The 1985 Soviet mission to rescue a dead space station

Posted by K R on

The following story happened in 1985 but subsequently vanished into obscurity. Over the years, many details have been twisted, others created. Even the original storytellers got some things just plain wrong. After extensive research, writer Nickolai Belakovski is able to present, for the first time to an English-speaking audience, the complete story of Soyuz T-13’s mission to save Salyut 7, a fascinating piece of in-space repair history.
It’s getting dark, and Vladimir Dzhanibekov is cold. He has a flashlight, but no gloves. Gloves make it difficult to work, and he needs to work quickly. His hands are freezing, but it doesn’t matter. His crew’s water supplies are limited, and if they don’t fix the station in time to thaw out its water supply, they’ll have to abandon it and go home, but the station is too important to let that happen. Quickly, the sun sets. Working with the flashlight by himself is cumbersome, so Dzhanibekov returns to the ship that brought them to the station to warm up and wait for the station to complete its pass around the night side of the Earth. <1> He’s trying to rescue Salyut 7, the latest in a series of troubled yet increasingly successful Soviet space stations. Its predecessor, Salyut 6, finally returned the title of longest manned space mission to the Soviets, breaking the 84-day record set by Americans on Skylab in 1974 by 10 days. A later mission extended that record to 185 days. After Salyut 7’s launch into orbit in April 1982, the first mission to the new station further extended that record to 211 days. The station was enjoying a relatively trouble-free start to life. <4> However, this was not to last. On February 11, 1985, while Salyut 7 was in orbit on autopilot awaiting its next crew, mission control (TsUP) noticed something was off. Station telemetry reported that there had been a surge of current in the electrical system, which led to the tripping of overcurrent protection and the shutdown of the primary radio transmitter circuits. The backup radio transmitters had been automatically activated, and as such there was no immediate threat to the station. Mission controllers, very tired now that the end of their 24-hour shift was approaching, made a note to call specialists from the design bureaus for the radio and electrical systems. The specialists would analyze the situation, and produce a report and recommendation, but for now the station was fine, and the next shift was ready to come on duty.<9> Read the Full Story via Ars Technica.

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