Soyuz 11

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Soyuz 11
Operator Soviet space program
COSPAR ID 1971-053A
SATCAT no. 5283
Mission duration23 days, 18 hours, 21 minutes, 43 seconds
Orbits completed383
Spacecraft properties
Spacecraft type Soyuz 8KS-OKS
ManufacturerExperimental Design Bureau OKB-1
Launch mass6,790 kilograms (14,970 lb)
Crew size3
Members Georgy Dobrovolsky
Vladislav Volkov
Viktor Patsayev
CallsignЯнтарь (Yantar – "Amber")
Start of mission
Launch date6 June 1971, 04:55:09 (1971-06-06UTC04:55:09Z) UTC
Rocket Soyuz
Launch site Baikonur 1/5 [1]
End of mission
Landing date29 June 1971, 23:16:52 (1971-06-29UTC23:16:53Z) UTC
Landing site 47°21′24″N70°07′17″E / 47.35663°N 70.12142°E / 47.35663; 70.12142 [2] [3]
Orbital parameters
Reference system Geocentric
Regime Low Earth
Perigee altitude 163 kilometres (101 mi)
Apogee altitude 237 kilometres (147 mi)
Inclination 51.5 degrees
Period 88.4 minutes
Epoch 13 June 1971 [4]
Docking with Salyut 1
Zvezda Rocket Patch.svg Soyuz 11 crew.jpg
(l-r) Dobrovolsky, Volkov and Patsayev
Soyuz programme
(Crewed missions)
  Soyuz 10
Soyuz 12  

Soyuz 11 (Russian: Союз 11, Union 11) was the only crewed mission to board the world's first space station, Salyut 1 (Soyuz 10 had soft-docked but had not been able to enter due to latching problems). [5] The crew, Georgy Dobrovolsky, Vladislav Volkov, and Viktor Patsayev, [6] [7] [8] arrived at the space station on 7 June 1971 and departed on 29 June. The mission ended in disaster when the crew capsule depressurized during preparations for reentry, killing the three-man crew. [9] The three crew members of Soyuz 11 are the only humans known to have died in space. [10] [11]



Position Cosmonaut
Commander Georgy Dobrovolsky
Only spaceflight
Flight Engineer Vladislav Volkov
Second and last spaceflight
Test Engineer Viktor Patsayev
Only spaceflight

Backup crew

Position Cosmonaut
Commander Aleksei Gubarev
Flight Engineer Vitaliy Sevastyanov
Test Engineer Anatoly Voronov

Original crew

Position Cosmonaut
Commander Alexei Leonov
Flight Engineer Valeri Kubasov
Test Engineer Pyotr Kolodin

Crew notes

The original prime crew for Soyuz 11 consisted of Alexei Leonov, Valeri Kubasov and Pyotr Kolodin. A medical X-ray examination four days before launch suggested that Kubasov might have tuberculosis, and according to the mission rules, the prime crew was replaced with the backup crew. For Dobrovolski and Patsayev, this was to be their first space mission. After the failure of Salyut 2 to orbit, Kubasov and Leonov were reassigned to Soyuz 19 for the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project in 1975.

Mission highlights

The Soyuz 7K-OKS spacecraft was launched on 6 June 1971, from Baikonur Cosmodrome in central Kazakh SSR. Several months earlier, the first mission to the Salyut, Soyuz 10, had failed to successfully dock with the station. [12] Soyuz 11 successfully docked with Salyut 1 on 7 June and the cosmonauts remained on board for 22 days, setting space endurance records that would hold until the American Skylab 2 mission in May–June 1973. [9]

Upon first entering the station, the crew encountered a smoky and burnt atmosphere and after replacing part of the ventilation system spent the next day back in their Soyuz until the air cleared. Their stay in Salyut was productive, including live television broadcasts. A fire broke out on day 11 of their stay, causing mission planners to consider abandoning the station. The planned highlight of the mission was to have been the observation of an N1 rocket launch, but the launch was postponed. The crew also found that using the exercise treadmill as they were required to twice a day caused the whole station to vibrate. Pravda released news of the mission and regular updates while it was in progress.

Death of crew

On 30 June 1971 (Moscow time), after an apparently normal reentry of the capsule of the Soyuz 11 mission, the recovery team opened the capsule to find the crew dead. [9] [13] [14]

Kerim Kerimov, chair of the State Commission, recalled: "Outwardly, there was no damage whatsoever. They knocked on the side, but there was no response from within. On opening the hatch, they found all three men in their couches, motionless, with dark-blue patches on their faces and trails of blood from their noses and ears. They removed them from the descent module. Dobrovolsky was still warm. The doctors gave artificial respiration. Based on their reports, the cause of death was suffocation." [15]

It quickly became apparent that they had asphyxiated. The fault was traced to a breathing ventilation valve, located between the orbital module and the descent module, that had been jolted open as the descent module separated from the service module, 12 minutes and 3 seconds after retrofire. [16] [17] The two were held together by explosive bolts designed to fire sequentially; in fact, they had fired simultaneously. [16] The explosive force of the simultaneous bolt firing caused the internal mechanism of the pressure equalization valve to loosen a seal that was usually discarded later and which normally allowed for automatic adjustment of the cabin pressure. [16] The valve opened at an altitude of 168 kilometres (551,000 ft), and the resultant loss of pressure was fatal within seconds. [16] [18] The valve was located beneath the seats and was impossible to find and block before the air was lost. Flight recorder data from the single cosmonaut outfitted with biomedical sensors showed cardiac arrest occurred within 40 seconds of pressure loss. By 15 minutes, 35 seconds after retrofire, the cabin pressure was zero, and remained there until the capsule entered the Earth's atmosphere. [16] Patsayev's body was found positioned near the valve, and he may have been attempting to close or block the valve at the time he lost consciousness.

An extensive investigation was conducted to study all components and systems of Soyuz 11 that could have caused the accident, although doctors quickly concluded that the cosmonauts had died of asphyxiation. Examination of the descent module showed that it was in excellent condition and there was no damage to it in the forms of cracks or ruptures of the hull.

The autopsies took place at Burdenko Military Hospital and found that the cause of death proper for the cosmonauts was hemorrhaging of the blood vessels in the brain, with lesser amounts of bleeding under their skin, in the inner ear, and in the nasal cavity, all of which occurred as exposure to a vacuum environment caused the oxygen and nitrogen in their bloodstreams to bubble and rupture vessels. Their blood was also found to contain heavy concentrations of lactic acid, a sign of extreme physiologic stress. Although they could have remained conscious for almost a minute after decompression began, less than 20 seconds would have passed before the effects of oxygen starvation made it impossible for them to function.

Alexei Leonov, who would have originally commanded Soyuz 11, had advised the cosmonauts before the flight that they should manually close the valves between the orbital and descent modules as he did not trust them to shut automatically, a procedure he thought up during extensive time in the Soyuz simulator. However, Dobrovolsky, Volkov, and Patsayev either chose to disregard his warnings or else forgot about them during the lengthy mission. After the flight, Leonov went back and tried closing one of the valves himself and found that it took nearly a minute to do, too long in an emergency situation with the spacecraft's atmosphere escaping fast. [15]

The Soviet state media attempted to downplay the tragic end of the mission and instead emphasized its accomplishments during the crew's stay aboard Salyut 1. Since they did not publicly announce the exact cause of the cosmonauts' deaths for almost two years afterwards, US space planners were extremely worried about the upcoming Skylab program as they could not be certain whether prolonged time in a micro-g environment had turned out to be fatal. However, NASA doctor Charles Berry maintained a firm conviction that the cosmonauts could not have died from spending too many weeks in weightlessness. Until the Soviets finally disclosed what had really happened, Dr. Berry theorized that the crew had died from inhaling toxic substances.

A film that was later declassified showed support crews attempting CPR on the cosmonauts. [19] [20] It was not known until an autopsy that they had died because of a capsule depressurisation. The ground crew had lost audio contact with the crew before reentry began and had already begun preparations for contingencies in case the crew had been lost. [6]

Soyuz 11 on a 1971 USSR commemorative stamp The Soviet Union 1971 CPA 4060 stamp (Cosmonauts Georgy Dobrovolsky, Vladislav Volkov and Viktor Patsayev).jpg
Soyuz 11 on a 1971 USSR commemorative stamp

The cosmonauts were given a large state funeral and buried in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis at Red Square, Moscow near the remains of Yuri Gagarin. [9] US astronaut Tom Stafford was one of the pallbearers. They were also each posthumously awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union medal.

US President Richard Nixon issued an official statement following the accident: [13]

The American people join in expressing to you and the Soviet people our deepest sympathy on the tragic deaths of the three Soviet cosmonauts. The whole world followed the exploits of these courageous explorers of the unknown and shares the anguish of their tragedy. But the achievements of cosmonauts Dobrovolsky, Volkov and Patsayev remain. It will, I am sure, prove to have contributed greatly to the further achievements of the Soviet program for the exploration of space and thus to the widening of man's horizons.

The Soyuz spacecraft was extensively redesigned after this incident to carry only two cosmonauts. The extra room meant that the crew could wear Sokol space suits during launch and landing. The Sokol was a lightweight pressure suit intended for emergency use; updated versions of the suit remain in use to the present day. A Soyuz capsule would not hold three crew members again until the Soyuz-T redesign in 1980, which freed enough space for three people in lightweight pressure suits to travel in the capsule.


The Soyuz 11 landing coordinates are 47°21′24″N70°07′17″E / 47.35663°N 70.12142°E / 47.35663; 70.12142 which is 90 km southwest of Karazhal, Karagandy, Kazakhstan and about 550 km northeast of Baikonur. At the site was placed a memorial monument in the form of a three-sided metallic column, with the engraved image of the face of each crew member set into a stylized triangle on each of the three sides near the top. The memorial is in open, flat country, far from any populated area, within a small, circular fence. [21] [ original research? ] In 2012, the memorial was found to have been vandalized beyond repair, with only the base of the metallic column remaining and any roads leading to it overgrown. [22]

However, in 2013, Russian space agency Roscosmos restored the site with a redesigned monument, reflecting the three-sided form of the original but this time constructed from brick. Also placed at the site was a sign explaining the history of the location and the fate of the original monument. [23]

Craters on the Moon were named after the three cosmonauts: Dobrovol'skiy, Volkov, and Patsaev. The names of the three cosmonauts are included on the Fallen Astronaut commemorative plaque placed on the Moon during the Apollo 15 mission in August 1971. To honor the loss of the Soyuz 11 crew, a group of hills on Pluto is also named Soyuz Colles.

In the city of Penza, Russia, near the school-gymnasium No. 39, in honor of the dead astronauts, a memorial stele was made with quotes from the poem by the poet Yevgeny YevtushenkoBetween our Motherland and you is a two-way eternal connection" (Russian version: "Между Родиной нашей и вами — двусторонняя вечная связь") [24]

A series of postage stamps of Ajman [25] and Bulgaria in 1971. [26] were issued in memory of astronauts.

Related Research Articles

Extravehicular activity Activity done by an astronaut or cosmonaut outside a spacecraft

Extravehicular activity (EVA) is any activity done by an astronaut or cosmonaut outside a spacecraft beyond the Earth's appreciable atmosphere. The term most commonly applies to a spacewalk made outside a craft orbiting Earth. On March 18, 1965, Alexei Leonov became the first human to perform a spacewalk, exiting the capsule during the Voskhod 2 mission for 12 minutes and 9 seconds. The term also applied to lunar surface exploration performed by six pairs of American astronauts in the Apollo program from 1969 to 1972. On July 21, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first human to perform a moonwalk, outside his lunar lander on Apollo 11 for 2 hours and 31 minutes. On the last three Moon missions astronauts also performed deep-space EVAs on the return to Earth, to retrieve film canisters from the outside of the spacecraft. Astronauts Pete Conrad, Joseph Kerwin, and Paul Weitz also used EVA in 1973 to repair launch damage to Skylab, the United States' first space station.

Vladimir Komarov Soviet cosmonaut

Vladimir Mikhaylovich Komarov was a Soviet test pilot, aerospace engineer, and cosmonaut. In October 1964, he commanded Voskhod 1, the first spaceflight to carry more than one crew member. He became the first Soviet cosmonaut to fly in space twice when he was selected as the solo pilot of Soyuz 1, its first crewed test flight. A parachute failure caused his Soyuz capsule to crash into the ground after re-entry on 24 April 1967, making him the first human to die in a space flight.

<i>Salyut</i> programme

The Salyut programme was the first space station programme, undertaken by the Soviet Union. It involved a series of four crewed scientific research space stations and two crewed military reconnaissance space stations over a period of 15 years, from 1971 to 1986. Two other Salyut launches failed. In one respect, Salyut had the task of carrying out long-term research into the problems of living in space and a variety of astronomical, biological and Earth-resources experiments, and on the other hand the USSR used this civilian program as a cover for the highly secretive military Almaz stations, which flew under the Salyut designation. Salyut 1, the first station in the program, became the world's first crewed space station.

Alexei Leonov Soviet cosmonaut, first person to perform spacewalk

Alexei Arkhipovich Leonov was a Soviet and Russian cosmonaut, Air Force major general, writer, and artist. On 18 March 1965, he became the first person to conduct a spacewalk, exiting the capsule during the Voskhod 2 mission for 12 minutes and 9 seconds.

Valeri Kubasov Soviet cosmonaut

Valeri Nikolayevich Kubasov was a Soviet/Russian cosmonaut who flew on two missions in the Soyuz programme as a flight engineer: Soyuz 6 and Soyuz 19, and commanded Soyuz 36 in the Intercosmos programme. On 21 July 1975, the Soyuz 7K-TM module used for ASTP landed in Kazakhstan at 5:51 p.m. and Kubasov was the first to exit the craft. Kubasov performed the first welding experiments in space, along with Georgy Shonin.

Vladislav Volkov Soviet cosmonaut

Vladislav Nikolayevich Volkov was a Soviet cosmonaut who flew on the Soyuz 7 and Soyuz 11 missions. The second mission terminated fatally.

Soyuz 12

Soyuz 12 was a 1973 crewed test flight by the Soviet Union of the newly redesigned Soyuz 7K-T spacecraft that was intended to provide greater crew safety in the wake of the Soyuz 11 tragedy. The flight marked the return of the Soviets to crewed space operations after the 1971 accident. The crew capacity of the capsule had been decreased from three to two cosmonauts to allow for pressure suits to be worn during launch, re-entry and docking. It was the first time pressure suits were used for reentry since the Voskhod 2 flight.

Georgy Dobrovolsky Soviet cosmonaut

Georgy Timofeyevich Dobrovolsky was a Soviet cosmonaut who commanded the three-man crew of the Soyuz 11 spacecraft. They became the world's first space station crew aboard Salyut 1, but died of asphyxiation because of an accidentally opened valve. They were the first and, as of 2020, the only humans to have died in space.

Viktor Patsayev Soviet cosmonaut

Viktor Ivanovich Patsayev was a Soviet cosmonaut who flew on the Soyuz 11 mission and was part of the second space crew to die during a space flight. On board the space station Salyut 1 he operated the Orion 1 Space Observatory, he became the first man to operate a telescope outside the Earth's atmosphere.

Salyut 1 First space station in Earth orbit

Salyut 1 (DOS-1) was the first space station of any kind, launched into low Earth orbit by the Soviet Union on April 19, 1971. The Salyut program followed this with five more successful launches of seven more stations. The final module of the program, Zvezda (DOS-8) became the core of the Russian segment of the International Space Station and remains in orbit.

Salyut 7 space station launched on 19 April 1982

Salyut 7 was a space station in low Earth orbit from April 1982 to February 1991. It was first crewed in May 1982 with two crew via Soyuz T-5, and last visited in June 1986, by Soyuz T-15. Various crew and modules were used over its lifetime, including 12 crewed and 15 uncrewed launches in total. Supporting spacecraft included the Soyuz T, Progress, and TKS spacecraft.

Apollo-Soyuz First joint U.S.-Soviet space flight

Apollo-Soyuz was the first international space mission, carried out jointly by the United States and the Soviet Union in July 1975. Millions of people around the world watched on television as a U.S. Apollo module docked with a Soviet Soyuz capsule. The project, and its memorable handshake in space, was a symbol of détente between the two superpowers. It is generally considered to mark the end of the Space Race, which had begun in 1957 with the launch of Sputnik 1.

Soyuz 36

Soyuz 36 was a 1980 Soviet crewed space flight to the Salyut 6 space station. It was the 11th mission to and ninth successful docking at the orbiting facility. The Soyuz 36 crew were the first to visit the long-duration Soyuz 35 resident crew.

Shuttle–<i>Mir</i> program Space program between Russia and the United States

The Shuttle–Mir program was a collaborative 11-mission space program between Russia and the United States, which involved American Space Shuttles visiting the Russian space station Mir, Russian cosmonauts flying on the Shuttle, and an American astronaut flying aboard a Soyuz spacecraft to engage in long-duration expeditions aboard Mir.

A space capsule is an often-crewed spacecraft that uses a blunt-body reentry capsule to reenter the Earth's atmosphere without wings. Capsules are distinguished from satellites primarily by the ability to survive reentry and return a payload to the Earth's surface from orbit. Capsule-based crewed spacecraft such as Soyuz or Orion are often supported by a service or adapter module, and sometimes augmented with an extra module for extended space operations. Capsules make up the majority of crewed spacecraft designs, although one crewed spaceplane, the Space Shuttle, has flown in orbit.

A mission patch is a cloth reproduction of a spaceflight mission emblem worn by astronauts and other personnel affiliated with that mission. It is usually executed as an embroidered patch. The term space patch is mostly applied to an emblem designed for a manned space mission. Traditionally, the patch is worn on the space suit that astronauts and cosmonauts wear when launched into space. Mission patches have been adopted by the crew and personnel of many other space ventures, public and private.

Sergey Volkov (cosmonaut) Russian cosmonaut

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DOS-2 space station

DOS-2 designation given to a space station, launched as part of the Salyut programme, which was lost in a launch failure on 29 July 1972, when the failure of the second stage of its Proton-K launch vehicle prevented the station from achieving orbit. It instead fell into the Pacific Ocean. The station, which would have been given the designation Salyut 2 had it reached orbit, was structurally identical to Salyut 1, as it had been assembled as a backup unit for that station. Four teams of cosmonauts were formed to crew the station, of which two would have flown:

Pyotr Ivanovich Kolodin is a former Soviet cosmonaut. Although he retired in 1983 without flying in space, Kolodin served non-flying assignments on several spaceflights.


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Further reading

See also

Coordinates: 47°20′N70°24′E / 47.333°N 70.400°E / 47.333; 70.400