which docked with Salyut 6 while the Soyuz 26 crew was already on board.

Soyuz 27 (Pamyr) was launched on January 10, 1978 at 1226 GMT with the crew of Col. Vladimir Dzhanibekov and flight engineer Oleg Makarov. The initial orbit was 223x202 km. Docking occurred at 1406 GMT on January 11, and the ship docked at the forward end of the station. The two crews met and shook hands for the television cameras in the working module. (As noted earlier, the Soyuz 26 crew waited in the Soyuz 26 spacecraft while the docking took place.) The visiting crew brought up letters, newspapers, books, and research equipment.

In addition to spending time switching couches from the two Soyuz crafts, the 4 cosmonauts also performed the Cytos and Resonance experiments (see p. 585). The latter had to do with the dynamics of the three-ship combination, and the Soviets reported that the assembly began to writhe like a snake with the different sections moving in different directions, although they emphasized that the movement was not visible to the eye. (143) The Soviet media reported that the Soyuz 27 crew adapted to weightlessness more quickly that the "old" crew, and attributed this partially to the effect of having experienced men on board who could reassure their colleagues that the sensations would pass. (144)

The crew returned in the Soyuz 26 spacecraft after 5 days on board the station (6 days in space). They landed on January 16, 310 km west of Tselinograd, and although the Soviets did not announce a landing time, it must have been 1119 GMT based on other data they have published. The crew reportedly got out of their spacecraft and walked over the snow covered field.



137. Dec. 20, Moscow time.

138. In his book Red Star in Orbit (New York, Random House, 1981, p. 167), James Oberg reported that Romaneko couldn't contain himself and went out into space himself, but that he had not fastened his tether line and Grechko had to grab him before he permanently floated off into space. Oberg quotes Grechko for this information, but does not identify its source.

139. Soviet media accounts of the EVA did not report anything about the Medusa experiment, but a January 7, 1978 newscast revealed that flasks containing biopolymers were attached to the outside of the station to study the effect of cosmic rays. It seems highly unlikely that they would have been installed prior to launch, so it can be inferred that the crew placed them there during the EVA.

140. Hooper, Gordon. Spaceflight, June 1978, p. 231.

141. Tass, 1730 GMT, Dec. 28, 1977.

142. Aviation Week, Jan. 16, 1978, p. 20. Also, Spaceflight, Nov. 1978, p. 371.

143. New Times, April 1978, p. 13.

144. New Times, April 1978, p. 14.