• Aeryn Avilla

Red Dawn: The Voskhod Program

Voskhod ("sunrise" or "dawn") was the second crewed Soviet space program and the name of its accompanying spacecraft and rocket. It flew five missions from 1964 to 1966, carrying five cosmonauts and two dogs into space. Voskhod was the follow-on to the Vostok program, which sent the first man and woman into space, and used leftover components after the latter was cancelled in 1963. Voskhod also preceded the still-active Soyuz program.


Alexei Leonov's oil painting of his historic 1965 spacewalk (Alexei Leonov; collectspace.com)

Spacecraft

Voskhod 3KD spacecraft
Voskhod 3KD spacecraft (space.skyrocket.de)

The Voskhod spacecraft was heavily based off the single-person Vostok spacecraft but was 2,100 pounds (950 kg) heavier. The size and habitable volume did not change, though, so to accommodate more people the crew did not wear their spacesuits. The single ejection seat was also removed which led to the development of a soft landing system called Elburs [1]. The name comes from Mount El'brus, the highest point in Russia and all of Europe. Two variants of the spacecraft were developed, 3KV and 3KD. The 3KV fit a crew of three and was conceived in February 1964 by Chief Designer Sergei Korolev. The 3KD was a modified version of the 3KV, carrying only two cosmonauts and an inflatable airlock called Volga after the Volga River in Russia. The airlock was 8.2 feet (2.5 m) long with an internal diameter of 3.2 feet (1 m) and an external diameter of just under 4 feet (1.2 m). It would be jettisoned before reentry. Instruments were still mounted in their original Vostok positions but the new seats were perpendicular to the old Vostok seats so the crew would have to strain their necks to read the instrumentation panel.


Launch Vehicle

Voskhod used the R-7 11A57 rocket, a modified Vostok rocket equipped with a more powerful upper stage borrowed from the 8K78 Molniya booster. A vehicle similar to the R-7 11A57, the 11A59, later launched the Zenit reconnaissance satellites. The 11A57 launched a total of 299 times, 14 of which were failures.


Unmanned tests

The first uncrewed Voskhod test was of the 3KV spacecraft. Kosmos 47 launched on June 10, 1964 and was a successful 24-hour long evaluation of the spacecraft's flight systems. Kosmos 57, which launched on February 22, 1965, was the first test of the 3KD spacecraft and successfully inflated the Volga airlock. However, about three hours after launch, an unauthorized radio signal from a tracking station interfered with an authorized transmission from a Voskhod ground station. This caused the retro-engine to fire prematurely and the spacecraft to spin out of control, eventually breaking apart. The final test flight, Kosmos 110, was a long-duration flight carrying two dogs, Veterok and Ugolyok, on a 22-day flight beginning on February 22, 1966. It tested the life support system for proposed long-duration missions.


Soviet space dogs Veterok and Ugolyok
Veterok and and Ugolyock prior to their mission (sciencesource.com)

There is More in Heaven and Earth — Voskhod 1

The first crewed Voskhod mission, Voskhod 1 [2], launched on October 12, 1964 and was the first three-person (and multiple-person) spaceflight. It was commanded by Vladimir Komarov, who would later fly and perish onboard Soyuz 1 in 1967. His crewmates, "scientist" Konstantin Feoktistov and "doctor" Boris Yegerov, were the first civilians in space. Feoktistov was a lead designer of the Vostok, Voskhod, and future Soyuz spacecraft and the only designer of such a vehicle to fly in space. Yegerov was a physician who used his father's connections in the Politburo [3] to get a seat on the mission. The military wanted an all-pilot crew but Korolev insisted on including civilian cosmonauts. The spacecraft's callsign was Rubin (Ruby) and the mission had three main objectives: (1) Test the new multi-person spacecraft; (2) conduct physiological, biological, and technical research; (3) investigate how well cosmonauts from different backgrounds and specialties work together in space.


Crew of Voskhod 1
Feoktistov, Komarov, and Yegerov after their historic flight (russianspaceweb.com)

To reduce overall mass of the spacecraft, the crew launched without ejection seats, a launch escape system, and even spacesuits. The first orbit set a human altitude record because the spacecraft's mass was below the booster's maximum payload capacity, allowing it to be inserted into a higher orbit and decrease to its planned altitude. On the third orbit the crew spoke with Premier Nikita Khrushchev, who was not in Moscow but at his vacation home by the Black Sea. The sixth and seventh orbits consisted of television broadcasts. They also greeted the Soviet team at the Olympic Games in Tokyo [4].


During the mission's sixteen orbits, Feoktistov conducted engineering-related visual observations and photography of the spacecraft while Yegerov performed medical experiments that could not have been done during solo flights: He measured the crew's blood pressure, took blood samples, recorded brain waves, and tested muscle coordination. His biotelemetry tool showed the whole crew had low pulse rates, but it was later found the instrument was malfunctioning. After almost an entire day, the mission was going well and Korolev wanted to let the crew stay in space. Instead, he radioed up to the spacecraft, "There are more things in heaven and Earth than is dreamt of in your philosophy" [5] and ordered the crew to return home. Voskhod 1 was the first time a crewed spacecraft hit the ground [6]. They did not know it at the time, but while they were in space a bloodless coup removed Khrushchev from power and replaced him with Leonid Brezhnev.


Crew of Voskhod 1
Feoktistov, Yegerov, and Komarov (public domain)

The Eagle Has Wings — Voskhod 2

The second crewed Voskhod mission, Voskhod 2, launched on March 18, 1965 and was the first two-person spaceflight. It was commanded by Pavel Belyayev, who would fly only one mission in space before perishing in 1970 [7]. The pilot was Alexei Leonov, the future commander of the Soviet half of the 1975 Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. The spacecraft's callsign was Almaz (Diamond) and had one crucial main objective: Perform the world's first extravehicular activity (EVA).


Crew of Voskhod 2
Leonov and Belyayev (spacesafetymagazine.com)

Voskhod 2 was originally called Vykhod, the Russian word for "exit", but mission planners felt the name was too revealing of the flight's purpose [8]. Within the first few orbits, the Volga airlock inflated and Leonov performed his 12-minute EVA in a new spacesuit called Berkutowering it , or "Golden Eagle". The EVA began over north-central Africa and ended over eastern Siberia. Unsure of man's ability to function outside a spacecraft, the cosmonaut's only tasks were to record the EVA on a camera and photograph the Voskhod from outside. However, he was unable to reach the shutter switch on his leg due to inflation of his spacesuit so he himself did not take any pictures. Unbeknownst to mission control back in Moscow, the extra air in Leonov's suit had caused it to stiffen, making it impossible for him to enter the airlock head-first, turn around once inside, and shut the outer hatch. He bled off some of the suit's pressure enough for his joints to bend again, lowering it to below the safety limit. Once inside, the crew was faced with another major problem: The primary hatch would not seal completely. To compensate, the environmental control system flooded the cabin with oxygen [9]. The live broadcast of the EVA was terminated once Leonov started experiencing issues with his suit and later medical reports indicated he had nearly suffered a heat stroke while in the vacuum of space [10].


Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov performing his spacewalk during Voskhod 2 in March 1965
Leonov during his spacewalk (space.com)

Despite the failure of the primary retrorockets, the crew landed safely on March 19...or rather, alive. Voskhod 2 landed near the city of Perm in the heavy forests of the Ural mountains about 240 miles (386 km) from their intended landing zone. Although flight controllers were completely unknowing of the crew's whereabouts, they assured their families they were safe and recovering from the mission. Once recovery forces located the crew, supplies were sent down by parachute and the brave heroes of the Soviet Union spent their first night back on Earth in a freezing cold spacecraft. The following day, trees were cut down to create a landing zone for the rescue helicopter and on the third day, recovery forces delivered skis to the crew so they could maneuver through the thick forest to the helicopter. The capsule itself was removed a few days later and is now on display at the museum of RKK Energia in Korolev, Russia. More information about Voskhod 2 can be found here.


Your Flight Has Been Cancelled

Initially, Voskhod 3 and onwards were supposed to fly spacecraft with upgraded environmental control systems so crews could spend up to 21 days in orbit. Voskhod's 3 through 6 would be long duration flights with 5 and 6 including EVA's. In fact, it was proposed Voskhod 5 be flown by two women cosmonauts. According to astronautix.com, one of these later flights would have been equipped with a tether experiment to research the feasibility of applying artificial gravity to future space stations. Once follow-on missions were cancelled, the experiment was moved to the Soyuz program but was terminated altogether after Korolev's death in 1966. With the development of the Soyuz, the focus on lunar missions, and Korolev's untimely passing, the Voskhod program did not officially end so much as fade into the background, haven been put on the back burner and eventually forgotten about.


The Aftermath

Despite the number of milestones the Voskhod program achieved, only two crewed missions were ever flown. It was directly followed by the Soyuz program, which is still operational today. Voskhod 2 would arguably be the last time the USSR was "ahead" of the US in the Space Race: The first American EVA was performed during Gemini 4 less than three months later and with no crewed Soviet flights taking place until 1967 [11], the first crewed rendezvous, docking, and long duration flights were performed by the US. However, Voskhod's 1 and 2 saw the first civilians fly in space, carried the first true "space crew", and, most significantly, showed the world man could survive in the vacuum of space. Much more obscurely, it was also during this program that the first piece of art was created in space; Alexei Leonov's small orbital sunrise, the program's namesake, sketched in color pencil.


Leonov's artwork and pencils (Museum of the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center)



Author's note: I would love to write a post focusing only on Voskhod 1 because the mission's background and development is really interesting. As always, thanks for reading and be sure to like and share this post!



[1] The prior Vostok missions did not have a soft-landing system. Instead, cosmonauts ejected out of their spacecraft and returned to the ground under their own personal parachute.

[2] At the time, the mission was just called "Voskhod".

[3] Politburo was another name for the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

[4] The 1964 Summer Olympics were held in October to avoid Tokyo's hot and unpleasant summers and typhoon season in September.

[5] This is a very famous line from William Shakespeare's Hamlet (though you haven't truly read Shakespeare unless in the original Klingon).

[6] All American crewed capsules prior to Blue Origin's New Shepard (2021) splashed down in the ocean. As stated earlier, previous Soviet missions had the cosmonaut bail out of his or her capsule during descent and touchdown under his or her own parachute.

[7] His death was not space-related— he died as a result of complications from a stomach operation.

[8] At the time, space missions were not made known to the public until after they had been deemed successful as to avoid the international humiliation of a mission failing.

[9] Less than two years later, a similar situation would kill the first American spacewalker and his crewmates: During Apollo 1, the hatch was held shut by the interior pressure of the capsule, which was higher than the atmospheric pressure outside. This ultimately prevented the crew from opening the hatch when the fire broke out.

[10] American astronaut Gene Cernan also dangerously overheated during his Gemini 9 EVA in 1966 and Ed White's visor fogged due to spacesuit overheating during his historic EVA.

[11] This flight was Soyuz 1, which launched in April 1967 and was flown by Vladimir Komarov, the commander of Voskhod 1. It would end in tragedy when a parachute failure caused the new Soyuz spacecraft to crash into Earth, marking the in-flight fatality in the history of manned spaceflight.



 

Bibliography

  • Avilla, Aeryn. "Fifty-Five Years since Voskhod 2." Spaceflight Histories, 18 Mar. 2020, https://www.spaceflighthistories.com/post/fifty-five-years-since-voskhod-2

  • Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. "Voskhod." Encyclopedia Britannica, 26 Sep. 2018, https://www.britannica.com/technology/Voskhod-spacecraft.

  • Krebs, Gunter D. “Voskhod-3KV”. Gunter's Space Page, https://space.skyrocket.de/doc_sdat/voskhod-3kv.htm

  • Mann, Adam. "Voskhod program: The Soviet Union's first crewed space program." Space, 1 Oct. 2020, https://www.space.com/voskhod-program.html

  • Wade, Mark. "Voskhod." Encyclopedia Astronautica, http://astronautix.com/v/voskhod.html#top

  • Zak, Anatoly. "Voskhod Mission." Russian Space Web, http://www.russianspaceweb.com/voskhod.html

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