The first weld
Текст: Interview with Valery Kubasov | 2014-02-24 | Фото: | 12634



Valery Nikolaevich Kubasov – soviet pilot-cosmonaut, twice Hero of the Soviet Union; had three space shots. He took a part in a first group flight of three manned spaceships ("The union-6/7/8, 1969). Together with A.Leonov (1975) he had a second expedition to then become the first international astronaut to join spaceships from different countries "Soyuz-19" (USSR) and "Apollo" (USA) joined on the orbit for the first time.


– Valery Nikolaevich, first of all, I would like to ask how you became a cosmonaut. Why you made this choice?


It was a long time ago, in the middle of the last century, when I was studying at the Moscow Aviation Institute. In 1957 the first artificial satellite was launched. Together with classmates we read that the USA was going to launch a similar satellite, but unexpectedly the USSR the lagged behind. This start made an enormous impression on all of us so it was at that time when I began to think about being engaged in space research. I studied at an aircraft construction department, and there were some groups on rocketry (pilotless vehicles). After I graduated I was sent to Kovrov City, but then I found out where the space techniques were researched and in August 1958 I got a job in the design office directed by Korolev. As I joined, I met my former classmates there and started to read spacecraft drafts. Of course, at the beginning many things were so unclear and new that it took my breath away, but I delved progressively deeper into the work. So I started working on spaceships and interplanetary stations creation at the design department directed by Mikhail Klavdiyevich Tikhonravov, the well-known enthusiast of space, the inventor of the USSR's first liquid-fuelled missile.

When I studied on a "Vostok" spaceship project, Tikhonravov once asked me if I was interested in space flight mechanics. When I answered that I was interested in mechanics at the institute, but I didn’t get how it was connected with space, he told me that nobody, plainly, could get it. And we began to discuss flights to Mars, Venus and the Moon; to think over mechanics of these shots – how to get there, in which path, how to operate a ship during a flight. Besides K.B. Korolev, there was an Academy of Sciences Institute of Applied Mathematics directed by Mstislav Vsevolodovich Keldysh where similar theoretical issues were also studied. In 1960, on behalf of Korolev, we started to develop manned flights to Mars. Later this project turned into a famous program of manned flights to Mars, known as Korolev’s project.

After Gagarin’s space flight, Korolev said that not only pilots, but other experts, including engineers, must go in to space and those who want to take part in space programs just have to hand in an application. That’s what I did on June 27, 1961. So that’s how my way of being a cosmonaut started. We were sent to the medical board only 3 years later. Korolev made a demand – future cosmonauts have to work on the enterprise for at least 5 years. His idea of the creation of a civil cosmonauts group was to make these people participate in space shots, and then make them work in a design office, passing on their experience and ideas of space vehicle creation.

I participated in three space shots, and between them, as well as all other civil cosmonauts, I was engaged in work in a design office. I created a cosmonauts service, which carried out a technical training for flights. When my space shots ended, I passed on to an airborne systems department and became a deputy administrator of a complex, I was guiding departments for life support systems creation, biomedical support, temperature control of all spaceships and orbital stations.


– How important for cosmonautics was the idea of Korolev to send engineers to space?


A spaceship is one of the most complex technologies, so only people with higher technical education can operate it correctly. Only engineers can create new space vehicles, and it’s better if they do have experience of space flight.


– And what was your personal aim? What did you want to achieve?


In my application I wrote that I wanted to participate in space shots, including the long ones; that during a flight I can do this or that and if necessary, to cope with other specialties. My desire was to test the things created on Earth directly in space. Before the flight in 1964, Korolev gathered those who wanted to become cosmonauts in his office, he asked almost everybody, why they chose that career. All answered that they wanted to participate in testing space vehicle and to continue work later on in life in that area. He didn't ask me as I already wrote that answer in the application. Some were interested in space flight because of money, but soon they became disappointed with the salary, as it was an ordinary engineer’s salary, and they left.

Around about 1966 we were sent on training to Zvyozdny Gorodok (Star City). That took about 3 years. It was a group flight of rockets, Soyuz-6, 7, 8. On October 11th, 1969, together with Shonin, we went on a space flight on the rocket "Soyuz-6". In this expedition I was instructed to carry out the first welding in space experiment. At that time it was a pretty courageous experiment, because before that, no one dared to work with molten metal in space, even in planes. It was necessary to test how welding processes would run in conditions of weightlessness and in a vacuum. Hereafter the results were used to carry out construction and repair work in space.

This experiment went very unexpectedly. During one type of welding – electronic beam welding – the beam cut a welding table with samples on it and reached the orbital module ship’s hull, where it left a deep trace. But let’s speak point by point. The experiment was done like this. The ship consisted of a descent vehicle and an orbital module. We were in a descent vehicle and a welder was in an orbital module. We were to depressurize the module for vacuum creation. I turned on different weld types with a console. When we finished the experiment and returned to the orbital module, I sensed something strange was going on and saw the molten 20-25 cm long trace on the ship’s hull. Certainly we were scared as we were without pressure suits and the hull could burst. We had to reduce pressure to return for samples. I opened a hatch, quickly moved there alone and took samples. When we reached the Earth communication zone, I reported on the incident. We got an order to close the hatch between modules and not to go there again, so we did as ordered.

In honor of this experiment I was placed in the International Space Hall of Fame – in respect of the start of carrying out technological processes in space.


– Were there any other emergency situations during your space shots?


During my second flight in July, 1975, together with Leonov we had to carry out an orbit join of ships from different countries – "Soyuz-19" (USSR) and "Apollo" (USA) for the first time. Before "Soyuz" started our television system broke down. All television sessions were sheduled in advance, and there were only 15 minutes before start. At the same time the pressure in the descent vehicle started to grow sharply. It turned out that the pressure suit supercharge valve was loosely closed, and air from a vessel went to the descent vehicle. The start order was given, and television system's repair works were to be carried out later by cosmonauts.

Once in space and directly instructed by radio, we received instructions for system repair. We managed to do that with improvised tools – a screwdriver, pliers and a penknife.

The first connection between the two spaceships was carried out before a planned time. The ships were to draw together from 50 m distance, stand in this position until we passed over the Crimea and wait for permission to connect. In fact it turned out differently: the ship's closing was made over the Atlantic, and when we were flying over Spain the Americans didn’t have contact with their command center, and the joining took place somewhere over Germany. Earth controllers didn't even know that we were already joined together.


– Were there any other technical issues you had to solve?


In the first flight, besides welding experiments, we observed Earth rocket start-ups – recorded rockets torch spectrums from space. Later these findings were used for defensive purposes.

On "Soyuz-Apollo" there were 6 experiments. The most important of them was a test of new design probe which allowed for the joining of ships from different countries. When we worked on that project, we understood that it was the first international joint space shot, and certainly it was very important. When we joined together, we were congratulated by Brezhnev – as the first international joining took place successfully. After that U.S. President Ford contacted us. He also told us about the high importance of the first international space flight.

The first meeting was planned to take place on "Soyuz". But the Americans, who understood the importance of this moment, convinced us to meet on their ship was the only possible way. They said that they didn't have enough length of liaison cable from their headsets. Our cosmonauts answered that if it’s not enough we could lengthen it without any problem. We worked for 2 days on joined ships. Firstly 2 cosmonauts came to us – Tom Stafford and Deke Slayton; Brant stayed on Apollo. After congratulations of presidents we had a dinner together. At the end of the first meeting we had to hand over memorable souvenirs to Americans – gold medals with "Soyuz" and "Apollo" images in space. There were 5 medals – for each participant of the flight. Leonov’s and mine, unfortunately, were left on Earth when we got back and we never saw them again.


– Do you still keep in touch with the Apollo American cosmonauts?


Certainly, we do communicate. We call each other on holidays – New Year, Christmas, birthdays, flight anniversaries, but sometimes we communicate for no particular reason. Moreover there were official trips to the USA and for them to Russia – for important dates of "Soyuz-Apollo", approximately for 2 weeks to each country with families, wives and children. After the first trip in 1975 in many USA cities we became honorary citizens. In Chicago we were met at the airport, and then we went through the city in cabriolets and the locals welcomed us – they waved at us from their windows and balconies.


– What do you think about the further and modern flights?


Nowadays flights are mainly realized on space stations. Flight technique is more or less developed so flights pass without incident. But, certainly, there are some supernumerary situations – space is still space. Many modern flights last for half a year, and annual ones are planned. Cosmonautics becomes a quite ordinary business. Biomedical experiments are carried out at the international station, many materials have already been collected, and it’s necessary to find new challenges. Yet it is still not clear how a long-term stay in weightlessness affects human health in the future, and that can be clarified only with the help of long-term space shots. As for the Moon, we already have all the opportunities, so as soon as we have tasks, and it will be clear about the reason to build bases there, there’ll be a reason to take it up. I think that flight to Mars, sooner or later, will take place too, but for now it is necessary just to study it well, as that’s what the Americans are doing now. However such projects as a “curiosity”, will not be enough. And it is very expensive. The Moon shot cost the Americans 25 billion dollars (converting to modern money it is 5 to 10 times more expensive). And landing on Mars is much more difficult because of the discharged atmosphere. Leaving the planet will also be very expensive and difficult, so I do not think any country will decide to do it.


– Have space engineer’s tasks changed somehow since the time when you flew?




– Is Korolev’s idea still relevant? Is it useful nowadays to send engineers in to space, counting on their further works for improvement of space equipment?


The main reason why engineers must go in to space is for accurate operating. The creation of new techniques and improvement on the current one are lagging behind.


– In conclusion I would like to ask some private questions. What was the most difficult challenge on your way to becoming a cosmonaut? How did you manage to deal with it?


To break in to a field that is well occupied by pilots, at the expenses of technical administration support.


– What was the most difficult thing to cope with when you became a cosmonaut and made the first flight?


Popularity, and a tendency of some chiefs to use me as propaganda. I managed to cope with that, but only partly.


– You brought up two children. How worried were they that you were a cosmonaut and why didn’t they follow in your footsteps?


In childhood my daughter said that it’s good to be a cosmonaut – everybody knows you and greets you. And my son, he was 4, took offence when I left him for the "Soyuz-Apollo" flight and didn't want to greet when we came back from Baikonur. He thought that it was possible to bring back a toy or gum from space, like after a usual business trip and the absence of a present hurt him very much. Later he asked: "Father, then why did you fly there?" So outer space exploration didn’t interest my children at all.


Pupils from the “Space Scouts“ junior organization at Kazan (Volga district) Federal University N.I.Lobachevsky lyceum requested us to ask Valery Nikolaevich Kubasov some of their questions. We satisfied their request with pleasure!


Domindarov Ruslan, 8th grade: Did you feel fear before your space shot?


Each person is exposed to fear. You just need to be prepared, to think over all possible worst-case situations in advance so you wouldn’t need to think about it during a flight. During a flight you need to think about a program that you are carrying out. If you think about trouble, you’ll lose. Only the insane don’t feel fear. It’s natural to be afraid.


Petrovichev Alexander, 7th grade: How did you spend leisure time in space? Did you have to repair some radio electronics during a flight? Was it difficult to solder in space?


The most important leisure activity is Earth observation. The picture is so interesting and colorful that when you watch the Earth you can recognize places which you fly over, it fascinates me so much. Moreover, with long-term flights there is a psychological support group back on Earth. They prepare music and movies for orbital stations. There is a small library; it is possible to order favorite books before a flight. Usually once a week there’s a day off, meeting with families by radio or television. Many people are fond of taking pictures of seas, countries, lights over cities.


Alimov Camill, 8th grade: Did vibrations and noise influence your health during long-term flights?


Noise and vibration are strong on take-offs. It shakes so hard it’s like you’re riding on cobbles. And during return to Earth it shakes too. Noise from working jet engines is very strong. And when they stop working in total silence and imponderability comes next. Motes sensors rise inside and float on a spaceship. Then small bits of rubbish gather on a fan. There are always many working devices that make noise in a space station. The fixed limit is 60 decibels, and that’s a lot. Fans and pumps make noise. During my first flight I carried out an experiment on alignment of the ship with certain stars. To see stars it was necessary to turn off all the lights on the ship and to disconnect a fan. A terrible silence happened. I saw stars, dark sky and felt all the infinity of the Universe. You completely lose alignment in space. On Earth gravity gives the directions of top and bottom. In weightlessness this feeling is lost.


Isayeva Anastasia, 10th grade: Is food tasty in space?


Tasty. But taste in space changes a little bit. Food is ordered on Earth depends on individual tastes. Everybody chooses what they like. In the Soviet Union days there were about 300 dishes to choose from, now there are about 100.


Vert Nikita, 8th grade: Was landing back on Earth painful?


Feelings are different. In the first flight we set vertically down, it was perfect. Meeting Earth is a joy – the landing is always a stress. And after you have landed you can breathe with relief. During the second flight it was windy, we struck earth, the ship tumbled and we fell on its side. And in the third flight a soft landing system failed. And when we were landing, we hit the ground so hard that the log book was wrenched from my hands, and shock-absorber rings were cut off from chairs. 20 years after I got back ache, and on the roentgen it turned out that during that hard landing I crushed my fourth vertebra.


Idrisova Elizaveta, 10th grade: What qualities are most important for the cosmonauts? As "Space scouts" we want to prepare ourselves for space shots. Could you please advise us what we should concentrate on?


It’s necessary to reach preset goals by training, preparation and studying. Sportsmanship and general state of health are also matter.


Saykin David, 11th grade: We heard about a joke when you presented the Americans with a bottle of “vodka”. What other funny cases did you have?


When we were with Brent on Apollo, he fixed his camera and asked for some "trap". Later we understood that he wanted a "strap". But of course the most funny is the incident with the vodka.


Ibragimov Nikita, 7th grade: What do you think about space tourism?


Well certainly it’s possible. Just to make space organizations and private companies wealthier. But space future is not in tourist's hands, but in professional's hands.


Chubakova Elizaveta, 10th grade: What do you think about Mars colonization?


The plan is unclear. Who would agree to go there and what for? To search for volunteers who will leave Earth forever without understanding the reason why? Firstly, Mars should be explored completely, and then it will be possible to think about flights (certainly with returns to Earth).


Talipov Ravil, 8th grade: Did you keep some secrets from doctors and psychologists when you were flying?


No, I hadn’t. It’s dangerous to joke with your health.


Syromyatnikov Andrey 8th grade: Did you have secret missions, especially when you were flying with Americans?


No, we didn’t have secret missions, everything was absolutely open. 


Photos to the interview are from the private archive of Valery Kubasov.


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