The Soyuz-33 Engine Explosion.

This story has both some interesting and funny facts indirectly connected with the mission. But first – about the mission...

Launch date – April 10, 1979, landing – April 12 (Day of Cosmonautics – in honor of Gagarin's mission day). Mission duration – 1 day 23 hours 1 min. 06 sec.

Cosmonauts:
Commander – Nikolay Rukavishnikov, (Flight Engineer for two previous missions (1971 and 1974), this one – was his last).
Cosmonaut-Researcher – Georgy Ivanov – 1st Bulgarian Cosmonaut.

The spacecraft was supposed to dock with a Salyut-6 station and the mission was to last slightly more than 7 days.

It's important to note that this was a so-called "Intercosmos" mission.
This mission has some specialties:

1. Commander of the crew was always a very experienced Russian cosmonaut, because the second member of the crew – was a foreign Cosmonaut trained only to fulfill his "Mission" as a representative of the Great Socialist Brotherhood (All "socialist" missions were absolutely equal – docking with the station, science program, duration – of the mission – approximately 7 days 20 hours. Both crewmembers were getting decorations – Heroes of the Soviet Union and Heroes of the appropriate country. It was the hey days of Brezhnev in power.

2. Despite the fact that all "Socialist" Cosmonauts were military pilots, they had only minor understanding of the spacecraft design and in case of any accidents were mainly useless.

3. As it happened in both "Intercosmos" missions there were accidents. The Commanders of the crew were skilled civilian engineers, who took part in the design and construction of the Soyuz spacecrafts – and that was the saving grace. In the case of the Soyuz-33 mission commander (with the help of Mission control) he actually saved the crew.

After the Soyuz-33 launch – the mission was on schedule for the first 6 hours – until the approach to the docking station. Four kilometers from the station, Mission Control noticed something out of order in the approach process. At first the reason was not clear, but with the telemetry data and skill of the commander – and report from the station crew about the visual "picture" of the approaching Soyuz – it became clear that the main engines of the spacecraft were out of order. They had a burn out.
The analysis of the situation by Mission Control (MCC) and a possible solution took more than a day, while the Cosmonauts spent their time in the orbital capsule. Ivanov understood that something was wrong and was mainly concerned that MCC would cancel the docking ("What about my Mission?"). But commander – Rukavishnikov – knew clearly that it was not a question about The Mission, but about their lives. He knew that they could not use the main engine – its ignition could cause the craft to explode. He knew that there was a reserve engine, which could be used only for an emergency landing. But because both engines were very close to each other – only by using it would they know whether it was OK or not. If not – they would only stay alive in orbit for another few days. (This type of Soyuz has a life support reserve of not more than 7 days). All other possibilities – and later MCC agreed – were "science fiction" – using the station to dock with Soyuz; the launch of another Soyuz with a specially designed and installed docking gear... etc.

Mid day April 12th MCC instructed the commander what to do to land. It was clear to all – they must ignite the reserve engine – it had to work within 90 seconds. If it did – they would be able to land – somewhere...if the engine works 188 seconds – they might be able to make it to a designated landing area. – But if the thrust was not enough?

Both sides – MCC and the crew – knew that if it were less than 90 seconds – they would be a live satellite... for 4-6 days... Then – just a satellite... MCC and the Commander did not even discuss the less than 90 seconds possibility.

MCC ignited the reserve engines – and it worked 90 seconds – 120 seconds – 180 seconds. The Commander thought – it looks like were OK? The engine worked 213 seconds and then was cut off manually by Rukavishnikov. Ivanov looked at the commander with a silent question. And Rukavishnikov told him the truth for the first time – "Stare at this speck of dust floating in the air. If it goes down – we live!"
It went down after several very long minutes...

The capsule landed 180 kilometers farther than the normal standard landing region.

It was the only serious and dangerous accident during the manned "Intercosmos" program. As "reimbursement" Bulgaria the opportunity to send another Cosmonaut into Space – in 1988. All other Socialist countries have had only one cosmonaut in Space – and now, with the collapse of Soviet Union – it's immutable.

Some interesting facts to give you a better "picture" of that time and an understanding of Soviet Politics.

Initial family name of Georgy Ivanov was Zhopov – what is OK in Bulgarian language. But in Russian it sounds like the word for "A-hole". Because of that – at Breznev's suggestion – Georgy changed his name a few days before his arrival to the Soviet Union for his training – to Ivanov – a very common family name in Bulgaria, as well as in Russia.

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