16 June 1963, 09:29:52 UTC: Cosmonaut Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova (Валенти́на Влади́мировна Терешко́ва) was launched aboard Vostok 6 from Gagarin’s Start, Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan. The spacecraft was a Vostok 3KA and the launch vehicle was a Vostok 8K72K rocket. She was the first human female in space.
Prior to her acceptance in the cosmonaut corps, Tereshkova had been a textile worker. She was also an amateur parachutist. The qualifications for the Soviet space program were that the women be parachutists under the age of 30 years, less than 170 centimeters (5 feet, 7 inches) tall and weigh less than 70 kilograms (154.3 pounds). After an extensive training program with included pilot training in the Mikoyan Gurevich MiG 15UTI fighter and 120 parachute jumps, Tereshkova and three other women were commissioned as Junior Lieutenants in the Soviet Air Force.
Vostok 5 with Cosmonaut Valery Fyodorovich Bykovsky had been launched two days earlier on the same orbital path. During their flights they came within approximately 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) of each other.
Valentina Tereshkova completed 48 orbits of the Earth, reaching a maximum altitude of 212 kilometers (131.7 miles). Vostok 6 re-entered the atmosphere and Tereshkova parachuted from the capsule near the Pavinskiy Collective Farms, Altai Krai (approximately 150 miles/240 kilometers southwest of Novosibirsk), landing at 08:20 UTC, 19 June 1963. The total duration of her flight was 2 days, 22 hours, 50 minutes.
The Vostok 3KA spacecraft consisted of a spherical crew module and a service module. It could support one person in a full-pressure suit for a maximum of 10 days. There were two view ports. The Vostok used pressurized gas jets for attitude control while in orbit, but was not capable of changing its orbit. The vehicle had a total height of 4.40 meters (14 feet, 5¼ inches) and total mass of 4,730 kilograms (10,428 pounds). The descent module diameter was 2.3 meters (7 feet, 6½ inches) and had a mass of 2,460 kilograms (5,423 pounds).
On descent, the cosmonaut used an ejection seat to leave the capsule prior to Earth landing, and parachuted to the ground.
The Korolev Design Bureau Vostok 8K72K launch vehicle was a three-stage liquid-fueled rocket developed from the Soviet R-7 “Semyorka” intercontinental ballistic missile, using RP-1, a highly refined form of kerosene, and liquid oxygen as propellant. It was 38.36 meters (125 feet, 10 inches) tall and had a maximum diameter of 10.3 meters (33 feet, 9 inches). Total mass at liftoff was 287,375 kilograms (633,553 pounds).
The first stage consisted of four boosters surrounding a central core. Each was powered by one Glushko Design Bureau RD-108 (8D75) engine with four combustion chambers and exhaust nozzles. The RD-108 was rated at 713.600 kilonewtons of thrust (160,424 pounds-force) at Sea Level. Burn time was 118 seconds. The second stage used one RD-108 engine fired for 301 seconds. The third stage had one Kosberg Design Bureau RD-0109 engine rated at 54.520 kilonewtons (12,257 pounds-force) of thrust, with a burn time of 365 seconds.
23–24 April 1967: At 00:35:00 UTC, 23 April, Soyuz-1, the first manned flight of the Soyuz 7K-OK spacecraft, was launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome Pad 1/5 (Gagarin’s Start). On this first test flight, only one person was aboard the craft, which had been designed to carry three cosmonauts. Colonel Vladimir Mikhailovich Komarov was the pilot. He had previously flown Voskhod-1, a 24-hour mission, in 1964.
The mission plan called for a second spacecraft, Soyuz-2, to be launched on the 24th, with a three-man crew. A rendezvous in orbit would be made.
Soyuz-1 was not ready to be flown. More than 200 faults were known, but the pressures brought about by politics required that the launch proceed.
On reaching orbit, two solar arrays were to deploy to provide electrical power for the spacecraft’s batteries. One panel did not deploy and this severely limited the power available.
The Soyuz stabilization system relied on sensors which would detect certain stars to provide orientation, but the failed solar panel covered them. Within a few orbits the system failed completely. Komarov used the ship’s thrusters to manually control stability, but this was only marginally effective.
There were also communications difficulties. With electrical power diminishing and reaction fuel being spent, the main goals of the mission could no longer be achieved. After 13 orbits it was decided to abort the mission.
Komarov had to manually align the Soyuz-1 during the daylight phase of orbit 18. Gyroscopic stabilizers were supposed to maintain that alignment as the spacecraft passed into darkness. Komarov would once again align the craft when it came around into light, and hold that alignment through the reentry deceleration.
For some reason, the braking engine was 2 minutes, 23.5 seconds late in firing. The deceleration burn was planned for 2 minutes, 30 seconds, but an automatic system, recognizing that the gyro system was not holding the proper alignment, cut off the engine 4 seconds early. This meant that the Soyuz would travel farther down range than intended, and would not have slowed quite as much, although it was enough for re-entry.
Soyuz-1 impacted the Earth at 03:22:52 UTC, 1.9 miles (3.06 kilometers) to the west of Karabutak, Orenburg Oblast, at speeds estimated at from 30–40 meters per second (67–89 miles per hour) to as high as 640 kilometers per hour (398 miles per hour). It is believed that Vladimir Komarov died from injuries sustained at this time.
He was the first person to die during a space flight.
A rescue helicopter quickly located the Soyuz reentry module which was lying on its side in an open field with its parachute alongside. The rescuers reportedly saw the soft-landing rockets fire, which they should have done just before the module’s impact.
The module was on fire and by the time rescuers reached it, it was fully involved and molten metal was spreading on the ground. After expending their fire extinguishers, the rescuers tried to put of the fire by shoveling dirt on to it, but the the capsule completely collapsed.
Doctors on the scene pronounced Vladamir Komarov dead, with injuries to his skull, spinal cord, and numerous broken bones resulting from the impact. His body was completely burned. A postmortem examination at Moscow confirmed that the cosmonaut had been killed by the capsule’s impact.
Several theories have been published as explanation for the failure of the spacecraft’s parachute to safely slow Komarov’s descent, though with the craft completely destroyed by fire, it is unlikely that there could be any certainty. The official finding is that the drogue parachute did not apply enough force to pull the main parachute free. A backup parachute was deployed manually by Komarov but it fouled in the drogue ‘chute and did not open sufficiently to brake the craft.
Another theory is that a pressure sensor malfunctioned which prevented the automatic deployment of the main parachute. The drogue ‘chute should have been released at that time, but was not, which resulted in the reserve parachute fouling.
Third is that during an autoclaving operation the parachutes may have been contaminated with an adhesive substance.
And another story is this: During the design of Soyuz-1, the thickness of the heat shield was increased, and so the weight of the spacecraft went up. Engineers increased the size of the main parachute accordingly. But the compartment that it was to be stored in remained the same size. The fit was so tight that when the parachute was being installed, technicians had to hammer it into place with wooden mallets.
Vladimir Mikhailovich Komarov was born at Moscow, Russian Socialist Federated Soviet Republic (RSFSR), 16 March 1927. His father was killed early in The Great Patriotic War (World War II). At the age of 15 years, Vladimir Mikhailovich entered the 1st Moscow Special Air Force School and graduated in 1945. He then went to Sasovskoye for initial pilot training, and then to the Borisoglebsk Air Force Pilot School. In 1946 he was transferred to the A.K. Serov Bataisk Military Aviation School. He received his pilot’s wings and was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Soviet Air Force, 10 December 1949.
Lieutenant Komarov served as a fighter pilot of the 383rd Fighter Aviation Regiment at Grozny. The regiment was transitioning from the Mikoyan-Guervich MiG-9 turbojet-powered fighter to the new swept-wing MiG-15. While there, he met his future wife, Valentina Yakovlevna Kiselyova, a recent graduate of the Grozny Teachers’ Training Institute. They were married in 1950. They had two children, Yevgeny and Irina.
In 1952, Senior Lieutenant Komarov was assigned as senior pilot of the 486th Fighter Aviation Regiment, flying the MiG-15 and MiG-17. In 1954 he applied to attend the N.E. Zhukovsky Air Force Engineering Academy, from which he graduated in 1959. Promoted to Senior Lieutenant-Engineer, he was assigned as a test pilot at the Central Scientific Research Institute.
After promotion to captain-engineer, 3 September 1960, Komarov was selected for the first group of Soviet cosmonauts. He was older than most of the group, but was well liked and respected.
Colonel-Engineer Vladimir Mihailovich Komarov, Pilot-Cosmonaut of the USSR, was twice named Hero of the Soviet Union. He had also been awarded the Order of Lenin, Order of the Red Star, as well as several other decorations.
Following a state funeral, the cosmonaut’s ashes were interred in the Kremlin Wall at Red Square.
2–4 February 1982: Over a three-day period, several flight crews set a series of Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) payload-to-altitude world records at Podmoskovnoe. They flew an OKB Mil Design Bureau Mi-26 heavy lift helicopter.
On 2 February, Gurgen Rubenovich Karapetian and Y. Chapaev flew to 6,400 meters (20,997 feet) with a 10,000 kilogram (22,046.2 pound) payload.¹
The OKB Mil Design Bureau’s Mi-26 is the world’s largest helicopter. It is a twin-engine, single main rotor/tail rotor helicopter with fixed tricycle landing gear. It is normally operated by two pilots, a navigator, flight engineer and flight technician, and can carry as many as 90 passengers.
The Mi-26 has an overall length with rotors turning of 40.025 meters (131 feet, 3.8 inches) and height of 8.145 meters (26 feet, 8.7 inches). The main rotor has a diameter of 32.00 meters (104 feet, 11.8 inches). The helicopter has an empty weight of 28,200 kilograms (62,170 pounds) and maximum takeoff weight of 56,000 kilograms (123,459 pounds).
The eight-blade fully-articulated main rotor system turns clockwise at 132 r.p.m. (the advancing blade is on the left). A five-blade tail rotor is mounted on the right side of a pylon in a pusher configuration. The tail rotor turns clockwise as seen from the helicopter’s left side (the advancing blade is below the axis of rotation).
Power is supplied by two Lotarev D-136 turboshaft engines producing 8,500 kW (11,399 shaft horsepower), each.
The cruise speed of the Mi-26 is 255 kilometers per hour (158 miles per hour) and maximum speed is 295 kilometers per hour (183 miles per hour). The hover ceiling, out of ground effect (HOGE), is 1,800 meters (5,905 feet), and the service ceiling is 4,600 meters (15,092 feet), though on 2 February 1982, test pilot Gurgen Karapetyan, who flew with Grishchenko at Chernobyl, flew an Mi-26 to 6,400 meters (20,997 feet) carrying a 10,000 kilogram (22,046 pound) payload.¹ The maximum payload is 20,000 kilograms (44,092 pounds). The helicopter’s range, carrying an 18,000 kilogram (39,683 pounds) payload is 670 kilometers (416 miles).
The Mi-26 first flew in 1977. Production began in 1980. The helicopter remains in service with both military and civil operators.
Gurgen Rubenovich Karapetyan (Гурген Рубенович Карапетян) was born 9 December 1936 in what is now Ekaterinberg, Sverdlovsk, Russia. He learned to fly a Polikarkpov Po-2 (NATO identifier, “Mule”) at the Sverdlovsk flying club at the age of 15.
Karapetyan served in the Soviet Air Force from 1956 to 1963. His rank was first lieutenant. An uncle advised him to attend the Moscow Aviation Institute, and he graduated in 1961. He worked as an engineer at Mil Design Bureau and then attended test pilot school. From 1962 to 1993, Karapetyan was a test pilot for the Mil Moscow Helicopter Plant, becoming the chief test pilot in 1974.
In April 1986, along with Anatoly Demyanovich Grishchenko, Gurgen Karapetyan flew a Mil Mi-26 helicopter dropping loads of sand and wet cement on the wreckage of the Chernobyl Reactor Number 4, which had been destroyed by an explosion. Carrying 15 ton loads suspended from an 800-foot (244 meters) cable, they made repeated trips while flying through the radioactive gases released from the plant. Grishchenko later died as a result of radiation exposure.
On 24 January 1993, President Mikhail Gorbachev named Karapetyan a Hero of the Soviet Union. He was twice awarded the Order of Lenin, and is an Honored Test Pilot of the Soviet Union.
Gurgen Karapetyan has set 10 world records in helicopters. He has flown more than 5,500 hours in 39 helicopter types. Now retired, he lives in Moscow.
30 January 1934: At approximately 9:00 a.m. a large gas balloon lifted off from Matilovo, near Moscow, and ascended toward the stratosphere. Three aeronauts were aboard: Pavel Fyodorovich Fedoseyenko, Ilya Davydovich Usyskin, and Andrei Bogdanovich Vasenko. The balloon was named Osoaviakhim 1.
Buoyancy was provided by gaseous hydrogen. When fully expanded, the balloon had a volume of approximately 25,000 cubic meters (882,867 cubic feet) and a diameter of 177 feet (54.95 meters).
The three passengers and scientific instruments were carried in a welded sheet metal sphere hanging from cables below the envelope. The gondola was considered air-tight, and with its passengers, equipment and ballast, weighed about 2,000 kilograms (4,409 pounds).
The equipment and experiments carried aboard Osoaviakhim 1 were provided by the Main Physical Observatory, Ioffe Physical-Technical Institute, and the State Radium Institute, all located in Leningrad, Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. They were designed to measure cosmic rays, determine the makeup of the upper atmosphere, and measure magnetic effects. Photographs of the ground were also to be taken.
As the balloon rose, the crew maintained radio contact with ground stations. At about 11:45, they reported that they had reached about 67,600 feet (20,600 meters). At 12:23, Osoaviakhim 1 had reached its peak altitude, 22,000 meters (72,178 feet).
While in the stratosphere, sunlight was not damped as it would have been in the lower, denser troposphere. It caused the hydrogen within the envelope to heat to approximately 54 °C. (129 °F.) above the temperature of the surrounding air. The hydrogen expanded the envelope beyond its limits and was released through pressure relief valves.
During the descent, the remaining hydrogen cooled and contracted. The balloon gradually lost buoyancy and the rate of descent increased. The crew had released all of the ballast in order to reach the peak altitude and now had no way to lighten ship to slow the balloon’s descent. After passing through 12,000 meters (39,370 feet), the rate of descent began to dramatically increase, and by 8,000 meters (26,247 feet), the balloon was torn away from the spherical gondola, which then entered a free fall.
Osoaviakhim 1 struck the ground near Potijsky Ostrog, about 470 kilometers (292 miles) east of Matilovo. All three men were killed. A watch belonging to Vasenko was stopped at 4:23. Presumably, this was the time at which the impact occurred.
A state funeral was held 2 February. The ashes of the three aeronauts were interred in the Kremlin wall. The three urns were carried by the most prominent leaders of the Communist state, Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin, General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union; Kliment Yefremovich Voroshilov, People’s Commissar for Defense; and Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov, Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars.
Fedoseyenko, Usyskin, and Vasenko were named Heroes of the Soviet Union.
Although Osoaviakhim 1 rose higher than than the 18,665 meter record ¹ set by Century of Progress (Commander Thomas Greenhow Williams Settle, United States Navy, and Major Chester Fordnay, United States Marine Corps), 20 November 1933, its peak altitude was not recognized as a record by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI). At the time, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was not a member nation of the FAI.
22 November 1955: The Soviet Union’s first thermonuclear weapon, RDS-37, was air-dropped at the Semipalatinsk Test Site, approximately 150 kilometers west of the city of Semipalatinsk, Kazakh S.S.R. (now, Kazakhstan). The bomber, a Tupolev Tu-16A, and its crew were under the command of Senior Test Pilot Major Fedor Pavlovich Golovashko.
The RDS-37 was a two-stage radiation-implosion thermonuclear bomb, what was called at the time a “hydrogen bomb.” (RDS stands for Rossiya delaet sama—meaning, in effect, that “Russia does it itself.” This three-letter prefix was applied to atomic tests since the first, RDS-1, 29 August 1949.)
This was the Soviet Union’s twenty-fourth nuclear weapons test, but its first true thermonuclear bomb, and it was the world’s first air-dropped “H bomb.” (The United States’ first air-drop of a thermonuclear weapon, Redwing Cherokee, took place six months later, 20 May 1956. Great Britain’s Grapple I/Short Granite test occurred 15 May 1957.)
Major Golovashko and his crew had made a previous attempt with the RDS-37. Two days earlier, 19 November, the loading of the bomb began at 6:45 a.m. Four hoists were used to lift it into the bomber’s weapons bay. The process took about two hours.
At 9:30 a.m., the Tu-16 took off from Zhana Semey Airport (PLX), about 8 kilometers (5 miles) south of the city of Semipaltinsk. It began climbing to an altitude of 12,000 meters (39,370 feet) as it flew toward the test site. Golovashko’s bomber was escorted by pairs of Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-17 fighters to prevent the theft of the test weapon.
Although the weather had been forecast to be good, it unexpectedly began to deteriorate. The Tu-16 was above a cloud layer with the test area obscured. As the crew prepared to bomb by radar, the radar equipment failed and all attempts to repair it were unsuccessful.
Test conductors were very concerned about landing the Tupolev back at Semipalatinsk with a fully-armed nuclear bomb still on board. There was consideration of dropping the RDS-37 over remote mountains, but there was no certainty of being able to avoid villages or towns, and if the bomb were to only partially detonate there could be widespread contamination by its radioactive fuel.
There was a delay in making a decision and the Tupolev’s fuel was getting low. Finally it was decided to have the bomber return to Semipaltinsk with the bomb. The landing was uneventful and the technicians removed the RDS-37 for servicing before the next test attempt.
It was normal procedure for bomber crews to rotate, but the decision was made to have Major Golovashko’s crew make the second test flight. On 22 November the weapon loading began at 4:50 a.m., with takeoff at 8:34 a.m. Again the Tupolev Tu-16A was escorted by pairs of MiG-17s. Once again, the bomber arrived over the test site at 12,000 meters, flying at 870 kilometers per hour (541 miles per hour).
Soviet nuclear weapons designer Andrei Dmitrievich Sakaharov, whose “other idea”—radiation-implosion—was used in the design of the RDS-37, was at an observation site about 70 kilometers from the test target. He watched the Tu-16 as it flew overhead and described it as, “dazzling white with its sweptback wings and slender fuselage extending far forward, it looked like a sinister predator poised to strike.” He also noted that the color white is “often associated with death.”
After being released from Major Golovashko’s Tupolev, the RDS-37 was retarded by parachute to allow time for the bomber to get away. It detonated at 1,550 meters (5,085 feet) above the ground. The flight crew described seeing a blue-white flash that lasted 10 to 12 seconds. The shock wave of the detonation, spreading at the speed of sound, hit the bomber 3 minutes, 44 seconds after the drop. The Tu-16 experienced accelerations of 2.5Gs, and was lifted to higher altitude. It was not damaged.
5–7 minutes following the detonation the distinctive mushroom cloud had reached to a height of 13–14 kilometers (8–8.7 miles) and its diameter was 25–30 kilometers (15.5–18.6 miles).
The RDS-37 detonated with a reported yield varying between 1.6 and 1.9 megatons (depending on source). The bomb had a designed yield of 3 megatons but this had been intentionally reduced for this test.
The bomb detonated under a temperature inversion layer which reflected a large proportion of the explosive force back to the ground. A small town about 75 kilometers (47 miles) away suffered significant destruction. A small child was killed when a building collapsed. At another location, a soldier in an observation was killed when the trench caved in from the shock. Nearly 50 others were injured. Windows were broken as far as 200 kilometers (124 miles) away.
Several videos of this test are available on YouTube.
The Tu-16 has a normal bomb load of 3,000 kilograms (6,614 pounds), but can carry up to 9,000 kilograms (19,842 pounds). It has seven Afanasev Makarov AM-23 23mm autocannons for defense, mounted in three pairs which are remotely operated by the gunners, and a single gun in the nose. These guns fire at a rate of 900 rounds per minute.
The Tupolev Tu-16 was built in bomber, cruise missile carrier, electronic counter measures, aerial tanker, and electronic and photographic reconnaissance versions, at three factories in the Soviet Union: Kazan Plant N22, Kuibyshev N18 and Voronezh N64. 1,507 Tu-16s were built before production ended in 1961. 453 of these were the Tu-16A nuclear weapons version. Another 120 were built under license in China by Harbin Aircraft. These are designated H-6.
Fedor Pavlovich Golovashko was born at Byokovo, Novosibirsk, 22 June 1923. He was educated through the 9th grade before being drafted into the Soviet Army in 1941. He was trained as a pilot at the Novosibirsk Military Aviation School, graduating in 1943.
He was assigned to a Long Range Aviation regiment (Dalnyaya Aviatsiya) under the command of Alexander Ignatyevich Molodchy, twice a Hero of the Soviet Union.
Golovashko’s final missions of the Great Patriotic War (World War II) were flown against Berlin.
Fedor Golovashko remained in the Air Force following the war and soon was in command of a squadron. He became a test pilot in 1954 and was assigned to the Semipalatinsk Test Site.
Senior Test Pilot Major Fedor Pavlovich Gorovashko was named a Hero of the Soviet Union, 11 September 1956. He reached the rank of Colonel before retiring from the Air Force in 1961. He had been awarded the Order of Lenin, Order of the Red Banner (two awards), Order of the Patriotic War 1st Degree, and the Order of the Red Star (two awards).
After retiring, Colonel Golovashko lived in Odessa. He died there, 19 April 1981.
Major Golovashko’s bomber was a Tupolev Tu-16A (NATO codename “Badger-A”). This was a two-engine turbojet-powered long-range medium bomber. It was normally operated by a flight crew of seven.
Developed from the Tupolev Design Bureau Project 88, the prototype Tu-16 made it’s first flight at Zhukovsky Airfield (Ramenskoye Airport), southeast of Moscow, on 27 April 1952. The test pilot was Nikolai Stepanovich Rybko. This was the Soviet Union’s first swept-wing bomber. It was designated Tu-16 and entered production in 1954.
The Tu-16A was designed specifically to carry nuclear weapons and had a strengthened fuselage and heated bomb bay. The Tupolev Tu-16 is 34.8 meters (114.2 feet) long with a wingspan of 33 meters (108.3 feet) and overall height of 10.36 meters (34 feet). The wings are mounted at mid-fuselage and have a compound sweep. The inner portion has a leading edge sweep of 40.5°, and the outer wing is swept to 35°. t has an empty weight of 37,200 kilograms (82,012 pounds) and maximum takeoff weight of 79,000 kilograms (174,165 pounds).
Power is supplied by two large turbojet engines mounted in the wings at the fuselage, similar to the de Havilland Comet, though they are angled slightly outward to direct the exhaust away from the airplane’s skin panels. The Tu-16A variant is equipped with two Mikulin RD-3M-200 turbojets which produce 21,835 pounds of thrust, each.
The Tu-16A has a maximum speed of 992 kilometers per hour (610 miles per hour) and a service ceiling of 12,800 meters (41,995 feet). Its maximum range is 6,400 kilometers (3,977 miles).