When Soviet citizens watched Soyuz capsule plunge back to earth in a cloud of dust on Monday, it was the first time they, or the world, had ever seen the spectacle.
When Soviet citizens watched Soyuz capsule plunge back to earth in a cloud of dust on Monday, it was the first time they, or the world, had ever seen the spectacle. Until then, the Soviet Union had never televised its landings and only showed recordings of launchings after they had taken place.
Although the launchings of Soviet and United States spacecraft are similar, the landings are not. U.S. astronauts always return to a spot somewhere in the South Pacific where their spacecraft parachute into the water. Frogmen then fit a "collar" around each capsule to stabilize it and the astronauts are lifted to a waiting helicopter and flown to the deck of a nearby recovery ship.
But the Soviet Union has always brought its astronauts home by means of a dry landing. Monday's landing took place 300 miles (500 kilometres) northeast of Baikonur, the Soviet cosmodrome in Central Asia. The capsule first appeared on the television screens when it was about six minutes from touchdown.
Only seconds before impact, the capsule's soft landing engines fired, stirring up a blinding cloud of dust which obscured the capsule as it hit the surface. As the dust cleared, the capsule could be seen resting on its side. Moments later the recovery crew arrived and worked hastily to open the Soyuz capsule and help the two astronauts out.
Alexei Leonov and Valery Kubasov both emerged to report that they were feeling fine, although they appeared somewhat unsteady on their feet for the first few moments. They had spent six days in space during which time their space craft had linked up in orbit with the much larger U.S. Apollo space craft in the world's first joint space project.
The Apollo remains in orbit and is scheduled to return to earth on Thursday (24 July).
The extensive television coverage of the joint mission was part of the price the Soviet Union paid for collaboration with the United States. Although there were fewer restrictions on journalists and broadcasters covering the U.S. phase of the joint mission, the Soviet Union still went further than ever before in opening its programme up to public scrutiny.
SYNOPSIS: Monday's landing of the Soyuz space craft....the first ever seen by Soviet citizens..or by the world for that matter.
Soviet citizens generally learn nothing about their country's space missions until after they've taken place. Landings weren't shown at all.
This time commentators explained details of the historic United States-Soviet mission. Publicity was one of the U.S. demands.
When the Soyuz capsule first appeared on the screens six minutes before touchdown, the world was waiting to see its first dry-landing.
Until then all that had been seen was the U.S. landings in the Pacific Ocean....a different technique in which the astronauts are fished from their bobbing capsule by a helicopter.
But the Russian landing northeast of Baikonur was a striking contrast. Soft landing rockets fired and lifted a cloud of dust around the capsule and its occupants, Valery Kubasov and Alexei Leonov, as it settled safely on the ground.
On Thursday the United States will attempt to do the same thing, in the ocean, with its three astronauts.