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Book recommendation: Salyut

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I've been reading Grujica S. Ivanovich's Salyut, the First Space Station:  Triumph and Tragedy (Chichester, UK:  Springer, 2008,  426 pp.) and I'd like to say that it's really well-done.  I haven't ever seen as in-depth a look at Salyut (specifically the first one, although it does cover the development of the first few DOS stations) before this.

It also goes into far more detail on the Soyuz 11 accident than I've seen elsewhere, and spreads the blame around a little farther than most treatments.  To wit:

- The installation and operation of the air vents was different than previous spacecraft, and the change was not reflected in the documentation.  Fault:  manufacturing and documentation.

- The vent itself was faulty through poor installation.  Fault:  manufacturing.

- The crew, having been substituted almost at the eleventh hour, was not as thoroughly trained as they might have been.  Fault:  administration and training.

- Interestingly, Alexei Leonov (who had been the originally intended commander of the crew) is recorded as saying that he had recommended a different procedure to the crew regarding the vents than had been stated by the documentation.  The vents were of a double-valve construction with an automatic outer vent and a manual inner vent; the documentation stated that one manual vent should be set to "closed" and one to "open" (this one would be solely controlled automatically by the outer vent).  Leonov said that he had told Dobrovolskiy to ignore the documentation and manually close both vents.  While it's possible that this is after-the-fact from Leonov, it seems likely that Dobrovolskiy was reluctant to contravene the printed documentation (although that documentation was, unknown to him, outdated and incorrect).  Fault:  possibly the crew commander's, although understandable.

- The flight controllers had also not been informed about the failure to update the documentation, and were therefore going off of incorrect/outdated procedures when they rehearsed them with the cosmonauts.  Fault:  documentation.

- The manual vents could not be reached from the cosmonauts' seated positions.  Fault:  design.

- Most obviously, the lack of pressure suits.  Fault:  a wide swath of the designers and administration.

- Chief Designer Mishin was widely panned for insisting that the crew could have "put a finger" or thumb over the vent.  This is usually construed to mean that the finger would have to be there through the entire descent, which is obviously ridiculous, but Ivanovich points out that it's not so far-fetched in the sense that a finger could have temporarily blocked the vent while it was being manually closed. *

It seems pretty clear that this was, much as the Challenger accident would be fifteen years later, largely the result of a space-program-wide culture of rushing and lack of proper attention to details.  At least, it can be said that the Soviets/Russians did learn from the mistake; they have lost no more cosmonauts in flight since Soyuz 11.

The book is highly recommended and interesting.   :cool:



* Elaborating:  The crew probably did not have time to think of this.  From the most logical reconstruction of what happened, the first thought would have been to inspect the forward hatch, which had caused some trouble earlier and was already suspect.  Upon discovering it was not the hatch, the radios seem to have been turned off to limit the noise in the capsule to help locate the leak, and, because of the faulty documentation, the crew's attention would most likely have been directed toward the wrong vent at first.   The fact that they did locate the problem and managed to at least get a small start on solving it is a testament to how fast they processed all this, even in a very limited time of useful consciousness and after at least two misdirections.   (Therefore, any blaming of the crew is really a fool's errand...)

Edited by MaxwellsDemon
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