Soyuz 23

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Soyuz 23
commemoration stamp of Vyacheslav Zudov and Valery Rozhdestvensky
COSPAR ID1976-100A
SATCAT no.9477
Mission duration2 days, 6 minutes, 35 seconds
Orbits completed32
Spacecraft properties
Spacecraft typeSoyuz 7K-T/A9
ManufacturerNPO Energia
Launch mass6,760 kilograms (14,900 lb)
Crew size2
MembersVyacheslav Zudov
Valery Rozhdestvensky
CallsignРадон (Radon - "Radon")
Start of mission
Launch dateOctober 14, 1976, 17:39:18 (1976-10-14UTC17:39:18Z) UTC
Launch siteBaikonur 1/5[1]
End of mission
Landing dateOctober 16, 1976, 17:45:53 (1976-10-16UTC17:45:54Z) UTC
Landing siteLake Tengiz
Orbital parameters
Reference systemGeocentric
RegimeLow Earth
Perigee altitude239 kilometres (149 mi)
Apogee altitude269 kilometres (167 mi)
Inclination51.6 degrees
Period89.5 minutes
Soyuz programme
(Crewed missions)

Soyuz 23 (Russian: Союз 23, Union 23) was a 1976 Soviet crewed space flight, the second to the Salyut 5 space station. Cosmonauts Vyacheslav Zudov and Valery Rozhdestvensky arrived at the station, but an equipment malfunction did not allow docking and the mission had to be aborted.[2]

The crew returned to Earth, but landed on partially frozen Lake Tengiz, the first splashdown in the Soviet space program. While there was no concern about any immediate threat to the crew, the capsule sank under the surface of the frozen lake, and recovery took nine hours owing to fog and other adverse conditions. The landing marked the only example of an unintentional splashdown of a crewed spacecraft to date.


Position Cosmonaut
Commander Vyacheslav Zudov
Only spaceflight
Flight Engineer Valery Rozhdestvensky
Only spaceflight

Backup crew[edit]

Position Cosmonaut
Commander Viktor Gorbatko
Flight Engineer Yuri Glazkov

Reserve crew[edit]

Position Cosmonaut
Commander Anatoli Berezovoy
Flight Engineer Mikhail Lisun

Mission highlights[edit]

Soyuz 23 was launched 14 October 1976 with an estimated 73- to 85-day mission planned aboard the orbiting Salyut 5 space station.[3] Others suggest a 17- to 24-day mission was a more likely intention.[4] It was the first visit to the station after the sudden termination of the Soyuz 21 mission in August. However, on 15 October, during the automatic approach phase, the automatic docking system malfunctioned before the craft was within 100 metres of the station. Crews were normally trained for a manual dock, but not for a manual approach.[3] The mission, accordingly, had to be abandoned.

The craft had only two days of battery power, so systems were powered off, including the radio, to conserve power.[3] The day's landing opportunity had already passed, so they had to wait for the next day's landing opportunity near the Baikonur Cosmodrome.

On 16 October, Soyuz 23 returned to Earth and landed 8:45 p.m. local time, but weather conditions were poor and the cosmonauts experienced an unusual recovery. They landed on a freezing Lake Tengiz (average depth 2.5m, max depth 6.7m), 8 km from shore, in the middle of a blizzard, with fog and temperatures at −22 °C.[3] It was the first water landing by a Soviet crew.[4] The capsule was designed to land in any conditions, even in a body of water, so the only concern was the increased difficulty in finding the capsule and crew.[3][5]

The parachute quickly sank beneath water and dragged the capsule and its crew beneath the surface; in addition an electrical short caused by the water impact caused the reserve parachute to accidentally deploy. The capsule cooled in the freezing water, and the cosmonauts removed their pressure suits and donned their normal flight suits, expecting a quick rescue. The parachutes became waterlogged and pulled the capsule onto its side, preventing the hatch from being opened. The transmission antennas were also under water, so the crew could not communicate with rescue teams.

The capsule's beacons could not be seen in the heavy fog, and rubber rafts used to try to reach them were blocked by ice and sludge. Amphibious vehicles were airlifted to the vicinity, but could not reach the capsule owing to bogs surrounding the lake. Accordingly, the rescue was called off until dawn.[3] The cosmonauts were safe, but they were low on power, so they were forced to shut down everything but a small interior light.

The next morning, frogmen were dropped in by helicopters and attached flotation devices to the Soyuz craft. The capsule was too heavy to be lifted by the helicopter, so it was dragged to shore. The recovery operation had taken nine hours. No attempt was made to open the hatch as the recovery crews assumed the cosmonauts were dead, so they called for a special team to remove their bodies. Eventually, eleven hours after splashdown, the cosmonauts opened the hatch and emerged alive and well, if badly chilled (the interior of the descent module was coated with frost).[3]

Press releases by Soviet news agency TASS announced that there had been a water landing and that the cosmonauts were recovered safely, but made no mention of the rescue operation involved and the details of it were not revealed until the era of glasnost a decade later.

Mission parameters[edit]

  • Mass: 6,760 kg (14,900 lb)
  • Perigee: 239 km (149 mi)
  • Apogee: 269 km (167 mi)
  • Inclination: 51.6°
  • Period: 89.5 min

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Baikonur LC1". Encyclopedia Astronautica. Retrieved 2009-03-04.
  2. ^ The mission report is available here:
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Newkirk, Dennis (1990). Almanac of Soviet Manned Space Flight. Houston, Texas: Gulf Publishing Company. ISBN 0-87201-848-2.
  4. ^ a b Clark, Phillip (1988). The Soviet Manned Space Program. New York: Orion Books, a division of Crown Publishers, Inc. ISBN 0-517-56954-X.
  5. ^ Manley, Scott (May 16, 2020). "The Accidental Spacecraft Splashdown Which Almost Killed Its Crew". YouTube.

External links[edit]