Untimely Passing of Record-Setting Russian Cosmonaut and Would-Be British Astronaut

Anatoli Berezovoi, pictured aboard Salyut 7 in 1982. His 211-day mission with Valentin Lebedev secured the record for the longest single spaceflight. Photo Credit: Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

Anatoli Berezovoi, pictured aboard Salyut 7 in 1982. His 211-day mission with Valentin Lebedev secured the record for the longest single spaceflight. Photo Credit: Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

Two highly regarded cosmonauts—one flown, the other unflown—have added their names to the sad tally of spacefarers and would-be spacefarers who have passed away in 2014. Anatoli Berezovoi, who flew to the Soviet Union’s Salyut 7 space station in May-December 1982 and achieved an empirical 211-day endurance record, which remained unbroken for almost two years, died Saturday, 20 September, aged 72. His passing came less than a week after the 15 September death of 58-year-old Tim Mace, who served as backup to Helen Sharman on the Anglo-Soviet Juno mission to the Mir space station in May 1991.

Anatoli Nikolayevich Berezovoi was born in the town of Enem, in Krasnodar Krai, deep within the northern foothills of the Caucasus Mountains, on 11 April 1942. Today, Enem is part of the post-Soviet Republic of Adygea, enclaved within Krasnodar Krai. Berezovoi came from an ethnic Ukrainian family, and after his early schooling he entered the Soviet Air Force and was chosen for cosmonaut training in April 1970. He was initially assigned to fly a two-week mission to the Salyut 5 military space station, alongside fellow cosmonaut Mikhail Lisun, in July 1977. Unfortunately, their flight was canceled, due to delays in completing the construction of their Soyuz spacecraft and the resulting impact upon Salyut 5’s dwindling propellant supplies.

When he was appointed to command Soyuz T-5, joining civilian flight engineer Valentin Lebedev, Berezovoi became the first man to command the Salyut 7 station. Had circumstances been different, he might also have commanded the last flight to Salyut 7, sometime in 1986, had not problems with the station’s controllability ruled this out. Berezovoi and Lebedev launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on 13 May 1982 and, despite sluggish rendezvous hardware which failed to lock onto the station on its first attempt, successfully docked at Salyut 7 a day later.

Anatoli Berezovoi was selected for cosmonaut training in 1970 and might have flown to the military Salyut 5 space station in July 1977. Photo Credit: Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

Anatoli Berezovoi was selected for cosmonaut training in 1970 and might have flown to the military Salyut 5 space station in July 1977. Photo Credit: Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

It came as a relief to both men. Despite his praise of Soyuz T-5’s capabilities, Berezovoi found the spacecraft exceptionally cold and he wore his space suit in order to keep warm. Lebedev also considered it uncomfortable and tried sleeping in his seat, above his seat and even spread-eagled across both seats, with limited success. Upon entering Salyut 7, the men set to work checking the orientation system, loading cameras with film and on 17 May ejecting a small amateur radio satellite (Iskra-2) into space through the airlock. Not only did this represent the first satellite released by cosmonauts aboard a space station, but it preceded the first satellite deployment from the shuttle by almost six months.

At the time of their launch, the empirical record for time spent in orbit was almost 185 days—achieved by cosmonauts Leonid Popov and Valeri Ryumin in April-October 1980—and it was widely expected that Berezovoi and Lebedev would aim to exceed this duration. Air Sports guidelines, enshrined by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), only recognized a “new” record if it broke the “old” record by at least a 10-percent margin. This meant that, although Berezovoi and Lebedev would surpass Popov and Ryumin’s achievement on 14 November 1982, they would need to remain in orbit until at least 2 December (and a minimum of 203 days) in order to secure it.

The cosmonauts settled down to an extensive series of scientific experiments, utilizing the MKF-6M multispectral camera to observe the Krasnodar region, as well Central Asia, and the fertile banks of the mighty Volga River, and, farther east, promising signs of oil near Astrakan and lead in East Yakutia. They also grew plants in Salyut 7’s Oasis “greenhouse.” Six weeks into their mission, on 25 June, they received their first human visitors: the crew of Soyuz T-6, which included Soviet cosmonauts Vladimir Dzhanibekov and Aleksandr Ivanchenkov, together with France’s first man in space, Jean-Loup Chrétien. Although Eastern Bloc and Warsaw Pact nations have flown previously, Chrétien was the first cosmonaut from a West-aligned, non-Communist nation to participate in a Soviet mission. During their week aboard Salyut 7, the newcomers conducted multiple scientific and medical experiments, before returning to Earth on 2 July.

Seven weeks later, Berezovoi and Lebedev received another crew, that of Soyuz T-7, who launched from Baikonur on 19 August 1982. Aboard were Leonid Popov, Aleksandr Serebrov, and Russia’s second female cosmonaut, Svetlana Savitskaya. After successfully docking at Salyut 7, the host cosmonauts tried a little light-hearted male chauvinism, insisting that Savitskaya get to work on the housekeeping duties. She would have none of it. “Housekeeping chores,” she told them, firmly, “are the responsibility of the host cosmonauts!” The three new arrivals remained aboard the station for a week, returning to Earth on 27 August and marking Berezovoi and Lebedev’s final human visitors before the end of their own mission.

According to Soviet space historian Phillip Clark, the lengthy period of isolation posed a number of interpersonal problems. He noted in his 1988 book The Soviet Manned Space Programme that the two men had “verbally clashed,” early in their flight, and had “hardly spoken to one another for four months.” Little more detail ever emerged from behind the Iron Curtain, but it certainly offered substantive data for the psychological preparation of subsequent long-duration cosmonaut crews.

Berezovoi and Lebedev launch aboard Soyuz T-5 on 13 May 1982. Photo Credit: Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

Berezovoi and Lebedev launch aboard Soyuz T-5 on 13 May 1982. Photo Credit: Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

Berezovoi and Lebedev performed an EVA on 30 July, lasting two hours and 33 minutes, during which they practised techniques for assembling large structures in space. Lebedev exited Salyut 7 first, followed by his commander, who assisted him with the replacement of the Medusa cosmic radiation experiment and the removal of part of a micrometeoroid detector. Berezovoi’s first impression as he moved from the station’s transfer compartment into the full glare of orbital sunlight was that it was like “being on a street on a bright, sunny day, with the ground covered in pure white snow.”

Aside from their human visitors, the cosmonauts also received three unpiloted Progress cargo missions, the last of which arrived in early November 1982, delivering supplies and the Iskra-3 satellite, which Berezovoi and Lebedev hand-deployed from Salyut 7’s airlock. The cycle of predictable “landing windows” led many Western observers to expect the mission to end in late December, after about 225 days, although Berezovoi fell ill in early November, raising suspicion of an early return to Earth. However, he made a good recovery and it seemed likely that the mission would end during Christmas week. It came as a surprise when the cosmonauts landed on 10 December, 211 days, nine hours and four minutes since launch and having completed 3,344 orbits of the Home Planet. Berezovoi and Lebedev had soundly surpassed Popov and Ryumin’s record and would hold it until the fall of 1984, when another Salyut 7 crew exceeded their accomplishment and achieved almost 237 days by the close of their own mission.

The earlier than scheduled return to Earth meant that Berezovoi and Lebedev touched down in highly undesirable conditions: they landed in the hours of darkness, in the thick of a blizzard, with weather forecasts predicting 13 mph (21 km/h) winds, temperatures of -9 degrees Celsius (15.8 degrees Fahrenheit) and visibility of no more than 6.2 miles (10 km). High winds dragged the Soyuz descent module over a small incline, causing it to roll down a hill, exacerbating the discomfort of the cosmonauts, who had already been unable to properly undertake their normal pre-landing medical and physical conditioning. “Despite being strapped into their seats,” wrote space historians Rex Hall and Dave Shayler in their book, Soyuz: A Universal Spacecraft, “Lebedev found himself on top of Berezovoi when the capsule finally stopped.” One of the rescue helicopter pilots spotted the Soyuz’ flashing beacon and attempted to land on a dry river bed—breaking a wheel and support strut in the process—and it was decided to resort to ground vehicles to pick up the cosmonauts. Mission Control advised the men to remain inside the Soyuz and after 40 minutes the first medical teams arrived at the landing site.

Following his space mission, Anatoli Berezovoi served as backup commander of the joint Soviet-Indian Soyuz T-11 flight in April 1984 and the joint Soviet-Afghan Soyuz TM-6 flight in August-September 1988, and supported contingency operations to rescue cosmonauts from the Mir space station, but ultimately never flew again. He reportedly suffered injuries during an armed robbery and retired from the cosmonaut corps in October 1992, becoming vice president of the Cosmonautics Federation of Russia until 1999 and unsuccessfully campaigning for a seat in Russia’s Duma to represent the Republic of Adygea. Honored as a Hero of the Soviet Union and with the Order of Lenin, Berezovoi was described by Oleg Ostapenko, chief of Roscosmos, as “a member of a legendary generation of cosmonauts” and paid tribute to “a man of great will and courage”.

For a native Briton, like the author of this article, the name of Timothy Kristian Charles Mace—who died of cancer on 15 September, aged just 58—will forever be associated with “Project Juno”, the Anglo-Soviet effort which culminated in May 1991 with the flight of Britain’s first astronaut, Helen Sharman. Mace was born in Catterick, Yorkshire, on 20 November 1955, and entered the Military University in Shrivenham, Swindon, graduating in 1977 with a degree in aeronautical engineering. He joined the Royal Army Air Corps, rising to the rank of Major, and during his career served as a helicopter instructor pilot and parachutist. When the call for candidates for a joint Anglo-Soviet mission to the Mir space station went public in June 1989, Mace’s glittering military service and accomplishments quickly sent his application swiftly to the top.

Tim Mace, who trained for Project Juno and came close to becoming Britain's first astronaut. Photo Credit: Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

Tim Mace, who trained for Project Juno and came close to becoming Britain’s first astronaut. Photo Credit: Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

Helen Sharman, who trained extensively with him, noted in her autobiography, Seize the Moment, that from the outset the smooth-talking and experienced Mace stood out as an obvious front-runner in the Juno selection process. “The stakes were much higher than any of us had realized,” Sharman wrote. “The publicity would fuel the sponsorship, but for most of the applicants it would inevitably mean rejection in public.” By the beginning of November 1989, four finalists had been identified: Sharman, Mace, Royal Navy flight surgeon Gordon Brooks and civilian aeronautical engineer Clive Smith. And by the end of November, the list had been winnowed down yet further to just Sharman and Mace, who traveled to Russia’s Star City training center, near Moscow, to begin 18 months of training.

It was during that time that Project Juno came to a figurative and literal crossroads, with the axe of cancellation hanging ominously for some time. Right from the start, it had been a commercial enterprise, with a reported Soviet fee of around $12 million (£7.5 million). In Britain, Antequera, Ltd., was established to administer the selection process and the mission itself, but by the spring of 1990 it was evident that sponsorship was falling far short of the required level. British Aerospace, Memorex and Interflora had joined the pool of corporate sponsors and ITV had bought the television rights, but the consortium as a whole failed to raise the entire sum. A paltry $1.7 million in commercial revenue was generated and Antequera was dissolved. In the wake of this event, the British Government refused to support the mission. Thankfully, by December 1990, word reached Sharman and Mace that Moscow Norodny Bank—a Russian-owned, but London-based, commercial venture—had agreed to underwrite the final stages of Project Juno. It is believed that Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev personally insisted that the mission proceed at his country’s cost, in the interests of furthering international relations.

Aside from the politics and the finances, the choice of Helen Sharman as the first Briton in space came on 19 February 1991, when Air Vice Marshal Peter Howard arrived in Moscow for separate discussions with the two candidates. “They told me I was to be in the prime crew,” Sharman recalled in Seize the Moment. “This would be subject to a medical examination in March and another immediately before the launch. They then went next door to see Tim.” The Army Air Corps officer’s reaction was characteristically gracious and the pair continued to work together, side by side, until, on 23 April, their formal training concluded. On 18 May 1991, Sharman made history as Britain’s first spacefarer, with Mace supporting her from the ground.

In the aftermath of the mission, both Sharman and Mace applied unsuccessfully for admission into the European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut corps in 1992 and 1998. For Mace himself, it is saddening that he never made it to space, although he entered a spacefaring family, marrying Yelena Zholobova, the daughter of Soyuz 21 cosmonaut Vitali Zholobov. He also famously served as helicopter pilot for Nelson Mandela, during his incumbency as President of South Africa. To Mace’s family and to Berezovoi’s family—his wife, Lydia, and their children, Sergei and Tatyana—the AmericaSpace team salutes their accomplishments and extends its most sincere condolences.

 

 

Want to keep up-to-date with all things space? Be sure to “Like” AmericaSpace on Facebook and follow us on Twitter: @AmericaSpace

 

1 comment to Untimely Passing of Record-Setting Russian Cosmonaut and Would-Be British Astronaut